We use in-depth research and testing to understand the pros and cons of each platform, then narrow down the search to present the absolute best tools for selling products, both physical and digital, online.
Table of Contents
- What is an Ecommerce Platform
- Most Important Factors to Consider When Looking for the Platform to Sell Online
- How We Conducted the Research
- Reasons to Trust Our Research
- We explain the purpose of an ecommerce platform.
- We outline the most important factors to consider when seeking out the best platform to sell online. Some of the factors include pricing, app offerings, and themes.
- Learn how we conducted our research.
- We also outline why our research is reputable over other alternatives online.
- The overall best platform to sell online is Shopify.
- The best platform to sell online for small business is Square Online.
- The best platform for large-scale business is BigCommerce.
- The best platform for beginners is Squarespace.
- The least expensive option is Wix Commerce.
- The best online marketplace is Amazon
What is an Ecommerce Platform?
An ecommerce platform is an online system for constructing an ecommerce website that incorporates elements for selling online.
Whereas a standard website platform/builder has features for adding pages and posts and menus, an ecommerce platform takes it a step further by including product management, shipping tools, payment processing, and more.
It's become popular for ecommerce platforms to be sold as SaaS (software as a service) solutions, with monthly payments that include all features, domains, and hosting fees.
However, other self-hosted ecommerce platforms (like WooCommerce) offer more control over your design, but they require additional experience with development and finding your own hosting.
What is an Online Marketplace?
Retailers in today’s digital landscape have multiple ways to start selling online. If you decide that you don’t have the time to build a complete online store (or you don’t want the hassle), you can try an online marketplace instead. An online marketplace is just an app or website that supports multiple stores or sellers at once.
The operator of the marketplace won’t own inventory specifically, but their business means that they present the inventory of other people to a wide community of people. Because these environments allow a wide customer base to shop for a range of products, they’re very convenient.
Users can browse everything from Newegg and Craigslist, to Facebook marketplace, for all kinds of products. With a marketplace, today’s business leaders can access a much wider audience in a shorter space of time than they would need to build their own store from scratch. The biggest benefits of selling through online marketplaces include:
- Fast launch times: If you’re new to the world of online selling, a marketplace will give you an easy way to generate revenue and find customers quickly. You don’t have to spend time building your online store, and you can even do less marketing, because most of your customers will already know about the marketplace you’re using.
- Extra support: Most online marketplaces come with extra tools and support to help get your business moving. For instance, Amazon has Fulfilled by Amazon, Amazon FBA means that the company deals with stocking the products from your online business and sending them to customers for you. There are all kinds of extra support you can get from an eCommerce marketplace, from assistance with shipping, to bonus marketing for your online shop.
- Large customer bases: As mentioned above, online sellers don’t need to work nearly as hard to find customers with a marketplace. One of the perks of selling through these pre-existing tools is that they already have a wide selection of customers, so you can find the customers you want pretty easily.
Online marketplaces are also very easy to use. There’s no need to waste time learning how to code your website to make it more effective or exploring various widgets.
How We Conducted the Research
Our research process for finding the best platforms to sell online involved the following steps:
- Starting with a list of all reputable ecommerce platforms we've covered in the past or heard about from users.
- Narrowing down this list to platforms that are old enough and reputable enough to warrant further research.
- Cut out platforms that are either too expensive or have limited features that don't fit our own requirements for running an online store.
- Run in-depth testing for the remaining ecommerce platforms, setting up stores, and seeing which features are unique to each system.
- Deciding on the most unique features and pricing structures to figure out which platform is the best for certain groups like small businesses, large businesses, beginners, and those on budgets.
- Decide on one overall great value platform that checks all boxes on our requirements list.
Reasons to Trust Our Research
The Ecommerce Platforms website is dedicated towards unbiased, honest research, and information about online stores and ecommerce in general.
Since 2014, we've compiled hundreds of articles, reviews, and tutorials for locating the best ecommerce tools.
We take pride in avoiding biased information that's used to convince people to buy ecommerce products based on affiliate programs or other compensation.
Although our site is funded, in part, by affiliate links, we never put one platform or tool over another based on the payments coming from those affiliate programs.
In fact, it makes the most sense for us to remain unbiased and choose the best tools, considering most platforms have affiliate programs, so there's no need to lean towards one or two over the others.
With this experienced team of unbiased researchers and writers, we're the go-to choice for deciding on the best platform to sell online.
- Overall Best Platform to Sell Online: Shopify
- Best Platform to Sell Online for Small Business: Square Online
- Best Platform to Sell Online for Large-scale Business: BigCommerce
- Best Platform to Sell Online for Beginners: Squarespace
- Best Platform to Sell Online for Cheap: Wix Ecommerce
Overall Best Platform to Sell Online: Shopify
Shopify is one of the most popular ecommerce platforms to choose from, and it's our choice for the best overall platform to sell online. It has downsides in only one or two business areas, primarily people trying to make a blog and sell products as a side business or by posting affiliate products. Every other business selling products online should take a long hard look at Shopify. It's a system made entirely for ecommerce, with beautiful themes, a simple-to-use interface, and an incredible number of apps to expand your functionality.
What's also interesting about Shopify is that you're not required to utilize the full shopping cart. Many users start with simple Shopify Buy buttons placed on WordPress sites. After that, you upgrade your plan as your business grows. It's also worth noting that Shopify is consistently growing and learning from users. They seem to add new features, apps, and interesting discounts for improving your operation. For instance, Shopify eventually added an Experts page to highlight developers and marketers to partner with. There's also a fulfillment program that wasn't offered before.
As our overall favorite, we concluded that Shopify has reasonable pricing, a solid feature set, and beautiful designs that get updated on a regular basis. It's the full package for selling online, without much missing in terms of marketing, sales, inventory, or shipping. It's particularly useful that Shopify integrates with multiple marketplaces and social media sites for listing ads and selling products elsewhere.
Here's our analysis of the Shopify ecommerce platform that helped us establish Shopify as the best overall way to sell online:
The standard pricing plans for Shopify are as follows:
- Shopify Lite – $9 per month for Shopify Buy buttons to place on your other websites and blogs. You can also accept payments anywhere and create invoices for larger orders or services. Keep in mind, this does not get you a full website with an online store or shopping cart. They are simply buttons to place on an already established site.
- Basic Shopify – $29 per month for a complete online store and shopping cart, unlimited products, two staff accounts, and most features required to run an online store.
- Shopify Plan – $79 per month for everything in the previous plan, five staff accounts, professional reports, and steeper credit card discounts than the previous plan.
- Advanced Shopify – $299 per month for everything in the previous plans, 15 staff accounts, better card discounts than the previous accounts, an advanced report builder, and third-party calculated shipping rates.
- Shopify Plus – This is the enterprise-grade plan from Shopify. It starts at $2,000 per month and gets you highly advanced features for things like rapid integrations, better reports, tax reductions, localized shopping experiences, and more.
The best part about Shopify pricing is that everything is included in the price. You don't have to worry about hosting costs or domain fees. The only additional fee you may have to consider is for an app or theme. These are all priced differently, but in general, you can locate free apps and themes to satisfy your needs.
However, premium apps often charge monthly fees, anywhere from $1 per month to hundreds of dollars per month (it's more common to see $5 to $10 per month for an app).
The themes are a different story. A theme requires a one-time payment (no recurring fees,) yet those costs are usually high, with many of the themes being listed at $180.
A clean and informative backend dashboard:
Shopify boasts an intuitive backend interface, with a left sidebar menu, sales channel quick buttons, and step-by-step procedures for launching your ecommerce site.
The Shopify backend follows design trends for website dashboards, and it also has a mobile app to check your sales and manage inventory from anywhere in the world.
When you get to the dashboard, a handful of steps are outlined to add products, customize your theme, and add a domain. The recommendations don't stop after that. You'll continually see charts, links, and thoughts on how to improve your store.
The menu items include the following:
There's also a separate module for adding and organizing your sales channels, such as your online store, Amazon, and a Facebook Shop.
Themes and designs:
Shopify themes range from simple and amateur-looking to somewhat advanced. Shopify appears to stick with minimalistic themes that require a few customizations, mainly for those who have started businesses and have no design experience.
Having said that, the simplicity of the themes doesn't mean they aren't modern or functional–in fact, it's the opposite.
As of this analysis, Shopify has 73 themes in its library. Of those themes, 64 of them are paid and 9 are free.
Filters include industry searches, with the following industries covered:
- Art and photo
- Clothing and fashion
- Jewelry and accessories
- Food and drink
- Home and garden
- Health and beauty
- Sports and recreation
- Toys and games
You can also search by collection, where Shopify organizes each theme in categories like “Fun and Lively” or “Great for Small Inventories.”
The common $180 premium theme pricing isn't exactly low, but there are clear distinctions between the free and premium solutions. There seem to be more layouts, navigation options, and marketing and social media features when you opt for the premium templates.
The free themes will definitely work for smaller businesses, but it's important to know that your site may look a little “simple” or even “amateurish” if you try to customize the theme yourself and skimp on hiring a designer.
It's easier to design a beautiful website yourself if you opt for a premium Shopify theme.
The App Store is one of the main reasons to consider Shopify for selling online.
Shopify is the iPhone of ecommerce platforms, organizing thousands of third-party apps in a library for you to extend upon the functionality of your site and add elements for things like marketing, social media, accounting, and shipping.
Some people really like this configuration, since it means every missing feature is technically available. However, others prefer having most features actually built into the platform. Shopify doesn't do that. Instead, it relies more on apps.
Another downside to so many apps is the fact that it could end up adding more costs to your monthly Shopify bill. We highly recommend finding apps that don't cost anything, but sometimes this isn't possible for what you need.
As for the App Store itself, it provides a search bar for typing in keywords, along with categories and collections.
A few app collections include:
- Launching your store apps
- Growing your business
- Top email marketing solutions
- Made by Shopify
- Sales channels
The primary app categories are as follows:
- Finding products
- Places to sell
- Store design
- Sales and conversion
- Orders and shipping
- Inventory management
- Customer support
- Trust and security
Overall, the app library seems endless. We like it for people who don't have development experience, especially if you take the time required to find free apps for your situation.
Shopify links to a wide range of sales channels for social media stores and online marketplaces.
It's one of the best bets for being able to sell elsewhere online, especially when it comes to syncing with your inventory and automating the entire process of selling on those channels.
The sales channels are organized in a list on your dashboard. It's possible to sell some products on certain channels and remove them from other channels.
The channels are provided via apps. Here are the popular channels:
- Facebook Messenger
- Facebook Shop
Social media support:
Social media support is strong on Shopify.
The sales channels listed above show that you can sell your products on a Facebook Shop and get shoppable posts on sites like Instagram and Pinterest.
As for sharing and follow buttons, it depends on your theme.
That's why we recommend testing out all themes before making a purchase. You'll find that some of them have wonderful social sharing buttons that stand out, while others either lack the buttons or it's tough for the user to find them.
If you don't have social buttons on your theme, fear not. All you have to do is go to the app store and install one of the many free social apps.
You'll be surprised how many types of social media marketing elements are available for you when searching through the app store.
For instance, you can find apps for the following:
- Instagram feeds
- Twitter auto-posting
- WhatsApp customer chats
- Shoppable Instagram feeds
- Facebook Like popups
- Many more
Ads and sponsored posts:
Ads and sponsored posts are automated solutions to get your product ads on social media sites and search engines, the main ones being Google and Facebook.
Under the Marketing tab, Shopify provides a wonderful ad and sponsored post automation tool, where you choose the products to promote, then rapidly design the ads right in the Shopify dashboard.
For instance, it lets you make Facebook dynamic retargeting ads, promoted products on Pinterest, Snapchat ads, and more.
There are pros and cons to the Shopify payments systems. On one hand, Shopify doesn't charge any transaction fees for its built-in Shopify Payments gateway. You still have to incur the credit card fees, but those actually go down if you pay for higher-tiered pricing plans.
Although that's a great incentive for merchants, it's kind of a bummer for merchants that require specialty payment gateways. For instance, you may find that Authorize.net is more affordable or works better in your country. If you integrate Shopify with Authorize.net, you may have transaction fees to worry about.
Anyway, Shopify does support other payment options. Here's what to choose from:
- Shopify Payments
- Amazon Pay
- Manual payment options
You can also link third-party providers, such as:
Shopify lets you link to alternative payment options as well:
- Klarna (buy now, pay later)
Needless to say, hundreds of payment providers are available through Shopify. There are a few limitations, but there is a strong incentive to go with Shopify Payments.
Fulfillment is typically done through an app in Shopify.
For instance, you can choose, and link to, fulfillment apps like ShipHero, ShipMonk, and EasyShip. There are also dropshipping apps like Spocket and Oberlo.
Shopify has created a program called the Shopify Fulfillment Network for those in the United States who want to store products in various Shopify warehouses throughout the country. They also package and ship the orders, similar to Fulfillment by Amazon.
We feel it's important to consider a third-party fulfillment option (instead of fulfilling all products yourself,) so it's nice to see that Shopify gives you options.
Shopify has a detailed dashboard page for setting shipping requirements and limitations. This includes custom shipping rates, rates for zones, and local pickup options.
You set the carriers used and configure how you're going to print shipping labels and send out tracking emails.
There's also an area to set up dynamic or flat-rate shipping fees.
Shopify offers most marketing elements under the Marketing tab. Here, you install a wide variety of marketing apps for:
- Microsoft Ads
- Email marketing
- SMS marketing
- Snapchat ads
- Much more
This module provides a button to start a marketing campaign and run it right from your Shopify dashboard.
The consolidation inside the dashboard removes the need for jumping from software to software, and the large selection of marketing tools makes it easy to get the word out.
Best Platform to Sell Online for Small Business: Square Online
Square can attribute its popularity to it flagship card swiper for running credit cards through mobile devices.
However, Square has added several products and services over the years, one of them being Square Online.
Although small businesses will do just fine with Shopify and BigCommerce, Square is for the ultra-small operations, like if you're selling crafts from your home or consistently go to art fairs to peddle your handmade items or collectibles.
It's a winning combination because you receive the Square swiper and a sleek online store that doesn't take long to configure.
Not only is the online store free (for new users,) but it offers affordable plans after that. There's almost no reason to mess with code, as the Square Online templates are ready to go already. You won't find more advanced features than you'd see on BigCommerce, but everything from inventory to payment processing is included. There's also not much room for expanding with apps, but this platform isn't really meant for rapidly growing businesses, but smaller, “mom-and-pop” style operations.
The Square swiper is free.
As for the online store plans, here's what to expect:
- Free – $0 per month for 2.9% + $.30 transaction fee, unlimited products, automatic inventory, order, and item sync with Square POS, Instagram and Pinterest integration, and an online shopping cart.
- Professional – $12 per month for 2.9% + $.30 transaction fee, everything from the previous plan, a custom domain, and no Square branding.
- Performance – $26 per month for 2.9% + $.30 transaction fee, everything from previous plans, customer reviews, discounted shipping labels, order fulfillment, abandoned cart emails.
- Premium – $72 per month for 2.6% + $.30 transaction fee, everything from the previous plans, highest discounts on shipping rates, and a real-time shipping rate calculator.
There are limitations from the free plan, but overall, it's a solid choice for businesses starting out. After that, the other plans are cheaper than Shopify and BigCommerce, and you still get custom domains, themes, and unlimited product sales.
Not to mention, the Square processing fees get a tad cheaper if you reach the Premium level.
A clean and informative backend dashboard:
The Square dashboard remains minimalistic and user-friendly. You manage inventory and collect orders that sync with the Square Point of Sale swiper.
Square offers a visual designer for your website, with options to add modules for contact information, featured items, Instagram feeds, and more.
The online store solution from Square is provided by Weebly. So, if you're familiar with Weebly, you know how it works. Overall, Weebly is similar to Wix in that it's made for non-developers.
You'll have an easy time configuring your store, it should look professional, and there aren't any intimidating features like you would find in more advanced online store solutions.
Themes and designs:
Square Online has dozens of pre-made themes for you to choose from. However, the Online Store category is lacking. As of right now, I'm counting 15 online store templates.
The other categories include business, portfolio, personal, event, and blog themes.
The designs look respectable, with minimalism and white space being a strong focus. You can also import a theme from a third-party seller.
Based on our research, the majority of themes are provided for free, but you may have to pay for a third-party template.
Other than that, the design area has some drag-and-drop elements, with prebuilt page sections, social media buttons, galleries, and more.
Right now, it's unclear how much the Weebly App Center is being integrated into the Square Online system. There's no direct button to get to the App Store from Square, but it looks like you can still install some of the apps if you'd like to.
The actual Weebly App Store has hundreds of apps to expand the functionality of your store, with categories for ecommerce, communication, marketing, social, and site tools.
You're limited to pretty much nothing when it comes to sale channels through the Square Online Store platform. We expect better access to the old Weebly App Store in the future, so you may be able to have a seamless process for selling on other channels through apps.
The Instagram and Pinterest integrations are the exceptions. You have the opportunity to sell on Instagram and make sales on Pinterest as well.
Social media support:
Many of the Square Online themes provide social media buttons and sharing tools. Make sure you test these themes to ensure that's the case with the one you choose.
Other than that, you're limited to what's given in the Weebly App Store. You also receive the Instagram and Pinterest integrations, which are great for selling on social media accounts.
Ads and sponsored posts:
The main advertising offering through Square Online is the Facebook Ads Manager. There's not much to it: the dashboard has a simple button that leads you to the actual Facebook Ad Manager page.
The benefit is that your products sync with the Facebook Ads Manager, allowing you to place product pictures and information into those ads.
Other than that, Square Online doesn't have other advertising solutions, unless you consider a third-party app.
Seeing as how Square was a payment processing company long before it sold ecommerce platforms, the only payment solution from the company is Square.
That's not a bad thing, especially if you run a company in the accepted countries list. If you're not on that list, you'll have to look elsewhere for a processor and online selling platform.
Square has standard processing fees and accepts a myriad of payment options, like major credit cards, Apple Pay, Square Pay, and Google Pay.
No fulfillment options are provided through Square until you reach the Performance payment plan.
This plan gives you discounted shipping labels and improved fulfillment tools.
You could always partner with a third-party fulfillment company or dropshipper, but it won't be integrated with your online store.
Shipping is broken into two sections.
The first area lets you add shipping rates based on regions. For instance, you'd find a region, like the United States, then add a flat-rate, real-time, or free shipping rate for that region.
Keep in mind that the real-time rates are only available in the Premium plan.
Square offers alternative shipping rates based on order weight, order total, and item quantity.
There are advanced settings for configuring carriers, getting discounting shipping slips, configuring your boxes, and formatting labels.
The Marketing section from Square is quite powerful for such an inexpensive ecommerce platform.
Some of the marketing elements include:
- Built-in email marketing.
- Abandoned cart tools.
- Site popups.
- Email capture modules.
- Automated emails.
- Upsells and cross-sells.
- Announcement bars.
Best Platform to Sell Online for Large-scale Business: BigCommerce
BigCommerce presents an online selling system similar to that of Shopify. The main differences include superior themes and overall designs, more built-in features (as opposed to how Shopify relies on apps,) and a pricing and feature system that's meant for rapidly-growing businesses.
There's a reason BigCommerce highlights its Enterprise plan before anything else on its website. It's made to scale up great ideas at a rapid pace. You can also get the “Essentials” plans, which are more akin to what you'd find from Shopify, the plans for beginners and entrepreneurs who want to still receive the most advanced tools, but may not have the development skills required to make websites.
The Enterprise version of BigCommerce requires you to contact the company and discuss your company's needs. According to past users, you should expect fees in the thousands per month. Yes, that's high, but the point is for the Enterprise plan to help large businesses.
Having said that, the Essentials Plans are also nice for large businesses, or at least those that are growing rapidly.
The following pricing plans are available:
- Standard – $29.95 per month for no transaction fees, unlimited products, and a full online store.
- Plus – $79.95 per month for everything in the previous plan, plus customer groups, abandoned carts, persistent carts, and stored credit cards.
- Pro – $299.95 per month for everything in the previous plans, plus many other features like product filtering, price lists, API calls, express routing, and more.
Hosting is included with BigCommerce, so you don't have to pay for that.
Themes and apps are often free, but many times you'll find that paying for a premium design or app is a better option for your company. The theme pricing floats around $200, as a one-time payment.
We also like that you get price savings from PayPal Powered by Braintree if you opt for that as your payment processor.
A clean and informative backend dashboard:
BigCommerce has one of our favorite dashboards. It runs through the steps you need to follow to launch your online store, and provides hints along the way to test your store, customize your email, manage channels, set an About Us page, and more.
The main menu is shown on the left side, with tabs for the following:
- Viewing your store
- Channel Manager
- Store Setup
- Advanced Settings
- Server Settings
The feature list is longer in BigCommerce than any other ecommerce platform on this list. Yet, they organize the large collection of features so that it's not too intimidating to get started and make decisions.
Themes and designs:
BigCommerce features both free and paid themes, all of which are beautiful and designed for several industries and product categories. During our testing and use of these products over the years, BigCommerce has consistently delivered with the best collection of themes on the market.
As of right now, there are about 12 free themes to choose from, with the rest (close to 100) being premium themes, with prices set around $200.
The price is worth it, since it's a one-off payment that makes you look like a professional developer. In addition, the page builder has visual elements and you could always tap into the code or pay a developer to customize any aspect of the website.
The BigCommerce Apps Store isn't as expansive as the Shopify App Store, but that's because BigCommerce is known for building features into the system instead of relying on apps.
Having said that, BigCommerce still integrates with hundreds of apps, some of which are paid, while others are free.
You can find categories for accounting, webpage building, fulfillment, and much more.
The BigCommerce sales channels include the following:
- Google Shopping
- Many more
Some of the sales channels are built into BigCommerce. If not, you can typically find a channel in the App Store.
Social media support:
BigCommerce includes areas to add social media links and sharing buttons. It's also wise to check your themes for social media elements, but from our research, all of them have this.
The social marketing integrations run deep with BigCommerce, as it offers several integrations for ads, promotions, and automated posting. For instance, you can sync and sell products from your store on places like Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram, all without having to install an extra app.
Ads and sponsored posts:
This module repeats what's said in the Social Media Support area, seeing as how a few of the social media channels allow for advertising on social sites as well.
Other than that, there's no direct feature for placing ads on Facebook, so you may have to look for an app to make this happen, or simply utilize the ad platforms by themselves.
BigCommerce partners with PayPal by Braintree as its primary payment processor. Discounted credit card fees are provided for some plans. Merchants also have options to link their stores to other payment gateways.
Other payment methods include:
- Most major digital wallets
There's a massive list of payment gateways, so merchants have options to spare.
All fulfillment is done through apps. This integrates third-party fulfillment companies to ensure that your orders are stored, packaged, and delivered in the right manner.
For example, some of the apps to consider include ShipBob, ShipHero, and Fulfillment by Amazon. A few dropshipping apps are offered as well.
BigCommerce provides a simple shipping wizard that beats out the majority of other shipping offerings from ecommerce platforms.
They recommend shipment label printing solutions and show modules for configuring your default shipping rules. The advanced shipping rules are great for dynamic shipping fees.
You can add shipping zones, link to carrier partners, and decide whether or not you'd like to offer flat-rate shipping, dynamic shipping fees, or free shipping.
The Marketing area in BigCommerce includes these elements:
- Abandoned cart tools
- Coupon codes
- Google customer reviews
- Email marketing
- Gift certificates
- Selling on eBay
Best Platform to Sell Online for Beginners: Squarespace
Squarespace gets our endorsement for beginners because of its stunning templates, simple user-interface, and the barebones approach taken towards selling items online. There aren't any complicated tools, and you don't need to be an experienced designer to launch a website that looks professional. Squarespace began as a website builder without ecommerce tools, but it's developed a branch of its business for sleek online stores.
One thing's for certain, your online store will stand out. The themes are remarkable, with a focus on visuals and high-resolution photography. You can sell both products and services through your website, and get more creative with your sales for things like subscriptions and selling in-person.
Pair that with curated integrations (instead of a less regulated app store,) and we think that most non-designers will enjoy the platform provided by Squarespace. It's not the cheapest of the bunch, but you're paying for the ability to eliminate the need for coding.
Although Squarespace offers plans for basic websites, we're only interested in sites that include ecommerce integrations or built-in shopping carts.
Here's what to expect in terms of pricing:
- Business – $18 per month for a fully integrated ecommerce system, 3% transaction fee, unlimited products, gift cards, donation system, and more.
- Basic Commerce – $26 per month for a full ecommerce store, no transaction fees, everything from the previous plan, and a point of sale, customer accounts, checkout on your domain, analytics, merchandising tools, Instagram integration, and limited availability labels.
- Advanced Commerce – $40 per month for a full store, everything from the previous plans, no transaction fees, abandoned cart recovery, subscriptions, advanced shipping, discounts, commerce APIs, and more.
A clean and informative backend dashboard:
As time has passed, and Squarespace has improved its commerce section, it's clear that the platform has placed a priority on holding the hand of the user and guiding them through every step of the website building process. It's one of the reasons Squarespace is able to charge a little extra money for its service, since there's often no reason at all to hire a developer or designer.
The backend provides a module to set up your store, with buttons for adding products to your store, linking payment gateways, and customizing the store.
Much of the time, the dashboard reveals a visual view of your website, so you're aware of what the site looks like at all times. The left side of the page shows the main menu, with the following tabs for the regular website tools:
When you click on the Commerce button, it brings up a solid collection of new tabs to construct and manage your online store.
Some of these buttons include:
- Point of sale
- Product Status
- Related Products
- Customer Notifications
- Low Stock Alerts
- Customer Accounts
Many of these elements are consolidated in other platforms, making it somewhat tricky to locate the areas that you need to edit. Squarespace, on the other hand, displays everything on the menu, eliminating the guesswork and speeding up the creation process. For instance, the Payments tab would usually be hidden in a Settings panel in Shopify or BigCommerce, but Squarespace has it displayed in a large font, right on the main menu.
Themes and designs:
The themes and design features are the primary highlight from Squarespace, considering the themes are built to display high-resolution images, and much of your theme includes drag-and-drop elements to completely remove the coding process.
The theme library isn't as expansive as the competition, but you know that each theme is beautiful and ready to work. There's a Commerce section to sell on your website, and you also have themes for regular business websites.
The themes don't necessarily cater to special industries, but that's a good thing. You could technically take any of the themes provided by Squarespace and turn them into a beautiful online store for any type of business.
Squarespace has a nicely curated Extension Store and several integrated tools to help with selling online.
In the past, Squarespace didn't have this store, so many of the required features are already packaged into the platform. We feel that Squarespace continues this tradition of providing the necessities as built-in features, while offering integrations that are well-vetted and asked for from users.
Some of the extensions and integrations to look forward to include:
- Apple Pay
- Social media accounts
- Many more
Sales channels aren't supported as well on Squarespace as they are on other platforms, but there are ways to integrate with channels and marketplaces like Amazon and Facebook.
For instance, the GoDataFeed app is a solution for managing Google, Instagram, and Facebook product feeds, syncing those accounts to your website inventory.
There's also an app called Shopping Feed, which allows for selling on eBay, Amazon, Etsy, and Google.
So, the opportunity for selling on other channels is there, but the features are provided with help from third-party extensions.
Social media support:
Squarespace themes typically include social sharing and follow buttons. You can also connect your social media accounts to display content from your feeds. As an example, you can link to Instagram to share a gallery of your recent posts. Other social networks to link to include Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.
What's great is that these integrations are built-in, beating out the third-party app social situation you're stuck with through Shopify and other alternatives.
Ads and sponsored posts:
Promotion on Squarespace is completed with Instagram stories, products on Instagram, Facebook Ads, and Pinterest Save buttons.
Again, these are built-in tools for making ads and promoted social posts.
Another advantage you have with Squarespace is that Google Ad credits are provided for some plans.
Payment gateways are provided with the Business and Commerce plans, letting you add options for receiving payments and placing the money in your own bank accounts.
Squarespace payment options are limited, but that's the point. They're trying to make it less confusing for beginners, so they only stick with a couple of reliable payment processors.
Here are the processors from Squarespace:
- Square (for POS only)
These payment processors allow for major credit cards, PayPal, Venmo, Apple Pay, and Google Pay.
Squarespace offers fulfillment through its integrated apps. Luckily, the list is curated and to the point, where you don't have to complete much research.
The fulfillment apps are:
- Order Desk
- Returns Center
As of right now, there don't seem to be any dropshipping apps for Squarespace.
The shipping options for Squarespace are rather simple:
- Flat rate
- Depending on weight
- Carrier calculated by FedEx
- Carrier calculated by UPS
- Carrier calculated by USPS
Quite a few marketing tools are designed into the Squarespace platform. These include:
- Customer notifications
- Related products
- Location management
- Promotional popups
- Announcement bars
- Instagram stories
- Products on Instagram
- Facebook marketing
- Social sharing buttons
- Pinterest Save buttons
- A URL builder
- An area for Google Ads credits
Best Platform to Sell Online for Cheap: Wix
Wix, similar to Squarespace and Square Online Stores, has its roots as a standard website builder. The ecommerce tools eventually came and provided a way for small businesses to sell products online without extremely high monthly fees. That's why we consider it the best platform to sell online for cheap. That doesn't mean it's the best overall platform or the best configuration for beginners, but it's not bad in those areas either.
Wix Commerce is the version of Wix that incorporates online selling features. It's simple enough for beginners, has a large collection of themes, and you can publish on your own domain. During our testing, it felt like a mix of the small website feel of Square Online Stores and some of the simple aspects of Squarespace.
A Business and Ecommerce plan is required to get an online store and shopping cart from Wix. The cost breakdown goes like this:
- Free – The free Wix plan provides options to build your website on a Wix-based domain. There are options to sell products with sales buttons. It makes for a great, affordable solution for very small businesses, but it's not considered a true online store.
- Business Basic – $23 per month to accept online payments and build a site with your own domain and remove Wix ads from the Free plan.
- Business Unlimited – $27 per month for everything in the previous plan, more advanced eCommerce features, and increased storage.
- Business VIP – $49 per month for everything in the previous plans, priority support, and increased storage.
- Enterprise – $500 per month for everything in the previous plans, boarding, maintenance, professional services, security, priority support, and business integrations.
A clean and informative backend dashboard:
The Wix dashboard is the same for standard business websites and ecommerce stores. It's designed for beginners and those who don't want coding involved in the process.
You're shown buttons for adding products, pages, and backgrounds. There are also Media, Blogging, and Store buttons, all placed over the visual drag-and-drop builder.
The ecommerce dashboard is a separate page, and it shows a basic menu with tabs for:
- Store Products
- Customer Management
- Marketing and SEO
- Analytics and Reports
- Content Manager
It's all fairly easy to understand, providing a useful way to start selling online within minutes.
Themes and designs:
Hundreds of templates are given away by Wix. There's no shortage of options for portfolios, online stores, and other business websites. They're clean, modern, and designed for mobile responsiveness, but you shouldn't expect anything in terms of extremely professional-looking designs. They work for small businesses, and that's what they're there for.
The App Market is filled with options for all business types.
Ecommerce-focused apps include:
- Pay Button
- Pricing Plans
- Smile Points and Rewards
- Many More
There's a good chance if you can't find a feature on Wix it's available somewhere as an app.
Facebook and Instagram are the only two sales channels included with Wix. Other than that, an app search is required for finding other channels. For example, Amazon has an app on Wix.
Social media support:
Along with the Instagram and Facebook sales channels, Wix offers modules for making social posts in your Wix dashboard. This is unique to Wix in that you can pull from social templates and schedule posts for your accounts.
You'll also find built-in sharing and follow buttons, along with apps to incorporate galleries and other types of social selling.
Ads and sponsored posts:
Wix offers a Facebook Ads tool for linking your products and placing them in Facebook Ads directly from your Wix dashboard. You can find additional ad options, but the main one is for Facebook.
The features for accepting payments are found under the Settings area in Wix. This module asks you to select the payment methods and processors for all payments.
The primary payment gateway is Wix Payments, which is simple to set up and offers the standard 2.9% + 30¢ per transaction credit card fee.
Other processors include:
- Custom Forms
- Point of sale processing through the Wix mobile app
The Wix Payments solution accepts all major credit cards. It's unclear if this includes alternative payments like Apple Pay. From the looks of it, those aren't part of the deal.
Wix offers one of the best online wizards for sourcing products and finding fulfillment options. The “Find Products to Sell” module is built into Wix, so there's no need to go searching on your own. The page essentially recommends the best fulfillment apps organized in a neat list.
Suggested options include:
Store shipping through Wix is handled by either linking your fulfillment service (and allowing them to calculate the shipping rates) or by typing in your own rates.
You choose the region, shipping calculation, and any shipping rules you have.
Here are the shipping method rates from Wix:
- Free Shipping
- Flat Rate
- Rate by Weight
- Rate by Price
- Rate by Product
- USPS Calculated
- Store Pickup
Wix includes a nicely organized Marketing and SEO area, with the following features:
- SEO Tools
- Get Found on Google
- Email Marketing
- Facebook Ads
- Social Posting
- Video Maker
- Marketing Integrations
- A Logo Maker
- Business Card Maker
- Triggered Emails
- Facebook Sales Channel
- Instagram Sales Channel
The Best Online Marketplaces
So what kind of online marketplaces can you access today?
There are a lot of great choices out there, but some of the most popular are the following:
Amazon is probably the biggest eCommerce marketplace in the western world. There are more than 5 million sellers using this marketplace for their product listings, and around 197 million shoppers just in the United States. Ideal for companies that want to scale, Amazon makes it easy to reach millions of people with your product pages, and Amazon standardizes product listings for simplicity too.
With Amazon, you can offer deals, gift cards, and various other ways to attract your perfect audience. There’s the opportunity to upload product pictures and videos, and you can sell all kinds of stuff online too, including digital products.
While Amazon might not make it easy for you to build a memorable brand online, it does ensure that you can list products fast and start making a profit. When it comes to features, there are even built-in affiliate programs and fulfilment by Amazon to consider too. The affiliate program means that you can give influencers in your niche a unique URL that links directly to your storefront. Every time someone clicks on an affiliate link, you get more exposure, and you pay a small referral fee to your affiliate automatically for helping you get that purchase.
The fulfilled by Amazon program is an excellent way to get started if you don’t want to worry about packing and shipping your products at this early stage in your business. Amazon will do the hard work for you, so you can focus on delighting your audience.
Who is Amazon best for?
Amazon is a great selling solution for virtually any company selling anything. It’s easy to run a business on Amazon, and the sheer number of customers that will see your items means that you’ll have no problem reaching potential consumers. All you need to do is make sure that your offer is enticing enough that you get the purchase.
Make sure that you do your market research and avoid getting into a space that’s already too oversaturated, or this could make it harder for you to succeed.
Like Amazon, Etsy is a very popular online marketplace, but it takes a different path to support sellers. Etsy allows you to sell your products on a pre-build environment with other retailers. However, the difference with this website is that the products you sell are often unique, hand-made or creative in some way.
The active buyers on Etsy aren’t looking for the same products they can get everywhere else. What’s more, it’s worth noting that Etsy sells products independent of its own brand. This means that your customers know exactly who they’re buying from.
When shoppers click on your company name in a product page, they’re redirected to the custom Etsy storefront. This helps you to build something of a more memorable brand identity, particularly if you don’t already have your own website. Etsy also gives you the ability to cultivate a loyal community for minimal selling fees.
Etsy has a mobile app that you can sell on if you’re targeting mobile customers. Additionally for people who haven’t tried online advertising before, Etsy can help with that too. You can even create unique offers for your subscribers. It only costs around $0.20 for each product you list, but you do have to pay payment processing and transaction fees too.
Who is Etsy best for?
Etsy is a good choice for you if you want to go beyond the dime-a-dozen products on sites like Alibaba and start creating something special. Etsy is suited to any merchant with handmade or vintage items, similar to ruby lane. You will need to be careful with what you sell on Etsy, however, so make sure that you read the guidelines available before getting started.
Bonanza is a large, easy-to-use online selling marketplace that allows you to import your inventory from other solutions like Amazon and Etsy. The great thing about Bonanza is that you have control, you can choose your sale price, and list your products for free. You only pay fees if someone actually buys your products.
Compared to other marketplaces, Bonanza is still very new, which can be worrying to some companies wary of scams. However, despite it’s newness, Bonanza is extremely popular, and has a huge range of items to choose from. If you’re looking for a simple way to start putting your selling plan into action, this could be the marketplace for you.
The site has tons of shoppers and merchants in various parts of the world, so you’ll have no trouble finding unique visitors for your website. Bonanza is also one of the easiest platforms for selling, with an extremely popular design that’s on the rise with sellers worldwide.
To win on Bonanza, it’s important to make sure that you check out some of it’s handy sales resources, as you’ll find a lot of great guidance here. Additionally, remember to choose a category that you’re comfortable with – if that category is also very popular, that’s a bonus.
Who is Bonanza best for?
Bonanza is a great choice for online merchants who want to get started fast with minimal expense and complexity. The marketplace does specialize in unique products, but it’s easy to sell virtually anything that you can think of here too. You don’t have to sell handmade products to make a profit.
Most Important Factors to Consider When Looking for the Best Platform to Sell Online
Features, pricing, interface, design, and the many other elements that go into ecommerce platforms come into play when making your decision for the best platform to sell online.
It's not an easy task to sift through this information, so we do the work for you. During our research, we narrowed down a list of important factors. Each ecommerce platform below is evaluated based on those factors.
Here's what to look for, based on the factors we use:
- Pricing – How much will you have to pay on a monthly basis to actually sell online? Is it going to take a small business a long time to break even? Does the cost get more desirable as you grow and do you have the opportunity to grow in the first place? Some other elements that add more costs include third-party apps, hosting, domain names, and processing fees. We want to cover all costs to ensure that you know what you're paying for.
- A clean and informative backend dashboard – The goal is to locate ecommerce platforms with modern and easy-to-understand dashboards. It's no good when a beginner gets on the dashboard and is completely overwhelmed. The best interfaces include visual builders, summarized online sales numbers, and step-by-step guides for configuring your store.
- Themes and designs – Not every ecommerce platform has templates and themes to help you began the design process. Others provide large libraries of prebuilt themes that cater to a wide range of industries. We're looking for themes that work well, look beautiful, and don't cost too much. It's also nice to see large theme collections and a focus on specific industries.
- App offerings – Extendability improves your chances of building an advanced online store without having to reach out and pay for a developer. You shouldn't really use too many apps for your store (they can sometimes cause performance issues,) but it's ideal to at least have options for apps in social media, marketing, design, sales, and more.
- Sales channels – Selling online isn't only about having your own website. It's common to sync your inventory with marketplaces like eBay and Amazon. We also like to see integrations to social media stores and marketplaces, like on Instagram and Facebook.
- Social media support: Social media integrations vary in functionality, so we're interested in evaluating all of them. Obviously, it's nice to see integrations with social marketplaces and shopping carts, but it's also essential to have sharing buttons, gallery options, and buttons to get more followers.
- Ads and sponsored posts – Instagram, Pinterest, and many other social networks include tools for advertising your products and even linking to the items in your pictures (like Shoppable Pins on Pinterest). Overall, it's much easier to advertise for your store when the information is integrated and synced with your store, removing the need to make your own graphics and upload them to the individual social networks.
- Payment gateways – Each method for selling online offers integrations with payment gateways. Some are limited to the basics like PayPal or Stripe, while others offer long lists of third-party payment gateways. From one perspective, it's easy to only have a few solid choices for payment processing. However, some stores need specific payment gateways to decrease listing fees, or for other reasons like geography or the type of products being sold.
- Fulfillment options – A few platforms provide their own fulfillment solutions, but it's not that common. Regardless, you'll want to know the methods of fulfillment provided, considering you may want dropshipping, self-fulfillment, or third-party logistics. Each are totally different, requiring alternative third-party or built-in solutions.
- Shipping options – All shipping differs based on your products being sold. However, the best situation is to have a multitude of shipping options to cover every possible scenario. Whether it's dynamic shipping rates or flat-rate, you still want to have this option. It's also ideal to have extra shipping tools like automatic shipping calculations, shipping emails, and even label printing. We also want to evaluate if digital delivery emails and security tools work well.
- Marketing tools – Does the platform cut out the need for other software? We're talking email marketing, abandoned cart emails, popups, and the many other elements that you need for marketing products the right way.
These are the essential features and factors covered during our testing. You'll see the following list outlined and explained for each online selling method below:
- A clean and informative backend dashboard
- Themes and designs
- App offerings
- Sales channels
- Social media support
- Ads and sponsored posts
- Payment gateways
- Fulfillment options
- Shipping options
- Marketing tools
To sum up our analysis, here's what we've learned:
- Shopify stands out as the best overall value and online store builder due to its sole focus on ecommerce tools and the large selection of themes and apps.
- Square Online Store is great for small businesses because of its simplistic building process and the fact that it's not too expensive.
- BigCommerce is best for larger businesses since the platform is designed for scaling up quickly. Not to mention, the themes look beautiful.
- Squarespace works wonders for beginners because most features are included without having to install apps or work with a developer. There's also a strong visual focus.
- Wix stands out as a cheap solution since it does have a free plan, and the other ecommerce plans aren't too expensive. We also like that it's great for beginners.
If you have any questions about the best platforms to sell online, let us know in the comments section below.
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