Easy to Use
Flexible payment gateways
No monthly fees and low listing fees
Integrates with dozens of apps & platforms
Higher than average transaction and payment processing fees
Easy to use
Plenty of templates & apps
Great for dropshipping
14 Days free trial
Could be expensive with add ons
Easy to setup
Great free plan
Excellent customer service
Payment gateways are limited
Account accessibility is strict
Plenty of templates
Large app market
Not the cheapest option
Slightly overwhelming at First
Huge developers community
Advanced inventory management
Requires technical skills
Dull customer support
Not suitable for newbies
Variety of themes & design
Great for blogging & SEO
Offers specific themes for ecommerce
Perfect mobile friendly websites
Limited apps integration
Ecommerce functionalities are limited
Easy to use
Free version available
No transaction fees
Limited design options
Free Up to 10 Items
Easy to setup
Abandoned Cart Saver
Great customer support
Free trial available
Mobile adaptable even with thousand of items
Powerful SEO features
No Lite Version
premium themes a bit expensive
Slide to view more
The definitive guide to the top eCommerce platforms on the market today.
Are you in the retail business but don’t have an online store? Maybe you’re a novice online entrepreneur with a great e-commerce idea?
Either way, this guide explores the e-commerce space to help you find the best ecommerce platforms for your business.
You’ll find a comprehensive review of the eight most popular platforms. In addition, there’s a guide on what eCommerce features to look out for. Plus, you’ll see the answers to some FAQs.
Without further ado, let’s venture into the world of e-commerce business.
Shopify, one of the most popular and commonly used ecommerce store platforms in the market, is a web-based ecommerce software that allows streamlined e-commerce creation. Users can choose from different themes and personalize them to reflect their brand’s design, aesthetics, and ecommerce Business goals.
The idea is to allow novice users and marketers to quickly set up their first online store. But this doesn’t mean that developers would find it hard to use the platform. Users get access to HTML, CSS, and Liquid – Shopify’s proprietary language for templates.
How Does Shopify Work
As a hosted e-commerce platform, Shopify has proprietary servers. Hence, there’s no need to purchase web hosting plans. Also, you don’t need to install any additional software to start building your online shop.
Within the app, you have everything you need to create then market your online store:
- Payment Processors
- Integrated Marketing Tools
In addition, Shopify has apps that can be integrated into any e-commerce platform to boost functionality, analytics, and marketing.
Advantages of Using Shopify
You get 10 e-commerce themes for free. That might not sound as much when you compare Shopify vs. Squarespace, for example. But that shouldn’t worry you too much.
The free themes you get are super-responsive. They’ll automatically adjust to the changes and fit different devices such as computers, smartphones, and tablets. And if you get a premium account, there are 71 themes to choose from.
Lastly, all the themes have a few iterations, so you can quickly choose the style and layout that fits your online store.
With Shopify, everything is confined to one dashboard, and you have quick access to all the e-commerce functions and elements you might need to operate and manage your online store. Overall, the design is clean and intuitive, which makes it great for e-commerce novices.
Similar to other content management and e-commerce platforms, the menu on the left (image insert?) gives you a one-click preview and access to different aspects of your online store. Then, you can easily edit what’s being displayed from the big window on the right (image insert?).
More importantly, Shopify gives you the upper hand to manage your sales channels or potential customer touchpoints.
- Social Media – Shopify helps you turn Instagram posts into shoppable content and create a Facebook shopping page for your products or services.
- Messenger – With simple integration, you can turn Facebook Messenger into a shopping channel. Plus, you can get shipping and order notifications and answer customer queries.
- Build Online Store – This is the crucial feature where you build your own e-commerce.
- Amazon Integrations – You can link your Shopify store with Amazon listings and manage both under one interface.
- Buy Button Integrations – By adding a buy button to any blog or website, you’re embedding online store functionality that links directly to your e-commerce.
Note that all of the above is available natively through the Shopify platform. And If you’d like to integrate Pinterest and eBay, then third-party apps can help you with that.
The only thing that could be better with the interface is zooming. On occasion, it’s quirky to zoom into images or the content layout.
“Online Store 2.0”
The “Online Store 2.0,” or the OS 2.0, is an improved content layout manager and builder designed to improve the drag-and-drop function of the entire interface.
It’s instrumental in nailing the content presented on your e-commerce website as it includes features that aren’t available with stock themes or templates. For example, you can quickly add sections and blocks and move them around the page without messing up the entire layout.
To make on-page changes, however, you need to select the “Customize Theme” feature. Of course, the easier route would be to just click on the page you want and go straight to the editor. But that might be something that’s going to change with the new software update.
POS (Point of Sale)
Shopify POS is a feature that deserves special attention as it differentiates this platform from the competition. The key is that you get comprehensive POS hardware and functionality.
With proprietary hardware, you can use Shopify to sell at physical locations like your physical store if you operate one on top of having an online store, all connected through your Android or iOS device, and let Shopify platform manage all your revenue regardless of where they are generated.
Also, the hardware available at Shopify ranges from tills and receipt printers to barcode readers and more. Keep in mind that the hardware is available directly through Shopify in Australia, the US, New Zealand, Canada, the UK, and Ireland. If you do business in other countries, you’ll have to find a vendor.
another great thing about Shopify POS is that your stock and inventory are also managed and synced automatically across all channels. This streamlines your work, allowing you to dedicate more time to promoting your products or services.
How much does Shopify cost? It’s safe to say that the platform isn’t expensive.
Here are the five Shopify pricing plans:
- Shopify Lite – $9 per month
- Basic Shopify – $29 per month
- Shopify – $79 per month
- Advanced Shopify – $299 per month
- Shopify Plus – custom monthly or yearly pricing plans
Note that these were the prices at the time of writing, and there might be slight variations when you read this review.
Also, Shopify offers a 14-day trial where you can test the platform’s functionality without providing your credit card.
Additionally, you can get a 10% discount if you get a yearly plan and pay in advance. A 20% discount applies to biennial plans.
- Customizable templates
- Ease of use
- Many integrations
- Supports third-party apps
- Excellent POS
- Access to certain features
- Extra costs on additional Integrations
WooCommerce has quickly become one of the most popular platforms in the world. The reason being it’s a WordPress-compatible plugin that can turn any WordPress website into full-on e-commerce website.
As such, WooCommerce has been among the most downloaded plugins for WordPress since mid-2015. But the best thing is that WooCommerce is open-source, unlike most other e-commerce platforms.
But what does that mean exactly?
It means that the platform is free, and anybody can use it for commercial or personal projects. More importantly, anybody can change the code so that it fits their own e-commerce goals and branding. However, there’s a catch.
WooCommerce doesn’t include hosting, themes, domain, support, and other features that you can get with Shopify, for example. Therefore, you’d want to factor in the price of these should you choose WooCommerce.
How Does WooCommerce Work?
Since this is a free e-commerce WordPress plugin, getting WooCommerce to work is a matter of installing the plugin to your WordPress website.
This isn’t too difficult, and WooCommerce provides quick guides and tutorials to help you get the job done faster. Also, you can do a bunch of different customizations to make your e-commerce stand out from the competition and attract more conversions.
However, WooCommerce customizations require medium-level technical skills. Primarily because there’s no drag-and-drop editor like in Shopify. And you need to get themes and layouts from ThemeForest or WooCommerce Storefront.
The silver lining is that you won’t struggle with SEO when using WooCommerce. You have all the options and features you might need, but you’ll have to install another plugin like Yoast.
Advantages of Using WooCommerce
If you already have a WordPress website, turning it into e-commerce is relatively easy with WooCommerce. Of course, this assumes that you already have WordPress e-commerce hosting such as… and a theme that reflects your branding.
Aside from that, you can create an entirely new template using only WordPress and WooCommerce. Also, the software helps you make both the shop and the template mobile-friendly. Then again, this is something that requires more advanced technical skills.
With WooCommerce, you shouldn’t struggle with product variants and presentations, and the cart function is particularly good.
At the backend, you can manage the number of cart functions and incorporate one-page checkouts. Plus, you can integrate an add-on to send out emails to users who abandon carts. But note that this add-on isn’t free.
Furthermore, you can integrate user reviews along with an automatic rating system. And it’s easy to incorporate your Stock Keeping Unit number (SKU) to track each item.
WooCommerce supports all standard payment options:
- Bank transfer
- Cash on delivery
More importantly, your e-commerce can accept credit cards through WooCommerce Payments. It’s a proprietary payment solution that’s free to use, but there’s a payment processing fee.
The benefit is that the customers can buy from your site; they won’t be transferred to an external site to proceed with payment. That way, you should be able to increase conversions and build more trust with the customers.
Also, you can view and manage the transactions from WooCommerce itself, giving you the benefit of using one dashboard and platform for key client interactions. At the time of writing, the only limitation was that WooCommerce Payments were available in only a handful of countries.
If you can’t use WooCommerce Payments at your location, you can efficiently process payments with an extension such as Stripe.
Lastly, note that all of the above applies to selling physical as well as digital products.
At the backend, there’s a lot you can do with WooCommerce. For instance, the software allows for stock management notifications to keep your inventory in check.
If you want to add or change a header or on-page colors, that can be done without coding skills. And the same goes for email campaign templates embedded into the software.
But what about the product data?
You can import and export product data, but the function isn’t native to WooCommerce. Therefore, you’ll need to install an add-on or a plugin.
The good news is that the same doesn’t apply to reporting. WooCommerce offers comprehensive reports about your stock, orders, taxes, and customers. And if you want to take reporting to the next level, it’s easy to integrate it with Google Analytics.
The main downside of backend support is the lack of email, chat, FAQ, and telephone/contact integrations. In addition, there isn’t any centralized WooCommerce support. Having some or all of these largely depends on your hosting provider, theme, and plugins you’re using.
As mentioned, WooCommerce is free. However, you need to pay for the e-commerce hosting, templates, third-party integrations, and maybe a developer.
- Free to use
- Highly customizable
- Great payment processor
- Word-Press compatible
- Requires some technical skills
- Lack of native support for some features
BigCommerce is a hosted paid solution for creating e-commerce. Similar to Shopify, this platform has its servers, meaning you can host your online store at BigCommerce. And there’s no need to install additional apps to use the platform.
You only need internet access and a web browser to build, then manage your e-commerce wherever you might be.
But note that BigCommerce is a SaaS (Software as a Service). So you pay a monthly fee to use the platform instead of owning the software. But this isn’t a downside by any means.
This platform features many different templates that are customizable and easy to use. And they’re optimized for digital and physical products. Plus, you get a few tools to boost e-commerce marketing.
How Does BigCommerce Work?
Starting with BigCommerce doesn’t take much. You sign up for the service, choose one of the payment plans, and begin building your online store. And this is all made accessible through a user-friendly interface and straightforward editor.
By design, BigCommerce is geared toward those with limited web development and design skills. However, it’s possible to create effective e-commerce even if you’re a stranger to coding and advanced design principles.
However, the system is flexible enough for senior developers and experienced marketers to make changes to CSS and HTML in BigCommerce-based stores.
Overall, BigCommerce is a well-integrated solution that acts as a one-stop-shop to design and scale e-commerce. The only challenge is if you want to migrate the BigCommerce shop to another platform.
Doing that takes advanced coding and web development skills and can be time-consuming. Plus, you need to take precautions to ensure none of your content and data get lost.
The good news is that you might not need to migrate unless BigCommerce shuts down or changes its functionality drastically. This platform will scale with the needs of your store, so no worries about that.
Advantages of Using BigCommerce
Similar to other top e-commerce platforms, BigCommerce offers excellent, if not better, templates than most competitors. In addition, all templates are super-responsive, and you get both paid and free options.
There are 12 free and close to 170 paid templates. Knowing that each team has a few variants, there are plenty of options to choose from.
If you opt for a free theme, it’s an excellent starting point for creating a professional contemporary online store. But there’s one thing to keep in mind.
Most of the free themes are very similar; sometimes, the only difference is the color scheme. Therefore, it may feel that you’re only dealing with five or six unique themes. But this isn’t a deal-breaker, particularly if you’re just starting in e-commerce.
With paid themes, you get more options and a decent bang for your buck. Also, some promotions help you get a fully tricked-out theme for half the price.
Product categorization, especially with handling product variants and options, is among BigCommerce’s strongest suits.
You get a chance to create up to 250 product options for each product. That’s quite a lot compared to Shopify, which limits the product options to three per product.
BigCommerce’s number of available product variants is also generous. For example, the platform allows for 600 variants of a product. But what are product variants exactly?
These are the product combinations you can offer. Take a T-shirt product category, for example. One variant could be a small white T-shirt with a print on the front. Another variant could be the same T-shirt in a large size, then you could have different colors, and so on.
This is another BigCommerce feature that deserves special attention. An abandoned cart on BigCommerce is arguably among the best you can currently get.
With this tool, you get to send three emails to a potential customer who decided to abandon a cart at your e-commerce. The aim is to re-engage with the person and potentially boost your conversions and revenue.
The only thing you need to do is create and set up the follow-up emails, then track how many people actually went back and purchased something.
But note that this function is only available with Pro, Plus, and Enterprise BigCommerce accounts. That is, you’d need to spend a bit more to get the automated follow-ups. However, it’s money well spent when you factor in the sales increases.
With BigCommerce, there are four monthly pricing plans:
- Standard – $29.95/month
- Plus – $79.95/month
- Pro – $299.95/month
- Enterprise – custom pricing depending on the e-commerce needs
If you choose to get Plus and Pro accounts and pay annually in advance, you get a 10% discount. So it’s basically like getting more than a month’s use of the platform for free. And BigCommerce also has a free trial of 15 days.
Note that the number of features and functionalities differs based on the plan you get. For example, the Pro and Plus plans are more geared towards growing small to medium e-commerce. And an Enterprise plan is for large corporations that need advanced analytics and reporting.
- Many templates
- Great abandoned cart feature
- 15-day free trial
- Many product options and variants
- POS included in the standard plan
Only third-party payment gateways
Similar to some competitors, Ecwid is a SaaS tool for building e-commerce. This means you’re paying a monthly or yearly fee to use the software, but you’re not the owner.
Since that’s pretty much a standard setup, you shouldn’t consider it a downside by any means. And Ecwid offers functionality and options on par with the rest of the online shop-building platforms.
With this software, you can create product catalogs, including images, product features, and pricing for every item. Also, there are options to set up shipping rates, payment gateway, and all the other vital elements of e-commerce.
The great thing is that everything happens from a browser, so it’s not necessary to burden your computer with additional software.
However, there’s one main difference if you compare Ecwid vs. Shopify, for example.
Shopify allows you to create a standalone ecommerce website from scratch. But Ecwid is designed to help you include an online store with your existing website.
That being said, Ecwid has recently extended its options and included “Instant Sites.”. The offering allows you to create simple one-page landing pages and sell your products.
How Does Ecwid Work?
Since Ecwid is different from most other e-commerce platforms, including setting it up.
The platform gives you a widget you can program into other websites. Interestingly, Ecwid is an acronym for “e-commerce Widget.” And you get a piece of HTML code, which is the widget itself, and you can add it to social media profiles or websites.
Then, your online store shows up wherever you place the code.
Now, putting the HTML code into a website may sound intimidating to some novice e-commerce entrepreneurs. However, doing that doesn’t require advanced coding skills. Mostly, it’s a matter of copying and pasting the code to the correct location – and that’s it.
Advantages of Using Ecwid
To remind you, payment gateway software allows your e-commerce to accept credit card payments. Ecwid users can set up the gateway by using the out-of-the-box solution that links to PayPal. And there aren’t additional fees bar the PayPal commissions.
More importantly, Ecwid supports about 85 payment gateways, including Authorize.Net, Sagepay, 2Checkout, Stripe, etc.
Keep in mind that some gateways could be location-specific. So it’s best to go with a gateway that covers all the markets you’re targeting. Also, note that some gateways come with a monthly fee, but that’s usually offset by your credit card sales.
If you’re an Unlimited or Business user, your Ecwid e-commerce website will translate to 53 languages.
Compared to other platforms, that’s quite a boost because the translations commonly cap at about five languages with most other platforms’ plans.
But Ecwid takes things a step further. The platform reads the language based on the visitors’ browser settings and IP addresses to show them the correct languages. The only limitation is that only the vital store elements get automatically translated.
That includes most buttons, social media widgets, category names, etc. But you’ll need to manually translate the product descriptions.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
In terms of SEO, Ecwid offers a decent number of simple optimizations, which can potentially increase your position with Google rankings.
For instance, you can quickly change the page title and the meta description. Better yet, the system automatically populates all the relevant fields, and it’s easy to change them as per specific SEO goals.
But the system doesn’t allow you to manually change or generate a product URL. Instead, you need to suffice with the URL the system generates. The solution is far from ideal because browser algorithms sometimes pick up URL keywords to understand how to index the page.
The silver lining is that Ecwid URLs include the product title. For that reason, you’d need to make sure that your keyword is also a part of the title.
To continue on a more positive note, the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMPs) are excellent on Ecwid. They help your page load quicker with mobile visitors and may boost the visitor’s on-page time. Consequently, your e-commerce pages may appear higher in the rankings.
Ecwid has a proprietary App Market where you can choose different integrations to boost the performance or reporting on your e-commerce. Currently, there are about 160 integrations with some of the most popular services.
Also, you get a few different plugins that make it easy to install Ecwid on Drupal, Joomla, Wix, and WordPress websites.
Drop Shipping Options
If you wish to set up dropshipping e-commerce, Ecwid is among the top e-commerce platforms for that.
The software lets you install Sprocket, Wholesale2B, NextChain, Printful, and NextsChain apps via the Ecwid Store.
Choosing NextsChain, Wholesale2B, or Sprocket gives you the option to add many products from various dropshipping suppliers. Printful designs logos create product images and upload them to the app, which manufactures and ships the items.
Other e-commerce platforms may offer more dropshipping suppliers. But the number of suppliers is second to their quality, and Ecwid works only with the most renowned companies.
Additionally, you’d want to perform due diligence when dropshipping. The idea is to understand where and how the products are made to avoid any ethical issues.
Ecwid is one of the most affordable e-commerce platforms. There are four plans, and the relatively low price doesn’t mean you’d need to compensate for the features.
Here’s what Ecwid offered at the time of writing.:
- Free – you can sell 10 items
- Venture – $15 a month, and you can sell 100 items
- Business – $35 a month, and you can sell 2,500 items
- Unlimited – $99 a month with unlimited product listings
Of course, with more expensive plans, you get more features such as improved support, integrations with different sales channels, discount coupons, etc. And there’s a generous discount should you choose to pay annually (17% at the time of writing).
- Offers 53 languages
- Great for dropshipping
- Includes a free plan
- Different payment gateways
You can only build one-page websites
Solopreneurs and small business owners have probably heard about Squarespace. It’s a straightforward website builder designed to help people with no web development experience.
Founded more than 15 years ago, Squarespace now supports millions of e-commerce platforms and websites worldwide.
The important thing is that this platform evolved way past the static website builder it once was. Currently, you can build a full-fledged online store and set up some marketing automation and reporting features.
Also, the platform allows for hosting, and it will even assist you in creating a compelling promotional video.
With 2.8 million live websites and counting, Squarespace is undoubtedly among the most popular options. Plus, you don’t have to worry about user support because Squarespace’s team is 1,100 people strong.
How Does Squarespace Work?
There’s no additional software to install since it’s a hosted e-commerce and website-building solution. You just log in to your Squarespace account and start building websites.
And yes, you don’t need to code as the entire UI (User Interface) is graphic. Plus, Squarespace has an excellent CMS (Content Management System), so you can easily edit the elements of your online store.
All you need to do is choose one of the given templates, select the Style Editor, and start building something that reflects your brand and sales goals. Generally, the way Squarespace works is by the select-and-tweak principle.
Click (image?) on the element you’d like to customize, then move the editor controllers to instigate the change. That applies to changing typefaces, any color, graphic elements, etc.
However, Squarespace does limit the number of changes you can make. As a result, the design changes you want to apply might not be as extensive as you would expect. But generally, that isn’t a deal-breaker.
Advantages of Using Squarespace
If you take Squarespace vs. Shopify, Squarespace stacks up well against one of its biggest competitors. The platform offers 140 unique templates that look really attractive.
In terms of the design, it’s safe to assume that Squarespace’s templates may outclass the rest. And since there are a bunch of free templates, this platform is more generous than the others.
But there’s one thing to note. To make the templates pop, it’s best to use professional images that align with the rest of the e-commerce visuals. Otherwise, your site might look off, which could deter users.
Out of the box, you get access to the entire Unsplash library with a Squarespace subscription. It means you can quickly choose and incorporate royalty-free pictures into your e-commerce platform.
Also, the image selection is effortless. Click the “Search for Image” option, type keywords, and insert what you like directly from Unsplash. If you want even better image quality, Squarespace is compatible with the renowned Getty Images. Only these pictures cost $10 per pop.
Lastly, some veteran marketers frown at using stock images because they may make your website look too generic. That’s true to a certain extent. But if you’re careful with what pictures you choose, they will boost your sales.
The font selection you get with Squarespace is hard to rival. The platform provides more than 600 Google fonts and an additional 1,000 by Adobe. The number is far more significant than you’d get on most other e-commerce builders, and it’s straightforward to match what you already might use in your marketing materials.
Responsiveness is among Squarespace’s most substantial features. It means that your e-commerce design and layout automatically scale to fit the mobile device screens, be it tablets or smartphones.
The additional benefit is that the full responsiveness allows you to tap into a much larger pool of potential customers. Plus, it can be beneficial for e-commerce SEO.
On top of that, Squarespace gives you the option to enable AMP. As a quick reminder, that’s the Accelerated Mobile Pages – a Google-based project geared towards improving content delivery on mobile devices.
Basically, the software utilizes a stripped-down version of the website code to expedite loading and on-page interactions. Consequently, you’ll get some SEO benefits and a better user experience.
Lastly, setting up AMP is only a matter of ticking the correct box – and that’s it. But note that this function is currently limited to website posts only.
If you want to make your e-commerce platform stunning, Squarespace allows for video backgrounds. For example, you can use a URL from Vimeo or YouTube and make it loop on your website. Additionally, there are a few filters to customize the video further.
The limitation is that videos can’t be bigger than 500MB and longer than one minute. However, if you want to incorporate sound with the video or have the option to turn the sound on, it’s possible to do it via a specific Squarespace plugin.
Other than that, you need to be a Vimeo Plus user to embed videos from that platform. But there aren’t such limitations with YouTube.
Squarespace offers four main plus two additional plans:
- Personal – $16 a month
- Business – $26 a month
- Basic Commerce – $35 a month
- Advanced Commerce – $54 a month
There are also Enterprise and Select plans that provide priority access to consultancy services and customer support. However, these plans can be pricey.
For instance, Selects sets you back $4,500 annually; the Enterprise plan is negotiable, but you could expect a starting price of a few thousand dollars.
Note that the Personal plan isn’t for e-commerce; it doesn’t incorporate sales functions at all. And with other plans, there are certain limitations in product listings and functionality.
For instance, the Abandoned Cart Recovery feature is only available with Advanced Commerce.
- Straightforward user interface
- Great template design
- Integration with stock images repositories
- Easy video integrations
- Mobile support
- Support services
eCommerce functions available only with more expensive plans
Magento is an Adobe Experience Cloud platform and among the most robust and powerful platforms, primarily geared towards more advanced users and merchants. In other words, this platform isn’t for those who have limited technical knowledge.
However, this shouldn’t be viewed as a disadvantage per se. The level of customizations and integrations this platform offers is hard to rival. Close to 300,000 merchants who now use the platform attest to the fact.
Also, there are two variants of the Magento software – Magento Open Source and Magento Commerce. The first one is free to use and install, and the second one comes at a relatively high price. Again, though, Magento Commerce is designed for enterprise-level e-commerce, so you might not need all the functionality it offers.
This review focuses on the free, open-source version of the software. Even so, complete novices will need some help to get the Magento working.
How Does Magento Work?
In this section, you’ll learn what’s necessary to get Magento up and running. To stress, it’s the open-source version, but you’ll still need some PHP programming skills.
So, you can download and then install the software directly from the Magento website. And you’re responsible for hosting your online store. When choosing a hosting provider, it’s important to remember that Magento is very powerful. Therefore, you need a powerful host.
Additionally, there are a few hardware requirements to seamlessly run the software. These may depend on the Magento iteration you download – the latest is 2.4.3.
Generally, the requirements include Linux distribution because this platform doesn’t offer macOS or Windows support. Also, you need 2GB of RAM or more. Plus, there’s the possibility you’ll be required to have a swap file.
As for web servers, Magento supports Nginx 1.w and Apache 2.4, and you can use MySQL databases. The Magento-friendly scripting language is PHP, and you’ll need Magento’s package manager that supports the given language.
In addition, you’re required to have an SSL Certificate to set up secure HTTPS. Note that self-signed SSLs aren’t supported.
When all is said and done, it’s evident that Magento requires much more significant expertise and knowledge than most e-commerce platforms. And yes, it’s not for novices, but that doesn’t make it a subpar option by any means.
Advantages of Using Magento
Before exploring the functionalities that set Magento apart, it’s worth stressing that this platform is an excellent choice for medium and large-size businesses. This is mainly because you’d need a professional developer whose job would be to ensure everything runs smoothly.
With Magento Open Source, you get integrated shipping, checkout, and payment. Also, it’s optimized for mobile shopping and global sales. In addition, there’s an integrated catalog management tool, and you can extend the system’s functionality through the app marketplace. The platform also allows for instant purchase and site search.
However, the list of Magento Commerce is hard to rival. It includes BI (Business Intelligence) tools, marketing support, loyalty program tools, you can get Magento cloud hosting, and much more.
Better yet, all of the given aspects of an online store can be tweaked so that they exactly fit your business needs and branding.
By now, it’s easy to assume that the Magento dashboard could be clunky or difficult to use. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The UI is clean, easy to use, and intuitive. At first glance, it’s not that different from what you get with other, more straightforward e-commerce software.
The really great thing about the dashboard is how it displays sales data. The information is comprehensive, but everything is organized in easy-to-navigate blocks. And you can quickly understand which items are flying off the shelves and which aren’t.
Magento incorporates the Most Viewed Products tab into the dashboard. So, you can have a one-click preview of the products that spark the most interest. That information is invaluable for your marketing efforts.
Based on what your potential customers view, you can improve their on-page experience and entice them to convert more.
Furthermore, there’s an option to categorize the products into different types. For instance, you can have variously downloadable, grouped, personalized, and other product groups.
Magento checkout is programmed for a seamless shopping experience. It’s only one page, so there’s little room for shopping friction. In addition, the checkout gives visitors an option to create an account or complete the checkout as guests.
There’s also an option to split orders and send them to different locations and invoices. Plus, the chart includes shipping and tax estimations.
Magento marketing tools are excellent. For example, you can segment your customers by demographics and set up marketing automation based on that. The platform also allows for coupon creation, and these coupons can be printed and used offline as well.
You can set up cart abandonment actions and automation, allow users to create wish lists, and include social buttons.
As mentioned, Magento Open Source is free to download and use. But of course, it doesn’t include the hosting and many other things you need to have your e-commerce up and running.
Those who need Magento Commerce have to contact the vendor to get the pricing. And the package includes Magento Hosting Cloud with a lot of associated features. Even so, Magento Commerce still requires professional installation and maintenance.
- Free to use
- Superior customizations
- Excellent tools and analytics
Requires professional installation and maintenance
Wix is a great tool to allow people with no web development skills to create online stores or websites as a website builder. The solution is hosted, so you’re covered there, and your online store lives in Wix’s cloud services.
And yes, with Wix, you don’t need to install additional software either. The only things you need are a stable internet connection and a browser. In other words, you can do all the promotions and site maintenance on your own.
It’s important to stress that Wix has been around for more than 15 years. Currently, it’s behind about 4.5 million blogs, online stores, and websites. However, if you compare Wix vs. Weebly, for example, Wix supports far more websites.
But why is this information important to you?
Having more users means the software updates are more frequent. Accordingly, you’ll troubleshoot potential problems quickly and enjoy smoother maintenance.
Also, a large user pool minimizes the chances of Wix folding as an organization. Hence, there’s no need to worry something will happen to the platform and jeopardize the lifecycle of your online store.
How Does Wix Work?
Since it’s a hosted drag-and-drop solution, you only need to register with Wix, choose a plan and start building an online store.
The main dashboard and content editor are intuitive and easy to use. So there won’t be too much trial and error to get everything up and running and matching your branding.
Only be careful with Wix’s plan selection. Some of them don’t provide support for online stores. But more on that under the Wix pricing plans section at the end of this review.
Advantages of Using Wix
With more than 800 templates, you should find the one that perfectly matches the aesthetics and functionality of the ecommerce online store you’re trying to build. Better yet, most of Wix’s templates are free, and it’s not like the majority of them look the same.
The templates are really well designed. You can use the typefaces, spacing, and graphic elements to make your online store pop. And you can make quite an impact should you combine top-notch video backgrounds and high-definition images.
The great thing is that the platform also incorporates a vast library of vectors, professional images, and icons. You can use these free of charge, but Wix gives you the option to purchase images from Shutterstock if that’s not enough.
Wix templates are also categorized, which makes the selection much quicker. For instance, if you look for online store templates, you’ll realize that many subcategories match your e-commerce niche.
The only downside of the templates is that there’s no way to switch from one to another. You’re stuck with what you chose the first time, so don’t rush the selection.
ADI (Artificial Design Intelligence)
ADI is there to assist you in building your website even if you hate doing that or have no skills whatsoever. So, how does that work?
The software will ask you a few questions to get a general sense of what you’re trying to do when using ADI. Also, it will run a comprehensive search of the information available about your business online. Then, the software automatically creates the webpage layout and populates it with suggested content.
From there, you can move around different on-page elements, change the copy, or make any other tweak.
The best thing about ADI is that it scales as per the growth of your website. That means you can upgrade to a more tricked-out version of Wix when the ADI-designed website starts to struggle with a lot of traffic.
Velo by Wix
Until recently, this feature was called “Corvid by Wix.” Regardless of the name, it’s a Wix version designed for developers. You get access to the databases, Application Programming Interface (API), and the code.
All of which enable experienced developers and tech-savvy marketers to build more custom websites and apps to cater to the growing demands of their target avatar.
As you might suspect, Wix’s standard page editor is straightforward to use. However, if you choose it, you’ll get more options to customize the appearance and functionality than with ADI.
However, that doesn’t mean the editor is robust. For example, if you’ve ever used Word to create a newsletter layout, you can expect the same level of complexity with Wix editor.
Wix offers both free and paid or Premium versions of the software.
The free version of Wix allows you to create only a basic website. For example, you can’t build an e-commerce business or connect to a domain. Plus, you’ll get Wix ads which are pretty hard to miss. However, the free plan isn’t without its benefits.
Those who need a website to mark a special event in their life can use the free version. But since there are no features, this option isn’t for professionals, even if they’re just starting out.
The silver lining is that you can use any of the 800 templates and get hosting. The same goes for vectors, images, etc. Plus, you get 500MB of bandwidth and the same amount of storage.
With eight paid plans spread across three categories, you’ll easily find the one that works best for your business.
Here’s a quick breakdown of what’s available:
- Combo – $14 a month
- Unlimited – $18 a month
- Pro – $23 a month
- VIP – $39 a month
eCommerce and Business
- Basic – $23 a month
- Unlimited – $27 a month
- VIP – $49 a month
- Enterprise – starting at $500 a month
Note that sales features are only available on Enterprise, Business, and e-commerce plans. Also, the storage limitations vary based on the plan you choose – the more you pay, the more storage you get. And the same goes for access to specific applications and features.
- Easy to use
- 800+ templates
Not as responsive as you might expect
One of the youngest platforms featured in this article, Square has been around for about 10 years. The platform started back in 2009, and it was somewhat different from the rest.
At the time, mobile payment systems were almost science fiction, mainly if they offered swipe-based functionalities. And Square was among the first point-of-sale solutions and payment systems to allow for that.
Indeed, Square started as a solution for merchants to process international payments regardless of their location or time zone. But over the years, Square evolved into a more robust solution, offering all the e-commerce functionalities you might need.
Right now, it’s among the most advanced and feature-rich mobile processing pieces of software.
With Square, you get a POS system along with reporting and analytics. In addition, you get full e-commerce support, including invoices, customer and inventory management, and virtual terminals.
Understandably, this type of platform might not be for everyone due to its mobile nature. However, Square is super-reliable and offers predictable pricing.
How Does Square Work?
There’s not much to setting up Square, and you don’t need advanced technical skills or programming experience.
Start by registering with Square and provide full credentials as required in the website form. You’ll need to enter the company name, the business niche, email address, and banking details.
To make things even more straightforward to navigate, Square features a payment dashboard hub to help you track and manage all transactions. More importantly, you can enter all the locations your business is based, add employees, and create inventory lists.
One of the coolest features is the pop-up window that appears when you click on a specific product. You can enter the item size, quantity, tax requirements, and any associated discounts within the pop-up.
On top of that, you get the “Split” option to divide the bill among multiple customers.
Advantages of Using Square
Square gives you a free POS that allows for advanced payment processing. For example, you can print receipts, tickets, and gift cards. Also, you can suspend a ticket and closely track each item in your inventory.
The POS also includes different types of refunds, SMS or email receipts, custom invoices, and even tips for your staff. But the best thing is the offline mode, where you get to use the system without an internet connection.
Square POS works great for all online businesses that don’t require a specific online payment system. Also, the transaction cost is only 2.75% per sale, and there aren’t any hidden fees.
Appointments are one of the more unique features of Square. The company describes it as an evolution of its scheduling app that was available when the service was first released. But what do you get with appointments?
First of all, you can connect your schedule to the transactions, payments, and more. Also, the app allows you to manage different bookings.
As Appointments are an auxiliary app, there’s flexible pricing. But you get a generous 30-day trial and fantastic customer support, available 24/7. Plus, the app offers numerous handy tools to improve sales and booking management.
There’s a feature to manage inventory. Clients who’d like to reschedule can use an embedded self-service. You have options for prepayments, and everything syncs to your Google Calendar.
Of course, Appointments include reminders, invoicing, customer notes, and saving credit cards. So, it’s safe to say that it’s one of the top apps in terms of integrations and functionality.
Like the Square POS, Appointments are free to download and use. And you pay 2.75% on each transaction. However, if you want your entire team to use it, the free is more expensive.
There’s a flat fee of $50 per month, and you pay 10 cents for each credit card swipe, tap, or dip. The nice thing is that the transaction fee is 2.5%.
This is also an app that gives you a chance to improve the functionality of your POS system. But it’s geared more towards businesses with an extensive inventory and equally demanding management features.
You can integrate the payments with the “Square Stand,” the POS hardware in retail settings. And the app works great on iPads, for example. But there’s more.
There are three options for advanced reporting, plus a bunch of upgrades to further improve the efficacy of your system. Some of the things you’ll be getting include:
- Vendor, purchase order, and employee management
- Inventory transfer
- Tips and discounts
- Reporting (cost of sold goods, categories, etc.)
- Catalog receipt and acceptance
Finally, the Retail app simplifies specific checkout functions to make the transactions straightforward for the customers and yourself. And you can set up digital orders receipts, then the customers can come to your physical location to pick up the items.
Square offers four pricing plans – one is free, and there are three paid options with varying functionalities. But it’s important to stress that all the plans allow for an unlimited number of products to include in your web store.
- Professional – $12 a month
- Performance – $26 a month
- Premium – $72 a month
Should you choose the free plan, you’ll need to deal with Square advertisements. And there aren’t any embedded ads with paid plans. Also, the free plan doesn’t include a custom domain, but the rest do.
However, all plans integrate with the platform’s POS, feature the same delivery options, and interestingly, all integrate with Instagram.
Lastly, the features exclusive to the Premium plan are shipping rate discounts, smaller payment processing fees, and a shipping calculator.
- Predictable pricing
- Good merchant support
- Great features
- A lot of free tools
- Various apps
Platform stability could be better
What to Look For in an Ecommerce Platform
By now, you should have a much better idea of what features make an e-commerce platform outstanding. But it pays to dig deeper into some of the characteristics that may separate an average platform from a really great one.
Ease of Use
Ease of use refers to the platform’s capacity to provide a straightforward UI (User Interface) and editor. Simply put, the more technical and programming skills a platform requires, the harder it is to use.
In this article, the only platform you can’t use without a strong command of a programming language is Magento. But that doesn’t make it inferior to other platforms, only it’s designed for more demanding users.
Ideally, you want to get a hosted platform that doesn’t require additional software or certification. Likewise, you’d benefit from a simple drag-and-drop editor, but it’s best to have access to the platform’s API for more advanced customizations.
Seemingly insignificant, you need to pay special attention to the e-commerce platform uptime because it can translate to lost revenue and customers.
Most platforms promise 99% uptime, meaning they rarely go down for maintenance or other reasons. But if that’s not the case in real life, you might be losing thousands of dollars.
To give you an idea of how serious downtime could be, it took only 40 minutes for Amazon to lose $5 million in 2013. The online retail giant was losing money at the rate of $2,000 a second.
Now, your online store won’t get damaged to that scale, but can you recover in under an hour or faster?
Probably not, and that’s why you need to pay attention to what experienced marketers say on niche forums. The information there will help you if a platform really offers 99% uptime or not.
At best, you’ll go for a platform that offers 99.99% uptime, and that’s not just a figure of speech. The percentage translates to about four minutes of downtime on average. Compared to roughly 43 minutes with 99.90% uptime, the difference is enormous.
There are four payment methods:
- Credit cards – are by far, the most popular method which requires you to have a payment gateway.
- Alternative payments – this encompasses services like PayPal or Amazon Pay and other non-crypto wallets. Alternatives may include online pay-later services such as Affirm, Sezzle, or Klarna.
- Digital currencies – includes Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
- Direct debit – a customer enters details about their bank account, and this is similar to paying in cash or with a check.
Now, you don’t need all the payment methods. Using credit cards and direct debit should be enough to get you started. But you certainly want to consider alternatives such as Apple Pay, Amazon Pay, and PayPal.
Also, some e-commerce platforms may want to use invoicing, mainly if they target wholesale customers or offer specific digital products. To determine the best option, take time to analyze your target avatar’s shopping behavior and offer what they like using.
Analytics is the bread and butter of most e-commerce. The reason is that analytics gives you the upper hand to tweak your online store and marketing messaging to better convert potential clients.
The idea is to get comprehensive sales analytics and set that against the visitors’ on-site behavior. That helps understand which are the hot items in your store and shows you what the visitors are interested in.
But advanced analytics, especially of visitors’ behavior, isn’t readily available with inexpensive pricing plans. So with that in mind, you might not need advanced analytics right from the start.
The bare minimum is the option to track, manage, and analyze sales. And it’s great if you get some sort of a CRM to monitor customers.
The bottom line is that you need to think carefully about the bare minimum in terms of analytics and choose a plan that offers it. Then, it’s easy to upgrade when your online store outgrows the plan.
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It’s a specific protocol that allows browsers to understand what you’re selling, on-page content, and the store authority to better position you within search engines.
Now, making your e-commerce SEO-friendly is both an art and a science that merits its own write-up. However, for the purposes of this article, you should focus on e-commerce templates and pricing plans that include SEO features or tools.
The template should include all the backend SEO optimizations necessary to seamlessly position your store. Also, it’s great if you have an option to install third-party plugins or add-ons such as Yoast, for example.
Note that SEO success has a lot to do with on-page content, keywords you choose, and metadata. It’s a never-ending battle to outdo your competitors and boost your site’s presence. In that respect, SEO might be something that requires continuous work and attention.
Integrations and Apps
The more apps and integrations there are, the better. They improve the e-commerce user experience and remove some of the shopping friction.
On top of that, these features give you the upper hand to have more seamless procurement procedures, inventory management, user tracking, and so much more. However, you shouldn’t take this the wrong way.
Paying for apps and integrations that you won’t immediately use is futile. Instead, figure out which ones are essential for running your business and go with that. For instance, if you run a physical and an online store, you’ll need a POS system and hardware to allow unobstructed syncing between the two channels.
Also, it’s best if the ecommerce platform has a proprietary CRM for improved customer management.
In e-commerce, support refers to all the services you can get to provide a seamless shopping experience, website maintenance, and accurate data.
Typically, you’ll get order tracking and processing and shopping cart setup. Inventory and product listing support can also be part of the package. But if you’d like to set up customer support on your end, you might need to use third-party integrations.
The quickest and easiest way is to embed virtual support or a chatbot to answer some of the client’s questions. A step up from that would be live chat or even access to a call center where the customers get to talk with your representative.
Understandably, the support for your inventory, listings, shipping, and other critical business aspects is necessary. But you don’t have to set up customer support until your e-commerce experiences significant growth.
There’s no reason to worry about the pricing because most e-commerce platforms provide options that fit any budget. And there’s no reason to pay for the features and apps you don’t need right away.
There’s usually a flat monthly fee that includes certain features, hosting, and basic maintenance. To clarify, the maintenance with hosted solutions mostly boils down to software and product updates.
Anyway, the point is that you shouldn’t focus that much on the price, assuming you’re not looking for a fully-tricked-out enterprise solution. Even so, the price is usually negotiable with these.
Instead, figure out which are the critical tools, functions, and metrics your online store needs to have. Then, choose a pricing plan based on that, no matter how much it costs. And rest assured that all the money you invest will be worth it because it translates to more sales.
Also, consider paying the fee annually instead of monthly because there’s often a generous discount. Sometimes, it’s like you’re running your store for free for a month or so.
Inventory management is a crucial aspect of your online store, and it’s always best to get all the management options you can. However, inventory management can become quite messy as your business grows and you start working with more suppliers and vendors.
You want to avoid double listings, manual item removal, fake available stock, misplaced orders, etc. More importantly, a great inventory management app or feature is tied to analytics and sends automatic notifications of specific events.
For instance, some platforms allow you to flag an item or even an entire category if it’s been sitting on the shelves for too long. Likewise, you’ll immediately know which items sell like hotcakes and tweak your procurement accordingly.
Generally, inventory management features minimize the chances of getting stuck with dead stock. Or worse, ordering something that takes a few months to sell. Plus, these features help improve the staff workflow, particularly when juggling online and brick-and-mortar sales.
eCommerce security is a complex, multi-faceted topic that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Research indicates that almost a third of all small e-commerce are under a constant threat. So, this section aims to offer a few quick tips on how to ensure your online store is secure.
First of all, you need to ensure that the hosting you’re getting is impervious to malicious attacks. And all the hosted platforms in this write-up offer precisely that. If you’re not sure, check what kind of protection against SQL injections and malware they offer.
On top of that, you need to get an SSL certificate. It provides improved encryption between the visitor’s browser and your online store to prevent someone from reading the data.
Also, you should run regular updates of your store and patch any loose ends. Plus, you need to keep a close eye on everything you integrate into the website, particularly if it comes from third-party vendors.
Overall, e-commerce platforms are relatively secure out-of-the-box. However, as your business grows, you may need to hire an administrator to cover all the loose ends if you don’t have the time and expertise.
Ecommerce Platforms FAQ
What Can eCommerce Platforms Do For You?
eCommerce platforms can help you set up an online store from scratch. This means they offer a straightforward interface to add your products, create product pages, set up a payment system, and make your online store live.
Also, there are e-commerce solutions you can integrate into your existing online store. These improve payment processing, inventory management, customer tracking and promote a better shopping experience.
Lastly, e-commerce platforms can help you connect your brick-and-mortar store and the online one. With e-commerce POS services, you can track all the sales, inventory, and staff in one place.
Can I Change eCommerce Platforms Easily?
No, you can’t change e-commerce platforms easily. You can’t just export all your data from Shopify, for example, and just import it into BigCommerce. eCommerce migration is a complex and lengthy process that requires professional help and advanced technical expertise.
The process starts with careful planning to understand all the requirements of moving the shop to another virtual location. But, more importantly, you need a comprehensive knowledge of the technologies involved to avoid losing your data and keep the payment processing systems intact.
Before the migration, you have to back up all the on-site data and the site itself. Then, you need to figure out the migration step by step and know how to map the data.
All in all, migration isn’t something you should attempt on your own, or you risk halting your entire business and losing customers.
How Do eCommerce Platforms Work?
Three systems run e-commerce platforms. First, there’s a web server responsible for transaction processing and the storefront. It links all the data and provides a secure connection between users’ payment details and the bank.
Then, there’s a database that tracks the inventory an online store has in stock. Also, the database may keep track of the customers, their behavior, and data. Besides holding critical information, the role of the database is to keep updating all the information to help secure a smooth sales pipeline.
And there’s a dispatch system that connects to the warehouses where the items are stored. Its role is to automatically locate an item, link it to a buyer, and ensure it quickly gets to the buyer.
What Are the Benefits of Using an eCommerce Platform?
The key benefit is that e-commerce platforms speed up the online store creation process. Since most offer a simple drag-and-drop interface, you can quickly have a store up and running even if you’re a complete novice.
Additionally, the platforms speed up the buying process, particularly with warm leads who already know what they want. And the product listings and management are made much easier for you. Plus, there are fewer risks of making mistakes because most product-related actions are automated.
Aside from that, using an e-commerce platform helps you reduce operating costs. The overhead is much lower than a physical store, even if you opt for the most expensive Enterprise or Premium pricing plans.
Plus, you get a much better overview of what’s happening in the store due to automated analytics and reporting.
What Is the Best eCommerce Platform for Startups?
It’s hard to single out one platform as the best for startups. All ecommerce platforms listed in the article, bar Magento, are excellent options for budding businesses. However, there are a few that stand out from the rest.
These platforms are Shopify, WooCommerce, BigCommerce, and Wix. Only note that WooCommerce is actually a plugin that is easy to incorporate into WordPress environments. But anyway, the given platforms are the best because of reliability, ease of use, and their features.
Note that these platforms are also among the most popular and have a large user community. That translates to more frequent platform and features updates and better community and customer support.
You can quickly troubleshoot a problem with a Shopify, BigCommerce, or Wix online store. And there are many forums and user groups that share their experiences with particular issues.
You can read our comparisons of Wix vs Shopify, or Magento vs Shopify to get an in-depth understanding of each one.
What Is the Cheapest eCommerce Platform?
The cheapest e-commerce platform featured in this article is the Shopify Lite plan, valued at $9 per month. But when choosing the right ecommerce platform for your business, price shouldn’t be your priority.
For instance, Shopify Lite is very cheap, but it has certain limitations that may prevent you from scaling your online store effectively. However, you can create the store, list products, and set up a payment gateway with this Shopify plan.
But it lacks functions, integrations, and the analytics necessary to take your store to the next level. Therefore, you need to carefully evaluate what’s included in a particular plan and choose what you need, not what’s cheap.
Note that a lot of the cheaper plans don’t offer abandoned cart email automation. And this function may markedly boost your sales. So it’s best to find a good balance between desired features and your e-commerce platform budget.
How to Tell What eCommerce Platform a Site Is Using?
It’s not tricky to tell what e-commerce platform is using even though you need to access the developer’s dashboard from your browser. Here’s how to do it:
- Launch your preferred browser and go to the site you wish to inspect.
- When the site loads, depress Cmd+Opt+I on a Mac or Ctrl+Opt+I on a Windows computer.
- Go to Sources, and look at the file extensions in the code to determine the platform.
This is what you’re looking for:
- WP-CONTENT – WordPress
- WIX-DOM – Wix
- CND.SHOPIFY – Shopify
Start Selling Now
When all is said and done, ecommerce platforms are straightforward, so any online entrepreneur can easily build an online shop. But what is the best ecommerce platform you should choose?
All the platforms listed in this write-up offer great features; most are novice-friendly and suitable for any budget. But Shopify might be the best choice because it provides the most support, functionality, and the ability to grow your online business.
However, you won’t be making the wrong choice with BigCommerce, Square, or Ecwid either. Only make sure that the platform you select has everything your online store needs to run smoothly.