AmeriCommerce / Spark Pay Review
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- Date Established
- Beaumont, TX
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. They have recently been 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 almost a decade ago by eCommerce and development vets Ed Sturrock and Stefan Barlow, Spark Pay employs around 30 staff members based in offices in Texas and Connecticut. The company’s client roster includes the Made Collection, The CandyLand Store, and the World Concern Global Gift Guide.
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. A freshly rolled out 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 shopping cart for your online store, read the full review.
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–the fine print reveals that a $49 one-time setup fee is charged for the service. 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. The Spark Pay site doesn’t list overage fees. I wasn’t given a direct answer after emailing a representative inquiring about charges if bandwidth or storage are exceeded, but I was told that the more I buy, the less expensive each will cost. The representative went on to explain that the company is flexible and that storage is less costly if purchased in advance. Be forewarned: Work with a Spark Pay representative to set a concrete rate for overages before committing to a plan. Also, note that it will cost a one-time $299 setup fee and $39 monthly fee to unlock API if you’d like to do so.
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. The other allows you to access your 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 recently improved admin is easy on the eyes and easy to navigate, using a standardized UI 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.
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.
- 51 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.
- All accounts include Facebook theme and app.
- Tweet products.
- Embedded eCommerce tools for blogs and CMS platforms.
- Live chat capability.
- Discount rules engine.
- Coupon campaigns.
- View and process orders on mobile devices.
- 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.
- One-page checkout
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 for a $499 fee.
- Lexity Live – Integrates your AmeriCommerce store with website traffic analysis program.
- Mail Chimp and Constant Contact can be integrated as well, to cover your email marketing.
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 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, though in my opinion, they are due for some updates.
- Phone (online store support): 1-800-936-9006
- Phone (mobile payments support): 1-877-231-7547
- Knowledge Base
- Knowledge Center. Requires login.
- Video tutorials
- Email: email@example.com
- Support Portal, recommended for general questions, sales, and non-urgent technical inquiries.
Negative Reviews and Complaints:
After conducting a thorough online search I’ve identified several common complaints with Spark Pay.
- Poor Customer Support. This one is by far the most vociferously shared complaint, with users using ALL CAPS to get their point across. Note that this relates primarily to the AmeriCommerce history of support. It is unclear (so far) how/if this will change under the Capital One umbrella.
- 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 Internation 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.
Spark Pay makes security a priority, with web-based servers holding enterprise-quality Cisco firewalls. Customer info is guarded by 128bit SSL encryption. Sites are hosted on dual-processor Dell PowerEdge servers.
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.