Posts in Building an online store
Bigcommerce vs Shopify (2018) - Which is Best?
 Bigcommerce vs Shopify (image of the two logos in a notebook)

In this Bigcommerce vs Shopify review, we compare and contrast two of the leading online store building tools. 

Read on for a discussion on the two products' pricing, templates, important features and the key reasons why you might choose one of these leading e-commerce solutions over the other.

By the end of this comparison, you will hopefully know which of these two products represents the best e-commerce platform for your particular business (and of course, do feel free to leave your own thoughts on both Bigcommerce and Shopify in the comments section!).

Right - let's start this comparison with an obvious but important question: what do Bigcommerce and Shopify actually do?


What do Bigcommerce and Shopify do?

Bigcommerce and Shopify are pieces of software that allow you sell products - digital or physical - online. Both products run in a web browser: this means that there is nothing to install on your desktop or laptop computer, and you can manage your store from anywhere (so long as you have an internet connection).

The key idea behind both products is that you can use them to build an online store without needing to design or code anything - you pick a template from a range provided, upload your products, set your prices and you are (in theory at least) good to go.

It's worth saying however that although you don't need to involve a web designer when building a Shopify or Bigcommerce store, a good eye for design, along with some professionally-taken pictures of your products, are nonetheless very important (regardless of the platform you eventually choose).

Both Bigcommerce and Shopify are 'software as a service' (Saas) tools. This means that there is an ongoing cost to use them - you pay a monthly or annual fee for access to the software.

And speaking of fees...


Bigcommerce pricing vs Shopify pricing

One of the first (although arguably not the most important!) questions which potential users have about Bigcommerce and Shopify is 'how much do they cost?'

Bigcommerce offers 4 pricing plans:

  • Bigcommerce Standard: $29.95 per month

  • Bigcommerce Plus: $79.95 per month

  • Bigcommerce Pro: $249.95 per month

  • Bigcommerce Enterprise: varies depending on requirements

 Bigcommerce pricing table

Bigcommerce pricing table

Shopify offers 5 pricing plans:

  • Lite: $9 per month

  • Basic Shopify: $29 per month

  • Shopify: $79 per month

  • Advanced Shopify: $299 per month

  • Shopify Plus: pricing varies depending on requirements

As can be seen above, you can start selling goods online a lot cheaper with Shopify, with the 'Lite' plan only costing $9 per month. However, there's a big BUT with this plan: it doesn't actually provide you with a fully functional online store.

Rather, it allows you to

  • make use of a "Shopify Button" - an embeddable widget, sort of like a Paypal 'buy now' button, to sell products online on an existing website

  • use your Facebook page to sell products.

You can also use the Shopify 'Lite' plan to sell goods offline (at 'point of sale') and use the Shopify backend to manage orders and inventory.

 Shopify pricing (for its most popular plans - note that 'Lite' and 'Shopify Plus' plans are also available.

Shopify pricing (for its most popular plans - note that 'Lite' and 'Shopify Plus' plans are also available.

Bigcommerce Enterprise and Shopify Plus

You'll notice from the above price breakdowns that there are two plans listed above without specific pricing, 'Bigcommerce Enterprise' and 'Shopify Plus.'

These are basically 'enterprise-grade' versions of the platforms, which are aimed at corporations or store owners with extremely large volumes of sales.

As such, they contain a lot of advanced features, including:

  • guaranteed server uptime

  • advanced API support

  • dedicated SSL / IP address

  • advanced security features

They usually offer more in the way of account management and onboarding too - you'll get far more hand holding ('white glove' style service) from Shopify or Bigcommerce if you plump for one of these plans.

They are also more 'bespoke' affairs than the other plans discussed above - a Bigcommerce Enterprise or Shopify Plus purchase typically starts with an in-depth conversation where requirements are gathered; after this, a plan is tailored to suit those requirements. Accordingly, the price of a Bigcommerce Enterprise or Shopify Plus plan can vary from customer to customer.

(That said, there is a reasonable amount of consistency in the Shopify Plus pricing - from conversations I've had with Shopify, the monthly pricing for Shopify Plus tends to hover around the $2000 mark.).

The fairest comparison: Bigcommerce 'Standard' vs Shopify 'Basic'

The fairest comparison to make between Shopify and Bigcommerce is probably between the 'Basic Shopify' plan, which costs $29 per month, and the Bigcommerce 'standard' one, which costs $29.95 - there's only 95 cents between them.

Both these plans allow you to sell an unlimited number of products, with Bigcommerce - generally speaking - winning in terms of out-of-the-box features.

The standard Bigcommerce plan provides four particularly important things that you don't get on 'Basic Shopify', namely

  • gift cards

  • professional reporting functionality

  • a built-in ratings and review system

  • real-time carrier shipping quotes

On the subject of ratings and reviews, it's worth pointing out that Shopify does not provide this functionality on any of its plans: you'll need to use a separate app to handle this.

Fortunately, Shopify provide a free app for this purpose (the appropriately named 'Product Reviews' app). This has garnered good reviews from its users, but I find it slightly puzzling that the functionality isn't included as a standard feature.

 Unlike Bigcommerce, Shopify does not provide built-in ratings and review functionality and you'll need to install the free 'Product Reviews' app to allow your users to rate your goods.

Unlike Bigcommerce, Shopify does not provide built-in ratings and review functionality and you'll need to install the free 'Product Reviews' app to allow your users to rate your goods.

In addition to Shopify's own reviews app offering, you can install a wide range of third-party apps to provide reviews and ratings functionality, many of which offer more advanced features than the standard Shopify 'Product Reviews' app (and integrate with the likes of Google Reviews, Disqus and Facebook).

However, there are two aspects of the 'Basic Shopify' plan which trump the Bigcommerce 'Standard' plan.

First, the Shopify plan doesn't impose any sales limits; by contrast a sales limit of $50,000 per year applies on the Bigcommerce Standard plan.

Second - and this is a pretty recent development - Shopify offers an abandoned cart saver on its entry level plan, whereas this is only available on the Bigcommerce $79.95 plan and up. The abandoned cart saver - which automatically emails people who leave your site mid-way through a transaction - is a very useful piece of functionality which can increase the revenue of your store significantly. 

(Sales limits and abandoned cart saving are both discussed in more depth later on in this comparison.)

Transaction fees

A big question that potential users of Shopify and Bigcommerce may find themselves asking is this: what's Shopify or Bigcommerce's cut of my sales - i.e., the transaction fee per sale - going to be?

Well, it's a bit of a win for Bigcommerce here, because Bigcommerce charges 0% transaction fees on all plans.

Shopify, by contrast charges 0% on all plans too BUT only if you use their own 'Shopify Payments' system to process card transactions rather than an external payment gateway.

If you don't use Shopify Payments, transaction fees do apply and these vary with the kind of plan you're on (2% for ‘Shopify Lite’ and 'Basic Shopify'; 1% for 'Shopify' and 0.5% for 'Advanced Shopify').

The key thing worth noting about Shopify Payments is that it can only be used in certain countries: 

  • Australia

  • Canada

  • Hong Kong

  • Ireland

  • Japan

  • New Zealand

  • Singapore

  • United Kingdom

  • United States

So, if you don't live in one of those countries, you'll have to use an external payment gateway provider (fortunately, there are loads to choose from with Shopify - we'll return to this issue later).

Credit card fees

In addition to transaction fees, there are credit card fees to consider. These are the fees charged by the company providing the software / systems to process your customers' card payments.

If you decide to make use of a third-party payment gateway (an app for processing credit cards, basically) these will be whatever your chosen provider's rates are. 

However, both Shopify and Bigcommerce offer 'out of the box' or recommended payments functionality, which can reduce these fees in certain cases (and make it much easier to set up card payment processing).

If you use Shopify Payments, credit card fees will vary according to whether you are selling online or in person (in a retail setting, market stall, pop-up shop etc.).

The online rates vary by country, but the US rates are as follows:

  • Shopify Lite: 2.9% + 30c per transaction

  • Basic Shopify: 2.9% + 30c

  • Shopify: 2.6% + 30c

  • Advanced Shopify: 2.4% + 30c

If you're selling in person (i.e., using Shopify in a point-of-sale context, like a retail outlet or at a market) you're looking at the following rates:

  • Shopify Lite: 2.7% per transaction

  • Basic Shopify: 2.7%

  • Shopify: 2.5%

  • Advanced Shopify: 2.4%

Bigcommerce's recommended partner for credit card processing is Paypal, powered by Braintree. The credit card rates using this arrangement are as follows:

  • Bigcommerce Standard: 2.9% + 30c

  • Bigcommerce Plus: 2.5% + 30c

  • Bigcommerce Pro: 2.2% + 30c

  • Bigcommerce Enterprise: 2.2% + 30c

As you can see the Bigcommerce US credit card fees are therefore a bit lower than the Shopify equivalents - merchants selling low volumes of goods won't really notice the difference too much, but store owners with high volumes of sales definitely will.

If you live in the UK or another European country however, you will generally be able to avail of considerably cheaper credit card fees with Shopify.

Annual discounts

Both Bigcommerce and Shopify provide a 10% discount if you pay upfront for a year's service (note however that Bigcommerce only facilitates this on the 'Plus' and 'Pro' plans). Shopify goes one further and gives you a 20% discount if you pay upfront for two years.

Maximum annual sales limits

One thing to watch out for is sales limits - with Bigcommerce, your sales are limited to $50,000 on the 'standard' plan, $150,000 on the 'plus' plan and $400,000 on the 'pro' plan. Sales limits are described as 'custom' if you're on Bigcommerce Enterprise (which indicates they are negotiable). All these limits are calculated on a trailing 12-month basis.

I contacted Bigcommerce to find what the financial implications are for breaching these limits and the response was:

"There is an additional 1,000-2,000 order limit per plan that users be able to go over before being forced to upgrade. During this time users will receive notifications about upgrading their plan as they are over the limit. But we will not prevent additional orders from coming through until they exceed the additional 1,000-2,000 overage order provided."

No such limits exist at all on Shopify plans, so it's a win for Shopify here. That said, I'm not sure anybody selling in excess of these limits would be overly concerned about the additional fees. Still, it would be better to not have to worry about them.

Conclusions on pricing

It's a big case of swings and roundabouts when it comes to comparing the pricing structure for Bigcommerce and Shopify.

For me, the key plus points of the Bigcommerce pricing plans over Shopify's are that quite a few more features are provided on its $29 plan than on the Shopify equivalent (gift cards, professional reporting, ratings and reviews); no transaction fees apply to any Bigcommerce plan, regardless of the payment gateway used; and the credit card processing fees are slightly lower than Shopify's (in the US at least).

The advantages of the Shopify fees structure are that unlike Bigcommerce, no sales limits apply at all; and the $29 plan includes abandoned cart saving functionality.

Another thing worth bearing in mind is that Shopify's $9 Lite plan can get you selling online much cheaper than any Bigcommerce plan (albeit only in certain context - via a buy button, Facebook page or point-of-sale situation).

However, when deciding between Shopify vs Bigcommerce there is a lot more to consider than just pricing, as we'll see below.


Templates

Free templates

Shopify has an edge over Bigcommerce when it comes to its free theme offering, because it provides a wider selection of themes - Shopify provide 10 free themes to Bigcommerce's 7.

Within both the Bigcommerce and Shopify themes, there are different styles to choose from, so both products give you more choice in the free template department than the above numbers might initially suggest.

However, the Shopify themes differ from each other in a much more significant way than the Bigcommerce ones; several of the Bigcommerce free themes differ only in the fact that slightly different colours are used (you could in fact argue that so big are the similarities between the free Bigcommerce themes that there are only two free themes on offer - not seven!).

 The 'Vintage' style within 'Minimal', one of Shopify's free themes

The 'Vintage' style within 'Minimal', one of Shopify's free themes

Factoring in both the number of themes provided by both Shopify and Bigcommerce, and the differences between theme variants, I would argue that Shopify offers the user more variety in the free template department. 

From a design point of view I prefer the free templates provided by Shopify too; but this is a very subjective area and the themes provided by Bigcommerce are definitely professional and contemporary in appearance (see image below for an example of Bigcommerce's 'Stencil' template).

 The 'Cornerstone Light' theme from Bigcommerce

The 'Cornerstone Light' theme from Bigcommerce

The bottom line is that you'll be able to use either a Bigcommerce or Shopify template to create a professional looking store, but you'll get more choice from Shopify.

(It's important to remember, of course, that your chosen template is only one part of the story when it comes to aesthetics: you'll need to ensure that your product photography and descriptions are up to scratch too - no template, no matter how well designed, will look good if it's populated with poor-quality content.)

Paid-for templates

Bigcommerce provides around 110 paid-for themes. They start at $145 and cost up to $235. Occasionally however, Bigcommerce discounts some of their paid-for templates, and you can pick up certain themes at a cheaper 'sale' price.

Shopify currently offers 57 paid-for templates, which range from $140 to $180 in price.

Although the above numbers seem to imply that there is a greater choice of paid-for themes available with Bigcommerce, it's worth sounding a note of caution here: as with their free templates, many of the Bigcommerce paid-for themes are very similar to each other.

This is fairly evident in the Bigcommerce template names too: 'Chelsea Bold', 'Chelsea Bright', 'Chelsea Warm' and 'Chelsea Clean' are all positioned as being separate templates, but to my eyes they are effectively variants of the same theme and (in my view anyway!) shouldn't really be presented as separate templates at all.

 Bigcommerce’s ‘Chelsea’ range of templates - very professional in appearance, but are we really talking about four individual templates?

Bigcommerce’s ‘Chelsea’ range of templates - very professional in appearance, but are we really talking about four individual templates?


Bigcommerce themes also tend to come in a few variants - i.e., you buy one and can choose from a few different variants of it - but again, there isn't much variety to spot between the variants!

By contrast the paid-for Shopify themes are more distinct from each other - and most themes come with a selection of variants which are more obviously different from each other than the Bigcommerce equivalents.

 Shopify's 'Kingdom' theme - a paid-for template

Shopify's 'Kingdom' theme - a paid-for template

The other nice thing about the Shopify template offering is that it is really easy to browse the template gallery and find a template that suits your requirements. A wide range of filters is available to help you choose a template based not only on industry type but design type too (you can select templates based on preferences for design elements like video backgrounds, parallax scrolling, wide or narrow layout style etc.) 

Bottom line on templates: for my money, the Shopify offering when it comes to 'out of the box' templates is a bit stronger than Bigcommerce's - and better value.

But don't forget: if you're not entirely happy with your chosen theme, there's always the option to customise it...

Customising templates

Both Bigcommerce and Shopify let you customise their templates quite extensively – either using controls provided within the content management system or by diving into the HTML / CSS – meaning that with either system you should be able to end up with a nice looking online shop window that presents your products in a professional way. My gut feeling is that with Shopify though, you’ll possibly need to do less tweaking. 

Something to note regarding design changes and Shopify: making these HTML / CSS tweaks will sometimes involve using a templating language called Liquid.

Liquid is essentially a simple programming language that allows you to make use of HTML and CSS but also allows you to insert tags, operators and variables to produce dynamic content (for example, in order to display the title of a product on a certain page, you would write {{ product.title }} in a liquid file).

This all sounds more complicated than it actually is though, and unless you want to tweak your Shopify store to the nth degree, you'll probably find you can simply pick a pre-existing template and change colours, typefaces and certain aspects of the layout simply by using the standard controls provided.

Third-party providers of Bigcommerce and Shopify themes

One final note on templates: if you're really not happy with the selection of themes available direct from Shopify and Bigcommerce, you also have the option of buying them from third parties. Sites like Themeforest offer a wide range of templates for these two platforms; you may find something that floats your boat elsewhere.


Key features

Both Bigcommerce and Shopify provide users with more than enough features to set up and run a very professional online store.

They allow you to create products, optimise them for search engines, manage inventory and accept – via a wide range of payment gateways – credit card transactions.

Let's zoom in:

Payment gateways

Shopify and Bigcommerce both allow you to connect an extensive range of payment gateways to your store: the number available varies by country but you'll find that both Bigcommerce and Shopify support the major ones - like Worldpay, Quickbooks, Paypal, 2Checkout etc. Shopify offers more however: 100+ to Bigcommerce's 40 or so.

Normally speaking, connecting a third party payment gateway can be a slightly fiddly process which sometimes involves a contract and/or monthly fees, so users who are not in the mood for that sort of thing might prefer to use one of the 'out of the box' options provided by both Bigcommerce and Shopify.

In the case of Shopify this means using either Paypal or, as discusssed above, its 'Shopify Payments' option.

With Bigcommerce, this means using Paypal powered by Braintree (Bigcommerce have teamed up with Braintree to provide a solution that both offers some preferential Paypal processing rates and a system whereby the user can pay via Paypal without ever having to leave your storefront).

The 'out of the box' rates provided by Bigcommerce are cheaper than those provided by Shopify (in the US at least).

As a side note, it's probably worth pointing out that it is in the area of payment gateways that Bigcommerce and Shopify have their biggest advantage over a key competitor, Squarespace: whilst the payment gateway options offered by both Bigcommerce and Shopify are numerous, Squarespace only allows you to use Paypal or Stripe. The payment gateway functionality offered by Bigcommerce and Shopify is probably one of the strongest arguments for using either of these platforms over Squarespace. (For more information on Squarespace, you may wish to check out our Squarespace review).

Product categories

Any online store is likely to make use of several different product collections - for example on a guitar-related store you might expect to find categories such as electric guitars, acoustic guitars, plectrums, straps, amplifiers and so on.

Setting up categories in Shopify and Bigcommerce is straightforward enough but Shopify's approach is, in my view, niftier, because not only can you add products manually to collections, you can create categories which are automatically populated with products based on on conditions you supply. In other words, you can create 'smart categories' with Shopify (the company refers to these as 'automated collections').

This involves using various criteria to populate a collection, including product title, tags, price, weight and more - so, using our guitar store example again, rather than having to browse through all your products and manually add electric guitars to an electric guitar collection, you could just tell Shopify to automatically add any product with the word 'electric guitar' in its title to the electric guitar collection.

This is particularly useful functionality to have handy if your store contains hundreds (or thousands!) of products, but you will have to remember to use consistent naming conventions for your product titles to make it work.

Although Bigcommerce does have a 'bulk edit' option to speed up category assignment, it doesn't yet provide similar 'smart collection' functionality, so Shopify definitely has an edge here.

 In Bigcommerce, product categories have to be applied manually.

In Bigcommerce, product categories have to be applied manually.

Product options

What Bigcommerce lacks in the categorisation department it more than makes up for with its product option functionality - and is considerably better than Shopify in this area.

With Shopify, you're limited to offering customers 3 sets of options per product - for example, size, colour or material. It's very easy to set these options up - but also very frustrating if you need to sell products that come in more than three versions (workarounds exist, but either fiddly and time-consuming to implement, or involve purchasing a third-party app, thus increasing your costs).

Bigcommerce, on the other hand, allows you to create large lists of product options - I can't find details on an exact limit, but whilst testing Bigcommerce, I was able to create 10 options for a product very easily. If your products come in all shapes, colours and sizes, you should get the flexibility you need.

So clear win for Bigcommerce when it comes to product options (and if you're interested in finding out more about how products options in Bigcommerce work, I'd strongly suggest watching the below video).

Text fields and file uploads

Some merchants will require their customers to enter custom data at the point of purchase - for example, a jeweller might ask a customer to enter some text for an inscription on a pendant. This is possible with both Bigcommerce and Shopify but it's significantly easier to set up with Bigcommerce - you just add a text field as an option to your product.

With Shopify, you're going to have to add a piece of code to your template (to extract a 'line item property') or invest in an app to take care of this.

A similar situation exists with file uploads - if you're selling photography or clothing related products for example that require the customer to upload an image, then you'll find that this functionality is included out of the box with Bigcommerce; but with Shopify, you'll have to resort to a bit of coding or a third-party app again.

A definite win for Bigcommerce here - merchants who need to collect custom data from customers in order to personalise products will find things much more straightforward with Bigcommerce than Shopify.

Importing and exporting products / data in Bigcommerce and Shopify

Both Shopify and Bigcommerce allow you to upload a CSV file containing all your product data. 

In terms of exporting your data, Shopify allows you to export to CSV format. Bigcommerce is more flexible in that allows you to export to both CSV and XML (although it recommends the use of CSV format for exports wherever possible). So a slight win for Bigcommerce here.

Neither Bigcommerce or Shopify are great when it comes to importing or exporting other types of content however - neither platform provides an obvious or easy way to import / export blog posts or static pages. 

And speaking of blogging...

Blogging

Blogging, when done correctly, arguably provides one of the best ways of driving traffic to a store (if not the best!). The more you blog about the 'niche area' in which you are operating, the more visitors you are likely to attract to your site (as long as each piece of content is really strong, optimised for search correctly and promoted heavily). 

Both Shopify and Bigcommerce will allow you to create a simple blog easily (and tag / categorise posts as needed). If your blogging needs are complex, you can always integrate a third party blog (such as a Wordpress one) into either platform (it'll involve a bit of messing about with subdomains / system settings but it's all doable).

You can import posts from an existing blog into both Bigcommerce and Shopify, using the Bigcommerce 'Blog Sync' and Shopify Blogfeeder apps respectively. 

One thing you'll need to watch out for with Bigcommerce's blogging tool is RSS feeds - there aren't any, something I find really strange. RSS feeds are useful because you can use them to syndicate content and automatically send out e-newsletters containing your latest posts. 

Abandoned cart recovery in Bigcommerce and Shopify

Something worth paying particular attention to in a Bigcommerce vs Shopify comparison is abandoned cart recovery functionality. This is a useful feature which allows you to automatically email visitors to your store who add something to their cart but do not complete the purchase.

According to behavioural marketing company SalesCycle, 1 in three recipients of abandoned cart emails click on a link in those emails, with 28% of those users going on to make a purchase - so abandoned cart functionality is extremely important.

Bigcommerce's abandoned cart saver - which the company argues allows you to recover 15% of lost sales - is arguably better than the Shopify equivalent, as the Shopify only allows you to send one automated email to users who abandon their cart, whereas Bigcommerce allows you to schedule up to three automated follow-up emails.

However, with the ability to send a several emails to people who don't complete a purchase comes the ability to spam and annoy, so whilst extremely useful, abandoned cart saver tools should be used judiciously. 

 Bigcommerce's abandoned cart saver

Bigcommerce's abandoned cart saver

An interesting aspect of Shopify's abandoned cart saver involves time intervals - you are only allowed to send your automated email at one of the following times:

  • 1 hour later

  • 6 hours later

  • 10 hours later

  • 24 hours later.

Of these times, Shopify strongly recommend going for the 1 hour later or 10 hours later intervals, as their research shows that users who have abandoned their carts are most likely to come back and complete the purchase upon receiving an email sent after those specific particular periods of time. (This is handy information to have actually, regardless of which e-commerce platform you eventually plump for...).

Given that abandoned cart recovery has the potential to significantly boost sales, a plan with this functionality is definitely worth looking at, regardless of which online store builder you eventually decide on.

I suspect that a lot of users may be nudged in Shopify's direction here, because although Bigcommerce's abandoned cart saving functionality is more flexible, it is also considerably more expensive to get your hands on. An abandoned cart saver is available on Shopify's $29 'Shopify Basic' plan, meaning you can access this important functionality for $40 less per month than if you were using Bigcommerce.

It will be interesting to see if Bigcommerce follow suit and start including an abandoned cart saver on their plans too. 

(Tip: you could also consider purchasing one of the cheaper Bigcommerce or Shopify plans, and using a cart saver app in conjunction with it - the options are much more extensive here with Shopify, thanks to its more comprehensive app store, of which more anon).

Analytics

Both Bigcommerce and Shopify offer a wide range of reporting tools. These include: 

  • customer reports (where your customers originate from, the percentage of new vs returning customers, their overall spend and when they last placed an order)

  • marketing reports (how you acquired your customers)

  • search data reports (what products customers searched for in your online store)

  • finance reports (sales, tax reports etc.)

  • abandoned cart reports.

In addition to the reports mentioned above, you can also avail of a couple of other reports on Shopify and Bigcommerce. Shopify allows you to create custom reports (available on 'Advanced Shopify' and 'Shopify Plus' plans only) and Bigcommerce - for an additional fee - provides you with access to an 'Insights' report giving you more detailed information on your customers, products and abandoned carts.

This Bigcommerce 'additional fee' is quite expensive though, at $49 on the 'Standard' and 'Plus' plans, $99 per month on the 'Pro' plan and $249 on the 'Enterprise' plan.

Despite the pricey 'Insights' option, I think it's fair to say that Bigcommerce ultimately offers a significant advantage over Shopify when it comes to reporting, because you get the vast majority of report types as standard on any Bigcommerce plan.

With Shopify, by contrast, you have to be on one of the more expensive plans - the $79 per month 'Shopify' plan and up - to avail of comprehensive reporting functionality.

If you're on a cheaper Shopify plan, you can avail of some statistics via an 'online store dashboard', but these are pretty basic and 'top line' in nature.

 Professional reporting in Bigcommerce is provided on its cheapest plans

Professional reporting in Bigcommerce is provided on its cheapest plans

For additional insights into your store (particularly where traffic to it is concerned) you can of course also install Google Analytics and use goals to measure conversions and create custom reports.

Buying domains through Shopify and Bigcommerce

Both Shopify and Bigcommerce allow you to buy domains directly from them, and this will enable you to get your website up and running quickly without the need to configure DNS (domain name settings) records with domain name provider.

Bigcommerce advises that domains purchased with them have limited DNS capability though - as the company puts it, "if you need (or may later need) features such as forwarding or domain privacy, you may wish to use a domain from a third-party registrar instead."

The other thing worth bearing in mind with purchasing domains from Shopify or Bigcommerce is that not all extensions are catered for - so depending on your requirements you may be better off buying your domain name from a dedicated provider.

Email forwarding

If you have bought a domain from either Shopify or Bigcommerce, you can create 'forwarding addresses' that forward your mail from your bought domain to another email address - for example, you could set up firstname.lastname@mystore.com which forwards mail onto firstname.lastname@anotherdomain.com.

More useful though is the ability to configure DNS settings on either your Bigcommerce or Shopify-bought domain so that you can use Google Apps to manage your email; this gives you a proper email account that uses your domain name - i.e., youraddress@yourdomain.com. 

Both Bigcommerce and Shopify let you access the DNS settings via the standard Bigcommerce interface.

Personally speaking, I would be inclined to ignore both Bigcommerce and Shopify's built-in email forwarding and pay for a G Suite or Office 365 account to manage email — simply because in doing so you get a very robust email solution AND a host of useful business tools (calendars, file storage, video conferencing and so on). Bigcommerce actually recommends this too.

App stores

There are 'app stores' available for both Shopify and Bigcommerce - with Shopify's containing significantly more apps than Bigcommerce's; whereas there are hundreds Bigcommerce apps available, we are talking about thousands for Shopify.

The difference in quantity may to a degree reflect the fact that Bigcommerce provides a bit more functionality straight out of the box.

It may also reflect the fact that is that there is a bigger user base for and eco-system built around Shopify. As such, you will be able to integrate Shopify with a much wider range of third-party apps and add more interesting functionality than with Bigcommerce.

Point of sale options in Shopify and Bigcommerce

When it comes to using either platform for point-of-sale (POS) transactions, both Shopify and Bigcommerce allow you to use mobile devices to to facilitate point of sale transactions.

Other devices - such as barcode scanners, receipt printers, tills and a label printers - can also be integrated. 

All these help your Shopify or Bigcommerce store become more than just an 'virtual' entity and turn it into a tool for running a business in the physical world too - useful applications of a POS system include accepting credit cards at a merchandise stand at a gig; processing credit card payments at a flea market stall; or just using Shopify or Bigcommerce as a payment processor in general. All your customer and order data is synced with your online store's back end, so everything is kept neat and tidy.

 Shopify's 'Point of Sale' hardware

Shopify's 'Point of Sale' hardware

To use POS with Bigcommerce you will need to integrate a third party platform, namely Square, Shopkeep or Springboard Retail hardware (with more options on the way soon apparently); the Shopify hardware kits are available from the Shopify site itself and Shopify POS is more of an 'out of the box' affair.

Which approach is better will boil down to customer requirements - users with an existing relationship with Square, Shopkeep or Springboard Retail will value the flexibility provided by Bigcommerce; users who want a more tightly integrated approach will prefer how Shopify handles POS.

On thing you will need to watch out for with Shopify POS is the fact that to get the most out of it, you’ll need to be on a $79 ‘Shopify’ plan or higher, meaning a fairly steep increase in monthly overheads for Shopify POS merchants.

Although you can sell in person on the cheaper Shopify plans — using a mobile and a card reader — you won’t be able to use the more extensive range of POS hardware which works with Shopify (barcode scanners, receipt printers, tills etc.). This probably means that — depending on the hardware used — Bigcommerce can facilitate POS slightly cheaper than Shopify.

Mobile

So how do Shopify and Bigcommerce shape up when it comes to mobile devices?

Templates

When it comes to how your store is actually displayed on a mobile device, both Shopify and Bigcommerce offer 'responsive' template designs which automatically adjust the layout of your online store so that it displays nicely across a variety of devices (although if you are not happy with the 'out of the box' design for mobile, you'll need to tweak HTML / CSS to change it; that said, the responsive site usually works very well for most users and will not need to be edited unless you have very specific design / brand requirements). 

Mobile apps

When it comes to mobile apps, Shopify is a hands down winner, offering quite a few different smartphone apps to its userbase. The two main ones are 'Shopify' and 'Shopify POS', which are available on both iOS and Android. The first allows you to manage basic aspects of your store (fulfil orders, add products and view reports); the second, as the name Shopify POS suggests, is there to help you sell via Shopify in a physical location (accept credit card payments, sync products, email receipts etc.).

In addition to the apps mentioned above, there are various Shopify apps available which are designed to help you with various aspects of setting up an online store - a logo marker, a business card making app and an 'entrepreneur articles' app (note that the last two are Android-only).

Bigcommerce used to provide a mobile app but no longer does. (The company says that the desktop version of the Bigcommerce control panel may be accessible using some versions of Android, but that using the desktop control panel from a mobile device is not supported by the company.)

There are some third party apps for managing a Bigcommerce store on a smartphone available - for example, the 'Admin for Bigcommerce' app - but you won't be able to rely on support from Bigcommerce for them. 

Ultimately it's fair to say that Shopify offers more comprehensive - and official - options when it comes to managing your store on a mobile device, particularly in a point-of-sale context.

AMP format

Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is a Google-backed project that has, over the past year or so, really started to take off - lots of site owners are now presenting their content in AMP format on smartphones.

Basically, pages displayed in AMP format are cut-down versions of your content (certain scripts and page features are removed); because of their cut-down nature they load significantly faster on mobile devices.

The key advantage of AMP format is that the number of users abandoning your site (after getting bored waiting for your content) is drastically reduced. There may also be a bit of an SEO benefit to consider too, because Google sometimes positions pages in AMP format above other content (using a featured-articles style carousel).

Although many website owners currently use AMP format to speed up the delivery of largely text-based content like blog posts or news articles, AMP usage has started to crop up in e-commerce contexts too, notably on eBay product pages.

The good news is that both Bigcommerce and Shopify allows you to present your product pages in AMP format.

As far as I understand it, you can use AMP on any Shopify template - you just need to install a third-party AMP app (the downside: you'll need to pay for this).

If you'd like to use AMP with Bigcommerce, you can do so without any additional charges. AMP can be enabled on all of the free Bigcommerce themes, and a large number of its paid ones too. To find a Bigcommerce theme that supports AMP, you just go to the Bigcommerce theme store and select the 'Google AMP enabled' option when browsing the themes.

Given that you can use AMP on all the free Bigcommerce templates out of the box and without the need for any additional app installations, it's a win for Bigcommerce here.


VAT MOSS in Bigcommerce and Shopify

If you intend to sell digital products to EU consumers with Bigcommerce or Shopify, you'll need to familiarise yourself with something called VAT MOSS (short for 'VAT Mini One Stop Shop').

VAT MOSS requires you to apply country-specific rates of VAT to digital products - even if you are running a business that is based outside of the EU.

Shopify has a clear edge over Bigcommerce here, because it can automatically work all the relevant tax rates out for you. With Bigcommerce, you'll need to set up individual tax rules to cover each country in Europe - which will take you a while.


Dropshipping in Shopify and Bigcommerce

Dropshipping is a fulfillment method where you don't keep what you're selling in stock - instead, you take the order, pass it to a supplier, and they send the goods to the client. Your online store, in effect, becomes a front end or 'middle man' for somebody else's business.

Online retailers tend to like this business model because it doesn't involve much investment to start a business; you don't have to spend a lot of money purchasing or manufacturing goods before you start selling. The flipside is that margins tend to be quite low due to intense competition in the dropshipping marketplace. And it can be hard to find ethical suppliers of goods — lots of dropshipping suppliers provide goods manufactured in China, where working conditions can be very poor (on this point, it would be good to see Shopify and Bigcommerce provide lists of ethical dropshippers).

Both Shopify and Bigcommerce faciliate dropshipping - you can either use your store in a bespoke manner with a supplier with whom you have a relationship, or alternatively you can dropship for various retailers by installing an app from Bigcommerce or Shopify's app store (popular options include Oberlo for Shopify or Ali Express Dropshipping for Bigcommerce). 

As discussed above, the Shopify app store contains significantly more apps than the Bigcommerce equivalent - and as you might expect, this plays out when it comes to dropshipping apps - there are a lot more options to choose from with Shopify.

NOTE: For more information on dropshipping as a business model, you could do worse than check out Shopify's free webinar on dropshipping.


Interface and ease of use

Both Shopify and Bigcommerce are straightforward to use. Their interfaces are also now very similar in appearance, and work in a similar way.

In both Bigcommerce and Shopify you use a menu on the left hand side to choose what you'd like to do (add some content, view orders, take a look at reports etc.) and the right hand side of the screen allows you to view data or upload / edit content accordingly. 

Both content management systems are not terribly dissimilar from Wordpress and Squarespace, so if you've used either of those content management systems before, you'll be on familiar ground if you end up using either Shopify or Bigcommerce. 

Below you'll find a video overview of the Bigcommerce interface:

And here's a walkthrough of the Shopify interface (albeit in a slightly more 'vloggy' format):


SEO in Bigcommerce and Shopify

Both Bigcommerce and Shopify perform well on the SEO front.

The nuts and bolts of on-page SEO in both Shopify and Bigcommerce are easy to manage - changing page titles and meta descriptions is very straightforward, as is adding headings and alt text.

Creating page redirects is also very straightforward, with Shopify perhaps having a slight edge in this area, because it automatically prompts you to do this (and generates the redirect for you) if you change a page's URL (redirects are important because they tell browsers and search engines where a page has moved to if you change its URL).

Overall however, I’d say Bigcommerce’s SEO functionality is a bit better than Shopify’s, for a couple of reasons.

First, because it allows you to create Google friendly URLs more easily. With Shopify, although you can customise your URLs so that they contain keywords and are relatively short, they don’t end up perfect because the platform adds prefixes to your pages, blog posts and products, i.e.,

  • /pages/ before pages

  • /posts/ before posts

  • /products/ before products

Bigcommerce by contrast allows you to create much shorter URLs, i.e., ‘www.mystore.com/red-dress,’ which Google prefers.

Second, because AMP is enabled automatically for all pages and products — there’s no faffing about with app installs to get this important functionality in place.

That said, the SEO features in Shopify are strong too, and the fact remains that you can optimize a website for search engines very easily in either product.


Support for Shopify and Bigcommerce

Shopify and Bigcommerce offer similar support options, with phone, live chat, forum, FAQs and email support available. 

Contacting Bigcommerce

With Bigcommerce, you get 24/7 support across phone, email and live chat. However, before you get access to a phone number or email addresses, you are encouraged to fill in a form and review potential solutions suggested by the Bigcommerce website first.

Helpfully however, Bigcommerce provide a 'skip this step' option for users who are 100% certain they need help from a human being!

Contacting Shopify

Shopify's support is also 24/7. And as with Bigcommerce, you have to search for solutions to your problem before being given access to the contact details you're looking for.

 Shopify's help screen - before you get to contact details, you'll need to try to solve your own problem first...

Shopify's help screen - before you get to contact details, you'll need to try to solve your own problem first...

One thing that is slightly unclear regarding Shopify phone support is who can access it: phone numbers are provided for North America, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, but it's unclear what number you should dial if you live in a country other than these.

Bigcommerce by contrast lists more phone numbers for more countries, plus provides an 'any other country' option too. So if phone support is what you're after, Bigcommerce's offering is arguably the more comprehensive one — or at least easier to figure out how to access.


GDPR compliance in Shopify and Bigcommerce

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, you’ll be aware that website owners now need to comply with the EU’s General Dart Protection Regulations (GDPR). Now, please note that I’m not a lawyer and you shouldn’t treat anything here as legal advice; but that said, I’m going to spell out how I see GDPR issues affecting potential Bigcommerce and Shopify site store owners.

With the introduction of GDPR, there are several legal steps that website owners now need to take to ensure that they are adequately protecting their EU visitors' privacy. There are serious financial penalties for not doing so; and even if your business is not based in the EU, you still need to comply with the regulations where any site visits from the EU are concerned.

Based on my understanding of the GDPR rules, the key priorities for prospective Shopify and Bigcommerce store owners are to: 

  • provide adequate privacy and cookie notices

  • process and store data securely

  • get clear consent from people signing up to mailing lists that it is okay to send them e-newsletters

  • provide a means to opt in or revoke consent to use of non-essential cookies on a website before they are run(and to log that consent).

As far as I can tell, both Bigcommerce and Shopify let you meet the first three requirements easily enough, although you will need to spend time (and possibly money on lawyers) creating the relevant notices and tweaking data capture forms in order to make them GDPR compliant.

Neither product in my view adequately caters for the the fourth requirement — cookie consent. To ensure GDPR compliance in this area, you are required to display a cookie banner to your website users which

  • allows them to choose which cookies they want to run BEFORE those cookies are run (i.e., to give 'prior consent')

  • logs their consent to run cookies

  • allows them to revoke consent at a later stage

So for example, if you use a Facebook Ads or Google Analytics cookie on your Shopify or Bigcommerce store, you will be breaking GDPR laws unless you have a solution in place which does all of the above.

Now, out of the box at least, no adequate cookie banner solution is provided by either Shopify or Bigcommerce.

However, there are quite a few apps in the Shopify app store which claim to deal with this problem and provide this functionality. Some seem considerably better than others however; several apps that I looked at, whilst claiming to provide GDPR compliance, came nowhere near doing so.

I couldn’t find anything in the Bigcommerce app store claiming to provide this functionality. But it looks as though using a new product called Cookiepro may solve the problem. I’ve been having a play with it for some Squarespace sites I manage (another hosted solution without a solution to this GDPR cookie banner problem) and, although it requires quite a lot of setup and configuration, it does seem to work well. I haven’t quite finished getting Cookiepro up and running, but I’m making good progress and will be reviewing it in depth shortly as it may be a very relevant tool for Bigcommerce, Shopify and Squarespace users (not to mention a bunch of other hosted solution customers).


Bigcommerce vs Shopify: review conclusions

In previous comparisons I've done of online shopping tools - for example Shopify vs Volusion - I've generally been able to broadly pick a 'winning' product.

However, for this particular comparison, it's harder to pick a hands-down winner: both Shopify and Bigcommerce have various strengths and weaknesses which often seem to cancel any advantages of one platform or the other out.

For me, the strongest reason for using Bigcommerce over Shopify is that it includes more useful features out of the box on its cheapest plan - gift cards, reporting, ratings and reviews. Another key reason would be product options: you really can tailor them to the nth degree on Bigcommerce, where as Shopify limits you to three options. And finally there’s AMP format — it’s great that so many Bigcommerce templates have it built in.

For me Bigcommerce is really well suited to merchants who are going to be selling their own products, need flexibility when it comes to customisation options, and generally want a 'one-stop-shop' in terms of functionality for their online store. It's a good 'get up and go' option.

For me, the strongest reason for using Shopify over Bigcommerce probably boils down to financials: there are no sales limits, credit card fees are lower, and you can start selling cheaper with Shopify thanks to the 'Lite' plan.

My other main reasons for choosing Shopify over Bigcommerce would be to do with templates (the selection of both free and paid-for templates available in Shopify is better than the Bigcommerce equivalent) and integrations (Shopify offers a much wider range of apps than Bigcommerce). And finally, there's the fact that abandoned cart saving functionality is now included on Shopify's $29 per month plan - this is likely to tempt a lot of merchants into the Shopify camp.

But finally, don't forget personal preference: you might simply prefer the interface of one of these tools to the other, and as such I'd definitely advise you to try both out. You'll find links to the free trials below:


Key reasons for using Shopify over Bigcommerce

  • The 'Lite' plan allows you to start selling goods online considerably cheaper than Bigcommerce's entry level plan.

  • The template offering is significantly stronger.

  • Abandoned cart saving is available at a much lower price point than Bigcommerce.

  • It's arguably better for dropshipping.

  • Paid-for Shopify templates are slightly cheaper than the Bigcommerce equivalents.

  • Shopify templates are more distinct from each other than the Bigcommerce equivalents.

  • iOS and Android apps are available for managing your store on the go - Bigcommerce don't currently offer any mobile apps for this purpose.

  • Shopify's approach to product categorisation is much better than Bigcommerce's - you can create collections which automatically populate and update themselves based on criteria you supply.

  • There are significantly more third-party apps available for Shopify than for Bigcommerce.

  • Adhering to VAT MOSS rules is easier with Shopify, because it can calculate the relevant tax rates automatically for you.

  • Point of Sale is more tightly integrated with the product and a dedicated mobile app is available for this functionality.

  • Shopify's blogging tool comes with an RSS feed - Bigcommerce's doesn't.

  • There are no limits on the amount of sales for your store.

You can try Shopify for free here.

Key reasons for using Bigcommerce over Shopify

  • No transaction fees apply, irrespective of the payment gateway used.

  • You get more e-commerce bang for your buck on the $29.95 and $79.95 Bigcommerce plans than with the Shopify equivalents - both of these Bigcommerce plans come with more selling features than their Shopify equivalents (with abandoned cart saving being a notable exceptionon the Bigcommerce $29.95 plan - Shopify is better value on that front).

  • It's much easier to create AMP versions of your store in Bigcommerce (and it's free too).

  • A comprehensive set of reports is available across all plans - this is not the case with Shopify.

  • Real-time carrier quotes are available much more cheaply with Bigcommerce - it's included in their $29 per month plan, whereas Shopify only provide it on their $299 per month plan.

  • You can use far more product options with Bigcommerce: on Shopify, although there are workarounds available, you're limited to 3 options out of the box.

  • You can easily include custom fields and file uploads as product options on a Bigcommerce store - this is not the case in Shopify, where workarounds or app installations are necessary.

  • The Bigcommerce abandoned cart saver functionality is more flexible than Shopify's.

  • Credit card fees are slightly lower (if in the US and using Braintree powered by Paypal)

  • Dedicated phone support appears to be available in more countries with Bigcommerce than with Shopify.

  • Works with more POS systems (and POS will often work out cheaper, depending on the setup used).

  • You can export product data to CSV and XML (Shopify only permits export to CSV).

You can try Bigcommerce for free here.


Any thoughts on Bigcommerce vs Shopify?

If you have any thoughts or queries on Bigcommerce vs Shopify, or feedback on either product, do feel free to share them in the comments section below!

Note: if you're viewing this on a mobile device, you may be reading a streamlined "AMP" version of the post which doesn't feature the comments section - in which case please just click here to view a version of the post which includes commenting.


More Shopify and Bigcommerce resources from Style Factory

Other related e-commerce resources

Shopify vs Ecwid (2018) - Comparison Review
 Shopify vs Ecwid (image of shopping cart accompanying the two companies' logos).

In this article we compare Shopify vs Ecwid, two well-known tools for building an online store. Which one best meets your needs?


Deciding on the type of e-commerce solution you need

There are two main types of solutions you can use to build your store: a tool that lets you build a complete e-commerce site (a whole website, basically, with a shopping cart), or a tool that lets you create a store which you then 'plug in' to an existing website.

In the case of the products we're discussing here, the general idea behind Shopify is to allow you to build a complete e-commerce site from scratch, whereas Ecwid is more for users who want to sell products on an existing site (or, indeed, a social media page).

(Well, in truth, it's slightly more complicated than that, because recently Shopify introduced a new plan, 'Shopify Lite', which allows you, much like Ecwid, to sell products on an existing site...and Ecwid introduced a new 'Starter Site' feature which allows you to run an Ecwid store as a standalone site...but we'll come to all that later!)

Which approach is for you depends chiefly on whether you already have a website (that you are happy to sell from) or not.

If you don't have a website, or have a poorly-designed one, you may be best off opting for Shopify (or a similar 'all-in-one' e-commerce platform), as it comes with a range of free, professionally-designed templates that you can use to lay out your website, as well as e-commerce and blogging functionality.

If on the other hand, you have a website that already looks fantastic and works great — perhaps a good Wordpress website — then Ecwid is quite possibly for you.

Let's take a look at how Shopify and Ecwid work.


How Shopify works

What is Shopify?

Although Shopify is generally perceived as an e-commerce solution, it is, technically speaking, a combination of a website builder and an online store builder: as well as letting you showcase and sell products (digital or physical) you can use it to create regular web content as well — static pages, blog posts, contact forms and so on.

Once you sign up for an account (there's a two week free trial available) you can then select a 'theme', tweak the design a little, create some pages and add some products along with relevant pictures, prices, weights and so on. Shipping costs are calculated automatically by Shopify based on the information you give it about postage costs in your country, and the weights of your items.

When you are ready to publish your store, it can either live at a 'myshopify' web address, or at a domain name of your choosing (www.yoursite.com etc.). You get a lot of control over search engine optimisation (SEO), with the ability to add meta data, page descriptions and so on; it's very flexible on that front.

Shopify and payment gateways / transaction fees

A payment gateway is the software that processes credit card transactions when visitors to your site make a purchase.

With Shopify, your options on this front are as follows:

  • 'Shopify Payments' (Shopify's own built-in payment gateway) 

  • Paypal

  • a wide range of third party payment gateways (Shopify works with over 100 of them).

If you use Shopify Payments, there are no transaction fees to worry about - i.e., Shopify won't take a cut of your sales if you use their own card processing option,but you'll need to note that Shopify Payments is only available to merchants selling from certain countries:

  • Australia

  • Canada

  • Hong Kong

  • Ireland

  • Japan

  • New Zealand

  • Singapore

  • United Kingdom

  • United States

If you use a third-party payment gateway provider, transaction fees will apply - how much depends on the Shopify pricing plan you're on.

On top of transaction fees, you will need to think about credit card processing fees. These will be applied irrespective of whether you use Shopify Payments or a third-party merchant gateway, and the percentage applied varies depending on the country you are based in and the type of Shopify plan you are on (with, as you might expect, the percentage being lower on the more expensive Shopify plans).

Templates

Shopify is pretty flexible when it comes to design - the templates are all very 'tweakable' using the controls provided, but with the 'Basic Shopify' plan or higher you also get full control over CSS and HTML. This makes it a good solution for both users who want edit their design without resorting to coding...or users who really want to use CSS and HTML to tweak their site design to the nth degree.

 Example of a Shopify theme.

Example of a Shopify theme.

There are 10 free templates available in Shopify and 57 paid themes (within each theme there are several variants if it, so the number of designs available is a bit higher than those figures suggest). 

How much does Shopify cost?

Shopify provides 5 plans:

  • Lite: $9 per month

  • Basic Shopify: $29 per month

  • Shopify: $79 per month

  • Advanced Shopify: $299 per month

  • Shopify Plus: pricing varies depending on requirements, but typically comes in at around $2000 per month

With the exception of the 'Lite' plan, all the above allow you to create fully functional online stores. The Lite plan is more restrictive in that it doesn't allow users to create a standalone store but instead permits you to:

  • sell on Facebook

  • use Shopify to sell goods in physical locations (i.e., for point of sale applications)

  • make use of a Shopify 'Buy Button' which can be integrated on an existing site (this works in a similar way to Paypal but allows users to make use of a much more sophisticated back end and inventory management system).

A free trial lets you evaluate the product and get a sense of your requirements. 

It is also possible to buy 'apps' which add particular bits of functionality to your store (for example, you can buy apps that let you create social media 'coupons' for certain products, or apps that provide additional accounting information on your sales).

And as mentioned above, you are also able to purchase Shopify themes created by professional web designers. These tend to look slicker than the (perfectly usable) free templates, but they come with a one-off fee of around $140-$180.

Shopify's Buy Button

Perhaps in a bid to capture some of the users that Ecwid is appealing to — i.e., those who wish to add e-commerce functionality to an existing website — Shopify introduced a 'Buy Button' which, like Ecwid, can be embedded onto a site using a few lines of code. This lets you display individual products or collections on your site.

The Buy Button is available on all Shopify plans, but unless you intend to use Shopify to create both a standalone store and to embed products elsewhere, the $9 'Lite' plan is all you need to make use of the button.

The functionality you get with Shopify's 'Buy Button' is not as comprehensive as that provided by Ecwid: with Ecwid, you're getting a complete store on your site (one which facilitates user account creation, more comprehensive product options, product search, social media sharing of products etc.); as thing stand, the Shopify 'Buy Button' is more about providing basic 'add to cart' and checkout functionality.

Shopify's point-of-sale functionality

A key feature which differentiates Shopify from a lot of competing 'standalone' solutions is its point-of-sale functionality - you can use an iOS device plus various pieces of kit sold by Shopify (tills, receipt printers, barcode scanners etc.) to sell in physical locations as well as online. You can work with third party equipment - such as credit card readers - too. However, you need to be on a more expensive Shopify plan (the $79 ‘Shopify’ plan or higher) to be able to use this point of sale functionality to use the full range of hardware that integrates with Shopify. If you are on a ‘Lite’ or ‘Basic’ plan, you can still use point of sale functionality, but only via an app and a card reader (i.e., tills, receipt printers, barcode scanners etc. cannot be used on the cheaper plans).

Ecwid can be made to work in point-of-sale contexts too but it is arguably a more limited offering (we’ll discuss Ecwid POS in more depth later in the review).

Dropshipping in Ecwid and Shopify

Many users are drawn to solutions like Ecwid and Shopify because they want to start a dropshipping business.

Dropshipping is a way of selling goods without stocking anything - you take an order, send it to a supplier, and they fulfil the order. The advantage of this selling model is that you don't have to invest in lots of stock to set up your online business - rather, your money can go straight into marketing your business. The disadvantage is that droppshipping is very competitive — there are lots of people at this game — and it can be hard to find suppliers of goods that are produced ethically (as many of them are made in China, where working conditions can be very poor).

Neither Shopify nor Ecwid facilitate dropshipping 'out of the box' but the good news is that it's still really easy to dropship with both products - you just need to add an app to your store.

Dropshipping in Shopify is simply a case of adding an app like Oberlo to your store (there are many others available), picking some goods you'd like to sell, and putting your site live.

Similarly, you can also dropship with Ecwid using apps such as Inventory Source or Wholesale2B. 

It's probably fair to say though - that thanks to Shopify's significantly better stocked app-store, that there are more options available to Shopify merchants in the dropshipping department.

Shopify and product options

One thing paying close attention to with Shopify involves product options: you are limited to three per product.

For example, if you were selling a birthday card on Shopify, you could allow users to choose card size, card colour and envelope type...but if you wanted to then allow them to choose envelope colour, you wouldn't be able to. Now, there are workarounds available - you can use a third party app to facilitate more options, combine two options into one, create separate products, or do some manual coding to add more options...but it's all a bit more complicated than it should be.

Ecwid, by contrast, is more straightforward in this regard and doesn't limit product options to such a small number - I'm not sure of the exact limit, but I was easily able to create a large number of product options when testing the app.

Another issue with Shopify's product options is that allowing your customers to provide bespoke information or items - for example, text for an engraving, or an image to be printed - is not possible without either manually adding some code to a product template, or investing in an app.

Again, Ecwid works better here, simply allowing you to capture your desired data (via text box, file upload button etc.) very easily in its product options section. Note that the 'file upload' option is only available in the 'Venture' and higher plans however.

For many users, Shopify's three 3 options and its limitations around bespoke data capture won't really pose problems, but for users who have specific requirements and want want a standalone hosted e-commerce site, I'd suggest taking a look at Bigcommerce.

Another option to increase the product option limits in Shopify is to invest in a third-party app from Shopify’s app store - there are several available.

SEO in Shopify

Search engine optimisation in Shopify is generally very strong: it’s easy to tweak all the major SEO components — headers, page titles, URLs, meta data and so on. Although Ecwid performs reasonably well on all these fronts too, it’s worth singling out two areas where Shopify outperforms Ecwid in SEO terms: URL creation and AMP format.

In terms of URL creation, it’s easier to create ‘clean’ URLs with Shopify; although they are not quite as short as search engines like (being prefixed by identifiers such as ‘posts’ and ‘products’), it’s easy to ensure that Shopify URLs are relatively simple in nature and contain your product keywords. In Ecwid, by contrast, you are stuck with whatever is generated by the system for you. Now, if you ensure that your product title is SEO-friendly, it will be included in your Ecwid URL, which is something — but the Shopify approach is unquestionably more flexible and better from an SEO point of view.

Another edge that Shopify has over Ecwid involves something called AMP: Accelerated Mobile Pages format. Pages in this format basically load faster, leading to an improved mobile experience for users, and potentially some SEO benefits (search engines are believed to reward faster-loading pages over sluggish ones by ranking them slightly higher in search). With the addition of a third-party app in Shopify, it’s possible to display all your site content in AMP format — as far as I can ascertain, this is not possible (out of the box at least) with Ecwid.

Is Shopify for me?

Utlimately Shopify offers a quick, user-friendly way to get an online store together quickly and is ideal for anyone who doesn't already have a website. It's also a good option for people who have an existing site and wish to sell a product or two on the side with a minimum of fuss. The main gripe I have with it is the options limit discussed above.

Most users who want to build a standalone e-commerce site will find Shopify to be a very robust solution, but as with any online product though, it's best to sign up for a free trial and test it out yourself before committing to it.

You might also like to read our in-depth Shopify review for a more detailed breakdown of pros and cons of the product. Also, if you’re interested in building a Shopify store, do get in touch — we can help you build one!

Right, now on to Ecwid.


How Ecwid works

What is Ecwid? 

Ecwid is a tool that is mainly focussed on giving you a store that 'plugs in' to your existing site. Although its new 'Starter Site' feature (more on which below) means you can now use it to create a basic standalone online store, it's primary purpose is still to allow you to add e-commerce functionality to an existing online presence.

As with all the leading online store building tools, Ecwid allows you to set up ‘catalogs’ of products (both physical and digital), add photos, pricing, weights for each etc. You can define shipping rates, accept card payments and so on – all the standard tasks that you’d expect to be able to perform using an e-commerce solution. You can tweak design elements using controls, or, again - if coding is your bag, you can edit the CSS stylesheets (though not HTML).

Where Ecwid differs quite fundamentally from Shopify however is that it is not really a 'standalone' hosted solution but a widget that gets placed on other sites (hence the name: Ecwid stands for ‘E-commerce Widget’). As such, you get a few lines of code to add to your existing website or social media page; your store is displayed wherever you’ve inserted this code. This is good because you can effectively host your store on multiple locations.

(As discussed above, Shopify's 'Buy Button' also allows you to sell products on an existing site, but it is a more basic affair.)

How much does Ecwid cost?

If you’ve only got a few products to sell (up to 10), Ecwid is free.

The $15 per month 'Venture' plan allows you to sell up to 100 products; the $35 per month 'Business' plan allows you to sell up to 2500 and the $99 per month 'Unlimited' plan, as the name suggests, allows you to sell an unlimited number (if you pay annually it works out cheaper).

There are no transaction fees on any plan. As you’d expect, the more you pay, the more additional features you get – discount coupons functionality, better support etc. 

One thing to watch out for with pricing: unlike some competing solutions, the price varies significantly according to where you live. So for example in the UK, Ecwid's 'Venture', 'Business' and 'Unlimited' plans cost £15, £35 and £99 respectively - considerably higher than the US costs, particularly since the Brexit-related fall in the value of Sterling.

Ecwid and payment gateways

As with Shopify, you can either use Paypal or a payment gateway (or both) with Ecwid to process credit card payments. Ecwid does not provide quite as many options with regard to payment gateways however, giving users 55 to choose from versus Shopify's 100+. That said, it's still a considerable number (and more than you can use with competing products Bigcommerce and Squarespace, for example).

Strong features

Five features of Ecwid are particularly strong: 

  • You can use it to present your storefront in up to 45 different languages (something you can't really do out of the box with Shopify).

  • Like Shopify, it offers point of sale functionality, integrating with four POS providers, NCR, Clover, Square and Vend. However, to use the full range of POS hardware (i.e., not just a mobile device) when selling, you will need to be on the most most expensive Ecwid plan (the $99 per month 'Unlimited' plan). You should also note that one of the POS integrations — with Square — is limited to certain countries: the US, UK, Canada, Japan and Australia.

  • Ecwid comes with a free plan that is very usable - you can sell up to ten products with it.

  • A mobile app is automatically created for your Ecwid store which can be published to the Apple App store or Google Play (and these apps accept Apple Pay). This is useful for users who are adding Ecwid to a non-responsive website (although if your website isn't responsive yet, I'd do something about that!).

  • Ecwid integrates very neatly with Wordpress sites, thanks to a dedicated plugin.

 Ecwid's card reader, powered by Paypal, allows you to carry out point-of-sale transactions.

Ecwid's card reader, powered by Paypal, allows you to carry out point-of-sale transactions.

The abandoned cart saver in Ecwid

One thing worth paying particular attention to in Ecwid is the fact that it offers abandoned cart saver functionality much cheaper than Shopify (and indeed other competing e-commerce solutions).

An abandoned cart saver allows you to send automated emails to visitors to your store who go part of the way through the sales process only to leave your store without buying any products. These sorts of emails can increase conversions and have the potential to increase your revenue significantly with little effort.

The abandoned cart saver tool is available on the cheapest Ecwid plan, meaning that you can avail of this useful functionality from just $15 per month. By contrast, you have to be on the $29 ‘Basic Shopify’ or higher plan to get access to an abandoned cart saver.

Ecwid's Starter Site option

A new and potentially very useful feature in Ecwid is its Starter Site option. This allows you to use Ecwid to build a one-page site feature your online store. It's by no means as comprehensive as a Shopify site, but it nonetheless allows you to use Ecwid to build a standalone site. If you're on a paid plan, you can map this to your own domain (meaning that your Ecwid site will sit at www.mystorename.com etc.).

One potentially useful application of the starter site option is using it a 'holding store' whilst your main website gets built — this lets you sell products successfully via an Ecwid starter site despite your full site not being 100% ready.

Is Ecwid for me?

Ecwid is ideal for anyone who already has a site and wants to add a professional online store to it. It saves you from reinventing the wheel by designing a new website, and the fact that you can plug your store into a variety of online locations is excellent - your store can live on your website, your Facebook page, anywhere you can whack a little bit of code in. As ever, try before you buy - the free Ecwid plan can be found here.

You can also read our full Ecwid review here.


Review conclusions

Reasons to use Shopify over Ecwid

  • It’s good for users who don't already have a website, and need a fully-featured standalone store containing features like static pages and blog posts in addition to selling features

  • The SEO features are a bit stronger in Shopify than Ecwid.

  • More payment gateways are available in Shopify than Ecwid.

  • The point-of-sale options are arguably a bit more comprehensive and ‘baked in’

  • You can use the ‘Buy Button’ to sell on other sites a bit more cheaply than via Ecwid, although the functionality provided by it is not as comprehensive as what you’d get from an Ecwid store.

A free trial of Shopify is available here.

Reasons to use Ecwid over Shopify

  • It’s a good option for users who already have a website that you they are happy with, but wish to add a fully-featured online store to it.

  • Ecwid’s multilingual functionality is considerably better than Shopify’s.

  • Ecwid is great for users on a budget or those who have basic selling requirements, because its free plan may actually meet many merchants’ needs.

  • It provides considerably more flexibility with regard to product options than Shopify.

  • It provides abandoned cart functionality at a considerably lower price point than Shopify.

A free trial of Ecwid is available here.


Alternatives to Shopify and Ecwid

If you're looking for a hosted solution for your online store, we'd probably recommend Bigcommerce as a good alternative to Shopify. You can read our Bigcommerce review here, or check out our e-commerce platform reviews section for more online store reviews and comparisons.

Other hosted solutions for e-commerce include Squarespace, Jimdo and Wix, but these are more general website building platforms than specialised e-commerce tools (especially the last two of these three products). See our Squarespace review, Jimdo review and Wix review respectively for more information on these products.

If you are running a Wordpress site and want a store that 'slots into' your site in a similar fashion to Ecwid, then WooCommerce is definitely worth a look too.



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Shopify vs Volusion (2018) | Comparison of Two Leading Online Store Builders
 Shopify vs Volusion - image of a shopping cart beside the two company logos.

In this Shopify vs Volusion comparison review, we pit two very well-known online store builders against each other.

Read on for an overview of their pricing and key features, and find out which of these well-known e-commerce platforms is best for your business.


About Shopify and Volusion

Shopify and Volusion are platforms which allow you to create an online store. They work in a similar way, in that they are hosted solutions - they run in a browser and there is no software for you to install locally (i.e., on your own computer). This means that you can build and manage your store from anywhere, and on any suitable device, so long as you have an internet connection.

Both are 'software as a service' (SaaS) solutions - you pay a monthly fee to use them,  and this gives you the tools to create and maintain your store: templates, a content management system, hosting, e-commerce functionality and support.

The fundamental idea behind both tools is that even if you don't have coding or design skills, you can create an online store easily enough using them.

Let's find out how the two products compare.


Pricing

Shopify pricing

Shopify offers 5 pricing plans:

  • Lite: $9 per month

  • Basic Shopify: $29 per month

  • Shopify: $79 per month

  • Advanced Shopify: $299 per month

  • Shopify Plus: pricing varies depending on requirements (but is usually priced at around $2000 per month).

 Shopify pricing table highlighting the fees for its three most popular plans. 'Lite' and 'Plus' plans (not displayed in above table) cater for users with more basic and advanced requirements respectively. (Prices are correct at time of writing in September 2018).

Shopify pricing table highlighting the fees for its three most popular plans. 'Lite' and 'Plus' plans (not displayed in above table) cater for users with more basic and advanced requirements respectively. (Prices are correct at time of writing in September 2018).

Volusion pricing

With Volusion, there are 4 plans to choose from. The pricing structure is very similar to Shopify's:

  • Volusion Personal: $29 per month

  • Volusion Professional: $79 per month

  • Volusion Business: $299 per month

  • Volusion Prime: custom pricing, based on requirements

 Volusion pricing table (correct at time of writing in September 2018).

Volusion pricing table (correct at time of writing in September 2018).

A comparison of the Shopify vs Volusion entry level plans

Shopify can get you selling online cheaper than Volusion via its $9 'Lite' plan; this is $20 cheaper than the $29 Volusion 'Personal' plan.

However, the Shopify plan doesn't allow you to actually set up a fully functional online store but rather allows you to:

  • sell on Facebook

  • use Shopify's back end in conjunction with a Shopify 'Buy' button which you can embed on your website (this works in a similar way to a Paypal button)

  • make use of the Shopify point of sale kit (more on that anon).

Volusion's 'Personal' plan, by contrast, allows you to create a fully-fledged online store for $29 per month - but there are limits on 

  • the number of products you can sell (100)

  • the type of support you receive (with this plan, no phone support is available).

No product limits apply on any of the Shopify plans (the Shopify Lite plan does however restrict support to email or live chat only however).

Transaction fees

In addition to charging you a monthly fee to use their software, some online store solutions take a cut of each of your transactions. One key advantage of using Volusion over Shopify is the complete lack of transaction fees on any of its plans.

With Shopify, you can also avoid transaction fees on all its plans - but only if you are happy to use Shopify's own payment processing option, Shopify Payments.

There is a bit of a problem with this, because it is only available to users selling from certain territories, namely

  • Australia

  • Canada

  • Hong Kong

  • Ireland

  • Japan

  • New Zealand

  • Singapore

  • United Kingdom

  • United States

Shopify users based in countries not included on the above list can make use of a wide range of third-party payment gateway processors - but if you use one, transaction fees will apply (2% on 'Lite' and 'Basic' plans, 1% on 'Shopify' and 0.5% on 'Advanced').

Key things to watch out for with Volusion and Shopify pricing plans

The key things to look out watch out for when comparing Shopify's pricing to Volusion's are probably the following:

  • Product limits: no limits apply on any Shopify plan, whereas Volusion limit the product numbers to 100 and 5,000 on its 'Personal' and 'Professional' plans respectively.

  • Volusion apply sales limits to their plans: $50k, $100k and $150k on the Personal, Professional and Business plans respectively. By contrast, no sales limits are applied on Shopify plans.

  • Abandoned cart functionality: you can access this on the $29+ Shopify plans, but it's only available on the $79+ Volusion plans.

  • Manual order creation: Shopify allow you to create manual orders on all plans, but Volusion only allows you to do this if you are on their $75+ plans.


Core features

Shopify and Volusion offer a similar set of key features out of the box, and allow you to:

  • design your store using a range of pre-existing templates

  • create catalogues of products

  • manage your store using a CMS

  • optimise your products for search

  • accept online payments via a range of payment gateways

Let's zoom in on a few key features, and see how they stack up against each other.


Templates

Both Shopify and Volusion offer a wide range of templates, all very professional in appearance. They are responsive too, meaning that they will automatically resize themselves to suit the device your store is being viewed on. You can choose either a free theme or a paid-for one.

In terms of quality, both the Volusion and Shopify themes are of a high quality and I wouldn't have any particular reservations about using any of the themes I've encountered from both companies as a starting point when designing an online store. 

 Shopify's free 'Minimal' template ('Vintage' version)

Shopify's free 'Minimal' template ('Vintage' version)

Let's look at quantity though - this is where Shopify has a bit of an edge.

Free templates from Shopify and Volusion

At first glance Volusion seems to offer slightly more choice in the free template department - there are 11 free templates to Shopify's 10. However, most of the free Shopify templates come in 2 or 3 variations, so there's actually a bit more choice available from Shopify. 

Paid-for templates from Shopify and Volusion

Both Volusion and Shopify offer a wide range of paid-for templates, but again Shopify provides more options: there are 57 paid-for themes available from Shopify to Volusion's 34, nearly twice as many.

You can also pick up a Shopify paid-for theme slightly cheaper: they range in price from $140 to $180, whereas all the Volusion themes all cost $180. (Volusion themes used to be incredibly expensive, so this reduction in cost to $180 per theme is a welcome development.)

And finally, the Shopify premium themes are arguably a bit slicker, featuring more contemporary design features like video backgrounds and parallax scrolling.

Finding the right template

Finally, the Shopify theme store is set up in a way which makes it easier to find the right template for your online store: you can browse using a wide range of filters, including price, style, industry and more; by contrast, Volusion doesn't provide any filters (other than 'free' or 'premium').

Overall, when it comes to templates, it's hard not to conclude that Shopify's offering is significantly better than the Volusion equivalent.

A Volusion paid-for theme


Payment gateways

Both Shopify and Volusion integrate with a large number of 'payment gateways' - third party tools that process credit cards on your behalf. However, you can use more payment gateways with Shopify - over 100 to Volusion's 34.

It's important to note that the number of available payment gateways available for use in Volusion varies significantly depending on what part of the world you're operating in - in the US, for example, you can make use of around 30 Volusion payment gateways, whereas in Europe, this number drops to just 8.

Both tools come with an 'out of the box' payments solution too: 'Shopify Payments' and 'Volusion Payments'. Shopify Payments, as mentioned above, can only be used by merchants based in the United States of America, Puerto Rico, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.

Volusion Payments is only available to merchants in the US, and unlike Shopify Payments you'll have to pay a monthly fee to use it. You also have to go through an application process which takes 5-7 days.

All this means that Shopify is a hands down-winner in both the third-party payment gateway department, and its out-of-the-box option is more attractive than Volusion's too.


Apps

Apps allow you to bolt on a lot of additional functionality to an online store, and integrate third party web applications with it. 

Both Volusion and Shopify have app stores, but Shopify users can benefit from a much wider range of apps than Volusion users: there around thousands of Shopify apps you can integrate with your store, but only 71 Volusion ones.

Although Volusion's apps do cover the basics, the reality is that Shopify users will benefit from a significantly larger number of options when it comes to apps (and these cater for major third party apps like Xero and Freshbooks).

There are also hundreds of free apps available for Shopify...but only ten free apps for Volusion.


Dropshipping in Volusion vs Shopify

Many potential users of Volusion and Shopify will want to know how well it handles dropshipping

Dropshipping is a way of selling products where you don't keep the actual products in stock. Instead, you take an order, redirect it to a supplier, and they deliver the goods to your customer. A lot of people are attracted to this way of selling products because you don't need much capital to start up your business; the down side is that competition in the dropshipping marketplace is fierce, and sourcing products that are made ethically by reliable suppliers can be a challenge.

If dropshipping is what you want to do then - as with much else discussed in this review - you'll find that the options are considerably more extensive in Shopify. There are tons of apps available for Shopify to facilitate it, but with Volusion, you're limited to just two dropshipping apps / suppliers: Doba and Kole Import.

For more information on dropshipping as a business model, I'd suggest you check out Shopify's free webinar on dropshipping.


Point of Sale options

Both Shopify and Volusion facilitate Point of Sale transactions - in other words, you can do business in the real world (selling goods in a retail outlet, pop-up store or event) use these platforms to both accept payment and sync inventory.

You can buy hardware directly from Shopify to faciliate point of sale transactions - this includes a barcode scanner, a receipt printer, a till and a label printer. All these allow your Shopify store to become more than just an 'virtual' entity; it can double up as a tool for running a business in the 'real' world too. All your customer and order data is synced with Shopify, so everything to do with sales and inventory is kept neat and tidy. 

You can use POS on any Shopify plan (using an app and a card reader provided by Shopify), but it's worth noting that if you want to make use of more sophisticated POS hardware (tills, barcode scanners and so on) you will need to be on the more expensive 'Shopify' plan or higher. 

Shopify's point of sale options are very comprehensive

POS functionality is available in Volusion too - you can use a variety of UPC scanners, card readers and receipt printers with it, so you will be able to use the platform in much the same way as Shopify's.

The key difference between Shopify and Volusion when it comes to POS applications however is that whereas Shopify make it a key part of the offering, and more of an 'out of the box' feature, it's more of an 'add on' service for Volusion which will require you to give more thought to the third party hardware you use (and possibly spend more time tweaking configuration settings to make this hardware work with Volusion).


Adding a blog to a Volusion or Shopify store

Shopify offers an extremely important feature out of the box that is missing from Volusion: a blogging tool.

You might not immediately think that a blog is a key part of an online store - but in this day and age of content and inbound marketing, regular posting of quality blog content is absolutely essential to generating traffic to a site – and by extension to generating product sales.

It is possible to link a third-party blog (i.e., a Wordpress blog) to your Volusion store and mess around with DNS settings so that everything works neatly enough and your blog lives on a nice-looking subdomain…but it is a headache and probably one that a less experienced user will want to avoid. Shopify’s built-in blogging tool is a much better solution - you simply get a blog on your store that very easy to update.

That said, the Shopify blog is fairly basic - if you want to do advanced post categorisation and tagging, or particularly need an archive of older versions of posts, you might be better off with a third-party blogging platform such as Wordpress.

The majority of users will be able to make do perfectly well with a Shopify blog however, so for me this gives Shopify yet another edge over Volusion. 


Ease-of-use

Shopify has got a considerably better user interface, and when testing these two products against each other, I've always found that putting a simple store together is much, much quicker in Shopify than in Volusion.

Volusion now provides you with a step-by-step wizard to help you get started with your store - this is a welcome improvement - older incarnations of the Volusion back end sort of threw you in at the deep end.

 The Volusion interface

The Volusion interface

However, if you follow the Volusion wizard process to the end, it concludes by asking you for your credit card details. This is extremely annoying and goes against the spirit of offering a free trial! It is possible to get around this by clicking a back button...but it's not ideal and some users will find the whole thing irritating or confusing.

Once you've gone past the wizard stage, you'll find it oddly difficult to do some very simple things with the Volusion interface – like reorder the navigation or add a simple ‘About Us’ web page.

I've used many a site / store builder in my time, but with Volusion I've had to resort to Google searches to work out how these simple tasks are performed – instant proof that this system is not, shall we say, all that intuitive. The same tasks did not present any problems at all in Shopify, which comes with a much more straightforward CMS and WYSIWYG editor.

Finally, both products allow you to tweak CSS and HTML, so if you are a relatively experienced web developer, you’ll be able to configure your store extensively.

My overall verdict on user friendliness is that Shopify is way, way easier to use than Volusion. (The below vlog-style video gives a walkthrough of the Shopify interface - unfortunately I can't source a similar video for the new version of Volusion).


Marketing features

Volusion offers some rather interesting marketing features out of the box, notably a tool that allows you to create your own affiliate programs, a CRM system and a basic email marketing tool that allows you to send newsletters to your contacts directly from within Volusion.

The affiliate program could be useful for some users, but I'm a bit skeptical when it comes to the CRM side of things, because it doesn't support email systems that require SSL integration (with Gmail, used by millions of businesses worldwide, being an obvious casualty).

Volusion's email marketing tool is also quite a useful feature to have built into an online store solution - but there are limits on how many e-newsletters you can send out per month. The Volusion help pages, rather unhelpfully, don't provide the limits for the current plans, but list the limits for their old pricing structure instead. 

  • Mini Plan: newsletter emails not included

  • Plus Plan: 200 emails / month

  • Pro Plan: 1000 emails / month

  • Premium Plan: 2000 emails / month

Assuming that these limits broadly correspond with the new plans, it's clear that they are not overly generous — and accordingly, this feature is probably only going to be of use to merchants who are starting out on their e-commerce journey. Successful merchants will have larger lists and will most likely make use of a dedicated email marketing tool like Getresponse or Aweber.

Comparable marketing functionality is not really available out of the box with Shopify, but you can integrate it easily with a wide range of third-party CRM and email marketing tools by using an app from Shopify's app store. You can also use an affiliate app like Tapfiliate to  create an affiliate program for a Shopify store.

All in all Volusion's idea of providing marketing tools that let you operate your store and marketing campaigns using one platform is a nice one - but the tools themselves feel rather underpowered and you'd in all probability have a better experience (and gain more functinality) using dedicated third-party ones.


SEO in Volusion vs Shopify

Both Volusion and Shopify allow you to extensively tweak key SEO settings, including page title, URL, alt text, meta descriptions, 301 redirects etc. — all the stuff you'd expect to be able to change without any difficulty in a professional e-commerce solution.

As with much else however, I generally prefer the Shopify setup in this regard. There are two areas in particular that I feel Shopify handles better: 301 redirects and search-friendly URLs.

301 redirects

When you change the URL of a product or page, it's vital to let Google and other search engines know about this, by creating what's known as a 301 redirect.

In Shopify, this is done automatically for you every time you change a URL; but in Volusion, it's a case of going into a 'Redirect Manager page' and uploading an XML file. This is the kind of stuff that reinforces my general feeling that Volusion is not really geared up (yet) for users without much in the way of a technical knowledge around website building.

Search friendly URLS

Another oddity regarding SEO in Volusion concerns search friendly URLS. Search engines generally prefer short, 'clean URLs' containing keywords rather than variables (i.e., 'www.mystore.com/green-dress' rather than 'www.mystore.com/cat125/?productid=1234'). By default it seems that Volusion prefers the latter approach, and if you want the former you have to go into settings and ensure that a 'search-friendly URL' setting is switched on. Again, needless legwork.

And on top of that, the process involved in tweaking URLs in Volusion in order to get them into a search-friendly format seems overly-complicated — as their help page on the topic demonstrates.


Userbases and history

There are two important 'due dilligence' questions to ask yourself when investing in any hosted e-commerce or website building solutions:

  • How many people actually use this product?

  • How long has it been about?

The answers to these questions are important, because they let you know how much you can 'trust' the solution you're considering using - for example, a relatively new company with only a few users on their books is more likely to go bust or shut down their service, with serious consequences for your online store.

User figures / revenue

In terms of userbases, we can only go on the numbers provided by Shopify and Volusion. Shopify states that there have been 600,000 stores built with their platform; Volusion states that over 185,000 stores have been built with theirs.

Volusion claim that there are currently 30,000 active Volusion users. This is dwarfed by the figure provided by Shopify, who claim to have over 1,000,000 active users.

According to Shopify, their product has been responsible for $63bn in sales; Volusion's claim is $28bn. 

Company histories

Shopify is a somewhat newer kid on the block than Volusion; whereas Volusion has been around since 1999, Shopify opened its doors for business in 2006.

This puts the userbase and sales figures into context: Shopify has grown its business more quickly in a significantly shorter period of time, to the point where its userbase and sales have considerably eclipsed the corresponding Volusion figures.

Ultimately you'll need to draw your own conclusions from these figures, but they probably point to Shopify being a safer bet than Volusion over the next few years. 


Support

Volusion offers online support on all plans, but phone support is only available on its $79 'Plus' plan and up. Shopify's phone support is available on its $29 'Basic' plan and up.

My hunch is that if you're a Volusion user, you are more likely to require phone support than if you're a Shopify user, simply because the Volusion interface is way less user-friendly.

Unlike with some competing products, it's easy enough to find a phone number for Volusion - you can either call a number listed on the home page of their site or you can use a 'schedule call' option (you can access this when logged into your Volusion Dashboard by clicking the 'Get Help' link at the top right of the screen).

Accessing phone numbers for Shopify involves a slightly fiddlier process - you have to search for a solution to your problem and fail to find one before you can see any phone numbers. When you do get to see them, you'll note that numbers are only provided for a few countries - North America, New Zealand, UK, Australia and Singapore...it's not entirely clear what number you need to ring if you live outside of these territories. I'm guessing it's the US one.


Which is better then, Shopify or Volusion?

So which is better, Shopify or Volusion? Well, as you’ve probably guessed as this post has developed, I'd argue that Shopify is the hands-down winner in this particular e-commerce platform shootout.

There are seven main reasons why I think it's a better product:

  • its user interface / CMS is much easier to use

  • it provides a wider range of free templates

  • there are no limits on bandwidth or products to worry about

  • it allows you to integrate a significantly larger number of apps into your store than Volusion does

  • it's a better bet for dropshipping

  • it allows you to blog ‘out of the box’

  • optimising a Shopify site for search engines is a more straightforward process

All this, I feel, makes Shopify far more suitable for use by people who want to set up an online store, but have little or no experience of building a website.

And speaking of building a website, Shopify generally makes it easy to do just that – you could, if you really wanted, ignore the online store aspect of things altogether and build a whole website fairly easily using Shopify.

It would be a pretty silly thing to do, as there are more comprehensive, cost-effective options out there for building a site without e-commerce functionality (see our Squarespace review or our Squarespace vs Wordpress comparison for some ideas), but the point is that with Shopify you get a very complete, generally easy-to-use package which allows you to build an entire website that is simple to maintain and comes with a fully-featured online store and a blog.

Volusion’s offering is more exclusively about the online store side of things and as such it comes with more online store-related functionality out of the box; this is fine, but many people who want an online store also need it to double up as an informational website (and blog) too. 

I guess my main issue with Volusion though is that it feels more like a tool for web developers rather than 'normal people' (!) who simply want to get a store off the ground quickly - and my feeling is that people who want to say, sell pottery online are too busy making and selling pottery to take a night class in web development.

For me, any system which presents a user with information about CSS files when he/she tries to create a simple navigation menu (as Volusion does) screams “hi developers!” rather than “hi novice”. Requiring users to upload an XML file to create a redirect is another example of this tech-heavy approach.

Any ‘techy’ stuff in Shopify (and there is plenty of that if you need it) is kept largely out of the way in the back end – it’s accessible alright, but not shoved in your face. This is far less intimidating for anyone who doesn't know what an ASP file is (the majority of people on this planet, I suspect).

That’s not to say that Volusion is an entirely bad product. If you are technically savvy, or a web developer, you should find it relatively straightforward to set up and use, and you may find that it has a bit more online store functionality (though not content management features) than Shopify.

Additionally, it can work out a bit cheaper to run a Volusion store, because (payment gateway provision aside), no transaction fees are charged on each purchase. If, however, you are a small business owner without any web skills, and you want to get a simple online store off the ground yourself with a minimum of fuss, Shopify is a much better, easier option.

Reasons to use Shopify over Volusion

  • It's significantly easier to use than Volusion.

  • There are more themes to choose from, and its paid-for themes are cheaper than the Volusion equivalents.

  • You can sell an unlimited number of products on each plan.

  • Blogging functionality is built in.

  • A wider selection of payment gateways is available.

  • A significantly wider selection of apps and integrations is available.

  • Point-of-sale functionality is more comprehensive and 'built in'.

  • Its own payment system, Shopify Payments, does not involve transaction or monthly fees.

  • Abandoned cart functionality is available on the $29 Shopify plan; you'll need to be on a $79+ plan to avail of this important feature with Volusion.

  • Its SEO features are easier to use.

  • There are no sales limits on any plans.

  • It has a larger userbase - which arguably makes it a safer bet.

Free Shopify trial

Reasons to use Volusion over Shopify

  • There are no transaction fees on any plans.

  • Some users may find its built-in marketing features (CRM, affiliate program and email marketing tools) useful.

Free Volusion trial


Free trials of Shopify and Volusion

As I always say at the end of these sort of comparison reviews, it’s usually a good idea to try both products out yourself before committing to one of them, and fortunately both come with a free trial.


Any thoughts on Shopify vs Volusion?

If you've used both Shopify or Volusion (or both!) in the past, I'd love to hear your thoughts on both systems - feel free to add comment below (note, if you're viewing this on a smartphone and can't see the comments section, you may be reading an Accelerated Mobile Pages version of the page - if so, click here to view the regular mobile version, where you'll be able to view and add comments. Thanks!). 

How to Make an Online Store in 7 Easy Steps
How to make an online store - picture of a computer and a shopping cart

In this article, I discuss how you can make an online store - and more importantly, how you can drive traffic to it and generate sales. 

You're probably reading this post because you're looking for some e-commerce software to help you get an online store up and running.

Finding this software is the relatively easy bit (we have some suggestions below); but getting your store to make money is the tricky part.

So in this post, we look at all the things you need to do not just to get an online store live, but attract traffic – and thus sales – too. 

But before we dig down into all that, let's take a look at how you go about choosing what to sell.


1. Pick the right product to sell

This sounds so obvious that it’s barely worth saying, but picking the ‘right’ product to sell is absolutely essential to the success of your store.

However, by ‘right’ I’m not talking about quality – you should obviously avoid selling tat – I’m talking about the ‘uniqueness’ of your product.

This is because when you set up an online store, you are competing with a large number of hugely popular sites selling everything under the sun: just think of the Amazons and the Ebays of this world to get a flavour of the level of competition.

Generally, you are going to have a tough time shifting products if you are simply selling stuff that is already widely available on those kinds of sites.

To run a successful online store, what you ideally need to do is ‘find your niche’ – identify (or make!) a product that is not being sold by every online retailer going, but for which there is enough demand to sustain an online business.

For example, instead of selling a guitar that is commonly available on Amazon, you might consider selling an instrument that is hard to find online, but for which you know there is strong demand.

So, let's take a look at how you can use keyword research to find your niche...


2. Use keyword research to help you find your niche

To help you find the niche discussed above, you are going to need to do some research. The simplest way of identifying a niche is to

1) use a keyword research tool (like Moz Keyword Explorer, Ahrefs or SERPs to find niche markets

and

2) perform online searches to see how many retailers are operating in those markets.

Keyword research tools allow you to find out how many searches per month are performed for various keywords.

For example, it might tell you that there are 246,000 searches per month for the search term ‘buy guitar’ and only 1,600 for ‘buy ukulele’.

This might make you think “whoa, there’s a much bigger market for guitars, I’m going to sell guitars” but stop right there: think of the number of guitar stores you will be competing with.The numbers that the keyword tool has just given us tell us that ukuleles are definitely much more of a niche product, but one with a decent enough number of people interested in buying them (nearly 20,000 a year worldwide, enough to arguably sustain an online ukulele-selling business) .

The question is whether there are already a lot of retailers selling this niche product: people might have beaten you to this niche already.

To find out, you now need to look at 'keyword difficulty' - this is a score given (in one format or another) by keyword research tools. The higher the keyword difficulty score, the harder it will be to rank for searches for that product name.

It's also a good idea to perform some of searches in Google to see how many stores specialising in selling ukuleles online are already out there.

If you find that there are already loads of hugely popular online ukulele stores in existence, it might be time to think about selling a different product. But if there’s clearly only one or two online stores flogging ukuleles…well, maybe it’s time to think about going into the ukulele-selling business.

This is quite a basic example; you can go much further with niches. You may find during your research that there are quite a lot of ukulele sellers out there, but not many soprano ukulele sellers (but still enough demand to justify the setting up of an online store selling soprano ukuleles)…you get the idea.

The trick is generally to find products for which there is a reasonably strong level of demand but with relatively few online stores selling them (or, ideally, none at all!).


3. Source your stock

There are two main options available to you when it comes to sourcing stock: purchasing it from a supplier and reselling it, or dropshipping.

The advantage of the first option - buying it from a supplier you know - is that you can view the quality of stock first-hand, ensure it is produced ethically and build up a good relationship with your supplier.

(In fact, if you're making your own products, you are in effect the supplier!). The disadvantage is that you will need some cash handy to invest in purchasing stock which you may never end up selling (or, if you're manufacturing it yourself, you'll need to invest to produce it).

The second option is to dropship. Dropshipping is a fulfillment method where you don't keep what you're selling in stock (you take the order, send it to a supplier, and they deliver the goods to your client - your store is in effect a middle man of sorts).

The main advantage of this method of sourcing stock is that no upfront investment is required; the downside is that dropshipping is quite a competitive area and you may end up selling products that are also marketed by many competing merchants.

Most of the major e-commerce platforms (which we'll talk about in a bit more depth below) offer add-ons / integrations which allow you to locate and dropship goods produced from a wide range of suppliers. Popular apps include Oberlo for Shopify and Alibaba for Bigcommerce.

If you're interested in dropshipping, you may find Shopify's free webinar on the topic useful.


4. Create your online store

Once you’ve identified your niche product and market, and know where you're sourcing your stock from, it’s time to think about getting your online store off the ground.

You could hire an agency or freelancer to design your store for you, but if you go down that route, make sure that they implement a solution that lets you manage your store without them after it’s live – i.e., they need to provide you with access to a ‘content management system’ (CMS) that lets you edit your site easily and add/remove products. This means that after your store goes live, you won't have to pay a webmaster or developer to do it every time.

(That said, if you are short on time, or bad with computers, it may make sense to hire a professional to do this work on your behalf.)

Example of a Shopify theme

Another option is to use an online store builder and just create your online store yourself – you may find this more cost-effective, but you will have to tread carefully.

There are lots of e-commerce solutions to choose from – popular ones include Shopify, Bigcommerce, Squarespace and Volusion

Of the ones I have road tested to date, I have found Shopify and Bigcommerce to be the most straightforward for users without a lot of experience of building websites – they are definitely the most user-friendly of the bunch.

Squarespace is also quite easy to use, but it lacks some of the more advanced e-commerce features that come with Shopify and Bigcommerce.

The good news is that all these solutions offer free trials and support to help you get going – just follow the links below:

If you already have a website (for example, a Wordpress site) and want to add an online store to it, tools such as Ecwid will come in handy – it allows you to plug a ‘widget’ into your site (or anywhere else you can insert some HTML code – for example, a Facebook page or blog) and users will see a fully-functional online store at that location.


5. Optimise your site for search

Once you’ve found your niche market and designed your online store to cater for it, it is now crucial to optimise it correctly for search.

You can use keyword research tools again to find out exactly what kind of searches are performed for your type of product, and ensure that your site contains all these keywords in all the right places – page titles, product descriptions, headings, meta data and URLs.

Most of the solutions mentioned above – Shopify,  Bigcommerce and Volusion in particular – give you a lot of control over SEO. If you plump for one of those products, make use of this functionality!

You'll find more detailed information on how to make a site visible in Google here, or you can download our 'Super Simple SEO' e-book here.


6. Blog

A hugely important part of attracting traffic to an online store is to blog regularly about topics related to what you are selling.

For example, on your ukulele site, you could blog about playing techniques, or your favourite type of ukulele strings, or that bit in Some Like It Hot where Marilyn Monroe plays a ukulele on a train.

This type of activity is basically known as ‘inbound marketing’ and if you don’t engage in it, you are potentially missing out on a huge number of sales.

By posting high-quality, keyword-rich blog posts related to your area of business, you are doing two things: one, maximising the chances of your site appearing in relevant search results, and two, showing you are an authority on the area of business you are operating in (potential ukulele buyers will have greater confidence in ukulele vendors who clearly have a passion for, and understanding of, all things ukulele).

Returning to particular store builders for a moment, it's worth pointing out a key reason why I'm keen on Shopify and Bigcommerce solutions for building e-commerce sites: both products come with blogging functionality built in (which, for the reasons outlined above, is very important for building an audience for your store).

You can add blogs to a Volusion site too but it involves setting up subdomains, and is a bit of a fiddly process.


7. Advertise online

If you have the budget, it's definitely worth running some online ads to promote your online store's products. A good starting point for this is Google Adwords and Facebook ads.

Google Adwords

Using Google Adwords involves identifying (and paying for) relevant search phrases that will display adverts for your store/products alongside ‘organic’ Google search results.

In my experience, Adwords campaigns generally work well when you are selling relatively expensive products. For example, you might be able to live with an Adwords ‘cost per acquisition’ of £50 (i.e., where you spend £50 on ads to generate one sale) to sell one product if that product – let’s say a TV – retails at £1000, but if you are spending £50 on ads to sell one CD that retails at £10…well, a different approach might be needed.

It’s a question of looking at your margins, trying out different keyword strategies and so on to ensure that the cost of advertising doesn't eat into your profit too much. But used well, Adwords can help you sell a lot of products; and If you're interested in learning more about using them, you could do worse than checking out Neil Patel's 'Google Adwords Made Simple' guide.

Facebook ads

Facebook ads work in a different way to Adwords: rather than paying to display your ads to people who are entering keywords into a search engine, you are paying to display your ads to people who have told Facebook what they are interested in.

For example, using Facebook ads you could advertise Beatles T-shirts to people who like the Beatles; VW keyrings to people who drive Volkswagens and so on. 

Facebook ads are extremely powerful and let you target (and re-target) audiences to the nth degree - as such, it's worth getting a full understanding of how they work before you start spending money on them. Facebook's own guide to advertising on their platform is a good starting point. 


Any thoughts?

Any thoughts on how to set up an online store?

If you've set up your own online store, or have any queries about doing so, we'd love you to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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