If you are considering a turnkey solution for creating a Web site, you need to compare features and costs among the available providers.

Find Out What's Included in a Package
No two turnkey packages are exactly alike, so carefully assess what's included and what's provided for an additional fee. As with any hosting service, check to see how much site storage and bandwidth you're entitled to and what the fees are if you exceed the maximum limits. In addition to storage and bandwidth, fees may be based on the number of catalog items your store features. E-mail accounts, domain name registration (not including InterNIC fees), merchant account approval, usage logs, and search engine registration are other items often (but not always) included in a package. Content limitations may make an otherwise attractive solution option unworkable.

Analyze the Costs
Prices range from free to a few thousand dollars per month for a turnkey solution. When it comes to the cost of a turnkey Web site, "free" is a loosely used term. There are some truly free options, but many "free" hosts charge extra to add functions such as online credit card processing; fees are imposed monthly, per transaction, or both. Take a careful look at which features come free of charge and which don't.

Following are some examples of the types of charges you may see.

Bigstep.com offers a highly rated free solution, with storage space limited to 12 MB. To accept credit cards, you need an online merchant account from Cardservice International. For this you'll pay one of Cardservice International's partner banks $14.95 per month, plus $0.15 per transaction, $0.05 address verification charge per transaction, and a 2.67% discount rate for your merchant account. The partner bank will charge these fees to you directly, and Bigstep.com doesn't profit from these fees.

QCommerce packages start at $39.95 per month plus merchant account fees. It offers a choice between two merchant account providers, Cyber Cash or GoReal Time. Their fees are comparable: $250 to set up your account, a monthly fee between $40 and $70, and a transaction fee of $.10 to $.20 each.

Yahoo! Store charges $100 per month for a small store with as many as 50 items for sale, and $300 per month for a large store with up to 1,000 items. All stores are featured in Yahoo! Shopping.

Find out what other features cost. Chat rooms and other community building tools, newsletter e-mailing services, affiliate programs, banner ad exchanges, and banner ad serving are features that may be available through a turnkey provider. Again, what is included in your package and what constitutes an additional fee varies widely, so ask about specific features you're interested in adding to your site.

Determine what other costs may be associated.

  • Hardware costs: Most turnkey solutions don't require you to have any special hardware beyond a computer system that allows you to connect to the Internet.
  • Software costs: You will want to use a newer browser to view your pages while you are building your site (or entering your content into the turnkey-provided templates), and you may need new or additional database or spreadsheet software if you plan to upload product information to or download inventory management records from a turnkey provider. Ask prospective turnkey providers about software compatibility.
  • Content costs: Web hosting and design costs are covered in fees paid to a turnkey provider, but the content is your responsibility. You'll need high-quality GIFs or JPEGs as graphics and product descriptions to build your catalog. (These items may be readily available from your product's manufacturer.) However, you probably need to figure in the costs of creating content for your site, such as the time to write your own content, the cost of obtaining digital images of your products, or for hiring a graphic designer and writer.

Decide whether your site will feature banner ads. You may want to use banner ads as a way of offsetting your costs. Some turnkey solutions accommodate banner advertising on your Web pages if you wish to include them. freemerchant.com not only allows banner ads on pages but will also put them on your site, if you like, and pay you when people click on them.

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