I just spent several hours this past week researching a switch in ecommerce platforms.  Currently, we use BigCommerce, and have been using it for the past year. (Both brook there and SEAWALL.) I was interested in switching to Magento Go, specifically because I hoped it would have better inventory management facilities for clothing.

(fyi-  Magento Go is a newish hosted ecom solution, not to be confused with Magento Enterprise, which starts at $14k/ year. )

I’m frugal, and have web-skills, so Shopify was not a platform I considered (can’t afford $179/mo and won’t pay transaction fees on principle). We’ve used BigCartel before, but it had (has) no means of hooking up a credit card merchant account, only paypal.  So it wasn’t professional enough for what I wanted.

I made a pretty composite chart of all the pricing structures for the major platforms.  Except for shopify, I have tried the trial versions on all, and done pretty extensive testing or usage on bigcartel, bigcommerce, and magento go.

When I’m looking at these comparisons, I’m considering three primary things:

1. My time investment-  if I’m going to switch, it has to be worth it.  Uploading a product set to a new system is time consuming, even while using bulk import.  Because my reason for switching would be to take advantage of new product functionalities, bulk import has to be manually edited to a pretty deep degree.

2. Functionality: I want better inventory management, ability to relate products so they will be suggested in an intelligent manner, and better customer insight.

3. Price:  I’m comfortable paying less than $40/month.  Merchant account fees go on top of that, and are running me $100/year + 2.5% /transaction (I think.)  (Merchant Accounts all kinda suck, and I can’t wait until square gets into that side of the business and streamlines it.) Oh-  and you need an SSL certificate, about $80/year if I recall correctly.

Clothing inventory typically has one extra layer of complexity that other types of products might not:  color AND size.  This means that for one style, say a tshirt, you will have 4 or 5 sizes and possibly several colors.  If you have 5 sizes and 3 colors, it’s actually 15 different variations for one tshirt.  These variations are full-on skus in some platforms, and not in others-  so the product/skus comparison line in those charts below needs to be characterized more carefully.

In BigCommerce, those 15 variations on one tshirt can live inside of one product, and each have individual inventory.

In Magento Go, those 15 variations are all skus, if you want to track inventory per size/color combo.

So while it LOOKS like Magento Go offers more products per $/month, it actually doesn’t.  Magento Go’s 500 skus is comparable to BigCommerce’s 100 products.

Got it?

Ok, so when I look at these comparison charts, here’s what I’m looking at:

1. number of products/ skus.  I’m currently at 100 with BigCommerce, but I’m going to bump it up next month (to 500).    Knowing that, and knowing how Magento manages the sku/product thing, BigCommerce is the best deal by far. Specifically, it’s about $20/month cheaper than the others. (savings: $240/yr)

2. staff logins/ admin accounts.  This doesn’t matter to me.  I’m the only one.

3. storage- for my 100 products, I’m using 117 MB of storage right now.  I pre-process all product images to be square and 1500 pixels square.  They are saved for web as jpegs with a 82 or so quality rating using photoshop.

4. bandwidth:  I currently use 3% of my 2GB bandwidth –  so I’m nowhere near pushing that edge.

5. support:  I’ve never used it, so I don’t care if it’s phone or email.

6. Features.  Most of the features that I care about are not visible in those pretty charts. They are:

-functionality of backend-  is it speedy? Well organized?  Are related tasks accessible by one click?  BigCommerce does pretty well on this aspect.  Magento Go does poorly. Magento Go often would take 2-3 seconds to refresh a page after I clicked the “save” button, and sometimes it wouldn’t even acknowledge that I’d clicked save at all.

-inventory management for clothing- how complicated is it to build multi-level inventory (per size per color stuff) and how does it display on the website side?  My primary issue with BigCommerce: while it’s easy to create and track multi-level inventory, if an item goes out of stock in one size or color, it’s still viewable in the drop-down select box on the consumer facing website.  This is not cool!  It leads to a poor customer experience, as they can try to add a product to cart, and get an out-of-stock message.  It is possible to fix this display issue manually per item, which is what I’m resigned to doing.

-security/ stability-  woocommerce is on the bottom of this chart because a friend asked me to look at it.  Woo is a free extension to wordpress, and a pretty full-featured (for free) ecom solution.  However, it’s not hosted.  I’ve used wordpress for years, and been aware of the ability to do ecom on it for several years as well.  Wordpress is an amazing CMS.  But I wouldn’t want to run anything complex to rebuild off of it-  I had a hacking nightmare a couple years ago.   Because of that, I no longer put photos into wordpress.  I stick all my images onto flicker, and just link to the pics.  When I backup wordpress now it’s a pretty quick db export, and I pop that file into a dropbox folder.  If my website- brookthere.com and the blog- get hacked, I can be up and running on a new server in an hour.  If I was trying to run ecom off my own website, I’d have to be super diligent about backups-  I’m happy to pay BigCommerce $30 or $40 per month to not have to do that. Moreoever, if you look at all those extensions available for woocommerce, it becomes clear that some things you’d expect for a store-  such as table rate shipping-  are not free.  So the overall price of the hosted solutions ends up lower than the free one (all those addons for Woo are free with the basic versions of Magento Go or Bigcommerce.  Plus, no hosting fees.)

-linkage to Merchant Accounts.  Ok, honestly, this was the straw that broke Magento’s back in my comparison.  I already have a merchant account.  It’s pretty cheap.  I hate setting up new merchant accounts.  My current provider wasn’t supported by Magento, and the providers they do offer were more expensive.  Magento supported about 50 merchant accounts, BigCommerce does too, and there is some overlap.  But not on the cheapie one I use.

-ability to relate products:  BigCommerce doesn’t have this.  Magento does. End of Story.

-abandoned carts-  while the opportunity to market to abandoned cart customers is a big deal for some merchants, I think it’s a little creepy and pushy.  So I don’t really care.

Thought I’d share what I learned!  In part because, while I really enjoy the process of learning the ins and outs of a new system, it’s a real time investment.  I spent a good ten hours on magento before deciding it wasn’t for me.  For the first 8 or 9 of those hours I was convinced I was going to change and enjoy their improved inventory systems as well as product relatability.    But, the slowness of the backend got more irritating over time.  Magento Go is, frankly, much fuller-featured than BigCommerce, but also more convoluted.  To add multiple products to a category was incredibly inefficient, as well duplicating products (certain defaults got changed), as was adding custom options to a product that were not tracked in inventory, as was table rate shipping, etc.  I could go on.  If I were going to manage a webstore full-time and my budget was $100/month, I might choose Magento over BigCommerce.  But I want to do it part-time. Like 5% time.







Posted by:Brook DeLorme

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