Start an e-commerce business by free software and services

An e-commerce business typically requires two types of software. The first element is a content management system, which will host all the back-end features for your business (such as inventory management and web page content). The second element is an e-commerce server package, which will host all the customer-facing (front-end) features for your business, such as online catalogs and credit card processing. These two systems may be separate software packages that can be connected together, or they may be part of an integrated software suite.


You will also need a web host that will broadcast your site to the Internet. Most online businesses choose a hosting company to do this for them. When evaluating hosting companies, be sure to find out:

  • How many pages are included with a site package
  • What the site size limit is
  • What the bandwidth is
  • How many users are supported
  • If there is a guaranteed uptime percentage
  • What content management systems and e-commerce server packages they support, or if certain features (such as shopping cart services) are built-in
  • What level of customization is supported (for example, can users make changes to web pages or does the hosting company make all site changes)
  • All fees and taxes

Be sure to test some sites that are currently hosted by the company that you are looking at to evaluate their speed and functionality.

Options for Your Business:

Let’s take a look at the most common options for e-commerce server software.

Out of the Box:

Your first option is to choose an online service that provides all the tools you will need via an online interface, as well as templates to get started. Shopify, Yahoo! Small Business, Volusion, and Amazon all provide this type of service. This option is best if you have a small budget and a simple business.

Specialized Software:

There are also a number of more advanced software options that are highly customizable, such as IBM WebSphere Commerce, Magelia WebStore, and NetSuite. This is the route chosen by most start-up e-commerce businesses, as it maximizes customizability and features while keeping costs low.

Custom Design:

Another option is to have a technical design firm to create a custom solution for your company, built from the ground up. Although this option is quite expensive, it is often used by large retailers who have specific needs and a large budget.

 In-House Solution:

The final option is to build a solution in-house from the ground up. This is ideal if your business has the experience required, but it can be a time-consuming endeavor.

Set up and test an e-commerce site:

As of this writing, free trials were available from the following sites: