An Entrepreneur’s Guide to the Best eCommerce Platforms
How to Choose the Best ECommerce Platform for Your Online Business
There’s no doubt that eCommerce is here to stay. For people who are thinking of expanding their business operations online, looking at the best eCommerce platforms available out there can help.
Shopify, a leading eCommerce platform, projected that eCommerce sales will reach $4.5 trillion in 2021. That number is likely going to be even higher given that the ongoing pandemic continues to increase our reliance upon eCommerce stores to purchase both essential and non-essential products and services.
For many small businesses today, moving or expanding operations online isn’t just about gaining a competitive edge, but a means of survival. That said, there are hundreds of eCommerce software options available. Navigating through them all can certainly be a challenge, especially if you’re a business owner with a ton on your plate.
If you’re struggling with this decision, we’re here to help. We’ve gone ahead and put together a guide to help you choose the best eCommerce platforms for your business.
- With eCommerce sales projected to reach $4.5 trillion in 2021, more and more business owners are thinking of starting a career in online business. Moreover, businesses are also considering expanding their operations online to cater to the demands of the consumers.
- Before getting started on selling online, there are a few things that entrepreneurs would have to consider. The most important one is what platform to use. Factors such as platform type, costs, product quantity and inventory management options, design, security, and customer support should be the primary considerations when choosing the best eCommerce platform.
- In our research, we have found the top five performing eCommerce platforms for small online businesses: Shopify, BigCommerce, Ecwid, WooCommerce, and Wix.
What is an eCommerce Platform?
An eCommerce platform is a software or application that allows big and small businesses to display and sell their products or services online. It can be a ready-made eCommerce solution where you, the business owner, simply signs up and has your store up and running within minutes. If you’re more tech-savvy, you can opt for an open-source solution where you’re given a source code that can be used to set your eCommerce store up yourself. The latter, however, would require extensive IT set-up and in-house management, which is precisely the reason why most small business owners turn to third-party platforms to sell their products.
How to Choose the Best eCommerce Platform for You
Choosing the best eCommerce platform for your company requires careful consideration of several factors, including platform type, cost, design, security, and more. Ultimately, you want to choose the platform that best fits your current business situation and needs.
Here’s what to think about when choosing an eCommerce solution for your business:
1. Platform Type
Business owners have two options when it comes to building their eCommerce stores: a ready-made eCommerce solution – also known as Software as a Service (SaaS) – or an open-source eCommerce platform. Typically, the decision would depend on the type of business you have, the industry you operate in, your technical experience, budget, and other variables.
Typically, with SaaS eCommerce solutions, the platform itself will provide everything you need to run your store – web hosting, payment processing, and other technical aspects. They are accessible for free, though some platforms will limit the features available in their free plans and offer paid subscriptions that allow for unlimited product postings, flexible customizability, etc.
Open-source commerce provides you with an open-source code you can use to build your eCommerce site. You’ll be responsible for its management, as well as the technical side of owning a website (i.e., coding, SEO, hosting, etc.). The biggest benefit of an open-source platform is that you’ll have full control of your eCommerce site, so you can modify the website whenever you want. This option would appeal to those with an existing web technical team that can handle the changes needed. The downside is, you might have to shell out a significant amount for the upfront costs.
The price tag is always a huge consideration for small business owners. While some eCommerce platforms do offer free subscriptions to their users, those subscriptions have a limit to the features you can access. If you want to enjoy the full features of eCommerce platforms, beyond the basics, you’ll need to spend money.
Here are the things you typically pay for when subscribed to an eCommerce platform:
- Web Hosting
- PCI compliance
- Protection from fraud
Generally, with a SaaS eCommerce platform, the more features you get, the higher the costs will be. The fees will differ depending on the platform you choose, but it can cost anywhere from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars for every month of subscription.
Open-source eCommerce platforms are another story. The software itself is free to download, but the owners would have to pay for web hosting, security, and maintenance, among other services.
Bottom line is, there’s no one-platform-fits-all solution. Fining the one that’s best for your small business will depend on your budget and your business’ particular needs.
3. Product Quantity and Inventory Management Options
Your platform of choice should also support the quantity of the products you’re planning to sell. For instance, the free subscription plan offered by some eCommerce platforms allows business owners to sell a single product at no cost but starts charging additional fees if you add more products to the market.
It’s also a good idea to assess whether the platform offers a solution where you can keep track of your products and inventory. This way, you’ll know when you’re running out of stock for a specific product so you can reorder more in time. Look at how a platform handles modifications and variations in your products. This will help you get an idea of how it will handle your inventory which is important as you work on growing your business.
Design is an important aspect of an eCommerce store. You’ll want to make your store is visually appealing and enticing to visitors. You want to draw people in, and ensure that they enjoy themselves once they are there. If people find your eCommerce store unappealing or difficult to navigate, chances are they won’t shop in it. If they enjoy being there, there’s a better chance that they will buy what you’re selling. A lot of top-performing eCommerce platforms offer both free and paid themes for their customer’s website designs. As you, the merchant, are looking for platforms – browse the themes they offer thoroughly and see if any fit what you’re envisioning.
If you’re using an open-source eCommerce solution, you’ll need to have technical skills to manipulate the source code and make edits on your website. If your technical skills are limited, you can opt for drag-and-drop editing. This type of editing works by simply dragging and dropping texts and objects onto a specific location of your website.
The last thing you want is for customers to fall prey to scams and fraud while shopping on your website. It’s extremely important to consider what security measures the eCommerce platforms are taking to protect their web shoppers’ personal and financial information.
Some of the most common safety measures that eCommerce websites and stores use to verify purchases are reCAPTCHA tests, or a two-step verification process, wherein the user goes through two different authentication processes to verify their identity.
You’ll want to check if the platform is equipped with PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) compliance payment solutions as this ensures safe processing and storage of payments and credit card information. Some of the most reliable PCI DSS payment solutions are PayPal, Stripe, Square, and SecurePay.
6. Customer Support
Perhaps the most important aspect to consider is user experience. You’ll be relying on this platform to conduct your business and make a living. Make sure you choose one that offers you easy access to customer support, and that will provide timely solutions to any problems you may encounter. Ecommerce solutions can provide support through phone calls, texts, or live chats. Ideally, merchants should be able to reach them 24/7.
Top 5 Best eCommerce Platforms
Now that you’re equipped with the key factors to consider when shopping for eCommerce platforms, we’ll go ahead and make the process even easier. We’ve compiled some of the top-performing platforms to help jumpstart your search.
Shopify is one of the leading eCommerce platforms today. The Ontario-based company has been around for more than 15 years and is considered the best platform for selling. Powering over a million stores worldwide, it’s one of the most recommended SaaS solutions for small to medium-sized businesses looking to start their eCommerce journey.
One of the reasons why Shopify is a popular choice among smaller businesses is that it offers all the features a start-up business needs, including:
- Drag-and-drop website creation/editing
- 100+ website themes
- Unlimited product postings
- Order logistics
- Mobile optimization
- Comprehensive dashboard for your product listings
- Inventory control and management
- 24/7 Customer support
Shopify also offers over 2,000 app integrations, including Xero and Quickbooks making it easier for you to account for your sales.
Shopify has developed an in-house payment getaway called Shopify Payment, which is free of charge. Users of course have the option to utilize it but don’t have to as the platform also supports over a hundred other payment getaways. The catch is, if you do opt for one outside the platform, they will charge you a fee for every transaction.
Shopify subscription plans start at $9 per month for the Shopify Lite Plan, which is limited to social media selling. For eCommerce businesses that are still in their infancy, they can opt for the Shopify Basic Plan starting at $29 per month. The Shopify Advanced Plan, which costs $300 per month, allows businesses to enjoy all the platform’s features.
The platform also offers a 14-day free trial period, no credit card required, so you can test it out first before fully-investing.
Shopify’s closest competition, BigCommerce, is famous for its wide range of theme and design options, and payment getaway integration. The company mainly targets large volume sellers, making it a viable eCommerce solution for brick-and-mortar businesses looking to expand their operations online.
Upon signing up, the platform requires you to set-up your sales taxes and automated shipping as part of their onboarding process (this is something smaller, start-up stores are still trying to navigate.) The platform integrates various payment getaways, including PayPal, Stripe, and Amazon, among others. It also accepts checks and allows bank transfers.
Some of the many features that BigCommerce offers include:
- Unlimited product listings
- Multi-currency sales
- Custom domains
- Free and paid themes
- Page builders
- Single-page checkout
- Conversion optimization tools
- 24/7 customer service through live chat
The platform allows you to list your products on third-party websites such as Amazon, eBay, and Facebook. It’s the simplest way to give your audience access to your products. Just head to the “Channel Manager” tab on the sidebar to start importing your products to other platforms.
As for the platform’s pricing, BigCommerce’s most basic plan starts at $29.95 per month. The subscription includes checkout codes, gift cards, and unlimited bandwidth. However, you may not be able to enjoy features like abandoned cart saver. You can choose the BigCommerce Plus at $79.95/mo, BigCommerce Pro at $299.95/mo, or BigCommerce Enterprise, in which the price will only be disclosed upon request.
Ecwid stands out among the previously mentioned platforms because of its price tag. This eCommerce platform is absolutely free for business owners who are still starting up. Its free subscription allows you to list the first ten products you’re selling. If you want to add more products and take advantage of more advanced features, you can upgrade to tiers starting at $15 per month. Furthermore, the platform does not charge transaction fees on other payment getaways it supports.
Ecwid is an excellent choice for eCommerce businesses that are using a current platform but want to expand their reach. It integrates with Weebly, WordPress, Squarespace, and more. This means that even if you’re already using an existing eCommerce platform, you can combine it with Ecwid to gain more functionality.
Here are some of the top features Ecwid offers:
- Fully-responsive designs
- Multichannel selling
- Build-in Point of Sale (POS) integrations
- Order management features
- Inventory tracking
- Real-time shipping fee calculation
- Product variations
- Email marketing and product advertising features
As mentioned, once you exceed the 10-product limit of the free trial, you would have to pay a fee for the platform. Here’s how the pricing works:
- Venture – $15/mo for up to 100 product listings
- Business – $35/mo for up to 2,500 product listings
- Unlimited – $99/mo for unlimited product listings
If your business already has a site powered by WordPress, using WooCommerce immediately lets you turn it into an eCommerce website. WooCommerce, also owned by WordPress, powers 30% of all online stores on the internet. It’s a viable option for businesses that are on a tight budget but need a robust solution for their eCommerce woes.
It’s worth noting that WooCommerce is an open-source eCommerce platform. This means that if you’re going to use it, you would be using a source code to build your business. You can have control over how you design your website, but you’d need technical knowledge to execute your vision.
The free WooCommerce comes with powerful features like:
- Website optimization
- Plugin extensions to increase the functionality
- Geo-location support
- Catalog management
- Inventory management
- Real-time shipping fee calculator
- Product reviews
- Automated tax calculations
WooCommerce allows you to access these features for free, but you’ll have to pay extra for cloud hosting. Pricing for hosting starts at $6.99 per month and goes up to $499 per month, depending on the subscription plan type.
Wix is a website builder that allows its users to create their websites using their drag-and-drop tool. Through an online questionnaire, Wix gives its users a head-start on website-building. The platform will use the information you’ve provided via the questionnaire to help set-up your eCommerce website.
Wix eCommerce is a viable tool for solopreneurs and small eCommerce businesses. It lets them take advantage of a wide variety of eCommerce features, including:
- Shopping cart abandonment recovery
- Mobile shopping optimization
- Wide variety of payment options
- Multichannel integration
- Inventory management
Wix also helps you market your products through email marketing, Facebook ads, and other means to help you gain exposure for your business.
Wix eCommerce subscription plans range from $23 to $49 per month. The platform also offers a customizable “Enterprise” subscription plan, which is only available upon request. Prices for that plan will vary depending on the features you select.
With so many eCommerce platforms available out there, finding the right one can be overwhelming. The best choice will ultimately boil down to your business’ current needs and budget.
Start with the five eCommerce platforms highlighted above, as these are considered some of the top options available. Then analyze each, keeping in mind the factors to consider that we listed in the first half of this article. If you’re on the fence about certain options, see if they offer free trials and sign up for them if they do. You want to make sure you’re able to make the most informed decision to steer your business’ future in the right direction.