A Beginner’s Venture into the World of eCommerce
So you want to build an online store? With the overflowing number of options nowadays, I know it can seem like a daunting task to figure out where to begin. Lucky for you, I decided to get my feet wet with BigCommerce, Shopify, and Volusion – the three biggest eCommerce platforms. By building my own online store on each of their platforms, I’ve experienced what you’re about to go through – and here’s what I’ve learned.
The second you create your store (filling in basic information like your name, the store name, what you’re selling, etc.), BigCommerce is there for you with a tutorial going over different functionalities of the site. They also list out a set of steps to help you get started, so that’s nice. First item on the list – adding products!
The ‘Add a Product’ page is pretty self-explanatory, you just enter in the product name, price, and description. Beyond that, there are many other optional fields to specify your product. BigCommerce has a feature called Categories, which helps users find products they’re looking for and group similar products together. There are preset categories when you start, but you can always delete those if they don’t align with what you’re selling and create your own. They also offer an option for pre-orders, if you want certain products to have orders placed on them before they’re available. You can easily add photos and videos of the product, as well as whether you want it to be visible on Google Shopping. The bar towards the top of the page lists out many other ways to customize your product. Once you click on a specific item (let’s say Bulk Pricing, for example), BigCommerce walks you through the process of setting it up!
Different options under Add A Product
Next up, ‘Customizing your Online Store’ allows you to select from a variety of themes, which essentially determines how your store will look to the people that visit your site. As an avid iPhone user, I appreciate the fact that all their themes are mobile responsive, meaning they’ll fit to the screen of any device you’re using (phones, tablets, etc.). I’ll be honest, however, BigCommerce’s selection of free themes is quite limited. The few options there were not bad, just your average website templates. There are more themes that you could pay for and they range from $100 – $250. Overall, the themes are relatively modern and easily customizable for any store, so I had no trouble finding one that fit the sleek, simple look I was going for.
This was the theme I ended up choosing for my store
The themes in BigCommerce give you the option of customizing certain aspects such as the background color, border colors, text colors, hover colors, and much more. These adjustments require no coding knowledge, they’re simply adjusted in the Theme Editor.
After creating products, choosing a theme, and customizing it, BigCommerce then gets you ready to ship your products. In the Shipping Manager, you can add a shipping address and manage shipping zones. Shipping zones allow you to edit the rates depending on how far your customer is. You’re also exposed to the different add-ons that BigCommerce is compatible with, such as ShipperHQ and ShipStation. These add-ons offer additional functionality beyond the scope of the BigCommerce platform. BigCommerce offers many more as well, but we can get into that later.
This is what the Shipping page looks like – notice the Advanced Shipping Rules that you can install
Now, onto setting up payments. BigCommerce makes this super easy for you because they automatically accept any major credit card or debit card and PayPal – all you have to do is complete the setup. Clicking the button takes you to the PayPal powered by Braintree site, which allows you to create your account and start accepting payments.
Now that you’ve gotten the logistics of your store set up, it’s time to review and launch! BigCommerce always gives you the option to update and add new products as well as change the theme of your store, so you have the flexibility to go back and change things at any time. The final step before officially launching your store is to change the domain name. By default, BigCommerce will assign your store a something.mybigcommerce.com domain, however, you should change this by going to Account Settings → Account Summary → [Your Store Name] → Change Domain Name. Having a simple, unique domain name will help draw visitors to your site.
And there you have it! After launch, your store is up and running. Now, your dashboard probably looks a bit different than it did before – rather than the Getting Started list, you should see your store performance, statistics, and orders. BigCommerce keeps track of these for you. You can also explore the sidebar on the left and see what other functionalities BigCommerce offers.
BigCommerce automates a lot of the logistical processes for you – such as keeping track of your orders, registered customers, and inventory. This allows you to focus on making your store what you want it to be, without worrying about the cumbersome technical side. It gives you the tools that you need for different marketing campaigns, from banners for promoting discounts, to abandoned cart notifications. It also provides analyses of how your store is doing by recording orders, revenue, customers, visits, and top products. Not only is BigCommerce a way to build your store, but it also helps you grow your business. Its insights will allow you to optimize your products to generate the most revenue.
As your store grows, your business’s needs may change. This is why BigCommerce offers many different add-ons to support tasks that would facilitate changes in your business. ShipperHQ and ShipStation, the two that I mentioned before, were both add-ons that provided more flexibility to control shipping rates. There are add-ons for inventory management (particularly when your sales are coming from multiple channels), customer relationship management, marketing, and more. These features allow for endless growth and feasible management of your store, so your needs are always accounted for.
Overall, BigCommerce made setting up an online store easy and painless. The steps were straightforward and they made it clear what to do. The categories option for products is really useful, because it helps you sort through the products you’re selling and makes it clearer for customers when they’re browsing your site. I personally liked the themes BigCommerce offered, although the selection was very small. They allowed you to preview the theme right away, because by default it includes many sample products and text. This is great for seeing what the store would look like, but annoying when it comes to customizing your site because you have to delete all of the excess information. The shipping and payment steps were simple – it’s convenient because BigCommerce calculates and handles everything for you. The biggest issue with BigCommerce, in my opinion, is the default text, images, and categories. Not only is it a pain to go through and delete these, but it also makes it difficult to find the pages and add content for your own store. Despite this, I would say BigCommerce is an easy-to-use store-builder that comes with a plethora of features and resources to help your store succeed, all it takes is a little bit of patience.
Platform 1 down, 2 more to go.
Another easy initial setup – your name, store name, and address, and voilà you’re in! Shopify, much like BigCommerce, welcomes you with a list of things to do. First things first, add a product!
The page to add a product is straightforward; add a title, description, image, price, dimensions, and you’re good to go. There are other options to add details to your item such as inventory SKU, barcodes, and variants (if the product comes in different sizes or colors). You can also preview the search engine listing which is extremely helpful in boosting your website’s SEO and attracting more customers. Shopify’s version of categories is called Collections, and you can sort your products into different ones in order to find them with more ease.
The next step is the same as building with BigCommerce; it’s time to choose the design of your website. Shopify has its own Theme Shop, where you can browse through many themes, preview them, read reviews about them, and click on real shops that implement them. This comprehensive system ensures that you’ll find the right theme for your store. One downside is that Shopify has just about the same amount of free themes as BigCommerce does – not very many. That being said, all of Shopify’s free themes could be implemented and function as well as the paid themes; they’re all quite modern and visually pleasing. Shopify also gives you the option to edit the themes using code, with one catch: they use their own programming language called Liquid. This makes it annoying if you just want to change one small thing in a theme, because you would have to seek out someone who knows Liquid, which is definitely fewer than those versed in HTML & CSS.
After choosing a theme, the next item on Shopify’s Getting Started list is to add a domain name to strengthen your brand. By default, Shopify gives you a storename.myshopify.com domain, however, you should buy a different domain name for a more professional feel (nobody wants .myshopify in their domain!). Purchasing a domain name through Shopify starts at about $13 USD per year. It’s nice that Shopify makes changing the domain name a priority because it’s one of the most important parts of the business – it’s how customers will remember and reach the store.
Shopify’s next point is to “Find more ways to sell with Shopify sales channels”. These options include selling in person with Shopify’s POS, selling on Facebook, and adding products on an existing website. This is helpful for those who have a store already up and running – not so much for people who just started out. However, it’s good to know about the options for later on when the business grows. Shopify also links blog posts from their website in order to help you get started and expand your business. While BigCommerce was more concerned with the logistical setup, Shopify invests its time in giving you the support for your long term store needs. Nonetheless, it still offers you a straightforward initial setup.
Shipping options are very similar to those in BigCommerce’s platform. You enter in your address and the rates are calculated at checkout. You have the option to add shipping zones as well, and Shopify gives you discounted prices for paying for shipping labels from USPS.
Payment with Shopify is also relatively simple; they have their own payment system that accepts credit and debit cards, as well as PayPal. Again, all you have to do is complete the account setup and you’re ready to receive payments!
After the initial store setup, Shopify allows you to track your orders, products and customers (similar to BigCommerce). They also offer integration with third-party apps to support more in depth and comprehensive functions. These features include drop shipping with apps such as Oberlo and Printful, marketing insights from Privy and Smile.io, and boosting social media presence with InstaGalleries and SocialShopWave. There’s also an option for a Buy Button, which essentially turns any existing website into a store by allowing users to purchase items from it. Within Shopify, however, you can view your reports of sales, customer behavior, finances and acquisition. This will offer insight on your customers and ultimately help your business grow.
All in all, Shopify is a comprehensive eCommerce platform that is perfect for those just starting out. Setting up the online shop was not difficult, and Shopify provides you with the resources to help you expand – from easily integrating with social media platforms, to sending you helpful blog posts about where to start. Shopify’s theme store is also quite impressive because it shows each and every one of the themes they offer in depth, and provide reviews and examples of it fully implemented. In addition, Shopify’s search bar is especially handy when you’re stuck or can’t find what you’re trying to do. It searches through all the settings and options so you can easily accomplish whatever your goal is. (BigCommerce’s one on the other hand only searches through your orders, customers and products). Shopify and BigCommerce are very similar, but I think with all the extra support and resources, I would have to pick Shopify over BigCommerce.
Now, adding a third platform to the mix.
After the first two, I thought I had this whole ‘building an online store’ thing down. Leave it to Volusion to catch me off guard. Immediately after signing up, I expected to see some sort of task list that would have me add a product first; instead, I’m greeted with “Welcome! Pick a theme to get started!”. Volusion offers you a selection of ten free themes or the option to ‘Get a Custom Design’, which starts a window to have a conversation with a Volusion representative. The themes are comparable to those of Shopify and BigCommerce, and seem to work well with almost any store. Next, Volusion asks you to upload a logo or enter in a text logo (which is nice for those just beginning on their eCommerce journey). The text logo then pops up at the top of the screen – where a logo would be.
After those two steps is when Volusion finally asks you to add some products. They only allow you to add 3 products at first, so you can focus on customizing the storefront and seeing what the display of products would look like. Later on, you’ll have the option to add more products or import them in bulk. Regarding site customization, Volusion definitely gives you the most flexibility about what you want to change in the theme, but it’s a little frustrating and unintuitive. The way the platform is set up allows you to enter what you want certain fields to be on the left side, and preview what it would look like on the site on the right side. Some of the fields I entered in, such as Banner Text, Sub Text and Button Text, don’t appear directly in the preview, which is annoying because then I can’t see what I’m changing. Regardless, I appreciate having that option, as well as the ability to change the navigation of the site. Volusion’s navigation largely depends on the different categories the products are in, so you then have the option to specify the categories you want (i.e. shoes, clothes, bags, etc.).
When these basic steps are over, you’re asked to choose a plan in order to get ready to sell. They assure you that your 14 day trial is still free (in case you still haven’t decided whether or not to commit to the platform). The plans start from $15.00 a month, which includes everything you would need to begin your eCommerce business. The most expensive and comprehensive one is $135.00 a month, and is tailored toward larger businesses with priority support and a dedicated account manager. Volusion lays out all of the options for you, so you know what you’re getting into before you make a commitment.
Choosing one of the plans will take you to a page that ties up a few loose ends – asking you about things like whether or not you have a domain name and whether you want to purchase an SSL certificate. Shopify and BigCommerce both include an SSL certificate in the subscription, however, Volusion does not. An SSL certificate is important because it makes sure that information submitted to the website is kept secure by encrypting it when it’s transferred. Volusion requires that you purchase one before you can start accepting credit card orders.
Setting up purchases is one of the more complex aspects of Volusion compared to Shopify and BigCommerce. Not only do you need an SSL certificate, but you also need to set up a Payment Gateway. This gateway ensures the secure transfer of payment between the merchant and the acquiring bank. Volusion helps you through the process of configuring one, so don’t worry.
Volusion offers a lot of behind the scenes support – from marketing to sales reports. It’s a robust platform that is suited for any of your business needs. There are options for you depending on what products your business sells. For example, if you’re selling downloadable products, Volusion gives you the option to create and manage products keys in order to keep them secure. In addition, Volusion helps you with return on investment tracking, social media marketing, SEO, and more. The options to utilize those programs are there, however, it’s up to you to figure them out and make them work. Volusion has a support staff that is there to help, but the website won’t explain everything or walk you through.
Overall, I would say Volusion is the least-beginner friendly of all 3 platforms. It offers the same basic setup as the other two – choosing a theme, customizing it, adding products. It gives you a wide range of options in order to help the success of your business, however, it requires a bit of digging and playing around with it on your part. Setting up the payment system also requires some patience, as not everything is included with the monthly subscription (like it is with Shopify and BigCommerce). This platform is definitely more suited for medium to larger sized companies, and it’s probably better to have prior experience with eCommerce before tackling it.
That’s it for the 3 platforms! Here’s a head to head (to head) comparison if I lost you in some of that
While you can’t go wrong with any of these options, I would recommend Shopify for those of you just starting out. It was easy to use, and includes all the features that you need to launch your store. In addition, the sheer number of businesses using Shopify means that you’ll have an extremely large community of users behind you to help. That being said, each of these platforms has its own strengths and weaknesses, so the best fit for you will depend on your store. Shopify, BigCommerce, and Volusion all have free trials, so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to try them all out and see which one you like best. Coming from someone who had no prior experience with eCommerce, it wasn’t all that bad! In fact, it was actually quite fun. So what are you waiting for? Go out there and start your own online business!