When it comes to starting an online store, there are many things to take into consideration. One of the most important parts of the puzzle is which platform to use to power your e-commerce site. Running your own Web store is not only fun to do, but when taken seriously can also earn you a nice supplemental income. Web stores are easily combined with a day job, and they can even become so successful that they replace your day job.
A hosted ecommerce platform is a type of software as a service (SaaS) that hosts online stores. A good hosted ecommerce platform will have ecommerce-specific features such as online payment integration and inventory management, powerful and reliable server technology resources, and expertise in compliance and security as it pertains specifically to web-based transactions and data management.
Generally, hosted ecommerce platforms are ideal for individuals or small- and medium-sized businesses that have little or no ecommerce development experience. The biggest trade-off when using a hosted ecommerce platform compared to self-hosted solutions like Magento and Open Cart is your ability to have full control of your online store, which (among other things) means you will encounter some areas that you will not be able to customize or change.
There are many hosted ecommerce platforms out there. I will talk about your best options.
Shopify is quickly becoming my favorite e-commerce platform. The user interface of the admin panel is simply gorgeous. Although it has its limitations, there aren’t many things I wasn’t able to accomplish with it. The biggest downside is the limited ability to change the checkout page. Although you have some control over it, it is minor. So if you’re trying to design the checkout page to be exactly how you want, Shopify is probably not for you. In fact, none of the hosted solutions will offer customizable checkout process so you can jump the the Self-Hosted section right away.
One area where Shopify easily beats is competition is with awesome add-on apps. Just like your smartphone, Shopify has many apps that you can download and install on your store, which extend the default or introduce new functionality. Their entire app process is set up much better than the competition and they have the most available apps, too. Shopify starts at $29/mo. And if you use their credit card processor, you will only have to pay the standard 2.9 percent + 30 cent rate. If you upgrade to a higher plan, the per-transaction fee is lower.
With over 200,000 installations, Magento is among the most popular eCommerce platforms in the world. It is free, open-source, and counts Nike, Warby Parker, and Paul Smith among its clients. As a highly scalable, powerful platform with a huge library of existing extensions, it is particularly suitable for startups and traditional retailers looking to make the jump online.
- Free: Free is always good, whether its hugs or eCommerce platforms.
- Scalable: The architecture is designed for scalability with in-built support for most payment gateways. Little wonder that Magento is often called the “platform for growth”.
- Open-Source: Magento is widely supported by individual as well as corporate users. This means widespread availability of thousands of useful extensions.
- SEO: Magento is SEO ready right out of the box. It creates search engine friendly, keyword rich URLs and includes extensions to generate meta data automatically.
BigCommerce is the most popular online shopping cart in the “top million sites” category, which means it’s popular for small- to medium-sized Web stores. It started out as a software product made by Interspire that you’d install directly on your own site, but it became popular after morphing into a hosted shopping cart.
Benefits While the pricing seems comparable to Shopify, its feature set is a bit higher for each plan. Features like real-time shipping quotes, gift cards and 24/7 phone/mail/chat support are included in its base plan for $29.95 a month. Too bad you still have to upgrade to a more expensive plan for the abandoned cart recovery.
The great thing about its pricing is that you don’t really need more than the Gold plan at $79.95 a month. It comes with all of the features as well as unlimited products, storage and bandwidth.
- Google Trusted Store certification assistance
- Assisted set up to increase sales
- Easily integrate with eBay, Google Shopping and more
"There's no better platform than WordPress for DIY websites, so it makes perfect sense to use WooCommerce, the WordPress-based ecommerce platform," says Ben Larcey, head of Marketing at Bluebird Global, who has built and run many small/DIY ecommerce sites.
"Being free and open source means you have complete control over your store without being locked into a monthly contract or proprietary software. WooCommerce is perfect for niche sites just beginning their ecommerce journey, like Arrow Leather Works, but also has the ability to scale into powering much larger stores," Larcey says. "If you're familiar with WordPress, then using WooCommerce will come naturally to you with products just being a modified blog post in the CMS."
"My favorite ecommerce platform and what I recommend to my clients is WooCommerce," says Michelle Nickolaisen, owner, Bombchelle Industries, which provides productivity how-tos & classes for freelancers and small business owners. "It's free, so there are no monthly fees that eat into your profits -- and it's easy to use," she says. Another plus: "It can be used for both digital downloads and physical products. And the amount of extensions available for it make it incredibly flexible."
Volusion is, in my opinion, in the "Big Three" of the top hosted ecommerce solutions (alongside Shopify and Bigcommerce). According to Volusion, the online stores they host have generated over $16 billion in combined sales. This platform boasts over 900 ecommerce features and offers additional personal services to their customers for a fee, such as conversion rate optimization which provides store owners one-on-one consulting with the company’s marketing consultants (for $899).
Pricing starts at $15/month and allows up to 100 products in your online store, unlimited storage, and no transaction fees.
Build an online storefront fast with 3dcart's shopping cart software and online store builder. Just choose and customize your template, upload your logo and product images, and add descriptions and pricing — no HTML or programming expertise required. The 3dcart program accepts all major credit cards, as well as PayPal, Google Checkout and Checkout by Amazon. Merchants can also sell via social and mobile commerce with 3dcart's built-in Facebook Store and mCommerce app. The 3dcart service starts at $9.99 a month. A 15-day trial is also available, and new members will also receive $50 in Facebook ads credits.
1ShoppingCart is an all-in-one solution. It not only allows you to set up an online store, but also to easily integrate its payment functionality into your regular website. Benefits The shopping cart is just one of its features; it also gives you autoresponders to follow up on prospects and customers, for example. There’s an extensive upsell functionality in place, which even offers a downsell if a customer turns down the upsell offer. Their features list is impressive.
It also has an integrated affiliate program, which is how I found out about 1ShoppingCart. For my cabin crew training page I work with a training provider called GoCabinCrew. Their course is offered with 1ShoppingCart running the show, which handles both the payments and my affiliate commission without even looking like a shopping cart. Pretty solid if you ask me. It is pricey, though, and it requires a lot of studying to use all of its features properly. But if you do you can literally squeeze every possible dollar out of your visitors.
With Yahoo! Ecommerce, you get peace of mind knowing that your online store is hosted by one of the biggest giants in the technology industry. They have supported over $65 billion in transactions and over 1 million businesses. As to be expected from a tech company like Yahoo!, their ecommerce solution has a ton of excellent features such as direct integration with UPS (a major shipping company) to make managing your product deliveries easier.
Pricing starts at $26/month (billed annually) and includes the ability to have up to 1,000 products in your online store, 5 GB of storage, 150 GB bandwidth, and a 1.5% transaction fee.
If you sell unique products, check out niche e-commerce marketplaces like Etsy, which you can use to sell all types of handmade, vintage and other goods all over the world. Product categories include art, jewelry, men and women's clothing and accessories, home and living, mobile accessories, weddings, and more. Sign up for free, and start selling your creations from your own Etsy shop. Fees include a 3.5-percent transaction fee for each sale and a listing fee of 20 cents per item.
Izzonet is another hosted e-commerce option. Since the sites are hosted with Izzonet, they also provide the security. They offer over 100 free templates to choose from, and you can also customize the design of the template to meet your needs. Marketing features include coupon codes, SMS marketing (text messaging), live chat, mobile integration, QR code generator, affiliate management, landing page generation, online surveys and more. In addition, Izzonet integrates with Ebay, Amazon Marketplace, Craigslist, and shopping comparison sites.
Other features include allowing product reviews from customers, email newsletters, product and order management, and product comparison. You can sell physical goods or digital products, and you can even provide serial numbers for products like software.
One of the unique features of Izzonet involves dropshipping capability. You can allow your products to be sold at other sites, and manage it all through Izzonet. Pricing starts at $19.97 per month for the gold plan, which includes some limitations on features (for example, you cannot sell digital products, and cannot sell on Ebay, Amazon, Facebook, etc.). Five different plans are available from $19.97 to $299.97 per month, each with varying features.
Small businesses can take a hit from credit card processing fees. Dwolla offers a fast, secure way to move money for online transactions — and aims to do so at the lowest cost possible. Dwolla charges only 25 cents for transactions over $10, while transactions under $10 are free. Money transfers between Dwolla's payment network and your bank or credit union are also free. You can access Dwolla via the Web, iPhone and Android mobile apps, the Dwolla Merchant Kiosk, and any Dwolla-enabled point-of-sale system.
As you can see, the competition is fierce when it comes to pricing, features and usability. But all of these online shopping carts are very different tools, even though some of them have much in common. Luckily you can try them all for free, but if you’re testing all 10 of them, expect it to take some time. Let us know in the comments which one you prefer, or supplement this list with even more ecommerce platforms.