There are many solutions out there for designing and publishing websites. Our website builder reviews will focus on ecommerce specific websites. If you’re looking for reviews on informational type of websites then stay tuned as we may add this type of review in the future.
Ecommerce websites can be built in a number of ways. The two primary methods are using free software and paid ecommerce hosting services. Now please don’t immediately jump to the free solution because well, it’s free. You can end up with more on your plate than you can handle. Free ecommerce solutions usually require much more web programming experience and limited support outlets should you need it.
OSCommerce is probably the best known and widely used of the free, open sourced ecommerce website builders. It has several years of development and a loyal following of webmasters. Since OSCommerce is widely used and accepted, you can find many web hosting providers that have some install support to upload the software and get your basic site established.
Once installed, OSCommerce has a web-based admin console where you manage everything in your online store from template design, shipping and tax configuration, product creation and payment processing information.
The included design templates are very basic and won’t win you any awards for style and design. This is where some good web programming skills will come into play to make your ecommerce storefront really shine. Knowledge of CSS, java scripting and Flash will be highly valued in the design process.
OSCommerce does come in a variety of flavors. There are other platforms based on the OSCommerce model. Some are more user friendly then others and provide more support and options. CRE Loaded and Zen Cart are two of the better known clones of OSCommerce. We happen to prefer Zen Cart because it’s much more user friendly while keeping with many of the positives of the open sourced platform of its predecessor, OSCommerce.
To summarize, OSCommerce and its spin offs, Zen Cart and CRE Loaded, are open source, have endless possibilities in design and function, but also require much more time and effort with a higher technical skill level to truly master.
Our next stop in our ecommerce website builder review is on the opposite spectrum of free solutions; of course that would be paid ecommerce hosting services. Sometimes you get what you pay for. In the case of website builders this holds true. With OSCommerce you get the software for free but you’re left to your own devices when it comes to ongoing design and support.
In contrast, ecommerce website builders involve a monthly cost, but much of the design and backend processes are already built for you. Now as a result of pre-built templates and site components, you will have less customization opportunities. For most beginner to intermediate store owners, this won’t be a problem. Many of the default templates of service providers are usually pretty good as is.
When looking for the best shopping cart for your online business, price is only one factor to consider. Look for ecommerce website builders that provide robust support channels and an active forum. Forums are very helpful because they are filled with experts and regular users all sharing information and helping one another out. When forum support isn’t answering your questions, knowing you have a dedicated technical support staff to hold your hand when needed is comforting. You don’t think about how valuable this is until your site crashes and you’re losing money every minute that passes by.
Another thing to look for in an ecommerce website builder are the options that they offer at the various monthly price points. Some attract you with a low base monthly hosting rate, but then you quickly realize if you want any useful features, like the ability to offer your customers discount codes, they make you upgrade to more expensive plans. The best services will offer most selling tools at all price plans and only charge more based on the number of products you sell or the bandwidth that you use. This isn’t really a problem because businesses just starting out won’t receive a lot of traffic or have a large product offering right away.
For a paid ecommerce website builder we highly recommend the Big Commerce hosting service. You receive great technical support, feature-rich selling tools and reasonable price plans. They were voted as the best ecommerce platform recently and continue to grow their market share every quarter. Read more about Big Commerce in the posts above and take advantage of a free 15 day trial to take their service for a test drive. We personally use this webstore builder for our own online business.