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A review of the top hosted eCommerce platforms for hosting & building an eCommerce website and how to choose the right one for your particular needs.
Finding the right hosted eCommerce platform for starting your online store can feel like a daunting task. You want to sell your products online and have heard that hosted eCommerce platforms can make setting up an eCommerce website easy. But with the hundreds of eCommerce web hosts available, you might not know where to turn. In this article, we’ll list our top 5 recommended choices for a hosted eCommerce platform and then discuss what you should look for in these platforms to help you determine the best choice for your business.
Here’s a quick overview of the top 5 choices for hosted online stores, with the key features of each company outlined below:
www.shopify.com currently dominates the hosted eCommerce platforms with over 200,000 users. It’s an excellent all-around choice for hosting a store. Beginners who have never built an eCommerce website can figure out how to use the simple interface with little assistance, but Shopify is also well-suited for providing the functionality and scalability to expand your store. They’re best known for their vast selection of beautiful, modern themes with responsive designs fit for both desktop and mobile viewers. Every theme is truly stunning and adds instant credibility to your brand. Shopify provides full 24/7 customer support that is unsurpassed. If you run into any problems, Shopify experts are available via live chat, email, or phone almost instantly. You won’t find yourself waiting on hold to chat with a representative. Shopify is the most comprehensive hosting for businesses who want an online store they can scale up.
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www.bigcommerce.com is a trusted platform designed for small and medium-sized businesses. More advanced web developers appreciate the flexible customization features, because the platform is built on HTML & CSS coding. While some hosted platforms charge 1-3% per transaction, BigCommerce doesn’t make you pay a fee for every sale. However, it’s important to note their pricing model for monthly plans is based on your amount of sales. If you start with a basic plan and your revenue increases, your plan will automatically upgrade. Companies with annual profits over $125,000 have to pay for the Pro plan at $200 per month. The highlight of this platform is the unlimited bandwidth for every plan. Larger businesses with a lot of site traffic will benefit from unlimited bandwidth. BigCommerce is a hosted platform best suited for small businesses with revenue under $125,000 or larger businesses who need extra bandwidth.
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www.wix.com is a popular website builder with its own hosted eCommerce platform, perfect for small business owners. It’s simple, easy to use, and affordable. They’re perfect for small eCommerce businesses who don’t plan on expanding their inventory beyond 100 products. Wix is also a good fit for entrepreneurs who have never built a website before and want to keep their startup costs low. It doesn’t get any simpler than their drag-and-drop editor, which allows you to design an inexpensive and beautiful website. Wix is a reliable host for small eCommerce stores who need an easy to use website builder.
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www.volusion.com stands out with their enhanced inventory management system. If you plan to carry a large volume of products in your store, you’ll find it easy to track your sales and inventory levels on their platform. Volusion allows you to effortlessly reach wider audiences by integrating your store with eBay, Amazon, and Facebook. Their themes are customizable via HTML & CSS, so you if you don’t know coding you might need help from a web developer to set up your templates initially. There’s a slight learning curve in the beginning, but the templates make it quick to add new products in the long run. If you plan to start a blog on your store for content marketing, it’s important to note Volusion doesn’t offer this plugin. You’ll have to use a third-party host and link to it. Volusion is a hosting solution best suited for small businesses who need a powerful inventory management system.
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www.3dcart.com is best known for providing the widest range of sophisticated features with every monthly plan. The biggest difference with 3dcart hosting is the access to loaded features even with their lowest priced plan. Other popular platforms require you to upgrade in order to receive more features. Plus, the number of products you can list is dependent on which monthly plan you have. Their themes deliver a variety of unique options, so your website won’t look similar to other 3dcart stores. Other platforms provide nice themes, but many of them look alike. If you’re selling global products, 3dcart is the leading platform for the high number of payment gateways. Overall, 3cart is quality host for price-conscious business owners who want the most features.
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Many of the features offered by eCommerce hosts seem pretty similar at first glance. That’s why there are a few questions you should ask yourself to help narrow down your decision. For example, do you plan to bootstrap your startup and build your website solo? You’ll need a simple website builder that you can figure out on your own. Will you build a store by customizing a theme, or seek the help of a freelance web developer with advanced technical knowledge? Here we’ll address these subjects more in-depth to help you decide what features make sense for your brand:
Responsive themes automatically adjust the layout of your website to fit the device a site visitor is using. This mean your store will look great whether your reader is visiting from a desktop, laptop, table, or smartphone. With 70% of online purchases happening on mobile devices, selecting a well-designed responsive theme is more important than ever.
There are over 12 million eCommerce stores in the world today. That number will only continue to grow. You must discover a way to make your online store stand out from the rest of the crowd (and your competitors). Hosted eCommerce platforms offer a limited number of free themes for you to design your store, no matter what your monthly plan is. Free themes are usually more difficult to personalize, so you’ll most likely opt to purchase a premium theme. Premium themes are a one-time purchase, but the price should factor into your budget because it can vary wildly between platforms. You can find a theme for $50, all the way up to $895.
QUICK NOTE: You want to choose a platform with responsive themes because 70% of online purchases now occur on mobile device, like a smartphone or tablet.
How big will your inventory levels run? It is crucial to nail down an inventory process when it comes to running an online store. The time and energy spent on managing your inventory can quickly add up, and time is money when it comes to running a business. If you’re carrying a very high volume of products, you’ll want a host with a superior inventory management system.
You’ll also notice that some platforms cap the number of products you upload based on your monthly plan. The more items you want to offer your customers, the more you’ll have to pay your host. A higher number of products can equal better conversion rates, but it’s a good idea to start small if you’re a brand new store. Test out the market demand first.
The ultimate benefit of hosted online stores is the convenience. You’ll receive a domain address, shopping cart, and a website with a monthly subscription at every pricing plan. This allows you create an online store in an incredibly short amount of time, no matter how much experience you have a web developer.
If you’re a total beginner, you might want to look for a user-friendly setup that doesn’t require the need to learn difficult coding in order to add products or customize your store. If you’re a novice user, drag-and-drop builders make it quick and easy to add content to your website.
While hosted eCommerce websites were created with beginners in mind, many larger companies with years of history use a host simply for the convenience. Premium monthly plans provide intermediate and advanced customization features for these bigger companies. Refer back to your business growth plan and number of products. Do you plan to scale up and grow your business in the near future? If so, you’ll want a platform that offers you the option to upgrade your website and bandwidth. Keep in mind that image-heavy websites will also use up extra bandwidth.
A significant factor in selecting an eCommerce host solution is what types of payment you’ll accept. This feature is an area where platforms widely differ from each other, and one that that could have a major impact on your conversion rates. Some platforms offer as few as 9 payment methods, while others have over 150 to choose from. Site owners will also want to compare transactions fees between hosts, because some will charge for every sale that uses a third-party payment gateway. It’s becoming more common for eCommerce hosts to offer zero transaction fees to remain competitive, but platforms that do charge for this set their fees from 0.05% up to 3% based on the pricing plan you choose.
Small business owners should determine where their target site visitors live. With more inclusive monthly hosting plans, you can even choose the option to have your website translated to another language. Depending on the location, certain countries don’t have access to payment gateways like PayPal. You’ll want your online store to have the capability to accept a variety of payment options, or risk losing a sale.
While you can get by with using straightforward spreadsheets (like Excel or Google Sheets) in the initial phases of your online store, as you continue to develop your business you’ll need to integrate other software into your approach. For example, accounting is essential to a business operation. Most eCommerce platforms should provide tools like QuickBooks for this.
Marketing tools are another bonus of hosted online stores. Your customers need to be able to discover your website and products. If your platform has built-in SEO function, you can direct search engine traffic to your website. Email lists, loyalty programs, discounts, and social media integration are other important marketing channels to evaluate. Tools like abandoned cart recovery aren’t offered on every platform, but can be valuable in gaining back 15% of lost sales from customers who added to items to their cart but didn’t go through with a purchase.
QUICK NOTE: Search engine optimized platforms give you free marketing for driving traffic to your website.
Hosted eCommerce platforms are a fantastic way to get your online store up and running in the shortest amount of time. Their convenience makes hosting an excellent choice for small business owners regardless of company size, web development experience, or the number of years in business.
Beginners who aren’t extremely tech-savvy will find an easy setup to be the most important factor in the decision, especially if you’re a solo entrepreneur or have a very small team. However, if you’re behind a larger company or a funded startup, you can find hosting that provides premium monthly plans with advanced customization and more powerful features.
After you narrow down the best solution for your business, give it a test run before you commit to spending cash on a monthly plan. Utilize the free trial from your top platform choice. The length of the free trial varies for each one, but you can generally try it out for at least 14 days first. Choosing your hosted platform ultimately comes down to your overall budget and startup costs, but it’s the quickest way to launch an online store.