Ecommerce Platforms That Work Best For You

8 min read

Top 7 Ecommerce Sites in 2018 Compared

Here’s what you already know: there are a lot of ecommerce platforms out there. And you’re not quite sure which one is the best for you.

Picking the right one is the first step — an important step — that you’ll take in your journey to become a successful entrepreneur.

Not all ecommerce platforms are created equal. Some are fully customizable from the ground up for professionals, while others are more beginner-friendly. They all will more or less have the same basic functions, but will differ in their features, pricing, and performance.

It can be daunting to go through one by one and figure out what you really need to start. But not to worry.

We’ve done the bulk of the research for you, so you don’t have to. We’re comparing 7 popular platforms out there based on the following 6 criteria: average load time, target audience, ease of use, unique features, drawbacks, and pricing.

Read this guide thoroughly. By the end, you’ll learn which ecommerce platform will meet your business needs and perform the best.

1. Shopify

At a glance

Average load time 1.98 seconds
Target audience Solopreneurs, new small businesses
Ease of use Easy
Unique features In-built hosting solution
24/7 technical support
Supports many third-party payment options
Drawbacks 0.5%—2% transaction fees for every sale
Pricing Various: $9—$299 per month$1200+ month for Shopify Plus (enterprise level)

In-depth review

Shopify is one of the largest and best-known ecommerce platforms out there, and has been in business for a very long time. For a lot of people, Shopify embodies the image of starting a new online business, and starting it easily. Founded in 2004, it now powers over 500,000 businesses globally and has over 1 million daily active users — recent estimates puts Shopify’s commerce value at more than $46 billion.

Shopify’s main target audience is new business owners. As such, the platform is super easy to use and quick to set up. Just sign up for a Shopify account with your email address and you can start building your shop and start selling right away, within minutes. We’ve even made a video showing you how.

A key feature of Shopify is the all-included hosting solution. This may seem like a drawback for some who prefer to have full administrative control over their store page. But the since the platform aims to be as beginner-friendly as possible to aspiring business owners, the solution is a plus point for those who want a hassle-free start to opening an online business.

Shopify also offers a lot of flexibility. You can choose from thousands of store templates that are already optimized for mobile and desktop from Shopify’s library. There’s also a large App Stores inside the platform where you can buy and choose from many different apps that can further enhance the functionality of your store.

This would be a big drawback to some. Besides the basic monthly fee, you would have to pay for the plugins, themes, and features you’d want for your store page. Some would be one-off payments, while others you’d have to pay monthly or annually. The initial cost of setting up a business with Shopify is relatively low, but it can easily snowball as you add more functions and design preferences to your store page.

Aside from that, Shopify also offers top-notch support via phone, email, live chat and Twitter that is available round the clock. This is on top of the detailed documentation made available for reference, as well as active forums online where you can get help on troubleshooting from other Shopify users.

2. Bigcommerce

At a glance

Average load time 2.41 seconds
Target audience Solopreneurs, small-/medium-sized businesses
Ease of use Easy
Unique features Flexible shipping with live quotations
Drawbacks Limited themes, sales limit on basic plan
Pricing Various, $29.95—$249.95 per month
$900+ per month for enterprise level

In-depth review

BigCommerce is most similar to Shopify, with some differences. Highly customizable and full hosting solutions offered like Shopify, BigCommerce the same experience to customers when building an online store — no knowledge or prior experience required.

BigCommerce comes with great store management functions from the start with a large number of cool features available, like live quotations and rate calculations, unlimited products variants, flexible shipping, and extra options to handle returns, coupons, or discounts.

In addition, the ecommerce platform comes with in-built integrations with Amazon, eBay, and other popular social networks you may use to promote your business online. This would enable you to sell across different channels and have a wide-angle view of your entire business from one platform.

But what makes BigCommerce shine compared to Shopify is that there are no transaction fees on your sales! Plus, you get to choose from 40 different payment processing options, and you’re not bound to stick to any of them!

The downside, however, is that the basic plan comes with a sales limit. Compared to Shopify, there’s also no native POS features that you can use from the same platform. If you’re running your business both online and in retail, you’d have to find your POS solution somewhere else.

On top of that, BigCommerce is quite behind in terms of their basic template offerings. While they have improved recently, users still only get to choose from seven templates, versus Shopify’s wider library. The premium theme offerings are better, though they can cost a lot — between $145 to $235 — and would easily make your start-up cost higher.

3. Squarespace

At a glance

Average load time 2.08 seconds
Target audience Solopreneurs, creative community
Ease of use Easy
Unique features Stylish, ready-to-use templates
Drawbacks Limited ecommerce functions
Pricing $26—$46

In-depth Review

Compared to Shopify and BigCommerce, Squarespace is more of a general website-building platform rather than an ecommerce-only platform. That being said, Squarespace is still a formidable force and a place where beginners can be comfortable in starting their new online venture.

Squarespace is best known for their work with the creative community — as such, their platform design was spurred off by specific needs from that community. The result is a minimalist platform with stylish designs and a light-weight cart to sell specific items.

Because of that, Squarespace’s unique features would be the same as their drawbacks, depending on who you’re talking to.

If you’re a creative director looking to sell only a handful of items you make, then Squarespace is suited to meet your needs as the platform is perfect for low SKU volumes. If you’re a large business and you have a lot of recurring and seasonal items to sell to a lot of segmented groups, then Squarespace will disappoint you as their shipping and payment gateway options are very basic and may slow down your sales unnecessarily.

As a site, Squarespace is more comparable to Wix or WordPress rather than Shopify or BigCommerce. If your e-commerce is on the smaller side, Squarespace will make setting it up a pretty simple and hassle-free experience.

4. 3D Cart

At a glance

Average load time 1.82 seconds
Target audience Startups, small business owners
Ease of use Medium
Unique features No transaction fees
24/7 technical support
All-in hosting solution
Drawbacks Not user-friendly interface, some web design knowledge preferred
Pricing Various: $19-$229 per month

In-depth review

Compared to the big e-commerce names like Shopify and Magento, 3D Cart is a small player in the landscape. But don’t let their size fool you — the platform is rich with features that are suitable for the beginner and the professional.

3D Cart offers the basic tools as well as a wide range of design options you need to build a visually attractive store and shopping cart, for whatever sort of business you run. Its most basic plan is literally called a “startup plan” — this would be great for small businesses trying to get established and still be able to build everything on their own. At the same time, they offer enough powerful features that is capable of handling hundreds of product listings and orders, making it suitable for larger businesses that are looking to scale further faster.

In terms of design capabilities, however, 3D Cart’s interface doesn’t make it easy for users to customize their store page for more advanced structures. Certainly, the platform offers an adequate number of free templates and extensions that give you some flexibility in customization. You’d still need to understand the basics of web design to make full-use of these capabilities.

As such, 3D Cart is a platform that is more suitable for people who have some experience using WordPress or other website-building providers. Ultimately, the platform’s not-so-user-friendly interface is compensated by the more advanced features that aren’t available — or available for free — on the big ecommerce names.  

5. Magento

At a glance

Average load time 1.82 seconds
Target audience Startups, small business owners
Ease of use Medium
Unique features No transaction fees
24/7 technical support
All-in hosting solution
Drawbacks Not user-friendly interface,
some web design knowledge preferred
Pricing Various: $19-$229 per month

In-depth review

Magento is similar to platforms like BigCommerce and Shopify. They offer free and paid themes to help you get started, then leave the details of your ecommerce website up to you. There is a free version that is suitable for many small businesses. This can be a big draw, as it will save small businesses a lot of money when they are developing their online businesses.

Magento doesn’t have the extensive support resources of, say, Shopify, which has a larger community and teaching videos. Still, it is a solid platform that can make establishing an ecommerce platform affordable.

Magento is similar to Shopify, but can take more time to learn and master. But this learning curve comes with the benefit of even higher customizability than Shopify. Magento can allow you to customize more of your website, if you’re willing to spend more time with it.

In our opinion, Magento is the best ecommerce platform for startups. It offers a lot of flexibility, all the ecommerce features you need, and it’s a perfect fit for companies that have in-house developers. However, it’s not such a good option for beginners or if you’re looking to set up a simple store.

6. WooCommerce

At a glance

Average load time 5.28 seconds
Target audience WordPress users
Ease of use Medium — understanding of WordPress required
Unique features Strong SEO built-in functions
Drawbacks Cost can be high
Pricing Free plugin, $100+ per year for hosting

In-depth review

WooCommerce is different from all the other ecommerce platforms on this list, because it is a WordPress plugin. This comes with some challenges as well as benefits. In order to use WooCommerce you will need to have some knowledge of how to use WordPress. Because it plugs directly into WordPress, understanding that platform as well is essential.

WooCommerce is an interesting option for small business. Because it connects right into WordPress, small business owners who already use WordPress for their website will find the seamless integration a plus point for using WooCommerce. On top of that, the platform comes with a lot of strong SEO features built right in. WordPress will give you feedback on your SEO right in pages and posts. This makes it easy to visually tell if your SEO on any given page or post is strong.

The major drawback is that cost is a bit hard to pin down with WooCommerce. There are costs associated with hosting, WordPress and WooCommerce that can all fluctuate within a range. Any one user’s costs are probably different from any other user’s costs. This could affect your future direction when you decide to scale your business, when paying for WooCommerce’s multiple extensions may not be the most cost-effective way.

Nevertheless, if you already are familiar with the WordPress platform and want to try setting up a simple online store, it’s hard to beat WooCommerce. The platform does a fantastic job of balancing ecommerce functionality and ease of use that makes it an unintimidating option for new business owners.

7. OpenCart

At a glance

Average load time 4.30 seconds
Target audience Small-/medium-sized businesses
Ease of use Difficult
Unique features Open source, highly customizable from the ground up
Drawbacks Self-hosted, web design knowledge required
Pricing Free for software, extra price for extensions and storage

In-depth review

OpenCart is an open-source software that’s free for everyone to download and use. Highly customizable and self-hosted, this ecommerce platform is meant to to be adaptable to any operating system or business situation you have.

OpenCart comes with product reviews and ratings out of the gate, and can support multiple currencies for the payment options. Beyond the basic functions, the platform also allows you to set up unlimited products and product categories — you can do this for for both your digital and physical goods. And because it’s open source, there’s an active community of developers and designers who’ve made thousands of themes and plugin extensions available for download

The features that make OpenCart attractive can also be a drawback for others. Because it’s self-hosted and customizable, you will need to be familiar with some web design to make full use of all the designs and extensions you can play around with.

As such, OpenCart is more suitable for slightly advanced web users who are familiar with web design and want to manage everything on their own. But if OpenCart is your platform of choice, there are many books and online resources out there for you to learn how to use the platform.

It’s also worth mentioning that not all the extensions are free to download. OpenCart software itself is free, but the cost may increase once you start adding new modules to your store page. You can skip this altogether and stick with the free themes and extensions, which may work if you’re a new business looking to have something basic with minimal start-up cost.

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