Online shopping is booming. Part of the reason is the continuing pandemic, but part of the reason is also the trend that has been growing for a long time. Almost 80% of the American population shop online, and more than 50% prefer to shop online rather than in person. By the end of 2022, this will be a trillion-dollar industry.
This is good news for sellers, because with the right tools, any small business can easily and quickly start selling online and join the gold rush. With the help of a decent e-commerce website builder, you can list your products, accept payments, and handle shipping-all without leaving the comfort of your home office.
While researching this list, we looked at more than 50 different options for building an e-commerce website. From independent creatives to multinational companies, there are solutions for all kinds of businesses, but for this list, we focus on the platforms that are most suitable for the needs of small and medium-sized enterprises, especially those that are new to exploring online sales or selling physical products. This is not to say that our choice is not suitable for other types of businesses, but if you sell Lightroom presets worth a few dollars a month or potatoes worth $5 million, you may want to look elsewhere.
Having said that, here are the six best e-commerce platforms.
# Get Shopify up and running quickly
# The square for in-person and online sales
# Ecwid starts with a free plan and grows
# BigCommerce for high-volume sellers
# WooCommerce for adding a shopping cart to an existing WordPress site
# Wix for building complete sites
What makes a small business a great ecommerce platform?
How we evaluate and test applications. All of our best app roundups are written by people who have used, tested, and written software for most of their careers. We spend dozens of hours researching and testing apps, using each app as intended and evaluating it against the standards we set for that category. We’ve never been paid for any app’s articles or links to any website – we value the trust our readers place in us to provide an honest assessment of the categories and apps we review. For more details on our process, read our full rundown of how to choose an app on the Zapier blog.
For small businesses looking to sell online, we’ve identified five key features that each platform has to offer. There are other great platforms out there, but if they don’t offer the features on the list, they don’t make the cut.
# The hypothetical average person must be able to build a beautiful, responsive, modern online store using the tools and themes provided, without requiring a degree in computer science or graphic design. They must also be able to adapt it to existing brands by using their own brand assets and color schemes. This criterion actually excludes quite a few platforms because they are either too boring, too similar or outdated themes, or require too much technical knowledge to take full advantage of.
# The platform must enable you to sell anything you want, wherever you want to sell. That means it has to be able to handle both digital and physical products, and provide some way to manage sales tax and international shipping. This last point is especially important for small businesses: if you have a physical location or plan to sell internationally, you may be responsible for collecting and reporting various taxes.
# We only considered full-service e-commerce platforms. You need to be able to sell your products through a consumer-facing website, but also to manage orders, ship, track inventory, and handle the backend of your store and manage huge spreadsheets without using other services or (please don’t) .
# No matter what platform you choose, it has to work well with any other applications and services your business depends on. For this reason, we asked the apps on this list to have a range of integrations through a plugin and extension marketplace or built-in functionality.
# All of this must be offered at a clear and affordable monthly price. Opaque fees are a big deal, and while the solutions done for you are great, they can cost thousands of dollars per month – far more than any SMB needs (or has to) to set up an online store.
E-commerce platform fees
E-commerce platforms can be a bit complicated when we talk about pricing because they charge slightly differently than other services. There are three types of fees you might have to pay for an ecommerce website builder:
# Monthly fee. This is anything from free to a few hundred dollars, straight into the platform. For most of the options on this list, expect to pay about $30 for the basic plan.
# Payment gateway fees. These are the fees you pay when processing credit card charges. The normal fee is about 2.9% plus an additional $0.30, although this will drop with volume and higher upfront payments. Some platforms, like Wix and Shopify, operate their own payment gateways that you can choose to use, while others rely on Stripe, PayPal, and similar services.
# Transaction fee. This is another percentage-based fee on top of any gateway fee. Many services advertise their transaction fees as 0%, but that simply means there are no additional fees. Other services charge a 1% or 2% transaction fee if you don’t use their gateway.
Let’s give a quick example using Shopify’s current pricing. The basic plan costs $29 per month. On top of that, you pay 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction. There is also a 2% transaction fee if you want to use a different payment gateway.
This means that if you’re selling 10 t-shirts for $50, you’ll pay Shopify’s $29 monthly plan, plus $1.75 per t-shirt sold. Total is $46.50.
Of course, if you don’t sell any T-shirts for a month, you’ll only pay $29, or if you sell 50 a month, you’ll pay $116.50.
Also, if you sell 10 t-shirts but decide to use Stripe’s payment gateway, you’ll pay $39 for Shopify ($29 plus $1 per T-shirt) and $17.50 for Stripe (2.9% + $0.30 per T-shirt) USD) for a total of $56.50.
As you can see, your monthly cost will vary depending on the options you choose and how you run your business. We recommend doing some rough calculations when choosing a plan and payment gateway to see what works best for you. We avoid services with unreasonably high fees and transaction fees or absurd transaction volume expectations, but some numbers are certain.
The best e-commerce platform to get up and running quickly
Shopify has been around for more than 15 years-using the platform to build more than 2 million stores-for most small businesses that want to quickly build and operate an online store, it is difficult to find a better option.
Sign up for a 14-day credit card-free trial, and within a few minutes, you can start building your store. The onboarding wizard will guide you to add products, customize the appearance of your store, connect your own domain, and be ready to accept these most important payments.
Even if you’ve never built a website before, you’re unlikely to get lost in Shopify’s intuitive web app. For example, adding a product is as easy as clicking the product in the sidebar and then clicking the add product button. Fill in the name, price, quantity you have on hand, and any other relevant details, change its status to “active”, and it can be sold directly in your online store.
Although Shopify met most of the requirements from the start, its scalability and app store are what really makes it such a powerful choice. Take the theme situation as an example: Shopify has 10 free themes and more than 50 paid themes, starting at $140. To browse them, go to themes and click Visit Theme Store under Theme Library. Good choice, right?
But because Shopify is so popular, you can also find more than 1,300 themes available on ThemeForest, or ask a professional designer who already has experience on the platform to customize one for you.
Pretty much all the functionality you want is the same. If it’s not built into Shopify, you can find an extension, plugin, or service in the app store. Just go to apps.shopify.com, find the app you need, and click Add App. Go back to your Shopify dashboard and click Apps in the sidebar to manage all of your installed apps.
It’s no surprise that Shopify integrates with Zapier, so if you want to automatically add new customers to your email marketing lists, track orders with project management tools, or connect Shopify to any other app you use, you can do it easily.
The Best Ecommerce Platforms for In-person and Online Selling
If you want the option of selling in person, such as at farmers markets or craft fairs, and through your online store, Square is the way to go. Your online and offline orders are organized under one dashboard, so there’s no need to jump between apps, try to track customer details with random spreadsheets, or manually enter things after the fact.
Square acquired website builder app Weebly in 2018, so when you set up your store, that’s what’s going on behind the scenes. If you occasionally see URLs that point directly to weebly.com, don’t worry. (Note: We noticed fewer Weebly URLs appearing in recent reviews.)
Square has some of the best onboarding. When registering, you must complete a quick questionnaire about your business and its needs. You can choose to set up a single booking page, a full online store, or a simple checkout link, depending on what you’re looking for. The default theme will also adjust to match your chosen business category.
Square is more limited than some other options when it comes to storefront customization. Instead of choosing a theme that does most of the work, with Square, you’ll have to use the (admittedly excellent) website builder to do your own design – or you can hire a designer from $99 to do it for you.
In Square Dashboard, click Online, then Site > Edit Site to get started. In the left sidebar, you can select different page elements or click on them directly. For more options, click the three little dots. You can individually change the colors, fonts and layout of everything and, of course, upload your own images. It works well, but it’s a bit limited.
You can create “projects,” which Square calls products or services for sale, through the regular Square Dashboard and Square Online Dashboard, and they’ll be synced to a common project library. This means you can sell the same products online and offline, or list something in one location. Just go to Project > Project Library and click Create Project.
When you want to make a face-to-face sale, open the menu and select the virtual terminal, which acts like a digital cash register. If you have a Square credit card reader (available for free), you can swipe a customer’s card from Square for a fee of 2.6% + $0.10 and their details will be automatically uploaded to your account. Otherwise, you can enter the customer’s credit card information for 3.5% + $0.15 each time. Online, Square charges similarly. On the free plan, pay 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction.
Square also integrates with Zapier, so you can connect it to thousands of other apps to do things like post your face-to-face deals to a Slack channel for other team members to use Airtable to view or record details.
The Best Ecommerce Platforms to Get Started for Free
If you’re starting an online store but want to minimize your initial outlay, Ecwid is the best place to start: it has a great free plan that lets you start selling your first 10 physical products, plus affordable upgrade tiers, starting at $15/as you grow or require additional features. There are also no additional transaction fees on top of the fees charged by your payment gateway, so it doesn’t steal any profits through hidden fees.
When you sign up, Ecwid gives you the option to integrate your store with your existing website – it supports most platforms like WordPress, Weebly, Drupal, etc. – or build your own using the company.site domain name (though You can change it to a custom domain at any time by upgrading to the Venture plan).
On the dashboard, you’ll see a big, bold to-do list that walks you through setting up your website, adding your first product, localizing your store, and choosing how you want your goods delivered and Get paid. Complete the full list in less than 15 minutes.
Where Ecwid stands out from some other free options is its customizability. In the sidebar, click Website, then Edit Site to open the site builder. To change the theme, click on the theme and choose from dozens of different options. No matter what you’re planning to sell, there’s a nice base theme to use. Then, dive into the intuitive builder to customize each section, text block, and photo.
While Ecwid is a great free option, it doesn’t skimp on the features of paid plans. It integrates with social channels like Facebook and Instagram, so you can sell directly to your followers, you can list your products on Amazon or eBay, or pay in person. It automatically calculates taxes, offers discounts and tracks your inventory. If you’ve built a free store on Ecwid, you don’t have to worry about migrating to a new platform if things take off.
Ecwid also integrates with Zapier, so you can connect it to all your other apps and do things like receive texts when someone places an order or track sales with Google Sheets.
The best e-commerce platform for high-volume sellers
Not surprisingly, BigCommerce is an enterprise e-commerce solution used by multinational companies such as Ben & Jerry’s. BigCommerce Essentials provides an equally powerful platform for small businesses that want to sell online at a more affordable price.
That being said, BigCommerce Essentials still targets businesses that already sell in large quantities, whether in units or dollars (when you sign up, less than $50,000 per year is considered “just getting started”). This means that, unlike most other options, as part of the onboarding process, you will be prompted to set up sales tax and automatic shipping; small shops that are just starting out can improvise before they are up and running. If you only sell 10 T-shirts a month, you won’t suddenly be burdened with thousands of dollars in taxes.
Likewise, while BigCommerce integrates with online payment processors like Stripe, PayPal, Braintree, and Amazon, you can also configure your store to pay via bank transfer, check, or money order.
It’s also very easy to list your products on other marketplaces like eBay, Amazon, and Facebook, so customers don’t have to buy directly from your store. Just head to the channel manager in the sidebar and connect the options you want. BigCommerce will automatically import any products you’ve set up and keep up to date with any changes you’ve made across all channels.
However, this focus on large and small businesses is not without its drawbacks. While BigCommerce comes with 12 free themes built in, most of the themes available in the Theme Marketplace (in the sidebar, click Storefront > Theme Marketplace) cost between $150 and $300. They look great, the drag-and-drop website builder is powerful enough, and you can customize the theme however you want, but you need to be able to justify the investment.
Sales are capped at $50,000 per year for the $29.95 per month Standard tier and $180,000 per year for the $79.95 per month Plus tier. You don’t necessarily need to turn BigCommerce’s inventory levels into the right one for you, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
BigCommerce also integrates with Zapier, so you can connect it to other apps in your tech stack to automate tasks like sending all your customers to your CRM.
The best e-commerce platform to add a shopping cart to an existing WordPress site
Most e-commerce solutions work best if you use them to build a complete online store instead of adding payment processing to an existing website. It is even simpler if everything runs seamlessly from one dashboard and is built with the same tools. So, if you have already established a website, what would you do?
Well, assuming you use a service like Squarespace or Weebly, then their built-in tools should be your first choice. However, if you use WordPress like a lot of the Internet, then WooCommerce is your best choice. This WordPress plugin does not need to be restarted on a different platform, but is seamlessly integrated into your WordPress site for easy sales.
Installing WooCommerce on your website is very easy. Register on the WooCommerce website. Then, when you reach the final step of the onboarding process, choose to automatically install WooCommerce on your existing WordPress site. You will be prompted to log in and then set up the plugin. If you are already using WordPress, that would be great.
Likewise, WooCommerce can perfectly plug into your existing backend. You can manage orders, create coupons, and view sales reports from the WordPress dashboard. Adding a new product is as simple as creating a typical post-because WooCommerce is a WordPress plugin, it has the same interface as WordPress, which means you don’t have to spend time learning a new platform. The only difference between adding a new product and creating a new post is that you must add specific information about the product, such as description, image, category, and tags.
If WooCommerce doesn’t have some of the features you need, there is a serious market for expansion. WooCommerce offers a variety of free and paid options to enhance your store: get real-time shipping through the USPS extension, integrate various payment gateways, or add WooCommerce subscriptions to let your customers subscribe to your products, services, and even your paid newsletters. You can also combine these extensions with any plugin from WordPress to further customize your store.
You can use Zapier to connect WooCommerce to thousands of other applications to perform operations such as saving orders to a spreadsheet or adding new customers to your email marketing tool.
WooCommerce Price: Standard features on self-hosted WordPress sites are free; starting at $29 for additional extensions; transaction fees depend on the payment gateway. WooCommerce is included in WordPress.com’s $45 per month (annual billing) e-commerce plan.
The best e-commerce platform to create a store and a business website at the same time
Most e-commerce platforms allow you to add an about page, contact page, or even a basic blog to your website, but it is usually more of an add-on than an outright feature. If you are looking to build a complete website where the online store is part of the thing, not the entire package, then Wix is your best choice. It is a powerful website builder-but it will not skimp on e-commerce features such as order tracking, automatic sales tax and abandoned shopping cart recycling.
When you register for the first time, you tell Wix what kind of website you want to build, and it will make some suggestions. Then, you can choose one from more than 500 templates and create your own website, or answer more questions and let Wix’s “artificial design intelligence” or ADI do it for you.
The ADI option is surprisingly fast and effective. Click Start now, after answering a few questions about the products you plan to sell and what kind of look you like, select the features and pages you want to add to your website, and add your details, and you will be ready Go to a website in a while. You can even import content from an existing website or “Google My Business” list. And, of course, once Wix’s robot designer is done, you can delve into it and customize it further.
With so many things, Wix’s onboarding to-do list is long but comprehensive. In addition to adding shipping and store hours (if you have a physical location), you can also set up professional email addresses, build email lists, place ads on Google and Facebook, set up payment gateways, and more. Sometimes, it may be a bit close to the hand, but too much guidance is better than too little.
Wix is one of the most popular website builders, so there is a healthy third-party application and expansion market. If you want to integrate your store with accounting services such as QuickBooks or shipping coordinators such as Shippo, there is a simple one-click installation application. Or, you can use Zapier and connect Wix to thousands of other applications, such as Trello and Google Tasks.
One final point: Although Wix is our e-commerce website builder, it’s not much better than Squarespace, Weebly, or any other option you should switch platforms. If you have already created a website with another website builder, please try its e-commerce feature first.