There are many ways to setup an e-commerce website. Each platform has it’s pros, cons and cost for a web design company like AshWebStudio to setup for you. We have used many, many different platforms in our time and have narrowed them down to a select few which seems to work best for our clients.

Hosted Solutions and Why We Love Them

As we complete more and more projects, we are finding ourselves recommending “hosted” solutions to our clients. This means that the developers of the software host everything and we are not responsible for installing or configuring anything on your web hosting server. The main benefits of using a hosted solution are that we charge a lot less (because there is a lot less work and headache for us) and software maintenance (upgrades) happen automatically from their developers.

With non-hosted solutions like what we call “traditional” e-commerce software, your website is a unique installation of the software and every time there are new features, security upgrades, etc, you are responsible for doing the upgrades. Of course, we are always here to help do the upgrades for you but we do charge you our hourly rate to do so. With a typical upgrade taking about 6 hours to properly complete, this can become a costly process over time.

Hosted solutions typically have a monthly fee associated with them, however the money not spent on having a web developer always performing upgrades and the hassle-free process of getting new features is well worth it. The monthly fees also cover what you would be paying for web hosting and SSL certificates anyway.

E-commerce Options

PayPal has two levels: Standard and Pro.  Their Standard program is used for those “Buy Now” buttons you may see on some websites. Typically this is used for sites which are selling just a few simple products from their website. It allows people to quickly and easily start selling products online.

It is a common belief that users are required to have a PayPal account in order to submit payment – this is not true. You can accept payments from users’ PayPal accounts or they can enter their credit card information. You don’t need any additional merchant accounts as PayPal essentially acts as your merchant account. They offer fairly competitive transaction fees (2.9% + $0.30) for small monthly sales accounts.

With PayPal, you are responsible for setting up your HTML pages and placing the code provided by PayPal to make the Buy Now buttons. We typically use PayPal Buy Now buttons for clients who have a website where the main focus is not e-commerce but instead happen to have a couple items they want to sell.

During the checkout process, users are taken to the PayPal website to submit their personal and payment information. The only customization provided for these pages is the ability to add a logo to the top.

Example PayPal websites: Salmon Paws and InkBusters

FoxyCart is a hosted shopping cart and checkout system. It is more advanced than PayPal Buy Now buttons, but not to the level of a full e-commerce solution like Shopify or “Traditional” e-commerce software. What does this mean? With FoxyCart you can create similar Buy Now buttons like you do with PayPal, but the checkout system is much more advanced. We can customize most of the look of the checkout page to match your website which helps with the conversion rate.

FoxyCart has advanced features which allow you to have coupon codes, quantity discounts, downloadable products, live shipping rates and more.

We like to combine FoxyCart with WordPress where WordPress manages all the product information, photos, pricing and more and FoxyCart handles the checkout process.

Example FoxyCart websites: The Great Remember and Gold Maps Online

Shopify is a hosted platform built for simple e-commerce which we have found to be a great match for many of our clients starting their first e-commerce store (old review, updated review coming shortly!). We like Shopify because of it’s simplicity and we pass that on to our clients with a significantly lower price tag to custom design and build an e-commerce store with Shopify compared to “traditional” e-commerce. I want to emphasize the “simple” part in regards to Shopify. Although it is a complete e-commerce store system, it does not have many built in features such as user accounts, product reviews, related products, etc. that some stores really want. However, there are additional modules available from their App Store which can extend the functionality of Shopify. Many of those Apps come at an additional monthly fee though.

Example Shopify websites: Stringbean Company and Happily Ever Annie

“Traditional” E-commerce Platforms

Although we love hosted platforms, we also know that they are not right for everyone. When we say “Traditional” e-commerce platform, we mean an e-commerce software package (open source or paid) which is downloaded and installed on a web server. With this kind of software, you typically get many more features and many more headaches based on our experience. Because e-commerce is such a complicated thing, we have actually ruled out all open-source platforms as they are typically either not built well (OSCommerce), very unorganized and difficult to use (ZenCart) or don’t offer quality support (Magento) for something as important as e-commerce.

Because there is a lot more work involved in creating a website with “traditional” e-commerce software, we charge a much higher price tag. Why is it more complicated? One major difference is the server setup with an SSL certificate and software setup which is required. Not terribly time consuming, but still important steps which require experience and need to be done properly so there are not technical issues in the future. However, the real difference is in the design integration. Because there are typically more features available with this type of e-commerce platform, there are also many, many more template files. Shopify has less than 10 template files where as most “traditional” platforms can easily have up to 100. This makes integrating a design much more difficult and time consuming.

Breadkdown Table

This is by no means a comprehensive table, but it’s a starting point in learning the difference between the various options discussed here.

PayPal Basic FoxyCart Shopify “Traditional” E-commerce Software
Checkout Process PayPal Website FoxyCart Website Shopify Website Own website
Checkout Customization Logo graphic Header/Footer to match website Logo & Colors to match website Full customization
Monthly Pricing None $19/mo $24.95+/mo None
Transaction Fees
(this does not include your merchant account fees)
None None 1-2% for basic plans None
Cost for AWS to setup
(scale of 1-10)
1 6 (when integrated with WordPress) 5 10
Discount Codes No Yes Yes, but need mid level plan Yes
Hosted Solution Yes Yes Yes No
Live shipping rates from UPS, USPS, etc. No Yes Yes, but need mid level plan Yes
Stock Levels No No Yes Yes
QuickBooks Export Not very good No Additional Module Additional Module
Search Engine Optimized N/A Yes, when integrated with WordPress Mostly Yes
Technical Support Poor Great Great Good
Downloadable Products Additional Module Yes Additional Module Yes