BigCommerce: Big E-tail Features for Small Money

by Jennifer Schiff

A new hosted e-commerce solution woos small business owners with its ease of use, deep feature set and unlimited support.

Like many small business owners, Brett Rosenthal, the founder and president of ThatsMyShirt.com (and several other t-shirt sites), gets a lot of help from friends and family, including his brother, Reid, who model many of the company’s cool t-shirts.

However, when Reid appeared on season five of the popular ABC reality show The Bachelorette earlier this year, his brother got more help selling his t-shirts than he – or his e-commerce host – could handle.

“In June and July our sites spiked in traffic significantly due to Reid being on The Bachelorette,” Rosenthal explained. “This would have been great for business, however our existing carrier could not handle the load and we lost a lot of business as a result.”

Even when the show ended, interest in Reid and his t-shirts did not. And Rosenthal got nervous.“We’d been experiencing a lot of timeouts and server issues – and we couldn’t process or even view or edit orders,” he said.

On top of that, customers were getting error messages when attempting to add items to their cart or checkout, so they left. “And we were getting scared of what the holiday rush would be like based on this traffic we saw from Reid.”

In order not to lose critical holiday business, Rosenthal went in search of a new hosted solution, one that would be easy to use, easy to customize and that wouldn’t conk out during peak periods.

After looking at many different hosted solutions, Rosenthal chose BigCommerce, which bills itself as “the world’s easiest to use e-commerce software.”

A Simple Yet Powerful E-commerce Platform

Released in Beta this past June and officially launched in early August, BigCommerce already has more than 8,900 store owners, who pay between $24.95 and $149.95 for the service (depending on the number of products, the number of staff logins, the bandwidth and the amount of storage they want/need). It is also available for free for a 15-day trial.

“We created BigCommerce because we felt there was a need for a really simple yet really powerful e-commerce platform that online retailers could use to sell their products and reach more customers,” explained Mitchell Harper, the co-founder and co-CEO of BigCommerce.

Indeed, the company mantra in designing BigCommerce was “Could our moms use this feature without an explanation?” If the answer was “no,” they’d go back to the drawing board.

“We felt that opening an online store wasn’t simply about displaying your products online and hoping customers would buy from you. Online retailers need an e-commerce platform that goes beyond that,” he said.

“As an online retailer you need built-in marketing tools, such as a site-wide promotions builder, coupon codes and gift certificates. You also need to see powerful reports showing which products are selling, your profit margins, inventory levels and even customer locations.”

Harper and his team also knew customers wanted the ability to customize the look and layout of their online stores, so they built a feature (unique to BigCommerce) called Drag & Drop Design Mode, which lets non-technical people change any text and re-arrange the layout of the pages in their online store by dragging and dropping.

“Drag & Drop has been a really big hit with our customers,” said Harper. “They can get as creative as they like – all without knowing HTML.” BigCommerce even comes with a social media component, so online retailers can include a blog and share news on sites like Facebook.

“Long story short, we took all of these different systems – a shopping cart, a content management system, marketing tools, business intelligence reports and backend integration – and combined them into an all-in-one solution for online retailers of any size, from mom-and-pop stores all the way up to global brands,” said Harper. And the strategy appears to be working.

Lots of E-commerce Features

That combination of “the features you need at a price you can afford” is what led Cyndi Pedrazzi, the founder of GetYubo.com, which sells “the world’s best lunch box,” to choose BigCommerce.

“We did a thorough review of more than 50 e-commerce tools on the market,” she explained. She added that the platform they chose had to meet several important needs including:

  • Clean and efficient store administration, to process large order volumes
  • Integration to leading payment transaction services
  • No transaction fees from the cart provider
  • Hosted service (they didn’t want to be an IT shop)
  • Offer features like discount codes

Pedrazzi said that only BigCommerce made the grade. “It is well laid out and works great,” she said. And “compared to the many other products out there it is a joy to use. It’s easy to add pages to the site.”

She also really likes the order and customer management, which, she noted, are “rock solid and built for real vendors with a decent volume.” Best of all, customers like the site, which looks professional and is easy to navigate.

In the con column, Pedrazzi said she wishes BigCommerce had the capability to make certain products available only to certain customers, and she’d also like it to have a better blogging engine.

Still, after checking out many different hosted e-commerce solutions, Pedrazzi is happy with her choice. “Personally, I haven’t seen a better solution in this space. BigCommerce has a great mix of high quality features and reasonable pricing.”

DIY E-commerce

Similar reasons led Christine & Taylor, an online apparel retailer specializing in collegiate-inspired women’s clothing, to also choose BigCommerce.

“BigCommerce offered great prices, great functionality and most of all a platform that our employees could manage themselves, so we didn’t have to hire someone to maintain the Web site,” explained company spokesperson Taylor McLaughlin.

“It allowed us to have a platform that integrated such items as shipping, merchant services and a customizable appearance to suit our needs,” she said. And it provided customers with an equally pleasant shopping experience.

Other pluses included the capability to update shipping options, payment options and items being sold with just a click (or two). As for minuses, McLaughlin said she would like to see more templates, and have the software “feel a bit richer in style and execution” (sentiments ThatsMyShirt’s Rosenthal echoed).

But overall, she said, Christine & Taylor is very happy with BigCommerce. “BigCommerce allows a small business to manage [its e-commerce site] itself. It is a fully functioning online store at a great price that benefits the consumer and small business owner alike.”

Speed, Reliability and Unlimited Support

As for ThatsMyShirt, in the four months since launching its BigCommerce site, Rosenthal said it has experienced none of the downtime or other issues his other non-BigCommerce sites had. And there are other benefits.

“Updating the site is very easy,” he said. “It’s easy to add products manually, because you can copy existing products and just alter them or use a product feed to add products.”

(Note: For businesses with an existing e-commerce site, BigCommerce has a built-in import wizard that lets you import orders, customers, products and images from any e-commerce software that supports exporting in Comma Separated Values, or CSV.)

That’s very important to Rosenthal because he plans on ThatsMyShirt ultimately carrying around 40,000 to 50,000 t-shirts, which come in a variety of sizes and colors.

Other features Rosenthal likes include support for credit cards, Google Checkout and PayPal; single page checkout; and how quickly customers can navigate the new site and check out. “The speed of the BigCommerce site is at least twice that of [our previous] solution.”

He was also impressed by how quickly ThatsMyShirt rose in the search engine rankings. That’s because Big Commerce is SEO optimized and features SEO-friendly links. As a result, said Rosenthal, “we are getting additional sales that we would not have had.”

While BigCommerce was the right e-commerce solution for Rosenthal, it may not be the right one for you. That’s why it’s important to make a checklist of the features most important to you before evaluating e-commerce solutions.

For Rosenthal, the feature he found critical was good customer service. “Many solutions offer great features, but if the site goes down or times out throughout the day it will not matter,” he said.

Harper concurs. “If you’ve got the best software in the world but lousy support, customers will go elsewhere.” BigCommerce provides unlimited e-mail and telephone customer support, as well as training videos and how-to articles on the BigCommerce Web site and a daily e-commerce tip (and other advice) on its Twitter page.

Rosenthal also advised business owners to not just go with the cheapest solution. Instead, he said, look for an e-commerce solution with good, easy-to-use templates that is reliable and fast. Lastly, be sure to read customer reviews of each solution, and then trial the two or three you like best.

Jennifer Lonoff Schiff writes about IT and small business issues and runs a blog for and about small businesses

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

This article was originally published on Wednesday Oct 14th 2009
Mobile Site | Full Site