It’s never been a better time for entrepreneurs to start or grow their businesses through online sales. Online shopping continues to be strong, and is expected to continue to grow in coming years.
If your business isn’t taking full advantage of online sales channels, now is the time to get started. Fortunately ecommerce platforms make it easier than ever to build an online store.
What Is An Ecommerce Platform?
If you were to open a bricks and mortar retail store, you’d need fixtures and display cases to showcase your inventory, and a point of sale system for customers to check out and pay for purchases.
Similarly, when you open an online store, you need a way for customers to browse through the products you offer, put them in a shopping cart and pay for them, along with a system to get that purchase into your customer’s hands. Those systems that facilitate online retail sales are often referred to as ecommerce platforms.
An ecommerce platform is the software equivalent of a bricks and mortar store or mail order store. It provides the tools that enable businesses to sell their products or services online.
How Ecommerce Platforms Work
Ecommerce platforms may facilitate part or all of the online shopping experience, including:
A website and/or mobile app where prospective customers can view products
A shopping cart
Shipping cost and sales tax calculation
Payment processing when customers are ready to check out
Shipping labels and/or inventory management for fulfillment centers
Customer returns management
Ecommerce platforms aim to provide a seamless experience for the customer, either by managing all of these aspects of the purchase process, or by integrating with other systems that do.
Why You Need An Ecommerce Platform
If you want to sell products online, you can become a seller for an existing ecommerce platform like eBay, Amazon or Etsy. This is a popular way many ecommerce entrepreneurs get started, and many successful businesses have been built on those platforms.
At the same time, many sellers find they want more control over the sales process and the relationship with their customers. It can be hard to build a brand on one of those platforms, where customers are often seeing offers for competing products– perhaps at lower prices.
That’s why many ecommerce businesses create their own ecommerce stores. These stores give them more freedom and flexibility, and allow them to build deeper relationships with their customers.
However, there are a lot of steps that go into completing and fulfilling an ecommerce sale, and that’s where ecommerce platforms become essential.
Rather than cobbling together various programs, the ecommerce platform handles most or all of these various functions.
These platforms may also provide the business with important tools such as ecommerce analytics, email marketing, social media marketing integrations and more.
The 9 Best Ecommerce Platforms
If you’ve decided to invest in your own ecommerce website, you’ll want to choose an ecommerce platform that provides the functionality you need.
Here are nine of the most popular ecommerce platforms. Note that when pricing is mentioned, transaction fees are in addition to subscription fees:
1. Adobe Commerce (formerly Magento)
Magento was built as an open-source ecommerce platform. (Open-source means developers can build upon it.) It is designed to be very scalable and integrates with other Adobe products including Analytics. It can be used to build both B2C and B2B online stores, and can be used in multiple countries and languages.
This is not an inexpensive solution, though. You must contact Adobe for pricing, and other sites report it starts at $22,000. You will also likely need professional developer services to create and customize your store.
2. Big Cartel
Big Cartel is designed to help artists and makers sell online. You can use one of its templates to create your store, or if you have technical chops, customize your own. It promises that you can manage your store, add or update products, check Google Analytics, offer discounts or run promotions, and fulfill orders from any device.
You can start for free with up to five products, and after that pricing ranges from $9.99/month for up to 50 products and $19.99/month for up to 500 products.
BigCommerce can help you build your ecommerce website with a variety of free and paid themes, and then offers many different ecommerce features to help you manage and grow your online business. It offers SEO tools, customer groups to help improve the user experience, inventory management tools, channel integrations with Amazon, eBay and Facebook, multiple currencies and more.
There’s a 15-day free trial, and after that pricing starts at $29.95/month. It says its most popular ecommerce plan is the Plus plan at $79.95/month, and Pro is available at $299.95/month.
4. Square Online
Square is known for its portable POS; small payment terminals that have helped many small business owners accept credit cards and debit cards for payment. It also offers Square Online, an ecommerce solution to help businesses extend their physical storefronts to sell online, including selling on social media.
Square Online is a mobile-first design, which means it’s designed to help shoppers order from their phones, just like they would from an app. It’s also designed to deepen the relationship with loyal customers. You can plan product drops, promotional events and add banners or pop ups. And you can offer free in-store pickup or delivery if you choose.
There’s a free plan, as well as paid plans at $29 or $79/month.
With Squarespace, you can create a beautiful website with drag-and-drop tools, then use marketing tools such as email campaigns and social tools to promote your products or services. It can manage a variety of types of ecommerce businesses, including physical products, digital products, and subscriptions.
Customers get real-time shipping rates and options, as well as a simple checkout process. It also offers numerous payment integrations, such as PayPal, Stripe and AfterPay.
You can start with a free trial, then the monthly fees for business accounts are $23/month, $27/month or $49/month. There is also an enterprise plan.
For beginners who want to sell online, Shopify routinely comes up as a great choice for ease of use. It also offers a variety of free themes to build your online store, and free updates are included. It’s also very popular for dropshipping businesses.
It integrates with a very large number of third-party apps and plugins, allowing online sellers to include practically any ecommerce functionality they need. It’s not just for startups, though. It offers a wide variety of tools to meet the business needs of serious ecommerce sites as well.
You can start with a $5/month plan if you just want to sell on social media. After that, paid plans are $29, $79 or $299 per month. There’s also Shopify Plus starting at $2000/month for high volume sellers.
Volusion’s ecommerce offering starts with a website builder that helps you build sites with responsive designs (meaning they will work on any device). You can sell unlimited products, and use built-in marketing tools such as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) management and a CRM tool. It also offers a variety of integrations.
Pricing starts at $35/month for a personal account, and that level the number of products that can be sold caps out at 100. Professional accounts are $79/month and Business accounts are $299/month.
Weebly launched primarily as a user-friendly website builder that allows anyone to create an attractive site without web design skills. Weebly was acquired by Square in 2018 and its technology helps power Square Online. In addition to attractive templates, it offers marketing tools like customizable emails for abandoned cart recovery, SEO optimization, coupons and custom gift cards, and more.
There is a free basic account that may be sufficient for some smaller ecommerce sellers. Paid plans are $6, $12 or $26/month.
No discussion of ecommerce platforms is complete without mentioning WooCommerce, a free open-source Wordpress plugin. It’s not for everyone; you’ll need some technical skills to implement it, or be willing to learn it or hire someone to help you. But WooCommerce does get high marks from loyal customers who appreciate the flexibility it offers them to design the online store they want.
WooCommerce integrates with a large number of extensions, from shipping to marketing add-ons. You can use WooCommerce Payments which is fully integrated with Woo, or you can choose other payment processors such as Stripe, Square, AmazonPay or PayPal payments.
Pricing is, well, free. But you can’t run an entire online store for free using it. For example, you’ll need your own custom domain name and web hosting, though you likely already have one if you have your own website.