Saturday, March 20, 2010

Testing My BigCommerce E-Commerce package out - thoughts so far.

Anyone starting out in the ecommerce world and trying to run an online business for the first time soon finds that its never as easy as all the articles in blogs and other sites would have you believe. Once you leave the protected world of eBay it soon becomes apparent that there is a lot more to it than anyone tells you.

Not only do you have the obvious questions of whether to host it on your own server or use a managed hosting service, you also have to decide which ecommerce package to use... open source or paid for?

Also, how do you know which is best value and how can you be sure it will do everything you need it to do, especially when you are not sure what it is that you do need from it?

Well, as always, research is the key, and I also believe, a little testing. Its important then to do your research thoroughly. I suggest dong a Google (or Bing etc) search for “ecommerce reviews” and “ecommerce packages” etc. One site I found useful was “TopTenReviews” at http://ecommerce-software-review.toptenreviews.com/

Also, recommend reading the press and I found an article in PCPRO very timely and useful. It shared the experience of the author in moving his own business site from one managed ecommerce package to another. You can read the article in the latest issue (May 2010) and visit his site here: http://www.makingyourowncandles.co.uk/

Its now hosted by MyBigCommerce and partly as a result of the aforementioned article and partly through my own web research, I decided to sign up for the 15-day trial at http://www.bigcommerce.com/

Once I had chosen my template for the overall look of the site and added some products, I then went to my own server cpanel and did a 302 temporary redirect so that anyone typing in www.newbeltane.com would be immediately redirected to http://newbeltanetechmedia.co.uk

Overall, my experience of setting up my new store (albeit still in ‘trial’ mode) was a good one. I like the ease with which you can add products, upload unlimited photos for each product, configure shipping and tax options and also have featured products. There are also SEO friendly options such as META keywords, page title and description fields you can complete as well as field for search terms for when visitor search your site for products.

The range of templates is good, with about 60 designs that are professional looking. More importantly however, you can edit the code quite easily and have full access to all the stylesheets and other pages used by your site, so its possible to completely customise your site very easily if you know any code or alternatively, you can download the code and edit it in a WYSIWYG editor or pay someone to do it for you.

Another plus is the fact that although I am in the UK, I had a phone call a couple of days after signing up from the company in the USA to see how I was getting on, offering advice, telling me about their free phone support and also offering to extend the free trial period and waive the sign-up fee if I moved to them (normally its $49.95)!

That brings us neatly to the cost. Obviously open source options are a lot cheaper but they do usually come without any support apart from the community support via forums etc. MyBigCommerce has several packages:

Bronze: $24.95/month     
# 100 Products
# 3 Staff Logins
# 2 GB Bandwidth
# 200 MB Storage
# $50 Google AdWords Credit

Silver: $39.95/month
# 500 Products
# 10 Staff Logins
# 3 GB Bandwidth
# 300 MB Storage
# $50 Google AdWords Credit

Gold: $79.95/month
# 1,000 Products
# 20 Staff Logins
# 5 GB Bandwidth
# 500 MB Storage
# $75 Google AdWords Credit

Platinum: $149.95/month
# Unlimited Products
# 50 Staff Logins
# 15 GB Bandwidth
# 1 GB Storage
# $100 Google AdWords Credit

Diamond: $299.95/month
# Unlimited Products
# 100 Staff Logins
# 30 GB Bandwidth
# 3 GB Storage
# $100 Google AdWords Credit

There is also a $49.95 set-up fee but if you are moving your existing site to them you may find they waive this, as they offered to do for me if I eventually do switch.

Features that stand out for me are:
  1. Fully featured across all packages, just the number of products, storage, bandwidth and staff logins vary, everything else is the same.
  2. User-friendly set-up
  3. Unlimited images (limited only by storage space I guess but as long as you optimise your images you shouldn’t have any problems). Come with SuperZoom to allow customers to zoom in on product photos.
  4. Friendly support.
  5. Professional-looking designs and that you can fully customise the look of your site.
  6. Back-end admin including visitor stats, sales, inventory control, flexible returns system, Google Website Optimizer, SEO Optimisation, promotional banners, gift certificates.... list goes on! Check out their site for more information on features.
  7. Direct link to shipping providers site for dynamic shipping quotes - this s perhaps the most attractive feature for me as their list includes not only US ones such as FedEX and UPS but also the Royal Mail.
Well, I guess its pretty clear that I am impressed and I will probably move over to them at the end of my (extended) trial. The fact that they come recommended by someone who’s opinion I trust and that they are highly rated in various reviews means that they should definitely be on your short-list.

I will update my blog with how things go if I do indeed sign-up.

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