AmeriCommerce / Spark Pay Review

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Date Established
2005
Location
Beaumont, TX

Overview:

This review covers Spark Pay’s online sales platform. Note that we have a separate review for Spark Pay’s mobile processing app, which you can find here.

For several years, AmeriCommerce was one of our favorite underdogs in eCommerce. This bootstrapped, debt-free, yet surprisingly robust platform had all the trademarks of a “by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs” shopping cart platform. Apparently, we were not the only ones who loved them for it. In 2014 they were acquired by Capital One in an effort to better serve CO’s small business interests. And by all accounts, everyone from Capital One to the staff at AmeriCommerce to its existing users are thrilled by the news. As a part of the change, AmeriCommerce will be brought under the Spark Pay umbrella. For the sake of clarity, we’ll be giving Spark Pay retroactive credit for AmeriCommerce’s accomplishments, as we transition alongside their rebranding campaign.

Spark Pay has processed half a billion dollars in transactions each year and hosts more than 5,000 sites. The PCI-compliant company won a CODiE Award in 2010, and secured a place on Inc. 5000′s list in 2012. Founded over a decade ago by eCommerce and development vets Ed Sturrock, Charlie Cooper, and Stefan Barlow, Spark Pay employs between 50 and 200 staff members based in offices in Texas and Connecticut. The company’s client roster includes West Coast Shaving, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Endevr.

Spark Pay offers the capability to operate multiple shops using a single backend, which is a real advantage for businesses who want to operate more than one site. It is also a web-based shopping cart (hosting by Rackspace) so no downloading or data backup is required. The admin is a huge improvement over its predecessor, offering users a more intuitive, customizable interface and a new WYSIWYG editor. (WYSIWYG stands for “what you see is what you get,” and refers to an editor that builds web pages visually, allowing users to create basic web pages without the need to know any programming languages.)

We put Spark Pay through its paces, and uncovered some of its greatest selling points, as well as the areas where it comes up short. To see if this is the right platform for your online store, read the full review.

Pricing:

Spark Pay offers a free 14-day trial. Your name and contact info are required to begin the trial period, but no credit card is needed. Accounts include free shared SSL and access to a broad variety of features. Also, there are no set-up fees or transaction fees. Additional stores cost $39 per month and can be added at any time with no setup fee. Plans don’t require a contract and can be canceled at any time. Basic features of each plan are as follows:

  • Steel – $24.95/month, 100 products, 2 GB bandwidth, 250 MB storage space.
  • Bronze – $39/month, 500 products, 3 GB bandwidth, 1 GB storage space.
  • Silver – $99/month, 5,000 products, 15 GB bandwidth, 1 GB storage space.
  • Gold – $149/month, 10,000 products, 25 GB bandwidth, 2 GB storage space.
  • Platinum – $299/month, Unlimited products (AKA 50,000 free products using the advanced attribute feature), 50 GB bandwidth, 5 GB storage space.
  • Enterprise plans are also available.

To avoid additional bandwidth and storage fees, be certain you select a plan with plenty of room to grow. When I asked a customer service representative about overage fees, I was told that they run $10/mo for every GB of bandwidth or storage you exceed. API access is free with Spark Pay’s REST-style API.

Web-Hosted or Licensed:

Web-Hosted. Spark Pay outsources its hosting to Rackspace.

Ease of Use:

Once you sign up for a free trial, you’ll receive two links: one leads to your AmeriCommerce.com (or sparkpay.com) account dashboard and the other to your online storefront.

The initial store set-up process is reasonably straightforward, and if you choose to use one of Spark Pay’s themes, it won’t be hard to establish your shop via the set-up wizard. It’s clear that Spark Pay is seeking to attract seasoned shop owners as well as users that are just entering the eCommerce landscape; thanks to recent improvements, new online retailers should be able to jump in and select applicable features with relative ease. It’s likely that you’ll utilize far fewer bells and whistles than are available.

After adding info about your business, you’ll be able to select a template, set shipping and tax details, and dig into the admin control panel. Video tutorials cover how to select a theme for your store and other basics. If you’d like more control, the Theme Editor gives you instant access to HTML and CSS editors.

The process of sorting and filtering customers and catalog items is intuitive, and leaves space to add product attributes and status details. Even though there are expert-level features in the admin panel, I would bet that most users won’t be daunted by unfamiliar terminology. It’s easy to navigate to the thing you need, and grow into the features as your business needs expand.

The admin is easy on the eyes and easy to navigate, using a standardized user interfaced pattern with cleaner menus and sub-menus that integrate with tablets and mobile devices so you can operate your store on the go. I also like the drag and drop file/photo uploader and WYSIWYG editor. Honestly, just about anyone who can manage a blog or Facebook business page should be able to master the basics of adding products and tracking stats via the Spark Pay backend.

Hardware and Software Requirements:

Spark Pay is completely web-hosted. Nothing more than a secure internet connection and an updated browser (Chrome, Firefox, Safari) are required to access the cloud-based eCommerce software. While all operating systems and browsers are supported, it’s always a “faster/newer is better” scenario.

Features:

Spark Pay is securing a position for itself in the crowded shopping cart software marketplace in part through offering multi-storefront capability. Essentially, the software enables you to manage several different online stores from a single backend. Orders can be processed on smart phones or Facebook, and Google Sitemap auto indexing support is available. Sellers will appreciate attention to detail, such as how shipping can be supported by more than one warehouse, and shoppers will appreciate things like their pioneered one-page checkout.

More feature information is available on the Spark Pay website, but I’ve laid out a few important features below.

Products and Merchandising:

  • Built-in Rewards program.
  • Unlimited groups, kits, product variants and options.
  • Recurring billing, so you can offer subscriptions in addition to products.
  • Product reviews.
  • Back-in-stock notifications.

Design Tools:

  • 53 free themes.
  • Drag-and-drop design elements.
  • Dozens of widgets.
  • CSS editor.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO):

  • Auto-generated URLs, title, H1 tags, meta tags, etc.
  • Page redirects and Meta Tags.
  • Ad Codes.
  • Google Analytics.

Social Media:

  • All accounts include Facebook theme and app.
  • Tweet products.
  • Embedded eCommerce tools for blogs, Facebook, and CMS platforms.
  • Live chat capability.
  • Discount rules engine.
  • Coupon campaigns.

Store Administration:

  • Ability to create affiliate program.
  • Order fulfillment and processing integration.
  • Assign auto emails based on order status, shipping and fulfillment.
  • Product editor offers functionality to execute batch changes.
  • Calculate taxes automatically via TaxCloud or Avalara.
  • Real-time UPS, USPS and FedEx rate calculations.
  • Registered and Guest checkout.
  • Abandoned cart data
  • One-page checkout

Web Design:

Let’s start with the good news. Spark Pay templates are editable, with a live-view so you can see your changes as you make them, with a drag-and-drop interface that’s relatively simple to use. Many new themes are available, providing an excellent starting point in your storefront design. HTML5 and CSS3 editors are included for “under the hood” programming, for those businesses that prefer to employ a web designer for a truly unique and custom-fit website.

SEO functionality is better than average: You’ll have the ability to maintain as many blogs as you’d like and send drip series emails, which can mean a huge boost in your marketing campaign with minimal effort. Keep in mind that if you opt to run multiple storefronts from the backend admin, it’s important to reorder page content and use different store templates to optimize for Google web crawlers.

Integrations and Add-Ons:

To view a list of Spark Pay add-ons, click here. A variety of fee-based and a few free options are available. Some highlights are listed below:

  • Quickbooks Synchronization – Integrates with Quickbooks for a $300 fee.
  • Wufoo – Allows you to integrate your shop with Wufoo form-creating software, free of charge.
  • Avalara – Lets you utilize software for online sales tax compliance. Price is set by a third party.
  • Mail Chimp and Constant Contact can be integrated as well, to cover your email marketing.

Payment Processing:

Spark Pay integrates with more than 50 payment processors and specifically recommends Authorize.net,  PayPal, SagePaymentSolutions (via API.) Google Checkout is also supported. Additionally, the software includes a tool that lets users generate custom purchase orders, IOUs and the like. Note that Spark Pay is now a part of Capital One, and has their own Spark Pay Merchant Services if you want to keep everything in-house. .

Customer Service and Technical Support:

Spark Pay offers limited after-hours customer care. Frequent complaints listed by customers include frustration that the Mon.–Fri. 8 a.m.–6 p.m. CT (Sat 9 a.m.–5 p.m. CT) live customer support is challenging, especially for overseas users or users working in different time zones.

Emergency tickets can be submitted at any time, and customers report that phone support is responsive and accessible during normal business hours. However, when I sent a couple of simple questions to the support team in the work week, it took more than 24 hours to receive a response.

The Spark Pay Knowledge Base and Knowledge Center have a lot of useful information, and they are growing. Video tutorials and articles also help to fill in some of the gaps and have recently been updated.

Negative Reviews and Complaints:

After conducting a thorough online search I’ve identified several common complaints with Spark Pay.

  • Poor Customer Support. Current complaints focus mainly on the limited live service hours. If you experience technical difficulties outside of these hours, it seems that Spark Pay is often delayed in getting back to you with the support you need. While researching Spark Pay, you may also find customer service complaints referring to credit card devices and processing. Although there are many of these complaints, note that they are directed at the mobile processing app, not at the online sales platform.
  • Lack of International Payment Options – While Spark Pay works with a limited number of international sellers, sites can be customized to function overseas; however, it’s clear that the company is focused on domestic clients. Supported International Payment Gateways include eWay, BeanStream, and Planet Payment, with PayPal shoring up the rest.
  • Extra Fees – On-demand and bandwidth overage fees can increase monthly bill.

Positive Reviews and Testimonials:

In addition to an assortment of positive customer testimonials listed on the Spark Pay site, users attest to its reliability on 3rd party review sites (such as ours) as well. As a general rule, feedback was mostly positive. A few notable positive attributes include:

  • Dependability – There have been few reports of significant downtime, and software updates are rolled out on a regular basis.
  • Customization – Storefronts are easy to customize to suit your business, from simple interfaces for the novice, to powerful editors for the web developer.
  • Powerful Reporting Tools – The comprehensive Reports dashboard includes total sales, top products, and traffic details.
  • Multiple Store Management – It’s simple to manage several storefronts from a single backend.

Users also commented on the following positive software attributes:

  • Competitive pricing.
  • Quick basic store set-up.
  • Robust features and product management capabilities.

Security:

Spark Pay makes security a priority, with web-based servers holding enterprise-quality Cisco firewalls. Customer info is guarded by 128bit SSL encryption. Spark Pay’s software is PCI compliant and is reviewed by AlertLock on a daily basis to ensure that it is hacker safe.

Final Verdict:

Your shopping cart provider forms the most important point of contact of your business. This is not an area for compromise. Even in this intense scrutiny, Spark Pay rises to the top as a strong contender, and it keeps evolving and becoming more intuitive and attractive. If you operate an eCommerce site, you’re maintaining an investment that takes time and money, and the depth of services offered by Spark Pay may save you both down the road.

The ability to manage several stores is a real plus for sellers who don’t want to waste time logging into multiple accounts. In the business world, any software that can minimize headaches and maximize efficiency is a coveted resource. I haven’t come across many smarter, more eye-pleasing or user-friendly admins, and if you’re willing to customize your theme I say give Spark Pay a go.

Start your free trial here.

Erik Robie

Erik Robie

Erik is a writer, small business developer, and photographer, making his home in Northern Colorado. He has been publishing his writing for 15 years, and occasionally sells his photos when he can pull himself away from the keyboard. When he's not writing the CRM, HelpDesk, and Shopping Cart categories for Merchant Maverick, he can usually be found on his mountain bike, playing volleyball, hiking with his camera, or keeping the local coffee shops in business.
Erik Robie

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8 Comments

    Ken

    I moved from Bigcommerce to Sparkpay at the beginning of the year. So far it has been a positive experience and the best fit for my high volume business. Support has been very helpful to me so perhaps that has improved since the previous comments were left, but for me it has been much better than what I received with BC.

    There was a bit of a leaning curve going to this platform but in the long run their greater number of tools and functions should be a good value. There are a few really good platforms out there and for our needs Sparkpay fit the bill better than others. Sparkpay is also striving at helping those migrating (fleeing) Bigcommerce after BC raised rates 500%. I appreciated the built-in import tools designed to move my site content, orders, and customers. There were times I got stuck or needed help and their support came through for me. Granted they are only available Monday-Friday for general support but that wasn’t a big deal to me, compared to Bigcommerce who would routinely ignore requests.

    Overall I give Spark Pay 4.5 stars. No platform is perfect but this one so far has been stepping up to the plate for my company.

    Rating55555

    This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

    Jim k.

    Bandwidth billing is deceptive.
    I started with the lowest plan. After a few months I started getting billed for extra bandwidth each month. (The billing is very sneaky. They won’t tell you how much bandwidth you used, but just bill you $40) So, I switched to a higher bandwidth plan because it’s less expensive to pay for bandwidth up front. Now I had more bandwidth then I had ever used before. The very next month? More bandwidth charges! Mysteriously, my bandwidth use had doubled in the next month even though my page views for those 2 months were only up slightly.

    My site hasn’t changed at all in this time. Zero edits.
    I have the same traffic patterns among pages.

    Over 8 months, my page views have doubled, but for some reason I’m paying for 4x the bandwidth.

    Rating11111

    This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

    Laurie H.

    While you have done a good job of describing the features that AmeriCommerce offers, I don’t think you have given sufficient weight to the EXTREMELY POOR SUPPORT. I spent 10 months waiting for them to port a shopping cart over from AmeriCart. Communication from them was non-existent. Promises were made that were never kept. That client eventually gave up and went with a different solution. Now I’m on hold again with my very last AmeriCommerce client. The shopping cart isn’t working correctly because of a screw up on their part and its been a week and with feedback.

    If you have months to wait, you may eventually get something done. I don’t have that kind of time.

    Rating11111

    This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

    Stephanie

    Haven’t seen an updated review, am I missing it somewhere? Would like to know what the verdict is in 2015 🙂

    RatingNot Rated

    This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

    Erik Robie

    Stephanie,

    The review has been updated. Thanks for the inquiry!

    RatingNot Rated

    This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

    Brian Gluck

    I’ve been using Americommerce since 2008 and have seen it constantly being enhanced throughout the years.

    I’ve been beta testing the new admin and comparing it to the previous 2 iterations, I can honestly say it is “amazing”.

    The time to perform administrative tasks in the admin is reduced significantly by virtue of the new ‘flow’ as well as the speed in which the new interface loads.

    I agree with your statements about the included free themes which may be an initial setback, however they offer a solid foundation to further customize/refine instead of starting from scratch.

    Hopefully we will see some premium themes offered in the future.

    Rating55555

    This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

    Justin McCullough

    Hi Amad and Merchant Maverick team,

    Thanks for such a complete and thoughtful review of AmeriCommerce. I think you did an excellent job touching on all the points (both good and bad) and you’re readers should find it helpful.

    I thought I’d offer a few points of feedback and clarity.

    – Authorize.net is indeed a partner but we also have our own AmeriCommerce Merchant Services which is less expensive and typically a good fit for many of our merchants. We support more than 50 payment gateways so it’s not usually an issue supporting the processor of your choice. And, I think your site offers tons of helpful information on merchants.

    – You’re right, our Admin can be hard on the eyes and some people have found it confusing since we offer a lot of tools and settings for multiplestores and advanced options (unlike shopify and others).

    – The Admin is being redesigned for a better and more intuitive user experience. It is NOT hard on the eyes and much easier to move around. Plus it’s designed to be responsive for tablets and mobile devices. The new admin will be available by Summer 2013.

    – Our themes are dated and utilitarian in nature. Historically, we have always attracted power users, mature internet retailers which tend to have the resources and budget to theme their sites with a custom look and feel. This is an area we want to address with more themes. We offer affordable custom web design too, but understand it’s helpful to have more theme options than we currently do.

    – Customer Service. What can I say here… Yes. We’ve got to increase our window of availability for international users and even weekend warriors trying to work on their sites during non-business hours. All I can say is that we thank all our customers for their patience as we are growing and continuing to improve. Extended hours and weekend support is coming and we are continually improving our support systems and response times. We are very serious about improving the customer experience with our company and expect to see big changes here over time.

    For what it’s worth, I must admit we tend to be an awesome fit for mature retailers who have specific needs and are already online. We help a lot of people re-platform to us from the smaller simple stores because they end up needing advanced capabilities and tooling they just didn’t know they needed when they first started. This does put completely new store owners at a disadvantage and we hope to be able to improve their experience to get started selling online.

    Thanks again for your review of AmeriCommerce.

    And awesome job managing this site – it’s a great service to people trying to navigate how ecommerce works and get helpful and honest feedback.

    Cheers!
    Justin McCullough
    AmeriCommerce
    @mccJustin

    RatingNot Rated

    This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

    Amad E.

    Justin,

    Thank you for the kind words and the extra details about AmeriCommerce.

    We were hesitant about publishing the review initially because we knew that you’re planning on rolling out a new version of AmeriCommerce in the Summer.

    We ultimately decided to run with it, but we’re definitely keeping an eye out for the new software. Once it’s live, we’ll revisit AmeriCommerce and update the review accordingly.

    Thanks again Justin. Best of luck to you and AmeriCommerce. Let’s keep in touch.

    -Amad

    RatingNot Rated

    This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

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