If you want to do business online you’ll need more than a website or social media accounts. You’ll need an online shopping solution so your customers can buy your products or services. That includes product pages so they can view what you have to offer, payment processing tools so they can make a purchase with their debit or credit cards, and shipping tools if you need to send a physical product.
Most small businesses don’t want to have to hire a professional to create a custom shopping cart or online store, and piecing together solutions from various sources can get messy and expensive.
That’s where ecommerce solutions come in. Ecommerce software can help you establish and grow your online business with suites of tools that take care of essential functions. Here we’ll share 5 of the best ecommerce platforms and tips for choosing the right one for your business.
What Is An Ecommerce Solution?
An ecommerce solution helps your small business generate sales online (and perhaps in person as well), accept payments, and fulfill customer orders. They are designed to be easy to set up and install, even for business owners with limited technical skills. Most are hosted in the cloud and charge a monthly fee, plus fees for payment processing or add-ons.
What Is The Best Ecommerce Solution For Smaller Businesses?
The best ecommerce platform for your small businesses is one that allows your business to easily sell products and services online to interested customers at an affordable cost. If your business sells a few digital products in the US, your needs will be much different from a business that sells hundreds or thousands of products in multiple countries.
That said, even a new startup with very few products should think ahead when choosing a commerce platform. Where do you plan to take your online business? If you have a proven product to sell, you may want to choose a platform that will grow with your business. Many platforms offer low-cost paid plans to start, and allow you to add additional ecommerce tools as your business needs change.
How To Choose An Ecommerce Platform
Smaller businesses are often looking for cost-effective solutions. That means price will be a big factor in their choice. At the same time, you don’t want to cut corners so much that customer experience will suffer, or you’re trying to cobble together different solutions. You need to find the right balance between cost effectiveness and ease of use for both you, the business owner, and your customers.
Ecommerce Platform Features
Consider the types of features are important to you:
- Search features for products or services
- Mobile friendly and/or mobile app
- POS (point-of-sale) device for face-to-face sales
- Inventory management
- Sales tax calculations
- Order receipt customization
- Payment options are available to customers
- Shipping rate calculations
- Shipping labels
- Unlimited number of products
- Marketing tool integration (email/social media etc)
- Phone and/or 24/7 online customer support
Make sure you choose a solution for your ecommerce store that is user friendly on any device, whether your customer is shopping on a laptop or their iphone. “Mobile friendly” or “mobile responsive” are the two terms you’ll see that describe a website or ecommerce store that will automatically adjust to look good on various devices.
You may also need a point of sale (POS) device if you periodically sell in person. These are physical devices that allow your customers to pay for purchases using a payment card. (Another alternative is to allow your in-person customers to pay by Venmo or CashApp but not all customers use those payment tools.)
Ecommerce Platform Technology
You’ll also want to think about how you’ll set up your store and what kinds of time and effort will be required to maintain it.
- How easy is it to set up?
- What kind of customer support is provided?
- Do you need your own website?
- If you do have a website, is the platform compatible with your website hosting service (Wix or WordPress for example)?
- If you’ll also be building a website, do you like the free templates provided?
- Is there an option to sell on social media?
- Does it have strong security?
- Does it integrate with other apps your business uses?
Of these, one is non-negotiable: security. You’ll want security features to protect you and your customers. If sensitive customer data is stolen you’ll lose customer trust, and it could even cause you to shut down your ecommerce business.
Here are 5 of the best ecommerce solutions to consider:
Shopify offers an ecommerce plan used by millions of small business owners around the world. It’s relatively easy to set up and offers a lot of customization.
Pricing is affordable for new businesses. There’s a starter plan that costs just $5 designed for selling through social media, email, SMS, and WhatsApp. You can later upgrade to Shopify plans that start at $29 a month. (Plus Shopify payments, which costs 2.9% + 30¢ for each online credit card sale at that level.)
All plans include:
- Online store (ecommerce website and blog)
- Unlimited products
- Staff accounts (starting at 2 for the basic plan)
- Discount codes
- SSL certificate (for website security)
- Gift cards
- Marketing automation
- Shipping labels and discounts
- International commerce tools
- POS Lite
- Abandoned cart recovery
The list of features is extensive, and grows as you upgrade to higher levels of paid plans.
Shopify is a very popular solution for many businesses and offers a robust set of features. However, it may be challenging to implement, especially for business owners with little online commerce experience. And you may need to use (and pay for) additional apps to get the full functionality you need.
If your website is built on WordPress, WooCommerce can help you turn your website into a store. Best of all, it’s free. (Not just a free plan, but free.) But compared to other options it’s rather basic and you may encounter other costs.
Woocommerce is open-source software which means others can build on it. That means you may find other plugins that can help with additional functionality.
Your current WP theme may or may not be compatible, so you may need to pay for a new theme if it’s not. You may need WordPress plugins for shipping, marketing (including email marketing.) Adding and maintaining plugins also add a layer of technical challenge to your site, which you may or may not feel comfortable with.
Woocommerce can be a great solution for small business owners with a WordPress website who are confident in their technical skills to implement their own customization options.. It can also be a solid option for those who want to get started selling products or services on a limited budget, though expect a learning curve.
BigCommerce offers a hosted solution for building an mobile responsive online storefront. In other words, you don’t have to have your own website to use Big Commerce.
Pricing is competitive, starting at $29.95 a month for sales up to $50,000 a year. The next level is $79.95 for sales of up to $180,000 a year. There are no additional transaction fees though you can optionally enable credit card payments through BrainTree at a discounted rate as low as 2.05% plus 0.49% per transaction.
It offers multiple templates and you can use their page builder to build customized pages with a simple drag and drop interface.
Among the many features included at all levels, you’ll get:
- Templates and a drag and drop builder to create your site
- Search engine optimization (SEO) tools
- Sell an unlimited number of physical and digital goods
- Enable over 65 payment providers (covering 230 countries)
- Multiple sales channels, including Walmart, eBay and Amazon marketplaces
- Integration with Facebook Shop and Instagram Checkout
- Coupons, discounts and gift cards built in
- Real time shipping quote
- Product ratings and reviews
You can get a lot of functionality with BigCommerce, even at the least expensive plan. However, it can be somewhat challenging to set up, and the sales threshold may push your business into the next tier fairly quickly.
Designed for creatives, such as artists and makers, Big Cartel offers affordable plans designed to help entrepreneurs keep more of their sales revenue. It doesn’t take any fees if you link to outside payment gateways, though currently only PayPal and Stripe are available.
You can get started at the Gold level, offering up to five products for free. Platinum allows you to feature up to 50 products, while Diamond can be used to sell up to 500 products.
Use one of their templates to create your store to sell jewelry, t-shirts, stickers, posters or prints, or other merch. Or you can customize your own. There aren’t as many themes offered as some other platforms but they are mobile responsive.
Features included in every level include:
- Sell online and in person (Stripe required for POS)
- Offer discounts and promos
- Get real-time stats
- Sales tax support
- Shipping tracking
This is a straightforward and inexpensive solution for independent creative entrepreneurs. Functionality and tools are more limited than other platforms but it can be a great option for makers with simpler needs.
With Squarespace you can create a great-looking website without website design skills, and also set up an online store relatively quickly. It’s a website builder with an integrated solution for small businesses that want to build a website with ecommerce features.
The Squarespace Business plan costs $23 a month and includes a number of basic ecommerce functions such as:
- Free custom domain name
- SSL Security
- Unlimited bandwidth
- Multiple templates to build your website
- Professional email from Google
- SEO tools to help people find your website
- Mobile optimized website
With the Business plan you’ll also pay a 3% transaction fee on sales (not including payment processor fees).
But to get additional helpful features you’ll need to upgrade to a Basic Commerce account at $27 a month. At this level you’ll also get:
- POS check out (with Square)
- Customer accounts
- Checkout on your domain
- Abandoned cart recovery
- Plus additional features
You’ll also eliminate transaction fees at this level. (Keep in mind that merchants always pay “swipe” fees for credit or debit card sales. Transaction fees are on top of those.)
Squarespace can be an excellent option for building an appealing website with an ecommerce store. However, businesses with more complex ecommerce needs will probably be better served by other options.