I haven’t talked a lot about eCommerce on my blog, mostly because eBay & Amazon are the best places for people to start out when selling online – as they’re a lot easier to learn and you can see quicker results. However I’m now going to be discussing eCommerce a lot more!
Having your own online shop really is, or at least it should be, the ultimate goal for any online seller as only when you have your own online shop, you:
- Have 100% control on every process in your business
- Build a real BRAND
- Build a real customer base, followers & fans
- Use social media sites to their full potential
- Have proper sales, coupons, and one-off deals
- Use various paid traffic sources!
- And much more!
Building your brand and the ability to drive paid traffic to your shop are probably the most important things as on eBay and Amazon you can only scale a product/business to a certain level.
Theoretically you could drive paid advertising to eBay & Amazon too but in most cases it’s not effective because:
- You have to pay too much in fees to make it profitable.
- Pricing on these platforms is often too competitive/low for paid advertising to be viable.
- You have no way to precisely track ROI which is a CRUCIAL element of any kind of paid traffic.
- Also, nowadays when clicks are so expensive, most businesses are happy to break even on the first order or even take a small loss just to get that customer in! Then make the profit on future sales.
We’ll talk a lot about all this in detail on my blog in the future but just so you know – having your own online shop is the most logical step after you’re successful on eBay and Amazon.
How to Create an Online Shop?
There are various ways you can create your own online shop:
1) Build it from scratch in HTML – bad, bad idea! I don’t even want to get into this, because it’s just such a terrible idea – unless you actually create websites for a living (even then – it’s still a bad idea!), then DON’T do this.
2) Use WordPress and special eCommerce themes/plugins – though slightly less terrible than coding it all on your own, this is still a very bad idea. Unless you have a lot of experience in this area, you’re going to struggle immensely and have a lot of issues getting your website to even run and function properly – so again, BAD IDEA.
3) Use self hosted carts like Open Cart – okay this is the first option that I’d actually consider and it’s a lot better than the previous two methods of creating an online shop BUT I’m still completely against self-hosted carts, for a variety of reasons.
The only real benefit to them (in my mind) vs fully hosted carts is that they’re cheaper, but often in life you get what you pay for and this is one of those times! Using self-hosted carts you have no support, you have to stay on top of updates yourself, which comes with a lot of compatibility issues. Speed and reliability are also big negative points.
I truly believe that using a hosted cart is the easiest and best way to build an online shop nowadays – to me that’s just a fact! You’ll get access to most features and have a reliable, tech & hassle free online shop where you don’t have to worry about technical issues and can concentrate on SELLING!
For those of you who don’t know what a hosted shopping cart is – these are companies that offer you to create your own online/eCommerce shop literally in minutes! All you need to do is sign up (most will have free trials available), configure the settings, add products, set-up payment & shipping methods and you’re good to go!
You can basically start selling online via your own shop within a few hours of starting the process! And I’m not exaggerating here – it’s true! I have even set-up simple, one product shops in less than an hour so I mean it when I say you can start selling within a few hours’ time.
You won’t have to code anything, you won’t have to design anything – these carts come pre-loaded with great looking templates – free and paid ones! Even the free ones are good enough for most needs and all you have to do is upload your logo and add product images and it will look awesome! I will create a dedicated post/video on how to get started with a shopping cart in the near future.
And please – DO NOT listen to people who advise you to go with free, DIY, self-made options!
It’s NOT worth it, trust me!
You’ll spend most of your time working on your website and not marketing it! Especially if you go with the WordPress option, Worpdress cart systems – they’re a pain in the ass to work with! Just don’t do it.
Yes, hosted shopping carts cost money, starting at around $20 – $30 per month but really – if you can’t afford to invest that kind of money in your online shop, you shouldn’t even get started.
I’m dead serious about this – people somehow think that starting an online business is FREE, which is far from true! Of course it’s not like a bricks and mortar store but there are still costs involved when starting a business online, be that your eBay shop subscription, Amazon pro account subscription or your shopping cart fee. Not talking about marketing, paid advertising and building up your social following – it all costs money!
Again, compared to an offline store where you’ll need to pay rent (often many months upfront) as well as a number of other large expenses, creating an online business is a real bargain – but it is not free and it’s really important that you get rid of that mindset.
Ok, I got a bit side tracked there but yes – you’ll need a shopping cart and you’ll want to use a hosted shopping cart if you want to do it the right way.
Shopping Cart Dilemma
But how to choose which shopping cart to use? There are so many of them out there:
There are hundreds of others out there too!
When I started out many years ago, I didn’t have such a wide choice of carts to use – in fact my first online shop was built using a HTML builder called X Site Pro – which was a desktop application, super difficult to use, very buggy and slow – when you reached a few hundred pages on your website, it was basically unusable due to low speed.
After that, the first self hosted carts became available – Cube Cart, Open Cart and similar. I did try them at one time but quickly realised that I don’t want to hire a full-time IT person to manage my shop’s technical issues!
Luckily for me, soon after that hosted shopping carts became more and more popular. And I built my first online shop using a cart called 3D Cart. It was like night and day compared to X Site Pro or Open Cart. I didn’t have to do any technical work on it all – everything was done for me and it all worked very smoothly.
The problem with 3D Cart though was that it was using some kind of weird/unique language for the engine and templates which made it VERY expensive to customise as very few coders actually knew how to work with it. I haven’t researched 3D Cart recently but from what I can see from their site, they have moved away from that system and now offer something more user friendly.
Another disadvantage, or advantage for some I guess, with 3D Cart was that it has SO MANY features that it felt overly complicated. Each page, product, menu had so many fields/options/settings and obviously I wanted to make it all look/work right so I spent a lot of time doing all kinds of things which simply weren’t needed! Once again I believe they’ve improved this aspect and it’s now much more in line with carts like Shopify and Big Commerce.
The next shops I built after using 3D Cart were based on the Big Commerce platform. It was and I think still is a great shopping cart and I use it in the eCommerce Magnates video course for live examples.
Big Commerce is what I call the new generation shopping cart platform, which:
- Offers great built-in templates
- Have basic settings covered
- Have an app store for specific apps/needs
So yeah, I was using Big Commerce and I was very happy with it.
But I was keeping my eyes on Shopify too – which is very similar to Big Commerce but I believe has some extra advantages (more on that later). And basically, over the last few years I have seen Shopify progress aggressively and they’ve basically become the market leader for hosted shopping carts.
And what does that mean?
Well when you’re a leader in something, more people start to follow. As everyone wants to be with the best, right? Including me!
The biggest trigger for me was the app store. For those of you who don’t know what an app and app store is:
Apps or applications are tools/programs you can install in your shopping cart.
Most shopping cart companies now have app stores with hundreds of specific apps available. For example – you can get an app for printing out shipping labels in bulk using a Dymo printers. Or an app that analyses your orders, tell you which products are most popular, what your average order value is etc.
Many of these apps are not needed but some are crucial to any online shop – like ones for email marketing (list building, follow-up emails, cart abandonment emails etc.) or ones for customer reviews. These are must have applications and you simply can’t ignore them if you want to build a real business online.
These app developers obviously try to customise their apps and make them available on the biggest, most popular shopping cart platforms. So what I started to notice is that – hey – here’s a cool new app but it’s only available on Shopify at launch, not Big Commerce. Obviously, app developers want to start with the most popular carts and that means they’re available first on the app store of the market leader – SHOPIFY!
Many of the apps are also available on Big Commerce, 3D Cart and other shipping carts but many are not – like Zipify Pages for example (I will need to create a separate tutorial on that as it’s an awesome app).
So to sum it all up – I decided to switch from Big Commerce and build my new shops using Shopify – at least for as long as it stays the market leader and that there’s no other option out there offering something better!
Right now I’m building a new shop for my new brand, which you’ll be hearing about soon on my blog, and I will write posts and create tutorials on all kinds of practical aspects of creating and running a profitable eCommerce shop.
Yes, Shopify has that dreaded transaction fee BUT as I explained in my How to Reduce Shopify Fees article, it’s really not that bad, especially when you use Shopify Payments (and there’s no reason not to) as then you don’t pay any transaction fees at all (more on that later).
Let’s cover how these two carts (Big Commerce & Shopify) stack up against each other price wise:
Pricing & Features
Shopify offers three pricing plans to choose from:
- Basic Shopify – $29/month
- Shopify – $79/month
- Advanced Shopify – $299/month
The Shopify and Advanced Shopify plans have slightly lower credit card rates and also lower transaction fees BUT the crucial difference is that gift cards and abandoned cart recovery are only available on the $79 and $299 plans! Now to me these are integral features for an online store so I really wish they were included in the basic plan:
Big Commerce also offers three different plans and their pricing is very similar to Shopify:
- Standard – $29.95/month
- Plus – $79.95/month
- Pro – $249.95/month
There are no transaction fees for any of Big Commerce’s plans BUT there are selling limits. You can sell up to $50k on their Standard and $150k on Plus, if you sell more than that you’ll be forced to upgrade.
Once again credit card fees are also lowered as you move to higher plans but in the case of Big Commerce, their lowest rate is 2.2% (for the Pro plan) which is what Shopify charge for their Basic plan.
In terms of features, Big Commerce do offer coupon codes on all plans but once again the Abandoned Cart Saver is reserved for the $80 or $250 plans. Here is a full list of the features:
Both Shopify and Big Commerce offer FREE templates and PAID templates.
Free templates obviously come included with your monthly subscription fee and PAID templates are available from the marketplace. Paid templates usually cost between $50 and $200, some exclusive ones being priced even higher. You pay a one-time fee to buy a premium template.
The good news is that I really like the free templates that Shopify offer! If you’re starting out, you DON’T and I will repeat this – you don’t have to purchase a paid theme or create a custom theme, which is even more expensive. And this is coming from a person who has a company offering custom shop templates! I truly believe that $500 is better spent on customer acquisition than on a custom template.
Free Shopify templates look awesome and once you add your logo, products and all info to your homepage – they look very professional! It’s all about product images really as modern shop layouts are very simple and mostly based around product images, nothing else! So better spend that money on getting awesome product pictures done than on a custom or paid template.
I will do a video on how to create an awesome looking shop using free Shopify templates but just so you know – the way Shopify templates work is that you can simply build up your homepage using various blocks, like:
- Slide show
So you simply drag and drop blocks, create the layout you want/need and you’re good to go! No need for a custom coded homepage anymore!
When your business grows, you’ll want to add some special graphical elements in places, create custom product pages etc. – and you can do all of that! But do it when you see that the business works and sales are coming in!
Also remember that you can change the theme of your shop anytime you want.
With Shopify being so popular, there’s no difficulty finding coders/developers on UpWork.com who can do customisations relatively cheaply.
Support, Forum & Kylie Jenner
Another super important part of why I like Shopify so much is the amazing SUPPORT they offer! They have 24/7 live chat support which means that you can talk to a real person ANY time of ANY day!
And unlike companies like Host Gator who sometimes make you wait quite a long time to get onto chat, with Shopify I haven’t ever waited more than a few minutes to get to speak with a support person. It could be because of the time difference as Shopify is based in Canada (with an office in the USA too) so for us people in Europe this is actually a big advantage as during our business hours it’s night time in North America or early morning which means that support is not that busy.
Apart from live chat they also offer 24/7 phone support so if you want you can actually talk with them over the phone!
From my experience, their support is very friendly and super helpful so if you’re new to all this, you can basically ask their support to help you get started – starting with setting up your payment settings, all the way to your products and templates – Shopify support can guide you through the process step by step and obviously they won’t charge anything extra for this.
How valuable is that? You pay just $30 per month for a basic plan but get all this support for free! I hope now you see why I don’t see the monthly cost as a big problem, in fact – I see it as an advantage as I know I’m paying for quality support and development of new tools, not talking about servers, SSL certificate and other technical stuff.
They also have a VERY ACTIVE community forum! And by very active I mean thousands of members and hundreds of new posts every single day. I personally prefer to use direct access to live support and not post on the forum but it is great to read success stories from other people, check out their shops and simply for general eCommerce talk.
For free, highly valuable eCommerce tutorials/content I also recommend you check out Shopify’s blog, which really has a lot of terrific content.
Lastly, Shopify is actually still growing and is becoming a household name, at least in North America. They recently launched Shopify Pay which is similar to PayPal or Apple Pay where users store credit card info online and can make purchases with a few clicks, without needing to enter all their details every time.
And with Shopify now hosting hundreds of thousands of shops, I truly believe that they will make this new feature quite popular and it will even further increase conversion rates and lower cart abandonment rates.
Another thing/great feature many people do not realise is that Shopify can be used in the offline world too – as a fully functional POS system!
This means that you can have one system for online sales and offline sales, keep stock levels accurate at all times, take card payments with card readers and even cash with integrated cash register systems.
Ok, most of you won’t have a brick & mortar store but what about pop-up stores? Or even market stalls? You can do this all with Shopify and take mobile payments on the go, using card readers provided by Shopify.
Lastly, just to prove how popular Shopify is – Kylie Jenner is using Shopify for her make up store:
I actually think this is a great PR move by Shopify as having a celebrity associated with your brand always helps and it does show how serious they are about growing even further. As of now, Shopify is used by more than 400 000 online shops, can you imagine? That’s a crazy amount of shops if you ask me! And they’re getting bigger and bigger each year as I remember a few years ago it was “only” 200 000 stores.
So Shopify has it all covered, including the celebrity factor! 🙂
Shopify – my number one choice when it comes to fully hosted shopping carts!
It may not be the cart with the most features – in fact, it’s actually very basic and simple when you get into the admin panel BUT that’s what I like about it! You don’t need super complicated settings – they only distract you from your real task – promoting and advertising your shop, getting sales in, and building relationships with customers!
There’s one thing I don’t like though, but it’s not specific to Shopify as everyone seems to be doing this now, but still – most apps in the Shopify store are SAAS (software as a service) based, which means that they come with a monthly subscription/fee.
There are many free apps available and apps you can buy with a one-time fee, but the vast majority come with a monthly price tag. And I hate it! If you’re not careful, you can actually load up your shop with dozens of such apps and make your monthly Shopify bill hundreds of dollars!
Luckily you won’t need to do that, there are just a few essential apps you need to get started and I will cover them in detail in future blog posts.
As I said, this is nothing unique to Shopify – it’s the same on Big Commerce, 3D Cart, and online selling in general – email, support desks, review systems – all premium systems are based on the SAAS model now so again – you have to be prepared to invest some money into these vital tools if you want to make the most out of your online business.
One important thing to mention – I won’t be transferring my old shops to Shopify!!
Even I’m not that brave, haha! Moving an established online shop, with all of its customers, orders, pages etc. is very difficult. It’s a total hassle if you ask me! Most carts will offer some kind of assisted move process and it’s probably fine for small shops with just a few products but still – it’s not something I’m willing to risk.
And that means my old shops will stay with Big Commerce for as long as possible, probably until the time I sell them so that the new owner can decide whether or not to make the transfer. Plus it’s not like these Big Commerce shops will perform badly because they’re on Big Commerce! Far from it! It just means that I can’t use the latest marketing technologies and apps that I will be able to use with Shopify.
It’s just with this new shop I’m building now I really want to push hard on paid advertising and it needs tools and apps that are only available on Shopfiy. Especially ones related to email marketing, funnels and landing page building. These are crucial elements in today’s selling world so I want to use the best tools available for these tasks.
Ok, that’s it for today – I hope this post will help people who are struggling with choosing their shopping cart. I do plan on creating lots of interesting content about eCommerce on my blog, including videos, so stay tuned for that!
Are you planning to start an online shop in the near future? Or do you already have one? What cart are you using and what made you choose it? I would LOVE to hear your story in the comments section below and help you out if you have any questions!
I’m taking a quick break from writing now to return in August with a brand new blog look & content!
Enjoy your summer! 🙂
All the best,