Tools For Building Your Online Store
As mentioned earlier, I have stuck with major software and online service vendors when it comes to setting up my online stores. I have found that both Yahoo and GoDaddy.com provide extremely robust online store hosting packages. Considering all of the innovations Google has brought to the Web, it is surprising to me that they haven't created their own web-store hosting package to compete with Yahoo and GoDaddy.com. However, Google does offer some incredible free tools that help support your store once it is deployed. We'll discuss those tools in an upcoming section.
Easy to Use Software for the Do-It-Yourself Web Store Owner
Yahoo's online store hosting package is called "Merchant Solutions". And, GoDaddy's equivalent offering is "Quick Shopping Cart". Basically, these products are toolkits with which you can design, construct, deploy, and maintain your online store. First of all, either package allows you to design a nice look and feel to your website store. Second, they both make it fairly easy to add products to sell on your site. And third, they both provide the basic shopping cart and online check-out infrastructure that we've all used at some point when buying products online. Either Yahoo's "Merchant Solutions" or GoDaddy.com's "Quick Shopping Cart" is literally all you need to get your online store up and running.
Yahoo's Merchant Solutions and GoDaddy's Quick Shopping Cart are both products that I like and that continue to serve me well. But, they have nuances about them that cause me to choose one over the other depending on the specifics of the particular store that I am launching. This is where I hope I can help fast-track you a bit based upon what I've experienced with these two competing online store hosting packages. If you carefully consider the following "pros and cons" commentary, you'll increase your chances of selecting the right hosting package to suit your specific needs.
Comparing and Contrasting Pricing
You can expect to spend anywhere from $9.99 per month to $49.99 per month for online store hosting services from Yahoo or GoDaddy. The difference being whether you will be selling 20 products, 100 products, or greater than 100 products. I should clarify that it is GoDaddy that offers the different pricing levels based upon your number of products. Yahoo has a simplified pricing structure in that it costs $39.95 per month for up to 50,000 products. I do urge you, however, to read on because Yahoo Merchant Solutions and GoDaddy Quick Shopping Cart have many differences between them that I think greatly outweighs any pricing differentials.
On top of your hosting package monthly cost, plan on spending a minimum of $17 per month, plus approximately 3% of your sales revenues, for an "online merchant account" that basically allows your site to process credit card transactions. More specifically, an online merchant account allows your site to handle credit card transactions in the same manner as you've experienced with any major online store you've ever shopped at. Note that if you go the online merchant account route with GoDaddy, they require you to also purchase an annual "SSL Certificate" (digital security certificate) for $26.99.
Q: Should I use PayPal? A: Perhaps initially, just to get started inexpensively.
There is in fact a less expensive way to accept credit card transactions at your online store, namely, PayPal. However, it is my opinion that PayPal has a bit of a stigma to it that will in the long run stifle the success of your online store. I think PayPal works perfectly when buying or selling items on eBay. In fact, PayPal works so well with eBay that it is generally perceived as a payment processing mechanism for individuals who have an occasional item to sell online... It is not thought of as a transaction mechanism for a standalone, professional-grade online store. Again, I actually like PayPal. But, I never use it with my online stores because I know that some potential customers will view my store in a different light if they were to see that my site utilizes a PayPal back-end for payment processing. This is especially the case for my online stores that sell more costly, higher-end products.
The other side to this PayPal vs. online merchant account debate is that there might not be any harm in getting your store off the ground using PayPal and somewhat "kicking the tires" for awhile to test your store's potential. Then, once you have proven that your store is viable, you can shoulder the extra cost to pay for a full merchant account. Both Yahoo Merchant Solutions and GoDaddy Quick Shopping Cart integrate seamlessly with either a full online merchant account or a PayPal account. If you go the route of the online merchant account, both Yahoo and GoDaddy help you apply for your merchant account directly through Merchant Solutions or Quick Shopping Cart.
Do Your Products Have Many Variations?
A key aspect to consider when deciding between using Yahoo or GoDaddy for your online store hosting is how many variations of a given product you will sell. For example, one of my oldest sites is an online retailer of clothing. And, for that particular business, I carry several different colors choices for many of the shirts and sweatshirts. I initially started the store with GoDaddy's Quick Shopping Cart. But then I soon discovered that there are some product variation constraints in the GoDaddy package. Quick Shopping Cart would not allow me to customize the product color choice list to the extent that I needed. For illustration, I carry a particular women's t-shirt that comes in "moss green" and "lime green". The problem was that GoDaddy's Quick Shopping Cart would only let me list "green" as a color choice. By contrast, Yahoo's Merchant Solutions package allows for the full customization of product variations. So, I could literally list as many special color variations as I needed.
Will Your Store Depend Upon Search Engine Traffic?
When choosing your online store host, it is important to gauge how important search engine-originated traffic will be to your store's success. A lot of people may view the previous sentence as somewhat strange. But, I assure you that there are many types of businesses that do not rely on search engine traffic for viability. I have a friend who sells a very localized product from her web-store. There really isn't anyone outside of her small Midwest town that will ever take an interest in what she has to sell. So, nearly 100% of her online store sales are generated by word of mouth and local newspaper advertising. She has just a handful of different products to sell and uses Quick Shopping Cart to her satisfaction.
However, unlike my friend in the Midwest, if your store will rely on search engine traffic, I highly recommend that you go with Yahoo's Merchant Solutions product. In the world of online sales, there is a practice referred to as "search engine optimization", or simply, "SEO". This is a relatively advanced aspect of eCommerce and there are many high-dollar SEO consultants out there who can help tweak and tune your site in ways that will get you better placement in search engine results. Or, you can do a lot of site optimization on your own by reading any one of the many great books available on the topic. What's important for you to know at this juncture is that you will be quite limited in your future search engine optimization efforts if you go with GoDaddy's Quick Shopping Cart. It simply does not allow you to fine-tune your site configuration details to the extent that Yahoo's Merchant Solutions package provides. This is a must-have for those who want to apply optimization techniques to their online store at some point. But again, for some types of stores, search engine traffic is irrelevant and so this might be a moot point for some people.
Start Your Store Off Simple. But, Plan for Future Enhancements.
Take a moment to consider whether you will ever want to use Adobe Flash animation on your homepage. For those of you who don't know what Flash is, take a quick look at any major website... For example, go to MSN, Yahoo, Bloomberg, ESPN, or whatever other site you prefer. If you see any type of movement, animation, or video on the page, there is a high likelihood that it is Adobe Flash running in the background. The key thing for you to recognize is that though both Yahoo Merchant Solutions and GoDaddy Quick Shopping Cart are supportive of Flash programming, you are able to place much larger Flash animation pieces on a Yahoo online storefront than you can on a GoDaddy store.
Customer Support from Yahoo and GoDaddy
To wrap up this discussion on identifying the right host for your online store, I would like to talk a bit about my customer support experiences with Yahoo and GoDaddy. I have found that both companies provide you with ample free access to live technical support personnel. And, the support is very good from the technicians at either company. From my experience, it is only at the very advanced levels of site customization help that you may find the Yahoo Merchant Solutions technicians to be more sophisticated and generous with their time.
In closure, I think that as long as you consider the different factors I've detailed above, you'll end up selecting the right hosting package for your needs. As you've seen, I've spent a lot of time explaining the differences between Yahoo Merchant Solutions and GoDaddy Quick Shopping Cart. But, I won't be going into the exact detailed instructions of working within either product. The reason for this is that both Yahoo and GoDaddy have already invested a lot of time and energy creating instructions on how to use their products. So, I thought that my time and energy would be most useful in helping you understand the differences and pros and cons of these two fine online store packages.
Read The Full Details From Yahoo and GoDaddy
To supplement the product comparision I've provided above, you should review the details directly from Yahoo and GoDaddy about their respective products. Both companies show a few examples of actual stores people have built with either Merchant Solutions or Quick Shopping Cart.
Yahoo: Merchant Solutions
GoDaddy's Quick Shopping Cart
In the next segment, I will give you some tips on how to make your store look like a professional built it: Build an online store like a pro.