If you want to sell products on the internet, an ecommerce service will allow you to get your products online quickly and without the need to download or install any software. This single package will give you all the functions you need to build an online shop. You just have to add the items you want to sell.
Ecommerce services comparison chart for 2017
Ecommerce services explained
It can be expensive and costly to develop your own ecommerce website from scratch. That’s why it’s usually better to use an online ecommerce system.
Most ecommerce services are easy to use. If you’re not comfortable working with website code (like HTML and CSS), you can choose a standard template for your shop and customize it with text and images. Focus on getting your products and marketing right, without worrying about web development hassles.
If you want more flexibility, most ecommerce services do let you edit the HTML and CSS that makes up your website – giving you complete freedom over how your shop looks and behaves. You can change the design and layout, alter fonts and colors – and generally customize every aspect to your requirements.
It’s worth noting that you may not need a separate ecommerce service if you plan to sell through online marketplaces like eBay. These provide limited ecommerce functions for you - although you usually have to pay a big commission on sales.
Ecommerce software extras
In addition to a business idea (of course!) and an ecommerce service, you may need some other things to set up your online shop.
You might need separate web hosting in order to publish your online shop on the internet. Although most ecommerce services include hosting, some require you to buy it separately.
You might also need a domain name (like www.yourshopname.com) so people can find your shop. These cost from £5 a year.
Whether you’re starting a new business, expanding your existing company online – or simply looking to earn some extra cash, an ecommerce service is a powerful, easy way to start selling from a website.
To find the right ecommerce service, consider these key areas.
Ecommerce service capacity
Some ecommerce services limit how many products you can offer. Make sure there is capacity for your entire range - both now and in the future. Also check that you can list as many product features and upload as many product images as you need.
Design and customization
Most ecommerce services offer templates for the design of your online shop. Check their quality by previewing before you buy the service.
Also check how much you can customize the design. Can you add a logo? Are you able to change the color scheme and reposition design elements? Does the service let you edit the HTML and CSS elements that make up your online shop?
Pick an ecommerce service which offers a range of payment methods, so your customers can choose the one they prefer. These should include credit and debit cards, plus PayPal and other online payment services like Google Checkout.
Do you want to sell to people abroad or offer different shipping options? If so, you may need a service that can process different currencies and charge different amounts for postage.
Stock control and management
Many ecommerce services have built in stock control, allowing you to display stock levels on your website. Check how it tracks stock. If you sell through other channels – like on the phone or through a High Street shop – can the service still adjust stock levels accurately?
Most ecommerce services include marketing features, like a customer database which keeps a record of people who’ve bought from you, so you can track and contact them. You can send out promotional emails with an email marketing tool.
Cross promotion features automatically suggest other products which go with what a customer is viewing. You may also wish to consider marketplace integration. This helps you reach a wider audience by showing your products on marketplace websites like eBay.
Security and reliability
If your online shop goes offline, it can cost you money. So carefully check what level of protection is included with your ecommerce service. If it includes hosting, look for a service level agreement guaranteeing at least 99.99% availability.
You need to protect your customers too. Every online shop should use an SSL certificate to encrypt sensitive information (like a customer’s address and credit card details) before it’s sent across the internet.
Ease of use
If you have never built an online shop, it’s important your ecommerce service is easy to use. The only reliable way to assess this is to get opinions from people who’ve already used it, or to try the service during a trial or money back guarantee period.
Help and support
Make sure your ecommerce service has comprehensive help files and a support website to search if you encounter problems. More expensive services may include telephone support– or you may be able to add it as an extra.
Here are our answers to the most common questions about ecommerce services.
Q. What is an ecommerce service?
A. An ecommerce service gives you the tools you need to build an online shop. It’s a single online service incorporating product catalogue, shopping basket and payment functions, so you can start selling your products on the internet.
Q. Do I need an ecommerce service?
A. For most people, an ecommerce service is the most practical way to create an online shop. It gives you the framework you need to start selling online.
However, ecommerce services do have some limitations. The number of products you can sell may be restricted. You may also be required to choose the look and feel of your shop from a set of standard templates.
If you want complete flexibility, you can consider a custom-built shop instead. However, because these require significant investment, most new and small businesses are better off using an ecommerce service – at least to begin with.
Q. How much technical knowledge do I need to use an ecommerce service?
A. It depends on the ecommerce service you choose. Some packages are very straightforward. Others take longer to learn, but have more sophisticated functions.
Q. How long does it take to set up a basic online shop?
A. You should be able to get a basic shop up and running within half an hour. However, you can also spend much longer creating your shop.
Deciding what pages you need, tweaking the design, adding your products, setting up your checkout options and testing everything thoroughly involves a significant amount of work.
Q. Will my ecommerce service include everything I need to start trading online?
Most include everything you need, but some require you to buy separate web hosting (web space for your online shop) and a domain name (like www.yourshop.com).
Q. Can ecommerce services help potential customers find my shop online?
A. Yes. Most ecommerce services include marketing functions to promote your site to new and current customers. These may include search engine optimization tools (to help your shop appear in search engine results), email newsletter services (to send out promotional emails) and more.
Q. How do I keep my online shop secure?
A. Operating a secure online shop reassures your customers that their details are safe and helps protect you from hackers and fraud. All ecommerce services should include an SSL certificate, to encrypt any sensitive data you store and use - like customer names and addresses.
Some ecommerce services also monitor for transactions that may be fraudulent, flagging up unusual sales in case someone is trying to commit fraud on your site.
You should also back up your online shop data, in case it gets deleted or damaged. Some ecommerce services packages include an automatic backup service – others will require you to perform manual backups.
Q. How do I accept payments from customers through my online shop?
A. Your ecommerce service should include the facility to take payment online. This usually covers several payment methods, including: debit and credit cards, PayPal, and other online payment services.
Most ecommerce services process payments on your behalf, helping you avoid the hassle of applying for a merchant account from a bank.
Even though ecommerce services are the easiest way to create an online shop, they can still be a jargon-heavy area. Here’s our guide to the key terms.
A marketing tool used by many online retailers. Running an affiliate program encourages websites to link to your online shop, because you pay a commission each time a website generates a sale for you.
Measures how much information is transferred to and from your online shop. Some ecommerce services include unlimited bandwidth as standard. Others restrict how much you can use each month. The busier your shop, the more bandwidth you’ll use. Bandwidth is managed as part of your web hosting. If your ecommerce service requires separate web hosting, it’s your hosting company that will manage your bandwidth.
A website address or URL (uniform resource locator). Having your own domain name, like www.yourshopname.com, helps visitors find and remember your online shop.
A website which offers products from lots of different retailers. Popular marketplaces include eBay and Amazon. Offering your products through a well-known marketplace reassures customers that your online shop is genuine.
Ecommerce websites have a shopping cart function. As customers find things they want to buy, they can add them to their cart. Once they have everything they need, they can checkout and pay for everything at once.
Ready-to-go designs for your ecommerce website which have a professional look and feel. Using templates means you don’t have to design your site from scratch – you can choose a template you like and then customize it. Templates also make it easy to change the design of your site. Just switch templates for a new look.
Search engine optimization (SEO)
The process of tweaking your ecommerce site so that it appears higher up the results in search engines like Google. Search engine optimization is a complex process involving a large number of factors. Some ecommerce services include settings to improve your website’s search engine optimization.
SSL stands for secure sockets layer. An SSL certificate uses strong encryption to scramble data, protecting it when it’s stored and sent. As a minimum, all ecommerce services should protect your customers’ payment details using an SSL certificate.
Space online where you can put your shop for the world to see. All ecommerce services require some kind of web hosting. Most come with it included – for others, you’ll have to buy separate web hosting, from a web hosting company.
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