Established in 2004 by Richard Clayton, (Linkedin Profile Here) Bluepark has quietly built an impressive client portfolio on the back of what appears to be an excellent eCommerce software platform backed up by excellent customer support.
Based in Witney, Oxfordshire, UK, Bluepark have high ratings on Trustpilot with many commenters eulogising over their support, so I was looking forward to taking this eCommerce platform for a test drive and checking out the extensive feature list.
Bluepark is one of the dying breeds of companies I've reviewed where the phone is picked up and answered by a real live human, and that marks a refreshing change. EKM, Shopwired and Shopify all have infuriating automated answer phone systems, so Bluepark was off to a good start with added brownie points from the outset from this reviewer.
Software products are developed and distributed so rapidly that support is often given the back seat in the quest to drive profit. Automated answering machines are not the answer to fielding sales and support questions; they merely deflect the inquiry rather than establishing which departments need the most resources to operate efficiently. The goal is to improve the documentation and online support to a level that minimises the volume of calls; you can only do this by feeling the customers pain.
Bluepark has over 2,000 customers (EKM 30,000+, Shopwired 7,000+) so regarding market share, they are one of the smallest UK hosted eCommerce website builders. Bigger doesn't always mean better though, and there is a lot to be said for keeping things small and manageable, and the support forum reflects that. Many long-time users of the system pitch in with answers to questions as well as staff and it is apparent that Bluepark has built up a loyal user base over many years which tells you that the system is stable and very capable.
Themes And Templates
There are 35 mobile fully responsive templates introduced in 2016, and they all come free of charge with your subscription, so there is no extra design cost to pay if you base your new site on one of these.
There is a template library where you can view all the templates before you install, but there's no need to spend ages deciding because you can change the template at a later date if you wish to. As well as the "off the shelf" templates which are a great starting point, Bluepark also offers a full custom design service with prices starting from £700.
Incidentally, Both Shopify and Bigcommerce charge extra for their themes at the cost of between £75 -£150.
Everything is built in a standard LAMP (Linux, Apache, MYSQL, PHP) environment so if you have any development skills you will be right at home here and if you don't, but want to take hands-on control, then you will find plenty of online resources to help you do that. There is nothing proprietary here in the way that Shopify requires you to learn their Liquid templating language for example.
The admin panel is where you are going to configure your site, so being well laid out is essential. This is the case with the Bluepark admin panel and what I like are the big large buttons which indicate your next action:
The Admin Console uses a "tabbed" interface, separating each section into pages with form fields to be completed. Every field name features a small red [?] icon, signifying a Tooltip. Hovering your mouse over this icon will provide you with additional information concerning the field and what action you need to take next.
As soon as I started configuring my site, I realised that Bluepark is not intended for those who want to quickly set up an eCommerce store with the minimal effort. No Sir, this product is designed for those who are serious about providing the best experience possible for their users. Where Shopify or EKM keep their options to a minimum to prevent confusion, the simplicity of the Bluepark admin panel belies a considerable depth of configuration options lurking beneath the surface.
For example, the first tab to configure is the company options, and here we have:
Company Name, Invoice Logo, PDF Invoice Logo, standard address fields, VAT number, time zone, date format, a field for bank transfer information, invoice information, credit account invoice information, pro forma invoice information, despatch note information, purchase order information, invoice product list, custom invoice HTML, despatch note product list, custom despatch note HTML, Use custom despatch note?, Picking list product list, purchase order product list, custom purchase order HTML... Wow! The configuration options here are extensive.
The deep level of configuration options follows through on every subsequent tab, so this is by no means a simple setup routine, but what it does give you is power under the hood that is unmatched by other hosted eCommerce platforms at this price point. It is borne out of years of developing custom eCommerce stores and providing options for as many eventualities as possible without having to custom code over and over again.
To give you an idea of the varied options I've combined screenshots from the product tab into one image:
Once you've successfully navigated all the setup options, you'll want to start adding some content to your site, and Bluepark has some fantastic tools to help you do that.
The first is EasyEdit:
The EasyEdit feature is a potent and incredibly helpful tool for adding content to your site and maintaining it. Rather than having its section within the Admin Console as is a typical application, the EasyEdit system is built into the site itself, enabling you to create and edit site content without having to always navigate through the Admin Console. It provides a fantastic, effortless way to edit your site. If the initial setup is time-consuming because of the range of configuration options, then this is payback and more.
The links on the EasyEdit Bar can be clicked to reveal drop-down menus, each with various functions to make building your site quicker and easier. You can also use the F9 key to toggle on or off the different coloured Pencil icons which appear on top of the page itself.
The EasyEdit system revolutionises site building, allowing you to double-click on areas of the page you're viewing to edit them directly or to drag and drop blocks of content around the page in real-time.
The website you build with the CMS is controlled via the "back-end" Administration Console, but the EasyEdit system provides access to these functions via the "front-end" - your online shop. Regarding structure, any page on a Bluepark site consists of the following:
- Template - Page design including a Header, Footer, fonts, colours and images
- Layout - Page structure including which Columns and Blocks should be shown, in what order
- Content - The main Block which could be a static Page, Category, Product or site functionality
Blocks And Layouts
If you have worked with a CMS in the past, then you are probably familiar with the concept of blocks and left/ right-hand layouts. Being a Joomla user myself this was easy to get to grips with, and the ease with which you can add new blocks (slideshow, customer reviews, news ticker etc.) and place them on the page makes site administration a breeze. No need to keep going backwards and forwards between an admin panel and the site and then refreshing to see your changes.
Categories And Products
Bluepark has a powerful import/export routine feature which you can use to import your products from a CSV file so if you are considering moving to another eCommerce platform then Bluepark has made this easy for you. Navigate to Catalogue -> Import Product Data to begin the process.
Navigate to Catalogue -> Product Manager and you'll see a list of products. The list can be searched, sorted and filtered in various ways, including displaying just the products within a particular category.
A product may have more than one Variant, i.e. a shirt may be available in two sizes - Small and Large. Each of these Variants is its product, with its own SKU, price and stock level.
You can assign more than one Option to a product, meaning that you could have, for example, both Size and Colour. Multiple Options and their values generate a "Variant matrix", as a result of the possible combinations of Option values.
Apps And Tools
Bluepark doesn't have "bolt-on" Apps in the way that Shopify has them. Instead, everything is already integrated into the system, and you can enable and disable features that you want.
The advantage of having many Apps available as in an "App store" like Shopify is that if you want to do something that isn't "standard" then there is probably an App that exists to enable you to do it. The drawback with this is that when you start adding many Apps to your core system to customise it, then the associated cost can become considerable because each App developer charges a monthly fee.
Bluepark's list of features is extensive. Beyond what most people would demand from their eCommerce software and the availability of a REST API means that you can integrate with your favourite accounting software or EPOS systems.
Bluepark's API adheres to a REST or RESTful architectural style. This means that the API uses the HTTP protocol for communication, specifically the GET, POST, PUT and DELETE request methods. The API accepts query string parameters for GET and DELETE requests, and JSON data for POST and PUT requests, always responding with standard JSON data. Documentation for the API is detailed and specific, so it is straightforward to develop custom code.
There are several built-in features available that make Bluepark an excellent choice for UK sellers. For example Royal Mail integration via NetDespatch, Shoptalk Live Chat Client, Bulk email newsletter, moderated product reviews, loyalty point scheme, user groups for trade customers (making Bluepark a great alternative to Zoey or Magento for B2B) all of which come as standard with your monthly subscription.
Bluepark supports most major UK payment gateways and recommends Sage Pay as it's preferred payments provider. However, you can also use Paypal, Authorize.net, Cardsave, Payment sense, Worldpay and Paypoint.net, among others.
Bluepark uses RapidSwitch.
Operating in eight facilities throughout the UK, Rapidswitch provides a secure data centre environment for mission-critical hardware. All of Bluepark's servers are located within the newest RapidSwitch facility in Maidenhead, Berkshire.
This highly acclaimed and industry-leading data centre features the very latest world-class resilient infrastructure, with multiple levels of security including 24-hour monitoring, CCTV and restricted access, backup generators, fire protection/suppression and environmental controls. Dedicated staff are on-hand 24 hours a day to ensure that your site remains accessible at blistering speeds from anywhere in the world for your customers.
I don't believe Bluepark are doing themselves any favours by crippling their product at the lower price points. Many of the advanced features are not available on the entry plan, and I would like to see them adopt the approach of Lemonstand where you determine price points by volume of sales. By limiting the features at the lower price point, you handicap anyone with genuine ambitions to build an eCommerce powerhouse but limited by budget, and I think the approach by Lemonstand sets the standard here.
That said, the Enterprise solution is the obvious choice. At £59.99 per month, it's excellent value for money and will provide all but the most demanding of users every option they could need to set up shop.
The majority of features held back from the £24.99 package are features that a startup would not necessarily find essential, the £39.99 package is virtually fully-featured minus the multi-channel aspect. We've tried to include features at each price point that a growing business would find useful, and would want to transition to after a degree of success.
The benefit of our business model is that everything listed in our packages comes built-in at no extra cost, rather than being a bolt-on module (often written by a third party) that costs extra and quite possibly doesn't play nicely with the core software or other third-party modules. The downside is that we don't have quite the same plethora of options as some of our competitors with a wide array of modules available. Still, we are continually updating our software with features and integrations developed in-house.
Our business model is to provide a very honest package structure with no hidden charges or surprises along the way. We never force customers to upgrade, and indeed they are free to downgrade at any time, or even "park" their site for just £4.99 a month.
One of the things to love about Bluepark is that if you have a question, the phone will be answered by someone knowledgeable about the system. On top of that, there is extensive online documentation and forum support.
Bluepark flies under the radar but its extensive feature set, UK support and reliable infrastructure make it an excellent choice for anyone who wants to develop an eCommerce site that goes beyond the standard templated Shopify website fare.
I'd place this product in the gap in the market between standard eCommerce website builders like Shopify, EKM and Shopwired, all of which are customisable to an extent and the developer-centric Lemonstand. This product is a superb choice for someone who has limited development skills and needs extensive features out of the box. Perhaps to bring development expertise on board once they get established, or people who have existing website development expertise.
At £59.99 the enterprise plan is fantastic value for money. Anyone considering Magento would do well to look at this first and save themselves a lot of money in setup and development costs.
Bluepark is not for beginners or for those considering setting up shop on a whim, and perhaps that is why they have carved themselves out such a niche in the market. If you can see past the comprehensive setup options, then you will be rewarded with a powerful and easy to edit the eCommerce store.