3366 words|12.9 min read|

Even experienced web developers will readily admit that deploying a full-fledged e-commerce storefront can quickly become a complicated nightmare. Shopping cart solutions like Magento and Prestashop can take weeks of hassle and development time to integrate into an existing website. Oftentimes, it makes a lot more sense to opt for an all-in-one e-commerce solution when putting together an online shop. Comprehensive hosted e-commerce services take a lot of the headache out of the equation, which is why they’re so popular with both amateur developers and professionals alike. Finding the right tool for the job, however, can be daunting.

Choosing a Hosted E-commerce Provider

First off, consider the size of the business that your shopping cart will need to accommodate. You’ll have to base your decision to some degree on the size of your business’s operations. If you don’t expect to grow beyond a certain number of sales per month or support more than a certain number of customers, the issue of scalability factors into the decision less when you’re window shopping for a hosted e-commerce system. If you’ve set your sights on limitless growth, you’ll need a hosted e-commerce program that can grow with your business without any show-stopping hiccups.

Next, you’ll need to think about ease of use and administration on the back end. Not all hosted e-commerce solutions are created equal when it comes to user-friendliness. Even though the entire point of such programs is to facilitate the easiest setup and management possible, no service can make every conceivable tweak a push-button affair. If you’ll need highly customized designs and functionality, think about how expensive it will be to hire a professional to do the work if a plugin or theme isn’t available. Before pulling the trigger on any system, review how flexible it is in terms of design and configuration.

Last but not least, one must consider price and value. This isn’t entirely a cut-and-dry issue based strictly on dollars and cents. What looks like a good deal on paper may not seem like such a bargain further on down the line. Identifying the best bargain for your specific circumstances requires you to carefully research each feature of a number of competing hosted e-commerce platforms and compare their respective pricing structures before taking the plunge. For the first-time entrepreneur or small-scale startup, getting the best deal on a hosted e-commerce platform is the most vital consideration.

While there are dozens of solid shopping cart systems available online, the market is dominated by three highly respected programs. These are Shopify, Volusion and Bigcommerce, each of which brings quite a bit to the table in terms of functionality and value. Each platform has its own strengths and weaknesses, and the right program for your particular situation will depend on the factors alluded to above. The following in-depth analysis should make the decision a little easier. We’ve take the trouble of ranking various aspects of each platform on a scale of 1 to 5 to indicate overall relative quality.

Primary Feature Overview

Shopify

In many ways, Shopify is kind of like the WordPress of hosted e-commerce installations. It’s both feature-rich and incredibly easy to use, allowing merchants to quickly configure their online shops as they see fit. Shopify’s versatile drag-and-drop functionality allows for hassle-free creation of product pages and collections. It can also be used to publish articles and blog posts, making it a full-fledged CMS as well as a shopping cart. Shopify supports payment processing via PayPal, Google Checkout and every major credit cart by default. Thanks to its solid foundation built on the excellent Ruby on Rails framework, it’s responsive, stable and secure all at the same time.

Shopify also makes branding and promotion fairly painless, thanks to its robust SEO tools. Featuring keyword tag suggestion utilities, the expected XML Sitemap engine and a whole lot more, it’s quite adept at getting your online shop found quickly. Additionally, Shopify boasts automated backups, a stellar Content Delivery Network and 128-bit SSL encryption. Regardless of how expansive or complicated your online store happens to be, you won’t have to worry about the integrity of your data with Shopify. Most importantly, Shopify doesn’t rest on its laurels and is constantly rolling out new features like Free Shipping coupons that continue to improve the platform as a whole.
Score: 4

Volusion

As with the other web-based e-commerce platforms detailed here, Volusion abstracts away the back-end code and makes site administration about as easy as can be. Written in ASP.NET, Volusion is a Windows-based e-commerce system that’s simultaneously powerful and user-friendly. Its one-page checkout format is the stuff of legends. Like Shopify, Volusion offers SSL certificates and payment processing. It’s 100 percent PCI compliant, boasts unlimited product listings and is backed by a hardy CDN running on the Akamai network that ensures reliable shopping cart performance under any circumstances.

Volusion places an emphasis on presentation, delivering a superlative end user experience that leads to higher conversions than many competing shopping cart platforms. Thanks to the vZoom image resizing feature, potential customers who are browsing your inventory can get an up-close look at your products. It also boasts built-in product comparison for easier shopping and decision making. Volusion comes equipped with intelligent inventory tracking via their SmartMatch technology. Other notable bonuses include advanced analytics and ROI tracking as well as affiliate program management tools. Furthermore, theme layouts are optimized by default for mobile devices, and Volusion includes plenty of SEO tools for achieving high SERPs rankings.
Score: 4

BigCommerce

Written in PHP, BigCommerce should prove to be quite easy to use for those who are familiar with the LAMP stack. Users can edit HTML and CSS on the fly to change the look of their online store. Additionally, BigCommerce gives clients more than 100 different theme layouts to choose from. The included drag and drop functionality makes the design process uncomplicated and seamless, and their live demo page is a terrific source of creative inspiration. BigCommerce automatically creates product photo galleries and allows administrators to automate email marketing. Furthermore, comprehensive mobile support allows your shop to render perfectly on iPad tablets and Android phones.

As its name implies, BigCommerce takes a “batteries included” approach to shopping cart design and implementation. It can handle everything from drop shipping with Ordoro to inventory and warehouse tracking thanks to Shipwire integration. The platform saves Abandoned Cart information in the event that a customer doesn’t finish a transaction, which helps to substantially increase conversions and sales. With support for multiple currencies and numerous payment options, BigCommerce is a truly global shopping cart platform. The impressive default SEO capabilities of BigCommerce make website optimization truly effortless.
Score: 5

Ease of Installation & Setup

Shopify

When it comes to ease of installation, it’s hard to argue that Shopify is anything other than the most ridiculously simple service to set up. Even the most novice of webmasters can have a shop up and running in under 15 minutes. Once you launch the installation wizard, you’re greeted with a quick seven-step tutorial that gives you a rundown of the basics as well as tips on how to customize your site to your liking. As a hosted, cloud-based cart, you don’t have to worry about setting up SSL certificates, hosting the installation yourself or dealing with back-end code and databases.
Score: 5

Volusion

In the setup and configuration department, Volusion is every bit as intuitive and easy to use as Shopify. To get started, just select a domain name, select a service plan and go through the self-guided installation process. Volusion takes care of all the details for you, making the installation p