In a market as saturated as the ecommerce platform market, it can be very difficult to figure out which platform best meets your needs. If you are considering starting your own store, then chances are you have already run into this struggle at some point. So far I have reviewed most popular platforms as individual offers, and created this comparison chart, then ranked all platforms after their SEO effectiveness, but now it is time to see how the different platforms compare to each other: Shopify, Bigcommerce, 3dcart, Volusion and Big Cartel.
In case you’re in a hurry, here are some links to our top ecommerce platforms for you to choose from:
Which of These Platforms is Most Popular?
If you’ve searched for a platform to run your ecommerce store, you’ve no doubt stumbled upon at least a few of the names we’re comparing today. Although popularity isn’t exactly the best motivating factor to make a decision that will affect your future business life, it’s certainly worth talking about, considering when large groups of people lean to a certain solution, we like to hope that it’s for a reason.
That said, if you take a look at a comparison on Google trends, Shopify is the clear winner in terms of what people are searching and how many people are showing interest in the five popular consumer solutions.
The 3dcart platform is, and has always been, at the bottom in terms of trending on Google. It’s interesting to point out that Bigcommerce has made a recent surge past the previous second place contender Big Cartel, and we’re certain it has to do with many of the changes Bigcommerce has implemented over the past few years.
Hence, for popularity – or at least search engine trend popularity – Shopify is the dominant company, which also shows that the Shopify marketing team is probably a little stronger, or they have more money, so although you shouldn’t make a decision based primarily on popularity, I would argue there’s a reason Shopify is king and Bigcommerce is slowly on the rise.
Another way to analyze popularity is to tie it in with where customers are going when they leave a certain ecommerce platform. The reason this is interesting is because it gives you an indicator of which of the companies have kept up with technologies and made improvements to bring in additional customers. A quick market share search on Shopify shows that the Shopify company is gaining most of its customers from Big Cartel and Volusion, but Shopify is losing most of its customers to Bigcommerce, an indicator that Bigcommerce is gunning for Shopify with its new features and marketing efforts.
Ease of use
If you are a novice online store owner, then there is really nothing as important as ease of use. It doesn’t matter if the platform offers the most amazing features, if you don’t understand how to use them, then they might as well not even be there.
One thing that all of the platforms have in common is the fact that their dashboards are all very easy to navigate. Furthermore, most of the platforms offer some sort of a setup wizard that will guide you through the creation of your first store. Inventory management, design functionality and the setup process all tie into how the overall ease of use is classified in this article.
Shopify has it all in terms of an easy setup, with a handy dashboard area for quickly adding products, customizing the look of your site and more. It’s cool because Shopify asks you if you plan on moving from another platform during the signup process. The system then provides a link for importing products from your previous store. In the screenshot below you can see that Shopify is helping me move from a Magento store.
Adding a product is clear and easy, with fields for titles, descriptions, price and more. The reason I think Volusion is easier to use than Volusion and the other options is because it explains what each field is used for, removing all doubt when typing in information.
We talked a little bit about ease of use with Volusion above, but it’s worth noting that the company has a fairly clean product creation area. It might not be as pretty as Shopify, but it does the trick. The big problem is when you need to go back in and change the layout or design of your pages, since coding knowledge is almost a requirement.
The 3dcart product setup page is the oldest looking of the bunch. It’s not that the module is confusing, but the junky design makes you wonder if they’ve updated it in a while.
However, 3dcart offers wonderful tutorials and setup steps to help you do everything from picking a template to setting up your shipping options. The clean wizard is ideal for beginners.
A 3dcart benefit is the drag and drop editor, which is not exactly the best on the market, but it helps you click and drag components instead of having to modify CSS or HTML code. If you’re a beginner without any design experience, this is a huge advantage, since you don’t have to settle for the preset template designs, and it doesn’t require you to go in there and modify any code for a simple adjustment.
Big Cartel offers the least visually-friendly startup area, since it’s not apparent what you should do right when you land on the page, and for some reason the text doesn’t really stand out that much.
Big Cartel lacks a drag and drop editor like you would find in 3dcart, but the customization isn’t the worst thing in the world. All of your design elements are situated to the left, which is fine, but the tools are a little weak, and anything further than that requires coding knowledge.
Next to Shopify, Bigcommerce has the cleanest dashboard and clearest directions for getting your site built within a few minutes. In fact, the dashboard looks surprisingly similar to Shopify, with modules for accepting credit cards, customizing your store and more.
Coding options are available in Bigcommerce, and the design features are quite handy, but I’d still rather have a drag and drop editor, which has not made its way to the Bigcommerce platform yet.
For many people pricing is the most important factor, not only when deciding which ecommerce platform to use, but in general as they go through life. Personally, I feel if you are going to be investing a lot of your time and energy into creating your own online retail space, then there should be more important factors than saving $1 on the price of the platform.
As you can see in the table above, the cheapest plan offered on any of the platforms is without competition offered on Big Cartel, this package doesn’t cost a single dime. In general when looking at the pricing of Big Cartel you can see that even their most expensive plan costs as much as the cheapest plan with Shopify or BigCommerce.
When you look at the cheapest pricing tier, if you ignore Big Cartel, then you can see that Volusion offers the cheapest plan, while 3dcart comes in second, finally the two most popular platforms Shopify and Bigcommerce both charge around $30 for their services.
When you compare the middle pricing packages you can quickly see that there seems to be some sort of agreement that the price should be somewhere between $65 and $80.
For me what it really comes down is whether you are looking to sell just a few products or a large number of products, as well as which platforms offers the features you want for a reasonable price.
It’s also worth mentioning the Shopify and Bigcommerce are best for those stores that plan on scaling up quick, since they provide the functionality to really handle large amounts of traffic and turn your site into something special. However, if you need a simple, small store, the cheaper Volusion or Big Cartel solutions work just fine.
Let’s be honest: design matters, everyone knows if the design doesn’t appeal to the visitor then chances are they will take their shopping elsewhere. Remember what I said in one of the reviews, if the layout of your store looks horrible then even if your product is amazing, chances are people won’t pay attention to your products.
If you are looking for a platform that offers some of the most professional looking themes, then you should really be looking into Shopify, the truth is there is no platform that offers better themes than Shopify.
Compared to Shopify and Bigcommerce, the collection of themes offered by 3dcart or Big Cartel shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same sentence.
While 3dcart does offer a lot of themes, when you look closer you realize most of these themes are duplicates. Not to mention, the 3dcart themes aren’t exactly modern looking. In fact, one could argue that some of the themes look like they come from the 1990s, with fixed layouts, weird colors and cluttered interfaces.
Big Cartel on the other hand only offers a grand total of nine themes (seen below). This is unacceptable, since unique branding is a huge part of selling online. In addition, the theme shop is only displayed in a small area to the left of where you modify your website, making it near impossible to view details on each theme or even see what the finished products would look like.
While you might think that the number of themes offered by a platform isn’t such a big deal. You need to remember that if your store lacks originality, such as having the same theme as 50 other stores, then customers are quick to attribute this to poor quality management from the store owner. This is much more likely to make them leave your site without even giving you a fair shot.
Apps and Add-ons
If you are looking for a platform that offers a large selection of apps and add-ons then you should really go with Shopify or Bigcommerce, both companies offer more than 100 different apps and add-ons that can easily be integrated into your store. Another solution would be to sign up with 3cart who also offers access to apps and add-ons, however, they do not offer as many as Shopify or Bigcommerce.
Another thing to keep in mind is how easy it is to search for the apps and add-ons, considering you probably have a few items in mind that you want to add to your store. Maybe you need an automated email receipt solution or an app that helps you build a loyalty program. With Shopify and Bigcommerce you can search, filter and browse through categories when in need of a certain app. The other ecommerce solutions either make it super hard to do so, or you don’t have the functionality at all.
If access to additional apps and add-ons are important then I don’t recommend signing up with either Volusion or Big Cartel. The first company offers a grand total of one app, while the latter doesn’t offer any apps at all.
Chances are you will need support at some point in your ecommerce career, it is therefore important to be familiar with the different support offers from the companies.
Shopify and 3dcart both offer 24/7 support through phone as well as chat and email. Bigcommerce offers 24/7 email and chat support, however, their phone support comes with time constraints.
The one company who doesn’t seem to offer phone or chat support would be Big Cartel who only offers email support, and what’s more they only offer it Monday – Friday from 9AM to 6PM EST.
So if you are looking for a company that offers great customer support any time of the day, then you really should give Shopify and 3dcart a try.
All of the solutions we’re talking about have knowledge bases, which basically let you search a topic and see if someone else has talked about it and addressed it in the past. In my opinion, this is one of the best support areas you can find, since it allows you to resolve a problem while maybe sitting on the phone waiting for a support rep.
Even though they all have these knowledge bases, along with blogs, FAQs and other documentation, Shopify and BigCommerce have the most users, making them far superior in terms of knowledge base content. Why is this the case? Simple. Since more people are discussing the systems, by default, more questions have been asked and more answers have been posted.
More head to head comparisons
It really doesn’t matter how many comparison articles you read, there is only one person who knows which platform offers exactly what you need, and that person is you. What it all boils down to is which platform will allow you to sell the products you offer in the best manner for both you as a store owner and for your clients.
Based on the recommendations you read above, feel free to click on one, or all of the links below to discover what each platform offers you. I highly recommend starting a free trial with at least two of the solutions so that you can play around with them and see which one feels easiest for you.
With that being said however, I think there are a few factors you need to take into consideration before making your final decision. In order to make the decision a little easier I will break this conclusion down into quick paragraphs about each of the platforms.
There is a reason why Shopify is at the top of the comparison chart. Not only does the company offer some amazing features, but the themes they offer are also top notch. I wouldn’t have a problem recommending this platform to anyone looking to get started in the ecommerce industry.
Bigcommerce (full review here)
The differences between Bigcommerce and Shopify are rather subtle, there are some features offered by this platform that Shopify doesn’t offer and vice versa. If you don’t mind a bit of a learning curve then perhaps this offer is the right platform for you.
When deciding whether to use Volusion or not, it really comes down to one very simple decision. Do you feel comfortable editing the HTML and CSS code in order to optimize your template, if this isn’t a problem, then Volusion might be the right platform for you, otherwise I would really suggest looking at Shopify or Bigcommerce.
3dcart doesn’t offer as many features as Shopify or Bigcommerce, however, their platform is very user-friendly. One problem I do have with this company however is the fact that they offer a limited number of original themes, as I mentioned earlier many of their themes are duplicates.
Big Cartel (full review here)
Big Cartel might not offer some of the features offered by their competitors, however, as I mentioned in the review, it feels as if they are catering towards a different set of customers. If you are looking to sell a few products to your clients and do not need all the features offered by competitors, then I would really consider giving Big Cartel a try.
If you are still uncertain about which platforms best fits your needs, then every company offers a free trial, and my suggestion is that you give these a shot before making your final decision. You can also read the individual reviews for each and for a more visual way of comparing them I suggest taking a look at my top 10 comparison chart.