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article imageOp-Ed: 5 best off-the-shelf website solutions for small business

By Nicole Weddington     Dec 19, 2014 in Technology
When the time comes for your small business to make the jump to internet sales you will need a web store to simplify and secure transactions.
Looking at the extensive list of software and solutions for your web store needs can be a daunting prospect.
Primary considerations when it comes to choice of the software should be:
• Capabilities
• Price
• Support
• Expandability and add-ons
Balancing these factors is the most difficult part of choosing the software that is right for you. Of the software reviewed, the following five made our best list:
Shopify is probably the best all-around web store building software available. The company has over 100,000 customers and it is the gold standard by which web store software is judged. Plans range in price from $14 per month and there are no setup or transaction fees. They also advertise 24/7 support for their products and back that support up by helping you create a free site for your business.
The company has a vast range of apps that can be added to your storefront, for a fee, to make the shopping experience easier and more convenient for your customers. There are numerous themes that you can use right out of the box, or you can create your own to make your store unique.
Magento CE
Magento is one of the most recognized names in online shopping carts. The company offers two products. Magento CE (community editor) is a free, open-source shopping cart while the Enterprise Edition is for larger scale retailers.
Magento has been downloaded and used by over 150,000 customers since the company was created in 2007, but the CE version is designed for technically capable customers. With that caveat aside, however, Magento CE is a highly capable ecommerce solution that, once it is up and running, can fill whatever need you have for it. There are multiple themes available and Magento offers tons of third-party add-ons to customize your ecommerce site.
The software integrates with other payment processors, such as PayPal, and 2Checkout, to collect moneys for sales. This limits your ability to offer store credit or gift cards.
There is no official customer service offered for Magento CE customers.
PrestaShop is another open source shopping cart. This means that, as with Magento CE, you will need to find someone to install and maintain your ecommerce site. You will also have to supply your own hosting, unlike Shopify, which will cost money. Although the software is free, once you start building your ecommerce site it can quickly become more expensive.
PrestaShop has a steep learning curve for your tech people and admins. Creating and running the ecommerce site can be time-consuming and technically challenging at times. It does come with an impressive pack of built in features that can help you maintain and optimize your shopping cart, but expect to pay a lot for integration features for PayPal, Amazon or to connect to social media sites like Facebook. Third party payment processing is also your responsibility.
PrestaShop does have an active community support group and a customer and technical support service. Many of the questions you might have could be answered through a forum search, though.
The first thing to note is that WooCommerce is a shopping cart plug-in. It is not an ecommerce platform. The only way you can use it is if you have a WordPress website. Since WordPress is becoming a hugely popular content management system there have been over 2.3 million downloads of WooCommerce since 2011.
If you already have a WordPress site adding WooCommerce would be worth it, if you are building from a different platform, however, transferring to WordPress might not be.
WooCommerce is free, but, again the caveat follows that you already have to have a webhost established for use for it. This makes it harder to judge how cost effective it is when Shopify, for example, has the webhosting costs built in.
Setting up WooCommerce is easy to do. It requires no programming knowledge and is simply a plug in for your word press site. Running the store is also simple. The interface is intuitive and modern in design which makes it easy to keep up with changes and additions.
There are a lot of themes and templates available for WooCommerce, but they are open source and do require some knowledge of coding to use. WooCommerce also does not offer the range of apps and market tracking software that are available for other ecommerce platforms. For small scale operations, this is fine, but larger markets will want more demographic information gathering abilities.
Bigcommerce currently powers over 55,000 different online stores and has processed over $4 billion worth of transactions. It offers you a comprehensive set of tools out of the box that are included in their monthly package. Bigcommerce isn’t free, but it also handles all of your payment information and hosting responsibilities for you.
Bigcommerce is fully integrated with Facebook, eBay, Google Shopping and many other ecommerce sites. This integration allows you to jump into ecommerce without finding technical assistance in setting up your site.
The add-ons, although they aren’t free, can be a great help in tracking sales and personalizing the information gained from your ecommerce site.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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