Google

Volusion vs BigCommerce vs Shopify – A Detailed Review for 2013

Even experienced web developers will readily admit that deploying a full-fledged e-commerce storefront can quickly become a complicated nightmare. Shopping cart solutions like Magento and Prestashop can take weeks of hassle and development time to integrate into an existing website. Oftentimes, it makes a lot more sense to opt for an all-in-one e-commerce solution when putting together an online shop. Comprehensive hosted e-commerce services take a lot of the headache out of the equation, which is why they’re so popular with both amateur developers and professionals alike. Finding the right tool for the job, however, can be daunting.

Choosing a Hosted E-commerce Provider

First off, consider the size of the business that your shopping cart will need to accommodate. You’ll have to base your decision to some degree on the size of your business’s operations. If you don’t expect to grow beyond a certain number of sales per month or support more than a certain number of customers, the issue of scalability factors into the decision less when you’re window shopping for a hosted e-commerce system. If you’ve set your sights on limitless growth, you’ll need a hosted e-commerce program that can grow with your business without any show-stopping hiccups.

Next, you’ll need to think about ease of use and administration on the back end. Not all hosted e-commerce solutions are created equal when it comes to user-friendliness. Even though the entire point of such programs is to facilitate the easiest setup and management possible, no service can make every conceivable tweak a push-button affair. If you’ll need highly customized designs and functionality, think about how expensive it will be to hire a professional to do the work if a plugin or theme isn’t available. Before pulling the trigger on any system, review how flexible it is in terms of design and configuration.

Last but not least, one must consider price and value. This isn’t entirely a cut-and-dry issue based strictly on dollars and cents. What looks like a good deal on paper may not seem like such a bargain further on down the line. Identifying the best bargain for your specific circumstances requires you to carefully research each feature of a number of competing hosted e-commerce platforms and compare their respective pricing structures before taking the plunge. For the first-time entrepreneur or small-scale startup, getting the best deal on a hosted e-commerce platform is the most vital consideration.

While there are dozens of solid shopping cart systems available online, the market is dominated by three highly respected programs. These are Shopify, Volusion and Bigcommerce, each of which brings quite a bit to the table in terms of functionality and value. Each platform has its own strengths and weaknesses, and the right program for your particular situation will depend on the factors alluded to above. The following in-depth analysis should make the decision a little easier. We’ve take the trouble of ranking various aspects of each platform on a scale of 1 to 5 to indicate overall relative quality.

Primary Feature Overview

Shopify

In many ways, Shopify is kind of like the WordPress of hosted e-commerce installations. It’s both feature-rich and incredibly easy to use, allowing merchants to quickly configure their online shops as they see fit. Shopify’s versatile drag-and-drop functionality allows for hassle-free creation of product pages and collections. It can also be used to publish articles and blog posts, making it a full-fledged CMS as well as a shopping cart. Shopify supports payment processing via PayPal, Google Checkout and every major credit cart by default. Thanks to its solid foundation built on the excellent Ruby on Rails framework, it’s responsive, stable and secure all at the same time.

Shopify also makes branding and promotion fairly painless, thanks to its robust SEO tools. Featuring keyword tag suggestion utilities, the expected XML Sitemap engine and a whole lot more, it’s quite adept at getting your online shop found quickly. Additionally, Shopify boasts automated backups, a stellar Content Delivery Network and 128-bit SSL encryption. Regardless of how expansive or complicated your online store happens to be, you won’t have to worry about the integrity of your data with Shopify. Most importantly, Shopify doesn’t rest on its laurels and is constantly rolling out new features like Free Shipping coupons that continue to improve the platform as a whole.
Score: 4

Volusion

Volusion ReviewsAs with the other web-based e-commerce platforms detailed here, Volusion abstracts away the back-end code and makes site administration about as easy as can be. Written in ASP.NET, Volusion is a Windows-based e-commerce system that’s simultaneously powerful and user-friendly. Its one-page checkout format is the stuff of legends. Like Shopify, Volusion offers SSL certificates and payment processing. It’s 100 percent PCI compliant, boasts unlimited product listings and is backed by a hardy CDN running on the Akamai network that ensures reliable shopping cart performance under any circumstances.

Volusion places an emphasis on presentation, delivering a superlative end user experience that leads to higher conversions than many competing shopping cart platforms. Thanks to the vZoom image resizing feature, potential customers who are browsing your inventory can get an up-close look at your products. It also boasts built-in product comparison for easier shopping and decision making. Volusion comes equipped with intelligent inventory tracking via their SmartMatch technology. Other notable bonuses include advanced analytics and ROI tracking as well as affiliate program management tools. Furthermore, theme layouts are optimized by default for mobile devices, and Volusion includes plenty of SEO tools for achieving high SERPs rankings.
Score: 4

BigCommerce

BigCommerce ReviewsWritten in PHP, BigCommerce should prove to be quite easy to use for those who are familiar with the LAMP stack. Users can edit HTML and CSS on the fly to change the look of their online store. Additionally, BigCommerce gives clients more than 100 different theme layouts to choose from. The included drag and drop functionality makes the design process uncomplicated and seamless, and their live demo page is a terrific source of creative inspiration. BigCommerce automatically creates product photo galleries and allows administrators to automate email marketing. Furthermore, comprehensive mobile support allows your shop to render perfectly on iPad tablets and Android phones.

As its name implies, BigCommerce takes a “batteries included” approach to shopping cart design and implementation. It can handle everything from drop shipping with Ordoro to inventory and warehouse tracking thanks to Shipwire integration. The platform saves Abandoned Cart information in the event that a customer doesn’t finish a transaction, which helps to substantially increase conversions and sales. With support for multiple currencies and numerous payment options, BigCommerce is a truly global shopping cart platform. The impressive default SEO capabilities of BigCommerce make website optimization truly effortless.
Score: 5

Ease of Installation & Setup

Shopify

When it comes to ease of installation, it’s hard to argue that Shopify is anything other than the most ridiculously simple service to set up. Even the most novice of webmasters can have a shop up and running in under 15 minutes. Once you launch the installation wizard, you’re greeted with a quick seven-step tutorial that gives you a rundown of the basics as well as tips on how to customize your site to your liking. As a hosted, cloud-based cart, you don’t have to worry about setting up SSL certificates, hosting the installation yourself or dealing with back-end code and databases.
Score: 5

Volusion

In the setup and configuration department, Volusion is every bit as intuitive and easy to use as Shopify. To get started, just select a domain name, check out the free 14-day trial, select a service plan and go through the self-guided installation process. Volusion takes care of all the details for you, making the installation process about as painless as can be. Obviously, tuning the platform to exactly suit your needs will take a bit of time and research via Volusion’s superb documentation. However, getting a basic online storefront going only takes a few minutes.
Score: 5

BigCommerce

Not every e-commerce platform can be all things to all people. BigCommerce has a lot going for it, but it’s not quite as foolproof for beginners when it comes to setup and installation. That’s not to say that it’s really difficult to work with. Regardless, it’s not quite as intuitive as Volusion or Shopify. However, anyone can work through the process in a relatively short period of time if they follow the instructions found within BigCommerce’s documentation and online support forums. Whether you’re a web development pro or merely a beginner, BigCommerce is pretty easy to figure out. Check out the 30 day free trial.
Score: 4

Extensibility & Configuration

Shopify

While the basic, default capabilities of Shopify are impressive, the available extensions that can be installed are even better. Shopify features a large App Store where users can purchase and install extra modules for added functionality. Everything from printing out FedEx shipping labels to product upselling can be accomplished with the App Store’s numerous offerings. Alternatively, web developers can utilize the full-featured Shopify API to roll their own extensions for any functionality required.
Score: 4

Volusion

Practically every hosted e-commerce shopping cart comes equipped with an app store of some sort for extending the basic functionality of the platform. Volusion gives users the ability to tack on extra features via the Volusion Exchange. In addition, store owners can integrate features from Volusion’s many e-commerce partners quickly and easily without having to shell out a fortune on plugins. Everything from QuickBooks import and export support to Grasshopper VoIP service can be installed with the click of a button.
Score: 4

BigCommerce

Much like its primary rivals, BigCommerce offers an incredibly diverse lineup of third-party plugins and modules. At present, there are over 100 extensions available that deliver Facebook integration via SocialShop 2, analytics from VisiStat and email marketing from Direct Mail Manager. Regardless of your own unique shopping cart requirements, BigCommerce provides a modular way to achieve your goals. For those who like to get their hands dirty and craft their own apps and plugins, the developer API of BigCommerce provides all the tools you’ll need.
Score: 5

Marketing, Branding & SEO

Shopify

Promoting your website is the toughest part of any successful e-commerce project. Shopify makes this portion of the journey less challenging by providing novice webmasters with all of the SEO tools they’ll need to be successful. The Shopify CMS is tuned for effective SEO right off the bat, so webmasters don’t have to sweat the small stuff like meta tags and on-page optimization factors. Over 100 site designs are available from the Theme Store. It also provides built-in Google Analytics integration, $100 worth of Google AdWords credit and capable default email marketing tools.
Score: 5

Volusion

When it comes to marketing and SEO, Volusion boasts many of the same search engine optimization tools found in Shopify and BigCommerce. Volusion also features the ability to publish newsletters, incorporate customer feedback into listings and offer a Deal of the Day to boot. The Social Store feature allows webmasters to harness the power of Facebook for pumping up sales. One major perk of Volusion is its ability to embed YouTube videos into product pages, which assists customers in making buying decisions.
Score: 5

BigCommerce

For SEO specialists, BigCommerce is a godsend when it comes to tuning an e-commerce storefront for the best possible SERPs rankings. Webmasters can choose from a number of different URL formats, manage “no follow” attributes to avoid duplicate content and intelligently generate meta tags. In addition, BigCommerce makes email marketing dead simple thanks to its superb iContact integration as well as its MailChimp support. BigCommerce also increases sales conversions with its Abandoned Cart Saver system and its wide array of payment options.
Score: 5

Pricing & Fees

Shopify

In the world of e-commerce shopping carts, convenience will ultimately cost you. Shopify can be a bit uneconomical if you’re in a low-margin industry or don’t process a large volume of transactions. Pricing across the board is easily Shopify’s weakest point. They offer four pricing plans: Basic, Professional, Business and Unlimited. The Basic plan is $29 per month, includes 1GB of storage space and supports 100 products. Unfortunately, it also charges 2 percent transaction fees. At the other end of the spectrum, the Unlimited plan is $179 per month but provides unlimited everything and features no transaction fees whatsoever. Every plan comes with unlimited bandwidth, which is a definite plus.
Score: 4

Volusion

Volusion boasts the best prices of any hosted shopping cart on the market at the moment. They offer five distinct plans ranging from the entry-level Mini package to the top of the line Platinum package. Mini begins at $15 per month and delivers 1GB of transfer bandwidth, 25 products, zero percent transaction fees and zero startup fees. Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum plans run $35, $65, $125 and $195 per month, and each plan ratchets up the included bandwidth and stock-keeping units incrementally. The best value can be had with the Gold plan, which includes 25GB of bandwidth per month and space for 5,000 products.
Score: 5

BigCommerce

As far as pricing is concerned, BigCommerce falls somewhere between Volusion and Shopify in terms of costs. They offer five price plans, starting with the Bronze package at $24.95 per month ranging up to the Diamond plan at $299.95 per month. BigCommerce doesn’t charge transaction or setup fees for any of their plans, and each comes with a $100 Google AdWords credit to get you started with PPC promotion. You’ll need to select at least the $79.95 per month Gold plan to get access to certain features like the Abandoned Cart Saver. Ultimately, BigCommerce provides the best overall value regardless of your expected sales volume.
Score: 5

Technical Support and Assistance

Shopify

Even if you’re an old hand at developing websites, it still helps to have some technical support handy if you come across a stumbling block. Shopify provides decent support via thorough online documentation, toll-free assistance numbers and the Shopify Experts program. In a nutshell, Shopify Experts is a comprehensive directory of designers, marketers, developers and other e-commerce gurus who can be hired to assist you in achieving the perfect online storefront. In addition, Shopify has some of the best community forums of any hosted shopping cart platform out there.
Score: 4

Volusion

Whereas Shopify and BigCommerce both have excellent support programs, Volusion is less than impressive in this particular department. Their 24/7 Live Chat services are to be commended, but they ultimately fall short. Volusion does host a bevy of videos and tutorials to assist you in building your store, but the company as a whole is less “hands on” when it comes to customer assistance. Clients can open up a support ticket for minor issues that don’t require immediate attention. The feedback we’ve received regarding Volusion’s support has been less than acceptable, so it may be best to approach Volusion with a technical partner like a website design company that specializes in Volusion.
Score: 2

BigCommerce

All in all, BigCommerce delivers the most helpful support of all if you need assistance troubleshooting your e-commerce shop. Their documentation is incredibly thorough, and users can get Live Chat assistance 24 hours a day during the business week. On weekends, Live Chat is available between the hours of 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Central time on Saturdays and 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Central time on Sundays. Users can also contact a toll-free technical support line during daytime hours or submit a support ticket for immediate help from BigCommerce’s well-trained staff.
Score: 5

Weaknesses & Drawbacks

Shopify

Easily the most glaring disadvantage of Shopify is the 2 percent transaction fee per purchase of the base plan. Unlike its competitors, Shopify takes a cut of the action unless you are willing to pay a lot for the most expensive plan available. In addition, some of the optional third-party apps are on the expensive side. The back-of-the-envelope arithmetic doesn’t work out for vendors with lower margins and volume. Keep this in mind when you’re planning an e-commerce site for the long haul.

Beyond financial considerations, potential buyers should also be aware of Shopify’s limits on the number of products supported in cheaper plans. Another problem is its relatively pedestrian social media integration and cross-platform support, which can occasionally be patchy. Nowadays, social media and mobile marketing are the keys to promoting any brand online. An e-commerce site should display flawlessly on any device whether it’s a smartphone or a PC. As it stands, Shopify’s mobile and social capabilities could be better.
Score: 3

Volusion

The greatest drawback of Volusion is customer support. Many users are less than satisfied with the responsiveness of the company as far as addressing concerns goes. As alluded to previously, Live Chat support isn’t always helpful and responses to complaint tickets can take a long time to come. If nothing major goes awry and you know how to troubleshoot most issues as they arise, this shouldn’t be that big of a deal. Most users, however, would prefer that their hosted e-commerce service provider make hands-on support a priority just in case.

The other major weakness of Volusion is the fact that their framework isn’t as flexible as BigCommerce. While tweaks can be achieved with enough work, messing around in the back end can break functionality in unexpected ways. Furthermore, their entry-level Mini plan is severely limited. The design capabilities of Volusion leave a lot to be desired if you really need something custom. Lastly, users must buy their own SSL certificates to process credit cards, which means an extra $80 – $1000/year at the minimum in addition to your monthly bill.
Score: 2

BigCommerce

As far as disadvantages are concerned, BigCommerce has the fewest issues with technical support, performance and reliability. Still, that doesn’t make it perfect. For one thing, it takes more effort to come up with a unique design due to the utilitarian default templates. Again, setting up a BigCommerce site isn’t quite as simple as with Shopify, even though it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work through the process. However, this point is partially negated by BigCommerce’s excellent customer service delivered via a number of different avenues.

Besides the mildly more complicated setup, BigCommerce suffers from the same beginner plan limitations of most hosted e-commerce platforms. You get what you pay for, after all. Probably the most vexing thing to those not familiar with BigCommerce going in is the extra legwork required to add certain capabilities to any given shopping cart. Fortunately, it’s possible to take advantage of the rich plugin ecosystem available to BigCommerce users to enable any desired functionality.
Score: 4

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Obviously, the right hosted e-commerce platform for your online business will depend heavily on a number of different factors. It’s tough to give catchall advice on which system to choose that will be widely applicable to every scenario. However, some basic generalizations can be made based on the above information. If you’re looking for simplicity over total features, the best choice is Shopify. If you’d like to find a happy medium between customization and ease of use, Volusion is a solid option. If you need a hosted e-commerce CMS that can handle everything you throw at it, BigCommerce is undoubtedly the best option.

The Wrap

Picking the best hosted shopping cart program for your project is just the beginning. Once you’ve made your decision, you’ll need to leverage the built-in features of your chosen platform to make your shop a success and perhaps engage a marketing firm. Fortunately, each of the aforementioned e-commerce systems boasts plenty of documentation and support to help you ensure that your store eventually thrives. These hosted e-commerce platforms are the best of the best, and it’s difficult to go wrong regardless of which one you eventually select. With the right hosted e-commerce system, your vision can be achieved with the minimum of pain and frustration.  Your business goals and resources will be the ultimate guide in deciding on an ecommerce platform.  We tend to lean towards BigCommerce in most cases because in the big picture they offer all the functionality you need, a reliable platform and good all around support to back things up.

What are your thoughts? Do you have experience with any of these? Questions we might answer? Please leave your comments and questions below!