That’s a good question and one that requires an in-depth answer. In today’s post I’ll cover my story on how I ended up with Big Commerce after trialling more than 30 shopping carts!
When I first started out in eCommerce, my cart of choice was Open Cart. It was simple to use, completely free and has a big community built around it… but I soon realised that function and feature wise, it’s very limited. And even though you can get hundreds of plugins, both free and paid ones, to work with Open Cart, in essence that just creates even bigger compatibility issues…
So I started to look for something more robust and feature-rich.
I knew that I wanted to go with a hosted shopping cart as I simply don’t have enough time to deal with all the technical problems that come with self-hosted carts. There are many advantages hosted carts offer over traditional, self-hosted solutions like:
Super-fast page loading times.
Most modern hosted carts use high speed, professional hosting and something called content delivery network (CDN). CDN is a way of distributing photos and other files from your shop to data centres all around the world. This means your shop loads fast no matter where your site visitors are and that’s hugely important for an eCommerce store, where you can get loads of international traffic and sales.
Live chat, email and phone support – I know that if something goes wrong with my shop, there will be professionals working 24/7 to help me fix it. I don’t want to have to rely on forums to help me find out what’s going on! I want to get professional help QUICKLY! And this is something most hosted carts offer.
On-going, hassle free updates.
This is what I love most about hosted carts – they do all the hard work for you in the background and just keep working on new features. We all know how fast eCommerce changes nowadays – there are new tools and marketing channels popping up every year – with hosted carts we don’t have to worry about making manual updates or compatibility issues as everything is taken care of for us.
Security, PCI compliance.
To take direct card payments on your shop, it must be PCI compliant. Now, to do this by yourself, with your own website, takes a lot of money and time plus you always have to stay updated with the latest changes. Hosted carts do this for you so you can spend your time on what matters most – traffic generation and sales.
Security of your site is another issue. Sure, you can pay a £1000+ per year on Mc Affee services (or similar) to secure your site but why do that when you can get almost the same service practically for free?
Yes, with hosted carts you have to pay a monthly fee BUT I really think it’s money well spent, well actually not spent; invested in your business! You free up your time from technical worries! And time is highly valuable for most people when just starting out.
Also, those fees are really small compared to the profit you can potentially make from your business. Thankfully, the times when hosted carts were expensive are over! Now you can start a shop for less than 20 quid per month. And still get all the benefits associated with hosted shopping carts.
So yeah, I knew it was a hosted cart I wanted and I started my search for the BEST one available at that time!
And I found it!
3D Cart – in my opinion; the most functional, feature rich shopping cart out there. It has SO MANY features that it would take me all day just to list them here. As with most carts they’re hosted in the US but still offer 24/7 support so your location is really irrelevant.
Here’s the thing – all the best hosted shopping carts are built by companies OUTSIDE the United Kingdom. But as I said, these carts will generally use CDN so the actual hosting location isn’t at all important. Plus you still get support during European working hours and currency and other similar localisation settings are easy to change via the admin panel – usually under general store settings.
While 3D Cart was my favourite hosted shopping cart for many years, I realised that there are some problems with it:
Features I don’t use.
For most projects I’m not using even 30% of all the available features built in to 3D Cart. While this is not necessarily a problem, it still indicates that maybe I don’t need that many features and a simpler cart would be as suitable for me?
Pricing plans are based heavily on Bandwidth usage.
3D Cart’s pricing structure is mostly based on Bandwidth usage and for heavily visited shops this soon adds up! While most shops could be run on the Starter plan (500 products, $35.99 per month), it only comes with 4GB traffic which isn’t that much when talking about eCommerce. My best shops use around 20-30 + GB of traffic per month which would need the Professional or Power plan…
And that means paying $100+ per month.
Which is not actually a big issue at all, as when you reach the level when your shop is getting 15GB+ of traffic per month, you’ll be making thousands in sales, so $100 or even $200 really shouldn’t be a problem, right?
Yes, that’s true. BUT why pay more when you can get what you need for less?
Also, there will be niches that consume A LOT of traffic that doesn’t bring in that many sales. I’m talking about niches with loads of small, cheap products with multiple pictures and an average visitor who just browses your site but doesn’t buy anything. In niches like these, even that $100 per month could seem high in comparison to the profit you’re making.
The last one is the most important for me as I love to customise my shops to make them look good and function exactly as I want. And this was basically the main reason why I started replacing 3D Cart, and using Big Commerce for my new projects.
For reasons unknown to me; coders / designers / programmers that work with 3D Cart are quite expensive and there are very few of them. IF you use 3D Cart’s services for customisations, then be prepared to pay A LOT! Well, their prices may seem small to large companies but not to people just starting out OR for someone (like me) who loves to create new projects just for testing purposes.
So yes – if you choose 3D Cart, be aware that any customisation you do won’t be cheap and in the long term it really does add up.
I still believe that 3D cart is a SUPERB shopping cart and perfectly suits large, complicated projects but for most shops, it’s just too expensive and complex.
So I started to look for another alternative.
I checked out all the well-known carts, like:
- Volusion – a very good cart, somewhat similar to Big Commerce. What I don’t like about it is that they also have bandwidth limits for each plan + their starter plans are highly limited in features in comparison to what you get on their Gold or Platinum plan (which costs $195 per month).
- Magento– the Godzilla of all shopping carts! Yes, it’s feature rich, yes, it’s totally customisable, yes, it’s popular. BUT just do a Google search on Magento customer reviews to see some feedback – it’s one of the most complicated carts I have ever seen.Plus, to get a Magento shop running fast, you’ll have to pay a fortune on a good dedicated server to host it.Recently though Magento has introduced a new lite-version of the cart in the form of Magento Go, which I haven’t checked out yet.
- Shopify– Another great looking cart, very similar to Big Commerce. I actually like Shopify’s templates a lot but the issue is – they charge you a fee on ALL transactions you make in your shop. That is, unless you opt for the Unlimited Plan at $179 per month.This simply doesn’t sound right to me. I’m paying you the monthly fee for the service I get in return but you also want to take a cut of my sales? Sorry, I’m out!
I hope they will change this in future as that would definitely widen their customer base. As I said, their free templates and checkout page looks awesome plus they don’t have any bandwidth limits. If they remove the commission on sales, Shopify would probably be my best choice, right next to Big Commerce.
There are many more carts obviously – some are bigger, some smaller. But the ones listed above are the most popular hosted shopping carts and my favourites.
I really did research various shopping carts extensively, and opened dozens of trial accounts (this is one of the best things with hosted shopping carts; you can try them all out for free).
Everyone should understand that there’s NO ONE perfect cart out there! There will be positives and negatives to all of them.
Why do I like Big Commerce?
1. Modern, feature rich cart!
Even though Big Commerce is the new kid on the block, at just a few years old, the creators of this cart really get what’s most imported in running an online shop. Most of the functions you’ll ever need are included in the package (with some exceptions, which we’ll cover in a minute) and they’re organised in a very easy to use interface.
2. Functional and intuitive admin panel!
Ok, for me personally this might not be that big of a problem as I can pretty much adapt to any of the shopping cart interfaces BUT still – it’s nice to see a well-designed and super easy to use admin panel. It’s amazing how intuitive it is – even if you’re totally new to all of this and want to create your first online shop,
I’m sure Big Commerce will be very easy for you to learn and within a few hours, you’ll know exactly where all the functions are, how to add products, categories and even create marketing materials. It’s that good!
3. Unlimited Bandwidth!
Yippee! This means that I can build high traffic websites and not have to worry about all the extra fees this will involve. I know that for many people first starting out this really won’t be an issue as not many of your shops will “eat” 20GB, 30GB or more bandwidth but I have a site that uses 120GB+ per month and those extra fees are just too much to take when you know that with Big Commerce you won’t be paying anything extra!
4. Large network of AFFORDABLE coders & programmers!
Perfect! This is the single most important reason for me choosing Big Commerce.
Their template system is very simple (even I’ve managed to learn the basics of it) and there are thousands of designers / coders who can do customisations for you cheaply. Basically, any coder can work with Big Commerce as the whole template system is built on simple HTML.
5. Integrates with most 3rd party plugins!
Linnworks, MailChimp and dozens of other services are all compatible right out of the box with Big Commerce. There’s a dedicated App Marketplace you can check out for free to see exactly what programs / plugins are already fully integrated.
Plus of course they have a FREE API service which you can use to create custom, unique applications just for your business (and it won’t be that expensive either).
Also, what I have noticed is that when a new eCommerce service / product comes out, it’s almost always compatible with Big Commerce from day one. This tells me that developers are noticing Big Commerce and see the potential in it.
I actually have a very good idea for an App for Big Commerce shop owners! I hope that someday I’ll have enough time to create and share it with you.
6. FREE templates!
Most shopping carts have old, out-dated templates no one really wants to use. This basically forces you to buy premium or custom made templates. Big Commerce is different as they really have some great free templates you can use straight away!
And the best part is – they keep working on new templates EVERY MONTH! Just check out their blog to see for yourself how many templates have been announced recently.
Most shopping carts create a set of free templates when they launch and then forget about it but not Big Commerce! They continually produce new, modern templates and that’s how it should be!
There are many more reasons why I like Big Commerce but these are definitely the most important ones.
As I said, no cart is perfect and Big Commerce is not an exception.
Here are a few things I don’t like about it:
Integrated shipping labels.
Yes it’s true – you can’t print shipping labels or format them directly from Big Commerce. I don’t know why they don’t include this almost standard feature and it’s a bit awkward to deal with.
What you need to do is export orders, using an order processing application or simply manually copy the addresses, and print them out.
This sucks, I agree! Not for me as I’m using Linnworks for order processing but for people just starting out, this may be an issue.
Obviously it’s not a big deal to print out a few such labels every day but when you start getting dozens of orders a day, such manual tasks should be cut out completely from your daily routine! So if you have reached that stage with Big Commerce, I strongly recommend you start using an order processing application to speed up the whole process.
And let’s hope that Big Commerce will work on this and implement a print shipping label feature soon.
No FTP support.
For God knows what reason, Big Commerce does not support direct FTP access to your shop’s files anymore. It can be done via WebDAV system but personally I use FTP for all of my other sites so this creates a little bit of a mess at my end as I have dozens of sites set-up in my FTP client and have to use a WebDAV client just for Big Commerce.
Not a big issue though if you don’t know what FTP is in the first place! As WebDAV clients are as easy to use as FTP clients.
Abandoned Cart Saver ONLY with the Gold plan and above.
This is a great feature and I LOVE it! But I really think that it should be included in every plan, even the cheapest. While I get this “up-sell” from a marketing point of view, this feature is simply too important to be left out on smaller plans.
I know, I know – you can’t get everything, right? And of course, I do appreciate the fact that Big Commerce doesn’t really vary the feature list based on what plan you’re on, like say, Volusion does.
No aWeber integration
I know this is highly personal but still – I have been using aWeber for years now and I really like how it works etc. But there’s no integration for it yet. Shame…
I had to start using Mail Chimp just for this reason alone – so that I have an email auto responder service that works with Big Commerce.
The good news however is that the actual Mail Chimp integration is very well done! It’s very flexible and works via Mail Chimp’s API.
We can easily assign customers to different lists based on what they have bought from us – and this is super cool. We can have customised auto responder messages sent out with up-sells and cross-sells highly targeted to the products they have bought.
I’ll be covering such marketing strategies in up-coming blog posts.
There may be one or two smaller issues I haven’t mentioned but as I said, there’s no one PERFECT shopping cart out there so we just have to use what’s best and adapt out work style slightly to suit it.
Overall, Big Commerce is a great shopping cart and taking into account how new it is, I can only imagine how much it will improve over the coming years!
So if you’re looking for that (almost) perfect shopping cart, I strongly recommend you check out Big Commerce’s 15 day free trial and see for yourself what it can do for your business!
If you already have an active online shop, hosted on a different cart, you can still switch to Big Commerce! In most cases all the products and pages can be exported from your old cart and imported into Big Commerce with the click of a button.
To find out more about how to move your shop to Big Commerce, get in touch with their support and ask for instructions / help on this matter.
Here’s another tip – if you already have a merchant account, make sure to check whether Big Commerce has a plugin for it. Most popular payment methods are already supported; including UK based ones like PayPal UK PRO, Sage Pay, Worldpay and others. But you should make sure your payment system can be integrated unless you want to create a custom plugin or change your merchant account provider.
Lastly, remember that your shopping cart is just a tool, nothing more. The cart alone won’t build you a successful online shop, no matter what you read in their ads! It’s you that has to take this tool and use it to build a truly professional eCommerce Shop!
There will be people saying that they make tons of money using Open Cart or any other cart – and I believe them! You can make money with almost any cart or even no cart at all! Yes, you can even build a profitable shop using just a free WordPress installation and PayPal’s free shopping cart buttons.
But these are exceptions and if you want to make your day to day operations more streamlined, get a shopping cart and get a good one!
If you want to learn more about how to build, manage and promote a highly successful eCommerce Shop, check out my eCommerce Magnates training course. I use Big Commerce as an example throughout the course so it will perfectly suit any Big Commerce shop owner or anyone who is looking to build their first ever online shop and needs some guidance.
Good Luck with your business!