Experts have long projected the continued growth of ecommerce, but that growth has been explosive over the past year for a simple reason: COVID-19 has driven shoppers online.
Ecommerce sales have simply spiked since COVID-19 first appeared. A CNBC article stated that in the US alone, ecommerce sales grew by over 30% from 2019 to 2020. Ecommerce now claims 14% of all US sales, a huge growth compared to the 11% from the previous year.
The drive for social distancing has also opened up new and broadened existing categories for online retail like grocery delivery services or at-home leisure or self-improvement products. All of this interest has spurred businessowners to begin looking for new ways and products to sell online.
The consumer push for new categories of online retail has also been supplemented by the slew of ecommerce platforms now available for small businessowners, tailored to provide services specific to a variety of potential business needs. Even solopreneurs with minimal coding expertise can easily put together a site that looks professionally designed.
It is vital now for businesses to begin looking at ecommerce seriously. The change in consumer shopping habits is clear and owning and operating an ecommerce website has never been easier for an enterprise of any size.
We know that choosing the best ecommerce platform for your small business can be a confusing process with all the options and features out there, so we’ve distilled the process.
FACTORS TO CONSIDER BEFORE CHOOSING A PLATFORM
Applicability (to your needs)
When it comes to choosing the best ecommerce platform for SMEs, the most important assets a platform provides depends entirely on your small business needs and your personal background. The size of your business and product line, for example, will help determine whether you need a lot of online storage and how crucial efficient inventory management tools will be for your ecommerce website’s success.
Some ecommerce platforms provide access to tools such as marketing options – discount options, abandoned cart recovery, or maybe integrated social media channels – while others are focused more on making your ecommerce site more manageable.
If you’re looking to use a lot of third-party plugins or apps, how easy it will be to integrate those into your site must factor into your choice.
For those without a lot of experience with web development in general, some ecommerce platforms provide templates and features that guide you through the process of designing your site to fit your business’s needs, while also providing you with options so you feel like it suits your style too.
It’s important to choose a platform that fits your specific needs as best as possible. Spending a lot of money for a platform that offers a lot of tools might be wasteful if you don’t have the resources to manage that hefty toolkit well.
Choosing the best ecommerce platform for a small business depends heavily on the type of business, so take the time now to settle on your immediate needs and your future growth to save yourself a headache and a half later.
Once you’ve determined what you most need in your site – customizability, third-party integration, or maybe just a cost-effective solution – it’s time to look at your options. These are some of the best ecommerce platforms for SMEs out there today.
Price: Starts at $23 monthly
Wix eCommerce’s basic plan starts at $23 but all their plans come with a free domain and $300 in Google Ads vouchers if you pay annually.
The most expensive plan will run you $49 monthly but also provides extra storage space, priority customer support, customized site reports, along with an SEO review of your ecommerce site.
Wix eCommerce is a great option for small startups that want a quick and easy site. Their site builder features drag-and-drop customization options for a variety of businesses that don’t require any coding background. It will also optimize your site for mobile performance automatically.
They also feature built-in apps and plugins to help with ecommerce website management and have a good selection of coupon and discount options. If you’d like to start building your site before selling products, Wix also offers an ad-supported site builder for free.
Unfortunately, they do have fewer ecommerce features because they are primarily focused on website construction.
Nonetheless, even Wix eCommerce’s ‘Business’ (basic-equivalent) plan still offers 24/7 customer service, a free custom domain for a year, unlimited sales, integrated social media sales channels, and abandoned cart recovery, among other features.
Price: Starts at $29.95 monthly, with a 1-month free trial
BigCommerce offers three main plans with different tiers of features. Their most expensive plan similarly costs $299.95 per month.
Upgrading your plan allows you to sell more and introduces extra features like persistent carts, where your customers’ carts stay intact between sessions, abandoned cart saver, product filtering, and more depending on the tier you choose.
BigCommerce’s lowest tier plan, ‘BigCommerce Standard’, does offer some features that the equivalent ‘Basic Shopify’ plan does not. It has a built-in site creator, automatic global currency conversion, and real-time shipping quotes from third-party carriers.
As far as features for your ecommerce website, BigCommerce has a lot of high-quality tools to help you manage your ecommerce website. They have integrations with online marketplaces, social media channels, POS providers, etc.
They also offer a built-in ratings and reviews system, which Shopify only offers as an external app, albeit a free one. There are also no transaction fees for using BigCommerce, while Shopify charges fees for external payment processing, even though their internal processing gateway is region locked.
That said, BigCommerce does impose selling limits on ecommerce sites on its platform, beginning at $50k with their ‘Standard’ plan, which can be raised up to $400k annually with their ‘Pro’ plan.
Price: Starts at $29 monthly, with a 14-day free trial
Shopify’s prices scale similarly to BigCommerce, with their most inclusive plan costing $299 per month. Paying more allows you more staff accounts, better store and inventory management options, automatic shipping calculations and more.
There is a ‘Lite’ version of Shopify that only costs $9 a month, but with heavily reduced features that require you to have an external website to which you can add a “Buy button”.
Shopify provides access to variety of features. They have a comprehensive library of ecommerce-specific features that can help you not only reach consumers, but also better manage your business.
There are two standout features they offer that BigCommerce does not. Even on their basic plan, Shopify doesn’t impose sales limits and has an abandoned cart saver feature. Abandoned cart savers attempt to remotivate customers who leave your ecommerce site before completing their transactions and can significantly impact revenue.
As an ecommerce platform, Shopify boasts some of the best tools for small businesses. They have a hefty list of ecommerce tools and allow for a lot of freedom with your marketing strategies (like implementing dropshipping with plugins), without needing any hefty coding foreknowledge.
One note to remember is that Shopify has a limited blogging platform. If content is central to your ecommerce website’s design and your business’s marketing strategy, you might not want to choose Shopify.
WooCommerce functions solely as a plugin for an existing WordPress site, so it’s completely free but somewhat limited in its application.
If your business already runs a WordPress site, it’s a simple process to integrate WooCommerce. The plugin uses the WordPress Content Management System so it should be familiar and easy to navigate.
If not, WooCommerce does require a WordPress site so some web development background is ideal for getting it to function well. There is no dedicated support staff, but there is a highly supportive development community for do-it-yourselfers.
WooCommerce features secure payment options, allows for recurring payments, and integrates with QuickBooks for easy accounting. On the downside, you are also going to have to source a third-party payment gateway.
All in all, WooCommerce is a very cost-effective method for getting your ecommerce site up and running.
Price: Starts free!
Weebly starts free but doesn’t integrate an ecommerce toolkit until their most expensive Performance plan, which costs $26 per month. It should be noted that their free plan also doesn’t allow you to sell digital goods on your ecommerce website, which is somewhat ironic.
Weebly is built to be user-friendly, and its site builder also uses a format that reduces the need for coding experience. It also has built-in marketing features that are easy to navigate.
On the downside, Weebly’s ecommerce tools are not only gated behind its most expensive package, they’re also less thorough than other ecommerce platforms at a similar price point. Weebly also isn’t designed for easy plugin integration, so any non-integrated marketing tactics may be hard to implement. Last but not least, the platform has had a poor history with SEO implementation.
For larger stores, Weebly does offer unlimited storage beginning from it’s ‘Professional’ tier plan at $12 monthly.
Price: Starts free!
Square Online Store allows you to build a website, powered by Weebly, for free if you already use its Point of Sale (POS) system.
Square Online Store’s most useful tool is its automatic integration with the Square POS system. It allows for advanced inventory management and features artificial design intelligence to make setting up and managing your ecommerce site just a bit easier.
Their package features also include automatic social media sales channels integration and a host of marketing tools and analytics, including abandoned cart recovery.
Square’s largest problem is its lack of customizability. From its Weebly-powered site builder to its restrictive checkout and payment processing options, choosing Square makes it easy to set up an ecommerce website but it can be difficult to later manage your ecommerce website using external tools.
Price: Starts at $18 monthly
Squarespace offers a $12 monthly personal plan but doesn’t integrate ecommerce.
They have three tiers of pricing specifically for ecommerce sites, capping at $40 per month if you pay annually. Their best tools, such as abandoned cart recovery, selling subscriptions, and advanced shipping and flexible discount options are locked under their more costly packages.
Squarespace positions itself as an intuitive site builder, similar to Wix. They also use professionally designed templates that allow for easy customization using their internal tools. Their toolkit is especially noted for its creative ease of use.
Squarespace also offers integrated marketing and inventory management tools, though fewer than Shopify, SEO, site analytics, and social media channels. They also feature built-in real-time shipping and tax calculation.
On the downside, Squarespace has limited payment processing options, and doesn’t integrate third-party apps well. Their cheapest plan also has a 3% transaction fee, but that is waived at higher priced plans.
Price: Free account creation
Ecwid allows you to create an account and start selling things for free, forever. That’s right, it’s not a trial. They offer three other pricing tiers, maxing out at $99 per month, with each tier offering a wider more social media integration and better store management tools, among other features.
Ecwid, similarly to WooCommerce, functions solely as a third-party plugin or app. It’s cloud-based, which means it doesn’t require any installation on your part, and it has automatic responsive design and language detection so your ecommerce website will be adapt to your customer’s needs.
Their specialty lies in making their ecommerce platform easy to integrate into the infrastructure of an existing website, social media channel, or business page. You can then manage your entire store from their portal.
Their lower-cost plans don’t feature any phone or live chat support, so you’ll have to fend for yourself for the most part. They also don’t provide substantial coverage of your backend statistics relative to other platforms.
As far as setting up an ecommerce website, Ecwid makes it easy. Thereafter, they charge quite a bit more for similar features available at lower price points from other ecommerce platforms.
WHICH E-COMMERCE PLATFORM IS BEST FOR STARTUPS?
It’s hard to pin down a best ecommerce platform for startups because it really depends a lot on your business – how you intend to scale your business, the design elements you need, and what kind of marketing options you want available to you.
It’s also important to consider the impact that price will have on running your ecommerce site. Besides the typical subscription cost associated with most platforms, you should consider whether the platform you choose will ultimately require you to hire a developer and how much time you’ll need to invest in creating and sustaining your ecommerce site.
Working on the assumption that most startups don’t necessarily have strong developers on board (yet), we would recommend Wix eCommerce as the best ecommerce platform for small businesses.
Their easy site builder, with built-in responsive design for mobile devices, and range of ecommerce tools make Wix extremely friendly for startups looking for an easy online store that requires minimal management so you can direct your efforts elsewhere.
One thing to keep in mind is that Wix struggles with scalability, so if your business is already sizeable or you expect rapid growth, it might be best to choose a different platform.
WHICH E-COMMERCE PLATFORM IS THE CHEAPEST?
Before simply landing on the cheapest platform you can find, you should consider that the price of a platform usually depends on the features it has available and whether it will be sustainable for your business in the long run. Switching platforms, learning how to use different tools, and reorganizing your inventory and ecommerce site on a different site builder can be difficult and tedious.
As far as price goes, Squarespace Commerce is hard to beat. Their cheapest plan doesn’t have any frills on it, but it comes with a free domain for a year – with a free SSL security certificate – and basic ecommerce necessities like inventory management, shipping and tax calculation, and 24/7 support.
Their professional templates with drag-and-drop elements also make designing and customizing your ecommerce website, within the limits of what they offer, an easy and intuitive process for anyone. Automatic mobile optimization also means your site is accessible to your users wherever, whenever.
But, if you either operate or know how to operate a WordPress site for your business, WooCommerce deserves a special mention. Since it uses WordPress’s Content Management System and it’s completely free, WooCommerce takes the cake for experienced web developers looking for a cheap, manageable store.