One of the biggest challenges in running a small business is having big businesses to compete with. That’s why choosing the right ecommerce platform for your online store is essential. Your platform is how you’ll make your mark – it will allow you to have a store that functions at its best for you and the customer.
There’s a lot of painstaking research that has to be done to find the best ecommerce platform for your small business. To save you a lot of time and energy, we’ve done the research for you. We carried out an in-depth evaluation of software providers to ensure you choose the best ecommerce platform that can help your small business succeed.
What to Look For in an Ecommerce Platform for Small Businesses
There are lots of ecommerce platforms available, but not all of them are suitable for small businesses that have a limited amount of resources and money. The software provider you choose will impact how your online business functions as a whole, from inventory to email marketing.
Here are the most important factors to look at when you’re comparing ecommerce platforms.
If you’re like most small businesses, you’re working on a limited budget. You simply can’t afford to spend money on things you don’t need. The cost of your ecommerce platform will probably be a main consideration for you. But here’s the tricky thing: the pricing of platforms can be deceiving.
Don’t jump into signing up for a platform that has a low start-up cost, only to find out that there are many other costs further down the line. Does the platform require separate hosting? Do you need to buy a paid theme and plugins? What about the costs of payment processing?
Running an online store is more than just listing your products and taking orders. There are lots of other tasks that go along with operating a small online business, so why not find an ecommerce platform that helps you with those tasks?
Each platform will have built-in features to keep you away from having to choose a third-party provider for all of your different processes. The trick is choosing a platform with all the features you want without too many you don’t need.
Here are some of the features you’ll want to have for your small ecommerce business:
Customer Relationship Management: You need to be able to manage your customers on a basic level from within the platform, including tracking orders and responding to customer service issues.
Blogging Capabilities: A blog is essential to drawing organic traffic to your website through SEO and building credibility.
Branded Domain: To appear professional, you will need your web address matching your brand name. No one will make a purchase from a store with a sketchy URL.
Coupons: Offering discounts comes in handy at all stages of the sales funnel, and even fosters brand loyalty.
Customer Reviews: A product with lots of 5-star reviews is much easier to sell than a product with no reviews (social proof) at all. Make it easy for your customers to review what they bought.
Analytics: Stay aware of what’s working and what’s not in your marketing strategy and website functionality. Built-in analytics are essential here.
Social Media Integrations: If your ecommerce store is linked up with Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest, etc., you can sell your products directly through these channels and use additional features without having to jump back and forth.
Did you know that, back in 2014, only 1% of companies in the US sold internationally? This is different today, with ecommerce platforms and shipping carriers making it easier than ever. Put yourself at an advantage by offering your products or services worldwide. You’ll also tap into a vast new audience when you expand your reach internationally.
If you want to sell to customers from across the globe, ensure your ecommerce platform supports it. Your website should be able to translate into other languages, exchange customers’ local currencies, and, of course, offer international shipping.
Any ecommerce platform you choose for your small business should have integrations—the ability to link up with third-party software. An example would be Shopify’s integration with Omnisend, an email marketing and automation platform. Link them up, and you can send emails and SMS to overlap with the customer’s actions on your website.
Integrating all of your software to work together allows you to save time and money that you could be putting into growing your business. When information enters your ecommerce platform, it can be automatically synced and used by all integrated software tools to make your life easier.
When you’re running an online store, you take people’s sensitive information, and that means you are responsible for keeping it safe. Shoppers will want to know before buying from you that they can trust you to keep their information secure from data breaches.
Your website needs an SSL certificate, which your ecommerce platform should provide. Additionally, to process credit card payments, you’ll need to have a payment processor that’s PCI compliant. Be sure you’re following all the rules and use a secure platform, or your business could get into big trouble.
Ease of Use
If you don’t know your way around coding, you’ll want to find an ecommerce platform that’s easy for you to use. There’s often a tradeoff for a platform being easy to use – it might offer less customization.
Simple drag-and-drop website design normally comes with pre-designed templates that you can only customize so much. It might be appealing to be able to navigate easily around your platform, but that could mean that you don’t get all the features you need for your business. For this reason, it is important to choose a platform that strikes a good balance without limiting or overwhelming you.
What happens if something goes wrong on your website? Once in a while, you’ll come up against situations you don’t know how to solve yourself. In these instances, you’ll be glad you chose an ecommerce platform that offers excellent customer support.
Make sure you’ll be able to reach out to the platform’s support team whenever you need to, preferably by live chat or phone. Platforms that offer 24/7 customer support are preferable because website errors don’t stick to a 9-to-5 schedule.
Your online selling journey has just begun. When choosing your ecommerce platform, you want to keep your business’s growth goals in mind. The platform may be great for beginners to understand, but will it serve all your needs in the future?
Some platforms have limited room for growth, limiting what you can achieve with your online store. Changing your ecommerce platform is often a long and difficult process, so be sure to think ahead to the types of features you’ll need in 1 to 5 years from now.
Best Ecommerce Platforms for Small Businesses
Now that you know what to look for in the perfect ecommerce platform for small businesses, let’s get to our three best picks. We selected these based on the expected needs and resources of a typical small business and took our base research as a starting point.
In a nutshell: Shopify is an extremely user-friendly, all-in-one solution for building and growing an online store. It’s by far the best performer in our ranking.
By now, more than 4 million online stores have been built with Shopify, and there’s a reason why this platform is a favorite with ecommerce business owners everywhere: it makes everything so simple.
Say goodbye to third-party software because everything you need for your online store is part of the package with Shopify, from domain registration to marketing and everything in between.
Shopify makes it simple and stress-free for business owners to create a fully functional, good-looking ecommerce store without any need for coding knowledge. Setting up the basics of your store is so fast and easy that you could even set up a store in a matter of hours.
Start by choosing from hundreds of paid and free themes, and the drag-and-drop website designer lets you make it your own without being a tech wizard. Shopify offers many amazing tools for free, so you can dropship, sell on social media, improve your SEO, and send out marketing emails. The list is almost endless.
Anything that Shopify doesn’t offer as part of its core services can be found in the “apps” section of the website, a marketplace of plug-ins (free and paid) that integrate your website with popular tools.
Pricing: From $39 per month and 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction.
In a nutshell: A drag-and-drop website builder that offers an ecommerce plan to easily run an online store for entrepreneurs and creatives.
Wix is famous for its website builder, which allows anyone to create a beautiful website for any purpose just by clicking and dragging elements in the right spot. But they also offer a plan just for ecommerce businesses, making it stand out as one of the best ecommerce software solutions.
Wix is a good choice if your ecommerce store is only part of your business but not the full picture, e.g., if your company pages and blog are as important as your online store. In saying that, the ecommerce plans offer all the most important tools you need for starting and running a small online store.
Online payments, order tracking, and even abandoned cart campaigns are features that make running your store easy with Wix. And the analytics tools that come with any business account give you insight into any improvements that need to be made.
Setting up your store is a breeze because you’ll be led through the user-friendly process by a helpful wizard. Domain registration and hosting are also taken care of by the platform as part of your monthly cost.
Pricing: From $27 per month, with Wix Payments taking 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction.
In a nutshell: The ecommerce plugin that turns your WordPress website into an online store, with more customization options than you can imagine.
WooCommerce is an open-source platform, which means it is super-customizable. Any website design you can imagine is possible with WooCommerce, plus it’s absolutely free. We know what you’re thinking: What’s the downside?
The drawback of WooCommerce is its steep learning curve unless you know your way around WordPress already. If you set aside some time to learn the basics of WordPress website design, the payoff is worth it with what you can create with this platform.
With a WordPress website, hosting is something you have to set up yourself through a web hosting provider. You can expect to pay as little as $5-10 per month for a good web host to get started. The final piece of the puzzle is the domain name, which costs another $12-15 per year (this fee also needs to be paid via Wix and Shopify on top of the monthly cost). Overall, WooCommerce is the cheapest way to get an online store live.
The other thing you should be aware of from the get-go is that while WooCommerce is free, plug-ins you might need can cost money, but that’s the same with Shopify. It’s quite possible to build and maintain an awesome ecommerce store without paying anything in addition, but for more advanced features, you’ll need those plugins.
Don’t be put off by the extra steps it takes to get started on WooCommerce, as businesses that make that extra effort find that it pays off in the long run with the unlimited scalability and flexibility that the platform offers them.
Pricing: Free with a self-hosted WordPress website, with transaction fees depending on which payment gateway(s) you choose.
The wonderful thing about your small business is that it’s uniquely yours.
Knowing what you’ve learned in this article, you can decide on the ecommerce platform that suits your business best and allows you to express that uniqueness that makes you stand out from the competition.
For an even bigger overview, feel free to check out our detailed research on the overall best ecommerce platforms or give our Finder Tool a try to receive a personalized recommendation for your needs. Now you have no excuse left but to get started creating your ecommerce store.