As most entrepreneurs know, building a business requires a lot more than simply having a good idea. After all the best business idea in the world is useless if you can’t provide your product to the people who need it the most. And when it comes to selling online, choosing the best e-commerce platform can make all the difference between growing a business that is sustainable, and one that totally fizzles out. In today’s article, I’m going to be comparing the 11 most popular e-commerce solutions currently available so that you can make the choice that’s right for you. We’re going to be looking at the strengths and weaknesses of 11 different e-commerce platforms and I’ll tell you what factors you should be considering when you’re making this choice. And make sure you stick around, because, at the end of the episode, I’m going to be giving you a full rundown of what platforms I would recommend to which kind of business owner.
So, first of all, it’s important that we understand what an e-commerce platform is and what it can do for us. In a nutshell, your e-commerce platform is how you sell your products to your customers, but it doesn’t stop there because a good system will also help you do things like manage inventory, print your shipping labels, or create a beautiful storefront. And of course, you need it to be able to integrate with other tools you’re using in your business, like your email marketing platform. Basically, your e-commerce platform is the make or break factor in the success of your business, if you’re a product based entrepreneur. Still, there isn’t one e-commerce platform that’s going to be the best option for everyone because the right choice for you will depend on your priorities as a business owner and you need to remember that this decision is about more than just aesthetics. Yes, of course, you want your online store to look good, but it’s also important that it feels good and is intuitive for customers to use. This system should also support you as a business owner, because if you find it really overwhelming and confusing and complicated to use, you’re not going to use it and you’re going to end up costing yourself a lot of time, energy and money, trying to do everything manually. Now, even though every e-commerce platform tends to cover the basics, like your product listings and your coupon codes, not every platform is created equal. So as you’re making this important decision, here are a few factors I think you should keep in mind.
-The hosting type
-The trial period
What are the different hosting types?
There are two kinds of e-commerce platforms; hosted and self-hosted. So every website on the internet needs space on a server in order for people to visit it and hosting just means that’s where your website lives. So a hosted platform is an all-in-one solution, which means they handle everything for you from all the software improvements to the security updates, bug fixes, et cetera. And they usually come with an entire customer service team available to help you if you run into any issues. A self-hosted e-commerce platform is exactly what it sounds like. Basically, you’re going to be using your own server space or renting space from a hosting provider in order to get your online store. In this kind of option, you’re going to pay less upfront but usually will encounter more hidden fees or just additional hassle somewhere down the line. Because the thing to remember with these kinds of options is that you are responsible for everything on your website. All of the security updates and software improvements are on you, and if you run into any trouble, you may not get that much customer support, especially depending on the hosting provider that you’re working with. For most people, it’s going to be a better option to go with an all-in-one hosted platform so that you can focus on the fun parts of your business and trust that your e-commerce is working smoothly in the background.
What is a trial period ?
The single best way to evaluate whether a tool is right for you is to just try it out for yourself. I think that this step is crucial because until you actually get into, behind the scenes dashboard of these tools, you really don’t know how it feels to use the platform. It’s really easy to be swayed by flashy marketing or screenshots on sales pages, but those do not give you a true idea of how a software actually works. And a hands-off demo or a video is not enough, you actually need hands on experience in order to figure out whether something is a good fit for your business. So when you’re choosing any e-commerce tool, I suggest that you prioritize options that offer you a free trial period, or at least a money back guarantee. You need the chance to test before you commit. And don’t be discouraged if you have to do a couple of free trials in order to find the tool that’s right for you. That’s what these test periods are there for, experimentation. It is far better to invest extra time upfront, to test multiple platforms than to go all in on something that is not going to work for you long-term.
Lastly, you want your e-commerce platform to be able to talk to the other systems you’re using in your business. No online store is an island and the right platform needs to be able to integrate with all of your other tools, whether that’s how you send newsletters, your accounting software for how you manage your taxes, or just a mobile app, so that you can monitor your orders when you’re on the go. You might also need more advanced features, like the ability to create an affiliate marketing program, to start drop shipping products or create subscriptions that require recurring payments. But even if you don’t need those features, when you’re just starting your business, it’s a pretty good idea to make sure that the platform you choose offers them, if you think you might want them in the future. Of course, we want to be starting small and growing over time, but you need to make sure that the platform you use can keep up with you. So just keep that in mind. So now that we have looked at those key features, let’s take a look at the 11 most common options available on the market right now, and do a side-by-side comparison of their features and their price.
Wix is a great option for beginners, especially if you’re not that tech savvy, because the entire system is drag and drop and it’s fully customizable in terms of the fonts and the colors, and the overall aesthetic. They have a lot of really great free templates that you can use for your site, and then you can tweak them to match your own branding and building a basic website is free, so you can test it out if you want to before committing, but you won’t get access to any e-commerce features, once you upgrade to a business plan, you’ll be able to start selling on your own online store and use their features like custom shipping rates, multi-lingual sites and currency conversions, subscription products, and digital product downloads and the Wix owner app allows you to manage your store on the go and can even turn your phone into a mini POS system to accept payments. Wix is also working on growing both their built in features, as well as the tools available in their Wix app market, which offers integrations with many other apps. That being said, Wix is missing a few key features for product based businesses, including low stock alerts and other important inventory management options for larger stores.
Many people also experience issues with their sites loading really slowly or not being fully responsive on mobile, which are not great features to have in an online store. So be careful about that and also, even though I mentioned that the drag and drop functionality is very expansive, so if you want to customize your store, you can. It can also be really overwhelming, especially if you’re not a designer and you don’t really know how to make your brand standards consistent across every area of your website. That being said, if you are comfortable with website design and you want the ability to fully customize your store, And if you don’t anticipate managing a whole lot of products at once, licks could be a great option for you.
Shopify is one of the most popular e-commerce options in the world, and for good reason. It is a very robust platform that is constantly being improved upon to make your e-commerce experience even better. Not only does Shopify handle things like making your site look beautiful and dealing with abandoned cart recovery and all that good stuff also have an entire extension library of thousands of apps that can make your store even better, whether that’s drop shipping or print on demand or anything you could possibly want and it’s a fully hosted platform, which means that you as the business owner, never are going to need to worry about bug fixes or security improvements or any of the things that come with a self hosted option. It’s fully taken care of and you have an amazing customer service team to help you if you run into any problems. Even if you’re not very tech savvy.
So our payment processor and our mobile app are designed to be super user-friendly and accessible at any skill level so that you can take orders and ship those orders without any problems and a great option to choose if you’re looking to grow your business, because as I mentioned, they have tons of available add-ons that will make your store even better. So if you want to include photo reviews or chatbots or a loyalty program, those are all options that you can integrate into Shopify and they offer unlimited bandwidth and online storage, so you’ll never need to pay more, if your store suddenly gets a lot more traffic. Even if you already host your website using a service like Wix or Squarespace, you can use Shopify buy button, which embeds into your existing website, but gives you access to all of the Shopify features for only $9 a month. But you don’t have to take my word for it, you can try Shopify for yourself using 14 day free trial.
Big commerce is primarily designed and marketed for enterprise level companies like Ben and Jerry’s, Clarks or Skullcandy, but their essentials product is open to everyone, like Shopify and Wix, this is a hosted platform with a lot of support and many options for customization. Some of the most useful e-commerce features that big commerce offers are advanced product filtering, great search engine optimization, targeted customer marketing, minimal downtime, and the ability to sell across multiple social media and third-party marketplaces. Big Commerce is a very powerful platform, but that also means that it can be kind of complicated and inflexible, some people complain that there aren’t a lot of templates to choose from and the actual editor to build your site is not very customizable. Not only that, but Big Commerce surprisingly has far fewer integrations than other platform options on the market so it’s harder to expand your store’s capacity beyond their built-in features. And even though Big Commerce is extensively built to support bigger businesses, one of their policies is to charge you if you go over your yearly sales limit, which obviously is a disincentive to grow. Luckily Big Commerce offers a free trial, so I highly recommend that you try before you buy, to make sure that this platform is the right one for you.
If you’re an entrepreneur or a developer who wants the ultimate in flexibility and customization then Magento also known as Adobe commerce could be a great option for you. Now, one thing to note is that this is a self hosted e-commerce platform. So that means that it’s fully customizable as long as you have the skills in order to do so, but if you run into any issues, it’s going to be on you to fix them. If you’re up for that kind of challenge, then Magento commerce will offer you a lot of features to grow your store globally, including things like customer segmentation, the ability to stage your site before it goes live, in depth inventory management and integration with lots of sales channels, including Amazon. But this great functionality comes at a cost because unless you’re a developer, this platform is not at all user-friendly. It has a very steep learning curve, and because you’re self hosting, as I mentioned, you’re going to be responsible for all of your site upkeep, security and backups, which can be a giant headache. Nothing here is plug and play and you’ll need a lot of expertise to even get your store up and running. But still, if you’re a rapidly growing business, with at least one developer on your team and pretty good cashflow, then Magento can be a great tool to help you scale up your business and expand your store’s reach.
WooCommerce is an add on plugin for WordPress, which means you can add e-commerce functionality directly to your wordpress self hosted blog or website. This makes it really easy to add e-commerce functionality to your site, especially for beginners, because everything is pretty plug and play. You just set it up and you’re able to accept your first sale and the fact that you’re building on top of your existing site will mean that your store has the right look and feel automatically and will be easy for your customers to access, plus WooCommerce has a huge library of extensions, so you can continue to grow and build your store over time, trusting that the features you need will probably be available to you. If you’re a WordPress user, you’re used to paying for website hosting fees, domain registration, and premium website themes. And while WooCommerce itself is free, you need to watch out for the hidden costs of this platform. Many of these sessions, you’re going to want to add, to improve your stores such as, subscriptions or product add-ons or creating bundles, they all will come with a cost, usually at least $49 per year, per extension. WooCommerce, like WordPress is a self hosted option, which means that if something breaks down, you’re responsible for finding the problem and fixing it, and what’s worse. The e-commerce add-ons that you install to improve your site will also make your site more fragile and require more maintenance and unfortunately, WooCommerce does have a bit of a reputation for breaking down. This platform can be notoriously clunky and slow to load, and it’s tricky to customize beyond some basic elements without at least some coding knowledge. But for those who already have a site, they love on WordPress, adding on WooCommerce to sell some products could make a lot of sense. As long as you’re prepared for the work it’ll take to maintain the system and the potential cost of expanding your store, you can rest easy knowing that you have lots of room to grow your business over time.
Prestashop is a great option for entrepreneurs with a little bit of coding experience. It is free and open source, which means you can download it and start using it right away as long as you know how to use it. It comes with some community forums and technical documentation for support if you run into any issues, and it will have your standard basic e-commerce features like inventory management, international selling, good store analytics, and then you get access to lots of extensions and third party add-ons. Unfortunately there is no built in customer support and the paid support plans that they offer can be very pricey. So this option is best for entrepreneurs who feel comfortable managing their site independantly. It’s not the best choice for total e-commerce beginners or those who struggle with site design and maintenance. Other user complaints include slow website load time, instability of add-ons and a pretty outdated dashboard. But since the software is free for everyone, there’s no cost or commitment to trying it out. So if you’re considering this self hosted option, take it for a test run to make sure it’ll fit your needs for the longterm.
Next up, we have another popular e-commerce option, Squarespace commerce. So Squarespace is a great option for beginners because it is totally drag and drop and it is a hosted platform, which means that all of that website maintenance will be taken care of for you. And even though e-commerce is not available on most of their basic website plans, it’s a very easy upgrade to start being able to accept sales on your website in just a few minutes. Not only that, but when you upgrade, you’ll get access to all of Squarespace’s features, including cross-platform selling, express checkout and customized order notifications and just like other platforms, Squarespace has a pretty big catalog of extensions, so you can further expand our store. But while these basic options are built in, you’ll need to upgrade to a more expensive commerce plan, if you want to access more advanced features such as gift cards, abandoned cart recovery, or subscription products. Options that are typically automatically included with other platforms. You’ll also be limited in terms of payment options, since Squarespace only integrates with Stripe and PayPal. Squarespace offers good customer support and is always being updated with bug fixes and enhancements, which makes it a breeze to manage. And it comes with lots of beautiful templates that are easy to customize to match your branding. If you already host your website with Squarespace, but want to create a store, upgrading to a commerce plan could be a very easy way for you to start selling online right away.
Big Cartel is designed for makers and creative types to sell their products online in a simple store. They make it very easy to set up your shop and quickly customize it to fit your brand’s aesthetic. Their goal is to streamline the process of selling online for their creative client, and they have lots of great features like product variations, real-time statistics, custom domains, and beautiful minimal templates. They’re known for their fast and reliable service, ease of use and affordability. They have a free forever plan for selling up to five products and only charged $9.99 per month for up to 50 products. Of course, this simplicity also comes with some trade-offs. Big Cartel offers pretty limited customization options, so it’s hard to make your website feel totally personalized. And there is a limit on how many products you can sell. The maximum is 500 products, even on their highest plan, so this option won’t work for very large stores. There is no import option, so you have to manually add all your products to your store, and you can only include a maximum of five images per product. They have limited payment processor options and no advanced features like abandoned cart recovery, or capturing custom product data from your customers. And while they do offer integrations, the options are limited to just 25 services, which may or may not work for all of users. I think big cartel is a great option for creative business owners who value simplicity and ease and don’t need access to many advanced features and since their free plan is free forever, you can try it out for yourself and make sure that you love it before you commit.
Weebly is a very simple online website builder that’s owned by Square, which means that all sites come fully integrated with Square’s POS system. This means that it’s super simple for you to sell both in-person and online in a fully integrative way. Not only that, but we believe comes with a very easy to use drag and drop website builder, which means that it’s intuitive, even for people who have never built a store before. All sites also come with great features like customizable email templates, abandoned cart, recovery, gift cards, and product search and it’s pretty affordable. You can start for free and then upgrade to a paid plan that is reasonably priced if you want to eliminate ads on your website or add in your own custom domain. The downside is that you don’t have a lot of options for customizing Weebly stores and they don’t offer that many integrations with other tools or extensions. We believe also won’t give you very many advanced features like support for multiple languages or currencies, advanced search engine optimization, or the ability to create backups of your store. But if you already use and love square as your payment processor, setting up a simple store on Weebly could be a no brainer since it integrates with your existing tools. If not, you can access the entire service for free forever, which makes it a great candidate for testing out before you make your final choice.
3D Cart is a lesser known e-commerce option, but it’s a fairly inexpensive hosted platform that allows business owners to easily create an online store. Their sites are mobile friendly, optimized for search synchronized with lots of shopping channels like Amazon and Facebook and give you access to third-party tools and apps to extend your store. Unfortunately, there are some downsides to the service, including very few options for customization and a pretty unintuitive page builder. Their lack of basic tools also makes it hard to manage your store without using lots of add-ons, which can be expensive users, also report pretty poor customer service and technical support as well as weak analytics and reporting. But as always, the key is to try it out for yourself, and fortunately 3d cart offers a 15 day free trial with no credit card required.
Volusion was founded in 1999, which makes it one of the oldest e-commerce platforms on the market. But this platform comes with beautiful and responsive themes, a drag and drop page builder, great inventory management and product options built in email marketing and integrations with tons of other great apps. And it’s a fully hosted option. So it has all of those built-in advantages as well and you can expect 24/7 customer support. But while you can sell unlimited products through Volusion, unfortunately you can’t sell digital products, files or downloads. You also can’t create a blog and you’ll be limited in terms of some of your website design options and the number of free templates available to you. You may also experience slow load times or general bugginess, and worst of all, you might be hit by additional fees for exceeding your online sales limits depending on your plan.
So there you have it, the 11 most popular e-commerce platforms you can choose from when building your online store. Now, if you’re still feeling overwhelmed by your options. Don’t worry. Here’s a quick recap of what to think about when you’re making this decision.
-First, think about your unique business needs and values, and what’s most important to you as a company, whether that is simplicity or speed or scalability or something else entirely. -Second, anticipate your future needs and make sure that you’re going to be able to add on new features as your store grows. You never want to feel limited by the platform you’re using.
-Third, make sure the tool you choose offers great customer support or good help resources to troubleshoot any issues you encounter, prioritize companies that consistently work to improve their product so that your store will like automatically keep up with changing e-commerce trends.
-Fourth, make sure that you’re evaluating the full cost of the product, not just the initial setup and monthly fees, but also the cost of any important integrations or add-ons, whether you’ll need to hire a developer or what you might pay for exceeding your sales limits on certain apps, no matter how great the tool, your business still needs to make a profit.
-Lastly, don’t skip the testing stage unless you actually try the platform out for yourself, you cannot know if it will be the right fit. So start a few free trials and make sure that the process of building your store feels intuitive and manageable before you put down your credit card. Here’s my very quick rundown of which options could be best for you, depending on your situation. Shopify is the best all around platform for entrepreneurs and retailers. Wix is best for building a content focused website, like a portfolio that also includes e-commerce. Big commerce is good for big businesses and enterprises, though shopify plus is the enterprise version of Shopify and has a lot of advantages over big commerce.
Magento is best for companies with technical resources and developers on staff. Woo commerce is best for WordPress website users who want an integrated e-commerce solution. This is a really good option if you primarily run a blog or online magazine. PrestaShop is best for technical founders who want a self hosted e-commerce platform. Squarespace has the best drag and drop functionality and very beautiful designs. Big cartel is the best budget option for creative types who wants simplicity in their smaller stores.