Before the digital era began, if you wanted to run a store, you needed a physical, brick-and-mortar location. That meant that starting a business was often a difficult process. After all, not every would-be entrepreneur had the cash required to buy their own building.
Now, we’re living in a slightly different world. The evolution of the internet has introduced an exciting new industry, where creativity and passion are more important than real-estate. In the age of the internet, anyone can start their own company without ever having to worry about physical foot traffic. However, you still need a location or “home base” for your business. The only difference is that you’ll be building a virtual storefront, rather than a physical one.
Ecommerce platforms are how business owners of all shapes and sizes carve out a place for themselves in the new digital landscape. With a tool like Shopify, Magneto, or Volusion, sellers can leave the days of restrictive sales on Amazon or eBay behind, in favor of an ecommerce site that they have complete control over. The only problem?
Selling online has become such a cost-effective, efficient, and popular way to earn your fortune in the digital landscape, that everyone wants a piece of the pie. As a result, there are dozens of different companies all claiming to have the best ecommerce platform to offer today’s small business owners.
With so much choice, how do you determine which platform is right for you?
Choosing The Best Ecommerce Platform for Small Business
Choosing the right ecommerce platform is a lot like choosing a physical address for your brick-and-mortar store. There are a lot of different points to consider, from the site’s reputation, to the kind of support you can expect when bringing your business to life.
For some companies, the right platform will be the one that allows them to build something truly creative for their ecommerce store. For instance, you might want an open source website builder with a user-friendly back-end where you can experiment with inventory management, abandoned cart recovery, and different kinds of web hosting.
On the other hand, if you’re a beginner in the world of eCommerce business management, then you might want to switch the open source commerce platform out for a hosted solution. These user-friendly tools are often less problematic for newbies, as they come with various tools built-in, such as free themes, drag-and-drop customization, and support for unlimited products. To help you sort through some of the top performers that we’ll list below, here are some essential points to consider.
Top Considerations for Ecommerce Platforms
- Price/Budget: While there’s a lot more to an ecommerce solution than it’s price, as a small business owner, you’ll be reluctant to take on any additional cost. Most small store owners want ecommerce tools that are packed full of useful tools, but also come with a relatively low price tag. The good news is that most of the open-source platforms and hosted systems on the market today come with free versions that you can try before you buy.
- Back end tools: What kind of support do you need when it comes to running your online shop? The best platform could feature anything from access to WordPress plugins, support for CSS and SKUs, or even app management systems for mobile devices. Ensure you can access everything from content management tools to inventory management in your back end.
- Scalability: Just because you’re running a small business now, doesn’t mean that it’s going to stay small forever. As your company grows, you may need support for unlimited products, new payment options, and even digital product selling. Make sure that your platform can scale well, with a small learning curve.
- Speed and performance: Business owners will have a hard time convincing anyone to buy their products if their pages don’t load quickly. No matter how many products you’re hosting on your website, make sure that you can maintain the performance of your site with good hosting, no matter how many plugins, add-ons and other features you’re using.
- Ease of use: A drag and drop builder for editing your ecommerce solution and plenty of back-end documentation can help to encourage better ease of use. Keep in mind that open source eCommerce platforms are often harder to use than their hosted counterparts.
- User experience: The experience that you have when building your storefront needs to be good. However, you also need to consider the experience your customers are going to get too. For instance, can you offer a range of payment gateways? Is your shopping cart easy to use? How easy is it to navigate your online store?
- Marketing tools: Can your ecommerce platform help you to attract new customers and keep your existing ones? Some tools will come with access to things like abandoned cart recovery, SEO tools, and email marketing systems. Everything from content management to marketing tools can improve your bottom line.
- Customization: Open source platforms are more customizable than their hosted counterparts. However, you can still change the appearance of your online shop in most cases by using real-time editors and themes. See what customization options are available.
The Top Ecommerce Website Tools for Small Business Owners
Now that you know some of the things that you should be looking for in the tools that you use to build your eCommerce website, we can start to examine some of the top contenders on the market. Remember, these tools are some of the top-ranked products available for small business owners. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to be the right option for you.
Every business is different, after all.
It’s almost impossible to talk about ecommerce and online sales these days without mentioning Shopify. The Shopify site offers some of the best sales features on the market, with a range of powerful industry-leading tools and a huge app market, packed full of plugins.
If you’re serious about selling online, Shopify’s dedicated ecommerce platform is sure to be one of the best options available. Shopify is a software that you pay for using the SaaS model, and is designed specifically to help people who want to build the ultimate online store. It offers a lot of advanced sales tools combined to alternatives like Wix and Squarespace and comes with a free SSL certificate for security too. You’ll have access to discount codes, 24/7 customer support, and an integrated payment processor. You can also sync your inventory and orders across sales channels like eBay and Amazon. There’s also the option to access new sales strategies, like dropshipping with plugins.
Pricing: 14 day free trial followed by $29 per month for the basic Shopify experience. Advanced Shopify is available for $299 per month.
- Free trial available to help you get started
- Large range of themes available
- Huge amount of plugins to choose from
- Unlimited products on all plans
- Integrated payment options
- Fantastic for all kinds of business plan
- Fees can quickly add up
- Blogging platform is very limited
Squarespace is an excellent ecommerce platform for companies that want a lot of creative control. This cloud-hosted website builder is similar in style to Wix, although it comes with a few advanced features, such as excellent integration with social media channels.
If you’re searching for a way to build an eye-catching online business or portfolio, then SquareSpace is a good choice for you. There are a lot of sleek and modern templates to choose from, and you can change your style whenever you choose. Unfortunately, there aren’t as many eCommerce features available with this tool as you’d get with Shopify. On the plus side, you can access SSL security and a free domain with any annual plan. You also get the benefit of a mobile-optimized checkout with no transaction fees on any of your plans.
Pricing: Prices start at $18 per month for Squarespace, making it a relatively affordable option. However, there’s no free plan.
- Excellent social media integration
- Plenty of fantastic templates to choose from
- Budget-friendly plans
- Great for those who need 24/76 customer support
- Free domain with annual plans
- Large transaction fees
- Limited payment options – only Stripe, PayPal or Apple Pay
- No app market
Are you looking for an ecommerce builder that will allow you to combine your online selling strategy with your offline sales? If so, then it’s definitely worth checking out Square Online Store, the site-building technology available from Square. If you already have a Square Point of Sale System, Square will allow you to build a website for free. The store builder is powered by Weebly, however, which means that you’re going to get the same customization limitations that you had with your Weebly store.
On the plus side, like Weebly’s store building solution, the Square Online Store system comes with all the ease of use that you could ask for as a beginner trying to launch your shop online. You can immediately begin building highly professional looking stores in no time. Additionally, because everything integrates with your Square point of sale system, you get access to advanced inventory management too. When something sells online, it updates your inventory in your back-end.
Square also uses artificial design intelligence with its store builder. This means that you get a more advanced experience, without having to spend a fortune. Adding products and features to your store is easy, and with the free plan to get you started, there’s nothing to lose.
Pricing: Free to get started with the option to upgrade to a more advanced store experience.
- Excellent if you’re already using features of the Square ecosystem
- Easy to use for beginners
- Combines online and offline selling
- Fantastic inventory management tools
- Great for AI design
- Limitations in customization options, particularly with the checkout
- Limits to your payment processing options
- Square Online Store Review: Everything You Need to Know
- 11 Best Open Source and Free Ecommerce Platforms
Volusion is one of the better known options for eCommerce on the market today. Ideal for business owners in search of opportunities to grow, Volusion gives you everything you need to launch the perfect online store. One of the best features of Volusion is its ability to offer in-depth data reports. Everything you need to successfully track your site’s performance is located in the same place.
If you’re looking for an opportunity to grow your business at a pace that suits you, then Volusion can help with that. However, there are some missing features in the package. For instance, you won’t have any blogging tools, which is a serious problem if you want to develop your marketing strategy with a content management system. On the plus side, Volusion is quite affordable, with prices starting at $29 per month.
Volusion is best-suited for people who want to get creative and explore new opportunities for scalability in the future. It’s brimming with fantastic tools – including SEO features that will allow you to attract more customers online.
Pricing: Prices start at $29 per month for the personal package, and you can save up to 10% when you pay for your subscriptions annually.
- Access to built-in SEO tools
- Plenty of payment processing, including Stripe and PayPal
- Unlimited product options
- Access to custom editing via CSS
- In-depth reporting tools
- Automatically calculate tax and shipping
- Not a lot of free themes to choose from
- Volusion payments are only available in the US
- There are bandwidth caps on each plan
- No blogging options
Ecwid was designed as a powerful platform for online selling, intended to support companies that want to sell their products, anywhere, any time. You can set up an account for free online and keep it for as long as you like, without paying anything. Ecwid is great for companies in search of something that they can integrate with their existing website, social network, or business page. All the storefronts you get will be synced and managed from the same control panel.
One of the biggest benefits of Ecwid is that it’s a cloud-based platform. This means that it’s hosted for you – with no installation required. You can also add your Ecwid experience to any website using a plugin, including Drupal, Wix, Joomla, and WordPress sites. Features include a responsive design that’s perfect for any device, automatic language detection, and the option to add your site to multiple sites, blogs, and social networks at once. There are no transaction fees or setup fees. Additionally, you can choose from a host of different ways to accept payments securely.
Pricing: There’s a free forever plan which is excellent for small companies that are just getting started online. Alternatively, you can use the Unlimited plan for just $99 per month for everything you need to sell online.
- Works with your existing website
- Free plan available and reasonably priced premium plans
- Option to sell on various marketplaces and social sites
- You can create a mobile app for the app store
- Automatic language detection
- Secure payment options available
- Integrated payment fees are quite high
- Not a standalone solution or eCommerce (you need a website)
- No phone support or live chat on lower plans
- Back-end stats aren’t very comprehensive
Magento stands out as one of the most popular ecommerce platforms for established and successful retailers. Some of the biggest companies in the world already use this tool to make sure that they can connect with their customers online. What’s more, Magneto also supports external sales channels like Amazon too! Magneto is perfect for delivering next-level sales experience, with a free-to-download software.
Unfortunately, like many open source solutions, you are going to need some developer knowledge, or a professional on your team if you want to create something unique and impressive with Magento. The good news is that you can find a community of people in the Magento landscape that are willing to work with emerging brands to develop the perfect website.
Pricing: There is a free software download available for Magento, but you will need to pay for your own hosting solutions and other premium tools. Additionally, it’s worth noting that there’s an enterprise version of this tool, but it costs $15,000.
- Open source for complete customization control
- Flexibility to customize your platform
- Huge community of developers to work with
- Excellent for global sites
- Versatile Magento marketplace
- Difficult to use
- Can be expensive to set up
- Need to manage your own hosting and payment gateways
- The Ultimate Magento 2 Ecommerce Review
- The Ultimate Guide to Magento Hosting
- Shopify vs Magento Open Source: Which Is the Absolute Best?
WooCommerce is an ecommerce solution that has earned the attention of companies all across the globe. Not only is it incredibly accessible and easy to use, but it’s built on the WordPress Content Management System. This is the software that’s responsible for running the majority of the internet. Because WooCommerce is built on top of such a popular content management system, it’s easy to get help and guidance when using it to build your online store.
Just like other plugins for your WordPress blog, WooCommerce can simply connect with your existing WordPress website. The system also comes with a range of excellent official extensions that you can use to make running your website a little easier too. For instance, you can choose from advanced themes for your storefront, and you can play with tools for dropshipping too. Because WooCommerce is open source, it’s very flexible, but this also means that you’re going to need a lot more technical knowledge to start using it.
One particularly useful feature of WooCommerce is unlike a lot of the other eCommerce platforms available on the web today, it comes with built-in blogging, and the option to take unlimited orders.
Pricing: As an open-source solution, WooCommerce is technically free to use. However, you will need to pay for your own hosting and payment gateways.
- Unlimited products and orders
- Add all the extra features that you want
- Affordable, though you need to pay for your own hosting
- Huge selection of themes and customization options
- No limits on how much you can sell
- Built on top of WordPress
- Requires some technical knowledge
- Needs a third-party payment gateway
- WooCommerce Review: The King of Ecommerce Plugins on WordPress
- Shopify vs WooCommerce: Which One Is the Absolute Best?
If you’re planning to build an online shop and sell across multiple platforms and channels, then BigCommerce could be just the tool for you. Ideal for smaller companies that are in the process of growing larger, BigCommerce is a scalable solution for online selling. However, the advanced features and functionality of this tool mean that it can be quite difficult to use.
BigCommerce comes with a huge selection of features to explore. That means that most of the functionality you need will already be build into your software. You won’t have to rely as heavily on app platforms like with Shopify. Whether you’re selling on Amazon, Instagram, Square, eBay, Facebook, or Pinterest, BigCommerce can help your business grow, while keeping expenses relatively low.
BigCommerce offers a wide selection of sales features to choose from; you just need to make sure that you have the skill or the talent in your team to help you to take advantage of all the benefits that this platform has to offer. You can even unlock some great SEO tools for helping your site to get found through Google.
Pricing: The cheapest BigCommerce pricing plans start at $29.95 per month. This is a relatively cost-effective price when you consider the number of features that you get.
- In-built visual merchandising tool
- No transaction fees
- Unlimited products, storage, and bandwidth
- Product rating and review options
- Large selection of free applications to choose from
- Excellent for selling across multiple channels.
- Pricing can be a little difficult to understand
- Not as easy as some tools to get set up
- Small selection of free themes available
- The Ultimate BigCommerce Ecommerce Review
- BigCommerce Enterprise Review – Everything You Need to Know
- BigCommerce Pricing Plans: How Much Are You Going to Pay With BigCommerce?
Compared to some of the other ecommerce platforms that we’ve covered so far, Weebly is still a relatively small up-and-coming service for today’s small business owners. It’s excellent for building a beginner-friendly website online. You don’t need a lot of spare time or tech talent to get started. Additionally, Weebly is very budget-friendly, with very cheap starter prices.
However, this platform lacks some of the scale that comes with the other eCommerce solutions that we’ve looked at so far. You can’t sell across a wide range of channels, such as Etsy and Facebook. Additionally, customizing various aspects of your website – like the checkout page, is harder than it should be. On the plus side, you do get some fantastic additional features included with Weebly, such as password protected pages and blogging. Additionally, Weebly is great for businesses that are only selling a handful of products that want to stand out online.
There are tons of professional themes to browse through with this site builder. What’s more, because Weebly powers it’s transactions through Square, you know you’re getting a payment system that you can trust.
Pricing: Pricing starts off with a free tier for basic use. You can also upgrade to the Pro version of the Weebly store for $12 per month, with a free domain and $100 of Google ads credit included.
- Very beginner friendly and easy to use
- Lots of responsive themes to choose from
- Wide selection of integrated apps to choose from
- Membership areas and team collaboration
- Very affordable
- Limited design options – particularly in the checkout page
- Not ideal for international websites
Weebly Review – Take a look at Weebly with our overall review of the platform.
Weebly Pricing: Inexpensive Online Stores with Some Room to Grow
For small businesses, it’s essential to find an ecommerce and website hosting solution that’s easy to use. After all, you probably don’t have time to learn how to use a new platform. Additionally, small businesses rarely have the extra funding required to pay for an expert to come and join their team.
GoDaddy uses ADI to simplify the process of building your store. What’s more, it offers support for more industries than many of its competitors. With the Artificial Design Intelligence built-in, you can use GoDaddy to quickly and easily design something that’s suitable for your specific niche. However, what you gain in speed, you can often lose in terms of creative freedom. GoDaddy doesn’t have the widest range of features to choose from – particularly when it comes to blogging.
For a relatively low price, GoDaddy will give you one of the easiest to use platforms on the market today. However, the service can be a little lacking in some areas – particularly if you’re a small business in the midst of significant growth.
Pricing: Prices start around $19.99 per month for the Online Store price plan. There’s a generous one-month free trial available too.
- Convenient and easy to use
- Artificial Intelligence Design support
- Excellent for speed when you want to get online fast
- No coding knowledge required
- Hosting available
- Very little creative control
- Not a lot of advanced features
- Lacking in tools for bloggers
Big Cartel is often recommended as one of the best tools for bigger companies looking to build a profitable presence online. That’s because the service requires a significant amount of coding knowledge if you want to get the most out of it. The pre-built themes and design options are pretty lacking by themselves. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t explore this solution for your small company too.
If you’re an artist or a creative company, Big Cartel is an excellent choice – particularly if you also happen to have a lot of experience with code – or know someone who does. There’s even a free plan available that will let you start selling for free. If you’re involved with small-scale selling, like selling one-off pieces of art – then Big Cartel has everything that you need.
Pricing: You can access the free plan, or upgrade to a premium version of BigCartel from $9.99 per month.
- Free plan for small companies
- Available use of custom domain
- Great for creative companies
- Useful for selling products digitally and in person
- Quick set up
- Requires a decent amount of coding knowledge
- Limited payment options (PayPal or Stripe)
- Limited themes available
- No blogging, PCI compliance, or advanced support
- Big Cartel Reviews: Is BigCartel the Best Ecommerce Platform for You?
- Top 10 Best Big Cartel Alternatives
- Big Cartel vs Shopify – The Ultimate Comparison
3dcart aims to provide today’s business owners with an all-in-one solution for their eCommerce software. The name “3dcart” was actually chosen to represent the company’s three-dimensional view of ecommerce, which includes store owners, shoppers, and search engines.
If you’re looking for a solution that provides all the tools you need to build, market, and sell from the ultimate online website, then 3dcart has you covered. You can enjoy a wide range of shopping cart software and eCommerce buy buttons. Additionally, there’s a fantastic inventory system that allows companies to easily keep track of their sales and products. In terms of flexibility, 3dcart is excellent for customization too, with the option to change your theme whenever you choose.
There are a few things lacking from the 3dcart experience, however. For instance, although you get support for unlimited orders, products, and unlimited bandwidth, you don’t get support for any mobile app. Additionally, though 3dcart has a robust selection of apps, SSL technology and more, it’s not very easy to use.
Pricing: Costs start a relatively reasonable $19 per month. If you’re looking for a range of tools with a low price tag, this could be the tool for you.
- Powerful solution with lots of customization
- Huge range of features, even on low-cost plans
- Affordable pricing
- POS available for selling offline
- 15-day free trial available
- Unlimited products and bandwidth
- Tough to set up if you’re a beginner
- Free themes feel a bit dated
- Relatively small selection of apps
EKM doesn’t get as much attention in the ecommerce market today as options like Shopify and WooCommerce. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth your attention. This sensational tool was actually founded in 2002, making it one of the first platforms to appear in the UK. The solution is similar in style to Shopify and brimming with unique features. This service is particularly well-suited to sellers in the United Kingdom, but you can use the service worldwide.
EKM comes with a full all-in-one eCommerce platform that offers everything a small business owner needs to sell online, including your own domain name and a range of payment options. You can also choose from more than 150 themes, which is excellent if you like having a wide range of customization options. All features are included on all plans, including SSL certificates and a free domain.
One downside of this service is that because it’s heavily UK focused, the support for customers is located in the UK. This might be a problem if you’re an international brand.
Pricing: Pricing starts at £32.49 per month plus VAT, which is a little expensive. However, you can try the service for free for up to 28 days.
- 3-month account manager helps you to get your shop up and running
- Excellent reviews online
- Fantastic range of features
- Free domain name and SSL certificate
- No transaction fees
- Unlimited products
- Add WordPress to your site
- Support is based in the UK
- VAT is charged on all plans
- Prices aren’t the cheapest on the market
- EKM Reviews: A UK-based Ecommerce Platform With All Features Built In
- EKM Tutorial for Beginners: 5 Step Guide to Building the Ultimate Store with EKM
Last, but not least, X-Cart claims to be the number one eCommerce platform for companies in search of a high-performing open-source solution. Unlike many of the other paid solutions on the market, X-Cart is unique in that it only charges a single one-time license for the software. There’s no monthly payment unless you choose the X-Cart hosted solution.
Designed to offer a simple and streamlined way to start selling online, the X-Cart experience is ideal for smaller businesses that want to keep costs as small as possible. There’s also a free version of the software, which you can use to determine if the solution is right for you. One downside, however, is that like most open-plan solutions, you will need to find a hosting company.
There’s also a pretty limited number of themes available with X-Cart.
Pricing: Starts with a free package. You’ll need to create an account to find out what the prices are after that.
- Plenty of great editing tools
- Easy WordPress integration
- Great for international sales
- Import/Export inventory data
- Effective SEO features
- One-off fee
- You’ll need to find your own web hosting
- Not many themes to choose from
- Full support costs extra
- Pricing isn’t very clear
Read our comprehensive X-Cart Review
When it comes to value for money and performance, Wix is one of the best options for eCommerce stores. Designed to deliver exceptional performance, even when you’re new to building your own online store, Wix gives you absolute creative control over your site. There are tons of features included in the eCommerce plans that you get with Wix, including a drag and drop store builder, hundreds of templates, and a mobile-optimized performance.
You can choose from a range of payment solutions and a secure checkout system. What’s more, there’s the option to create stunning product galleries with your in-depth store manager tools. Another great thing is that there’s the option to calculate global tax and shipping on your back-end too. Unfortunately, there aren’t quite as many shopping features on Wix as you would get with Shopify, but that’s to be expected from a site that’s not focused entirely on eCommerce.
Wix might not be the most advanced solution for ecommerce website building in the world – but it’s an excellent way for beginners to get started.
Pricing: Free ad-supported version if you don’t mind displaying Wix ads on your website. However, to sell products, you need the Business Basic plan that costs $23 per month.
- Excellent range of high-quality themes to customize your site
- Multiple secure payment options for your customers
- Large selection of apps and plugins
- Can start out for free
- Plenty of coupon and discount options
- Limited eCommerce features
- No way to export your data
- Difficult to add extra functions as it isn’t open source
Choosing the Best Ecommerce Platform for Small Business
So, how do you decide which website builder option you’re going to use for your small business? That all depends on what you’re looking for. The 15 options above all have their unique benefits to consider. For instance, if you’re looking for sales-specific features, then you’ll love the specialist functionality of Shopify. Alternatively, if you need something that provides a lot of creative control, then SquareSpace is a fantastic choice, as is Volusion.
GoDaddy is easy to use, and Square will give you the tools you need to combine online and offline selling. Additionally, Wix offers fantastic value for money, while BigCommerce provides you with all the functionality you could want to excel at multi-channel selling.
What kind of eCommerce platform will you be investing in this year?
- OpenCart Review: Close to Free Open Source Platform for Experienced Developers
- PrestaShop Review: Is It The Best Open Source Ecommerce Platform?
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FAQ for Small Business eCommerce
Which is the best platform for eCommerce?
Overall, Shopify will give you the most features for selling online. It’s used by companies all around the world and offers a robust selection of apps and add-ons for virtually every business plan. Shopify also comes with access to Oberlo, which is ideal if you’re interested in dropshipping as the cheapest and most convenient way to grow your brand.
Which is the right option for beginners?
For beginners, we’d recommend using something like GoDaddy or Wix. SquareSpace is also a very easy-to-use alternative to a lot of the bigger eCommerce systems on the market. Just remember that when you opt for simplicity, you may sometimes miss out on certain advanced feature sets too.
What is the cheapest eCommerce site builder?
Many of the leading eCommerce platforms on the web today come with their own unique free trial periods where you can test your product before you buy it. There are also a handful of free options out there, such as Square, which allows you to build your online store without spending a penny, or PrestaShop. However, bear in mind that if you’re choosing a free open-source service, you will need to pay for your own eCommerce hosting and other advanced features. If you want to access a premium website builder for a low price, Weebly is a great choice.
Which has the most design options?
Open-source website builders will generally give you more options when it comes to customizing your website. Weebly is an excellent choice for creativity, as is Volusion. You can also try BigCartel if you’re looking for a solution specifically designed for artists. Squarespace seems to be the best of all for ease of use, however.