How to make an online store - a detailed guide
How to make an online store - picture of a computer and a shopping cart

In this article, we show you how to make an online store - and, perhaps more importantly, how to drive traffic to it and generate sales. 

You're probably reading this post because you're looking for some e-commerce software to help you get an online store up and running. Finding this software is the easy bit (we have some suggestions below); but getting your store to make money is the tricky part. In this post, we look at all the things you need to do not just to get an online store live, but attracting traffic – and thus sales – too.

1. Pick the right product to sell

This sounds so obvious that it’s barely worth saying, but picking the ‘right’ product to sell is absolutely essential to the success of your store. However, by ‘right’ I’m not talking about quality – you should obviously avoid selling tat – I’m talking about the ‘uniqueness’ of your product.

This is because when you set up an online store, you are competing with a large number of hugely popular sites selling everything under the sun: just think of the Amazons and the E-bays of this world to get a flavour of the level of competition. Generally, you are going to have a tough time shifting products if you are simply selling stuff that is already widely available on those kinds of sites.

To run a successful online store, what you really need to do is ‘find your niche’ – identify (or make) a product that is not being sold by every online retailer going, but for which there is enough demand to sustain an online business. For example, instead of selling a guitar that is commonly available on Amazon, you might consider selling an instrument that is harder to find online, but for which you know there is a decent enough customer base.

2. Use Google’s keyword tool to help you find your niche

To help you find the niche discussed above, you are going to need to do some research. The simplest way of identifying a niche is to 1) use a keyword research tool (like Moz Keyword Explorer, SERPs or Google's Keyword Planner) to find niche markets and 2) perform online searches to see how many retailers are operating in those markets.

Keyword research tools allow you to find out how many searches per month are performed for various keywords. For example, it will tell you that there are 246,000 searches per month for the search term ‘buy guitar’ and only 1,600 for ‘buy ukulele’. This might make you think “whoa, there’s a much bigger market for guitars, I’m going to sell guitars” but stop right there: think of the number of guitar stores you will be competing with. The numbers that the keyword tool has just given us tell us that ukuleles are definitely much more of a niche product, but one with a decent enough number of people interested in buying them (nearly 20,000 a year worldwide, enough to arguably sustain an online ukulele-selling business) .

The question is whether there are already a lot of retailers selling this niche product: people might have beaten you to this niche already. To find out, you now need to look at keyword difficulty - this is a score given (in one format or another) by keyword research tools. The higher the keyword difficulty score, the harder it will be to rank for searches for that product name.

It's also a good idea to perform some of searches in Google to see how many stores specialising in selling ukuleles online are already out there. If you find that there are already loads of online ukulele stores in existence, it might be time to think about selling a different product. But if there’s clearly only one or two online stores flogging ukuleles…well, maybe it’s time to think about going into the ukulele-selling business.

This is quite a basic example; you can go much further with niches. You may find during your research that there are quite a lot of ukulele sellers out there, but not many soprano ukulele sellers (but still enough demand to justify the setting up of an online store selling soprano ukuleles)…you get the idea. The trick is generally to find products for which there is a reasonably strong level of demand but with relatively few online stores selling them (or, ideally, none at all!). Or to tailor your product descriptions, once you set up your store, to match particular keywords.

3. Creating your online store

Once you’ve identified your niche product and market, it’s time to think about getting your online store off the ground. You could hire an agency or freelancer to design your store for you, but if you go down that route, make sure that they implement a solution that lets you manage your store without them after it’s live – i.e., they need to provide you with a ‘content management system’ (CMS) that lets you edit your site and add/remove products. This is usually (but not always) better than paying a webmaster or developer to do it every time.

Example of a Shopify theme

Another option is to use an online store builder and just create your online store yourself – you may find this more cost-effective. There are lots of e-commerce solutions to choose from – popular ones include Shopify, Bigcommerce and Volusion. Of the ones I have road tested to date, I have found Shopify and Bigcommerce to be the most straightforward for users without a lot of experience of building websites – they are definitely the most user-friendly of the bunch. Shopify also comes with a blogging tool built in, which is very useful (I’ll explain why this is important below). The good news is that all these solutions offer free trials and support to help you get going – just follow the links below:

If you already have a website (for example, a Wordpress site) and want to add an online store to it, tools such as Ecwid will come in handy – it allows you to plug a ‘widget’ into your site (or anywhere else you can insert some HTML code – for example, a Facebook page or blog) and users will see a fully-functional online store at that location.

4. Optimise your site for search

Once you’ve found your niche market and designed your online store to cater for it, it is now crucial to optimise it correctly for search. You can use keyword research tools again to find out exactly what kind of searches are performed for your type of product, and ensure that your site contains all these keywords in all the right places – page titles, product descriptions, headings, meta data and URLs. All the solutions mentioned above – Shopify,  Bigcommerce and Volusion – give you a lot of control over SEO. If you plump for one of those products, make use of this functionality! (You'll find more detailed information on how to make a site visible in Google here).

Getting a high placement in Google search results is vital for the success of any online store.

Getting a high placement in Google search results is vital for the success of any online store.

5. Blog

A hugely important part of attracting traffic to an online store is to blog regularly about topics related to what you are selling. For example, on your ukulele site, you could blog about playing techniques, or your favourite type of ukulele strings, or that bit in Some Like It Hot where Marilyn Monroe plays a ukulele on a train. This type of activity is basically known as ‘inbound marketing’ and if you don’t engage in it, you are potentially missing out on a huge number of sales. By posting high-quality, keyword-rich blog posts related to your area of business, you are doing two things: one, maximising the chances of your site appearing in relevant search results, and two, showing you are an authority on the area of business you are operating in (potential ukulele buyers will have greater confidence in ukulele vendors who clearly have a passion for, and understanding of, all things ukulele).

Returning to particular store builders for a moment, it's worth pointing out a key reason why I'm keen on Shopify and Bigcommerce solutions for building e-commerce sites: both products come with blogging functionality built in (which, for the reasons outlined above, is very important for building an audience for your store). You can add blogs to a Volusion site too but it involves setting up subdomains and is a bit of a fiddly process.

6. Consider a Google Adwords campaign

Depending on what you’re selling, you can consider running an Adwords campaign to drive traffic to your store. This involves identifying (and paying for) relevant search phrases that will display adverts for your store/products alongside ‘organic’ Google search results. In my experience, Adwords campaigns generally work well when you are selling relatively expensive products. For example, you might be able to live with an Adwords ‘cost per acquisition’ of £50 (i.e., where you spend £50 on ads to generate one sale) to sell one product if that product – let’s say a TV – retails at £1000, but if you are spending £50 on ads to sell one CD that retails at £10…well, it’s a no brainer really: stop wasting your cash. It’s a question of looking at your margins, trying out different keyword strategies and so on to ensure that the cost of advertising doesn't eat into your profit margin too much. But before you even contemplate an Adwords campaign you should definitely ensure that you’ve sorted out all your search engine optimisation first. You may find, with niche products in particular, that if your site is optimised correctly, there is no huge need for spending money on Adwords.

Right, I'm off to sell some ukuleles.  

Any thoughts on how to set up an online store?

If you've set up your own online store, or have any queries about doing so, we'd love you to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Useful links

Inbound Marketing Infographic
Image with letters spelling the word 'inbound'

Inbound marketing is now considered a crucial way of generating new business, but it can be a little bit difficult to understand. We recently put together a new infographic on inbound marketing together, which you can find below. The aim of it is to demystify the topic a bit, and spell out the key steps in creating an effective inbound marketing campaign.

You can take a look at the infographic below, or if you'd prefer to view it in a browser rather than as an image file, over at Picktochart.

For more information about inbound marketing in general, you might like to take a look at our 'What is inbound marketing?' article.

What is inbound marketing?
What is inbound marketing? Image of a dart hitting a dartboard.

‘Inbound marketing’ is all the rage these days, and with its promise of potential customers coming to you rather than you having to go out and grab leads’ attention, it’s obvious why business owners are so interested in the idea.

But what exactly is inbound marketing, and how do you go about creating an inbound marketing campaign?

Simply put, inbound marketing is a way to pull people to your business, rather than relying on advertising spend or PR to push potential customers towards it. It typically revolves around the web, and involves three key steps:

  1.  Getting found (i.e., attracting traffic to your website)
  2. Converting visitors to leads (capturing data and generating sales)
  3. Analysing (looking at site stats and sales data to improve steps one and two).

Let’s look at each step in more detail.

1. Getting found

Getting found boils down to

  • what content is on your site
  • how it is presented from a search engine optimisation point of view
  • how easy it is for readers to share it.

Content

Content is the most important aspect of an inbound marketing strategy: your website needs to contain a reasonable number of high-quality, informative pages on it. This ensures that you have keywords on your site that can be indexed by search engines, along with interesting content that you can promote and your site visitors can share. 

But before you start creating content, you need a strategy: you need to take what people are actually searching for into account before publishing a single page or post. You can do this by using a variety of keyword research tools such as Moz's keyword explorer or Serps to compare volumes of particular searches against each other.

Say you are thinking of starting a pie recipe site in the UK. You might find using a keyword research tool that a lot more people are searching for ‘English pie recipes’ over ‘British pie recipes’ - and as such may wish to optimise your content accordingly. However, if there are lots of posts already in existence which use the more popular phrase, it may be worth plumping for the less popular and more ‘niche’ one – so long as you are confident that you can dominate results for that particular phrase. The trick is to find target keywords that are capable of driving significant numbers of visitors and which you can realistically rank for.

Once you've got your target keywords sorted, you now need to focus on the 'quality' side of things. If a potential client arrives at a page full of nonsense, they’re not going to take your business very seriously - no matter how many keywords you've stuffed into it. They’re not going to share the content and they are not going to create links to it on their site – which, as I’ll explain below, are vital aspects of an inbound marketing campaign.

The best strategy when it comes to content is to blog – but to do so in a really informative way. This does not mean blogging about your business, but rather your business area. For example, if you run a cocktail bar, you might consider posting blog items about how to make classic cocktails. If you are a web designer, you could blog about your favourite tools for building websites, or provide CSS tips and tricks. These kinds of posts are genuinely useful and answer real questions that people might have about the area that you work in. They are likely to garner Facebook likes or Twitter shares, or be linked to on other websites – all of which drives more traffic to the original post. And lo, your inbound marketing strategy beings to take shape.

Search engine optimisation

To give your content a boost, you should make sure that it is presented in the easiest way for search engines to understand.

This means that you need to

  • use page titles and H1 tags that explain precisely what your content is about
  • use meta descriptions which summarise the page / article content in an accurate and engaging way
  • include keywords in your site’s URLs – for example, if you’re writing a blog post about cocktails, it would be better to use a page URL of www.mysite.com/cocktails over www.mysite.com/?page=sakhkxas123.php
  • use anchor text in links (either on your own site or others) which is relevant to the content – i.e., rather than simply using a big long URL like ‘www.mysite.com/cocktail-recipe-blog-post’ as a link to a cocktail recipe, you should use the words ‘cocktail recipe’ and put the link behind that.

For a few more SEO tips, you might like to check out our guide to making your site more visible in Google.

Making it easy to let people share content

A crucial part of an inbound marketing strategy is to ensure that people can share your content really easily. The more likes and tweets of your content that you get, the more inbound visitors you will attract to your site.

To this end you should ensure that social media share buttons are highly visible on your site, and that visitors are actively encouraged to use them. Tools like Addthis are invaluable in this regard, providing you with lots of sharing icons and analytics tools that you can make use of simply by adding a few lines of HTML to your site.

Additionally, you should actively encourage users to create backlinks to your content on their own blogs or websites (a little ‘feel free to create a link to this on your site’ plea at the bottom of posts can help with this). In general, every backlink you have to your content usually serves as a vote for your site in search results (with the important caveat that certain backlinks – for example those created through spammy backlink creation services – may actually hurt your position in search...avoid them!). 

2. Converting visitors to leads

Once you’ve attracted visitors to your website through content, SEO or shares, it’s time to turn them into leads, and that means capturing their details. Most visitors are not going to buy your products or services the moment they rock up to your website – but, assuming they are impressed enough by the content that got them there in the first place, they are quite likely to be open to submitting an email address in exchange for a promise of similarly interesting content in future. And with that email address comes the opportunity to forge a relationship with your lead, showcase products and services and ultimately gain some business. Even if you don’t generate any business directly from that lead, they may nonetheless help your inbound marketing cause by sharing some of the content which you send them via e-newsletter.

As such, your blog or website should always place a large emphasis on data capture, and you should always:

  • make it extremely easy for people to sign up to your mailing list – place a form on the side of key pages and at the bottom of any posts
  •  ‘incentivise’ data capture by offering free resources / product trials etc. in exchange for an email address (i.e., don't just use a bland 'join our mailing list' statement).

Some potential customers may not wish to submit an email address, but might feel more comfortable with following you on social media and getting links to your content that way. As such, ensure that you have ‘follow’ buttons clearly visible on your site. Again, Addthis can help with this.

Finally, on the subject of data capture it’s a good idea to think about using autoresponders to automate some of your e-marketing.  Autoresponders are e-newsletters that are automatically sent to your mailing list subscribers at pre-defined intervals after they sign up – you can set them up so that the second somebody signs up to your list, they receive a simple welcome message; a week later they could receive links to some interesting articles they might have missed; three weeks later they could receive an encouragement to follow you on social media. The point is that you can automate your e-marketing in a way which ultimately helps you to generate more inbound traffic - without you having to constantly send out e-newsletters manually.

(On the subject of e-newsletters and autoresponders, you may find our Getresponse vs Aweber and Mad Mimi vs Mailchimp comparison reviews handy).

3. Analysing

The final stage of an inbound marketing campaign is the analysis: you need to crunch the numbers, find out what’s working well (or not) and use this information to refine or improve the whole process.

There are two key tools which should always be a part of this: Google Analytics and Google Search Console. Both will give you a picture of the kind of content that is being read on your site, and the kind of keywords that are driving traffic to it. In addition, by registering your site with Google Search Console you are placing yourself firmly on Google’s radar – doing this helps Google crawl your site in the most comprehensive manner possible; and if you enter all your site details correctly you are giving its algorithms the most accurate picture possible of your website, thus helping it to serve the most relevant search results from it.

In addition to the above, you will be able to use other analytics tools – for example, your e-newsletter reports and, assuming you’ve added one to your site, stats from sharing services (such as Addthis) – to hone in on popular content. By identifying the blog posts or site pages that are attracting large numbers of visitors, you can drill down into the reasons why – and write articles on similar topics or structure new articles in a similar way.

Some top tips for creating a successful inbound marketing strategy

  • Carry out keyword research to ensure that your content is going to be focussed on searches that people are actually making - and ones that you can rank for.
  • Blog regularly. Not only will this make your site more keyword rich, it will help it be taken more seriously by Google’s search algorithms (which factor in frequency of updates when determining where to plonk your site in search results).
  • Create quality blog posts. Don’t pack your site full of keyword-rich but ultimately useless drivel – it won’t impress anyone (Google included).
  • Create backlinks where possible. Ask clients, colleagues and friends who run websites or blogs to provide you with a backlink (but avoid spammy link-building services).
  • Get on Google’s radar: register with Google Search Console and swot up on what Google actually recommend you do from an SEO perspective.
  • Use Addthis or a similar service to make it easy for people to share your content.
  • Always make it easy for people who visit your site to sign up to your mailing list (and encourage them to do so by offering interesting content/features/tools in exchange for their details).
  • Analyse your site, e-newsletter and social media statistics regularly to see which content is driving the most traffic to your site, and adjust / refine your content strategy based on this information.

See also

We recently put together an inbound marketing infographic, which aims to demystify the topic and spell out some of the key steps you need to take to create a successful inbound marketing campaign.

Got any thoughts on inbound marketing?

If you've got any thoughts on inbound marketing, or have run inbound marketing campaigns in the past, do feel free to leave your thoughts, queries and tips of your own in the comments section below :)

Bigcommerce Review 2017 - The 16 Things You Need To Know
Bigcommerce review

In this Bigcommerce review we take a look at one of the most popular e-commerce solutions currently available. Like Shopify and Volusion, it regularly features in ‘top five’ lists of online store builders. 

In this post I'll walk you through some key Bigcommerce features. You'll learn all about the Bigcommerce pros and cons, and by the end of the article should hopefully have a better idea of whether Bigcommerce is the right e-commerce solution for you and your business.

Our overall rating: 4/5


1. What is Bigcommerce?

Bigcommerce is a paid-for 'hosted' e-commerce solution that allows business owners to set up an online store and sell their products online. It comes with a range of customisable templates to help you design your store; you can use it to sell either physical or digital goods; and there are also some tools provided to help you market your store.

The product is aimed primarily at people without much in the way of web design skills, but it also allows more tech-savvy users to tweak the HTML and CSS of their sites too.

As with all hosted store products (Shopify, Volusion, Squarespace etc.), if Bigcommerce were to shut down or change its feature set radically, you might find yourself in a position where you needed to migrate your store to another platform (Magento Go users can tell you all about that!). But unless you are in a position to develop your own online store (an expensive and laborious undertaking) you are in all likelihood going to end up using a hosted tool like Bigcommerce anyway to run your store, and at least it's one of the more established products of its kind out there, with a client roster that includes Toyota, Gibson Guitars and Travelpro.


2. Bigcommerce pricing

Bigcommerce offer four different pricing plans:

  • Bigcommerce Standard: $29.95 per month
  • Bigcommerce Plus: $79.95 per month
  • Bigcommerce Pro: $249.95 per month*
  • Bigcommerce Enterprise: pricing varies, depending on your business requirements

The 'standard', 'plus' and 'pro' plans are aimed at individuals and small businesses; the Enterprise plan is geared more towards large businesses and corporates (users with very high bandwidth / advanced functionality requirements). 

* This fee increases depending on what your annual sales figures are like - this is detailed in more depth below.

Bigcommerce Standard

Bigcommerce's cheapest offering, the 'standard' plan, costs $29.95 a month and as such is a significantly more expensive than the equivalent starter plans offered by competitors Shopify and Volusion ($9 and $15 respectively) - but that said it is a much more comprehensive starter plan than either of those plans, providing

  • a fully functional online store
  • the ability to sell an unlimited number of products
  • unlimited bandwidth
  • unlimited storage
  • gift cards
  • ratings and reviews functionality.

In short, you get an awful lot of e-commerce bang for your buck.

By comparison, the Shopify 'Lite' plan doesn't actually let you build a fully functional website - it is geared towards users who want to either set up a store on Facebook or use the Shopify backend in conjunction with a simple 'buy now' button or point-of-sale applications. Volusion’s 'Mini' starter plan comes with monthly limits on data transfer (1GB) and limits you to selling 100 products. (A fairer comparison would be to stack the silver plan up against Shopify’s ‘basic’ plan or Volusion’s ‘plus’ plan.)

There is an annual sales limit for Bigcommerce Standard of $50,000.

Bigcommerce Plus

As you move up the pricing structure ladder, you encounter 'Bigcommerce Plus'. This plan provides more functionality than the standard plan, including, crucially, their abandoned cart saver tool (more on that later). Other key differences between this plan and 'Bigcommerce Standard' include pricing rules for customer groups (this allows you to provide discounts to specific customers) and advanced pricing rules. 

The annual sales limit for Bigcommerce Plus is $150,000.

Bigcommerce Pro

A relatively new addition to the mix is 'Bigcommerce Pro'. With this plan, you don't get a huge amount of extra functionality over Bigcommerce Plus - but you do get increased sales limits. This permits up to $400,000 in online sales, with an additional fee of $150 per month per $200k in sales, up to a maximum of $1m. 

The extra features that come with this plan are listings on Google Trusted Stores and faceted search (advanced product filtering).

Bigcommerce Enterprise

Finally, there's Bigcommerce's "Enterprise" plan to consider. This is really geared towards businesses that have very high volumes of sales (over $1,000,000), and advanced requirements. Its advanced features - that are not available on the cheaper plans - include:

  • dedicated SSL via a 3rd party
  • uptime service level agreement (SLA)
  • unlimited API calls
  • Bigcommerce consulting
  • priority support.

If you're interested in the Enterprise plan you will need to discuss your requirements with Bigcommerce to establish pricing - the costs will reflect your business needs. You can generally expect a lot more support from Bigcommerce if you purchase an Enterprise plan - data migration, setup, account management and much more in-depth support can all be facilitated.

The annuals sales limit with Bigcommerce Enterprise is negotiable.


3. Transaction fees and sales limits

First the really good news: there are no transaction fees on any Bigcommerce plan.

You will, of course, pay credit card transaction fees and these will depend on the payment gateway you use (see below), but unlike some if its competitors (notably Shopify) you don't have to worry about Bigcommerce taking a cut of your sales.

The bad news, and as mentioned above, is that Bigcommerce places a limits on your annual online sales. These limits are as follows:

  • Bigcommerce Standard: $50,000
  • Bigcommerce Plus: $150,000
  • Bigcommerce Pro: $400,000
  • Bigcommerce Enterprise: negotiable

(If you're on the Bigcommerce Pro plan, you can increase the sales limit by paying $150 per month for every additional $200k in sales.)

I contacted Bigcommerce to see what happens if you breach these limits and the response was:

"There is an additional 1,000-2,000 order limit per plan that users be able to go over before being forced to upgrade. During this time users will receive notifications about upgrading their plan as they are over the limit. But we will not prevent additional orders from coming through until they exceed the additional 1,000-2,000 overage order provided."

I expect the limits issue won't be a showstopper for most merchants - if your store is bringing in $400,000 a year you probably won't be quibbling about having to pay an extra $150 per month for breaching the limit...but they are a bit of an annoyance.  I have yet to come across these sorts of limits on competing products like Shopify or Volusion, so it's definitely a 'could do better' here for Bigcommerce.


4. Payment gateways

With all the plans referred to above it is worth pointing out that additional charges apply for use of a ‘payment gateway’ (software provided by a third party to process credit cards) – depending on what you plump for you are looking at a percentage of a transaction fee, or a monthly fee (or both). These fees are not applied by Bigcommerce but by the payment gateway provider you use.

Integrating a payment gateway with Bigcommerce can occasionally be bit of a lengthy process, which involves setting up 'merchant accounts' with your chosen gateway provider and configuring them so that they work with your store. If you want to avoid doing this you can use Paypal powered by Braintree as the payment gateway. Doing so makes for a very easy payment gateway setup and gives you preferential Paypal rates for credit card transactions (which decrease as you go up Bigcommerce's pricing ladder):

Payment gateways in Bigcommerce

Payment gateways in Bigcommerce

  • Bigcommerce Standard: 2.9% + 30c
  • Bigcommerce Plus: 2.5% + 30c
  • Bigcommerce Pro: 2.2% + 30c
  • Bigcommerce Enterprise: 2.2% + 30c

It's worth looking at the various fees involved with other payment gateway providers though: depending on what you sell and how much of it, using a different payment gateway to Paypal powered by Braintree may still be the best route for you to go down, even if it involves a bit more setup time.

In terms of the number of payment gateways that you can integrate with Bigcommerce, there are 40+ available. This compares pretty favourably with competing products - it's much better than Squarespace (which only offers integration with 2 payment gateways) but not as good as Shopify (which works with 70+).


    5. Something to bear in mind if you are selling digital products: VAT MOSS

    If you want to sell digital products - downloadable music, videos, books etc. - to EU customers with Bigcommerce, you'll need to familiarise yourself with something called VAT MOSS (short for 'VAT Mini One Stop Shop'). VAT MOSS requires you to apply country-specific rates of VAT to digital products - even if yours is a business that is based outside of the EU. 

    With Bigcommerce, you'll need to set up individual tax rules to cover each country in Europe - a boring manual process which is likely to take you a while. To be fair to Bigcommerce, many of its competitors don't cater well for VAT MOSS either. But I'd like to see a similar approach to Shopify's being implemented here, where VAT MOSS is applied automatically to digital products.


    6. Bigcommerce templates

    For quite a while Bigcommerce lagged behind competing products by not providing an extensive range of responsive templates. Fortunately, this changed recently, with Bigcommerce rolling out a larger selection of responsive themes.

    There are 7 free themes and 84 paid themes (ranging in price from $145 to $235) - and each theme contains a number of different variants, so there quite is a lot to choose from.

    Example of a free Bigcommerce theme

    The free themes on offer are contemporary, professional in appearance and provide a good starting point for building an online store. However, a few of them are very similar to each other. This is a particular issue with the free themes: although there are technically 7 available, if you ask me it's a case of 2 themes with different colours. This means that in the theme department, Bigcommerce doesn't provide quite so much bang for buck as other solutions, like Shopify or Squarespace.


    7. Bigcommerce: main features

    As discussed above the exact features you get with Bigcommerce depend on the plan you opt for, but basic features include:

    • a choice of 7 (really 2!) free templates

    • the ability to sell a wide range of either physical or digital goods, in categories of your choosing and using shipping rates of your choosing

    • integration with Paypal and a wide range of payment gateways

    • full content management (CMS) functionality

    • good search engine optimisation (SEO) options – it’s very easy to add appropriate keywords to your products and site pages

    • integration with several e-newsletter services: Constant Contact, iContact, Mailchimp and Interspire

    • integration with Alibaba.com

    • automated reminder emails to people who abandoned their carts at checkout

    • discount coupons and gift vouchers as standard

    • product review functionality - this is particularly welcome: not all e-commerce platforms offer this as standard, and usually require you to fiddle about with third-party apps or services to enable it. 

    • the ability to tweak CSS and HTML as desired

    • professional reporting.

    Not all of the above features are available on the Bigcommerce entry-level plan, but most of them are, meaning that Bigcommerce arguably offers considerably more bang for the buck than some competing products at the $29 monthly plan price point.

    With some alternative e-commerce platforms, you'll find yourself having to be on a pretty expensive plan to access some of the above features or installing an paid-for app to provide the functionality. 

    As such, I'd say that one of Bigcommerce's USPs is that it provides good value for money and serves as a good 'all-rounder' e-commerce platform out of the box.


    8. Bigcommerce’s abandoned cart saver feature

    One feature worth drawing particular attention to is Bigcommerce’s abandoned cart feature – it’s one of the best out there. The tool allows you to create up to three automated emails to site visitors who go part of the way through the sales process only to leave your store without buying anything. This has the potential to dramatically increase your revenue with little effort – other than the 'one-off' time investment in setting up the automated messages – being involved.

    Other online store building tools provide similar functionality, but Bigcommerce’s is in my view better than those offered by its key competitors because it is more flexible and allows you to program in more reminder emails.

    It’s important to note that the abandoned cart saver functionality only comes with Bigcommerce’s 'Plus', 'Pro' and 'Enterprise' plans.


    9. Product variants and categories

    Another particularly strong feature of Bigcommerce is the way it handles product variants. Unlike rival Shopify, which only allows you to present users with three product variants without resorting to workarounds, Bigcommerce's 'product options' and 'product rules' allow you to create a seemingly endless number of product configurations. So if you are selling products that come in a lot of different formats, Bigcommerce may be a particularly good option. See accompanying video for more detail on how it all works.

    Less impressive is the way that Bigcommerce handles categories - whilst creating and editing them is straightforward enough, you have to assign them to individual products in quite a manual fashion. It would be better - as is the case with some other leading online store builders, notably Shopify - if you could automatically categorise products based on product name or tags. 


    10. Using Bigcommerce with Alibaba

    Bigcommerce has a partnership with Alibaba.com, the Chinese giant online retailer. This allows Bigcommerce users to browse and buy 30,000 wholesale products from 300 of Alibaba's 'gold' suppliers (ones that have been vetted, basically) from within the Bigcommerce interface.

    This may prove useful to certain users who are stuck for stock ideas, but note that the shipping of the products will still be the responsibility of the Bigcommerce store owner - i.e., this isn't a drop shipping style arrangement, where you sell something from Alibaba on your site and have somebody else ship it to your customers - which would be pretty cool, thinking about it, providing the retailer shipping your product was reliable. It's also worth noting that Bigcommerce customers have raised some concerns about the quality of the integration / app that facilitates this partnership.


    11. Interface

    Bigcommerce’s interface is straightforward and intuitive; similar in quality (not to mention appearance!) to Shopify's - but way ahead of Volusion's.

    One thing I particularly like about Bigcommerce's interface is that it is very easy to create a navigation menu; this is not always the case with Shopify (if you require more than one level of navigation in Shopify, you will need to use occasionally baffling 'link handles') and definitely not the case at all with Volusion.

    The below video gives you a quick overview of the Bigcommerce interface.


    12. Mobile apps

    One area where Bigcommerce doesn't score highly is mobile apps. Unlike some other e-commerce solutions, no iOS or Android apps are available for store owners to use to manage their stores on the go. There was previously an app available...but it's been discontinued.

    Obviously you can still be notified of sales etc. using a mobile device via email, but that seems a bit low-tech in this day and age. Additionally, there do seem to be some third-party Bigcommerce mobile apps floating about the place - but you won't be able to get support from Bigcommerce when using them. 


    13. Bigcommerce support

    When you start a Bigcommerce free trial, you are provided with various support emails and resources aimed at helping you with the 'onboarding' process. There's a fair amount of hand-holding available if you want it, which should make it easy enough to get your store up and running.

    For those who have purchased a Bigcommerce plan, the company provides 24-hour 'live agent' support. It's not hugely clear on their site what exactly this covers - phone, chat or email, and before you get access to relevant contact details you have to try to resolve the issue by searching for an answer to your query via the Bigcommerce help pages first (see accompanying screengrab). This will annoy some users a bit, although you do get presented with fairly easy-to-digest contact details once you've completed your search and ignored the help articles!

    For those who are more inclined towards trying to sort the issue out themselves first, there is a large range of video and text resources available from Bigcommerce, and a community forum.

    The Bigcommerce contact page - packed with lots of useful resources yes, but finding contact details is trickier than it should be.

    The Bigcommerce contact page - packed with lots of useful resources yes, but finding contact details is trickier than it should be.


    14. Bigcommerce analytics

    Bigcommerce analytics

    Bigcommerce analytics

    Bigcommerce provides users with several types of reports as standard:

    • customer reports (where your customers come from, the percentage of new vs returning customers, their overall spend and when they last made an order)
    • marketing reports (how you acquired your customers)
    • search data reports (the phrases customers used when searching for products in your online store) 
    • finance reports (sales, tax reports etc.)
    • abandoned cart reports.

    For an additional fee you can also gain access to an 'Insights' report, which provides you with more detailed information on your customers, products and abandoned carts. 

    In short, the Bigcommerce analytics offering is pretty strong - and the best thing about it is that the bulk of the reporting functionality comes as standard on all plans. This is not the case with its key competitor Shopify, which requires you to be on its more expensive $79 plan before you get access to in-depth reports.

    Of course in addition to using the built-in Bigcommerce reporting tools, you could also supplement your analytics arsenal by integrating Google Analytics into your site.



    15. Bigcommerce review conclusions

    Bigcommerce is one of the strongest hosted online store builders I’ve tested. Above all else, it is very easy to use – it’s one of the most user friendly store builders I’ve come across to date. The standout aspect of it is arguably the comprehensive feature set you get on its entry-level plan, which provides more bang for the buck than many competing products. Other things I particularly like about Bigcommerce are the quality of its abandoned cart saver and the flexible approach to product options (in a Bigcommerce vs Shopify shootout, I suspect that this might sway quite a few users Bigcommerce's way).

    The main things that would dissuade me from using it would probably be price (the entry level plan is more expensive than those offered by some competing products); the imposition of sales limits on store owners; and the support process (contacting support is not as straightforward as it should be).

    I hope this Bigcommerce review has helped give you a sense of this product and whether it's suitable for your needs - but as usual, always best to try before you buy: you can avail of a free Bigcommerce trial here.

    Finally, below you will find my summary of the positive and negative aspects of Bigcommerce.  

    Pros of using Bigcommerce

    • Bigcommerce is one of the easiest-to-use online store builder I’ve come across to date, with a very intuitive interface / CMS. My favourite aspect of the whole product is this user-friendliness – many users of online store builders are small business owners, not web developers, and interfaces should not get in the way of building the store.

    • The overall feature set on entry-level Bigcommerce plans is comprehensive by comparison to competing products.

    • You get a good set of reporting tools on all plans - again, this is not the case with all competing products.

    • It comes with built-in product review functionality.

    • There are no transaction fees.

    • Its marketing features are very strong: it’s really easy to use several leading e-newsletter services with Bigcommerce, and the tool’s approach to SEO is very straightforward too.

    • The automated emails that are sent to visitors who abandon their carts are an excellent idea and likely to boost revenue from your store considerably. Their 'abandoned cart saver' tools are more comprehensive than similar offerings by competitors (including Shopify and Volusion).

    • It comes with a wide range of discounting / coupon tools out of the box.

    • It comes with a built-in blog. This is extremely important because it allows you to use inbound marketing techniques directly from your store, without having to make use of a third party tool like Wordpress (or set up a subdomain for your blog etc.).

    • You can avail of cheaper-than-usual Paypal card transaction fees with Bigcommerce, thanks to its preferential arrangement with Braintree.

    • Bigcommerce is a very flexible solution for vendors with a lot of different product variants.

    Cons of using Bigcommerce

    • Limits are placed on annual online sales - and if you exceed them, you'll need to upgrade to a more expensive monthly plan.

    • The price of the Bigcommerce starter plan is on the high side by comparison to other solutions, although the plan itself is more feature-rich than entry-level products by other leading e-commerce solution providers.

    • VAT MOSS rates could be better catered for.

    • There are no mobile apps available to manage your store on the go.

    • Although support is 24/7, it's not clear quite what level of support you receive with Bigcommerce across individual channels (phone, chat or email).

    • It's hard to find contact details on the Bigcommerce website for support - before you get near a phone number, you have to search for an answer to your problem on their site.

    Have you used Bigcommerce? Let us know your thoughts on the solution below!


    16. Alternatives to Bigcommerce

    As far as hosted solutions go, Bigcommerce's main competitor is arguably Shopify, which is similarly priced and comes with a similar range of features. You can read our Bigcommerce vs Shopify review here. 

    Another option when it comes to building an online store is to use Wordpress in conjunction with an e-commerce tool such as Ecwid or Woocommerce. (Obligatory plug: we can help you with a Wordpress e-commerce project - contact us for more info).

    You might also wish to investigate Squarespace, which whilst not as feature-packed from an e-commerce point of view, is a good product for those who wish to combine impressive visuals or content with the ability to sell products. Our full Squarespace review is here.

    If you already have a website that you're happy with, and wish to add e-commerce functionality to it, you could do worse than check out Ecwid.

    Finally, other well-known solutions for building online stores include Jimdo, Weebly and Wix but it's probably fair to say that these are more 'prosumer' products; Bigcommerce is aimed at a more professional audience.



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