If you’ve ever ventured in to e-Commerce, you know that the platform choices can be mind boggling. From developing your own store to hosting it with a WordPress plugin to leveraging a 3rd party provider to getting started on a fully hosted service like Etsy, the options are so complex that it’s not a question of if and how easy it is for you to get started online, it’s trying to figure out where and why.
Years ago I built my first store on the Yahoo Store platform. I was so frustrated with learning a completely different language and framework, there, that when I had my first run in with fraud and dealt with the FBI before closing that venture, I promised never to work with anything complex again. Since, I’ve set up a handful of e-Commerce sites via WordPress; you know I’m a passionate evangelist of WordPress as a CMS for any site and reasoned that the extensibility, for eCommerce, would be a great thing. While I’m still a big fan of plugins like WP-Commerce, the complexity of a store really begs for simplicity in administration where ever else possible.
It’s with that experience in mind, and a new opportunity before me, that I dove headfirst in to an exploration of Shopify, BigCommerce, Magento, eBay ProStores, Amazon, and Volusion. Determined to find an easier platform, and a huge fan of web services and cloud computing, my new direction emboldened me to persevere with an in depth investigation.
Let me jump ahead to the conclusion and share here that that emboldened perseverance didn’t last long
e-Commerce Provider Requirements
I’m not going to point any fingers at the unreasonableness present in e-Commerce provider feature lists. I understand what providers are trying to accomplish for folks with those lists; if you want to know what we do, here’s the list of the few thousand bells and whistles associated with our platform. At the end of the day, we merchants (or rather, me potential merchant), have a brief list of requirements and only want to map that list to your capabilities. Here’s my list:
- Easily customizable, templated designs
- White label experience – my domain, no cobranding
- Search optimized architecture and flexibility to change everything related to SEO
- Mobile accessible (mobile app is a huge plus)
- Integrated with Facebook: Connect, Like, Store page
- Catalog distributed through shopping engines & eBay
- Credit card, PayPal, and G. Checkout (is that necessary to point out?)
- Discounts, coupons, gift certificates, shipping deals, etc.
- Product options
- Reviews and comments
- Inventory and return management
- Site search
- Tax management
- Reporting and Google Analytics integration
- Email marketing integration and CRM
- Recommendation intelligence
- Affiliate tracking (or better: white label affiliate platform)
- Accounting integration
You may have your own unique needs and admittedly, I’ve probably overlooked something, but that’s what I have in mind and I don’t think there is anything there unreasonable.
Now, take a moment and try to figure out exactly who offers that and at what cost; which of those features are built in vs. add-ons; which are truly available and not just listed because, of course you can add a Facebook Like script to your product pages. What is really a part of their platform? I’ll give you a day. It’s taken me longer than that and I’ve just about given up.
No, I’m not going to be critical of the e-Commerce provider’s sales experiences, but in the era of dynamic web sites where decision tree analysis is easy and friendly, I should be able to indicate what I want and wait moments while you spit out whether or not you can cut it, exactly what I need from you, and how much it will cost.
Without that, here is my first attempt, an attempt upon which I will build, to highlight the feature variations between e-Commerce providers.
e-Commerce Vendor Comparison
Could also be called, the differences between Shopify, BigCommerce, and Volusion because that’s where I got frustrated and called it quits
Before you read my matrix let me be clear that this is NOT accurate. I couldn’t figure out whether or not these providers offer all of these features. What I’ve done is map what I could find from each and tried to understand whether or not the same was available elsewhere. I FULLY expect that this is complete and ask the providers to help me clean this up. Beyond Volusion, Shopify, and BigCommerce, I do want to plot what’s available from Magento, eBay ProStores, Amazon, and others. I’m just exhausted.
By the way, *stars* refer to updates I’ve received from the provider; those features are available but were not discovered through my original review.
|Drag & Drop design||x||*|
|Edit HTML & CSS in browser||x||x||x||*|
|Edit via FTP||x||*||*|
|W3C/XHTML compliant templates||x||x||x||*|
|Customizable Email templates||x||*||*||*|
|Web based control panel||x||x||x||*|
|Marketing & SEO|
|Integrated blog||x||* WordPress|
|Edit 301 redirects||x||*||*||*|
|Per-page meta / title||x||*||*||*|
|Uses H1 tags||x||*||*|
|SEO friendly URLs||x||*||*||*|
|Custom image alt text||x||*||*||*|
|Comparison Shopping Sites||x||*|
|Mobile friendly format||x||x||*||*|
|Ordering & Checkout|
|Single page checkout||x||x||*|
|Guest checkout option||x||x||*||*|
|Refunds & credits||x||*||*||*|
|Custom checkout fields||x||*||*|
|Order messaging system||x||*||*||*|
|One click re-order||x|
|Shipping tracking numbers||x||x||x||*|
|Send tracking link to customer||x||x||*||*|
|Shipping label printing||x||x||*|
|Products & Merchandising|
|Physical and digital products||x||*||*|
|Product options (size, color, etc.)||x||x||*||*|
|Custom fields (text on a shirt)||x||x||*|
|Gift wrapping option||x||x||*|
|Call for pricing option||x||*||*||*|
|Suggested Retail Price||x||*||*||*|
|You may also like…||x||*|
|Low stock indicators||x||x||x||*|
|Bulk manage inventory||x||*||*||*|
|Accept credit cards||x||x||x||*|
|Paypal, Google checkout||x||x||x||*|
|Offline payment options||x||*||*||*|
|COD, pay in store, check||x||*||*||*|
|Order by phone||x||*||*|
|State, Country, Geo zones||x||x||*|
|Flat tax option||x||*||*||*|
|Cost & profit reporting||x||x||*|
|Suggest / Did you mean?||x||*|
|Product reviews & comments||x||x||*|
|3rd party comment platforms||x||*|
|Private wish lists||x||x|
|Public wish lists||x||x|
|Customer address book||x||x||x||*|
|Drop shipping vendor avail.||x||*||x||*|
|3rd party apps||*||x||*|
|Warehousing vendor avail.||x||x||*|
|Live chat vendor||x||*||*|
|Return / RMA system||x||x||*|
|Own DNS record||x||x||x||*|
Providers, contact me here for corrections, I will be diligent about ensuring this is accurate. I realize you may not appreciate what I’m trying to do here but small business owners trying to figure out how to sell online have an unreasonable experience before them. Let’s make it easier.
Everyone else, if you want to add a feature or entirely new provider, let me know
My Conclusion OR Why Providers Should Care
Even though it sucked trying to go through the BigCommerce feature list with a fine toothed comb, that chart (as of June 24, 2011) speaks for itself. Though I can’t tell if BigCommerce has blog infrastructure integrated with its platform, it seems to do everything else I need. Shopify is a close second because it does what I want and I think it’s safe to presume most of those missing features are part of the platform (they are pretty standard features); besides, their App Store (integrating 3rd party tools and features) is brilliant. Their shortcoming? The apparent lack of any significant marketing capabilities. Volusion’s built in affiliate platform, if I’m right in reading what that is, is a HUGE advantage but they seem to lack in many other cases.
Again, I fully suspect my investigation is incomplete, but that’s what their websites tell me; I shouldn’t have to jump on the phone with a sales person to figure that out and I’m certainly not motivated by a free trial just to find out that provider doesn’t do what I want – that’s the information with which I’m making a decision. Please, share with me what’s missing and let’s help everyone make the right decision.
Update: I received a great note from Shopify (three cheers for them) and revised the matrix accordingly. The original post remains otherwise unchanged as I’d offer (and encourage of Shopify) that my original review is still a reflection of the challenge store owners have in evaluating each provider.
Update: Just heard from Volusion so we have a full report of features available from the three. As I’d done with Shopify, the features updated by Volusion are flagged differently so as to distinguish the provider features obviously available from those according to their update.
Update: Thanks to the incredible team at Pinnacle Cart, I’m pleased to share the first major update to this report, adding a forth and very popular solution to the e-Commerce platform comparison matrix that the Pinnacle Cart analysis is not my own but provided, faithfully, by the team there. Please let me know if you see any discrepancies.