Please introduce your company and what you do there.
Meticulosity works primarily with online retailers. It’s our core business and accounts for about 80% of our revenue. We have two different pillars of services we offer, which are very complementary. Our strength and initial roots are in development, making a website function well, creating custom features and requirements to meet business needs. We do this not just from a monotonous developer standpoint, but understanding the business goals and things behind that. We’re not just doing the job, but we’re doing the job right for the client and the user of the site.
As our agency grew over the last ten years, we naturally expanded into inbound marketing of e-commerce. This encompasses SEO, search engine marketing, social advertising, product listing ads, Amazon consulting, and all kinds of things related to driving consumers to the site to increase sales. We optimize a site from a marketing standpoint to increase values and conversion rates, etc.
I’m the president, and I’ve been on the team since the company was founded. I’ve got a team of six managers and 40 developers.
When looking at options in the e-commerce market, and the different platforms available to build a site, what should your clients consider before settling on a platform?
In a lot of ways, different platforms share similar feature sets. Some things about them are ‘apples to apples’, but some things are very different. I think that clients should spend a lot of time and consideration on choosing the right platform, whether they’re re-platforming or building a new e-commerce site. It is expensive to re-platform if you choose the wrong one. You can end up in a place where you can’t afford it for another three years, and you have to make do.
I like to look at Magento as the Cadillac, Shopify as a Corolla, and BigCommerce as a Civic. Not everybody needs a Cadillac with 500 horsepower, and not everybody needs something fully customizable. So, if your needs are very simple, you’re doing self-fulfillment, you’re only selling from one warehouse to one or two countries, you have a small team, and your product is simple, you probably don’t need Magento. It will cost a lot more, even in a simpler configuration, because it’s a higher-end system. In some cases, the Corolla or the Honda are going better for your business.
When you have custom requirements – whether through fulfillment, multiple warehouses, or complex products – now you have to really examine the feature set of the shopping cart you’re looking at to determine if it will accommodate those needs. In a lot of cases, stuff that’s out-of-the-box isn’t going to have that. Then Magento comes in, and there’s nothing you can’t do with it. Magento becomes your best or only option.
Who would you say is the ideal client of each of those three platforms? Who would you recommend each of them to?
The offerings of all three have changed quite a bit in 2016. Magento 2 is now out. You also have Magento Enterprise Cloud Edition, which is an awesome platform. It’s hosted by someone else, so it takes away some of the stress of self-hosting, which used to be your only option with Magento. Shopify now has Shopify Plus, and BigCommerce has an enterprise edition. They’ve all become more robust in the offerings. Shopify and BigCommerce both now have fairly comprehensive APIs and things, so you build third-party things to do custom stuff.
Shopify is going to be great for brick-and-mortars that want to also sell online. They have some great integrations with iPad-based point-of-sales. It’s very user-friendly. The UX is very basic and easy to use. It’s great for selling simple products from a simple fulfillment standpoint.
Shopify has pre-designed templates that are great for 90% of people, to walk out the door and have a nice-looking website without bringing in a branding team. However, it is a limited platform for designers and developers to fully customize every aspect of the experience, from homepage to checkout, due to the way their template system is built.
If you have more of a complex product, point-of-sale isn’t necessarily your thing, you need more control over the design of the site, but you’re not ready to take the plunge and go for the Cadillac, then BigCommerce is a great option. If you’re not even looking at Magento, but you want a custom-designed site, BigCommerce offers more flexibility than Shopify. BigCommerce has a file-based template system. You can edit almost every component, and really brand and customize every aspect of the site to work with your design needs.
If you’re not selling over a million dollars a year online, Magento’s probably not right for you, even with their free, open-source edition. The hosting costs are there, and it costs more for developers. There’s a total revenue consideration as well. With Magento, the sky’s the limit. It can be made to do anything and everything under the sun.
If you have strict branding requirements, and you want your site to look to look a certain way, without having to build it in a way requiring you to work around someone else’s guidelines, then BigCommerce or Magento are better for you.
Is there anything else that people should look at when they first look into creating an e- commerce site?
This is something that should be in consideration from your business plan perspective. If this is a startup, and you’re boot-strapping it, that answers some of your questions. You probably don’t want to go Magento out of the gate. If you’re already doing a million or two million a year, and 3 you’re considering re-platforming or a new site, you want to look at the business needs for this year, three years, and five years. Figure out which platform is going to support now, three year, and five year, and then weight the cost of re-platforming. Decide if the extra investment of Magento is worth it now to grow into future needs and have the system already in place, be more responsive, and not need to re-platform. If a client builds on Shopify now, then needs to integrate with SAP in the future, or organize shipping for different warehouses, they’ll have outgrown what the cart supports and end up needing to re-platform.
Can you speak more about the SEO options you have on the three platforms?
SEO is pretty important. The problem with any non-open- source platform is that you’re stuck in the feature set they offer. If they don’t offer some kind of new Google code snippet, or it’s going to take six months for them to roll it out, there’s nothing you can do. With Magento, you can control every aspect of SEO, from meta-tags down to tagging products, wrapping product names in proper schema markups. You have full control. Also, the second there’s a new bell or whistle – whether it’s something Google’s algorithm is supporting, Google paid advertising, or shopping list ads – you have the ability to pick up the phone, call your developer, and get that added within days.
The other thing with the Shopify and BigCommerce carts is that you may not have full control over the URL structure. It’s not necessarily going to be in the best format for Google. With Magento, you can make it do whatever you need.
From an SEO perspective, Magento is our go-to. The other thing that’s really powerful about Magento involves inbound marketing and content marketing. Content is becoming a major part of product SEO. It’s not just B2B people that need to be creating content. E-commerce needs to be creating content now as well. With Magento, you can integrate a fully-functional WordPress blog directly into the same system and server that you’re running on Magento. You’re all in the same directory structure, and you’re not using subdomains. With Magento, you can have it as yoursite.com/blog, and it’s all right there. That’s better for SEO than to do a subdomain.
You can also do a lot of cross-promotional, internal linking between your WordPress blog and your Magento site when they’re both on the same server. It would be either more work or not possible on other platforms.
What are the greatest features or tools of BigCommerce?
I really like the marketing tools built into BigCommerce. They have a lot of social sharing and integration, post-purchasing. If I buy an awesome T-shirt, I can share it straight to Facebook on the order confirmation page. There’s a lot of promotional power for different types of coupon codes versus quantity price breaks. Out of all the hosted, SaaS-type products, I think BigCommerce has some of the best marketing features.
What are the greatest features or tools of Shopify?
I think it’s the ease of use and user experience for the store owners. You don’t have to be technical in any way to do a lot of customization in the design, reports, and products. It’s a simple, drag-and-drop interface. You can trust a teenager working at a point-of-sale to use it. Business owners who aren’t technical can do it all themselves. There’s a lot of power in the admin control and functionality, making it easy to use.
What are the greatest features or tools of Magento?
Magento 2 came out last year, and it had some bugs. You never want to update to the newest Microsoft operating system the day it comes out, and this was a similar situation. It’s been around and matured now. They’ve added in some amazing features, like a full graphical content management system, which was always lacking in Magento. It wasn’t very powerful for managing static content, like ‘About Us’ and ‘Our History’. They’ve built in some awesome tools there.
I think the real game-changer is the Magento Enterprise Cloud Edition. Until recently, if you wanted a Magento site, you had to host it yourself. You’d have to pay a technology partner $600 to $1,200 monthly, depending on your configuration. Someone has to manage the server and keep the operating system updated. What happens if your database fails? There’s a lot of stress in the management side of the Magento of old. They now have a cloud edition built on Amazon’s cloud stack. It’s fully optimized for Magento and fully managed by them. All you do is pay a flat fee, which includes the enterprise license and hosting. It’s a ‘set and forget’ thing.
You still get all the power of customizing every aspect of the site, but you don’t have to think about up-time. If you get mentioned on Oprah, your server’s not going to crash. It’s going to auto-scale the 12 servers for that hour your traffic goes up. That wasn’t something you could easily do without a big expense in the past. Now that Magento’s a product that doesn’t require that stress in the hosting management, I think that’s a huge game-changer. In 2017, I think you’re going to see a lot of people moving to the cloud version.
Is there anything that’s lacking or could be improved on these platforms?
In 2016, all three platforms have restructured their pricing. There are some features now that I think should be available to any online retailer, but Shopify and BigCommerce have moved them into fairly high price points. To get features I feel should be out-of- the-box for everyone, you have to sign up for enterprise accounts and pay $500. You can’t get those features without paying significant upgrade costs.
Consumers want to refine their search to the product they really want. For example, I want to search for a black shirt, under $25, in size extra-large, from Nike. It’s very expensive or impossible to get it done in a customer-focused way on BigCommerce and Shopify. That’s where Magento has a big strength.
After the Magento update, is there still anything that could be improved or is still lacking?
The only thing that is a downside to Magento is that it’s a complex platform. It really requires an advanced developer to help you maintain and manage the site. Even if you don’t want a lot of custom work done, you can’t just sit and ignore it. You need to optimize your databases or clear caches. So, it can get expensive, depending on what you want to do with it. Again, if you need the feature set, it’s worth it. You need a professional, certified Magento partner to help you with your site development.
Can you speak about the support resources offered by these companies?
BigCommerce and Shopify both have fairly responsive support, but it can sometimes be a hassle if you have highly-technical issues. When you call or email them, you get someone who is reading from a script and giving a ‘copy-paste’ answer. In some cases, that may be all you need. When you run into complex problems or bugs, it can be a real pain to get the right person to help you. It can sometimes drag out for days or weeks, and that can be a pain-point for the customer. With Magento, that’s where your Magento partner comes in.
Magento doesn’t have a phone number you can just pick up and call for help unless you’re a Magento Enterprise customer, in which case they have an SLA and phone number. They’re very smart, but Magento will only help you with the core Magento software. Anything you’ve done that’s custom, they can’t help with because they didn’t write it. You have to turn to your Magento partner for those things. So there, it just depends on your partner and how good they are.
We have 5 additional questions. For each of these, we ask that you rate each platform on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the best score.
How would you rate each platform for the features it has available and the potential functionality of the website?
Magento – 5
BigCommerce – 4
Shopify – 3
How would you rate them for ease of use and implementation?
Magento – 3.5
BigCommerce – 4.5
Shopify – 5
How would you rate them for support?
Magento – 4.5
BigCommerce – 3
Shopify – 3
How likely are you to recommend each platform to a client?
Magento – 5
BigCommerce – 4
Shopify – 3
How would you rate your overall satisfaction with each?
Magento – 5
BigCommerce – 4
Shopify – 3.5