The best platforms for an eCommerce website in 2021
The best platforms for an eCommerce website in 2021
With what is going on with COVID-19 and the restrictions and fears of traditional shopping, selling online is more important than ever. We have had the local Benjamin Moore store, and the small homemade candies shop come to us to get them selling online quickly. The paint store could not keep up with orders and did not have enough phone lines. The candy shop was just not selling. Both benefited significantly from having implemented eCommerce. Selecting the right platform that would allow for you to easily add products, take payment, and handle the fulfillment and shipping, without leaving your office, is crucial.
We have worked with about a dozen platforms and looked at others. The features, capabilities, and limitations for each change each day as developers work to make their product better. But from what we have found the best platforms for small to medium businesses are discussed below.
The best eCommerce platforms
What to look for in a small business eCommerce platform
There are five essential features that every platform needs to have to have been placed in this list.
- The platform had to allow for easy setup, and management of the store, but customizable enough that it can meet the needs of different kinds of businesses. It could not be incredibly complex but feature rich.
- The platform must be able to allow the sale of physical and digital goods, have multiple payment gateways, and be able to handle taxes both nationally and internationally.
- It must allow for the easy management and tracking of orders, shipping, and inventory tracking. In other words, it needed to be a complete solution for running an online store.
- Third-party integrations are crucial. The platform must provide integration to other marketplaces (i.e., Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Google, etc.). Features like automatically adding new customers to your mailing list and selling on social media are also considered crucial. There must be a marketplace for apps and plug-ins to add functionality to an already feature rich platform.
- The price needed to be reasonable. A fully customized solution costs thousands of dollars a month and requires staffing, something most small businesses cannot do on their budgets.
Each eCommerce platform is priced differently than many services so it may require some math to determine your actual cost.
- There is typically a monthly fee. This can range from under $30 to several hundred dollars. For some there is no monthly fee, but you will incur the cost of hosting services.
- The payment gateway charges are another concern. Some platforms allow you to select and integrate a third-party payment processor like Square or PayPal, and others offer their own gateway like Shopify. Regardless of the platform, most charge 2.9% of the sale, plus $0.30 per transaction. These fees may come down based on higher monthly fees or volume of sales.
- Then there are transaction fees. This does tie into the payment gateway above, but some platforms take a percentage of each transaction, or if you choose to use a gateway other than theirs, they may charge 1% or 2% to each order for not using their payment gateway.
- We've avoided any services we felt had unreasonably high fees, transaction charges, or ridiculous volume expectations for them to make financial sense.
Using this as our ruler, we want to share what we believe are the top platforms as we enter 2021.
Shopify was founded in 2004, and has grown to be the platform of choice for about 20% of online stores. Now with more than a million stores built using the platform.
There is a 14-day free trial available and you can get a basic store set up pretty quickly. It can walk you through much of what you need to do create an online store. The interface is intuitive, and it has wizards to help you though the set-up. Even connecting to Amazon, eBay, and Facebook to sell on those channels is easy.
Most of the features we discussed are addressed by the base package at $29 a month but their app store makes this the clear winner. There is not much we cannot do with a Shopify store through the use of third-party apps. Basically, if it is not a standard feature on Shopify, it can be accomplished through an app, extension, plug-in, or service. Do keep in mind that these apps can cost from a couple of dollars a month to hundreds a month.
Shopify Plus is a more expansive package that is designed for larger, higher volume, enterprise environments. In exchange for extra features, and lower payment processing fees, you pay a higher monthly fee.
Shopify Point-of-Sale (POS) is another great feature. Shopping for a POS can be a project all on its own. None of them are perfect. We are not going to discuss that journey here. However, we have built stores that integrate to Amazon, Shopify and use the Shopify POS system. This allows full inventory management in one place.
Shopify Cost: from $29/month and 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction for Basic Shopify plan with unlimited products.
WooCommerce is a plug-in, adding a number of great features and functionality to WordPress. If you have a WordPress site already, this can be added to it. Or it can be a great place to start. If your website is going to be more than just a store, then this is likely a good solution for you.
WooCommerce is a comprehensive solution. Through their dashboard you can manage your orders, create coupons, and view sales reports. If you have WordPress experience, adding new products is as simple as creating a post, it has the same interface as WordPress, this can make the learning curve significantly less steep. You will of course need to provide the product details including the description, image, price, categories, and tags.
One nice thing is that you own your site. You can host it anywhere you want and can move it as you choose.
As with Shopify, there is an extensive plugin store. Think of it like the app store or Google Play If WooCommerce doesn't have some features you need, there's a well populated Extension Store and many of the WordPress plugins can also help to enhance the design and functionality of your store. WooCommerce has a variety of free and paid options that can add functionality to your store. From subscription administration, selling event tickets or seats in classes, and integrate to a variety of shipping carriers.
WooCommerce Price: Free for standard features on a self-hosted WordPress site; from $29 for additional extensions; transaction fees depend on payment gateway.
BigCommerce much like Shopify Plus, is a great platform for enterprise eCommerce solution. It is used by multinational companies like Ben & Jerry's. They have recently introduced BigCommerce Essentials to be able to offer smaller businesses a powerful platform at a price that is easier to swallow. Regardless it is still aimed at high volume sellers.
The on-boarding is a bit more complex than the others on our list as you need to set up taxes and shipping, things that are less of a concern to the small startup. They are more flexible on payment processing and they do allow you to accept checks, money orders, or even bank transfers.
Their Channel Manager makes connecting to Facebook, Amazon, and eBay
It's also super simple to list your products on other marketplaces like eBay, Amazon, and Facebook, providing you with more channels to bring in sales.
BigCommerce does have 12 free themes however, the majority of those available in the theme store cost between $150 and $300. They are nice and they are customizable, but the cost is a consideration.
BigCommerce has a $29.95 per month Standard level is limited to $50,000 a year in sales volume. The $79.95 per month Plus level is capped at $180,000 a year in sales.
BigCommerce Price: Free for 15 days; from $29.95/month Standard Plan for unlimited products; transaction fees depend on payment gateway
Magento is a free, open-source software solution with more than 250,000 stores built on it. Like WordPress, as open-source solutions there are an incredible number of developers working on it and offering features and customization.
Magento is not easy to set up, install, and customize even if you you're competent with HTML and CSS, as the template system is very user-unfriendly and requires advanced developer skills to generally customize the shopping cart platform. It is a very robust platform, but requires that you hire web developers to manage your Magento platform, it is not one where you will be adding products easily.
Like the others on our list you can integrate and sell through social media platforms, Amazon, eBay and more.
If you just want to dip you toe into the eCommerce space and do not want to make a major investment, Ecwid can be a good place to start. There is a free plan for up to 10 products and upgraded levels start at $15 a month. Like WooCommerce, they do not charge an additional transaction fee on top of your payment gateway charges.
Ecwid is very easy to add to your existing website since they integrate to WordPress, Joomla, Drupal and more. Their store setup is fairly easy and takes less than 30 minutes. It is a good bare bone solution. It is cheap and works well, but to get anything close to the features and capabilities of the other platforms you will need to be on the $30 a month plan, and maybe the $99 plan.
It integrates with channels like Amazon, eBay, Facebook and Instagram It will calculates tax, offers discounts, and tracks your inventory.
Ecwid Price: Free for standard features; plans are available with better features as you go up with monthly fees at $15, $30, and $99.