Building an E-Commerce Site for Under $1,000

Small-business entrepreneurs looking to make a splash on the Web need not drown in massive site construction costs. According to experts, there are many ways to keep the tab low. And if site builders are willing to start out with a no-frills approach, they can keep costs below US$1,000.

“If you’re looking to build a site for under $1,000, you’re not going to get the most whiz-bang technology,” Giga Information Group analyst Steve Telleen told the E-Commerce Times. “You’re basically just looking to get your product out there.”

Do-It-Yourself Route

“Your best bet is to pick those sites and products that provide some basic templates for different types of businesses,” Telleen said.

Site templates are included with the publishing software of several manufacturers. Microsoft Publisher, for example, costs about US$129, and competing programs are similarly priced.

Experts say these Web publishing programs offer tools that let businesses create professional-looking sites from the start. They can be adapted to almost any type of business and also can be set up to include pictorial catalogs and basic e-mail functions.

Katie Jordan, a senior product manager at Microsoft, told the E-Commerce Times that about 40 percent of Publisher users are businesses employing between one and four people. Companies that employ between five and 250 employees constitute another 33 percent of the application’s users.

Heavy Lifting

Technology has reached a point at which it is fairly easy for Web neophytes to create a functional, visually appealing site. And for small businesses looking for more complex e-commerce features, plenty of service providers are standing by, ready to do the heavy lifting for a price.

Out of the many online services designed to serve small businesses, Telleen pointed to those run by two Internet heavyweights: Yahoo! Small Business and Microsoft’s bCentral.

For a monthly fee, these sites offer various service packages, including mailing, order tracking, billing, transaction tools and marketing assistance.

A Yahoo! spokesperson said the portal site currently has about 2,000 customers using its small-business services.

Mix-and-Match Services

Prices for business hosting at Yahoo! range from $9.95 per month for a service with five e-mail accounts, a Geocities Web site and access to site monitoring services to $49.95 per month for full e-commerce hosting.

Yahoo! also charges a fee of 10 cents per item listed, a 0.5 percent transaction fee and a 3.5 percent revenue share for items sold through the Yahoo! network.

Depending on services desired, small-business users of bCentral will pay about $200 per year for commerce functions and another $200 annually for general Web hosting services. Microsoft charges a onetime setup fee of $35.

Marcus Schmidt, a Microsoft product manager for bCentral, told the E-Commerce Times that the $200 annual cost covers a wide range of commerce services, including shopping cart functions, product management and an interactive catalog. The bCentral site also has arrangements in place to offer discount prices on the services of card processing and billing service providers, such as Card Service International and PayPal.

One-Stop Approach

“Overall, it has been set up to be a one-stop location for the merchant to offer the various services,” Schmidt said of bCentral.

He added that Microsoft also has arrangements with auction sites like EBay and Ubid in which bCentral users can get exposure to those sites’ marketing and transaction services.

Experts noted, however, that building a Web site is only the start of the small-business adventure, so entrepreneurs must keep future operating costs in mind.

Web startups also need to consider issues like hosting fees, domain name licensing and directory services, they said, not to mention costs for services like shipping and advertising in other media.

Just a Start

“Setting up the site isn’t the end of the story,” GartnerG2 analyst David Schehr told the E-Commerce Times.

The upside, especially for businesses with a brick-and-mortar presence, is that promotion and advertising for a Web site can be kept relatively cheap.

Schehr noted that a company’s Web address can be posted on shopping bags, in print ads and other venues for which the business already is paying.


  • look at it the same way as starting a retail store- can you start and run a retail store for $1000? No, but you can get a table at the local flea market- ask yourself if this is where you want to be- if it is, great!
    PS good point about the rent-a-carts- biggest ripoff on the net.

    • Suckered hardly, PDG is not what I would use to create a site that had an individual look and feel to it. Sure it is simple but what kind of business support does it offer? NONE. I found that opening an e-store is easy but managing the orders/shipments/customer relations becomes a nightmare, that is if you ever get customers as PDG does not auto-generate any tags for you. The easiest cart I have found is VARDIS.. Value Added Retail Distribution Information Server

      • As an experienced Internet applications developer who is just getting started with a small biz ecommerce site, I concur about the difficulty of setting up a quality site from scratch. I did have the technical skills, at least. I’d hate to think I was trying to set up a website without knowing how to do it. But, I have been surprised at how tricky online marketing is. Do this, don’t do that. Affiliates, search engines, directories, email, etc. I’ve spent an enormous AM ount of time studying online marketing just to feel competent. Having done so I’ve decided to start an ecommerce marketing consulting firm for small businesses with two of my coworkers. I see what you all see – it is very hard to have a successful small business website. As for shopping carts, I’ve decided to use Mal’s Ecommerce ( The basic version is free, the premium is only $7 / month and it has some great features.

  • I spent months trying different versions of the above mentioned e-commerce engines, namely WebSphere and bcentral. Although I found value in the MS product, I cringe at the idea of securely operating an IIS 5.0 server. I LOVE LINUX and so I sought out something in the Open Source arena, I found a few and the one I now use VARDIS. I feel this is an average article because it fails to do much more then advertise for MS and IBM, so I will do my two bits for Open Source.
    Check it out.

  • The true raw potential of the Internet for small business e-commerce is minimized when viewed merely from a "web-site" centric perspective.
    The highest use application of the Internet is still e-mail. Why? Because people value the "communications" capabilities of the Internet more than any other. Therefore, SMEs would be wise to explore the full potential of the Internet as a tool to enable new borderless dialogues that wouldn’t otherwise be possible or economically practical for a small enterprise.
    FYI, the Economic TeleDevelopment Forum has launched the GeoBridge Project to reseach the evolution of commercial networking and partnering via existing and emerging Internet-related tools.
    For further details, visit the following web page
    David H. Deans
    Economic TeleDevelopment Forum

  • Small business owners SHOULD take advantage of all of the business opportunities afforded to them by the Internet.
    Establishing a Web presence by using services like those noted above is much better than anything they could produce on their own and, oftentimes, better than something produced for them by so-called "web designers" that detract from the work we professionals provide.
    It’s true, you get what you pay for and those off-the-shelf solutions are limited in functionality and appearance (i.e. template look). However, once a small business owner has tried the Web as a lead source, sales avenue, etc. chances are they’ll want to upgrade and seek a professional Web design or marketing services company.
    Having a Web site has become a validator for businesses. Some of my clients are now seeking Web services because clients and even potential employees don’t want to do business with them if they aren’t on the Web.
    If cost has provided an obstacle for your small business then this is something worth checking into – but keep in mind that you’re likely to reinvest in a more comprehensive site later.

  • If you’re looking to build a decent ecommerce site for less than $1000, just remember: You get what you pay for. We’ve tried both bcentral and Yahoo stores – both are extremely limited and offer very little customer support, if any (we were only able to get in touch with bcentral customer support when we finally unsubscribed). bcentral in particular is a waste of money.
    For our clients first getting involved in ecommerce, or considering it, we recommend starting out with a PayPal shopping cart system in order to make sure ecommerce is even going to work for their business. Then, if it does seem to be panning out, we look for a service that suits both their needs and the ROI that they’re looking for. There is no such thing as a blanket solution. Neither Yahoo nor bcentral are cheap, either – despite what the analysts say. There are all kinds of costs involved in each that you really don’t find out about until you’re in the midst of building your site. Basically, these analysts haven’t a clue.

  • Don’t get suckered into a service where you pay for an e-commerce site monthly. Solutions like PDG Shopping Cart can be purchased and installed to the site. PDG also offers plug-ins for several WYSIWYGs (I used the Dreamweaver extension) so no development/programming is required.

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