Building an e-commerce store is easier than ever due to the choice of shopping carts and e-commerce platforms for small businesses. These platforms provide tools for building and managing your store without needing to know anything about coding. Most of them are very affordable, making it easy for small businesses to profit.
| Free 14-day trial|
20 GB of storage
More features at Wix
|From 23.00 /mo|| Visit website
| Free 14-day trial|
More at Shopify
|From 9.00 /mo|| Visit website
| Free 15-day trial|
More at BigCommerce
|From 29.95 /mo|| Visit website
GoCentral Online Store
| Site builder|
More at GoCentral
|From 9.99 /mo|| Visit website
| Sell on Facebook|
Easy to use
More features at Ecwid
|From 15.00 /mo|| Visit website
| WordPress plugin|
400+ modular add-ons
More at WooCommerce
|From 0.00 /mo|| Visit website
| Copy-&-paste buttons|
Social media selling
Supports coupon codes
More features at E-Junkie
|From 5.00 /mo|| Visit website
| Self-hosted |
No transaction fees
75 payment gateways
More features at X-Cart
|From 495.00 /mo|| Visit website
No transaction fees
More at Weebly
|From 5.00 /mo|| Visit website
| Easy to use|
More at EKM
|From 29.99 /mo|| Visit website
| Free 14-day trial|
Unlimited file storage
No transaction fees
More at Volusion
|From 29.00 /mo|| Visit website
| Free 15-day trial|
200+ payment providers
No transaction fees
More features at 3DCart
|From 19.00 /mo|| Visit website
| Targeted to creatives|
More at Big Cartel
|From 9.99 /mo|| Visit website
| International features|
More at Lightspeed
|From 59.00 /mo|| Visit website
| 2,500+ templates|
Drag & drop
More at MotoCMS
|From $ 159.00|| Visit website
| Free 30-day trial|
More features at Oberlo
|From 9.00 /mo|| Visit website
| Free 14-day trial|
No transaction fees
More at PinnacleCart
|From 44.95 /mo|| Visit website
| 100+ currencies|
Social media selling
More features at Selz
|From 26.00 /mo|| Visit website
| Easy to use|
Product, inventory tools
Sales and promotion tools
More features at Shopio
|From 19.95 /mo|| Visit website
| Free 30-day trial|
50 payment gateways
More at 1ShoppingCart
|From 34.00 /mo|| Visit website
| Sophisticated designs|
Integrates with Ecwid
More at Webydo
|From 75.00 /mo|| Visit website
| Abandoned cart tools|
More features at Zoey
|From 299.00 /mo|| Visit website
Don’t see what you’re looking for? Check out these e-commerce builders: Squarespace, Websitebuilder.com, RocketSpark, PrestaShop, Sitebuilder.com, SiteZulu, Sitelio, Zen Cart, UltraCart, SunShop, Miva Merchant, nopCommerce, OpenCart, BoldGrid, Sitey.
What is E-commerce Software?
E-commerce software is the store manager for your online shop. The features with each platform vary, but in general, you can expect your platform to:
- Manage inventory
- Collect payments
- Organize delivery
You can usually integrate your store quickly with reputable payment gateways so your transactions are secure.
No Heavy Development Skills Needed
E-commerce software also simplifies the process of designing your website. The average person can get started with their own shop without knowing how to code. E-commerce platforms often provide customization options for technical users. After making edits, you can instantly check the site to see what your customers see.
E-commerce Software Explained
E-commerce platforms fall into two categories. These are self-hosted platforms and hosted platforms.
Self-hosted platforms are based on free and open source software. You get complete control over the site, along with lots of updates from the open source community. With this option, you’ll have to install the software yourself and find your own hosting provider.
Although this process isn’t all that technical, some beginners might find it intimidating.
Hosted platforms are an all-in-one product where the user pays one monthly fee for everything. The package includes templates, payment gateways, hosting, and often, transaction fees. The disadvantages are the lack of control, and the monthly payments, which can add up quickly.
Which Platform Should I Use?
Seeing as both hosted and self-hosted options are relatively simple, it totally depends on your feature requirements and price bracket. On the other hand, if money is no issue, you’re best off going for a hosted platform with the best support and customizability.
In the meantime, let’s compare the two side-by-side:
|Self-Hosted Platforms||Hosted Platform|
|Customer Support||Adequate but sometimes limited, depending on your plan||Heavily relied on, therefore available|
|Difficulty of Use||Apart from manual installation, it’s simple enough for non-developers to use||Designed for complete technical beginners|
Both are viable options, however, if you’re looking at setting up an e-commerce store and prioritize scalability, a self-hosted plan is a great option.
Who Should Use E-Commerce Software?
If you want to sell products online, you need e-commerce software.
For instance, a band can use e-commerce tools to sell digital music and physical merchandise. The digital items would be delivered through an email with a link, while the physical items would be shipped to the customer. For this reason, many online retailers prefer to enter niches which deal with digital products – it’s simply convenient.
More traditional stores can launch an e-commerce version of their existing physical store. Some online stores begin with one product, but some people start stores where they sell hundreds or thousands of different items.
You will need an e-commerce platform if you plan to dropship, which means that the manufacturer or supplier stores, packages, and ships all products directly to the customers, and you simply take the orders.
Once you understand the upsides of a successful drop shipping venture, it’s definitely an appealing option. But how so?
10 Ways How Dropshipping Can Make Your Life Easier
Let’s take a look at how turning your business into a dropshipping kingdom can benefit you and your company:
- Eliminates stock management as you don’t actually hold your stock
- Reduced administrative tasks related to stock
- Saves time for both you and your employees
- Saves money for the larger scale operations, fewer employees needed to deal with stock
- Unlimited inventory available (if you do it right)
- Easy expansion into new markets, due to flexibility
- Cheap starting costs (relatively, compared to e-commerce standards)
- Easily scalable as well as de-scalable, if need be
- You are able to test products with little to no risk, seeing as the stock isn’t your responsibility
- Simplifies the process of dealing with customer orders
Created for Easy Set Up
E-commerce platforms are generally built so that both inexperienced and advanced users can get started quickly. Shopify, for example, offers basic features for beginners, along with HTML and CSS files customization for advanced users.
Shopify allows you to add something as simple as a buy button.
Naturally, some platforms are more complicated than others, and it’s important to examine the level of technical skill needed to use them.
Key E-Commerce Features
The first choice you have to make when going for an e-commerce platform is whether or not you want hosting included or if you’re going to self-host. The latter means you’ll need to purchase a separate web hosting package.
Regardless, it’s important to compare the features of the tools that you’re interested in.
All reputable systems provide shopping carts and checkout tools, allowing for your customers to place items in the cart and make a payment.
Beyond that, look out for the following.
Product Page Customization
You can expect to find product creation tools for uploading product lists or creating items from scratch. The product page typically has fields for pricing, pictures, categories, descriptions, titles, and other product metadata.
Once published, the product page shows up on the front end. You can usually categorize it in a gallery, collection, or feature it on the store’s homepage.
Keep in mind that some e-commerce platforms have limits on the number of products you can create, but this often depends on the pricing package you choose for a hosting solution. All quality self-hosted solutions, such as PrestaShop, allow for unlimited products, and the majority of hosted options offer an unlimited plan. The cost for this may vary considerably from one hosted solution to another.
Ease of Use
Creating an online retail shop can be super easy, or very complicated, depending on the e-commerce platform you use.
However, any reliable e-commerce solution will give you a solid set of features designed to help you build a store, manage inventory, and take care of administrative tasks in an intuitive way.
Every e-commerce platform will have different ways of adding your products. To start, it will depend on the type of products you are selling.
And, while it may seem that there are thousands of different kinds of products on the market for sale, in all kinds of different e-commerce shops, the truth is, products break down into two distinct types: downloadable products and physical products.
When it comes to adding products to your online store, here are some of the best tips you can follow, no matter which solution you use:
- Product Images. Make your product images crisp, clear, and varied so customers know exactly what you’re selling. After all, if they can’t physically touch your products, you need to instill a sense of trust that your product is what you say it is. It’s also important to maintain consistency with your images so you can develop a sense of brand recognition amongst those visiting your store.
- Categories. Making it easy to navigate your website is the key to generating sales. Assign your products categories so customers can easily find what they’re looking for.
- Product Description. When you are adding products to your shop, make it as descriptive as possible without going overboard. You want customers to know exactly what they’re spending their money on. You also want to show them the variations that are available, the prices, the deals, and the reviews other satisfied customers have left.
There are two main ways to handle inventory management when it comes to your e-commerce shop:
- Those who manage their own inventory either at home or in a storage facility
- Those who drop ship from a supplier
Oberlo is a great place to start with dropshipping.
That said, whichever option you go with, there are some key inventory management options to look for when choosing an e-commerce platform:
- Real-Time Inventory Information
- Order Fulfillment
Real-Time Inventory Information
In order to avoid running out of inventory and missing sales opportunities, you have to have real-time information about your store’s inventory. You also want to make sure you don’t have a surplus that won’t sell because that will hurt your profits as well. This feature is usually found in the admin section of your shop’s interface.
It’s good to have a notification system in place to let you know when new orders have been finalized when the stock is getting low or is out-of-stock, and when people want refunds. This way you can balance what’s on hand at all times thanks to instant notifications.
Whether you use a built-in order fulfillment feature or an extension, like the ones offered by WooCommerce, you need to have a way to create invoices and packing slips, calculate taxes and shipping costs and deliver products to your customers. If you’re using a multi-vendor marketplace such as Amazon, you will be able to use their storage facilities and order fulfillment services.
Being able to see how your shop is doing at any given time, including the past, and help forecast what is to come will help you build your business bigger and increase your bottom line.
A payment gateway allows you to take electronic payments from customers, without necessarily having to sign up for a merchant account.
The gateway should conduct fraud tests, collect money, and transfer it to your bank account.
Platforms like Shopify have their own payment gateways, but you can typically choose from several third-party solutions. Brands like PayPal, Stripe, and Authorize.net are common. Fees vary from one gateway to another, and sometimes, fees will be waived on certain hosted plans.
If you plan on opening up shop online, it’s important to understand one of the most fundamental pieces of software on your site that make selling products and service possible – the shopping cart.
A shopping cart allows customers to make purchases, accepts payments, and distributes the information to the proper channels, such as the store owner and payment processor.
14 Features to Prioritize When Choosing a Shopping Cart For Your Business
Some of the most important features to look for in a shopping cart solution include:
- An easy to use admin panel for shop management
- Beautiful design web design
- Product images that come with zoom and video functionality
- Built-in search option
- Live chat support
- Coupon or discount creator
- One-page checkout process (if possible)
- Import/export tools
- SEO optimization
- Email list building tools
- Abandoned cart emails that automatically go out when someone fails to finish a transaction
- A simple checkout process that outlines to the customer where they are in the process using a progress bar or steps
- Automatic shipping and tax calculations based on geography
- Multiple currency acceptance for your global audience
But the thing is, your shopping cart is not only related to the checkout process. In fact, that is only a small part. This is why we covered the above features in depth, to take the whole picture into perspective.
Much of the hard work is done behind the scenes when setting up a shopping cart correctly.
An SSL or secure socket layer certificate is a digital certificate that helps secure data sent between your customer’s browser and your online store.
If you allow customers to pay using a credit card, you have to have an SSL certificate on your website to remain PCI compliant. It also signals to customers that you take their personal and financial information seriously and are protecting them any way you can.
GoDaddy has a solid selection of premium SSL certificates for sale.
You can get a free SSL certificate with most e-commerce platforms, such as Big Cartel, and even some e-commerce hosting providers that have hosting plans for online shop owners, such as the Let’s Encrypt SSL certificate offered by SiteGround.
Premium SSL Certificates
Furthermore, there are premium SSL certificates, such as the ones InMotion Hosting has, that have advanced security features.
Let’s take a look at the different types of SSL certificates available so you can decide which one you need for your online store:
- Domain Validation. This is the cheapest and least secure type. It’s validated within hours using email or adding a DNS record. It’s best used for blogs and is not recommended for businesses.
- Organization Validation. This is the minimum certificate recommended for e-commerce businesses. It is especially good for those using off-site payment gateways that don’t necessarily require an SSL certificate. It takes a few days to validate and is done by the Certificate Authority.
- Extended Validation. These types are recommended for any retail shop accepting online payments on the actual website. They undergo a strict validation process and are the most secure.
There are also single name SSL certificates for securing subdomains, Wildcard ones for securing unlimited subdomains, and multidomain ones for securing multiple domains and subdomains.
Static Website Pages and Blog
An e-commerce system lets you build a full business website. So although you’re often working with the product pages, you should have access to page and blog publishing too.
Shopify and Bigcommerce both offer blogging tools on the backend, but they are far less powerful than the blogging tools in WordPress. Here’s a comparison of the two platforms.
You won’t find marketing features in all e-commerce software, but the best platforms offer integrated email marketing, gift cards, discount codes, and SEO tools.
Sometimes you have to integrate a third party app to achieve the functionality you need. Or, as is the case with WooCommerce, you can use additional WordPress plugins to help you achieve optimal content and retail shop SEO.
Keep in mind that not all of the marketing features are included with each pricing plan, so decide on how much you want to pay per month by looking at the marketing tools you think would best suit your business.
Expanding Your Website’s Functionality
Many e-commerce applications have huge app libraries for expanding the functionality of your store. The apps and integrations should play a large role in your decision since there’s huge value in automating processes for things like marketing, accounting, analytics, and shipping.
You can expect some sort of app integrations when you opt for a hosted e-commerce platform. With self-hosted platforms, this is more variable. Magento has extensions, but they’re not that plentiful. WordPress has an incredible number of plugins that you can add to your website, especially for WooCommerce.
As a rule of thumb, you should try to utilize free apps wherever possible. This way, you can keep your costs low and spend the cash on growing the business.
Templates and Website Design
Every good hosted e-commerce solution has incredible templates you can use to get started with designing your website. They are generally categorized by industry, so you can go into the library and find the templates that suit your brand.
After that, you can customize it by moving sections around, uploading images, and creating pages.
A few e-commerce platforms have drag-and drop-website builders, like Shopify, or visual tools that make it much easier for beginners with no coding or design experience. These are also great for more experienced designers who would like to speed up the design process.
Reports and Analytics
The most basic reports and analytics are usually enough to get a small business started in the right direction. Almost all e-commerce platforms offer statistics about store performance.
For example, a standard analytics page on an e-commerce platform shows things like sales, customers, abandoned carts, bounce rate, and the time spent on the site. You can also get more advanced reporting by opting for an app or plugin.
Analytics can often be exported and broken down into all sorts of reports. So you can share the information with other people in the company and filter based on date, customer, and other options.
Google now considers mobile-friendliness a ranking factor in its search algorithm, so it’s essential for your online store to work and look good on smaller devices like tablets and phones.
Many people like shopping online on small screens, so mobile responsiveness is a must from a usability standpoint too.
Reputable Platforms are Mobile-Friendly
If you’re researching e-commerce platforms and notice that the design templates aren’t mobile friendly, skip that platform entirely. All reputable e-commerce platforms now offer beautifully crafted templates with mobile responsiveness.
This means that a mobile version of your site shows up when someone visits it on a smaller device. The website elements snap into place and the text is formatted for a much easier viewing and browsing experience.
With self-hosted solutions like WordPress, you have to go out and find your own themes. Therefore, you should make responsiveness essential criteria for picking a theme. Hosted platforms like Bigcommerce have their own template libraries, and you can bet that all of them are going to be responsive.
Magento is a leading enterprise e-commerce platform designed to make your big business even bigger. It comes with plenty of built-in functionality and design, a powerful admin panel for shop management, and room to scale.
Some of Magento’s best features include:
- Support for both digital and physical goods
- Price variations and coupon/discount functionality
- SEO optimization including the creation of a Google sitemap
- Mobile-friendly with mobile site creation capability
- Invoice and shipping label creation
- Templates with customization options
- Support for multiple currencies and languages
- Simple user account access for all customers
- Integration with Google Analytics
Types of Platforms
Magento comes in two distinct platforms. There is the ‘community edition’ and the ‘enterprise’ edition.
Magento Community Edition
Now called Magento Open Source, this basic open source e-commerce platform comes free of charge. It’s perfect for small businesses looking to expand their company. It comes with standard features such as catalog management, global selling, mobile-optimized shopping, and integrated checkout, payment, and shipping features.
Now called Magento Commerce, this all-in-one cloud solution offers businesses a wider range of features such as a built-in search box, instant purchase functionality, advanced marketing tool, content staging, a drag & drop page creator, and a guaranteed 99.9% uptime. It also comes with fast page loading, PCI compliance, and 24/7 technical support.
Lastly, if you are really looking to extend your online store, invest in some of Magento’s extensions.
For instance, you can use the Delivery Date Scheduler, SEO Hub, Advanced Product Designer, and the POS extensions to provide better service to your customers, give your shop advanced functionality, and improve your marketing efforts so your business can grow.
Amazon Web Services E-Commerce
Amazon Web Services (AWS) offers online shop owners a cloud computing e-commerce solution for businesses of all sizes. It’s flexible, secure, and highly scalable. And best of all, it’s affordable.
Host your online retail shop using any number of 16 worldwide datacenters so your site’s content is delivered quickly to customers no matter where in the world they are.
Adding to that, you caninvest in the Amazon CloudFront CDN that securely delivers all site data, including content, video, and apps to customers.
Why Use Cloud Computing?
Some of the most compelling reasons for using a cloud computing system like AWS for your e-commerce needs include:
- Instant auto-scaling features for growing big fast
- Automatic backups, deployments, databases, and more
- Increased performance and reliability because of the connected cloud servers
- A pay-per-use business model so you never pay for what you don’t use
The features you’ll want in your e-commerce solution will depend on the type and size of your online store. For instance, those with a physical shop and online store will need standard features for selling online.
Furthermore, blogging capability is essential to promote your brick-and-mortar shop, a POS system that will let you sell online and off, and detailed analytics for monitoring the success of both storefronts.
If you run an online shop only, the main thing to focus on, besides standard shopping cart functionality, will center around marketing tools. After all, expanding your online reach is the only way you’ll grow an online-only business.
Selling on Social Media
Being able to sell on social media networks like Instagram and Facebook, advanced SEO features for higher search rankings, and built-in features like newsletter subscribe boxes and email service provider integrations are all a must. You should also consider investing in a platform that supports multiple currencies and languages so you can build an international brand.
It also matters what type of web hosting you use when you run an e-commerce shop. For example, those with small startups can get away with using a reliable shared hosting provider without worry about spikes in traffic, needing more resources, or the high cost of monthly hosting payments.
Types of Hosting Plans for Scaling Shops
However, as your retail shop scales, it becomes more important that you invest in e-commerce hosting such as VPS, Cloud, or even the top-tier dedicated hosting plans.
Your online store will need sufficient resources to run, without interference from other websites. Additionally, it will need the ability to scale quickly and handle large spikes in traffic, and will need to perform at top loading speeds to ensure a seamless customer experience as people make purchases.
You also need to make sure your hosting plan has features related to site security as the number of transactions your store sees an increase.
Free E-Commerce Plans
It’s important to know that there are some free e-commerce plans available, which is especially helpful if you are just starting out. This gives you the freedom to see what kind of features you need for your shop, without costing you any money in the process.
In addition, BigCommerce and Shopify offer website owners free trials so those interested in their online shop platforms can give them a try before investing in their premium plans. And the great thing is, neither of them requires a credit card, making your trial hassle free.
Is Free Worth It?
Lastly, there are free e-commerce website builders that can offer you benefits like versatile design templates, drag & drop technology, easy customization options, community support, and sometimes even the ability to reach a global audience, without spending any money.
However, free doesn’t always mean better.
For example, there are usually company branded advertisements throughout your shop, it’s difficult to switch platforms, and complex e-commerce needs are not always possible due to limited features. In addition, your payment gateways will be limited, mobile-friendliness may not be a priority, and the extent of SEO that is built-in may not be enough to boost your search rankings.
Promotion and SEO
SEO, or search engine optimization, is your ability to get your e-commerce website found in search results. This organic traffic that finds your shop in their search results can increase your sales tremendously, but only if you focus your efforts on actually optimizing your site.
Choosing a reliable e-commerce platform, such as PrestaShop, that comes with built-in SEO tools can help you drive traffic to your website.
PrestaShop has plenty of SEO plugins.
In addition, the right retail shop solution can help you integrate your storefront on Facebook, sell products through Twitter and Instagram, and help you build a bigger email list so you can send out targeted email campaigns. All of these features help boost sales by bringing interested customers to your store.
If you are in a micro-niche and are having trouble finding a large customer base, there’s always multi-vendor marketplaces to help you out.
Working as the middleman between buyer and seller, these unique marketplaces help people find each other so they can complete transactions. Some of the biggest multi-vendor marketplaces on the market today include Amazon and eBay.
WordPress and WooCommerce
If you are using the WordPress CMS for your e-commerce needs, installing and activating the WooCommerce plugin on your website is the best way to create and run an online shop. Besides hosting and domain name costs, using WordPress and the free WooCommerce platform is 100% free.
Other benefits include:
- Unlimited product and product attributes
- Most hosting plans are optimized for WordPress and WooCommerce
- Highly extendable with free and premium themes and plugins
- You own all data since WordPress is a self-hosted solution
- Easy to install and use
- All e-commerce features you could need are included or available via extensions
- A large community of support, plus support that comes with the plugins and themes
In the end, there’s a reason WooCommerce powers the most online shops in the world.
E-commerce Platform Shopping Checklist
Now that you know which features to look for in your e-commerce solution, let’s take a look at some of the best questions to have answered before you lock yourself in:
- What type and how many products can I sell? For instance, can I sell physical, digital, or both?
- How scalable is the platform?
- Is the platform mobile-friendly?
- Is this a hosted or self-hosted solution?
- How much does each of your pricing plans cost?
- What are your best features?
- Do you include SEO, marketing, and analytics features?
- What measures do you take to secure each online store?
- Can I add reviews or ratings?
- Can I extend the platform in any way?
- Is there a free trial? Do you require a credit card?
- What is your support team like?
If you can get all of these questions answered to your satisfaction, you’ve found the e-commerce platform for you.
Now that you’ve got a detailed overview of how e-commerce works, you’re ready to dive deeper. From here, it might be helpful to dig into our extensive list of tutorials or partake of our web hosting reviews. Happy selling!
Frequently Asked Questions
To wrap things up, let’s cover a few questions which are common upon selecting the right e-commerce platform to work with.
Is it important to use an e-commerce specific platform?
There are other ways to go about with it, but in essence, yes. Especially if you’re a beginner in the field of launching an online e-commerce store, your best bet is to launch it with a specified platform.
Otherwise, you may be looking at hefty development costs and work hours to be paid from your wallet.
I want a proper online store, are e-commerce platforms good enough?
This question is still being asked, which is surprising. But hey, let’s answer it. The top e-commerce platforms in the world are actually being used by some of the top retailers in the world, including:
- Tesla (Technology and automotive company)
- Budweiser (Alcohol brand)
- Red Bull (Energy drink brand)
- Penguin Books (Leading publisher)
In other words, yes – e-commerce platforms are good enough. There is no need to build a custom shop unless you’re hiding a revolutionary idea under your sleeve.
What are the security risks there with running an e-commerce site?
When committing to running an e-commerce site, you do indeed vamp up your responsibilities as a webmaster. You are now handling more data, sensitive data and more importantly, have the duty of being available at all times for your customers.
Appropriate security measures must be in place in order to ensure the above all run smoothly.
Essential E-Commerce Reading:
WordPress E-Commerce Plugins
Which is best for your online store? Shopify’s Buy Button, BigCommerce’s WordPress plugin, or WooCommerce? This comprehensive review will help you make the best choice for your e-commerce venture.
Discover the best PCI compliant hosts. Plus: everything you need to know about compliance including out who’s responsible for it — the host, the site builder, or you?
This indispensable guide provides everything you need to get started selling on Amazon. Learn about dropshipping, arbitrage, reselling wholesale goods, private label selling or selling your own manufactured or handmade goods. Plus: common mistakes to avoid.