We’ve reviewed the top solutions to get your store online, so that you can get your products listed, and start taking orders and making sales quickly.
For small businesses, our independent review recommends Shopify as the best way to get your business online. It makes it easy to set up an online store, stepping you through the process of building the store, adding products, taking orders, and interacting with your customers. Shopify is used by over 60,000 businesses. Shopify also offers a free 14-day trial so you can see how it works for yourself.
For medium or larger businesses, our independent review recommends Volusion for ecommerce. It provides a high-quality, professional service with great features. Volusion also provides more advanced features like affiliate programs, rewards points, daily deals, and can also integrate with your Amazon or Ebay store. If you’re planning to sell thousands of different products, and have a serious online presence, Volusion is a great solution.
For very small businesses which are mostly services-based, with perhaps a handful of products to sell online, you might want to look at Planet Soho. Planet Soho is a little different to the other ecommerce packages below. It offers a way to track your hours, manage your contact lists, create invoices for your clients, and also sell a few items online. For a simple, low-cost solution (particularly if your main business isn’t online), I recommend you have a look at Planet Soho.
Ecommerce, or online store software, helps get your products online and take orders across the internet. We reviewed the best solutions in the industry across the breadth of features, to find the best for you. We’ve reviewed what the customer sees, and what they don’t.
"Shopify and Volusion are the best value ways to get your business online. We recommend Shopify for small businesses; for medium-to-large businesses, Volusion."
All of the services reviewed offer a variety of different service packages, based on the size and complexity of your store. They all offer a 14-day (or longer) trial, for free. We’ve reviewed 4 different setups, from the most basic to the most advanced, to find the best value. Shopify and Volusion are the best value ways to get your business online. We recommend Shopify for small businesses; for medium-to-large businesses, Volusion.
*Note: All pricing is correct as of October, 2013.
For the most basic setup possible, listing only 10 products, we recommend Shopify.
For medium-sized businesses needing middle-of-the-range features, and listing 2500 products, we recommend Volusion.
For medium-sized businesses who need advanced features, and listing 10,000 products, we recommend Volusion:
We recommend you look for a large number of high-quality themes, particularly ones that have been created recently
We’ve found that the most important factor in customer experience is the theme that you select, plus the ability to customise the solution to fit your exact needs. Themes include your store’s layout, colours and structure. We recommend you look for a large number of high-quality themes, particularly ones that have been created recently.
Shopify provides a library with hundreds of high-quality themes. While there are plenty of themes you can purchase from Shopify, you can also purchase themes elsewhere, or get a web developer to build a custom theme. Shopify provide some of the most modern and best value-for-money themes in the industry.
The Volusion Theme Store has hundreds of themes for sale
Volusion have a library of over 300 themes. It includes excellent range and quality, with industry-leading design. Volusion also allows you to directly edit themes after you’ve installed - to tweak small changes, or make major rewrites.
Bigcommerce provide over 100 free themes. We’ve found some good ones, however the quality is mixed. You can customise themes after installing them.
Magento go offers 39 basic themes, which we found to be very similar to each other. Independent themes are available (or you can hire a web developer to create a custom theme). After installing, you can fully customise themes.
3dcart provides over 70 free themes, with many more for $99. The quality of themes is mixed, and many themes appear older.
A good payments solution should be simple for customers to follow, and maximise your revenue. This does depend on your choice of payment gateway and how it integrates with shopping cart. We recommend you also look for opportunities to upsell and cross-sell as part of the checkout process.
Shopify provides simple checkout options
We particularly liked Volusion’s one-page checkout process. Shopify, Bigcommerce and Magento Go all have good checkout processes, with opportunities to cross-sell. We’ve heard of some complaints about the 3dcart checkout process, but have heard that improvements are coming.
To automate the payment and checkout process, you’ll also need to include all rules for calculating shipping and tax. All of the options provide solid options for shipping calculation and tax calculation. We found that Shopify and Volusion both pre-filled in the tax rates (we’re in Australia), whereas other providers required that we did it ourselves.
All of the providers give you a choice of payment gateways (the company who processes the credit card transaction), or allow you to take payments through PayPal.
All of the providers we reviewed also provide “abandoned cart recovery” functionality. This allows you to see who has added products to their shopping cart, but never made final payment… so that you can contact these customers and follow-up the sale.
The best solutions support flexible rules, with complex setup where you need it; bulk editing/automation to manage a large inventory; and a flexible workflow for handling orders
While we’ve just reviewed the inbuilt features, most ecommerce services allow you to install extra “apps” or “extensions”. These provide additional features, often to help you manage shops with a more complex setup or back-office operations. Apps are generally provided by independent developers, and may cost extra. Shopify, Volusion, Bigcommerce and Magento all have a wide range (100+) of different apps, while 3dcart has around 80 different apps available.
We looked for good features to mange products, orders and inventory. The best solutions support flexible rules, with complex setup where you need it; bulk editing/automation to manage a large inventory; and a flexible workflow for handling orders. We’ve found that Volusion and Magento Go have the most powerful and flexible back-office features.
We recommend you look for:
Shopify has some great integration with services for drop-shipping and order fulfilment. We like their simple inventory management, product management and order management which covers all the basics that a small business needs. The area that Shopify really shines is their industry-leading POS solution - which allows you to make sales directly in your own bricks-and-mortar store, using an iPad.
Volusion has a very good order management system and inventory management, which also supports multiple warehouses. They provide features to track your vendors and supply chain, as well as integrate with drop-shipping services. Volusion also has some powerful rules to manage products, and a basic POS system.
We like the order management features in Bigcommerce, which has comprehensive support for managing shipping, returns and your workflow. They also include basic single-warehouse inventory management.
One of Mangento go’s management screens
Magento go is highly configurable, and has a track record for success in ecommerce. The solution has strong order management and workflow features, and we particularly like their audit logging capabilities.
3dcart includes basic inventory management, product management and order management features.
While all of the ecommerce services we reviewed provide some marketing and customer management features, we think that most of them fall short of providing all of the features you’ll need. You’ll probably need to sign up for an email marketing service to manage newsletters and regular communication with your customers.
We looked for the following features:
All of the providers reviewed offer good customer management features.
Our favourite solution for marketing is Volusion. Volusion has good integration with social media for your marketing efforts. We’re impressed by their CRM solution, which gives you more ability to manage interactions with your customers. Volusion allows you to sell directly on Amazon, ebay or Facebook. We also like the features available to launch an affiliate marketing program. Finally, Volusion has a powerful email newsletter solution, so you don’t need to sign up for a separate provider.
We really like the way that Shopify manages customer accounts and signups. They also have good support for managing promotions with discounts and coupon codes. Expect to use 3rd party apps for more advanced marketing, like email, and social integration.
Some of Bigcommerce’s marketing functionality
Bigcommerce also allows you to sell directly on ebay or Facebook. We’re impressed with Bigcommerce’s ability to integrate with shopping comparison sites, to extend the reach and visibility of your store.
Magento go includes some basic newsletter functionality, and also allows you to manage on-site promotions with advertising banners. They also include affiliate marketing features.
3dcart includes the ability to sell directly on Facebook. The solution provides good integration with social media - widgets that allow customers to like or bookmark your products. They also include a basic CRM for managing your customer interactions, and support affiliate marketing programs.
We really liked Shopify's balance of simplicity and features; it is beautifully designed and easy to use.
Shopify has a great walk-through to help you set up the store - it’s very simple, helpful, and not too daunting. We found that Shopify kept a simple user-interface, and didn’t have too many buttons or features in the way. The menus are logically organised, and it’s easy to navigate around. We really liked Shopify’s balance of simplicity and features; it is beautifully designed and easy to use.
Shopify walks you through setting up your store
Planet Soho is an interesting solution, with just enough features to get the job done. We think this is good for businesses that deal mostly with services, or very small home-based businesses. Planet Soho also includes some good features to manage your contacts and clients, track and send invoices
Volusion has far more features than Shopify, so naturally has bigger menus and more buttons/links on the screen. We like that they automatically set up the service for you, so you’re not starting from a blank canvas. Volusion also lest you edit your products directly within the store view (from what a customer would see), whereas all of the other tools require you to log in to the administration tools.
Bigcommerce, like Volusion, has more advanced and complex features while still remaining easy to use and understand. We do like the “quick launch wizard”, which provides a good walkthrough of the setup and launch process.
Magento go is more complex, and takes more training to understand fully. Magento is an older solution, used by larger vendors so has more complex functionality.
I found 3dcart confusing to set up, because of its complexity. While 3dcart does have a wizard to step you through the setup process, I still found it more difficult than the other options.
While features vary a little, any of these ecommerce solutions will help your store be found on Google, Bing and other search engines
Want people to find your store using Google? Fine-grained control over the website and code lets you control how your store is viewed and displayed by search engines. To help more people find your site, we looked for features to:
Volusion helps search engines find and display your site properly
Overall, we were impressed by the control available in all of the solutions. While features vary a little, any of these ecommerce solutions will help your store be found on Google, Bing and other search engines. Shopify, 3dcart and Volusion all provide this.
Bigcommerce extends search engine optimisation with more advanced functionality. We liked the ability to link your store with popular shopping comparison sites, so that more people can discover your products. Bigcommerce also integrates with your Google Adwords account, to control paid advertising.
Magento go has the most powerful control over the website itself. You can run an entire, complex website from Magento, which includes features like polls, URL rewrites, and full editing of theme files.
Volusion provides a dashboard view, as well as reporting and analytics
While all of the products support reporting, analytics and product reviews, other complex features are only available in some of the packages we reviewed. Some of the highlights are:
We’ve been really surprised at the quality of support from all of the ecommerce providers. In writing this review, we’ve been contacted and offered one-on-one assistance by each of the companies, and we believe that all of them provide good quality support.
Based on market share of the platforms reviewed:
We’ve looked at 6 solutions for ecommerce, from all angles, and think they are all good options. All of the products reviewed have their strengths, and thousands of happy customers. Our two main recommendations are below; If you’re looking for more customised advice, you can contact Inspector Jones, or sign up for a free trial to review them for yourself.
For small businesses, looking for basic or middle-of-the-range features, Shopify is our choice. We like the simplicity and ease-of-use, and the fact that it just worked for everything we tried to do. Shopify has a great library of themes to change how it looks to your customers. They also boast a great selection of apps to extend functionality and integrate with your other business systems. Pricing for Shopify and custom themes is the best value for smaller businesses. It’s no surprise that they’ve attracted more stores than any other cloud-hosted ecommerce service.
For mid-sized businesses, those who want to list more products or want more flexibility, Volusion is our recommendation. We like its strong breadth of features, and it really packs a punch in terms of power. Volusion also has some of the best pricing across the board, and is the best value solution for larger stores. Stores using Volusion look great, thanks to the high-quality themes available. The platform has sold over $11 billion in products, which is enormous.