Got a great idea, service or product? Building a quality web store could help you sell it to the masses, and it's easier than you think.
Even basic website hosting plans will often include core e-commerce functionality: templates for web stores, PayPal integration, easy installs for popular shopping carts.
Ramping up to specialist e-commerce plans will get you powerful product catalogues, stock inventory and other business management tools, and support for more payment methods.
While these products can be packed with features, even the high-end e-commerce plans are designed to be simple to use. Choose a layout, fill in forms to build your product catalogue and your store will start to take shape. There's still work to do – opening an account to take credit card payments, perhaps – but even web store novices will be able to figure it out as they go along.
Prices are low, too, with one decent starter plan giving you three years hosting for £1.50 ($2.10) a month, or a total of £54 ($76) plus tax. If you're wondering about e-commerce but not quite sure whether it's right for you, this gives you a cheap and easy way to test your ideas.
Whether you're a total e-commerce newbie or you're already running a busy web store, we've found five excellent hosting plans that could take your selling to the next level.
If you're new to web selling, building your first store can seem complex and intimidating, but it doesn't always have to be that way.
Website builder Wix comes with some gorgeous store templates which can be freely customized via its excellent editor. Site design takes a far more visual approach than most of the competition, so for example you can see designs and layouts before you drag them onto the page. Choose your preferred option and it's displayed with dummy product images, instantly giving you an idea of how the finished store will look.
There's plenty of power here. Products can be physical or digital, they may be illustrated with images or videos, assigned custom options (colors, size), promoted with coupons, and you can set up your own shipping and tax rules to cope with tricky situations.
Wix supports a wide range of payment methods. Exactly what's on offer depends on your location, but when we tested the service from the UK we were offered Square, Stripe, Moolah, Worldpay, Wirecard and PayPal.
Whatever your choice, you'll pay the provider only: Wix doesn't charge any transaction fees.
Your finished store still won't have as many features as the top e-commerce providers, but Wix is easy-to-use, the $16.50 (£12.50) a month price is fair, and it's a smart way for newbies to dip their toes in the web store waters.
Getting your first web store up and running is often an expensive business. Many providers offer little or no e-commerce functionality in their starter plans, and you'll often have to fork out for a high-end specialist plan before you can do anything useful.
iPage is a rare exception where even the most basic hosting plan gives you more than enough to get started.
A template-based website builder and free web store make it easy to design your shop, for instance. There's PayPal support for taking payments. You also get integration with your choice of shopping cart (AgoraCart, OpenCart, OSCommerce, PrestaShop, TomatoCart, Zen Cart), a free domain for the first year, and 24/7 phone (toll-free in the US and UK) and chat support to handle any urgent problems that might crop up.
There are limits, too. The website builder only supports a maximum of six pages, for instance, and many customers will expect to be able to pay by credit card as well as PayPal. (You can do that, but you'll need to sort it out yourself.)
Still, the introductory price is very low at $1.99 (£1.50) a month for up to 36 months, $7.99 (£6) on renewal. It could be worth buying just as a learning environment to experiment with the technology and see what you can do. And if you do go online, you shouldn't have to sell many products to make your hosting fees back.
While many web hosts go to huge efforts to highlight e-commerce abilities, others barely mention them at all. SiteGround is a great example: there's no big "build your web store here" headline, and yet when you look at the details, even its most basic shared hosting plan has a lot of e-commerce power.
A Weebly-based website builder is available to create your store, for instance. HTTP/2 enabled servers and Cloudflare CDN integration boost speeds, reducing the chance that customers will abandon the site. And when it's time to buy, free Let's Encrypt SSL certificates will give your customers confidence that their payment details are secure.
SiteGround plans include the Softaculous installer, which enables speedy setup of big-name shopping cart and e-commerce tools including PrestaShop, WooCommerce and Magento.
At the time of writing, the company quotes 99.996% uptime for the last 12 months, good news when you're running something as important as a web store. Although if you do hit trouble, 24/7 support and automatic daily backups should help you quickly recover the situation.
The baseline Startup plan gives you all this for $3.95 (£3) a month for the initial term, rising to $11.95 (£9) on renewal. It has some limits – 10GB web space, a suggested maximum of 10,000 visits a month, support for hosting one website only – but these won't be an issue for many smaller stores, and there are more powerful plans available if you need them.
1&1 IONOS eCommerce Website Builder is a powerful tool which combines simple template-based web store design with professional features and functionality.
High quality design templates help you get up to speed quickly. There aren't many, but they look good, and can easily be customized to suit your needs.
1&1 IONOS's baseline Essential account is a little underpowered, considering its price – $14 (£9.99) a month. You get support for unlimited items and there's an SSL certificate thrown in, but payment methods are limited to PayPal Express Checkout, invoice and direct debit, and shipping support is self-organized only.
The range improves significantly with the Business plan priced at $28 (£19.99) a month. This adds seven further payment methods, including credit cards, Amazon Pay and Stripe. There's optional integration with the excellent Shippo multi-carrier shipping system, and support for connecting your store to comparison sites including Idealo, Google Shopping and Shopping.com.
The Pro plan takes your store to the next level by allowing you to sell on eBay and Amazon Marketplace. It's an unusual and welcome extra, but the price is relatively high at $42 (£29.99) a month.
Starter e-commerce hosting plans can do a lot for a very low price, but you'll often pay in terms of service quality. Websites based on shared hosting may be slow, or fail entirely, and support is often limited. This might not matter for tiny web stores, but if you're running a big business, it could be a major issue.
Liquid Web's hosted WooCommerce plans are far more expensive, with prices starting at $249 (or £179) a month (at the moment of writing, you can get 28% off for the first two months), but it's easy to see why: they trample all over the underpowered baseline efforts of the competition. There is also a beginner plan for $39 a month ($28.08 a month for the first two months) which isn't as powerful, but worth checking out if you need a more "lightweight" option.
Wide product support covers physical goods, digital downloads, virtual products (like online courses), for instance. There are no limits on the number of products you can sell, and you have many powerful ways to present them. The site doesn't just allow customers to choose product variations from a list, for example (color, size, design) – you can show them photos which match their selections.
Store management tools are just as flexible. You can define your own custom order statuses and workflows, automatically offer customers related products, set promotions, create coupons, accept product reviews, manage inventory and more.
Professional design features include hundreds of responsive themes and a drag-and-drop page builder for editing.
Your site is hosted on scalable containers. These are isolated environments which aren't shared with other users, improving reliability. Even better, they don't limit you to some preset amount of system resources. The platform can detect when you're busy and dynamically add RAM and CPU cores as required.
Premium touches include performance testing and a staging area to test site features before going live. Jilt's abandoned shopping cart recovery may help you regain lost customers, and support for Glew's analytics will deliver valuable information about your customers and orders.
For busy stores, perhaps most important of all is Liquid Web's excellent support. The company isn't just available 24/7/365 to respond to problems: it monitors stores, often detecting and fixing hosting-related issues before you even realize anything is wrong.
Put it all together and this is one very impressive range, with more than enough power to run the busiest of web stores. Go take a look.
The importance of getting the best ecommerce web hosting
Today, e-commerce has become a massively lucrative channel for retailers. However, the quality of the hosting services that many small businesses are using often leaves a lot to be desired. A recent report showed that one in three Britons have abandoned their online transactions because of poor website design and inefficient hosting.
Research from hosting company 1&1's '2011 Digital High Street Audit' finds worryingly low levels of consumer satisfaction with the small business websites available to them. The risk to firms from providing a bad online experience is clear – 49% of consumers believe that a bad website makes a worse impact than a business having no website at all. This conclusion has led 37% to walk-away from companies completely, in favour of using a competitor. An additional 9% of Britons have found themselves reducing their spend with small companies as a direct result of being deterred by a poor company website.
Oliver Mauss, CEO, 1&1 Internet said: "Research shows that keeping an ugly or badly functioning website online can comprise a risk to sales revenue. Consumers have ever higher expectations, and it is essential that every company website inspires confidence. Businesses that invest carefully in their web experience will see higher levels of customer spend, retention and referral".
You might also want to check out our other website hosting buying guides:
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- Small business
- Email hosting
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