Testing 3 Hosted Shopping Carts
I recently stumbled on an article published in 2009 about hosted shopping carts, which made me wonder how today’s option compare.
Of the 10 companies listed, one has grown very significantly since then: Shopify. Yahoo, via Yahoo Small Business, is the second provider who is still doing really well, so let’s throw them in the mix as well. And to see how they keep up against any newcomers, let bring in the new and hot kid on the block: Magento Go, launched in 2011 and the hosted version of the Magento ecommerce platform.
In this article, I will compare the features of these three products, identifying significant pros and cons in each case. Tomorrow, I’ll cover setting each one up, how they deal with mobile and pricing.
What about self-hosting? I’ll cover that in a separate article next week. First, let’s look at the hosted options’ features.
At first glance, all hosted shopping carts may look the same. They can all process orders and keep track of inventory. But if that’s all there was to it, they would only be competing on price. There must be more to it than that.
I made a list of significant pros and cons for each provider. Some features are more important if you are a developer and not the end user, and vice versa. Where applicable, I will make note of this.
Let’s start off with Shopify, which has come a long way since it was listed in 2009. Shopify relies heavily on independent developers to improve their product, while maintaining the platform itself. It’s not so much just a shopping cart, more of a whole e-commerce infrastructure where both end-users and developers benefit. And before you think I get paid by Shopify for writing this, let me explain:
- Templates & plugins: with their own Theme store and App store, customers can choose from 150+ templates and hundreds of apps.
- Shopify Experts: Grouped by their expertise, Experts are experienced developers who can help a customer with their Shopify shop.
- Developer friendly: Guess who makes the themes? And the apps? And who do you think the Experts are? Right, you are (or at least you cán be ;-). There’s even a fund to get you paid while developing an app. And if you want to connect with a current app (with a RESTful API), you can build a special dev shop to test it out. And they promote you heavily. They really love developers, see what I mean?
- Hosting with CDN: While hosting certainly isn’t a specific feature (how else would you sell hosted shopping carts?), hooking it up to a CDN sure is.
- Mobile: Your visitors can see a optizimed mobile version of your site, and you can control your shop on your mobile.
- Themes: Being able to buy themes is great, but you practically have to. The free templates are scarce, and some of them look very much alike. The cheapest are $80, and this goes up to $180. Paying for a theme isn’t a bad thing, but given the fact you already need a paid subscription, one could expect more and better free themes. On the higher plans you are able to modify the HTML/CSS. You can build and upload your own theme, but developing from scratch can become really time consuming.
- Number of products: Shopify offers the least number of products you can list in your shop, compared to their monthly pricing. Also, not all of their features are available in their cheapest package.
- Built in functionality: Shopify relies a lot on their app system to add additional functionality, like upselling. The cost of this is that it’s rather basic when you first start.
Yahoo Small Business
Also known as Yahoo Store (which originated from Viaweb), Yahoo Small Business is the most “traditional” shopping cart of them all. But being in business since 1995 means they have seen it all, and they offer a huge amount of features to satisfy all sort of customers and developers. Features are clearly based on experience, and customer feedback.
- Integration: You probably won’t find a payment, shipping or inventory solution you can’t connect with – they even have cash on delivery. And if you do find one, there’s an API.
- Coupons: A great way to generate sales, and available on every plan.
- Number of products: 50,000 products allowed, right from their starter plan.
- Developer network: Just like Shopify, Yahoo doeslike to work with developers. But you have to do a bit of searching (hint: ysbdevelopers).
- No plugins or fancy themes: You build your store with a design wizard, or pre-made (pretty ugly) templates. And there aren’t any plug-and-play plugins available. This does, however, provide an opportunity if you’re a developer, since a customer will more likely turn to you for extended functionality (remember the APIs).
- Feature availability: Features like upsell, cross sell and gift certificates are great to have, but only available in the more expensive plans.
Magento Go is the hosted version of the popular Magento eCommerce software, hosted by the developers of Magento themselves. One of the main reasons for using Magento Go instead of hosting it yourself, is it can be a real beast to host. You need a better than average server/VPS to host it, and it needs daily cleanup to keep it running smooth. It isn’t just a hosted version of their free community edition, they actually added some useful features to justify the price.
- Feature set: All of the offered features are available on every plan. And within their feature list you’ll find coupons, gift cards, wish lists, cross- and upsells and related products. To name a few. And to top it off, you can expand your shop with plugins (or extensions as they call them).
- Speed: They know how to host it, which means they can deliver a fast site without modifications of plugins needed. And they offer you a CDN.
- A developer’s new best friend: Magento Go is a developer’s dream come true, since it offers lots of opportunities for you to step in. You don’t have to worry about the hosting, so you can focus on stuff like design (you can add your own CSS and scripts), SEO (more options than an average business user can cope) and consulting (how to set it up and actually use all the features).
- Feature set: Magento isn’t the easiest store to set up, and it takes a steep learning curve before being able to use all its features. It can be very overwhelming.
- Themes and plugins: You can only select the themes and plugins which are provided on the Magento Go platform itself. Unlike the self-hosted version (Magento Community Edition), you can’t use the full range of available themes and plugins. Especially with themes this means you have a limited amount of free themes.
- Number or products: You can offer a few more products in the starter plan than Shopify, but with 100 products it’s still not that much.
So, now we have an overview of the features offered by Shopify, Yahoo Small Business and Magento Go. They have much in common, but also have significant differences to each other.
Some of these differences will become more apparent as we go through the set-up process, look at how they handle mobile and discuss pricing options. That’s tomorrow’s article.