Though it’s certainly possible to run a business with only a brick-and-mortar store or a third-party platform, it’s much more difficult to grow a business without a dedicated e-commerce solution. Today’s digital business landscape requires an omni-channel presence that includes—perhaps most importantly—e-commerce. Whether you’re just starting out or looking to upgrade from an existing online storefront, you need a way to sell online that gives you equal parts flexibility and control over your customers’ data.
- Top e-commerce platform comparison
- E-commerce platform features
- How to choose the best e-commerce platform
Top e-commerce platform comparison
|Drag-and-drop page editor||Inventory management||Shipping options||POS integration||Checkout customization||Marketing tools|
Shopify is one of the leading e-commerce platforms on the market and for good reason—it’s extremely versatile and easy to use. It offers the right amount of flexibility with a huge library of integrations and extensions to get the exact functionality you need without much heavy lifting. For example, Shopify’s interface doesn’t offer a drag-and-drop page editor, but there are several extensions you can add that support this need. Each new plugin, however, may come with its own set of fees and complexities, so it may not be the most economical or practical e-commerce platform in the long run.
Still, Shopify is one of the leading innovators in the e-commerce space. In the past year, Shopify has introduced numerous unique features and partnerships that are exclusive to the platform, like TikTok Shopping, Shopify Markets, and more. Shopify is also one of the only e-commerce providers that offers its own point of sale (POS) solution, which is why we included it in our list of the Best POS Systems for Small Businesses. It’s evident from the breadth and depth of capabilities that Shopify understands the needs of small e-retailers better than most e-commerce providers.
- Easy to use, especially for non-technical users
- Many integrations and extensions for customization
- Exclusive features for social commerce, scalability, etc.
- Too many plugins can cause problems down the road
- A la carte costs can add up
- Less effective for non-ecommerce content
Square is probably best known for its supremely accessible POS technology, but it became a major player in the e-commerce market when it purchased the website builder Weebly in 2018. It’s one of the only e-commerce platforms that checks all the boxes for user friendliness, functionality, and flexibility. There are fewer theme options to choose from for your online storefront, but what Square lacks in front end customization it more than makes up for in back end capabilities.
Specifically, the range of Square’s fintech products are unparalleled. In addition to e-commerce, Square offers a POS solution (which we also included in our top picks), mobile payment processing, social media sales support, payroll management, employee benefit administration, small business banking and loans, and buy now pay later (BNPL) functionality. This versatility offers exceptional value for small businesses that are just starting out as well as established businesses that want to streamline their financial assets.
- Wide range of financial services and tools
- More out-of-the-box features
- Easy onboarding process
- Fewer customization options
- Higher transaction fees for third-party payment gateways
- Less scalable for larger businesses
As the name suggests, BigCommerce is an ideal e-commerce platform for larger businesses. It supports a high volume of online orders across the largest range of channels, including Amazon, eBay, social media platforms, and more than 100 other sites. Additionally, BigCommerce offers services for launching and operating your business on the platform, which can be a huge time saver if you have a lot of data to migrate on a short timeline.
Unfortunately, you won’t find a native POS solution with BigCommerce, but you can leverage its robust library of apps and integrations to connect it to your existing system. This is true for virtually any software you may be using to run your business, including CRM, accounting, and reporting applications among others. Very few e-commerce platforms offer this level of integration, so it’s a solid choice for businesses that have a solid foundation and need a platform that will allow them to grow.
- Good for managing large inventory and high order volume
- Support for a wide range of sales channels
- Cross-functional integrations
- Expensive cost for advanced tiers
- Separate POS system required
- Not ideal for startups or solo-preneurs
Squarespace is perhaps the easiest e-commerce platform to set up and maintain, so it’s a strong contender if you don’t have much technical expertise. Plus, Squarespace has a lot of built-in features like shipping customizations and marketing tools that are only available as extras or integrations with other platforms. This allows you to get up and running quickly without configuring multiple layers of extensions to get the same functionality. Squarespace also takes care of all the background updates for you, so it’s about as low maintenance as you can find.
Squarespace is not as well-suited for larger businesses, mostly because there are fewer inventory management features. There is also limited flexibility for integrating third-party software, so it’s not ideal if you want to create a single view of all your business data. However, it’s a perfect solution if ease of use and minimal upkeep are your top priorities.
- Intuitive user interface
- Extensive library of professional design templates
- Many built-in features
- Limiting for high order volumes
- Minimal integrations
- Separate POS system required
If you’re part of the 40% of users running a website on WordPress and want to add an online store to your site, WooCommerce is the e-commerce solution you’ve been looking for. It’s an exceptionally customizable open-source tool that allows you to build virtually any kind of online store you can imagine. WordPress is our choice for the best website builder for pros, but this also means WooCommerce comes with a steeper learning curve and requires more hands-on maintenance than most other e-commerce platforms.
Upon installing the WooCommerce plugin on your site, you’ll have the basic tools you need for design, site structure, shipping, and payment processing. If there are specific functionalities you need like product variations or subscription payments, you’ll need to add and configure extensions for those features separately. This can get particularly expensive. Total the costs for all the plugins you’ll need and compare them with the costs of alternative platforms that have the same features built-in and may be easier to use.
- Exceptional customization capabilities
- Easily scalable
- Extensive documentation and support
- Extension costs can add up
- Steep learning curve
- Hands-on maintenance required
Wix is a strong e-commerce solution if you’re just starting out with a new online store. Wix provides numerous step-by-step guides and checklists that help you make sure you have everything ready to go prior to launch. Then, you’ll get goal-driven recommendations for improvements to make to your site based on your progress and activity. Wix can help you find the right starting point if you have an idea for a store but aren’t sure what to do next.
There are also several unexpected features with Wix that you won’t find on most other platforms, like an intelligent logo maker and built-in CRM capabilities. You can also use the Wix Marketplace to hire a professional for specific projects like migrating your site from another platform, setting up a database, or making your site more accessible for customers with disabilities. However, Wix starts to lose its appeal for larger businesses with a ton of inventory or ambitious growth plans. It’s a powerful tool for getting an online store off the ground, but another solution might be a better fit when you’re ready to take your e-commerce business to the next level.
- All-in-one tool for managing an online store
- Intuitive user interface
- Helpful tips and guides
- Confusing pricing structure
- Not ideal for scalability
- Fewer third-party integrations
E-commerce platform features
Not all e-commerce platforms are built equally. The following features are a sign that a particular solution will support the numerous goals you have for your online store.
Drag-and-drop page editor
Depending on your level of technical expertise and design acumen, a visual drag-and-drop page editor makes it easy to build new pages for your online store from scratch or make minor updates in real time. Drag-and-drop editors typically have a smaller degree of control and customization, but they still offer enough flexibility to support your goals. At a minimum, an e-commerce visual editor should provide customizations for colors, fonts, and other fundamental design elements.
Inventory management tools are especially important for hybrid commerce businesses. You need to know at any given time how much inventory you have of a particular product, as well as where that inventory is located. Your customers will also benefit from this information when it’s displayed on your online store so they know to place an order quickly if a particular item is selling out.
When it comes to online shopping, your customers want the ability to choose from a range of shipping options. Different carriers offer different shipping speeds, rates, and delivery promises, so what works best for one customer may not be ideal for another. Plus, you may get better rates with different carriers for shipping special items or international shipments, for example, so having the option to mix and match will help you cut costs. Your e-commerce solution should support multiple shipping carriers as well as the ability to get shipping rates and delivery estimates in real time.
One distinguishing feature to consider when evaluating an e-commerce platform is the ability to integrate with a point of sale (POS) system. You may not need a way to collect in-person payments at the moment if your operations are 100% online. However, if there’s a chance you will open a brick-and-mortar shop in the future, you should consider an e-commerce platform that can support that long-term goal. Some POS providers offer their own e-commerce solution, and many e-commerce platforms integrate with the top POS systems on the market.
One of the biggest causes of abandoned carts is poor checkout experience. To avoid these complications, it’s best to look for an e-commerce platform that allows you to customize each step of the checkout process. Key considerations include single sign-on capabilities, buy now pay later (BNPL) functionality, and in-cart product recommendations. You should also evaluate the user account management and post-checkout customer experience tools embedded in the platforms you consider. The right solution will give you as many opportunities to reduce checkout friction as possible.
Last but not least, marketing tools—or at least the option to integrate a third-party platform—is a key feature that will help you maximize the use of your e-commerce platform. Email marketing and social media features allow you to embed product listings directly into an email campaign or social media post. Search engine optimization (SEO) tools give you the best chance of landing at the top of a search engine results page (SERP). Marketing automation features enable automatic campaigns like upsell emails and abandoned cart reminders. All of these marketing tools centralize the different channels you use to promote the products you sell from your online store.
How to choose the best e-commerce platform
When evaluating the e-commerce platforms on this list and others on the market, there are a few key considerations to keep in mind. Your budget is likely the biggest determining factor, but your expenses with an e-commerce platform extend beyond a flat monthly cost. You should also compare the transaction fees and how they will add up as your business grows.
Another important consideration are the tools you’re currently using to run your business. Ideally, your e-commerce platform will integrate with your accounting and CRM applications, among other business applications you’ve implemented. In the same vein, your technical capabilities are something to keep in mind as well. Some e-commerce solutions are more user-friendly, whereas others offer more advanced functionality.
After you’ve narrowed down your list with these considerations in mind, you can understand how each platform can address your specific needs by reading customer reviews from businesses similar to yours. Then, sign up for a free trial to test drive your final choice(s) for yourself before committing to your final selection.