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Could One Of These eCommerce Hosting Options Be For You….?

01 Mar


Image Credit: CWCS (CC BY 2.0)
The first thing to be aware of when shopping around for eCommerce hosting services is that actually any hosting service can support eCommerce. What this means is that if you’re being given the option to pay a little more for specific eCommerce hosting instead of regular hosting, you need to look very carefully at what additional value or benefits are being provided to justify the extra cost.

Once you’re satisfied that it’s a genuinely good deal, you then need to consider whether it’s the best one to meet your needs. Sometimes the most popular services are not always the best, so it’s important to evaluate each and every one on their merits and not simply make the choice based on the fact that it’s a popular service.

With that in mind, we review three of the most widely used eCommerce hosting services in this article, and the results are shown below.

1. Shopify
This is the most popular eCommerce hosting services around, and is aimed at complete beginners to eCommerce.

Shopify has a lot of good points, such as:

• Simple to set up an online store
• Provides an integrated payment gateway and you can pay to add others
• Hosting is genuinely fast and reliable
• The basic service is PCI compliant
• Analytics are built into the system
• Customer support is typically good (can vary, depending on who you talk with)
• Large amount of documentation and resources available
• Everything you need in one place
• Does not charge for bandwidth
• Shared SSL certificate provided by default
• Abandoned cart recovery available – annoy your ‘almost’ customers to your heart’s content

The negatives may include:

• Need a verified credit card to sign up for a free trial
• High cost compared to regular hosting
• Charges transaction fees in addition to the subscription fee (may be waived)
• Uses “themes”, which limits you a bit if you prefer to design the site yourself
• Uses a custom markup language which should not be necessary
• Each product can only have 3 options to select from
• Difficult to migrate from Shopify to another service, due to the way it’s all set up
• Chargeback policy should be more transparent – too many are confused by it
• No adjudication or dispute handling system between merchants and buyers
• Difficult to integrate with other eCommerce options (eBay, Amazon, etc)
• Allegations of fund locking and store cancellations based on suspicion
• Consumers may not realise they have to actively cancel the free trial to avoid being charged
• Forces EU VAT compliance on digital goods (may not be negative, if you live in the EU or intend to travel there).

To get your transaction fees waived, you must use “Shopify Payments”, which is only available to customers with a verified US, Canadian, Australian or UK address. Tough luck if you were born in Mobile but you now live in Mombasa.

2. Volusion
When a service provides a lot of documentation, it’s usually a good sign. Except, when like Volusion, they provide way too much documentation. Aside from the fact that it would be very difficult to read all of it, the sheer volume is indicative to the new user that they will be in for a difficult time as they try to become familiar with the system.

Positives of Volusion include:

• Does not charge transaction fees
• Subscription fee is slightly lower than Shopify
• Very fast loading times
• Unique SSL certificate mandatory
• Simple and intuitive interface (does not equate to easy set-up, however)
• Excellent integrated inventory management
• ‘Volusion Payments’ seem not to be restricted by nationality
• Simpler chargeback management than Shopify (but maybe not always)

Negative points include:

• Charges for bandwidth
• No simple way to view bandwidth consumption
• Fewer apps compared to Shopify
• Fewer themes compared to Shopify
• Only some themes use responsive design
• Uses themes, which is limiting if you like to create your own design
• Created with ASP.Net, meaning they run it on Windows servers
• Added annual cost of SSL certificate
• Sometimes charge unexpected fees without notice or warning
• Google accused Volusion of link manipulation
• Requires some technical proficiency to get best results
• Very difficult to migrate to another service
• Stupid name

For the small business customer, there are too many negatives to justify the investment. Capped bandwith with no simple way to view bandwidth consumption is the biggest problem, but there’s also a number of other things, such as the extra coding and configuration you’ll be required to do before you can get up and running.

For big business, the absence of transaction fees, the ability to do everything on your own domain seamlessly, and the high speed network may be enough to offset these frustrations. If you can get past the stupid name, you’re doing a lot better than many others.

It may sound like this review is being rough on Volusion, but not nearly as rough as these guys are being, so you can make up your own mind about whether Volusion is a good investment of time and money for you.

3. BigCommerce
This system is just a baby in comparison to Volusion and Shopify, but they are big in every other way. Providing very similar services, but in what feels like a more personal way.

Pros of setting up your shop with Big Commerce:

• No transaction fees, period
• Integrated card processing gateway
• No bandwidth limits or capping
• Huge range of features from the outset, you don’t need to keep adding extras
• The friendliest, happiest user education system of all, through “BigCommerce University”
• The education provided is detailed, informative, and very on-point
• Fast (but not Shopify or Volusion fast)
• Everything works really well, you don’t need to be a technical expert to get a simple store working
• Abandoned cart notifications, so you can be a pest to customers who don’t complete their purchase
• Customer service is very professional and efficient – they care about retaining existing customers
• Plenty of support options
• Not locked in to templates. You can use the templates provided, modify them with plain HTML/CSS or build your own templates. This is not found at Shopify (where you have to learn a whole new markup language) or Volusion (where “customisation” is a foreign word not in their vocabulary).

Cons of setting up shop with BigCommerce:

• Inventory management is inferior to Volusion, roughly on par with Shopify
• Fewer add-ons available than with Shopify or Volusion
• Lowest cost is higher than lowest cost on Shopify or Volusion, but also is high value
• Difficult to migrate out from the platform to something else
• Takes a long time to learn every possible thing which is why there’s so much support
• Some customers have complained about volatile policy

The real plus with BigCommerce for developers and people with any sort of technical skills is that BigCommerce is the most open system with regard to allowing you to customise things to your heart’s content. By not locking you into templates or themes and allowing you to code directly in ordinary PHP, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, it is the most flexible of the three systems reviewed here.

For the non-technical, there’s no problem at all, as everything will work very simply without you needing to learn any hocus pocus, but on the other hand if you do want to make adjustments, anybody you hire to do the job will be able to do it because it’s straightforward coding.

BigCommerce is also somewhat of a standout because they have the least number of people calling them crooks compared to the other two top services. Of course this doesn’t mean the other two services are crooks, it just means there are a lot of people saying that they are. You may find some reassurance in knowing that the eCommerce host you select hasn’t drawn a considerable amount of public hostility

The verdict
All things considered, it really depends what you’re looking for. As a beginner, and needing only a simple online store, Shopify may fill your needs easily.

Volusion does have some strengths, especially for big businesses who can absorb high operating costs, but that issue of charging high overage rates on bandwidth coupled with the fact that there’s no simple way to monitor the bandwidth consumption, makes it difficult to recommend Volusion for the small business operator.

Point-for-point, BigCommerce provides the best value for money to the merchant, and provides outstanding customer support and documentation. Ironically, BigCommerce seems to be the best choice for small businesses that are serious about committing to eCommerce and are willing to go beyond the basics

 

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