Accelerate your online business with packaged E-Commerce platforms Shopify and others – A critical choice !

Even if you have a successful non-internet business, launching your online retailer can be a series of hard decisions.

Which web designer ? Which host ? How to promote the site ? – Will you use AdWords ? Which payment platform ? Which delivery service and how do I integrate to shop modules ? Many of those choices are binary and, if not exactly trivial, at least somewhat reversible. If DHL are not working well, swop to FEDEX (Or vice versa) – job done, easy as changing your car. But some of those decisions are more akin to getting married and moving house.

A simpler choice for those starting out is to use one of the comprehensive E-Commerce platforms which have gained in popularity. Just select one vendor who provides a suite of tried and tested modules, with interoperability guaranteed and a load of whistles and bells to boot. One throat to choke and all compatibility issues in one place (Hopefully) – all for a (Hopefully) low monthly cost. And whilst this decision is indeed binary, it is undoubtedly one of those big knarly, hard-to-change items. Get it wrong and, like a bad divorce, you are into major league lift and shift issues. Let’s take a quick canter through some of the pro’s and con’s of each system.

Starting with some of the things that are more or less standard across the field. TECHNOLOGY – The underlying technology of the principle platforms is sound – it has to be for them to operate at this scale. Shopify is built over the well established Ruby-On-Rails framework, Voluvision is an ASP.NET product and BigCommerce uses PHP. Nothing wrong with ANY of that; all mature, well established and well supported underlying architectures. Unless you have a “thing” for (Or against) one of them, in our opinion the end-user simply should not be concerned with the implementation detail. You are buying a low-code platform-as-a-service to provide an online shopping experience, you are not buying a computer science course (If you are really interested in computer science, maybe do that instead of setting up an online shop)- who cares what shovels the bits into the computing tank – buy a product that fulfills your business goal.

Tiering – Not much differentiation here, market economics has levels the playing field. All of the big players have a “Pay-As-You-Grow” tiered payment model associated with them. Voluvision has a pricing plan starting at $15 a month with Shopify and BigCommerce starting-in at around $29 /month.

Credit Card rates – Of course everyone has a payment module, of course everyone works with all the big card providers and at the time of writing all providers were charging around 30 cents 2.9% per transaction with the exception of Voluvision again, consolidating its position as “value option” which charges 2.15% flat at its $29 tarrif.

Storage – Unsurprisingly in these days of elastic cloud storage, all of our subject vendors offer essentially unlimited storage space. However this is maybe somewhat of an artificial measure – the real question is “How many products can I have” – the real answer to this question is “All of the platforms will scale to the size you need them to be, but it will cost more”

24/7 support – Again, yes – all major vendors have a 24/7 live person capability.

Full website product (Not just a store module) – yes  . . .  .so far, so Meh ! Considering only the “raw” package details there are only a few minor factors which differentiate

Firstly – BANDWIDTH – All vendors offer unlimited bandwidth EXCEPT Voluvision, which caps at 3Gb at the plus tier. But then, you may argue, 3Gb is a lot of bandwidth. If the store is consistently pulling over 3Gb of traffic, then you naturally expect sales to be good, unless something is commercially adrift with your product, in which case the Ecommerce store is NOT the problem. So upgrading to a higher tier would seem justified; a small thing, but notable.

Secondly – PROMOTION – Consumers on the internet behave like consumers on the high street. They favour big-brands, they want good value, they want to be informed and entertained. There are only a few ways to drive traffic to the site – especially if you are not a well known brand. Two of the principle approaches are pay-per-click advertising and search engine optimisation. Whilst PPC is essentially independent of the platform, the SEO tools are a real value add. Shopify in particular supports very advanced SEO tools, keyword suggestions and tagging tools, an XML sitemap generator, built-in Google analytics and other facilities. Once you have got the site indexed, all of these will certainly help drive traffic.

Shopify Dashboard

Thirdly – BLOGGING – A subset of promotion. Consumers visit because they have clicked on an advert, or because the site has popped up in the results of a search and finally, they come for interesting, fun and value adding content. Blogging is a great way to build your brand, build a following, build visitors and build sales. Having established a presence, collaborating with other bloggers, journalists and businesses to provide referrals is a great way to drive sales. BigCommerce offer blogging interfaces, but Shopify’s Blogging tools are excellent. Notably, Voluvision does not offer a blogging interface.

Shopify Blogging

USABILITY – How easy is it to get started? Are there good templates available? Do you have complete control and freedom of design? This is where the rubber hits the road. This is where the user get their first experience of the power of the platform. This is where reviewing . . . . gets subjective. This also seems to be where the more mature products are pulling ahead of the competition. Shopify is explicitly designed, from the outset, to get novice users online with a credible and capable online shopping experience quickly. Installing advanced functionality is simple with their extensive App store and they rollout new features with impressive regularity.

I particularly like the fully automated online backups offered by Shopify. Having worked on a few large websites, I can say with complete assurance that the terror of not being able to quickly roll back a change you have just installed needs to be experienced less often. I would describe it as an icy hand gripping your bowel (Experience may vary, other fear reactions are available) Voluvision is also intuitive to set up and is well supported with notably excellent documentation.  BigCommerce by contrast is reputedly “not a beginners” tool to set up. That’s not to say it’s not a great tool,  just that a bit of figuring out can be required.

There are really no “Bad” choices when considering the platforms we have discussed here – all are credible, well-used, mature and well supported platforms. It’s horses for courses in the world of E-Commerce platforms. Voluvision has established itself as the “Value” player with some very aggressively priced payment plans – however it is arguably a bit light in some of the advanced functionality present in other platforms. For SEO tools both BigCommerce and Shopify stand out. For ease of configuration and installation, Shopify takes a decisive lead – Points which we consider makes Shopify the front runner in this space include :-

  • Most comprehensive solution – A complete shopfront with all the back office (Payment, shipping, SEO, blogging etc) tools needed to run the business
  • Active development – Regular releases of new features and functionality to keep your storefront functionally competitive with the big boys.
  • Comprehensive API – Need to interface Shopify to 3rd party systems, use the API they provide
  • Fast to market, The ability to get a full web presence online, available and trading in a very short period
  • Proven scalability and excellent support
  • Pricing-plans which support pay as you grow models. No “Free tier” – but a very low cost for professional entry level capability.
  • Active support ecosystem. Not just shopify, but a variety of professional services develops who can support your journey

Finally – consider what the aim is here. Do you really want to go through the learning curve of building your own site, of learning to use the provider tools, or is your real goal to sell product. Sure, building a webstore yourself is satisfying, but the end goal is revenue (Or it should be) – Would you be better getting a platform built and populated, and then handed over for you to manage or you would like to take over these activities yourself? It is up to you, but we definitely can say, there is a reason why Shopify etc. became so popular.

[The original article was written in English. To other languages it was automatically translated by Google Translate]

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