The hunt for a low cost eCommerce solution is proving challenging. I have used or tested numerous eCommerce platforms over the years. While I have enjoyed some more than others and fell in love with 3dcart about a year and a half ago I recently decided its time to browse around for a cheaper solution to help a close family member get started with some online sales. This person is limited in startup funds but does have plenty of time currently to work on building it up so I am hunting for a good balance of low cost and time. The focus is mostly on the cost however I do want something that can grow with the sales.
Because this person is new to using any eCommerce platform I want something easy to use which rules out some of the ones I have used in the past. We are hunting for suggestions based on real experience so if you have an idea please feel free to chime in with them. We will consider all options big and small.
A list of some of the platforms I ruled out pretty quickly:
ProStores – I like ProStores by eBay but for that you have to learn ssml and their prices to me aren’t great for a newbie. This one would require a lot of time and effort to learn plus giving up a small percentage for each sale so I will keep it in mind but not likely one I will recommend for now. ProStores lowest tier will set you back $29.95 for only 250 products with a .5% transaction fee. For a sole proprietor plan there is no point where you stop paying the per transaction fee. You can however try it free for 30 days and there are no limitation during the free trial.
Zencart – I consider myself pretty savvy since I do web design and run multiple online stores myself and I truly never could get into using Zencart. Aside from it being complete free and somewhat flexible with customization (if you know what your doing) I feel this one is too complicated and time consuming to get setup correctly.
OSCommerce – Same as Zencart. Too much to do for it to actually be up and running correctly even though it is free and open source so its customization is flexible it just isn’t right for the individual I am helping at this time.
Bigcommerce – Like many others out there you can sign up for free to get started. Their free trial is only 15 days but it is fully functional. That being said it does appear to be one of the easiest to setup out of all of them I have seen. You don’t have to put up a credit card up front which is nice but their lowest pricing tier is $34.95/unlimited products/2% transaction fee however it does appear very generous with what you get for $34.95. The transaction fee at 2% would still keep this plan cheaper than the next level which is $79.95 up until your sales reach approximately $2,250.00 a month consistently. It isn’t right for her today but one I will keep in mind for sure.
Magento Go – Free to try for 30 days but limits products to 100 for both the trial and for the lowest cost tier. Although that is pretty limiting the lowest tier is just $15.00 a month and has no transaction fees. It has low storage and bandwidth but the truth is with just 100 products it seems to be adequate. If you are an eBay user this one might be ideal to get you started. We want to be able to have many more products because I have access to thousands more. A major concern is the higher end plans are very pricey if sales for this site take off it would then maybe be an issue of not wanting to spend so much as the top tier is $125 and only gets you 10,000 products. I am going to look more into this one though because for her keeping up with 100 products might be a good solution if we can come up with an easy way to determine which products to focus on for this project.
Volusion – I cannot skip mentioning Volusion. They have a dynamite platform but to me it is just too costly. That being said they also have a free trial of 14 days with no credit card required but when I did this (it was about 4 years ago) to test their platform it wouldn’t let you have any sales unless you did have a card on file. You could get it all setup and ready to go including testing without the card but sales were a no go. I hope that this has changed but I didn’t find an answer so far on that one from their site. They have many options for coupons and promotions the others just cannot compare to but their lowest tier is another with low products coming in at allowing just 100 for $15.00. Volusion has also eased on the storage space going ahead and giving that low plan unlimited storage. All of their plans are no per transaction fee plans which I really like. Their tier for 10,000 products comes in at a huge $50 less than Magento’s although they do have a $135 plan that allows unlimited products. Worth a mention but I don’t see this as a very viable option today due to not getting access to the CRM until the $75 tier.
A list of some of the platforms I will look at more:
Mal’s ecommerce – I came across this one today so I haven’t had a chance to really look it over but at a first glance if you are talking price it seems to be ahead in the race. It only has two options: Free and Premium with premium being only $8.00 a month. Seems very straight forward with a detailed list of what you get with each. As with many free web hosting type services the free version comes with a link for Mal’s ecommerce unless you get the premium package. But both comes with unlimited products except for downloadable products. If you want to use an actual credit card merchant service you will have to do the premium but if you are starting out with just paypal or similar then free might be a good way to test the waters. We will create a test store I am fairly confident to see how it actually works.
1 & 1 Internet – I have already signed up for this to test out. It cost me $11.88 for one year for which I think is more than enough time to test the platform and make a decision but small enough if I hate it I am not out much. Today is day two and so far I am about half way though the setup process and hope to be operational come tomorrow. My first mistake was not setting up the domain immediately because this does take about 12 – 24 hours. You can go ahead and get things setup without it but then your link is as usual with most places a subdomain until you tell it what you want for your domain. Nothing major and I knew it when I did it. I was at first considering moving my existing site to this one but I chickened out on such a move until I can verify I want to uproot my already very well functioning site. So I decided to just pick another domain name for now that is shorter than my existing but the site will be based on my existing company. Not all that uncommon for designers to use another domain to do testing. I actually like it so much that I already signed up to be an affiliate (See the ad on the right side of the page – $0.99 for a .com domain is cheap plus it has free private registration!). Their prices for your first year on pretty much every service I saw just hasn’t been beaten or rivaled that I can tell. This says a lot because I have a site that sells domain registration and I just cannot afford to eat the losses they must be. Not really the one I want to use for the project I am hunting for because of the time it takes to setup but worth the look for someone with even a little experience under their belt. It isn’t hard so far just not as quick for her as I wanted.
I will follow up with a part II. There are literally thousands of eCommerce options out there and we are just scratching the surface of the free to very low cost options so once again if you know of one please share with us.