To say that there are a lot of options to run an online store is an understatement. And Volusion is one of the all-in-one ecommerce platforms that I’ve had a chance to work with in the past few years.
There are a lot of Volusion reviews online – usually with user-generated reviews based on anecdotes and personal experience. That’s fine but I take a different approach. Like any option, it’s going to have some pros and some cons and will really come down to if it’s a good fit for your specific business. In this Volusion review, I’ll focus on 6 pros and 6 cons that will probably most affect your choice.
Check out Volusion’s current plans & pricing here.
Editor’s Note – This review was originally published in November 2014. It’s been updated throughout as of December 2015.
But first – a quick overview of the full online store software landscape. Like I covered in my choosing an online store platform post, ecommerce platforms exist on a spectrum with a lot of technical considerations that can have as big of an impact on your online business as your store type & location can in the physical retail world.
Even though the technical considerations aren’t as immediately related to your success as sales, service & product – it can be the variable that helps or hinders your day to day and especially long-term growth. That said, just like choosing a specific location; leasing vs. owning; or going mall vs. solo storefront in the physical world – there’s no “top” or “best” choice. There’s only the choice that makes the most sense given your budget, expertise, circumstances and goals.
On the spectrum of ecommerce solutions, Volusion lives on the end that is all-inclusive and provides everything you need to start, run & grow your online store while providing your own online “space” that you control and can customize.
It’s in contrast to solutions where you buy, install, manage but wholly own different pieces of what makes your store your store (think getting a server & installing WooCommerce or Magento or adding ZenCart to an existing site). And also contrast to platforms that where you simply have a listing in their space instead of a store of your own (think eBay or Etsy).
Using Volusion is sort of like leasing a store with the ability to customize your store to your liking. You control everything business-wise like sales, marketing and merchandising but you leave the plumbing, security, construction and maintenance to the landlord.
Aside – I built an entire Buzzfeed-style ecommerce platform quiz to reflect all these considerations.
Volusion (see Volusion plans here) competes directly(ish) with:
- Shopify: See their plans here and my Shopify review here
- Bigcommerce: See their plans here and my Bigcommerce review here
And Volusion competes indirectly with non-turn-key options like WordPress + WooCommerce (see how to setup here) and Magento. Let’s look at Volusion pros & cons overall but with a tilt towards their direct competitors.
Quick aside & disclosure – I get customer referral fees from any companies mentioned in this post. My opinions are based on my experience and research as a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.
Pros of Volusion
Built-in Education & Services
As I mentioned in my Bigcommerce review, there’s no shortage at all of how to guides, ebooks, courses, and newsletters to help you run your online store. And there is certainly no shortage of freelancers, design agencies, and specialists who can help with design, development or marketing.
Usually the real problem is curation and specialization – researching information that applies specifically to your store can be hard to find. You might find some great SEO or Facebook store advice, but it’ll be very hard to actually implement on your [name your platform] store. Finding and vetting a freelancer that knows your store’s platform can be even tougher (and even more expensive if you choose the wrong one).
Using a company that has built-in on-boarding materials and highly trained account specialists can easily justify the extra cost of using a platform, and that’s an area where Volusion really excels. They do the store setup email sequence and knowledgebase much like Bigcommerce and Shopify.
But Volusion goes a step further with their account specialists – they really take a direct interest in your store and getting it set up exactly right. Even stores at a smaller price point seem to get a good bit of attention.
Volusion also does something a bit different with professional services that can be a huge con – but for the benefit of the doubt, we’ll treat it as a pro. That pro is that they provide professional service directly through Volusion to help with everything from design to SEO to PPC shopping feeds.
Since everything is provided through Volusion (and not indirectly via freelancers like Shopify’s Expert directory), you know that they know everything about providing that service on the Volusion platform.
Now, that can easily be a place to upsell customers, but it can also be a helpful arrangement – sort of like Ikea where you can buy the furniture and do it yourself or just pay them to do it. If you’re the type of person who hates upsells, then this will be a big con, but otherwise the option plus the well-done education is a solid pro for using Volusion.
Customer service availability
Customer service can often be useless if they aren’t available when you actually need the help. Volusion offers support via phone, email, chat, ticket system, etc 24/7. In my experience, they’ve been awesome and very responsive.
Their customer service doesn’t stand out above Bigcommerce (which recently implemented 24/7 phone) or Shopify – but they do stand above the 2nd tier competitors. Plus – and most importantly – the 24/7 customer service is a huge pro vs. hosting and piecing together your own ecommerce site where you don’t have any dedicated customer service. It’s sort of like owning a physical store in a mall with 24/7 plumbing on call vs. a store you build, own & operate that might get flooded if you burst a pipe.
This point actually segues nicely into the next pro of using Volusion – speed & security.
Speed and Security
If you are building your own store on your own hosting account (ie with WordPress & WooCommerce), 2 of the most challenging issues will be making your site fast and making it bulletproof secure.
Like I mentioned in both my Shopify and Bigcommerce review, speed is extremely important in ecommerce. Customers simply have no patience waiting for a page to load. Study after study points to the fact that conversion rates plummet when you get into the 4ish second page load time.
It’s so important that Google actually built it into their organic search algorithm. And getting speed right on a website with lots of graphics and a large database (as all ecommerce stores have) can be tricky if you don’t know where or how to look. By using Volusion as an ecommerce platform, your store is hosted on their servers which are specifically optimized to run your site quickly. This is the speed test using my Volusion development site:
This pro does have a caveat that neither Bigcommerce nor Shopify has. Volusion caps the bandwidth (eg, the data transferred from the server to your customer’s browser) that can come and go on your account – even on the premium plans. If you have large store on Volusion with a large amount of traffic, then you will have to get into the tricky speed optimizations anyway (ie, using CDNs, etc) if only to save on Volusion bandwidth usage.
Security is also a related issue to speed since it’s something that is fundamental to running a modern ecommerce store. You cannot accept credit cards unless your site is secure. There are plenty of ways to outsource the security to PayPal, or any number of providers but to accept and process cards on your site with your merchant account – you have to have a secure setup.
Volusion makes that provision by requiring an installation of an SSL certificate. Their setup differs from Bigcommerce and Shopify – who provide shared, built-in SSL certificates for all their stores whereas Volusion makes the SSL unique to you.
It’s an added fee (which will come into cons later), but its also a pro since you own the SSL and checkout is happening completely on your domain instead of Shopify.com or Bigcommerce.com.
Volusion gives you more control over your security and checkout while making it easy to implement and giving support to ensure your security is always set correctly.
When you are first setting up your store on any platform, it can be frustrating to figure out exactly where everything is. Plenty of platforms & CMS’s have their own lingo and unique layout (like WordPress’ Dashboard).
Volusion isn’t an exception to this, but they do have a bias towards an intuitive interface, thoughtful navigation and easy setup. The backend design is a little 2009ish, but the actual user interface is solid and easy enough for beginners to use.
Volusion is an ASP-based platform. That is development jargon for what programming framework the software is built on. And normally I wouldn’t call that out except for the fact that anyone who has worked in SEO for a while knows that ASP usually produces websites extremely unfriendly for SEO.
And yet, that isn’t the case for Volusion. It has some SEO risks to avoid (especially duplicate homepages and improperly implemented HTTPS redirects), but overall Volusion has a robust SEO feature set and is technically solid out of the box.
There’s built-in fields for easy meta implementation, content boxes on category pages, XML sitemaps, and canonicalization options. It’s not above and beyond Shopify and Bigcommerce – but it is solid enough to be a strong pro for Volusion (especially compared to so many other options with lots of SEO problems like Magento).
There is one caveat to consider when it comes to hiring Volusion’s ongoing SEO services – they (not their hosted stores though) have been penalized by Google for link manipulation.
Ahh inventory – the boring backend of your store, but actually sort of the reason for its existence. Inventory is something to be managed – but it’s also not optional. Every minute managing inventory is a minute you could be using on sales, marketing or service. This is an area where Volusion excels in my opinion.
Inventory capabilities are easy to access and integrated well into the platform. It syncs across other platforms (like Amazon, eBay, etc). If your store has thousands of SKUs – it’s a pro to consider.
Cons of Volusion
It can really tough to compare all the pricing considerations for a new online store – no matter what type of solution you choose. But even among all-inclusive ecommerce platforms like Volusion, it can be maddening to figure out what price compares to what since no one’s tiers align at all. Here’s how I break out the pricing to try to compare apples to apples.
First, your monthly price. This is the sticker price you pay for a certain set of features. It is what you see on pricing pages. Volusion’s plans start a $15/mo and go up to $135/mo.
Second, your platform transaction fees. Some plans on all platforms will charge a transaction fee on each purchase (above credit card processing fees). Volusion does not charge transaction fees.
Third, your credit card fees. These used to be pretty standardized, but now more platforms like Volusion, Shopify and Bigcommerce are setting up their own credit card processing. These fees would go to the credit card companies regardless, so any discount or flexibility here would be a win – but still something to budget for.
Fourth, your add-on fees & exclusions. This area is what you really have to look at. Whether it’s the cost of add-on apps, bandwidth fees, or the exclusion of key features, these fees can really impact your “walking out the door price.”
Here’s how Volusion stacks up on each compared to direct competitors.
Monthly pricing – Volusion is very competitive at the top and bottom tiers. In the middle tiers, they cap products and don’t include some features vs. competitors. The middle tiers can be competitive or not depending on if you have a lot of products or plan on using those features (notably Amazon/eBay).
Transaction fees – Volusion does not do transaction fees on any tier. Big plus to consider.
Credit card fees – Volusion offers a service called Volusion payments with low processing fees (competitive with Shopify) in addition to integrating with other processors. Good to go here.
Add-on fees – And…this is where Volusion really falls down. They do a few not really cool things. To start, they cap your bandwidth (even at top tiers). Bandwidth with how much data can be transferred between Volusion’s server and your customer’s browser. Once you go over your bandwidth…you start getting charged for overages.
For most websites that would not be an issue, but for ecommerce websites (which have lots of images, product listings, etc) it can be a huge concern. Plus avoiding bandwidth overages usually means integrating with more complex solutions like CDNs which cost money and expertise to deal with. Other competitors offer unlimited storage and unlimited bandwidth.
Further, Volusion requires that you purchase an SSL certificate for on site credit card processing – these usually run at $100 per year. It has a benefit since your full checkout happens on your domain and not, say, Shopify.com (which provides free, shared SSL certificates) – but it does add a it to your monthly fee and your “walking out the door price.”
Lastly, Volusion has a history of hitting merchants with random fees. In 2013, they charged merchants with a $25 PCI compliance fee. Until very recently (and only after they were penalized by Google for link manipulation), they used to charge $20 to have the “powered by Volusion.com” link removed from your store’s footer. Nothing huge – but certainly an indicator of a lack of price transparency.
Blog, CMS & Analytics Feature Set
For some online merchants, your website begins and end with your store catalog. But for others, your catalog is only part of the full website experience you want to offer – whether it’s custom pages, content types or a built-in blogging solution.
And on the same theme, most of the time a basic install of Google Analytics is fine. But for others, adding conversion pixels, tweaking the analytics code or making edits is key.
Unfortunately, Volusion really falls down on the latter issues. Not that competitors like Bigcommerce or Shopify have world-changing content management systems or built-in blog setups, but at least they have them available. Volusion doesn’t even have the options available.
And even if you go the suboptimal route of having a blog.yourstore.com with WordPress/Drupal/etc for a CMS (or having your Volusion setup at store.yourwebsite.com) – Volusion still falls flat on easy analytics implementation. It has to be hard-coded in all the page templates instead of adding a snippet to a <head> or <footer> section. If you are cool with hacking with code – it’s fine, but otherwise it’s a major con.
Mobile Site Setup
If any website owner is aware of any online trend, it’s the shift to mobile. People are browsing and buying on everything from their iPhone 6 to their HTC One to their Android Tablet to their Galaxy Note to their PC Desktop.
Volusion stores have a built-in mobile site, which is fine, except that it’s a mobile site – not a responsive version of your website.
It sounds like a small difference, but in my experience it’s a major con. A mobile site means that your customers are redirected to a m.yourstore.com from your www.yourstore.com. Sure, they get a custom experience, but it’s very different than your actual store experience. Additionally, the mobile site is only triggered by screen size. There’s no in between sizing for the Notes, iPads, and tablets of the world. Your store is beautiful on the iPhone or on a desktop – but bad on anything else.
The web has moved to responsive design as the best practice by far – and it’s something that Volusion does not build into their platform.
Edit 12-22-2015 Volusion has expanded their selection of responsive templates. So this point is not as big of a con as it was. Be sure to test your designs thoroughly on a range of devices.
Playing off the mobile site con, Volusion’s entire design features are also very limiting. The downside of Volusion starts with a
very limited limited, but growing (thoug expensive) template store.
Unlike other competitors, Volusion’s templates are all hard-coded and set up in a hard to browse file structure. It’s fine to edit if you have strong CSS or HTML skills, but it’s really not a fit for a solo DIYer (or someone trying to click and tweak HTML).
For a self-serve platform, I’d like to see an easier design editing interface.
As I mentioned in my Shopify & Bigcommerce Review, your store will evolve and change over time. Whatever platform you choose should not only have the feature set you need up front, but also later on. Shopify solves that problem with a huge add-on app store. Bigcommerce also has an app store, but also has a huge amount of built-in functionality.
Volusion doesn’t really have that expansion capability. They are certainly expanding the feature set, but there’s no strong app store or giant list of amazing features (see blog as an example). Volusion has a feature set to start your store, but nothing to add-on and adapt. There’s capability for developers to build on it, but again, that’s not optimal for a solo DIYer or even a small store that is choosing an all inclusive platform specifically to avoid developer fees.
Ease of Implementation
The last major con about Volusion is implementation. I’ve touched on this in several points, but overall it’s simply not very straightforward to get stuff implemented in Volusion – especially if you aren’t web savvy. Even right of the bat, getting the SSL installed correctly can be a challenge. From an audit of even Volusion’s featured customers – even they can’t get the SSL installed correctly.
And this theme continues through to design, technical SEO, and analytics implementation. It’s tough to just get stuff in. If you are a website that has development resources, it’s fine…but then I’d also question why you aren’t running your own custom store on your own hosting. If you are a DIYer or small business, the whole point of choosing an all-inclusive platform is to have a “click, click, done” setup – and the freedom to make edits without developer help. DIY implementation is a major con of Volusion.
Volusion Review Overview
Volusion Review Conclusion
If you are an online store with some developer resources, want a robust hosted platform to serve as your catalog/shopping cart, and want checkout to happen on your domain – Volusion is a great fit. See Volusion’s plans here.
If you are anyone else, especially a DIYer, then I’d recommend avoiding Volusion and looking at Shopify (see their plans here; see my review here) or Bigcommerce (see their plans here; my review here) for hosted platforms.
Or give a shot at building & hosting your own store with WordPress + WooCommerce plugin (my guide on how to here).
If you are more confused than ever, I created a Buzzfeed-style ecommerce platform quiz to help you decide based on your goals, expertise & priorities.