Choosing a Hosted E-Commerce Solution — Pt. 2

By Sean Michael Kerner | Posted August 30, 2005

Let's get rrrrrrready to rumblllllllllle! This is it, the main event you've been waiting for. You've read the pre-amble in part one about what's important when choosing a hosted e-commerce solution, and now you're ready for the payoff. It's time to lay it on the line and see how the leading hosting-company-based e-commerce solutions stack up, dollars and cents versus megabytes and gigabytes.

The Plans
W typically looked at the "best" offering from each vendor. By and large, though, each vendor has at least three different plans, each with its own pricing and features. Disk space and monthly traffic are two of the obvious key differentiators between each level of plans. Each increase service plan comes with increased costs.

The higher space/bandwidth plans tend to offer additional features and functionality to make the higher priced offers even more attractive, such that you may want to go for a higher-priced package just for the additional features even though you may not actually need the greater disk space/traffic.

Both Go Daddy and 1&1 Internet offer the lowest entry price point for hosted e-commerce at $9.99 a month (paid on a monthly basis), for 50 MB of disk space. Though the two plans offer the same amount of disk space, GoDaddy limits you to a 20-item catalogue while 1&1 Internet provides a 50-item catalog. GoDaddy's Economy plan includes easy-to-use, integrated UPS and USPS shipping calculators. 1&1's Business eShop, as tested and reviewed, does not. GoDaddy offers 13 design templates as compared to 1&1 Internet, which has at least 38 design templates.

Mid-tier pricing plans begin at $24.95 with Hostway's Gold plan at 600 MB of disk space. Unfortunately, the superior Miva shopping cart is not included in this level of Hostway plan — you'll have to move up to the Gold Plus plan at $34.95 plan to get that (and a total of 800 MB of disk space).

GoDaddy's mid-tier offering "Deluxe" Quick Shopping comes in at $29.95 and offers 1 GB of hosting space — though you're limited to a 100 product catalogue. 1&1 Internet's Professional eShop is also priced at $29.99, providing only 300 MB, but it offers a 200-item catalog.

Interland's mid-tier product, the Online Marketing Suite, is priced at $39.95 and offers 350 MB of disk space, but offers an unlimited catalog. It does not, however, include the Miva shopping cart engine — you'll have to move up to the next level to get that.

The top consumer tier is where the real magic happens. Hostway, 1&1 Internet and GoDaddy all have plans priced at $49.99, though they vary wildly in terms of features and functionality. Interland's Online Catalog Suite, at $69.95, is a step above in terms of price and robust marketing features as well.

GoDaddy, as reviewed, offers a solid easy-to-use hosted e-commerce solution, but is severely lacking in the template category.

Both Hostway and Interland offer Miva Merchant as shopping cart options (which we strongly recommend). So, for arguments sake, let's call the shopping cart comparison between those two even. Hostway offers 1.2 GB of disk space, while Interland offers only 350 MB. Interland, however, also includes a Gift Certificate Manager, a Web Coupon Manager, as well as the Constant Contact E-mail marketing program, search engine submission, eBay and Amazon connectors. However, Interland costs $20 a month more.

Hostway* Gold Gold Plus Platinum Websuccess Platinum Plus Websuccess Diamond
Cost per month $24.95 $34.95 $49.95 $64.95 $94.95
Disk Space 600MB 800MB 1.2 GB 2 GB 3 GB
Monthly Traffic 50GB 100GB Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited
POP3/SMTP Account(s) 25 60 200 300 400

Interland* Online Basics Online Marketing Suite Online Catalogue Suite
Cost per month Doesn't include a shopping cart $39.95 $69.95
Disk Space 350MB 350MB
Monthly Traffic Unlimited Unlimited
E-mail accounts 50 50

GoDaddy Quick Shopping Cart* Economy Deluxe Premium
Cost $9.95 $29.95 $49.95
Disk Space 50 MB 1 GB 2 GB
Monthly Traffic 1 GB 50 GB 100 GB
E-mail accounts None Included None Included None Included

1&1 Internet eShops* Business Professional Developer
Cost $9.99 $29.99 $49.99
Disk Space 50 MB 300 MB 1.2 GB
Monthly Traffic 10 GB 30 GB 60 GB
E-mail accounts 5 10 20

*cost on monthly basis

So, Whom Do You Choose?
We found features that we liked and didn't like in each of these hosted e-commerce solutions. In Part 1 of How to Choose, we identified full wizard setup, templates, catalog import/export features, additional marketing, payment, shipping and analytics as six key items that a hosted e-commerce solution should have. None of the four solutions that we tested dominated the others and not one of the solutions was the best in each of the six must-have categories.

Interland's top solution offers a strong set of all of these items, and we found it offered the best set of additional marketing related features. That said, Hostway's Platinum plan is also an excellent solution. Also, since our initial review, Hostway has dramatically improved its Hostway Merchant Manager application. GoDaddy and 1&1 Internet also both offer solutions that have their respective merits that some people will likely prefer, and the lower and mid-tier options are priced more attractively.

The reality is that each of the hosting companies continually upgrades its feature sets and likely adjusts its plans, storage and pricing as well. So, though we've endeavored to be as accurate as possible, things change and they change fast. So be sure to look at each vendor's site for the most updated info.

Every vendor claims their solution is the best, and each solution is easy to use, but that's not necessarily the case for each and every person. What works for one merchant may not necessarily be the right solution for every merchant; everyone has his or her specific pain points.

The right choice is really all about what you, the e-commerce merchant, need. Take the advice we offered in Part 1 to heart when trying and evaluating an offer and match that against your storage needs and pricing threshold. It's quite likely the right choice will become clear after you do that. If it doesn't (for whatever reason) remember you could always buy a standalone e-commerce shopping cart and host it yourself. P>

Resources:
Review: Interland's Online Catalog Suite
Review: 1&1's eShop Robust, But Not for Newbies
Review: Hostway's E-Commerce Hosting
Review: GoDaddy.com Quick Shopping Cart

Vendor Links:
Interland
1&1 Internet
Hostway
GoDaddy

Adapted from ECommerce-Guide.com, part of Internet.com's Small Business Channel.

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