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E-commerce Solutions: What are your options?

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So you’ve decided to take the plunge and start selling online. You google ‘e-commerce solutions’ and are presented with a bamboozling array of options: Where do you start?

You could start by clicking on option after option, and trying to figure out what might work best for you, or you can read below, where we’ve done a lot of the heavy lifting for you!

E-commerce solutions come in two basic flavours: Hosted and self-hosted.

A hosted solution might be a good place to start, particularly if you’re not terribly technical, or if you just want to get up-and-running quickly. Hosted e-commerce solutions usually come in the form of a (more or less) complete e-commerce package that you can tweak to suit your business; the hosting provider takes care of the technical side of things. You’ll get a drag-and-drop interface that will allow you to upload your content, products and so on, as well as a shopping cart solution that will allow you to accept credit card and/or PayPal payments.

The second flavour of e-commerce solution is a self-hosted solution. This will require you to install the software on your own host, and implement it on your own self-hosted site. You’ll need to be pretty technically savvy, or have a developer on staff, if you want to go this route. The advantage of a self-hosted solution is that it’s a lot more flexible than a hosted one; you can configure self-hosted e-commerce software to do exactly what you need it to do.

Now that we’ve outlined the two basic flavours of e-commerce software, let’s take a look at some of the options on the market. First up: Hosted e-commerce solutions.

We’ll take a look at self-hosted options in our next article: Stay tuned!

Shopify

One of the bigger e-commerce solutions out there, Shopfiy powers over 150,000 online stores.

Shopify features:

  • An extensive list of themes that you can use out of the box for your store.
  • Full access to the HTML and CSS files for your store, meaning you can customize your website and checkout (though if you go for the $14 a month ‘Starter’ plan you can’t edit your HTML or CSS).
  • A plethora of apps designed to extend the functionality of your store, though some may cost significantly more than others.
  • Full support for credit card payments, as well as 70 other payment gateways – from bitcoin to Paypal.
  • POS (‘point of sale’) technology (iPad/iPhone apps and add-ons that talk to your Shopify store and allow you to use Shopify in a physical location like your shop or office)
  • Unlimited bandwidth – they say ‘You’ll never be charged based on the number of visitors or traffic to your store.’

See a full list of features here.

shopify cooktime theme example

If you choose the ‘Basic’ plan ($29 a month), you should be aware that Shopify will charge a 2.9%+30c transaction fee for credit card payments, and a 2% transaction fee for every transaction through an ‘external payment gateway’ (like PayPal Express Checkout). The more expensive ‘Unlimited’ plan ($179 per month) has a 0.5% transaction fee on transactions through third party payment gateways; the charge for credit cards on this plan is 2.25%+30c.

See more about Shopify pricing here.

The interface is user-friendly, and it’s easy to add products and set up your online store, even if you don’t have much experience in setting up websites. SEO is relatively easy, too, with input boxes for keywords on product and site pages.

shopify seo box example

One big advantage of Shopify, apart from ease of use, is its extensibility – your online store can be as simple or as complex as you like thanks to the wide range of plugins available in the Shopify App Store.

 

Bigcommerce

Another dedicated e-commerce store builder, Bigcommerce powers more than 55,000 online stores. Like Shopify, it comes with a range of different templates to choose from (its offering of free templates is larger than Shopify’s; though we’d say that Shopify has the edge over Bigcommerce when it comes to the quality of their templates). You can tweak the HTML and CSS as much as you like.

bigcommerce theme example

Bigcommerce offers 60 payment gateways (to Shopify’s 70), which should be more than enough for most businesses. Starting at the cheapest plan, you can sell as many products as you like.

One key advantage of Bigcommerce is the absence of transaction fees starting with their ‘Gold’ plan ($79.95 per month). Even for the cheaper plans, Bigcommerce’s transaction fees are lower than Shopify’s: with their ‘Silver’ plan ($29.95 a month) the transaction fee for payment through a payment gateway is 1.5% where Shopify’s is 2%.

Initial set-up with Bigcommerce is simple, and its interface is intuitive and easy to use. A neat extra with their most expensive ‘Platinum’ plan ($199.95 a month) is something called a ‘white glove’ service. With this service, a Bigcommerce team member will walk through your site set-up with you, helping you add shipping rates, taxes, payment gateway and products. If this is your first foray into e-commerce, this service could be incredibly helpful, and save you a lot of time.

In a straight contest between Shopify and Bigcommerce it’s hard to pick a winner – maybe the best thing to do is to get yourself and free 14-day trial with each, and decide which you prefer.

Shopify free trial here. Bigcommerce free trial here.

 

Volusion

With many of the same features as Shopify and Bigcommerce, Volusion’s plans start at $15 a month, and have the advantage of coming with no transaction fees attached. However, as with most other hosted e-commerce platforms, a transaction fee will be charged for third party processors.

One complaint we’ve seen with Volusion is that it can be a little complicated to set-up and navigate, and that it might be better suited to people with a more technical background. Also, unlike Shopify or Bigcommerce, you’re limited as to the number of products you can sell with the cheaper plans – their introductory ‘Mini’ plan ($15 a month) limits you to 100 products.

Give their free trial a go and see how you feel.

volusion ecommerce site example

Squarespace Commerce

Squarespace is probably best known as a solution for building and hosting content-based websites (blogs, newsletters, etc.) but has branched out into e-commerce solutions recently. While it doesn’t boast quite as many template options as Shopify, the ones they do have are tremendously pretty. If you want to play around with the HTML or CSS, though, you’ll need to sign up for a developer account.

squarespace e-commerce theme example1

Set-up is easy, with a drag-and-drop interface that lets you play around with your page layout and navigation.

The biggest downside to Squarespace is its limited payment gateways. Payments can only be accepted through Stripe, and that’s currently only available in the U.S., the U.K., and Canada, with beta support in Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and Spain. So if you’re outside those countries, Squarespace won’t be for you. It should also be noted that your customers won’t be able to complete transactions on a Squarespace e-commerce site using PayPal. Given the massive popularity of PayPal, this might well be a deal-breaker for anyone considering using Squarespace to set up an online store.

squarespace e-commerce product page example

Squarespace 14-day free trial here.

We’ll be looking at self-hosted e-commerce solutions in a future article, so check back soon!