Ecommerce Website Builder: The Best Tools to Create a Winning Online Shop (January 2017)

“An ecommerce website builder? Why do I need one?” Well, they are simply all the rage these days for anyone who wants to launch their own online shop! But this brings up many questions and potential problems in terms of selecting the right builder for your specific needs. Today, we discuss them all to help you decide.

 
First off, you don’t want to choose an ecommerce website builder and then realize one year later that you’re paying too much in transaction fees, or that you can’t handle the design tools, because they are made for more experienced developers.

Therefore, a good way to look at your ecommerce website builder shopping experience is with two areas: (a) what you want to accomplish, and (b) what your own personal needs are.

  • With the personal needs, it all comes down to how experienced you are and how quickly you plan on scaling up. A builder with hundreds of templates is great for a beginner, but what if you’d like to get into the custom CSS, and that’s not available?
  • The second area to evaluate is what you want to accomplish. This ties into the tools, settings and features that are offered through the various platforms. With that, we want to take a look at the current state of ecommerce and the major trends to plan for the functionality you’ll require.
 

 In a hurry and don’t have time to consume the entire guide? Here’s a quick comparison of the top ecommerce website builders (last updated: August 2016): 
What’s the best ecommerce website builder:
ShopifySquarespaceVolusionBigCommerceWooCommerceMagento
Price from (per month)$9$26$15$29.95$0$0
Mobile-optimizedyyyy*y*y*
Ease of use10 / 1010 / 108 / 109 / 107 / 109 / 10
Designs (#, quality)10 / 1010 / 108 / 108 / 1010 / 108 / 10
Ecommerce features10 / 1010 / 1010 / 1010 / 1010 / 1011 / 10
* Mostly, but depends on the specific theme/design you get.
Scroll to the bottom for full table.

 

The Current State of Ecommerce

Let’s look at the obvious state of ecommerce first: more consumers are buying through mobile devices, ecommerce sales are increasing every year, and a quality SEO ranking is more crucial than ever. What else is going on that could affect your decision with a website builder? Well, it turns out, Americans are more likely to buy from a company if they follow said company on any form of social media. That certainly gets merchants thinking about building a social platform.

Also, the past few years have been the era of the consumer expecting more because of an onslaught of information. When someone comes to your site, regardless of the ecommerce website builder you use, they have the internet on their side. Because of that, people are more likely to turn away if they see that your site runs slowly. They expect to see options for free shipping, free returns and expedited shipping. If you don’t provide a comparison tool on your site, they will go elsewhere to find one.

Oh yeah, and if your products fail to offer ratings and reviews, it makes it look like you’re far less credible. Trust issues are peaking, particularly because online fraud and identity theft is still booming. But these trust issues also tie into buying. If a customer feels like they aren’t getting proper support, all the blame falls on that company. The same goes for slow shipping, product problems and a lack of transparency with items and payments. A good ecommerce website builder will help you solve at least a couple of these problems.

Major Trends to Expect for 2016 and Beyond

Quite a few trends may occur as the ecommerce market lunges forward. For example, 29% of all online sales in the US are via mobile. Okay, this isn’t the most mind-blowing news, but it’s important to remember that the trend of mobile commerce is most likely going to continue.

The main area of focus seems to be heading towards contextual retargeting. What does this mean? Well, consumers are starting to get annoyed when they look at one product online, and then they’re bombarded with ads for the product through Facebook and Google, for the next six months. The goal is to base targeting less on immediate personalization, while putting more of a focus on the context in which people are looking for the items.

Another trend to look at is the lessening reliance on Google. The search engine has made it more difficult for small to midsize brands to move up the ranks over the past few years, and many merchants are finding that it’s more plausible to find customers through different outlets like Amazon (considering most Google results show Amazon anyways), social media and email marketing.

Fair Enough

The ecommerce trends for 2016, 2017 and into the future may change. Some will stick, while others we’ll never hear about again. However, they provide good indications of the types of actions you should take with your own store. And with that, it allows for a clearer view of what ecommerce website builder to land on.

Now that you’ve had a chance to think about your own needs and the needs of the market, keep reading to learn about the ultimate online shop creation tools.

 

The #1 ecommerce website builder: Shopify

Shopify has always been towards the front of the ecommerce pack, but the company is still moving forward. In fact, some of the recent releases reveal a whole new future for Shopify, and the world of ecommerce in general. For example, some Shopify users get intimidated by the online store editor. Well, as time passes, that’s going to change with the innovative new online store editor, built to make it easier for merchants. In addition to that, you can expect Shopify to roll out the ability to make your own native shopping experience on a mobile device (think your own iPhone + Android apps), along with sales channel integrations being passed to the merchants.

We recommend the Shopify builder over all of the other options because it’s being used by almost 300,000 stores worldwide, and it has easy tools for beginners, with support for custom CSS if you want to get creative.

#1 ecommerce website builder: Shopify
 

What are the features and offerings that make Shopify special?

  • You can’t beat the pricing for the lower plans. You can use this ecommerce website builder for as little as $9 per month, and the next plan is pretty reasonable too, at $29 per month. Each theme is mobile responsive.
  • The themes are the best on the market, and you can choose from 21 24 free options. If you’re willing to pay a little extra money, they have an additional 116 145 for you to buy.
  • Facebook and Pinterest integration is offered, and gift cards and discount codes work wonders for keeping people around.
  • The platform provides thousands of apps for everything from accounting to social media.
  • The support team is available at all times of the day, 24/7.

What may turn you off of Shopify?

  • You don’t get access to an FTP with Shopify.
  • The customer profiles aren’t as great as other website builders.

Check out the full Shopify review if you’d like to learn more.

 

2. Squarespace

Squarespace delivers a stunning web design interface, with some of the more remarkable and modern templates out there. It’s important to remember that Squarespace is primarily for building regular websites, but it does have a nice commerce plan starting at $26 per month. All you have to do is hook up your payment processor, choose a theme and get selling.

We recommend this ecommerce website builder for companies that are interested in a more modern, media-based look, while also focusing on minimalism. The features are there for social media, design, inventory and marketing, but you shouldn’t expect to build a huge store with it.

Squarespace
 

What are the features and offerings that make Squarespace special?

  • The themes are even better than Shopify’s (and you can even get third-party themes if you want to).
  • The sites run smoothly, and they always seem to load pages quickly.
  • The 24/7 support is helpful, and we really like the live chat support.
  • Connect with customers through the full social media integration, and sell on Facebook.
  • SEO support is solid.

What may turn you off of Squarespace?

  • You can only collect payments through the Stripe system.
  • Abandoned cart recovery isn’t there yet.
  • They lack an app store, leaving you with whatever features are built into the program. There’s a third party store available, though.
  • Some of the themes aren’t necessarily built for ecommerce sites.

Check out the full Squarespace review if you’d like to learn more.

 

3. Volusion

Volusion has been around for quite some time, and although they were once a leader in the industry, things have changed. That said, Volusion has gone through a fairly major overhaul this past year and its app store is looking promising (even though it’s still in beta).

We like Volusion best for companies that are just getting started, since the pricing is so desirable. However, you shouldn’t expect to customize your theme much, since it’s a little intimidating.

Volusion
 

What are the features and offerings that make Volusion special?

  • Pricing starts at $15 per month for up to 100 products. And if you’re willing to pay annually, the price goes down to $13.50 / month.
  • It has lots of themes to choose from. From our count, a little over 100.
  • An FTP client is provided, so more advanced developers have a chance at customization.
  • Mobile checkouts are offered, and you can use the social media buttons.
  • You get ratings and reviews built right in.
  • In general, Volusion has more features built-in, considering the app store is still a little lean.

What may turn you off of Volusion?

  • Some of the themes need to be updated for more modern looks.
  • The backend is becoming easier to use, but in general, the tools in this ecommerce website builder are a bit more intimidating, and you may be stuck with the exact theme you chose (without making many customizations at all).
  • The app store is growing, but the apps are not as mainstream as BigCommerce or Shopify.

Check out the full Volusion review if you’d like to learn more.

 
Try-Shopify

4. BigCommerce

BigCommerce used to sit right behind Shopify, since the themes are wonderful and the backend interface walks you through all the steps needed to get your site running fast.

With that being said, BigCommerce seems to be best suited for someone who’s growing fast and wants to be able to sell more products at the same time.

BigCommerce
 

What are the features and offerings that make BigCommerce special?

  • The main focus is making quality themes. So, you only get to choose from around 60 of them, but they look great. Keep in mind that only 16 of them are free.
  • The lower level pricing plans are fairly affordable ($29.95 / month), and they provide tons of features.
  • The easy to use backend has features for coupons, discounts, social media and more.
  • Sell on Facebook.
  • The support is 24/7.
  • The app store is filled with options.

What may turn you off of BigCommerce?

  • Buying premium themes for BigCommerce can get really expensive. Even $200+ a piece.
  • Social media selling tools are lacking.
  • Translations are complex and often impossible.

Check out the full BigCommerce review if you’d like to learn more.

 

5. WordPress With WooCommerce

Every ecommerce website builder listed above is considered “hosted.” This means that you pay for a monthly ecommerce solution and the hosting is packaged in with it. However, you have a few solutions that are considered “self-hosted,” meaning you must find your own hosting and pay for it as a separate plan. This usually pairs with a free content management system like WordPress, so the costs are sometimes lower, and you get more control in terms of customization. A self-hosted system requires a beginner to intermediate level of development knowledge, while the hosted options above are right out of the box products.

As stated above, you could go with WordPress, and the best plugin for turning your WordPress site into an online store is WooCommerce. Both WordPress and WooCommerce are free.

WooCommerce
 

What are the features and offerings that make WooCommerce special?

  • It’s free and has a quick installation process.
  • If you know how to use WordPress, this is a great choice to ensure that you can scale up properly.
  • You maintain full control of your website.
  • WooCommerce gives out an excellent ecommerce theme called Storefront, along with a handful of child themes that all look great.
  • Since the WooCommerce is open-source, thousands of other themes are sold all over the internet.
  • If a feature isn’t packaged into WooCommerce, you can go out and find a WordPress plugin to help out. Basically the options are endless with this.

What may turn you off of WooCommerce?

  • You have to go out and get your own hosting and domain name.
  • Coding knowledge is often needed to really get in there and customize.
  • You may have to hire someone who knows what they are doing.
  • The plugin has basic selling features, so additional plugins are often needed. Although plugins are typically free, they can slow down your site if you don’t choose quality options.
  • Personal support is non-existent, but you can do your own research on blogs, knowledge bases and forums.

Check out how to build a store with WooCommerce here.

 

6. Magento

There are two sides to Magento as an ecommerce website builder. First, there’s the open-source solution that’s similar to the idea of WooCommerce. This one is free, but you need to buy your own hosting and domain. Then, there’s the hosted solution, similar to the tools no.1-4 on this list. This one is really expensive. Like, $50,000 expensive.

Setting that aside, Magento is one of the most advanced ecommerce platforms on the market, and it’s used by some of the biggest companies in the world. It has almost endless ability to scale up with no problems, so it’s going to be best suited for larger stores.

Magento
 

What are the features and offerings that make Magento special?

  • Magento has a huge database of themes, blowing just about any other website builder out of the water (besides maybe WordPress.) The pricing is around $50 to $100.
  • Frontend customization is endless.
  • The backend is user-friendly and provides all the code editing tools you need.
  • Market your products with wishlists, discounts and upsells.
  • Lots of apps are available from third party sellers.

What may turn you off of Magento?

  • It has a learning curve if you want to install it yourself, so paying for a developer is common.
  • The hosted option of Magento is above expensive ($50,000 or so).
  • It has so many features that many people get overwhelmed.
  • You have to find your own hosting and domain name if you go for the open-source version.

Check out the full Magento review if you’d like to learn more.

 

 Here’s the full comparison table of the top ecommerce website builders: 
shopifysquarespacevolusionbigcommercewoocommercemagento
ShopifySquarespaceVolusionBigCommerceWooCommerceMagento
Price (per month)$9$26$15$29.95$0$0
$29$40$35$79.95+ hosting$15k-$50k
$79$75$199.95
$299$135
Mobile-optimizedyyyy*y*y*
Ease of use10 / 1010 / 108 / 109 / 107 / 109 / 10
Designs (#, quality)10 / 1010 / 108 / 108 / 1010 / 108 / 10
Ecommerce features10 / 1010 / 1010 / 1010 / 1010 / 1011 / 10
OVERALL 10 / 10  10 / 10 9 / 108.75 / 108.75 / 109 / 10
 In a word All around #1Beginner-friendlyBeginner-friendlyFor fast-growersBootstrap-friendlyEnterprise
VISIT
* Mostly, but depends on the specific theme/design you get.
 

Over to you…

If you have any questions about finding the perfect ecommerce website builder, leave a comment in the section below.

Still don’t know which platform to choose? Maybe our ecommerce comparison chart will help you out, or our head-to-head battle between Shopify, Volusion, BigCommerce, BigCartel, and 3dcart.

 

Catalin Zorzini

I'm a web design blogger and started this project after spending a few weeks struggling to find out which is the best ecommerce platform for myself. Check out my current top 10 ecommerce site builders.

1 Response

  1. Great comparison. We were challenged by Shopify when it can to product implementation. Specifically, we sell greeting cards and need advanced pricing intelligence based on many price points/quantity discounts, etc. it seems we need a third party tool to create a mature shopping cart interface that accommodates our needs. We built a crude system with Virtuemart on Joomla, but would like a platform more user friendly. Any advice on integrating a robust shopping cart with pricing intelligence?

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