July 18, 2011

To Setup an Online Store, Magento Go or BigCommerce?

To setup an online store, Magento Go or BigCommerce service? Or another?

Magento Go Promotion

You have a retail store and already sell to customers. Now you want to setup on online retail store, so you can sell to customers online. To setup your online retail store, you need a service that will make it easy to setup and manage the store and keep your costs down. Out of the popular services to create an online store – Magento Go, BigCommerce, Volusion or Shopify – which one will it be?

First, why pick a hosted service for online retail store vs setting up your own servers and website? A hosted service will keep your costs low and take away the technology headaches of running an online store. With a hosted service, you only pay a small monthly fee. The service handles the store, tools to manage it, security, scaling it for large volumes of customers etc. There are no servers to run and no website development costs i.e. the hosted service provider handles all the technology aspects while you handle the marketing, fulfill the orders and support the customers.

Magento Go, BigCommerce, Volusion and Shopify are the top providers of hosted service to create online stores.

All of them have a free trial period, so you can test the service before setting up your full store.
Magento Go – 30 days, BigCommerce – 15 days, Volusion – 14 days, Shopify – 30 days

Each service offers different monthly plans to suit your needs. The pricing varies by
  • Number of sku’s – how many products will be offered in your store
  • Storage – how much storage is available for product description, photos etc.
    More product photos at high-resolution will consume more storage.
  • Bandwidth – how much total bandwidth is used by your account
    when visitors view your webpages/photos etc, bandwidth is used; more page-views equals more bandwidth is used.

For a given price, you want the most storage (enables you to add more products and more photos per product) and most bandwidth (enables more visitors to your website and who can browse more)

Magento Go plans start at $15/mo (100 sku’s, 200 MB storage, 4 GB bandwidth). They have an ongoing “stimulus” promotion that may make the service free for 12 months.

Volusion plans start at $19/mo (100 sku’s, unlimited storage, 1 GB bandwidth)

BigCommerce plans start at $25/mo (100 sku’s, 200 MB storage, 2 GB bandwidth)

Shopify plans starts at $29/mo (100 sku’s, 100 MB storage, unlimited bandwidth, 2% transaction fee)

Magento Go has the best starter plan with best prices and allowed usage. When you are just setting up your store, a starter plan should be enough. Once sales volume increase, you can switch to a higher capacity plan.

Domain Name
An attractive domain name is extremely important for your store. As you market your online store and products, the importance of the name will become obvious.

The name should be unique, memorable, easy to spell and as short as possible given the previous criteria. Make sure to get the .com domain where the store will reside and possibly others such as .biz, .net etc. Domain names can be purchased from Google, GoDaddy and others.

All providers allow you to use your custom domain name for your store, which is great.

Store Design
You want your store to look as attractive as possible and also want to add your personal touch.

Each provider provides a range of pre-built templates for your store, which will provide different looks for your store. And, you could have a designer build a custom-template for you.

When starting your online store, initially, spend more time on function rather than form. Focus more effort on getting the store to work properly, on marketing and sales and less time on prettying up the store. To start, you can use one of the templates from the provider. As the sales grow, you can change to a custom template.  And, remember to rigorously test different templates on your website (with customers) to see which one leads to the best sales before finalizing on a template.

Check the looks of a few stores running with the above services – Dace, Nalgene, La purse, Lauren Gabrielson, Zumiez

Dace store

Lauren Gabrielson store

Store Payments
Each of the services provides a variety of options to accept payments from customers – credit cards, checks, electronic payments, gift cards etc. Popular payment services such as Paypal, Google checkout, Authorize.net and others are supported. Each transaction incurs a transaction fee from the payment provider.

The services provide nice shopping carts for customers.

Hosting and Security
The services handle all aspects of hosting and security for your store – they keep your store safe from hackers, keep backups of the store (to preserve data and transactions) and are PCI compliant (for online payments).

Running your Store
The services all provide a variety of tools to help run your store and manage it. While the details may vary for each service, in general the following features are provided –
  • Product browsing – multiple photos per product, zoom-in, related products, reviews
  • Detailed reports - on sales, new orders, inventory, reviews, refunds, shipped etc, tax reports and integration with QuickBooks etc
  • Shipping
  • Customer accounts
  • Customer support – online comments & support
  • Marketing tools - coupons, deals, discounts generation; product reviews and ratings; Facebook marketing; email marketing; search engine optimization for your store and product pages etc

Check details of all that is offered at Magento Go features, BigCommerce features, Volusion features and Shopify features.

While all the services have a good set of features, Magento Go has the most extensive feature list for running and promoting your store and supporting the customers. It also has the best price and can be your first choice in setting up an online store.

Magento Go is now owned by eBay, which means expect more and better features for running your store.

Tips for Online Store
While the services provide a good infrastructure for running your store, you will need to do a lot more online marketing on your own e.g. running an active blog, email marketing, marketing on social sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and others, participating in discussions online etc.

Once online sales have started, active advertising for the store and products can also start to boost sales to the next level.

In addition
  1. Always keep the source data of your store with you - e.g. the source for product description text, photos, price etc – rather than keeping the source on the service. This will help you easily migrate your store to another service if needed.
  2. Download sales, customer data frequently (e.g. once a week) for your own records