If you have been researching how to setup an online shop, you will find that there are many different options available, however typically these fall into two categories:
1) You can have a completely custom website solution built - this could range anything from approx £5-£30k+ plus hosting, security & maintenance costs.
2) You can use a 3rd-party all in one hosted cart solution - this is much cheaper to setup with prices ranging from approx £500-£6,000
The look/design aspect is not a factor in the different options because both can be made to look how you want. The main differences between the options is the amount and type of functions you get for your money, practicality, location/ownerships of files, responsibility of updates, backup & security and the scope for further advanced development.
In order to help you make your decision, we have listed below some useful information along with the main pros and cons to each solution:
What is a Hosted Cart?
A hosted shopping cart is an ecommerce cart website and payment processing solution that is hosted, controlled, and maintained by a 3rd-party provider. Hosted cart providers usually charge monthly or annual subscription fees for use of their system and support services. This means you can setup an online shop for your products without any technical knowledge. In fact all you would need to do is add your products, input your company information and payment details, and optionally choose a site design. Also most hosted cart companies provide extensive user instructions and free support to guide you through the whole process.
Using a hosted cart is a little bit like paying a rental fee to use a global online e-commerce system, but having the option to customise and design the system the way you want i.e. like the way people customise their social media account profiles etc. Hosted carts are a very quick and cost effective online shop solution.
ADVANTAGES of using a Hosted Cart
1. Create an online shop in minutes
You really can create an online shop in minutes (if you are happy to use the standard site design templates offered by the hosted cart provider). This way you avoid the time required for a developer to build a custom solution, however this way the site design would not be personal to you and your brand. Alternatively you can pay a hosted cart design and development expert (like us) for a custom design and/or extra features to be created within the hosted cart system but this would take slightly longer.
2. Low upfront costs - usually from as little as £5 per month.
The initial capital outlay required to setup a hosted cart website is very small, usually you just need to sign up for the first month to get started and there are not normally any minimum contract periods or cancellation fees. Even if you want a custom website design or you want to add on some more advanced features, the price would normally only be in the region of £300 to £6000, whereas for a completely custom built website you would be looking more in the £5-£30k+ price range. This provides the opportunity to make a start with an online business with much less risk and initial investment, leaving more budget for key activities such as marketing and promotion.
Also, as a hosted shopping cart is an all in one solution, you will avoid the costs of web hosting, hiring a developer, an SSL certificate, backups and the myriads of other custom built website associated fees, which add up quickly and can become very expensive.
3. No Security Worries & Limited Liability for Fraud
Using a hosted shopping cart, the security is handled by the 3rd party company that manages your cart so they are fully responsible and have to make sure that customer data is not stolen and that your online shop is secure and hacker proof.
4. Regular Updates and Fixes
As the web is always changing, hosted cart providers often constantly improve and update their features and systems to stay ahead of the competition. In addition they keep things moving with the web so there is no need to worry about updated browsers, new vulnerabilities and hackers as this is all taken care of for you. The leading hosted cart companies have a massive team behind them so can keep everything regularly maintained, all included within your set plan fees.
DISADVANTAGES of using a Hosted Cart
Hosted carts are a great solution for many, however we have listed a few reasons why they sometimes may not be suitable:
1. Customisation Limitations
There are some limitations to how much hosted carts can be customised, however with the fast progression of the 2 leading hosted cart providers (Big Commerce & Shopify), there is now not much that cannot be changed, so unless you want something extremely unique and specific, this is not actually a major disadvantage. It is important to note however that if you do require some bespoke design or functionality development, this would need to be carried out by an experienced hosted cart developer (like us) and would incur additional costs, however these would be considerably less than developing a custom built website.
2. Long Term Costs
Getting started with a hosted cart is very affordable, especially if you are using the standard design templates and functions, however in some cases, the long term costs could exceed that of a custom solution.
Hosted carts charge monthly or annual fees for use of their system, and these typically increase with the amount of products you offer and the amount of functions you require. Some hosted cart providers also charge transaction fees on every sale you make, however there are many that do not, so it is important to research options to see which solution caters for your specific needs best.
For example, if you would be requiring a dedicated server for high traffic on your custom built website, these can range from £50 to £300+ per month and this is much more than a hosted carts plan fees. If however you were on a really high plan because of the amount of products and/or advanced features you need and you did not receive a lot of traffic, then long term the costs would rack up - if this was the case though you would have to question if there was much point continuing with the online shop business at all.
3. Store is Subject to All Global Changes
As you do not own the hosted cart website software and are simply paying for using it, you have no control over what the hosted cart provider does to the cart. If the company decides to modify default functions of the cart in any way, then your store would also be changed. In most cases, this does not present a problem as hosted cart companies do not want to lose customers so they are unlikely to implement any changes that are not advantageous and are unlikely to make any major updates without prior notice.
Overall, hosted carts are a great solution for people that have a tight deadline, a small budget, or for those that just do not want the hassle of maintaining a custom built website. The 2 leading hosted cart providers Big Commerce & Shopify have come a long way and now allow more or less full access to all the website files so developers are able to highly customise the system to work and look how you want. Visually there is no difference in design quality as you will see if you look through the masses of company websites using the hosted carts.
Custom built sites are still great solutions for those that have very specific requirements or for those that plan to add very advanced functionality in future as they enable full control and customisation, however this all does come at a price and the maintenance and upkeep can be an unnecessary headache and add up to quite a bit.
In conclusion, it is probably always a sensible idea to at least start off on a hosted cart platform, especially if you are creating a website for a new online business, because the initial capital outlay is significantly less, meaning less risk and that you can get the high quality look and features that would come with a custom built website at a tiny fraction of the price.
Hosted Cart Providers:
We have listed below the most popular and reliable hosted carts on the market at the moment:
Big Commerce - Extremely flexible allowing advanced custom features
Shopify - Extremely flexible allowing advanced custom features, however small transaction fees are charged on some plans
Create - Basic low cost cart, great if you have simple requirements and a small budget
Please remember that hosted carts are not our products. As such we would not be able to recommend which hosted cart would be best for you. We simply share this information to be helpful, so you are aware of other affordable options.
This way you can compare and make an informed decision on which hosted cart is most suitable for your business.
Once you decide if/which hosted cart you like, we would then be able to assist you with the setup process by providing services to custom design your e-commerce hosted cart site to look how you want and by developing any extra features you may require. We can also offer assistance in other areas like page/category/product entry if required.
If you wanted to explore a hosted cart solution we suggest you:
Create free trials on each to test the functions and admin system
Compare pricing, functions & type of support provided
Look at the existing sites built (please remember that we would be customising your site to look exactly how you want so even though you look at examples sites, this should not really be a big factor in your decision making process)
Hosted Cart Comparison and Information Articles:
Websites we built using hosted carts
Using a hosted cart, you would definitely be able to get selling online fast and we could help you through the whole process.
Please contact us as we would be happy to talk through e-commerce options in more detail so you can decide which solution is best for your project.
Hosted Cart Ecommerce Site Guideline Prices
As every project is unique, prices can vary tremendously. As a guideline our hosted cart website design and development services usually range anything from £500 to £20,000 depending on the size, content, functions and if a custom design theme is required. In order to provide an accurate quotation please get in touch so we can discuss your requirements in more detail.