Topics in this blog post:
Considerations for choosing the best e-commerce platform for your business
The best e-commerce platforms for small business, enterprise, WordPress, and digital download
The best website builders with built-in e-commerce software
The best specialty e-commerce platforms
Complete list of both open source and commercial e-commerce platforms
This is the only guide you need to read about e-commerce platforms. Let's get started!
How to Choose an E-Commerce Platform
Selecting the right e-commerce platform is critical. There are three major considerations you need to examine when choosing the best e-commerce platform:
Your own store versus online marketplace
Hosted store versus self-hosted store
Open source platform versus commercial platform
Your Own Store Versus Online Marketplace
Traditionally, you can sell your products on online marketplaces such as eBay, Amazon, Etsy, Atomic Mall, or niche marketplaces such as ASOS Marketplace and Cult Beauty. It is very easy to set up your own store and add your products. The cost is either zero or extremely low. In addition, your store page is likely to get some traffic because there is already a large number of visitors to the marketplace.
With a marketplace, however, your business fully relies on a platform you don't own (platform dependence), and you can't build your own brand. Another huge problem is you don't have your customers' email addresses for future communication because your marketplace considers them as their customers, not yours. As I mentioned in Part 2 of my 3-part video course Blueprint To Build A Sustainable Business, this is a big no-no.
Another option is to build your own store. In the short term, this is more expensive and time consuming. But it will definitely pay off in the long run because of platform independence, brand building, and direct access to your customers.
Hosted Store Versus Self-Hosted Store
A hosted store means it is hosted on a company's server. The company takes care of everything including security, payment card industry (PCI) compliance, backups and recovery, and more. Shopify and BigCommerce are both hosted e-commerce platforms.
A self-hosted store means it is hosted on a web host you purchase on your own. You will need to download the e-commerce software, and upload and install it on the host by yourself. You are responsible for security, payment card industry (PCI) compliance, backups and recovery, and more. WooCommerce, WordPress and Magento are self-hosted E-Commerce platforms.
For most of us, a hosted store is probably the way to go due to its simplicity unless you have the technical know-how or a tech guy to help you with installation, implementation and support.
Open Source Versus Commercial
Open source e-commerce software is free to use and can be modified and shared. Free sounds very enticing but there are other issues to consider. First, free doesn't mean it will cost you nothing to build your e-commerce store. You will be responsible for installing, maintaining and securing the software on your web host. If you are not a technical person or don't have the time to do this yourself, you will need to hire someone to do it for you, which costs money.
Second, an open source platform has more customization options but it takes a lot of technical know-hows to build and maintain a functional store. If you have never written a line of code or don't know about plug-ins, extensions, and integration, you will need to get professional help.
Third, you need to be extremely organized to manage a variety of operations that are not in a centralized location.
Open source e-commerce software is better for:
Commercial e-commerce software usually comes with many built-in features, and integration with other systems is much easier than with open source software. Installation, maintenance and security is much easier too. You don't need any coding or technical skills to open and run your store. A commercial e-commerce solution is more capable to handling high traffic and transactions.
In summary, commercial e-commerce software is better for:
Large companies with high-volume traffic and large transactions
Business owners who want greater functionality and easy installation, maintenance, and integration
If you have decided your own store is the way to go, it's time to choose an e-commerce platform that best suits your needs.
Best E-Commerce Platform for...
There is not really the best e-commerce platform because every business has different needs and preferences. If you find it difficult to choose one for your business, I recommend the following four e-commerce platforms.
Best B2C E-Commerce Platform for Small Business
Shopify offers all the features you need to run a successful e-commerce business. It provides you with all the necessary tools you need from putting up an online storefront, web hosting and website builder, payment processing, inventory, down to the Customer Relationship Management tool (CRM). It also offers a mobile commerce shopping cart, marketing tool, store management and many others. To top it all, they offer 24/7 support to help get your business running seamlessly.
Best Enterprise E-Commerce Software
Magento is an open-source e-commerce software that is fully-customizable. It gives you the liberty to tailor-fit any part of your e-commerce store. Its features involve account management, quick order, inventory tracking, 24/7 monitoring and support, omnichannel fulfillment and many others. Magento also allows you to have more than one e-commerce store and view all of it on one dashboard.
Best WordPress E-Commerce Plugin
WooCommerce is a free WordPress e-commerce plug in that allows you to build an online store. It offers a lot of themes that you may use to set up an attractive online store. It lets you turn your WordPress site or blog into an income generating e-commerce business. It is mobile friendly and it ensures that your store and products look just as good as when you view it on a mobile device and a computer. It also has an integrated marketing and SEO feature, which allows you to integrate your WooCommerce site to your social media accounts.
Best E-Commerce Platform for Digital Downloads
Selz allows you to sell physical and digital goods such as e-books, software, music, video stream subscriptions, PDF files, and others. It allows you to sell your products through your website by embedding widgets, buy buttons or the whole store. It has a wide range of customizable themes that you can choose from. It supports multiple languages from English, German, Portuguese, French or Spanish. Selz offers an easy payment method and also helps you with taxes as it calculates tax at checkout. To help increase your sales, customers who have abandoned receive an email automatically. It offers the fastest possible downloads, which is a delight to your customers.
Free/Open Source E-Commerce Platforms
Here is the list of top open source e-commerce platforms in the market:
Magento is a complete e-commerce solution that allows the fully customizable functionality and design of your website with the abundant features available to its users. It is one of the top open source e-commerce platforms.
One of the best things about it is the built-in SEO feature that aids your e-commerce store to generate more traffic and sales. Magento also allows you to customize both the frontend and the backend with access to PHP coding to make your site aesthetically pleasing and fully functional for you and your customers.
They also offer full support to aid you in your e-commerce business, such as security, multi-platform designs, expert consultations, and order management tools for sales and inventory, Magento also has useful payment systems that can integrate different currencies and tax rates. Magento offers various account types and products that you can learn more about on their site or through talking to a specialist.
Ecwid provides a quick and simple means for small businesses to add online stores to any or all of your existing websites, social media sites, and other global marketplace accounts. Additionally, you can manage all these sites on one dashboard. Ecwid offers free and paid accounts with added features for each higher tier.
Some account features include mobile responsive designs and app, international payment gateways, shipping integration, multiple language support, security services, and more. Setup is made easy with an Ecwid specialist to assist you, and their customer care team will surely help you with any future concerns.
Powering more than 33% of the e-commerce in the entire World Wide Web, WooCommerce is the most widely used and popular free e-commerce WordPress plug-in. Filled with topnotch features, it allows you to shift from a WordPress website or blog to a million dollar generating e-commerce shop. It has a wide selection of either free or paid themes and extensions for you to choose from.
PayPal Standard integration is the key feature of WooCommerce. It also includes reports for sales and reviews, inventory management, multiple shipping location and flexible couponing system.
WP eCommerce is a free plugin that you can easily use on your Wordpress.org website. They also offer paid add-ons to better grow your business.
With customized CSS and HTML features true to WordPress fashion, WP eCommerce lets you have full control of the look and feel of your e-commerce store. Some of its features include built-in marketing tools, secured checkout with SSL, catalog order and management tools, popular shipping and payment options, sales tracking, and many more. You can also hire one of their in-house experts to help you develop your e-commerce site. They also provide some video tutorials to help you learn more about the features of the plugin.
You can create a visually stunning store with PrestaShop, and the best part is that you can do it for free, though there are paid add-ons you can opt for.
PrestaShop features over 2,000 professional templates to help you design your own unique and creative store page. Plus, each theme can be easily customized with the Live Configurator feature. You may also cater to users who prefer to use their mobile devices with its mobile-responsive design. There are also over 300 built-in features for product management and sales, such as payment gateways, customer service tools, analytics, marketing tools, global market integration, and so much more.
PrestaShop powers more than 250,000 online stores. It is currently used in more than 200 countries, and has built partnership with renowned names in the industry.
OpenCart is a PHP-based and open-source e-commerce platform. With more than 14,000 third-party extensions, OpenCart is great for e-commerce stores of all sizes, budget and industries.
Its features include: unlimited products and categories, search engine optimization (SEO), shipping weight calculation, discount coupon system, multi-language and multi-currency, 40+ payment gateways, and many others.
Easy Digital Downloads
Easy Digital Downloads (EDD) is a free and easy-to-use plugin that allows you to sell digital downloads through WordPress.org.
Built around WordPress Coding Standards, it is easy for developers to create changes to its codebase. EDD features more than 200 extensions and themes that you can easily customize.
Some features include shopping cart customization, customer management tools, discounted prices integration, data reporting, payment options, and more.
Spree Commerce, also known as Spree, is a Ruby on Rails based e-commerce solution. It stands out from its counterparts in the industry in terms of stability, scalability, integrations, and speed.
Spree Commerce is an open source software that provides flexible customization to your e-commerce store. It includes features and design options to help you create your own storefront.
Drupal Commerce is an open source e-commerce platform based on the Drupal Content Management System. Whereas typical e-commerce platforms often focus on what you can do out of the box, Drupal Commerce focuses on what you can build with it. It is highly modular and configurable so you can build custom e-commerce solutions to suit your needs.
It comes with the traditional e-commerce features such as shopping cart, checkout form, and catalog management. It has also integrated payment options, accounting, social networks, and more.
Today more than 53,000 active sites use Drupal Commerce. Its users include the UK postal Service Royal Mail, McDonald's, Eurocentres, and many other consumer brands.
iThemes Exchange is a WordPress e-commerce plugin. It allows you to sell both digital downloads and physical products. Stripe payment add-on is included in the free plan. Useful add-ons such as membership, MailChimp, recurring payments are available for purchase. There are also 21 available themes for you to choose from.
iThemes Exchange uses WordPress' built-in user system to add customer information to its own website. It gives you easy access to your customer information by viewing products purchased and downloads. It also allows you to edit transactions and add notes.
Zen Cart is PHP-based and uses MYSQL database and HTML components. This open-source online store management system supports multiple currencies and languages. It allows you to use your own domain name, customize your website, and integrate with your Payment gateway and other features that will surely help you build a successful e-commerce site.
Commercial E-Commerce Platforms
When deliberating which e-commerce platform you should choose, it is wise to evaluate your business needs and goals. You may opt to use an open-source platform at low to no cost with fewer features but more customization options, or you may go for a commercial e-commerce platform with more robust and easy-to-use features. The bottom line is, you have to choose one that is sufficient to support your business goals.
Here is a list of the top commercial e-commerce platforms in the market:
Shopify offers all the features you need to run a successful e-commerce business.
It provides you with all the necessary tools you need from putting up an online storefront, web hosting and website builder, payment processing, inventory, down to the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool. It also offers a mobile commerce shopping cart, marketing tool, store management and many others. To top it all, they offer 24/7 support to help get your business running seamlessly.
You can try Shopify for 30 days for free and keep an account for $13 to $107 every month.
BigCommerce is another e-commerce solution that offers a shopping cart platform for your store. They help both small businesses and enterprises to grow in the e-commerce industry.
BigCommerce provides a means to create a beautiful online store with over a hundred available themes that are fully customizable, and you can also consult with their expert developers to maximize your design. The shopping experience can be made effective through the features such as product options, real-time shipping rates, integrated payment solutions, secure shopping carts, and more.
BigCommerce is available as a 15-day free trial or at $29.95 to $199.95 per month.
Big Cartel is en e-commerce platform made for artists such as designers, musicians, and makers.
Big Cartel offers four packages that range from no cost to $99.99 per month. Each package has its own features and number of products that can be sold online.
Volusion comes complete with everything that you need to build your online e-commerce store.
Volusion's includes over a hundred features such as website design, hosting, SEO, product merchandising, online marketing, order processing, loyalty rewards program, payment options, social media sharing, and many others.
You can try Volusion for free for 14 days, or go straight for the plans that cost $15 to $135 per month.
3dcart is a complete e-commerce platform. Its design is aimed at helping online businesses to compete in the market.
It offers five plans with prices ranging from $9.99 per month to $99.99 monthly payment. Each plan includes domain registration, Facebook store, more than 60 mobile-ready themes, 24/7 technical support, built-in blog, Bing Ads credits, more than 100 payment providers and API access.
Pinnacle Cart features beautiful themes, SEO. Quickbooks integration, Facebook store, payment token, PA-DSS/PCI compliance, recurring billing, order management and social media platform.
Its clients include Deschutes, Joe Filter, Hunt Shoot Camp, Las Vegas Weddings, Odd Toes and many other companies that Pinnacle Cart have helped grow their online business.
Pinnacle Cart offers four e-commerce solution packages that ranges from $29.95 to $149.95 per month. All packages have 0% transaction fees.
UltraCart is a flexible e-commerce business solution designed to scale based on your business needs. They offer different level of plans that you may choose from. Unlike other platforms, their pricing is based on volumes and not in features so all of them will be available to you.
Some features included are SEO friendly catalogs, shipping calculation, affiliate management systems, and customizable checkout options. It also includes payment integrations for credit cards, Paypal and more.
To let their customers have a feel of what UltraCart has to offer, they have a 30-day fully-functional trial.
Website Builders with Built-In
The internet provides a lot of e-commerce solutions that an online business can choose from. There are open-source and commercial platforms that can integrate to your website and there are also website builders with built-in e-commerce solutions.
If you do not have a website yet, and you want to have an e-commerce business, it might be wise to look for a website builder with built-in e-commerce solutions. This might help you save time and cost since it is an all-in-one package.
The things that you need to consider when choosing a website builder are your goals and personal needs. With regards to your personal needs, it boils down to your experience and how quick you want to scale up. What you want to accomplish should also play a great part in determining the website builder you would choose. Check the tools, settings and features that are being offered by the builders and see which one best suits your goals.
Weebly is a robust website builder with a built-in e-commerce platform, app center, hosting, customizable templates, blogging, email marketing and SEO support. It is known for its intuitive interface and beautiful templates, The key e-commerce features include order process and management, flexible shipping options, payment options, coupon codes, tax controls, mobile commerce and others. To this date, more than 441,000 online stores are powered by Weebly.
There are four plans offered by Weebly. The price range starts from no cost to $25 per month.
Wix Ecommerce offers more than 510 professionally designed templates. It allows you to drag and drop content to your website. It is known to be the most user-friendly website builder.
It offers product variations, galleries, product pages, discount code creator, tax and shipping calculations, automatic email notifications, newsletter tools with the use of Wix Shoutout, optimized mobile store and many others.
To this date, there are more than 300, 000 active online stores that use Wix Ecommerce.
As of August 2016, this site is built with Wix. Although I enjoy the simplicity of the Wix website builder, I have quite a few complaints. One, customization is lacking for its blogging platform. For example, you can't modify the CSS stylesheet of a theme.
Two, apps in its app store are very limited compared with WordPress's extensive list of plugins.
Three, speed is an issue. It takes 5 to 10 seconds to load my blog. In addition, Wix Editor is slow. I usually have to wait for 1 to 2 seconds after each action. If I were to do it again, I would definitely stick with WordPress since it's a much more mature platform than Wix.
But, and this is a BIG but, I do think Wix is a very decent platform. I remember when I was using WordPress, I also had a lot of complaints. Maybe I just need to hire a professional to help with making things right.
Squarespace is a website builder integrated with a blogging platform and a hosting service. It is known for its beautiful and responsive design templates that work for screens of all sizes. Unlike its many competitors, Squarespace doesn't have an app store that features third-party apps. However, it is integrated with key web applications including MailChimp, Google Drive, Google Analytics, Github, Dropbox, and social media.
One of the big problems with Squarespace is that its default payment processor is Stripe, which is very competent, but it is not yet integrated with PayPal. You can only embed PayPal buttons on your site using a piece of code.
Squarespace offers two plans that costs $12 and $18 per month. Users can take advantage its modern templates, style editor, Google fonts, Custom CSS, built-in mobile websites and more.
Specialty E-Commerce Platforms
While most e-commerce platforms are designed to sell anything and everything under the sun, there are specialty e-commerce platforms that specialize in selling a particular kind of product. This helps merchants focus on channeling their efforts to attract buyers of a particular niche.
Here are 4 specialty e-commerce platforms we recommend:
Gumroad is an e-commerce platform for artists, musicians, writers, and other creative people to sell their creations online. Its main features include discount codes, software licensing, multiple versions, rentals, Pay What You Wish, multi-currency, DRM support, sales tax, subscription payment options, and affiliate program management.
Gumroad charges $10 per month plus 3.5% + 30¢ for each transaction.
Cratejoy is a subscription service platform you can use to launch a a subscription business and earn recurring revenue. You can create your website with a custom domain name using its website builder. It comes with dozens of professional, responsive and mobile-friendly templates.
Customizable subscriptions allow you to change renewal frequency, schedule, variations, and pricing. You have the option to allow your subscribers to skip a shipment if needed. You can increase customer engagement by allowing your customers to write reviews on your products. The built-in referral program lets you grow your business through existing subscribers.
Supported payment gateways are Stripe, Authorize.net, WorldPay and CyberSource. Integrated third party applications include MailChimp, ShipStation, Intercom, Zapier, Google Analytics, and others.
Cratejoy charges $39/month plus 1.25% +$0.10 per transaction.
With Selz, you can sell both tangible products and digital goods. You can add your products to your existing website or blog on WordPress, Wix or other platforms by embedding customizable buy buttons, widgets or your whole store. You can also sell to your fans on Facebook. This means visitors don't have to leave your site to make a purchase.
Selz supports payment gateways including its own Selz Pay, PayPal and 2Checkout. It is integrated with MailChimp, AWeber or Campaign Monitor to grow your mailing lists. Other main features include custom domain name, themes, blog, responsive design, multi-language (currently supports English, French, Portuguese, German and Spanish), multi-currency (100+), multiple images, editable HTML and CSS, PWYW (Pay What You Want), digital download and streaming,
Plans are from $0 (limit to 5 products) to $26.99 per month. Transaction fee is 2% for lower plans and 0% to 1% for more expensive plans. Processing fee is 2.9% +30¢ for all plans.
E-junkie specializes in selling digital goods. It gives publishers the freedom to provide a buy-now option for customers to purchase digital products by storing their goods on the E-junkie server. Once a customer places an order, they will receive an email with the instructions on how to download the product.
It supports payments through PayPal, Authorize.net, 2Checkout, ClickBank, and TrialPay. You can manage your own affiliate program with its built-in affiliate management system. Other features include digital storage and delivery, shipping and packaging calculator, discount management, sales tax and VAT calculator, inventory management, package deal management, variable product options and prices, and Google Analytics tracking.
E-junkie charges a flat monthly fee from $5 to $100 depending on the number of products and storage space. They don't charge for setup, transactions, or bandwidth, and there is no transaction limit or bandwidth limit.