You already know that eCommerce can be a complex business. Whether you are just starting out or if you've been in the game for a while, it is an expansive space with numerous solutions all claiming to be the best. But what may be the best for an enterprise is likely not what's best for your specific, up-and-coming marketplace.
If you think about some of your favorite brands, they likely have eCommerce sites offering thousands of products in many countries with different payment providers, fulfillment partners, and languages for each country. But let's consider a simpler scenario, where maybe you or I are looking to sell 2 - 5 products in this moment and expand later on.
We want a simple website, in one language, with the ability to create blog posts and product pages without programming. We also want to accept money without having a merchant account set up. I believe that there are tons of people who start off this way and, after a bit of success, continue to expand their eCommerce business into even more products and services.
What solutions are available to those of us with BIG eCommerce goals but little programming experience? Here are the 5 best:
BigCommerce is an all-in-one solution that allows you to host an entire website, create content pages, take payments from customers, manage your orders and much more – right out of the box.
Who it is for
If you don’t already have a website and you want to sell physical products in addition to digital downloads, then BigCommerce could be a solid solution for you since they offer “big business features at small business prices” .
It’s really easy to set up. And also if your products' sales take off, this platform will allow you to expand and scale with ease.
Enterprise level eTailers ($5m in revenue or more) probably won’t use BigCommerce as they will already have existing systems for inventory, fulfillment, etc. that may require more custom development for integration. As a small eCommerce business however, BigCommerce can manage nearly any possible need you will have.
BigCommerce is a great choice for two primary reasons. First, the ease of its setup and second, the amount of functionality included out-of-the-box. Design your store from their web interface, add products, and select payment options. Getting started is really as simple as that.
Because it's so quick and easy, you have the option of setting everything up at once or getting the basics set up first and worry about the included advanced functionality later. Either way, when your business does expand, BigCommerce has enough features available, right when you do need them. If your company is looking to sell only a few products, you will be fully up and running in just a couple of hours!
There are a number of different ways that BigCommerce makes money (i.e. ways that they charge you).
They charge for some or all of the following:
- A fixed percentage of the transaction amount
- A fixed monthly fee
- By selling add-ons (which are extra apps that add additional logistics, marketing, and functionality support)
In order to really do a cost comparison between the three, you need to ask yourself what volume of sales you will have and what additional features you will need, as that can be a hefty annual fee as well.
If you’re willing to spend $80 a month with BigCommerce, then you won’t have a fixed cost per transaction (like you do on Shopify) and you will receive all of the additional functionality that competitors charge extra for.
Another interesting option (if you are at the FAR end of the non-technical spectrum) is their “white glove” treatment. A part of the Platinum plan ($199.50 per month), they actually help you to set up the product and define your tax and shipping options. If you are confident that you will be making thousands per month, this sounds like a great option (although I have not used it myself).
Shopify is another all-in-one solution that allows you to host the entire website, create content pages, take payments from customers, manage your orders and more.
If you don’t already have a website and you want to sell physical products and host the entire site through the service, then Shopify is another winning bet.
Who it is perfect for
Shopify and BigCommerce have many similar features (blogging options, product pages, marketing options, built-in SEO, responsive templates that work for mobile traffic) so I want to focus on some of the differences. Shopify has a cheaper starter plan that costs $14/month but limits you to 25 sales per month. For you entrepreneurs and owners just getting started, this could be a nice way to lower initial costs.
Also, if you want to sell goods at a trade fair or in a stall, Shopify provides you with a free reader, which you plug into an iPad, that allows you to physically take credit cards and process them directly through their system. It will even defer payment until later if you are temporarily offline. This is a nice feature that gives a seller legitimacy and immediate credibility when first starting to handle multiple payments from customers online and in-person.
Like BigCommerce, there are a number of ways that Shopify make money off of you.
- By charging you a fixed percentage of the transaction amount
- Having a fixed fee on each transaction
- Charging a monthly fee
- By selling add-ons
While Shopify has a fixed fee per transaction on several packages and BigCommerce does not, the price is not that different. You should choose between the two based on which additional functionality you will require and how many add-ons you will need to purchase.
WooCommerce is a full-featured eCommerce system that functions as a WordPress plugin. If you already have a WordPress site as a web presence or as a blogging tool, then adding eCommerce functionality is incredibly easy.
Although I will mention two other solutions below that would also work with WordPress, WooCommerce is only one of the 3 with all of the functionality you need if you will be doing serious eCommerce that requires elaborate features.
Who it is perfect for
WooCommerce is generally acknowledged to have the most active community of users and developers. This is important if you’re planning to invest a lot of money in your solution. Add-Ons exist for most additional needs but you may run into issues if you have extremely unique situations.
Some plugin examples:
Installing and activating a WordPress plugin is usually very easy to do and WooCommerce is no exception. What might take more time is setting up your inventory. Also, setup time depends depend on what features you need to have a minimum viable product so again, consider all of your requirements before choosing an eCommerce platform. While WooCommerce has a lot of functionality included for a budding eCommerce business owner, you don't want to get 3/4 of the way through setup and realize that your dream site isn't possible with the available add-ons.
Some features that are built-in include:
- Handling coupons
- Ability to manage cross-sells
- An order management interface
- Analytics integration and lots of out-of-the-box reporting
As I said, setup time depends on how many products and details you need to input but to set up a couple of products, shipping details, product pages and images could be done in a few hours. The interface is intuitive and everything works well.
WooCommerce is free to use, but the additional plug-ins you must buy separately. It is great if you have basic needs and are just looking to sell a few things. Look at the plugins available and think how many you would need and how much that would cost (the fees are normally annual) and you can expect to pay $250 - $500 per year if you find 6 or 7 of them that you need.
Like WooCommerce, Easy Digital Downloads (EDD) is a WordPress plugin, so you need to have or create a Wordpress site before you add this plugin.
Who it is perfect for
If you don't want to sell a physical product (that requires delivery via postal services) and are looking to distribute digital products (eBooks, audio files, mp3s, or video files), then this plugin is a great option for you.
EDD is optimized for this scenario. Lots of the complexity associated with physical eCommerce is simply not relevant in digital sales. This solution mirrors that by offering a simple, easy-to-use plugin that is geared wholly towards virtual distribution.
Without a doubt, one of the best part of selling digital products is that the delivery process is really just providing a download link once the payment in provided. EDD even manages this for you, including the sending of the email and providing a link to the customer that lasts for 24 hours (which is configurable). So you don’t have to worry about processing orders, this plug-in handles it all.
You might even consider not selling things at all but rather, giving them away for free! Consider giving away free digital products (i.e. a download), in exchange for an email address, to build a marketing list.
Even if you don’t have a WordPress account, it’s almost worth setting one up to use this plugin.
Installation is easy and and you can find many useful guides like this one.
The main decision you have to make is whether to use a direct purchase button (which you place on the page yourself) or whether to give each product its own landing and purchase page (which means you can have much more product info showing). If you want a direct purchase button, you can use a supplied “short code”, which is a one line WordPress code, that comes with the plugin which you then paste into your page.
To illustrate, in 30 minutes I had:
- Downloaded EDD
- Activated the plugin
- Entered PayPal details
- Set up a single product (with price and other details)
- Tested that the whole process was working
The great thing about this plugin is that the emails to your customers (from PayPal or the plugin itself) don’t require you to do anything after. The document download link has been sent to the paying customer, it’s all done.
That’s the beauty of this plugin; it is really not going to require much time once you get it set up.
Easy Digital Downloads is free to use, meaning no cost per transaction. The business model is to sell their add-ons, which makes the most sense for both parties. If you want a more customized, complex solution then you pay more for those extra bits. For example, the Stripe plugin for payments is $49! To determine cost, my suggestion is to look at all the available plugins as with any other solution and ask yourself how much you would end up needing to buy.
Some of the biggest and smallest ecommerce sites in the world have integrated PayPal. It's no wonder as you can integrate PayPal in about 15 minute; with almost no technical acumen! This is because PayPal provide you with the ability to create a button that is then embeddable (i.e. copy and paste it) on your site.
Who it is perfect for
You may want a PayPal Button if you fall into any of these scenarios:
- You already have a website that doesn’t sell anything quite yet but you want to quickly add a basic product page and the ability for customers to buy.
- You have one or two products that you are currently selling offline and want to quickly offer them for sale online.
- You want to test how well something sells online (or whether it will sell at all) before committing to full-fledged eCommerce business.
About as simple as they come, the way PayPal does it, you visit this page to create your button and then you copy and paste the code on to your site. Voila, it looks just like the yellow PayPal button we all know, and more importantly, trust.
That’s it – you are up and running and are accepting payments (both credit cards through PayPal and PayPal transfers themselves) in a matter of minutes! In order to collect the money, you need to set up a PayPal business account (or convert an existing account to a Business one) and you need to "install PayPal". Fear not, this only takes a few more minutes!
The one concession you will need to make is to pay far more. PayPal is expensive. You need to consider that you will pay between 2-3% of the transaction fee as a merchant, plus credit card handling fees, plus 2% if the currency used is different from your specified currency. It’s worth studying the costs and calculating what gets taken off a typical order's revenue.
In terms of fulfilling the order, PayPal sends you (the merchant) an email telling you what was ordered, the customer’s address, and customer’s email. The posting of the order is then up to you to manage, but you have all the info that you need!
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Easy Digital Downloads
NOTE: the reason I have evaluated BigCommerce and Shopify while excluding Volusion is because Volusion lacks analytics. For me, that’s something you will want to and need to be able to look at from day one. I always advise clients to choose from BigCommerce and Shopify if an all-in-one eCommerce solution is called for.
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