Homestead.com has offered website hosting since 1998. As an online seller, you can choose between two main offerings. Homestead's web-hosting service allows you to add a PayPal shopping cart if you want to sell items. And Storefronts is a full-featured ecommerce service that uses eBay's ProStores technology (formerly Kurant) and integrates with eBay and PayPal.
The Homestead web-hosting Starter plan costs $4.99/month for the first 3 months, then rises to $9.99/month. You can use the Starter plan for one website with up to 5 pages and can get a personalized domain. There are two other plans, one for $19.99/month, and one for $49.99/month. If you want to sell items, you can add a PayPal Shopping Cart.
Included with every package is a QuickSite Design. These are professionally designed websites with complete web pages, including suggested navigation, content and images. You can select from over 2000 pre-built sites organized into 100 business categories such as restaurants, real estate, weddings, professional services and more. Each QuickSite comes ready with photos and text that are relevant to the business category. Once you've chosen your QuickSite Design you can customize it using free SiteBuilder web design tools.
Or, you can pay Homestead to design your site for you. The QuickStart Setup ($499) is based on a QuickSite and includes up to 4 hours of professional graphic design. The Deluxe Design ($999.99) is a custom design and includes up to 8 hours of professional graphic design.
You can review the three web-hosting plans online:
Homestead offers a full-featured ecommerce-hosting solution that integrates with eBay and PayPal. Homestead StoreFronts offer three plans, Enhanced ($24.99/month), Professional ($59.99/month) and Enterprise ($229.99/month). All three options allow you to add an unlimited number of items to your product catalog, though there are limits in storage space. You can copy your existing eBay Store styles to your Homestead Storefront website. And, as with the webhosting offerings, you can pay Homestead to design your site for you.
Homestead StoreFronts, unlike the eBay ProStores platform on which it is based, charges no commission fees. You can see the three Storefront plans online:
If you build it, will they come? Having your own website requires a proactive approach to marketing - you can't sit back and wait for visitors to come to you, as you do with eBay listings. Some common ways to drive traffic to your site are through email marketing, search engine optimization (natural search), and paid search.
All three Homestead StoreFront options have email marketing capability, and Homestead submits your listings to shopping search engines daily, including Yahoo Shopping, Shopping.com, Shopzilla and Froogle.
While you can learn how to use Google AdWords, Yahoo Search Marketing or other paid-search services on your own, Homestead offers a paid-search service called Searchlight. The Starter Searchlight plan costs $29.99/month and guarantees 240 clicks to your website. (It's up to you to convert them to buyers!)
Homestead Director of Public Relations Remi Adams said, "There's no limit to how much guaranteed traffic we'll drive to your site. The good thing is that you'll know the cost in advance because you're paying for a bucket of pre-determined clicks. We offer our search engine advertising service to non-Homestead subscribers, too." Adams also pointed out that Platinum-level package subscribers get a $30 credit per month towards search-engine advertising.
Homestead markets itself as an easy-to-use service; here's what the company says about its Searchlight service: "Your Homestead SearchLight consultant will review the contents of your website, determine your business category and target geographic area, and then, generate a list of relevant search keywords, and create your online text ads. Search consultants create your campaign."
You can see the three SearchLight plans online:
Homestead offers an 800 number for customer support. Some plans are limited to 30 days of free phone support, while premium plans offer unlimited phone support. I tried calling to see how long it would take to get through to someone, and I spoke to a real live person in about a minute. (I didn't test his customer support skills, however.) They also offer online help and priority email.
Adams said Homestead does not outsource customer support. "Everyone is here in the building," she said.
Every online seller should measure the performance of their sales activities. eBay sellers should know their Average Selling Prices and Sell Through Rates. Website owners should know their conversion rates and have a good understanding of where their traffic is coming from (analytics). Homestead's documentation reveals the types of reports StoreFronts can generate:
- Executive Summaries: Summary level reports including Best and Worst Sellers, Order/Visit Ratios, and Search Summaries
- Product Reports: Product Statistics
- Category Reports: Category Statistics
- Sales Reports: Sales reports including Total Sales by Product, Order Log, and Sales Tax
- Inventory Reports: Total cost of inventory (Professional Storefront or higher only)
Adams said that all website packages include analytics tools.
The Last Word
We're letting Homestead have the last word about their service. Remi Adams said, "Creating a website with Homestead allows sellers to promote multiple products and begin to establish a brand to help them sell better and faster. All sellers, regardless of technical or design skill, can create, and, more importantly, edit their sites themselves, so that they can easily update their products frequently."
AuctionBytes will continue to look at ecommerce-hosting services in future issues to review what options auction sellers have for creating their own independent stores on the Internet.