Tag Archives: e-junkie

A survey of ecommerce providers for software vendors

Overview

The choice of ecommerce provider is probably one of the more important ones you make as a software vendor. It isn’t too hard to compare providers by feature set or price. But what about other vital attributes, such as support, reliability, ease of set-up and how they treat your customers? It isn’t realistic to try every provider, so this major decision is often made on the basis of haphazard anecdotal evidence from forums. I created a survey in an attempt to gather some systematic data on the ecommerce providers most commonly used by small software vendors. I present the results below without fear or favour. Skip ahead to ‘Overall ranking’ if you are in a hurry.

Methodology

I posted a request for survey responses on this blog and on a few forums frequented by microISVs and small software companies. Any vendor of software (desktop or web based) not directly affiliated with an ecommerce provider was eligible to take part. Software vendors were invited to fill out a survey form on wufoo.com for each ecommerce provider they had used in the last 2 years. They had to supply their product URL and an email address from the same domain so that I could verify their identity. They also had to check a box proclaiming:

I am a software vendor and I have used this Ecommerce provider in the last 2 years. I have no commercial interest beyond being a customer. (If you have affiliate links to the Ecommerce provider, that isn’t a problem.)

They then had to reply to an automated email from wufoo to the email supplied confirming it was them that had completed the form. If they didn’t reply to the automated email I followed up with a few more emails. Although tedious for me, I felt this was an important safeguard to avoid any possibility of fraudulent entries. I also checked for duplicate entries, duplicate IP addresses and other suspicious patterns. The survey was open from the 5th to the 8th October. Any responses not validated by 10th October were removed from the data.

The data

202 survey responses were received from 166 different software vendors. 9 responses were rejected as I could not verify their identity (they didn’t respond to several emails). 1 response was rejected due to a possible conflict of interest raised by the software vendor (they had done paid work for one of the providers). This left 192 valid responses. I saw no evidence of any attempt to rig the results.

You can download the raw data. It has been stripped of any personal identifying information. Feel free to do your own analysis or check my results.

Providers

The survey listed 14 of the major ecommerce providers, plus an ‘other’ box for providers not listed. Valid responses were received for 25 different ecommerce providers, as shown below:

responses

Note that ‘e-junkie+PayPal/GoogleCheckout/2Checkout’ has been shortened to ‘e-junkie’ for brevity.

Questions

Below I show the average (mean) score per ecommerce provider by survey question. The providers are sorted by score. Providers with less than 3 responses weren’t considered statistically valid and are not shown here (see the raw data for all responses).

Features

“How do you rate the range of features offered, e.g. coupons, support for multiple currencies, CD shipping, affiliate tracking, handling of tax etc.”

5=”Excellent”, 4=”Good”, 3=”Satisfactory”, 2= “Unsatisfactory”, 1=”Dismal”

features

Ease of use

“How easy is their system to set-up, manage and modify?”

5=”Excellent”, 4=”Good”, 3=”Satisfactory”, 2= “Unsatisfactory”, 1=”Dismal”

ease_of_use

Reliability

“How reliable is their service? Does their server ever go down?”

5=”Excellent”, 4=”Good”, 3=”Satisfactory”, 2= “Unsatisfactory”, 1=”Dismal”

reliability

Support

“How good is their support? Do they respond in a timely manner? Are their staff helpful and knowledgeable?”

5=”Excellent”, 4=”Good”, 3=”Satisfactory”, 2= “Unsatisfactory”, 1=”Dismal”

support

Fraud protection

“How well do they protect you from chargebacks and false positives (i.e. valid cards declined)?”

5=”Excellent”, 4=”Good”, 3=”Satisfactory”, 2= “Unsatisfactory”, 1=”Dismal”

fraud_protection

Ethics

“Does this service disrespect you (e.g. by paying you late) or your customer (e.g. by spamming them, adding unwanted items into their cart or making hidden charges)?”

5=”Excellent”, 4=”Good”, 3=”Satisfactory”, 2= “Unsatisfactory”, 1=”Dismal”

ethics

Value for money

“How do you rate their service compared to the cost?”

5=”Excellent”, 4=”Good”, 3=”Satisfactory”, 2= “Unsatisfactory”, 1=”Dismal”

value_for_money

Future

“What is the probability you will still be using this service in 12 months time?”

5= “>95%”, 4= “>75%”, 3= “>50%”, 2= “>25%”, 1= “<25%”

futureThe average score and standard deviation for each question across all providers is shown below:

question_analysis

From the averages software vendors are most happy with reliability and least happy with ease of use. From the standard deviation the least variation is in fraud protection and the greatest variation is in support.

The correlation (R squared) between the likelihood of staying with a provider and the answers to the other 6 questions is shown below:

correlation

Perhaps providers should be concentrating more on ease of use and support to differentiate themselves from the competition.

Providers

Below I show the average (mean) score per question by ecommerce provider. The providers are shown in alphabetical order. The standard deviation is also shown to give an idea of how consistent the responses were (the larger the standard deviation the more variation there was in responses). Providers with less than 3 responses weren’t considered statistically valid and are not shown here (see the raw data for all responses).

avangate

bmt_micro

e-junkie

esellerate

fastspring

kagi

paypal

plimus

regnow

shareit

swreg

Overall ranking

The average (mean) score and overall ranking for providers with at least 3 responses is shown below.

overall

The chart below shows the score broken down by question (click to enlarge):

overall_detailed

The chart below compares the 4 top performers by question:

top_performers

Avangate, Fastspring, BMT Micro and e-junkie all did well. The difference between the Avangate and Fastspring score (approx 0.3%) is probably too small to be statistically significant, but the survey shows significant differences between the best and worst providers. SWREG trails in last place by quite a margin, managing to place last or second to last in an impressive 7 out of 8 questions. It is also noticeable that the providers owned by industry heavyweight Digital River fill 4 out of the bottom 5 places in the ranking. This rather begs the question of how they got to be the industry heavyweight in the first place.

Note that the ranking does not show who the ‘best’ ecommerce provider is, for the following reasons:

  • ‘Best’ depends on your requirements. All the questions have been equally weighted here. If you decide (for example) that good support should be weighted higher than ease of use you might come up with a quite different ranking.
  • The assignment of numerical values to responses (e.g. Excellent=5, Good=4 etc) was done for easier analysis, but is entirely arbitrary. Different values might have resulted in a different ranking.
  • We aren’t comparing like with like. Software vendors using ‘lightweight’ e-commerce providers such as PayPal or e-junkie might have lower expectations than software vendors using ‘fully featured’ e-commerce providers .
  • e-junkie, SWREG, BMT Micro and RegNow had respectively only 8, 7, 5 and 3 responses. They are therefore vulnerable to statistical fluctuations.

That said, the ranking does correlate fairly well with the many comments I see about ecommerce providers on various forums. I don’t think I would want to use any of the providers in the bottom half of the ranking.

Conclusion

While one shouldn’t take the overall ranking too seriously, it is clear that there are major differences in the performance of ecommerce providers in important areas other than pricing and features. I hope these results will allow software vendors (myself included) to make a better informed choice of ecommerce provider. Hopefully this will, in turn, improve ecommerce services overall by rewarding the good companies at the expense of the poorer performers. It would be interesting to run this survey in another year or two and find out what has changed. Thank you to everyone that took part.

Disclosure: I use e-junkie+PayPal/GoogleCheckout/2Checkout as my payment provider for my Perfect Table Plan software. I have an affiliate link to them in another article on this blog which brings me a few dollars a month. I have no other commercial relationship with any of the other ecommerce providers.

BMT Micro
e-junkie
eSellerate
Fastspring
Kagi
PayPal
Plimus
RegNow
ShareIt
SWREG

A new front-end for e-junkie

e-junkieI am been very happy using e-junkie as my payment processor for the last 4 years. I pay them a few dollars per month as a flat-fee and they provide an interface to PayPal, GoogleCheckout and 2Checkout (and others) plus additional features such as sending licence keys and handling coupon codes. It isn’t a fully fledged a registration service like Avangate, FastSpring or Plimus, but it has been adequate for my needs, has responsive customer support and is very cheap. In theory I could have written a load of scripts to do what e-junkie does, but re-inventing that wheel would be a lousy use of my valuable time.

I had been using e-junkie ‘Buy now’ buttons, but things were starting to get complicated with the branching of my single PerfectTablePlan product into three products: PerfectTablePlan Home Edition, PerfectTablePlan Advanced Edition and PerfectTablePlan Professional Edition.  3 products, each with and without a CD and available in 3 currencies is 18 purchase options, not including the choice of PayPal, GoogleCheckout and 2Checkout as processor. I also had additional options for upgrading version (e.g. v3->v4) and upgrading edition (e.g. Home->Professional). Doing all this through ‘buy now’ buttons was clearly going to be a mess.

I looked at the e-junkie shopping cart, but it had a number of shortcomings I couldn’t live with, most notably:

  • It always shows a coupon field. I don’t use coupons very often. A coupon field says to a customer without a coupon “Someone else getting this cheaper than you – sucker!”. There is a good chance that they will hit the back button and start searching for a coupon (I have done it myself). Maybe they will never come back. I only want the coupon field to appear if I give the user a particular URL, and I will only give that URL to customers who have coupon codes.
  • It always shows the ‘Buy with GoogleCheckout’ button – even if GoogleCheckout don’t do transactions in that currency. So a customer buying in US Dollars can click the ‘Buy with GoogleCheckout’ button, only to be told they can’t buy in dollars through GoogleCheckout. That is a very poor customer experience.

I investigated e-junkie ‘variants’, but these weren’t an adequate solution either. I was loathe to pay more for my payment processing. So I asked my good friend Paul Kossowski, an experienced Javascript programmer, to write me a payment form front-end to e-junkie. My basic requirements were:

  1. Handle multiple products, options and currencies.
  2. Show a running total depending on the product, number and options selected.
  3. Default to a sensible currency, based on the customer’s location from the free maxmind.com geolocation service.
  4. Mustn’t hang if the geolocation service is down.
  5. Make it easy to change prices and product descriptions.
  6. Make it easy to configure options, currencies etc (e.g. GoogleCheckout only allows me to charge in pounds sterling).
  7. Make it easy to change the ‘look and feel’ of the form.
  8. Only show a coupon field if passed an appropriate argument in the URL.
  9. Allow me access to the Javascript source so I can make it call the appropriate e-junkie URL, pass cookies and make other tweaks.

I am very pleased with the results. Here is a screenshot (click to enlarge):

payment form

click to enlarge

You can play with test versions that link through to PayPal, GoogleCheckout and 2Checkout via e-junkie by clicking on the links below (I prefer you didn’t play with my live payment pages, thanks):

Note that some links are broken on these test pages, but the link to the ecommerce providers are live. So don’t type in your credit card number, unless you are feeling generous.

The HTML on these pages includes some simple Javascript that sets up some arrays with the various products, prices, currencies etc. This then calls a separate (obfuscated) .js file which does the real work. An example of the set-up code is shown below:

form_javascript_example

click to enlarge

The look and feel of the form is controlled by a .css file. The resulting form looks fairly trivial on the page, but the .js file actually runs to several hundred lines of Javascript and took a few days for Paul to write and test, partly because of all the configuration options.

I think Paul’s form + e-junkie makes for a very professional looking and flexible payment solution at a very low cost. If you are interested in having Paul customize the Javascript for use on your site you can email him at: paul (at) dolphinfutures (dot) com . Expect to pay for a day or more of his time at UK rates, depending on your requirements.

Cost effective software registration with ejunkie

ejunkieMost small software vendors don’t want all the hassle of taking payments direct from customers, so they use a third party registration service. Registration services provide payment processing plus additional services, including handling of:

  • licence key emails
  • coupon codes
  • affiliate payments
  • taxes
  • invoice sales

But these services don’t come cheap. According to this calculator some registration services charge as much as 15% commission on every £20/$40 sale. 15%! I find that quite staggering. 10% is more typical, but personally I don’t intend to give 10+% of my hard earned income to anyone, except my wife and the government. To add insult to injury some of these services also try to upsell questionable ‘offers’ to your customers. For example KAGI upsell a licence look-up service for which the software vendor gets a, frankly insulting, $1. I understand from reading the macsb forum that the upsell will be added automatically to the shopping carts of all software vendors selling downloads and will be checked by default. You then have to opt out if you don’t want it. Personally I think every software vendor should offer licence retrieval for free. And don’t even get me started on Digital River/SWREG and their Reservation Rewards ‘offer’.

PayPal and GoogleCheckout are much cheaper, with rates of approximately 3.4%[1] and 2.25%[2] respectively on a £20/$40 sale. But PayPal and GoogleCheckout are just payment processors and don’t provide all the additional services most software vendors need. They provide extensive APIs so you can ‘roll your own’ service, but this sounds like a lot of work reinventing the same old wheels.

Alternatively you can use a third party to provide additional services on top of PayPal and/or GoogleCheckout. I use ejunkie which provides most of the services you would expect from a fully-fledged registration service from just $5 per month[3]. The savings can be considerable, for example (all figures approximate):

number of $40 licences sold per year

yearly costs
10% commission registration service PayPal +e-junkie[4] GoogleCheckout +e-junkie[5]
1,000 $4,000 $1,420 $1,060
5,000 $20,000 $6,820 $5,060
10,000 $40,000 $13,660 $10,060

If you can offset your GoogleCheckout processing fees against your Google adwords spend your monthly costs could be as little as just the $5 ejunkie fee.

On the whole I have been very happy with the service I have received from e-junkie, once I got it all working. It has been very reliable and the support has been very responsive. ejunkie does seem to be more geared to selling downloads (e.g. e-books and MP3s) than licence keys and the documentation is thin in places. Consequently I had a few issues trying to bend it to my particular requirements. I will try to find time to cover these issues in another article.

You can find out more about ejunkie and try their 1 week free trial here.

Other possible third party integration solutions are PayLoadz and Linklok. For those of you who prefer a more traditional registration services, I have heard some good reports about Plimus and Avangate on various forums. Neither of these companies has been bought out by SWREG owner Digital River (yet). I haven’t used any of these services myself.

It remains to be seen whether pressure from PayPal and Google forces registration companies to reduce their fees, add more services or just puts them out of business.

Thanks to Patrick for first alerting me to ejunkie.

Full disclosure: The above ejunkie links are affiliates links. If you follow these links and sign up with ejunkie I will get a commission. It is not a lot, but I won’t need many people to sign up to cover my ejunkie fees completely.

[1] PayPal rates vary according to volume. Currency conversions cost an extra 2.5%.

[2] Google have sweetened the deal by offsetting processing fees against adwords fees until the end of 2007. This means the rate is effectively 0% if you have a moderate spend on Google adwords each month.

[3] The monthly fee depends on number of products. $5 per month covers 10 products and 50MB of storage.

[4] Based on 3.4% PayPal fee + $5 per month ejunkie fee.

[5] Based on 2.25% GoogleCheckout fee + $5 per month ejunkie fee.