A marketplace platform like Etsy or Storenvy is a great place to start selling creations. However, at some point, one starts to look at other options such as a personal shop. About a year ago, I was in this boat, searching for and researching different platforms. Most of them offer a similar set of tools, so the choice came down to BigCommerce and Shopify. A third possibility is a self-hosted and self-managed platform which I would not even consider as a viable option nowadays. The main reason for this is security issues and overall cost. It costs about the same or even less to use a shopping cart service like BigCommerce instead of installing and managing a shopping cart software. This is in addition to the site security that simply cannot be managed by a single person unless one works in this specific area and is capable of programming and staying up to date on security issues, bugs, and vulnerabilities.
Both Shopify and BigCommerce offer 14- and 15-day trials respectfully. This is a plenty of time to try out all of the features and to check out the user interfaces. Main things one should look for are free templates that require minimum editing, ease of use of the control panel, and the built-in blog engine.
Being an artist, one often doesn’t have the time to be a webmaster as well. Therefore, it’s very important to have a pre-made template that fits the requirements. The main reason to use a default template and change only the styling via an available graphic interface is maintenance overhead. Whichever platform one chooses, it’s being constantly updated. There are bugs, improvements, and security updates that roll out on weekly basis or even more frequently. If one uses a self-created template or a default template with modified code, then these updates won’t install automatically. One would have to update the template, and make sure that all of the modified code is re-added. This is an incredible hassle, and one will spend all of the time trying to keep the shop software up to date. There is an option to opt-out of updates, but it is unwise due to the security risks.
Ease of use of the control panel is the key to regular updates. Therefore, it’s prudent to test the interface to make sure it fits ones’ posting style. For example, one could always make use of drafts, a post scheduler, and editing of multiple products. The scheduling feature for posts and products is one of the things that BigCommerce lacks. Besides that, their intuitive interface and well-categorized settings help to run the shop smoothly and stress free. Whenever one can’t find the right button, there’s always a search option available on the dashboard. Another tip on how to find a particular setting is to just Google it. Both Shopify and BigCommerce have extensive documentation for their platforms.
Finally, the blog engine is very important as it’s one of the main marketing tools for an online shop. Both platforms have it, but this is where BigCommerce falls somewhat short. There’s a built-in blog, but it has very limited customization options and no comments feature. Having a two-way conversation with customers is incredibly important as it helps to build relationships and allows clients to voice their opinion. This made the decision between BigCommerce and Shopify a really tough one for me. Of course, there’s always an option of using an external blogging platform such as Wordpress or Blogger. However, one would have to integrate it with the shop, match the design, and then run it from a separate control panel. On top of that, Wordpress costs quite a bit if one wants to have some of the custom features. This might be tough to handle both financially and timewise for someone who runs a small business.
The deciding factor in favor of BigCommerce was the flow of the checkout process. Both platforms offer a one-page checkout, but shops that run on Shopify display the shopify.com domain in the customer’s browser address bar at the final stages of checkout process. While this would look fine to people who are familiar with Shopify, to a certain percentage of customers this might look suspicious. Whenever I checkout online, I always make sure that the site has a TLS certificate (HTTPS protocol in the address bar), and that it stays consistent with the rest of the website and the domain. If I would notice the domain name change to something else during the checkout process, I would immediately flag this website as unsafe. BigCommerce does well with this, as only my domain name is visible throughout the entire shopping experience. When I talked to Shopify about this, they painted it as an added security feature, but I don’t see it this way.
There’s still a room for improvement for BigCommerce in terms of adding a comments option to their built-in blogging platform, but a more important feature such as the consistent checkout process surely takes the top spot on my priority list.
If you have any particular questions about BigCommerce or the subject in general, reach me on Twitter: @truenoirart