5 hosted ecommerce cart solutions reviewed

May 30, 20107 Comments
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As some of you have been aware, I’ve previous written a pretty extensive review of multiple open source e-commerce options in the past. These e-commerce solutions are often perfect for those more technical folks amongst us who want complete ownership, and complete control of their e-commerce software.

However, getting your hands dirty isn’t always an option for everyone looking to get started selling online, and the complexities of setting up, installing and configuring these shopping carts is often too much for many. Fortunately, there are a number of hosted e-commerce options out there, that allow you to get up and selling much more quickly than a custom build of a storefront – all by charging a monthly fee.

These can also often provide an additional avenue for low budget and convenient provision of e-commerce solutions to those running a design shop, that don’t want to be bothered with navigating around (what is often) a complex code base. The following is a an overview and review of the best of what is out there, and the options available to designers looking to get going quickly – AND make a profit on the solution as well.

BigCommerce

URL: http://www.bigcommerce.com/

bigcommerce review

Pricing Structure:

BigCommerce offer 5 different tiers of pricing. Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum and Diamond. All of which offer different features, and different capabilities. If you have a good grasp of how many products you are likely to stock, and the number of photos you wish to carry for each – you should be able to use the information below to work out what package is suitable for your needs.

Number of products allowed:

Bronze allows: 100 products
Silver allows: 500 products
Gold allows: 1000 products
Platinum allows: Unlimited
Diamond allows: Unlimited

Storage allowed:

Bronze allows: 200 MB (1 MEG of images per product)
Silver allows: 300 MB (0.6 MEG of images per product)
Gold allows: 500 MB ( 0.5 MEG of images per product)
Platinum allows: 1 GB
Diamond allows: 3 GB of storage

You can see quickly that whilst the number of products that you are allowed to create is unlimited on some packages, you may find that you run out of storage if you aren’t careful – or know how to resize images before putting them on the web. As a basic guideline, if your images are over 100k you are doing something wrong. Ideal file size is hard to put a figure on, but for product shots you should be putting some compression on them.

You can see the pricing breakdown for each below:

URL for Pricing: http://www.bigcommerce.com/plans.php

Getting Started with BigCommerce – Walkthrough

BigCommerce – Creative control


Setup

BigCommerce is a well known hosted e-commerce platform with a wealth of features. If you are looking to get up and running quickly, they offer one of the quickest setup processes that I’ve seen.

Design

BigCommerce offer their users complete creative control, which in my opinion is one of the things that normally puts hosted platforms out of the running. Give your users control, and not cookie cutter templates, and they will create some beautiful work. BigCommerce’s portfolio of sites, certainly shows that.

Designers have access to both HTML and CSS directly from the browser to design custom interfaces to the storefront – or if you prefer direct access is also available via traditiona means such as FTP.  For intermediate users, a drag and drop interface is available to customise the layout in the browser.

If you aren’t comfortable wrangling code, you can get access to over 60 different templates to apply an alternative look to your store. Logo design is treated in a similar way, where you can upload your own (if you want) – but a browser based logo designer for you to tinker and create your own (albeit lower quality) – logo is there if you need it.

Stock Control

One of the main downfalls of many shopping carts, is their ability to accurately track stock, including stock that sells on the shop floor. In other words, keeping the stock levels accurate throughout the day if you have a physical store  AND a web store. BigCommerce does not currently allow any automation in this regard, however with a bit of gentle persuasion, you should be able to get your stock integrated into a single import file which can be uploaded to the system with changes. Dear BigCommerce. Automated this process and you will win. I promise.

An FTP option for sending this file would be particularly welcome, rather than having to login to the backoffice continually. For many, this is a major problem with the hosting systems that are out there at the minute.

Ease of Use

Whilst inside the backoffice for Bigcommerce, the different sections are broken down logically into Orders (for processing new orders, returns and despatches ), Customers (for finding previous customers ), Products (adding and editing new), and last but not least Marketing (for well, Marketing of course!). This breakdown allows even the most technically inept to get up and going quickly. If you have an existing EPOS system that permits exporting, they have taken this into account, with facilities for importing top level products, and product variations (different colours or sizes of the same PLU).

BigCommerce guides you through each of the different stages you need to complete before taking your store live, including Configuration, Design, Adding Products, Payment methods, Tax and finally Shipping options.

BigCommerce also contains a simple data‐out API that allows remote retrieval of customers, orders and products via a simple XML web service. The API allows requests to be made to search for the above data, or retrieve a particular entry from the database for one of the supported data types. Nice!

Payment Gateway Support

If you are really going to get into e-commerce, you’ll  need to sort out taking credit card payments, this is normally done via a Payment Gateway, of which BigCommerce support a couple, all with different rates. Currently BigCommerce support over 65 Gateways, so you should be able to find one which fits your budget – and bank.

E-commerce Features

Statistics
Order stats – complete order report including conversion rates
Product stats – which products are making you the most profit?
Customer stats – view customer numbers by day, and your most profitable customers
Search statistics – are visitors finding what they want in your store?

Marketing

Sell on Facebook – social e-commerce application
Banners – website banners advertising for promos
Coupon Codes
Google Website optimiser (A/B testing)
Google Base export – export your product list for use in Google Base (formerly Froogle)
Discount Rules
Gift Certificates
Export Email Subscribers – export your email subscribers to be imported elsewhere.
Google XML Sitemap – increase your crawl speed with a sitemap
Google and Yahoo ads support

Other
Website Content Management (News)
Import / Export Products
Import / Export Customers
Export Orders
Downloadable Goods
API
Custom URLs. e.g. www.domains.com can be attached to your store.

Marketing Features

Marketing within BigCommerce comes “built-in” – at least from a software perspective, they give you all the tools you need to get started marketing straight away. Many platforms I’ve seen before, have poor URL structures, poor semantics onpage, and don’t lend themselves well to the beast that is Google. BigCommerce have put these issues to bed. Period. They’ve taken the initiative to hire a Aaron Wall – a well respected search professional, and this has clearly made an impact on their development and overall software quality. You will find it hard to find flaws with either the code, or structure of your store. Sitemaps are provided in both XML, and HTML formats, giving you search spiders no excuse for not indexing your content, which is great.

If that wasn’t enough, support for Google website optimiser (an A/B) testing tool – to test alternative page designs), Banners, Coupons and importantly a Google Base export feed are already provided as part of the overall marketing strategy for your store. For those new to e-commerce, these won’t make much sense – but for those moving from another platform, they are definitely features which make an impact to your bottom line.  With many retailers quite used to sales being generated from Google Base, this is a particularly encouraging feature to see.  Paid for search is also catered for with Google and Yahoo ads support out of the box.

Another interesting Marketing feature, is BigCommerce’s social selling feature – allowing you to sell via Facebook. Again, this shows a commitment by the company to provide tools that move with the times, and they are one of the few startups that implement such a feature.

Called SocialShop, this allows merchants to add chosen products to an existing Facebook presence through an application. This provides an exciting opportunity to monetize an existing presence, the only drawback at present, is that in order to actually checkout an item, this has to take place on the storefront – no big deal, as this will drive traffic back to your website, and expose customers to other marketing initiatives you may have going on at your store.

The only thing that was missing in the backoffice, was the capability to email market to your customers – considering that there are a variety of email solutions out there already which handle this. Still – it would be nice to get integration with products already in your store to save creation of custom HTML to send out to a customer list. Amazon also show a level of customisation with their emails based on previous transactions and favourite lists – but hey, we can’t have everything, and the features you do get for marketing out of the box are very impressive anyway.

Overview

They’ve thought of pretty much everything, and I can only bet that BigCommerce will continue to go from strength to strength. A fantastic piece of software, that offers great value for money – allowing any man off the street to setup a store and get selling.

Positives: Wealth of Features, Value for money, API. 
Negatives
Stock control automation

Shopify

URL: http://www.shopify.com

Shopify offer 5 different tiers of pricing. Basic, Professional, Business, Enterprise and Premier. All of which offer different features.

Number of products allowed:

Basic allows: 100 products
Professional allows: 2,500 products
Business allows: 10,000 products
Enterprise allows: 25,000
Premier allows: 50,000

Storage allowed:

Basic allows: 100 MB (1 MEG of images per product)
Professional allows: 500 MB (0.2 MEG of images per product)
Business allows: 1000 MB ( 0.1 MEG of images per product)
Enterprise allows: 2.5 GB (0.1  MEG of images per product)
Premier allows: 5 GB of storage (0.1 MEG of images per product)

The break down of amount of storage per product is based on you using ALL of your allocated products. But does start to show how much you are really getting for your money. 0.1 MEG per product is about 8 big photos, so you shouldn’t really have any problem running out of space, assuming you know how to resize.

URL for Pricinghttp://www.shopify.com/signup/

Worth mentioning that Shopify also charge transaction fees ranging from 2% – 1% depending on the plan. Some alternative e-commerce systems have used this to break Shopify’s back – stating “we dont charge transaction fees” in their marketing.

Getting Started with Shopify

Setup

Setting up Shopify was a simple matter – and literally took three minutes. Once you’ve given over your magical credit card details – (God I hate trials that force you to do that! *slow clap*) you can get started adding products.  They really don’t ask for an aweful lot before getting going. The interface was extremely minimal when you do get logged in, split into the usual, orders, products, marketing etc.

Design

Designing with Shopify is easy with a built in browser template editor. Templates are based on the template language ‘Liquid’ which allows you to integrate product loops etc, without touching the underlying database code.

Vision is a desktop tool for Shopify designers. It allows you to download a virtual version of Shopify and design your template with your favorite text editor. Later you can just upload your finished design as a zip file back to Shopify. Not going quite as far as its competitors, with some offering FTP support, this is at least a stop gap for those designers looking to get their hands dirty.

Ease of Use

The interface in Shopify is a very clean, and easy to navigate through. Hints are given as you browse through the separate sections, especially if its your first time in the system. Sections, as you would imagine are very similar to other e-commerce platforms in the market, with the usual, Orders, Products and Marketing sections. A preferences section allows you to specify your VAT rates, Fulfilment and Checkout options.

Payment Gateway Support

Shopify support an impressive number of payment gateways, which are well documented over here.

E-commerce features

Marketing

Coupons & Promotions (available on certain plans)
Google Website Optimiser
Shopify Product Search Engine
Google Base Feed
Advertise products on Chictini
Yahoo ad support
Google adwords support
Microsoft Adcenter support
Google XML Sitemap feed.

Other

Information on Conversion path with new orders
Third party App support via the Shopify app store
Custom Product Sections
Import / Export Products including images
Real time Shipping calculations (available on certain plans)
Blogs and Pages CMS
Export Orders
Orders as RSS
Custom URLs. e.g. www.domains.com can be attached to your store.

Marketing features

Shopify have more or less the same sort of marketing features that BigCommerce do, without however the social shop Facebook options. Google Base, and Shopify’s own product search engine were all built into the product, which will get your site indexed pretty quickly and sales started quickly. However SEO friendly URL’s inside the product didn’t feel just as friendly as they could have been, with a few drill downs of directories before the information on a product was presented. i.e. collections/frontpage/products/t-shirt – would have been better to be just /t-shirt – but at least it didn’t contain any querystrings or other ugliness.

Sitemaps in XML format are provided to help you get indexed quicker, and that failing – not one but the big three PPC companys are supported.

Some other nice touches with Shopify include the conversion path provided upon checkout, but I didn’t like the way that emails were so sparse to customers, with no branding, or options for branding. This is true with a couple of the online hosted platforms for e-commerce, and whilst not mission critical, it would be nice attention to detail to have as a feature.

Options for adding additional content through a blog and CMS for pages is there. This is something I’ve ranted on before for retailers, that many fail to recognise the importance of adding additional value to their website to attract people in, and Shopify allow access to product images as well as images of your own choosing to supplement your content.

Overview

They’ve thought of pretty much everything, and I can only bet that BigCommerce will continue to go from strength to strength. A fantastic piece of software, that offers great value for money – allowing any man off the street to setup a store and get selling.

Positives: Ease of use. Fulfilment service out of the box. Shopify marketplace.
Negatives
Order statistics, Stock control, Price. Poor CRM features.

Volusion

URL: http://www.volusion.com/

volusion review

Volusion offer 5 different tiers of pricing. As below

Number of products allowed:

Steel allows: 25 products
Bronze allows: 250 products
Silver allows:  1000 products
Gold allows: 5000 products
Platinum allows: unlimited products

Storage allowed:

Bandwidth rather than Storage is Volusions model – ranging from 1GB to 25GB. Using bandwidth rather than storage is a smart move on their part; but it punishes those generating lots of traffic, and not many orders. For this reason it will be crucial to optimise your conversion rate in your store.

Pricing URL: http://www.volusion.com/ecommerce/web-hosting.asp

From all of the systems reviewed here, volusion is definitely one of the most mature products out there. Particularly impressive were business reporting features such as ROI tracking (including integration with PPC), Affiliate tracking, and reporting on search terms used within the store. Inventory management was also more mature with stock being controlled separately from products, and allocation from warehouses.

That said – the add product screen was delightfully overwhelming. I counted close to 100 fields on one page. Eek! Somewhere along the way, the developers have lost the plot. Even if some of these are optional, somewhere along the way feature bloat hasn’t been cut. Anyway – maybe that’s just me not being a retailer looking in, and it may be the case that these are actually of use in the system. Combine and simplify would be my first instinct.

Setup

Volusion’s signup process was without hiccup, and you are guided through a number of things including optionally adding a product to your store, and a few other options. The free trial I used to review did not require a credit card to get started.

Design

The design options with Volusion are pretty good. It is possible to download an offline copy of the files, work on them locally – then reupload to the backoffice. There’s also a frontoffice “live edit” toolbar which appears letting you make changes in real time when you are logged in.

Whilst the design of your store can be changed, you are required by the terms of service to maintain a link back to Volusion – on all packages. Way to go Volusion, you get the SEO benefits, and your clients are forced to advertise your software.

Ease of Use

The interface in Volusion feels more extensive than some of the other offerings, and it does have a few other features. But that said, they are in some instances, poorly implemented. The product entry screens, as I’ve already stated are cumbersome, lengthy and difficult to understand.

E-commerce features

Bulk data import and export
Live stock status and SmartMatch™ technology
Real time inventory management
Multiple product options
Unlimited photos per product and thumbnail generator
Color swatch functionality
Vendor management
Multiple pricing levels
Built-in sale pricing
Ability to hide products
New products feature
Assign products to multiple categories and subcategories
End date product specification
Enable customers to edit pricing
Specify additional product keywords
Customizable product description fields
Quickly edit orders from “view all” screen
Ability to track order type
Batch order processing
Easy “drag and drop” category management
Advanced related product functionality
Google Base integration with tracking links included*

Full feature listing URL

Payment Gateway Support

Volusion supports a number of payment gateways including SagePay and Authorise.NET. A full list of supported gateways are available via this URL.

Marketing features

Volusion’s marketing features includes a couple of nice extras. Firstly – you can support affiliates, who in many cases will do a better job of marketing your products and site for you – for a cut of the dough. Affiliates are an important part of any e-commerce strategy, and its nice to see management of this built in.

They also offer the usual Coupons / Discounts which can be setup with a variety of parameters. Another welcome feature are ‘MyRewards’ . This is a loyalty building feature that rewards regular customers, giving them the opportunity to trade points for discounts.  In-stock requests also allow your customers to request items that are currently out of stock.

As with the other solutions reviewed here, SEO friendlyness is touted as a feature, however the reality of the situtation is that Volusion’s URL’s aren’t as clean as other solutions out there. Whilst they’ve made efforts to get rid of querystrings, there are still extra directories in the structure of URLS. Numeric category Id’s are used instead of actual category names – this is where they are missing a trick. When product names are used in the URL, it is only partial names, rather than the full name. e.g. Men’s Collegiate Cardigan has a url of col-cardigan.htm instead of mens-collegiate-cardigan.html – the sort of thing that may get long tail traffic benefits.

In any of the templates I noticed, in the source, the main content was further down the page than the menu structure, which isn’t best practise for SEO.

Meta Descriptions and title can be set for the home page, but also filter down to the products! This is SEO suicide as it doesn’t help uniquely identify pages, and may also minimise clickthrough rates from the SERPs to the products. The ideal scenario for all of these, is absolute control of titles and descriptions of all pages and products on your site.

Overview

Volusion somehow feels ‘old school’. Whilst they do have a lot of stuff going on, and alot of features – my initial impression of the company was far removed from young and dynamic – this impression wasn’t helped by seeing the platform runs on ASP (not .NET) – and as such is probably a little old under the hood? Maybe that’s an unfair assumption, after all they have been around for a bit – established in 2004. Feature wise, I’d have no complaints, but with some of the SEO mistakes I’d be less likely to choose them as a provider.

Positives: Good inventory management support / Pitney Bowes Export API / Affiliate support
Negatives: Difficult to use / SEO failings.

Corecommerce

URL: http://www.corecommerce.com

corecommerce review

Corecommerce also offer 5 different tiers of pricing, excluding the cut down version that they use for the trial.

Number of products allowed:

Free trial allows: 20 products
Starter allows: 250 products
Basic allows:  500 products
Standard allows: 1,500
Pro allows: 5,000
Platinum allows: Unlimited

Storage allowed:

Free trial allows: 50MB
Starter allows: 250MB
Basic allows: 325 MB
Standard allows: 500 MB
Pro allows: 1GB
Platinum allows: 2 GB

Setup

The setup process for core commerce was a little more involved than the others, requiring billing information (which was a little weird, considering you DONT need a credit card to get going). They also have missed United Kingdom from their dropdown list, so I’ve just selected Ireland as my Country of origin – which failed. I later discovered they listed United Kingdom as ‘Great Britain’ – which caught me out. Perhaps something to look at folks. Had it not have been for their interactive help, I’d not have got as far as I did in the setup process.

Pricing URL : http://www.corecommerce.com/ecommerce-software-pricing.html

Design

The design of your store can be adjusted via an online web based template editor. This is a little cumbersome, as you are pretty much trialling things out and seeing what happens in real time. The templates are logically broken up as well into headers and footers, some with PHP code still engrained inside them. A nicer approach would have been a downloadable store layout / zip file – that could be worked on offline, and saved back inside the system. As I’ve suggested earlier, it is possible to work out what is being generated in the front end from comparing the output with the backend code and piecing it together. It doesn’t however, make a store designers life easier.Its also not immediately clear where to add images for use in the design and the CSS if you decide to use this customisation feature, I couldn’t find a storage area for this, so I can only assume you have to host them elsewhere and reference them.

There are a number of ready made templates, but some that I tested – were broken in Google Chrome! – showing a bit of a haphazard approach to testing, and leaving a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. No matter, the templates on the whole were professional and served as a good starting point to base a design upon.  A template wizard is available as well which guides you through the process of changing logos etc. if you aren’t the most technical.

Ease of use

The interface was well designed within the CoreCommerce backoffice. It feels solid moving between screens, and they’ve taken care to employ some fancy javascript bits and bobs for popping up information where its needed, and loading information via an AJAX request for a faster, more responsive UI. The only complaint I have is that they really have designed for larger than 1280×800 – which on a laptop screen, is a bit too chunky, and requires use of the scrollbar on some menus. As for adding products themselves, everything is ordered logically – and terms familiar to retailers (such as SKU) are used, so offline retailers moving online will feel right at home. This has been done in such a way that it isn’t too tough to figure out if you are just getting into e-commerce, with help icons close at hand.

E-commerce features

Marketing

Newsletters
Coupons
Site wide Discounts
Product Feeds
Gift Certificates
Email Auto Responders
Affiliate setup support
Gift registry
Reward Points

Other

Phone orders
Tracking Numbers
Subscription Billing

Reporting
Abandoned Carts / Live Carts
Gross Sales
Top Customer Reports
Best Sellers
Order Source Report
Keyword and Search Tracking
Top Added to Cart Items
Affiliate Sales Reports
Inventory / Out of Stock Reporting

Full Feature List

Payment Gateway Support

Supports over 35 Payment Gateways directly and indirectly

Marketing features

CoreCommerce has some welcome additional marketing features, including newsletters, and as with Volusion they also support affiliate marketing. Coupons can be time sensitive, and you can also create site wide discounts (for a weekend offer for example). It would be nice to be able to blanket a discount, without needing a minimum order, or to create a discount for a particular category. Few if any of the solutions reviewed offer this kind of flexibility.

Also included in the marketing features are Google feeds (good to see) – and they also offer tracking of these feeds so you can view how many sales resulted in Google Analytics. Other supported shopping solutions which take a feed of your products are Shopping.com, Price Grabber, Yahoo and Shopzilla.  Another additional bonus – is taking phone orders! Many online solutions focus purely on the people who are able to order online, but in some cases, you get the odd plonker who can’t get through the checkout process for either technical or idiot reasons. This tidies up this problem that crops up from time to time whilst running a store.

From an SEO standpoint, their structure is very good (from an on page perspective). The only thing I would pick holes in, is the javascript that is spat back onpage. Take it to an external file folks, and this will have additional speed benefits, and save Google’s crawlers from having to chew through information that has little to no relevance to your website. This isn’t a mission critical point, and on the whole, I would rate highly their structure and crawlability. They are missing a sitemap export, but the structure of the site should lend itself to getting fully indexed anyway, albeit a little slower without a sitemap.

Overview

Overall, CoreCommerce is missing very few features. I found it easy and logical to use, and the front office provides a great experience for your site visitors. Organic SEO has been catered for, including options for unique meta descriptions and titles on a per product, per category basis. Additional options for marketing your store have been catered for, and I have no hesitatation in recommending the solution. The only thing that perhaps lets it down is the design of your store – but that said, if I’d spent some more time on it, I could cope with its misgivings.

Positives: Good KPI Stats, Affiliate Marketing support, Ease of use for client and customer, Good SEO structure and features.
Negatives: Design tools a little cumbersome. Backoffice not suited to low res monitors.

Highwire

URL: http://www.highwire.com

Pricing Structure:

Unlike some of its competitors, Highwire has been broken down into three main pricing structures, with a developer account which doesn’t support SSL at checkout.  Their pricing is very much designed to encourage the professional package, with the only additional benefit of premier being unlimited products, and unlimited staff logins. If you are a smaller e-commerce shop, 500 products is probably ample to start off with – as the price of stock will probably set you back a bit anyway.

Number of products allowed:

Developer allows: 10 products
Basic allows: 50 products
Professional allows: 500 products
Premier allows: unlimited products

Storage allowed:

Developer allows: 10MB
Basic allows: 10 MB
Professional allows: 5GB
Premier allows: 10GB

Setup

Getting going with Highwire was relatively simple, and from signup to being logged in took a mere 5 minutes. No credit card or billing address were needed in the process, which helped speed things along.

Pricing URL: http://www.highwire.com/pricing/

Design

Highwire offer a number of templates out of the box, but to be honest – I found these a little ‘samey’ – it would have been a nice touch for them to really go to town on these from a design perspective, instead of going down the ‘lets revamp / change colours and call it a new template’ angle. You can however create your own custom store templates, using the existing ones as a starting point.

I managed to break the template editor at time of review, by publishing the store, without having code in the editor. As a result, on my store front office I got to see the inner workings of some of the code, which is written in VB.NET. I know from my own experience that these sorts of unhandled exceptions should simply not happen in production code, and I would question why debug=true has been left on, which impacts performance!  I shouldn’t have been able to publish or preview, without pasting in code. Anyway, I eventually got to grips with it, and the best scenario for designers is to  download the existing templates in zip file format to work on locally, then load up into the editor when you’ve got the design changed. This works quite well once you know what you are doing.

Stock Control

As with some of the other solutions, stock control is determined in one of two ways. You can either manually change stock on a per product basis, or upload a CSV file daily with the changes. The CSV format does have to remain rigid, and if you are planning on integrating any offline shop, you will probably need a programmer to shape this CSV file daily for you.

Ease of Use

The e-store backoffice is particularly nice, with a well crafted layout, and design. I was particularly impressed with the menu, and product entry screens – which are broken down logically into easy to fill in steps. Your customers will love it. I did find the ‘upgrade’ advertisement a bit annoying, but I’m assuming this disappears when you are on an account other than the developer account. On a few occasions clicking on menu options just brought up this sales page, rather than taking me to the option in question.

E-commerce features

Marketing

Discount codes
SEO
Google Merchant Centre
Email Marketing – MadMimi, MailChimp and Campaign Monitor support
Twitter Integration
Wishpot Integration

Reporting

Sales Reporting
Top Customers
Top Products
Top Coupons
Top Searches

Other

Digital Content Delivery (downloadable goods support)

Store protection (password access to storefront)

Full features list URL

Payment Gateway support

Authorise.net
Google Checkout
Paypal
Amazon Payments
ProPay
PayLeap
eWay

Marketing features

Highwire have most of the features you need, and a few extras to boot. It’s nice to see them thinking of email, and wishlist  management, two things which I’d be keen to see integrated fully into the product.  Some of the marketing features are not available on every package, so it makes sense to check the ones you need before you purchase.

Search engine friendly URLs are available, as are 301 redirects for popular pages which get link juice, and then either go out of stock or out of season. Nice to see this attention to detail regarding marketing. There wasn’t however much in the way of content creation to go alongside your products, and if you want to create a blog or additional content to push your products you’ll be left in a scenario where you’ll have to setup a subdomain which isn’t just as great for SEO reasons. They have taken care to provide meta descriptions and titles for categories and individual products however, which is good to see.

Another additional extra is control over the email templates which get sent out. HTML emails are supported, which allows you to customise completely the way the buyer and seller receipt emails.

Overview

Highwire positions itself as a well rounded solution, that would suit a number of different stores. I enjoyed using the software, and found product entry, and configuration options easy to use. No doubt, your own customer base will also find it easy to use. It just feels polished. The only downside I could side was the little blip that I had in the template designer – there’s definitely room to improve the code there guys. A hosted solution I’d expect to be even more bulletproof, as it has to support multiple stores. That said, I can pretty much put the error down to me as a user – (a user idiot error). Still – a bit of javascript validation would have sorted that out.

Storage on some of the smaller packages will probably prove troublesome as time goes on, and it would be nice to be able to use file references from outside of the program.  I can’t however see any of the hosted platforms going for this approach, as it cuts off the opportunity to push for an upgrade as the online business grows.

Positives: Clean interface, ease of use, offline template design suport
Negatives
Online designer code could do with tightening up, not as many gateways supported.

Other alternative hosted e-commerce platforms.

Aside from the products above which are designed to run an online shop for serious retailers, there are also a couple of smaller shopping carts out there which may be of use for those running once off shops, or for hobbyists.

Big Cartel – smaller scale hosted shopping cart

FoxyCart – integrated shopping experience on a site you already run.

Etsy – Joint marketplace suitable for arts and crafts

Let me know if you think there are any useful web based hosted solutions that you think I may have missed.

Filed in: E-commerceReviews
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About the Author ()

Paul is a regular 30 year old web bloke / programmer with a penchant for online marketing. This blog is a personal outlet, with an eclectic mix of articles.

Comments (7)

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  1. great info, maybe U will find interesting you this

    http://www.muncom.com

    regards.

  2. Jo says:

    Hi guys. While the round-up can only feature 5 solutions, here’s another one that’s probably the most user friendly of all options mentioned above: http://www.solidshops.com is focused on web designers and let’s you build a professional store easily. We don’t charge a commission on sales unlike shopify and other competitors in our niche. Check it out if you are looking for a hosted ecommerce solution to build your next small to medium sized store.

  3. Jörg Wagner says:

    And here is the reply from Highwire:

    “We do not have any tools or integrations that allow stores to be translated/displayed in non-English languages. You do have access to the entire template which will allow you to translate your store into another language. The only items that cannot be translated/changed are the checkout pages.

    Without the translating built-in, we do not have any flags in our database where I can pull stores in another language to show you examples.”

    I have also just tested Foxycart. Complete translation is possible through a phrase by phrase translation list in the backend and some major languages can be preselected. When I tried German translation I found some missing phrases (not translated) that could be easily added. Unfortunately the frontend system pages (e.g. cart) still showed some non-translated text elements that obviously escaped the programmer’s attention.

  4. Chris says:

    From experience, I would never sell on Highwire again. Their checkout is delayed and choppy and will not match your template. About all you can do is change checkout backgrounds and colors here and there.

    They integrate with more processors, because they funnel everyone through literally one checkout add on domain. That causes the choppy checkout as the page has to retrieve the CSS file.

    Not only that, but they really have no idea what they will end up charging per month. They’ve changed prices and plans so many times. I think they’ve changed at least 5 times in the last 4 years. That includes current users (which they call Legacy) and new members.

    Highwire’s support is poor in my opinion. Most of those on off hours will either respond with canned responses or forward the issues. They don’t seem to know CSS, HTML or much more than the limited documentation Highwire provides.

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