Besides having a brick-and-mortar shop, going online to offer your products and services comes with lots of opportunities for your business. An eCommerce platform is a software application that helps businesses sell products and services online. Ecommerce platforms also help businesses manage their websites, marketing, sales, and other various operations.
The first obvious perk is the ability of your business to reach a larger customer base and access markets outside your proximity. Besides boosting your reach, you will also lower costs without having to open more physical stores or have greater staffing needs. An ecommerce store will let customers locate your products quicker, compete with the competition on price and unique selling points, boost branding and information about your company, provide your customers with promotions such as coupons and bargains, allow you to better engage with your customers with increased interactions on your site and via social media, and of course sell 24/7!
If you are looking towards expanding your online presence, you will need to choose an eCommerce platform. Simply put, eCommerce platforms are website builders that help to create your online store from the bottom up covering complex functions as well as handle both the front and back end of your site’s operations. These platforms help you build your online enterprise whether it be B2B businesses, B2C businesses, web marketing, or even designing your own customized site that is a mix of these.
Top 12 Ecommerce Software Options for Small Business
When choosing eCommerce software for your online store, you’ll be looking at a variety of features. You may look for eCommerce platforms with drag and drop tools, and those with a payment gateway that allow credit card payments. You also want something with a free trial period so you can determine whether your new eCommerce store is right for you. Here are 12 of the best eCommerce options around to help you decide which is the right eCommerce platform for you.
Shopify is one of the best eCommerce platforms available to help you create your own online store. It has a drag and drop interface to easily set up your online store and it comes with a variety of themes that you can customize to suit your needs. Shopify is user-friendly and easy to use since it lets users create their online store without requiring any coding or design skills. This platform provides access to both HTML and CSS which are used to create content on the page and it has its own servers. This means users don’t have to buy web hosting or install software anywhere.
Adding a product comes easy with Shopify. The onboarding wizard helps you walk through the process of adding your products, tweaking the look of your store, connecting your own domain, and setting up your payment options. If you are selling online, on social media, or in-store, Shopify lets you start selling with a $29 monthly subscription. A free 14-day trial is also available with no credit card required.
This eCommerce platform helps cover everything from marketing and payments, to secure checkout and shipping for your store. Its interface lets you set up and manage a variety of sales channels, undertake email marketing either through built-in tools or third-party apps, and everything else you need in terms of integration with Facebook, Amazon, Instagram, and more.
Wix is a popular eCommerce builder that helps you create, design, and manage your eCommerce website and online store. It comes with a drag-and-drop builder that lets you add and remove features to suit your online business. In addition, Wix comes with a good selection of both paid and free templates to customize that are also optimized for mobile display. In fact, Wix offers over 500 free mobile-optimized eCommerce themes.
It comes with free business tools that include Wix’s logo maker and a business name generator. When signing up on Wix, you fill out a questionnaire allowing Wix to use the input to automatically set things up for you. Toward the end of your onboarding process, you get the option to choose from the gallery of templates and make your own site, or answer a few more questions and let Wix’s Artificial Design Intelligence (ADI) do it for you.
Wix is packed with all the bells and whistles you need to build, run and scale up your eCommerce business. It helps you run your entire storefront and eCommerce website from one place and through the Wix owner app you can keep track of your business while on the move. You can also monitor and set up real-time push notifications.
Wix’s features include abandoned cart recovery, multi-channel integration, ‘buy now’ and ‘add to cart’ buttons, printable shipping labels, store card details, dropshipping integrations with ShipStation and more. With Wix, users can tag their pages for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and sync with Google calendar to send confirmation emails and reminders with bookings.
Plans for Wix start at $17 a month with features that include secure online payments, a free domain name, customer accounts, custom domain, free domain for a year, 20GB oc storage and videos of up to five hours.
Shift4Shop’s eCommerce software makes it easy to build your store’s website and grow your business. This eCommerce website builder offers you a choice of professionally designed, industry-specific templates all of which are not only mobile-friendly but are also SEO optimized and customizable. Its intuitive web design tool lets you customize your site by editing the HTML and CSS directly. You also have access to features like product and order management, SEO tools, email and social media marketing, and more.
This eCommerce solution has a generous free plan that offers all the features and no limits on products, storage, and bandwidth for those who agree to use Shift4Shop’s in-house payment processing option. This includes a complete suite of tools for marketing, inventory management, SEO, and customer support. This comes with an Artificial Intelligence (AI) driven fraud protection feature. However, Shift4Shop charges a transaction fee of 2.9% and a 30 cent per transaction fee for using the free plan. Paid plans start at $29 a month and integrate with Square, PayPal, Klarna, Stripe, MailChimp, AWeber, Google, Facebook, Houzz, and digital wallets like Apple Pay and Google Pay.
WooCommerce is a free open-source eCommerce platform built for WordPress. It offers users extensive customization options from the look of your online store to tailoring your customers’ experiences, the checkout process, and more. By adding the WooCommerce plugin to any WordPress site, you can set up a new web store to sell online with secure payments, configurable shipping options, and more, all out of the box for free.
WooCommerce comes with an intuitive plugin that helps configure your store’s page with store contact information, product content, payment details, shipping information, extras like automated taxes and more. Its marketplace has hundreds of free and paid extensions that add features and functionality to your online business efforts. They include promotions, coupon codes, inventory management, buyer reviews, and product. WooCommerce is scalable and can integrate with virtually any service making it one of the few eCommerce platforms that allows people to start for free and grow their store as their business grows.
With WooCommerce, you get a content management system, the ability to customize your design, a plethora of extensions and WordPress plugins, a choice of products and checkout pages, product ratings and reviews to boost your SEO, and next-level product sorting and filtering. You also get customizable checkout areas with guest checkout that includes automated emails, tax options, free shipping, and built-in payment processing to name a few. Payment wise, it comes bundled with PayPal; ability to accept major credit cards; and it integrates with Facebook, Sage, Zapier, MailChimp, ShipStation, Square, Stripe, Fulfilment by Amazon, and more.
In terms of email marketing and customer service, when a customer enters their email and then abandons their products in the shopping cart at checkout with BigCommerce, you can send an automated email to draw them back to their purchase. You can also connect with your customers by integrating with other marketplaces such as eBay, Amazon and Google Shopping. You can scale up your store by managing the entire product catalog within the BigCommerce control panel. Similarly, you can push from an external system through BigCommerce’s Catalog Application Programming Interface (API).
BigCommerce’s paid plans come with a monthly subscription of $29.95 per month and a free trial is also available. With it, you not only can build your storefront but use the dashboard to help you plan through its inventory management tools. You can design personalized shopping experiences with customer groups. You can also choose from leading shipping and payment providers that include PayPal, Stripe, Square, Apple Pay, Amazon Pay and Adyen.
The Magento eCommerce platform offers out-of-the-box features, the ability to customize your site’s layout and blocks, and seamless third-party integrations. This solution offers personalized content thanks to its easy drag and drop page builder that helps you to also incorporate product recommendations, customer segmentation and personalization, content staging and preview, an instant purchase option, merchandising and other features.
Magento is a free to download eCommerce software thanks to its open-source design and is scalable, which is great for growing companies with multiple stores. However, to incorporate some advanced eCommerce features, you will need to have some developer experience. It comes with a good selection of themes and template designs. When it comes to selling, Magento allows customers to buy online or pick up in store, help ship inventory to the right store at the right time, and give your customers the buying options they want. It also helps fulfill those orders through a PC, Point of Sale (PoS), or tablet.
Magento Commerce offers its cloud-based services with the benefit of instant access to updates and improvements as they roll out. Use out-of-the-box tools, integration environments, and optimized performance for the front and back ends to ensure your store is running at 100% at all times. There is a paid tier available for enterprise users where pricing is set based on annual Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) and Average Order Value (AOV).
7. Zoho Commerce
Zoho Commerce is an eCommerce platform that helps you build your own online store. You can pick a template, use drag and drop layouts, buy a domain, and launch your brand. It also comes with all the tools you need to run a full-fledged eCommerce effort including CRM, email marketing, marketplace integration, mobile commerce and even a product configurator. This gives you an impressive selection of capabilities that include product search, basic coupons, shipping integration, cash on delivery, newsletter subscription, SSL certificate, auto-publish social posts, customer reports, sales reports and others.
The Zoho Commerce multi-purpose dashboard lets you engage with customers, convert website visitors, encourage repeat purchases, and recover lost sales all in one place. Thanks to its real-time analytics and metrics, users can make informed decisions to tweak their offerings. This is in addition to all the regular tools you might need to run a full-fledged eCommerce business. You get access to tools that include accepting orders, tracking inventory, processing payments, shipping, marketing your brand, and analyzing your data.
Zoho Commerce also provides real-time reports and detailed analytics based on your online store’s performance. The starter plan comes at a monthly subscription of $25 a month along with a transaction fee of 1.5%. Fees are waived if transactions remain under $1,000 a month. Zoho Commerce offers integration with all the relevant sales, marketing, and finance apps within the Zoho suite. These include eZoho Inventory, Zoho SalesIQ, MailChimp, Avalara, Zoho CRM, PayPal, Razorpay, Stripe, Authorize.Net, and others.
8. Big Cartel
The company offers a lightweight free version of Big Cartel for five products with no credit card information needed. Through the free plan, you get one image per product, free customizable themes, an option to sell online and in-person, real-time stats, a custom domain, the ability to offer discounts and run promotions, shipment tracking, and sales tax autopilot to name some of the options. The robust paid version starts with a monthly subscription of $9.99 for up to 50 products. This paid plan offers additional capabilities that include theme code editing, Google analytics, inventory tracking, the ability to offer discounts and run promos, and bulk editing.
OpenCart is an open-source, downloadable eCommerce solution that’s free to own, upgrade, and use with no monthly fees required. Because OpenCart is based on PHP, users will need to have a background in that programming language. Support and updates are also available compliments of its free community or dedicated commercial support. Its dashboard helps offer all the important information available at a glance including the look and features of your web store.
The platform includes total orders, sales, customers, people online, sales analytics, and other widgets. OpenCart offers users the ability to manage multiple stores from one admin interface where you can list products, choose a different theme for each store, localize store settings, and even set product prices per store. When it comes to product features such as size and color features, OpenCart offers a solution for adding extra product variables.
This free option comes with a selection of over 13,000 modules and themes to expand your online store’s functionality. These include all the tools you need for service integrations, payment providers, shipping methods, social media, marketing, accounting, reporting, sales as well as language packs. Additional perks include built-in SEO and the ability to manage products, customers, orders, taxes rules, coupon codes and more. It also integrates with multiple payment gateways that include PayPal, Amazon Payments, eBay, and others. To encourage sales and make conversions, OpenCart allows users the ability to offer discounts, coupons, and specials to help improve their bottom line.
WordPress has an open-source eCommerce platform that offers users a full range of eCommerce options to build and run their online stores. These include building your landing pages from the ground up, hosting your site, buying a CRM system, designing payment systems, and handling subscriptions and useful plug-ins to create a fully customizable online store. WordPress comes with an easy-to-use site builder. This allows users to easily build elements of their site.
Considered by some the best eCommerce platform, this popular tool allows you to build your site while it also offering a good selection of extensions, themes, and plugins both free and paid that might suit your particular needs. What makes WordPress stand out is that its interface is easy to navigate. Solid features along with a clean, minimalist look also make it a standout. You need no coding expertise to design and build your website. Because it is specifically designed for publishing, WordPress makes it easier to post content and is even mobile responsive. When it comes to analytics and metrics, you can incorporate Google Analytics, Facebook Pixel, and other tools to monitor your site’s visitors and their behavior.
The WordPress small business package starts at a monthly subscription of $25 billed annually. With it, you get hosting; payment collection; unlimited email support; live chat support; access to premium themes; upload videos; Google analytics integration; advanced SEO tools and more. With this plan, you can also install plugins and extend functionality for your site with access to more than 50,000 WordPress plugins- everything you need for a commerce solution.
Ecwid eCommerce software helps you launch an online store by letting you create a website and helping you add images, checkout pages, social media integrations, and more with no coding knowledge required. Control everything from a single dashboard with centralized inventory, order management, and pricing. Ecwid offers a forever plan for free where you can start selling your 10 physical products a month. You can access more than 70 design themes and advertise on Facebook, Google, Pinterest, and Snapchat. You also get a mobile responsive shopping cart as well as other features. When you sign up for free, Ecwid gives you the option to integrate your store with your existing website and integrates with most web builders including WordPress, Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, Joomla, Blogger, Tumblr, and others.
For those interested, an affordable upgrade plan is available at $15 a month with extra features. There are also no additional transaction fees on top of what your payment gateway charges, so it isn’t skimming any profit with hidden fees. In terms of payment, you can connect a Point of Sale system to an Ecwid store to accept payments from anywhere. This is in addition to selling on other platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Google, WordPress eCommerce, ShopApp, Amazon, and more.
Volusion’s eCommerce platform is a comprehensive site builder which lets users create their unique online store without any coding required. You can customize your unique page layout through its drag and drop feature to build content blocks for social media, image galleries, videos, testimonials and more. You can edit your page with ease through its rich content editor and even add search functionality to help customers find what they need easily.
With this eCommerce platform, you get some handy eCommerce features that afford you all the tools you need for managing inventory, collect payments, and sell unlimited product options. Volusion’s web app offers features that businesses need in regards to out-of-the-box solutions to push your products online.
Volusion even lets you manage your online store from your phone through its mobile app. There you can check on your inventory, update prices, or take pictures of your product from your phone. You can market to more customers and grow your sales thanks to its built-in SEO management, newsletters and CRM system. You can also manage your social media accounts and sell more across the web, all from the comfort of your Volusion dashboard.
Paid plans for Volusion start at a monthly subscription of $29 but a 14 day trial is available where you try a theme on your new site, customize it and see your store come to life. Volusion supports a wide range of payment gateways, including PayPal and Stripe and offers digital wallet options through Amazon and Apple Pay.
Why does your business need an eCommerce store?
The advantage of an eCommerce store is that it allows you to conduct your business in a flexible manner from the comfort of your PC or mobile device while reaching a full range of customers regardless of your store’s location. Thanks to the equalizing power of the internet, small businesses today can market their products online, generate more sales and compete in the global marketplace. By starting an online business checklist, you can identify the pros and cons of having an eCommerce store. But here are some of the other benefits that come with having your own eCommerce store:
- Interact and Market Directly to Your Customers: Having your own eCommerce store provides you with a platform to market directly to your website’s visitors and customers without getting lost in the forest of competition. This means you can tweak your offerings, sell directly to customers without intermediaries and get valuable insights into your customers’ buying behavior. You can engage with them directly by sending them marketing promotions, announcing new products and offering discounts, wish lists and loyalty programs. Your eCommerce store will also help you to increase your conversion rate. If customers and prospects are confident about your goods and services, they can immediately buy your product from your online store rather than visit your offline shop.
- Boost your Brand: Your eCommerce store will not put any limitations on how you decide to leverage your brand and engage with your visitors and customers. You have full control over the messaging, its frequency, its look, and other facets that are important for you to build brand awareness and recognition. When coupled with your social media and other outreach, it will help make your brand prominent. This not only makes people more aware of your company and its products, but it might also interest them enough to make a purchase. By boosting your digital marketing, you can increase the ranking and awareness of your brand in search engines which will help your target customers easily find you online.
- Provide Convenience for Customers: Another reason you may want an eCommerce store is the relative ease online shopping offers your customers. More and more customers today are doing their research on products online. Through online stores, customers can check important information in regards to pricing, store hours, product features, the availability of the product, and other valuable information. If your store can provide easy purchasing options online then you are drastically reducing the amount of time and effort customers expend to research a product, evaluate it compared to the competition, and ultimately make the purchase — all in the same place.
- Make More Money: Studies indicate that more and more people are shopping online. This trend has been increasing year-over-year. In fact, most digital purchases are being made on mobile devices replacing desktops. So it is a no-brainer that businesses will need to get on the bandwagon if they want to tap into this opportunity. Increasing the revenue of your business should always be a top priority. As it not only reflects positively on your bottom line but also affords you more chances to make sales. Remember your eCommerce business is open day and night around the clock. You are always open regardless of holidays or harsh weather as the website can be automated to do all sorts of things. Having a store online lets you run your business round the clock and make sit accessible to potentially millions of customers worldwide. By creating an online store, you get to capitalize on opening up a whole new opportunity to generate revenue.
- Addition business model: With eCommerce, you can dabble in eCommerce business ideas such as drop shipping which is a business model in which you as a retailer do not keep goods in stock. Instead, you transfer the customer’s orders and shipment details to either the manufacturer or a third party who ships to the customer. This allows you as a seller to not worry about keeping items in stock, the stress of packing and dispatching.
What types of ecommerce platforms can I choose from?
Ecommerce platforms support your online business by covering everything you need. This includes everything from hosting to your custom domain, tools, and customer support. They offer tools for eCommerce stores that help manage every aspect of controlling and monitoring sales and marketing. They also help manage shipping, inventory management, customer service, analytics and more. The key is to choose the right eCommerce platform to suit the specific needs of your business. The technical build of your eCommerce platform will determine what customized services and features you can provide your customers. Broadly speaking, there are three types of eCommerce platforms: PaaS (Platform as a Service), SaaS (Software as a Service), and open source.
- Software as a Service (SaaS): These are mostly considered to be ideal for smaller businesses since they are essentially 0ut-of-the-box solutions built to handle basic needs of a web store such as hosting, providing secure payment gateways, catalog management, content management, and creation. And they make this possible without requiring a tech team or knowledge of coding to build or support it. They are designed for easy adoption by merchants and users who set up their store site in a relatively short amount of time with few hassles. However, the main drawback of SaaS eCommerce platforms is that users might be limited when it comes to customization. Though there is some leeway in terms of customizing user interface functionality, administrative layout and unique integration, all are limited by the parameters set by the SaaS platform. With SaaS, users do not need to install and run software applications on any computer as everything is available over the internet when they login to their account. SaaS eCommerce platforms work under a subscription model with either monthly or annual fees. Examples: Shopify and BigCommerce.
- Open Source: Open source eCommerce platforms often come separate from the web hosting service. They do give users complete control of the platform but there is a hitch. Users are required to completely manage their site including development and design; maintaining the website, monitoring the server; and dedicating a team to run and manage the day-to-day operations of the website. Though they come at a relatively low price, unless you have a dedicated IT team or have knowledge of coding, they can be challenging. Open source platforms are often used best by larger, enterprise companies that have the resources to properly build and run them. Examples: OpenCart, WordPress.
- Platform as a Service (PaaS): PaaS eCommerce platforms can be described as a hybrid of the best features of both SaaS and open source platforms. They allow users to have full control over their website, without having to worry about hosting or infrastructure. These platforms are delivered through the web, giving developers the freedom to concentrate on building the website without having to worry about operating systems, software updates, storage, or infrastructure. Thus they bring another level of flexibility in terms of making changes to your store’s website. This means no downtime for your site as a consequence of changes or updates you might make on your site. Issues in regards to downtime, security vulnerabilities, or slow loading times are managed by the hosting service provider and taken care of quickly. Updates or security patches that are released by the platform will not negatively affect your site as there is across-the-board integration. Besides reducing the amount of coding needed, these platforms allow for scalability, usually come in cloud platforms, and are not limited by restrictions from the platforms. Example: Magento.
What are the most important features to look for in an eCommerce platform?
Before starting an online business checklist you will need to make sure that the eCommerce platform is compatible with your particular business model. One pitfall is that many eCommerce businesses fail because the specific business model is not compatible with the right eCommerce platform in question. This is why it is important to ask why eCommerce businesses fail. Below are some features you will need to look for in eCommerce platforms when you are shopping for solutions:
Versatile Payment Gateway: the main objective of your store is to generate more revenue for your business. As such, you should look for an eCommerce platform that offers your customers diverse payment options that include credit/debit cards; bank transfers; e-wallets payments; cash; mobile payments and third-party vendors like PayPal, Amazon Pay, Google Pay, Apple Pay and others.
Good Security: This is another important issue to look for. As a business, you are legally responsible to protect your customers from fraud and scams. The best eCommerce platform not only should provide you with anti-fraud tools but also protect your business from security breaches, lost inventory and chargebacks. Look for a platform that supports HTPPS/SSL for a safe and secure checkout.
Affordable Pricing: As with any business tool, you should know exactly what you’ll be paying and what to expect. Almost all platforms come with a monthly fee, flat rate, or transaction charges. In some cases, you might be required to pay additional fees for hosting, updates, and possible hidden costs. It is important that you go through your due diligence by weighing the benefits and disadvantages of the eCommerce platforms and how much they are aligned with your specific needs and correspond to your budget.
Easy Setup: An ideal eCommerce platform should be easy to design, set up and tweak without the need to be a developer or have any coding knowledge. Your online shop should be up and running in a couple of hours after you sign up. It should be easy to use and offer you the opportunity to choose from customizable templates. It should give you leeway in terms of aligning your brand and business model to build a professional-looking store website.
Easy integrations: As a business, you will need to offer your customers options. Look for a platform that can easily integrate with marketing channels such as Facebook and Instagram, does not clash with your CRM system and of course can accomodate popular eCommerce plugins and extensions.
SEO-friendliness: Your eCommerce site is only good if people know that it exists and use it. The best eCommerce platform should ensure that your online store ranks high in search results and is SEO-friendly so that customers can easily reach you to purchase your goods and services. This includes making sure your product content is easily available, your store has an easy-to-remember domain name and product reviews and other relevant information regarding your online business is included.
Effective analytics. Your eCommerce site should provide you with actionable real time insights on the behaviors of visitors and customers so you can make tweaks to boost sales. Look for platforms that collect email address and other contact information and provide information on sales, payments, order amounts, abandoned carts, and more.
Responsiveness Across Devices: Your store should be available over multiple devices. Particularly it should be mobile friendly as more and more customers are interacting with eCommerce sites using their smartphones. Your site should deliver on many fronts including product and catalog management, images that stand out, tracking of recently viewed products, and effective product management that will keep your customers coming back for more.
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