Finding the right e-commerce platform for your business can be a challenge. It’s no different than searching for a physical location or deciding what inventory management software to use.
There are multiple platforms to choose from, and all assert that they are better than the others. Whatever choice you make, you’re going to spend some money and definitely a lot of time and energy. So, it’s best to get it right the first time!
What Should You Look For in an Ecommerce Platform?
Like going out shopping, you must be ready with a list of what you need from an e-commerce platform. Here are several things to keep in mind before choosing one:
- SEO Performance. Some platforms are SEO friendlier than others. The best ones allow you to use a custom domain name and email address to receive feedback from your customers. Also, it’s a plus for any platform that lets you add blogging capabilities to help you in your content marketing. Finally, clean, fast-loading code and the ability to mark up your pages with SEO-friendly meta data can all help improve your rankings.
- Mobile-Friendly. More than half of online customers shop via smartphones and other devices. A mobile-friendly site ranks higher in search results. All modern ecommerce platforms should be mobile-friendly, but it’s something to be aware of.
- Type of Product and Clientele. Some platforms are better for either physical or digital products. Some can scale better than others in size and traffic amounts. Also, some options are better for B2B businesses. These platforms have special functions to restrict access so your public, B2C clients won’t see your wholesale prices, for instance.
- Security. Your chosen platform must be secure for your customers. People will not disclose their data or credit card info on sites with inadequate protection. Along with https site security, payment processors will also have security standards that modern ecommerce platforms will abide by.
- Flexibility. Is Facebook a significant source of your customers? Facebook Shops allows integration with Shopify, BigCommerce and others. Here’s a complete list. It’s not possible to open a shop on every platform, so the next best option is to have the ability to integrate with others.
- User-friendly. Probably one of the largest factors is how easy it is to use. It would certainly be detrimental and frustrating for a business owner to try and operate, only to have to spend too much time trying to learn their own ecommerce system. A few require technical knowledge beyond the basics, but the trade-off is a more powerful site. Hosted options are for you if you want to avoid hiring a website developer.
- Services. Is the platform well-maintained? Once customers encounter any difficulty getting to your site, they won’t come back. Choose one that doesn’t often experience problems like error codes or downtimes. Also, don’t assume services from your platform are free. Maintenance might cost you additional fees, which could be worth it.
- Value for your money. I’m sure you know that advertised low monthly fees can be deceiving. To get the most out of a platform, you might have to buy add-ons and upgrades. You can end up paying double what you were expecting. Again, it depends on your needs. Plug-ins vary and can cost a lot, but if it’s worth it to grow your business, factor that into your costs.
- Free Trial. Will you buy a car without giving it a test drive? You’ll benefit if you take advantage of platforms that offer free trials for days or weeks. If you’re a beginner, you’ll get a great feel of the processes involved in setting up an online store.
To Self-Host Or To Not Self-Host
What is self-hosting? You’re in charge of everything, including taking care of all your website’s problems. If this sounds daunting, it is because you’ll have to create and maintain your platform. You’re not going to develop your software, but once you’ve downloaded and installed it, you’re pretty much on your own. Before you can sell, you’ll have to manage your site’s integrity, security, payment options, etc.
So, with all the complexity, why does self-hosting even exist? Many entrepreneurs want more freedom when they choose designs, hosting providers, coding and path to growth. Businesses that outgrow their hosted platforms soon adopt self-hosted options.
Hosted platforms are like condos. You pay monthly dues for a unit, or in your case, an online shop. In exchange, you don’t have to worry about security and various technical issues. There are free and paid design templates available, so you don’t need to create your website from scratch. You’re free of responsibilities that have nothing to do with your core purpose – selling.
For first-timers, opting for hosted platforms is often the right choice. I can’t imagine a mom and pop storeowner getting involved with a web developer or coder. Convenience is the top-selling point of hosted platforms. Shop creation takes only minutes with options for practical add-ons. Yes, they aren’t as cheap, but think of the technical difficulties you may encounter if you are self-hosting.
I’m not partial to either, because both serve specific users. Even if you’re a beginner, it’s always possible you’ll switch in the future.
The Big List of E-Commerce Platforms
Now we get to the actual list of e-commerce platforms. We list the pros and cons of each one, average costs, and some useful plugins. Here we go!
Who hasn’t heard of Shopify? It is now the most popular ecom platform in the world, and for good reason. Setting up shop takes less than 30 minutes, and you could try it out for free for 14 days. You don’t have to be tech-savvy to use this platform, so it’s perfect for beginners.
Along with building a complete online ecom business, features also include the ability to sell offline with the company-provided Chip and Swipe Reader. Read our article on Shopify if you want to know more.
- Pros. Consider Shopify if you’re starting a dropshipping business. Also, it has a valuable POS (Point of Sale) app for brick-and-mortar stores. You can also integrate your shop with Facebook Shops and Instagram, among others.
- Cons. You pay a fee of 2.4% to 2.9%for every transaction if you use Shopify’s payment facility. Apps can be expensive, and the platform is not SEO-friendly. The blogging functionality is also weak. While it is designed for small businesses, Shopify now has an extra level for larger, multi-national businesses.
Plans for an online shop start at $29/month.
This platform is probably the best self-hosting solution for your business. You need your own web hosting account and SSL certificate. WooCommerce is a free plug-in to turn any WordPress site into an e-commerce store. It fits like a glove because you’re in total control of everything. It is also one of the best for SEO.
- Pros. Your start-up costs are lower. The software is free, which you can tweak if you know how to. You can fully customize your online shop, allowing you to set yourself apart from competitors who choose hosted platforms. There’s excellent support from an active community that will help you with your problems. It’s also the choice for subscription businesses.
- Cons. Technical knowledge is required to open a self-hosted shop. You are responsible for site security and PCI compliance. Plug-ins or extensions, which aren’t free, can take up a lot of memory and slow down your site. Your shop may not perform as well as those on hosted platforms.
BigCommerce is a tried-and-true ecom platform. It’s excellent for both beginners and web developers. You can make adjustments to your shop’s HTML and CSS. Free design templates are available from the start, and you can sell unlimited physical or digital goods. BigCommerce provides plans and growth opportunities for small and large businesses.
- Pros. This platform is for you if you want SEO optimization. You can integrate payment and e-mail services with BigCommerce. Examples are Paypal, Mailchimp and Constant Contact. As your business grows, you can upgrade to higher plans to meet your needs.
- Cons. The free themes look generic. If you want a higher limit on your sales, you’ll have to upgrade your plan.
The basic plan costs $29.95/month.
Remember that SuperBowl ad featuring the Transporter (Jason Statham) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot)? Before I saw that, I wasn’t aware that Wix existed. Now, the company has 160 million websites worldwide. It caters to small businesses or self-employed individuals like photographers. Wix is a hosted platform, but you can make several tweaks so your shop can appear unique.
- Pros. The platform has an automatic backup feature, so you don’t have to worry about losing your data. It’s easy to use and has an extensive collection of templates. The platform has a knowledge base that covers all relevant topics.
- Cons. It’s not SEO-friendly. Integration with Amazon is poor. Apps are necessary for growth, as Wix is designed for very small businesses. Once your shop is up, you can’t change your template.
An individual plan will cost you $14/month.
This platform targets businesses that sell digital products. If you’re focused on a niche, Sellfy might be right for you. In the past 8 years, it has grown and attracted 800,000 users. This platform allows you to create a storefront on social media. It’s simple and easy to use.
- Pros. You can try it out for free for 14 days. It has a functional dashboard a beginner can easily navigate through. You can customize your shop and sell on Facebook, YouTube or Twitter.
- Cons. You only have two payment options – Paypal and Stripe. Unlike other platforms, app integration is limited.
Suggested Integration: You’ll need a tool like Zapier to integrate apps with Sellfy.
Plans start at $29/month.
Squarespace is a drag-and-drop website builder that is easy to use. Reviews often mention this platform’s blogging tool because it’s stronger than the others. Designing your website will take time, but the visuals can be very appealing. Although the platform’s features are limited, it’s mobile-friendly.
- Pros. Their design templates are excellent. The platform is SEO-friendly, and plans are ad-free. Squarespace has an analytics tool that provides relevant data. You can add a members-only section to your site.
- Cons. Phone support doesn’t exist. The platform doesn’t make backups except for blog and product data. Drag-and-drop means limited technical customization.
An online store will cost $26/month.
You don’t need any technical background to build your shop on this platform. There are tutorials to help you out. It’s an evolving platform, and was just bought by Shift4shop, so some rebranding might be in store in the near futgure. Beginners rate it high because it’s easy to use.
- Pros. It’s excellent for both physical and digital products. There are tons of design templates and integration options. Load times on both PCs and mobile devices are faster than average.
- Cons. The templates need updating. Replies to inquiries on technical issues can take some time. Problems like invisible items on shopping cart arise after you upgrade
Suggested Integration: Use a tool like Zapier to integrate apps with 3dcart.
Other Ecom Platforms
- Magento – Powerful, open source, do-it-yourself ecommerce software that definitely needs some technical skill to install and operate. Not for the average small business owner.
- Big Cartel – A popular niche-specific platform for artists selling a low volume of goods.
- Volusion – One of the first ecommerce platforms, it’s a bit dated and more complex than it probably needs to be. However, it’s very scalable with your growth and the subscription price comes with a lot of app functionality already built in.
- GoDaddy – Best for absolute beginners, limited and basic features.
Which is Best For You?
So, which ecommerce platform is the right fit for you? If you want the do-it-yourself flexibility, WordPress and WooCommerce is a great choice. If you have a small store and wish to go online as quickly and as easily as possible, you can’t go wrong with Wix.
If you a starting a dropshipping business, Shopify or Big Commerce are fantastic choices. For artists and niche businesses, Sellfy and Big Cartel are options to look at.
For strictly digital products, look at 3Dcart.
Finally, if you a B2B business with separate membership area, Big Commerce and Shopify Plus are great options, as well as WooCommerce B2B.
Ecommerce has had massive growth in the last few years, not only because of the pandemic but because it is now so easy to set up shop online. As the industry matures, expect to see new platforms appear, and existing ones evolving to meet the needs of the market. Don’t forget Facebook, YouTube and other sites having their own Buy Now functionality as well!
Let us know below which is your favorite ecom platform, and why. Happy selling!