When it comes to setting up an online store, there are several important things that need to be considered. One of these is deciding which platform to use that will complement your business best. An eCommerce platform is a software technology solution that you can use to create online storefronts. This allows you to sell digital or physical products, accept payments, process shipping, automate instant delivery (if products are digital), manage inventories, and more.
There are a lot of eCommerce platforms available on the market today, and it can be confusing or overwhelming if you’re on the hunt for THE one that will perfectly match your selling needs. To take the guesswork off your plate, we’ve created this guide to help you choose the right eCommerce platform for your online store.
3 Different Types of eCommerce Platforms
There are three main types of e-commerce platforms that we will cover today:
- Dedicated eCommerce Platforms – Ex: Shopify, BigCommerce, and Zoey
- Add-Ons for Drag-and-Drop Hosted Sites – Ex: Wix and Weebly
- Plugins for Self-Hosted Sites – Ex: WooCommerce, Cart66, Ecwid, and Easy Digital Downloads
1. Dedicated eCommerce Platforms
Dedicated eCommerce platforms are loaded with selling features and management tools, so most of these provide an all-in-one solution to businesses that sell products in high volumes. We picked the most popular dedicated eCommerce platforms on the market today, and have summarized their key features below:
Who is this best for? Shopify works well for businesses expanding their sales volume and need an all-in-one store management solution and integration with social selling tools.
Shopify offers HTTPS security to stores created with any of their plans. This is an advantage for users as Google is now showing warning messages to sites which do not have an https certificate (which drives web visitors away).
It also has Shopify Retail, Shopify Payments, and Shopify Shipping that work together seamlessly to make the selling process from start to end easy. Another great feature of Shopify is its integration with social selling tools like Pinterest Buyable Pins and Facebook Store.
Who is this best for? BigCommerce is a great platform for businesses that need direct integration with Amazon and Ebay.
The most notable feature of BigCommerce is its built-in integration with eBay and Amazon. Selling through these marketplaces has become popular, especially with the rise of private label products and dropshipping. Businesses that have grown from these marketplaces and are looking to expand and sell through a dedicated web store will find the process easy using BigCommerce.
It also offers a lot of the most important features of selling online like options for listing products, providing checkout security, and tools for store management. Setting up the store is easy with its clean and mobile-friendly pre-designed store themes. It even comes with an easy-to-use dashboard.
Who is this best for? Zoey is designed for high-volume power sellers who need more flexibility in terms of customizing and scaling an eCommerce store.
Zoey is one of the platforms commonly used by high-volume sellers and top internet brands. This is because it is built on Magento — making all kinds of customizations possible. Large enterprises who have big budgets and skilled web development teams use Magento for developing and improving their eCommerce sites. Fortunately, Zoey offers the power of Magento without the heavy price tag.
Another great thing about this platform is that it does not require technical knowledge to use it — which is surprising because of the flexible customizations it offers. It has a drag-and-drop editor that allows easy and fast designing.
It also has module apps that allows users to add specific and targeted automation/functions for any imaginable selling feature that a business owner would want to see on their site.
2. Add-Ons for Drag-and-Drop Hosted Sites
Best for: Businesses with occasional or low volume sales.
A lot of small business owners who are looking for an easy and affordable way to create websites find that drag-and-drop hosted sites work best for them. The most popular platforms to use if you are looking for a DIY site are Wix and Weebly.
Websites created using these platforms can have eCommerce functionalities simply by integrating add-on apps specifically designed for the website builders. For example, Wix has a premium app called Wix Stores that can be purchased and easily added onto a Wix site. Weebly has eCommerce apps that can be added to Weebly-created websites to allow users to have sales channels, manage campaigns, and get customer reviews.
Since the app works within the platform, building your online store can be done by just dragging and dropping elements where you want them to be positioned. You can create a storefront for both physical and digital products online. The app also has tools to accept payments, create coupons, track sales, manage the store, and more.
The downside is that customization is limited for websites created through drag-and-drop builders as most of the designing and functionalities are dependent on the templates provided by the platforms. Plus, these platforms typically have higher transaction fees.
3. Plugins for Self-Hosted Sites
In the realm of self-hosted sites, WordPress reigns king. Although it is not as simple to use as the drag-and-drop hosted sites mentioned above, learning your way around it isn’t too difficult if you’re tech-savvy and willing to put in the time to learn. A lot of business owners already have their websites set up through WordPress, so taking the leap to add an online store can be easily achieved just by integrating plug-ins that were developed to achieve specific online selling needs.
Below are a few of the most popular WordPress plug-ins used for creating storefronts:
Who is it best for? WooCommerce is great for businesses that want to sell a mix of physical and digital products, maintain a blog, and have integrations with payment processors and shipping providers.
This free shopping cart plugin can be used to create a storefront-style website or as an additional store section on a WordPress blog or site.
WooCommerce has functionalities for creating product pages, categorizing items, tracking inventory, and displaying products. It can also accept online payments through Stripe or Paypal. For shipping management, it can be integrated seamlessly with third-party shipping service providers like Ordoro, Shipping Easy, and Ship Station.
Who is this best for? This is perfect for businesses selling digital products that need instant delivery like photos, ebooks, and music.
As the name implies, this plugin is used for selling digital products. It can be integrated with any kind of WordPress theme. This allows users to easily upload digital products for sale, create individual product pages for them, and showcase them on their website through a storefront gallery-style. The plugin also has a built-in payment processing function through Paypal. Customers can automatically have access to the products and download them right after a successful payment.
Who is this best for? Ecwid is a great option for businesses selling physical or digital products, or a mix of both on WordPress sites, social sites, online marketplaces, and in physical stores.
Ecwid has multichannel sales and eCommerce functionalities included even with the basic free version. Those who are selling through several channels like physical stores, online marketplaces, social media sites, and on WordPress-created websites will find this software very helpful for their needs.
Since Ecwid can be seamlessly integrated with POS software like Clover, Vend, and Square — it can manage all inventories and sales in one place, so this is a great option for those looking for an all-in-one solution for their multi-channel sales setup.
This plugin allows users to create standalone pages for every product they sell, organize them by categories, and showcase them in the website.
There are plenty of ecommerce platforms out there that you can use to cover all your online selling needs. However, using an ecommerce solution involves a lot of considerations like initial investment, type of product or service, future expansion plans, etc. So before picking one platform, we encourage you to take time to assess your business needs and goals.
Krista Fabregas is a staff writer and ecommerce analyst for Fit Small Business, specializing in ecommerce. Krista spent 16 years building two specialty ecommerce sites up to more than $1.5 M in gross annual sales.