Getting started on your first e-commerce website can be a frightening prospect for the uninitiated, but it needn’t be if you do your homework. While one could conceivably craft their own e-commerce platform from scratch, there’s no reason to take this route. That’s because hosted e-commerce storefronts do the job just as well with a minimum of configuration and setup time. The two most popular hosted e-commerce programs currently in use are BigCommerce and Shopify. Each solution has its own unique benefits and drawbacks, which is why an in-depth look at both is necessary before making a decision on either.
Features and Benefits
The most important criteria by which any e-commerce shop should be judged are product management and extensibility. BigCommerce is a heavy hitter in both departments, offering the ability to manage inventory conveniently and add extra features at will. One big advantage of BigCommmerce is its ability to accept pre-orders from customers. On top of that, BigCommerce allows the store owner to create customized order pages quickly and easily. If there’s a specific functionality that you need that’s not found in the default installation, BigCommerce also supports tons of apps for grafting on any feature required.
Shopify is fairly adept as well when it comes to dealing with inventory, managing featured products and extending the basic functionality of the storefront. Though it’s not as comprehensive as BigCommerce in those areas, it’ll get the job done for the most part. On the third-party software front, Shopify is easily the equal of BigCommerce in terms of extensions. They have a dedicated App Store that allows developers to submit their own custom add-ons for free and even sell them for a reasonable rate. Whatever extra functionality you need to tack on, Shopify has got an app for it.
Marketing & Design
Any e-commerce veteran knows that a poorly laid-out e-commerce store can seriously impact the conversion rates of even the best online shop. When it comes to SEO and marketing, BigCommerce boasts all the usual features you’d expect like sitemapping, social media integration and comparison shopping. In addition, BigCommerce features unparalleled back-end analytics and tracking. As for design, the default template of BigCommerce is getting a bit long in the tooth. In other words, it requires a bit of tweaking to look modern. Fortunately, there are hundreds of themes available that can be easily installed to make it look however you’d like.
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In terms of aesthetics and marketing, Shopify is more attractive out of the gate and provides a sleek and appealing interface for a basic e-commerce shopping cart. It also features the ability to theme the storefront as you see fit, much like BigCommerce. Furthermore, Shopify boasts sitemapping, social media features and the ability to support coupons and discounts. As for the back-end details, Shopify isn’t as full-featured as BigCommerce when it comes to tracking, analytics and reporting. That makes Shopify a bit more difficult to fine-tune, although it’s usually not an issue for smaller sites.
Cost and Value Considerations
The price of a BigCommerce installation starts at a mere $24.95 per month and provides the customer with 2 GB worth of bandwidth by default. They’ll charge you 0.5 cents for every megabyte of traffic above that limit, which isn’t going to really affect your bottom line unless you’re in a very low-margin business to begin with. One of the nice things about BigCommerce is the fact that they don’t charge commissions on sales, which makes their metered bandwidth approach a lot more sensible. Like practically every hosted service on the web, your account comes with bonus Google Adwords credit.
Shopify has a similar starting price of $29 per month, and doesn’t feature a bandwidth limit like BigCommerce. Of course, there’s a significant caveat to this deal, as you may have expected. Shopify charges a 2% commission on every sale, so it’s not quite the bargain you might think. Again, your profit margin will determine which one is a better deal. In a high-margin business, the 2% commission might not matter to you. But it’s still food for thought and you’ll have to do some calculations based on your expected traffic and sales to figure out which service will ultimately be a better deal.
Overall, both BigCommerce and Shopify offer tremendous bargains to anyone looking to start up an e-commerce store. Shopify is slightly easier to set up, but ultimately less full-featured. Over the long haul, BigCommerce is basically the better deal. If you’re serious about making your e-commerce shop succeed, BigCommerce is really the best option at present. Whichever solution you choose, keep in mind that it’s always a good idea to have an e-commerce specialist who’s knowledgeable in designing online storefronts do the initial setup and ongoing maintenance for you. A little money spent on professional web development in the short-term can save you loads of headache later on.