Would like your recommendations on eCommerce packages

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Hello,

We are starting a new eCommerce business. I have decades of programming experience in general, but none in eCommerce.

We have webpages under development. So far, I am developing them. They are written in html5 and css3 using bootstrap and use web responsive design (reshape to any size/orientation device) and are loosely based on the Snow web template. We are happy with the webpages.

We will offer very few products to start with. The product set is not fully defined, but for now, think coffee (it's not, though). So the potential customer arrives at our website (based on our successful marketing using social media and more--this is an associate's responsibility). The customer can packs of coffee in three flavors. If they buy just one pack, they will pay shipping. If they buy three packs, they get another pack free (and they can mix and match), and they get free shipping. They pay with a credit card, Paypal or other option. They can also use a gift card that was bought on our site.

Before or during checkout, the customer can make an account (or not). With an account, obviously some/most of their information is saved, but also we want them to be able to "subscribe" to a recurring purchase, say weekly or monthly.

We will need to access the customer lists--those with accounts, actual customers, subscription customers--and be able to automatically offer them discounts or coupons based on various factors, like holidays or their birthday. And of course be able to communicate the discounts through email or other social media.

Sales will begin in the US only, but eventually include Europe, then possibly Asia.

And we are just a start-up, so we want all of this for very little cost per month. Not much to ask, right?

So... what eCommerce package can provide all of this?

I am very new to this, and what has caught my eye so far is Magento, Shopify and BigCommerce. My first impression is that Magento is a little harder to implement, Shopify requires WordPress (which we aren't using but could add, I guess) and BigCommerce may be too much to start with. But we want a solution that can grow and grow with us.

So please share you experiences and knowledge; it will be greatly appreciated!

Also... hosting. I'm not trying to clutter this thread--I would think someone out there would host and manage eCommerce together, but maybe not.

We want to go VPS right away. IO Zoom, FastComet and LiquidWeb have caught my eye. Thoughts?

Thank you in advance.
#ecommerce #hosting #packages #recommendations #subscriptions
  • Profile picture of the author scronch
    Follow-up: I'm continuing looking into this and am leaning toward OpenCart. From what I've read:

    Magento -- requires a pretty big hosting footprint, and takes a fair amount of effort to set up?

    Shopify -- can get expensive as you add products or add-ons?

    osCommerce -- outdated? apparently development stopped for awhile

    BigCommerce -- seems too big and complicated?

    WooCommerce -- for WordPress, which we're not using

    SimpleCart -- this was sooo tempting, but lacked some functionality we want, and has the javascript security risk that hackers can change the price of products (per their own website)


    As for OpenCart, it's open source, has a lot of functionality out of the box, has lots of add-ins, and this was important to me: I can isolate OpenCart in it's own folder and use our html/css landing page, which directs users to the store through links.

    I would love to hear anyone's thoughts or comments. Thanks.
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  • Profile picture of the author dave_hermansen
    You can definitely add 3DCart to the list. It is hosted and for a site selling 200 products or less, the entire package will run you $19.99/month including hosting. I'm pretty sure that everything on your list is included and that you will not need to purchase any additional plug-ins.

    The only thing that might be a snag is the birthday. That is not part of any customer information form I have ever seen on any shopping cart platform, and I've worked with more than a dozen.

    Please keep in mind that when you deal with non-hosted solutions like OpenCart, you often run into to some PCI compliance problems and have to continually update it with security patches and expect the 3rd party plugins to be broken until they re-work their programs to correspond with the security patches to OpenCart (if they still are in business). You don't have to worry about PCI compliance or security updates with hosted solutions. You won't have any of the broken plug-in problems, either.

    Oh, and Shopify definitely DOES NOT require WordPres.
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  • Profile picture of the author scronch
    You're right, of course--I mixed up Shopify and WooCommerce in my 1st post... see, no experience in eCommerce!

    Ah, so there are people hosting and managing eCommerce together--the hosted solutions you mention. Very good. I agree that makes total sense.

    I looked at the plans on the 3dcart page, and the first thing that caught my eye was a quota of 4,000 monthly visitors for the lowest plan. That sounds really low; no? Then it's up to $66/mo or more, which may not be that bad. I'm reading about "10 of the Best Hosted Ecommerce Platforms"... this shouldn't be so difficult...

    Thank you for replying. I appreciate the advice and help.
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    • Profile picture of the author dave_hermansen
      Originally Posted by scronch View Post

      You're right, of course--I mixed up Shopify and WooCommerce in my 1st post... see, no experience in eCommerce!

      Ah, so there are people hosting and managing eCommerce together--the hosted solutions you mention. Very good. I agree that makes total sense.

      I looked at the plans on the 3dcart page, and the first thing that caught my eye was a quota of 4,000 monthly visitors for the lowest plan. That sounds really low; no? Then it's up to $66/mo or more, which may not be that bad. I'm reading about "10 of the Best Hosted Ecommerce Platforms"... this shouldn't be so difficult...

      Thank you for replying. I appreciate the advice and help.
      Keep in mind that at the very beginning, you are not going to instantly have thousands of visitors per day. It's only $5/GB for overages and you can always upgrade to a bigger plan as traffic grows. This is a far better way of charging people than what BigCommerce does. They force you to buy super expensive plans based upon the gross dollar volume of your sales. We had sites that went from $65.99/month to $999 per month because we were making too much money and they felt they deserved a piece of it.

      No shopping cart, hosted or otherwise is perfect. Some work better for one business but not so well for others. Some, like 3DCart, include a myriad of plugins at no extra cost that other companies charge you extra monthly fees for. The best thing to do is to give several a free test drive to see if they meet your needs and what costs there will be (if any) to add the plugins that you need. Then, you can decide if the unlimited bandwidth is really worth the monthly fee, including the fees for all plugins you may need.
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  • Profile picture of the author Oseana
    For reliable E-commerce VPS solutions Scopehosts.com is one of the best choice. Their SSD VPS plans are meant for such needs. you can get more features along with plan.
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  • Profile picture of the author scronch
    Thanks for the reply, Oseana. I went and took a look at Scopehosts.com. They look good as a VPS host, but as I learn more about all of this I'm leaning strongly toward a hosted eCommerce solution. I just don't think I'll have the time to maintain the installation, and I'm more of a mathematician and engineer than a programmer.
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  • Profile picture of the author scronch
    Dave, the 3dcart $5/GB does seem very reasonable for overages. I've read on their forums that some users can't figure out why their bandwidth usage is so high, but they seem to work through it by serving high-res photos from somewhere else or maybe in other ways.

    Speaking of the 3dcart forums, has anyone used them? I posted several questions to their "Pre-Sale Questions" forum (where you're allowed to post as a guest), and have yet to see my questions even appear, much less be answered. It's been a few days now.

    I asked them (and I'm curious to know how other packages handle these):

    1. Can the free trial be used and then the subscription turned off for months until the business is ready to go?

    2. Where is the website development work done, without going live? (I assume on some sub-domain of 3dcart that the user would have to login to?)

    3. Mix n match freebie... what packages can do this: Three products A, B, C, all cost the same. If you buy any three together (like 2A+1C, or 1A+1B+1C, or 3C), then you get another one free (choose A, B or C). And then if you add another one or two, you have to add a total of three to get another free one (so not just a percentage discount after a certain price). Honestly, it's harder to explain than use... I've purchased things at various sites with much more complicated shopping cart discounts.

    Thanks to all in advance for withstanding my noobness and for any thoughts you'd like to add.
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    • Profile picture of the author dave_hermansen
      Originally Posted by scronch View Post

      Dave, the 3dcart $5/GB does seem very reasonable for overages. I've read on their forums that some users can't figure out why their bandwidth usage is so high, but they seem to work through it by serving high-res photos from somewhere else or maybe in other ways.

      Speaking of the 3dcart forums, has anyone used them? I posted several questions to their "Pre-Sale Questions" forum (where you're allowed to post as a guest), and have yet to see my questions even appear, much less be answered. It's been a few days now.

      I asked them (and I'm curious to know how other packages handle these):

      1. Can the free trial be used and then the subscription turned off for months until the business is ready to go?

      2. Where is the website development work done, without going live? (I assume on some sub-domain of 3dcart that the user would have to login to?)

      3. Mix n match freebie... what packages can do this: Three products A, B, C, all cost the same. If you buy any three together (like 2A+1C, or 1A+1B+1C, or 3C), then you get another one free (choose A, B or C). And then if you add another one or two, you have to add a total of three to get another free one (so not just a percentage discount after a certain price). Honestly, it's harder to explain than use... I've purchased things at various sites with much more complicated shopping cart discounts.

      Thanks to all in advance for withstanding my noobness and for any thoughts you'd like to add.
      I'll give all of these a shot ...

      1) As with any shopping cart solution, your store gets wiped out when your free trial ends. If you want to pick it up again in a few months, I'd suggest copying any CSS or core template files you changed along with your product database and any articles you may have written. Then, it's simply a matter of overwriting the pre-instlled ones with the ones you saved.

      2) Website development for free trials is done on a subdomain with all hosted carts - 12345678.3dcart.com. 1234567.bigcommerce.com, etc. When you switch to a paid plan, that is all automatically switched over to the domain name you have purchased there or somewhere else after you point your DNS to the shopping cart's nameservers.

      3) I doubt any out of the box software solution can calculate anything as complicated as the if/then/if/then/if/then scenarios you describe. Most of the sites that offer that kind of functionality are proprietary and may cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars to have a web developer create. That's where hiring programmers comes into play for individual things you need tweaked in an existing platform. The out of the box promotions shopping carts provide are things like offering free shipping if X amount is ordered, buy X get another X (or Y) free and buy 2, 3 4 ... of anything in this list of products, get X amount/percentage off.

      The easiest thing to do is to do a search for the shopping cart name along with what you are trying to do in order to see what is possible. That will lead you to knowledgebase articles. For instance, searching for "3DCart product discount" leads to SERP results that talk about how to set up individual product bulk discounts as well as how to add promotions. That will show you what is possible. You can do this type of search to see what any shopping cart can do.
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  • Profile picture of the author scronch
    Thanks for the replies, Dave.

    1) Store wiped out when free trial ends--ok, that makes sense.I'm still getting some of the product info web pages ready at this point. I'm doing as much "development" outside the cart service.

    Question -- Would/could the product info pages be separate (outside) the cart service, and then go to the cart service when the user goes to order? We have very few products. Or do the info pages just get "put into" the package. These are html5 css3 using bootstrap for responsiveness. There's a php contact form I may have to ditch. I guess this question is two-pronged, first to avoid any limitations the cart environment might put on the product pages, and second to lighten bandwidth with a content server if and when that ever became an issue (it shouldn't with our few products).

    2) The subdomain makes sense.

    Question -- When you're up and running, do you still have the subdomain copy to try out changes? And how do you try out the checkout process... does it fake going to the merchant account?

    3) I did some more of the google searches you suggested, and lo and behold, I actually found the hardest one was hiding in 3dcart's forum (didn't find it there before) -- they can do a Buy 3 get 1 free promotion. You actually create multiple promotions... buy 3-5 get one free, buy 6-8 get two free, and so forth... I'm ok with that, I just wanted to know they could do it! And found the free shipping--by item, coupon or order value. Sweet!

    Not ready to dive into the free trial yet. I need a period when my workload lightens a bit. Soon, I hope.

    Another maybe dumb question--I assume these companies don't gain any ownership of the pages used in a free trial if you don't buy as the trial ends. I wouldn't think so, but my associates would be very unhappy.

    It probably sounds like I'm overthinking a lot of this, but seriously, I've read a *lot* of forum posts about companies having to change cart services after so many years, and they are horror stories.

    Thanks.
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  • Profile picture of the author Oziboomer
    If you are still open to building a solution yourself rather than using something hosted then OpenCart is pretty solid.

    Some of the things you want to do can be achieved though adding some modules from the better opencart partners like the guys at isenselabs or Clear Thinking.

    Search out the modules in the opencart marketplace to see what these guys do.

    Things like the NitroPack from isenselabs along with many of their other really useful mods boosted our results with the Opencart sites we run and we do automated follow-ups, reviews, auto coupon generation etc. - page speed is very important -

    As Dave mentioned sometimes upgrading can be painful but that is only when you add modifications from less reliable mod sellers.

    PCI compliance is not that hard to deal with if you have SSL and use one or more of the supported payment gateways. They already have 36 integrated and many others you can also download from the marketplace.

    You can play with Opencart all you like and run it in a virtual environment until you are happy then go live when you are happy. . . not trying to rush through it in 30 days. - but again note the advice in past posts about backing up CSS and core files etc.

    Probably the best advice is don't procrastinate.

    Even if you set something up that is less than ideal you can always start selling and upgrade or develop along the way.

    Nothing you ever do will be a finished site.

    It will always need some work done over time so don't waste too much time getting things going because you are yet to find the *best* solution.

    Best regards,

    Ozi
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