In my previous article on My Latest Take On Hosted vs Non-Hosted Ecommerce Solutions, I recommended two hosted shopping cart solutions, Volusion and BigCommerce, that do not charge any transaction fees for using their service. Not being charged a percentage of your sales is nice because you can run your store at more or less a flat monthly rate(not taking into account credit card fees) that does not scale proportionally to your revenues.
A few weeks ago, I signed up for trial accounts with both Volusion and BigCommerce and decided to compare the two services. Before I get into the guts of the review, I’ll just tell you up front that you can’t really go wrong with either service and choosing between the two really depends on which features and factors you value more.
I also wanted to mention that I’m not going to really go into that much depth in terms of the backend features of either solution as both Volusion and BigCommerce offer more than enough features to manage a big time store. Instead, I’m going to focus on the differences between the two from a price/usability/support standpoint.
What Volusion And BigCommerce Do Well
As soon as you sign up for either service, you are assigned a personal consultant who will contact you by both email and phone. All I can say is that this is really cool. If you are a clueless new shop owner and you have questions, you are given a direct point of contact with which to obtain help and support.
I ended up chatting with my assigned consultants on the phone for 10-15 minutes each and pretended to be a customer looking to migrate an existing shop. The consultants from both companies could answer basic questions as well as some of the more technical ones.
For example, I asked Volusion if I could issue 301 redirects for products from my old store to my new one. I also asked if I could have SSH access directly to the server instead of having to upload my changes via FTP or use the web interface (The answer was no unfortunately).
Customizing Your Store
Before I get into the more GUI oriented features, I just thought I’d say a few words about customizing your store with either Volusion or BigCommerce. With both services, there is a learning curve in regards to figuring out where all of the files reside and what they do. But in general, both shopping cart solutions do a great job of separating out the core shopping cart functionality from the aesthetics.
In other words, you will never have to deal with ASP code or php code at all. In fact, all you have to really know is a little HTML/CSS in order to fully customize your store. Both Volusion and BigCommerce have completely abstracted out all of the shopping cart functionality from the files that you have access to. Using simple directives, you can move around menus, rearrange your store and give it a whole new look without worrying about breaking any core functionality.
This may not seem appealing to someone like me who wants full control of everything, but to someone who is tech averse, this is awesome! Using their templates and a smidgen of HTML/CSS, you can throw up a decent looking store very quickly.
What BigCommerce Does Better
From a design and usability standpoint, the BigCommerce design interface struck me as more modern and hip compared to Volusion. Not only does BigCommerce offer more templates but they also look better as well.
Whereas Volusion’s templates come across as kind of vanilla, Big Commerce’s templates are more eye catching and attractive. Of course this only really matters if you are going to go with a standard template with your store, but my first impression was that you can create a better looking store out of the box with BigCommerce.
Another feature that makes BigCommerce shine from a design perspective is that they offer a drag and drop interface with which you can reposition key shopping cart elements using just your mouse.
For example, let’s say you want to move a menu from the top of the screen to the left hand sidebar. All you have to do is click on the menu bar and drag it to the left and it will snap into place.
Having the ability to massage your shopping cart graphically is nice if you want to quickly rearrange things around with your store in order to see what looks best before you freeze your design.
If a customer enters their information and then bails, you can generate a nice report that outlines when, where and how often this happens. This information is useful because you can then try to get them back somehow by either contacting them or giving them a coupon.
To sum it all up, BigCommerce is a sleeker entry into the hosted ecommerce arena from a design and graphical perspective. Their out of the box stores just look better.
What Volusion Does Better
Since they’ve been in business for over 10 years and host thousands of shopping carts already, their library of tutorials and videos is pretty vast. Basically, they have years and years of experience answering commonly asked questions and have created tutorials and FAQ pages that cover almost anything you might want to know.
Since they’ve been around for so long and have a large customer base, this gives off the impression that they are a more stable player. Remember, whenever you sign up for a hosted ecommerce solution, you are essentially getting yourself pregnant. You become tied to their service. If your ecommerce platform goes out of business, then so do you. Stability matters and Volusion has definitely been around longer.
The other advantage that Volusion has is with their support. Volusion offers support by phone and email 24 hours a day,7 days a week.
Just to test this theory, I contacted them on a sunday afternoon and was able to get someone to answer questions. BigCommerce offers phone support as well, but if you want to be able to contact someone any day at anytime, Volusion is your best bet.
Some other things that Volusion has that BigCommerce doesn’t is a fully PCI compliant store. This shouldn’t really be a major decision making factor as long as you can accept credit cards with your store. In addition, BigCommerce is working on being compliant and will probably be compliant at some point in the near future.
One useful thing that Volusion has that BigCommerce doesn’t have is the ability to send out email newsletters to customers. Email marketing is very important to an online store and is an easy way to get repeat customers for your business. BigCommerce only allows you to export email addresses to a file so you’ll need to sign up with a separate email marketing service in order to send out newsletters.
Some Comments About Pricing
For example for 25 bucks, Volusion allows you to sell 25 products with 1GB worth of bandwidth a month. For the same 25 dollars, BigCommerce allows you to sell 100 products with 2GB of bandwidth. However, don’t be fooled by the low pricing. As your store matures and you require more bandwidth, Volusion actually ends up being cheaper later on. In other words, Volusion’s higher level plans are cheaper.
For example, if we were to use Volusion with our online store today, we would need to sign up for the Gold package which costs 99 dollars a month. With BigCommerce however, we would require the platinum package which costs 150 dollars a month.
As your store grows, you will discover that you are limited by bandwidth more than the number of products(for most stores at least). Volusion’s entry level packages are more expensive but get cheaper as time goes on.
When making a decision it depends on what you value the most. BigCommerce is definitely flashier, with better design tools and templates. They are also cheaper in the beginning when you are just starting out.
Volusion offers superior 24/7 support with more tutorials and online help. Volusion also becomes less expensive as your bandwidth requirements increase. They have also been around the block longer and come across as the more stable incumbent. The choice is up to you.
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