September 5, 2013 by Andrew Minalto - 18 Comments

Which shopping cart is the BEST?

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.

On-going support.

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.

Expensive customisation.

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.

But I believe I have found a happy medium and it’s Big Commerce – the shopping cart I now use for all my projects, including the real life example I build in the eCommerce Magnates course.

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!

Thanks,
Andrew

18 Comments
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  1. Hi Andy,

    Hope you can help, for 3DCart for each order there is a referral information section that gives details of how the buyer has found you, this has really helped us.
    However in bigcommerce i cant find this section to find where a buyer came from from a particular order,

    Do you know where this data is present? i presume you must use this also

    Many thanks,
    Mark

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Mark,

      You need to implement Google Analytics eCommerce tracking with Big Commerce to get such detailed info and reports:

      https://support.bigcommerce.com/articles/Public/Setting-Up-Google-Analytics

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  2. Hi Andy, BIGCOMMERCE have recently changed their pricing again this time invoking turnover limits, this seems very limiting now so I was wondering what your recommended cart is these days?

    Thanks
    Mark

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Mark,

      Yes, they change pricing structure frequently – I have locked in old pricing though so it does not affect me much.

      The other good alternative I recommend is Shopify – but there are fees too on sales IF you don’y use their payment processor.

      And then there’s 3D Cart.

      These 3 options are what I recommend.

      Andrew

      1. Thanks for the reply Andy, I was a bit confused with Shopify does their transaction fee basically apply if you don’t sign up with their payment processor and won’t applie if signed up?
        So say for example I sign up for theirs but also offer paypal, all paypal sales won’t have a transaction fee? Or will a transaction fee still apply even though signed up?

        I have an old store on BC on a very old pricing model (I think I created it back in 2011 do you think there’s a chance as an old customer they could set me up with another store on the old pricing? Thanks

        1. Andrew Minalto

          Yes, not sure about that – you should get in touch and ask them about this/clarify it.

          And same for BC – get in touch and see if they can offer you some kind of a deal.

          Andrew

  3. Marysa de Veer

    Andrew you have been such a help with your clear minded articles.

    My website http://www.otterbookbinding.com was built using squarespace.

    However it sounds like 3D cart may be the one to take it to the next level. In particular being a creative business with a strong focus on colours and textures I am looking to develop the website to give interactive choices that give the ability for customers to ‘play’ with their imagination in the shopping cart and see what combinations look nicest by being able to match up a book cloth or leather with any number of many decorative papers for inside endpapers and outside cover sides.

    Do you think 3d cart may have people that could make an integration for me? At the bottom of my website is a little blue materials link page which illustrates some of the many and varied options that I want to move forward with.

    Many thanks for your time.

    Marysa

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Marysa,

      3D Cart does offer custom coding/module creation so your best bet would be to simply contact them directly – explain what functionality you need and ask whatever that can do this for you and how much it will cost.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  4. Hiya Andy,

    It looks like shopify now have wavered their transaction fees as long as you offer their own credit card processing system which doesnt look to bad and there doesnt appear to be a monthly additional fee for this.

    I have a hosted cart with 3dcart for one of my shops and am considering a change to shopify or bigcommerce due to bandwidth reasons – i was wondering if you have an updated opinion on Shopify?
    As it seems to rival Bigcommerce and with no transaction fees – their templates look more modern than the Bigcommerce however i believe they have less free plugins.

    Thanks,
    Mark

    1. Bear in mind that Shopify’s own payment processor doesn’t offer 3D Secure, and that will be an issue for many UK merchants who need the peace of mind that 3D Secure offers.

      If you want to use Shopify and you need 3D Secure, you’ll need to hook it up to a 3rd party gateway like Sage Pay Form where the card processing is handled offsite. Which means you then have to factor in:

      (a) monthly cost and/or transaction fees for the gateway,
      (b) monthly cost and/or transaction fees for your merchant account, and
      (c) an extra transaction fee that Shopify will levy at you for using a 3rd party gateway.

      In short, if you need 3D Secure, Shopify may be an expensive option. BigCommerce will be more affordable in this instance. Or there are the UK ones like Bluepark and EKM – they’ll obviously be more on top of UK-specific requirements like this.

      1. Andrew Minalto

        Thanks very much for your comment, I didn’t know this!

        Andrew

  5. Gemma Munday

    Hi Andrew,

    A year on, are you still using bigcommerce with success? Or have you moved to shopify?

    Having always used wordpress carts in the past, I’m debating the move to one of these carts as they look more professional

    The reason I like wordpress is the fact it is private. No one knew how many sales I was making and what products were doing well. With shopify and bigcommerce, they have all of your information and sales to hand/monitor you. And therefore they own valuable information which they could pass on to bigger companies. For instance, bigcommerce opens their site with a statement of how much money their clients have made.

    Is this ever an issue?

    G

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Gemma,

      Yes, I’m still using Big Commerce and can’t see any reason to move really.

      WordPress is a blogging platform, not meant to be used for full size eCommerce shops. Yes, if you have just few products, you can use WordPress quite successfully but with bigger inventory, it’s really pain to work with.

      I don’t really care about the fact that my sales data is kept on Big Commerce servers. I’m not a huge fan of conspiracy theories and it doesn’t really bother me.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

      1. Hi Andrew,

        I’m just about to start an ecommerce store and after countless hours of research and comparison, I decided to choose Woocommerce as a platform.

        I would have chosen Shopify but their transaction fee is a no go for me as well.

        Regarding the cons you’re mentioning of using a self hosted solution, I’m not sure to understand.

        1. Loading time should be fine if you have a good host
        2. If you buy a premium Woocommerce theme you get full supports from the developers
        3. Updates are also included with premium themes
        4. You can get free security plugins and for PCI compliance, I thought that by getting the Stripe or Paypal extension it would be enough?

        Furthermore, as mentioned above the ownership of data is also a big concern to me. With the added monthly and transaction cost I tend to lean more to a solution like Woocmmerce or Prestashop…

        Anyways, I haven’t started yet but you have once more put all my research back under the question mark 😉

        Tim,

        1. Andrew Minalto

          Hi Tim,

          1. Yes, but good got is such a subjective thing (just take a look at my recent hacker attack post to see how everything can go wrong very quickly).
          2. How quick support will be? Do they offer 24/7 live support? probably no…
          3. You still have to install them, then there may be compatibility issues with other software etc.
          4. Yes, but to take credit cards directly on your checkout page, it won’t be enough.

          Not saying that self-hosted option doesn’t work at all, no BUT you have to be ready to take on more risks and in general – maintenance work will be more complex compared to hosted carts.

          Thanks,
          Andrew

          1. Hello Andrew,

            Thanks to you I changed my mind on the subject !

            After all, you are right. Why would I waste time on technicalities instead of growing my core business.

            I’m gonna give Shopify a try.

            Many thanks again 🙂

            Tim,

          2. Andrew Minalto

            No worries, glad I can help! 🙂

            Happy New Year!

  6. […] shopping carts offer. So what’s the truth? Probably somewhere in the middle but I personally only use hosted carts for the reasons I’ll outline in this blog […]

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