Inbound Rocket

The Ultimate Guide to eCommerce Platforms for Small Businesses

The Ultimate Guide to eCommerce Platforms for Small Businesses

This is a guest post by Michelle Deery.

It is no secret that eCommerce is a booming industry. In 2016, an estimated 1.61 billion people worldwide purchased goods online.

With technology continuing to progress, eCommerce platforms keep on delivering powerful features. They will play a prominent role for many years to come.

And while there is an array of eCommerce platforms available to help you start your online business, each brings with it a set of pros and cons that need to be considered before making your decision.

Whether you are a new entrant or have a technical background, this ultimate guide will help you find an eCommerce platform that is right for your (small) business.

Let’s dive straight into it.

Shopify

Shopify

One of the most well-known eCommerce platforms on the market is Shopify, and there are many reasons for its popularity.

First off, Shopify has been around since 2004, and this bodes well for its users. Over this span of time, the Shopify developers have been able to hone in on the functions that are most useful to eCommerce businesses, and this has resulted in a platform that is both efficient and user-friendly. In fact, Shopify is known for its ease of use.

Shopify comes with an easy-to-use dashboard interface which allows users to customize the appearance of their eCommerce shop in just a few clicks. This ability for quick customization is perfect for those businesses that are in the early stages of growth, and therefore, may still be trying to find the right look.

This customization is further enhanced by the wide range of themes that are offered by Shopify. These themes can give your appealing storefront characteristics that will help increase the probability of a customer following through with a purchase.

In addition to customization, Shopify has a system for adding and removing products that are superior to many other eCommerce platforms, and this is particularly useful for new users. To add a product, users must fill out text fields, such as the item title, description, and price, and this can all be done within seconds.

Unlike other platforms, Shopify has instructions for each individual field, so there will be no doubt as to the content that is needed. Furthermore, if you are looking to make the switch from another eCommerce platform, Shopify has incorporated options that will help you to import your inventory of products with relative ease.

Shopify has its own coding language “liquid” that you may want to look into if you have plans to fully customise your store before you make your decision.

Perhaps you already have built your website using WordPress, though, but still, want to utilise Shopify and some of its amazing features. You can do this by installing the Shopify WordPress plugin, getting the best of both worlds.

This means that you’ll still be able to use WordPress plugins, such as the Inbound Rocket plugin for lead generation, along with Shopify’s plugin. With just a few clicks, you can now make any WordPress page or blog post shoppable. Best of all, the plugin is free!

Pricing: $29/month Basic plan for an online store with core features to $299/month for the Advanced plan.

Volusion

Volusion

With nearly twenty years of experience under its belt, the eCommerce platform known as Volusion has a lot to offer. Similar to other eCommerce platforms, Volusion allows businesses to easily set up an eCommerce store, even if the user is unfamiliar with web development.

The main advantage to using Volusion, is that it comes with a wide selection of tools that will help in building a successful online store. In addition, the platform has features that make for fluid integration and cross-listing items with websites such as Amazon and Ebay possible. If you are interested in your products showing up in Google search, there SEO tools will also interest you.

As with all eCommerce platforms, Volusion does have some areas that could be improved upon, and the foremost is their restriction on bandwidth. While they do not charge for transaction fees, which can save businesses significant amounts of money, Volusion does charge for exceeding the designated limit on bandwidth.

This means that as your eCommerce store gains traction and begins to see heavier traffic numbers, you could be charged additional money for these visitors. Unfortunately, Volusion does not explicitly state how much these charges will be, so you could be in for an unwanted surprise when you get your bill at the end of the month.

Pricing: From $15/month Mini plan to $135/month for the premium plan.

3dcart

3dcart

When it comes to tutorials to help you get started in selling products online there are few eCommerce platforms that offer more information than 3dcart. These clearly laid-out setup steps take much of the guesswork out of getting your store off the ground. In addition, 3dcart utilizes a drag and drop system for creating templates, and this is perfect for beginners who are unfamiliar with the steps involved in editing code such as HTML and CSS.

3dcart also includes a CRM that records your customer’s details, including their orders and reviews. You can then segment your customers into different lists, allowing you to send them personalized emails and/or newsletters. It has been found that 56% of customers will shop with retailers who offer personalization.

Of course, there are some limitations that come with using a drag and drop style eCommerce platform, and the primary of these is the hindrance that it has on the overall design of the storefront. If you do not have any experience in designing a website, you may find it difficult to achieve design qualities that will set your online store apart from the rest of the pack.

Pricing: From $9.99/month Basic plan to the Pro plan for $229/month.

Squarespace

Squarespace

Often compared to WordPress as far as functionality is concerned, Squarespace is a content management system that has a variety of eCommerce capabilities and pricing plans to fit any business’s needs.

As with other eCommerce platforms, Squarespace has many qualities that make it a useful platform, such as the ability to sell an unlimited number of products and the 24/7 support that is provided to help answer questions that users may have about the interface.

Squarespace is noted for having an expansive selection of templates, which make it possible for eCommerce stores to create an individualized appearance, and thus, stand out from the crowd. In fact, the foremost reason that users choose Squarespace is the availability of well-designed templates.

However, there are some limitations that must be noted before deciding on Squarespace for your eCommerce needs. For instance, Squarespace only allows businesses to accept one type of currency on their eCommerce website and this can create issues for companies that sell products internationally. In addition, Squarespace is known for being restrictive, in regard to shipping, and this can be problematic.

In fact, the basic plan offered by Squarespace is noted for its lack of international order integration. And while these limitations are worth noting, the platform remains one of the premier choices for eCommerce.

Pricing: From $30/month Basic Online Stores plan to $40 for the Advanced plan.

Big Cartel

Big Cartel

If you have ever dreamt of creating your product and putting it on the market, then you will want to consider the eCommerce platform Big Cartel.

While other eCommerce platforms are built with the idea that shop owners will be selling products directly from manufacturers and wholesalers, Big Cartel focuses on helping individuals such as artists and designers to get their products on the web.

For example, if you create homemade jewelry or t-shirts and would like to expand, then Big Cartel may be the best option for starting your eCommerce small business. This is not to say that it cannot be used for other purposes, as it has similar functionality to that of other eCommerce platforms.

The most prevalent complaint about the Big Cartel platform is its lack of a user-friendly interface, and this poses problems for those who are not familiar with eCommerce, and more specifically, web design.

The platform does not incorporate drag and drop functionality, and it can take some time to learn how to navigate the interface and make changes to your online store. With that being said, if you have knowledge in the field of web development, you will want to consider using Big Cartel for your eCommerce business.

Pricing: Free Gold plan for $9.99/month to the Titanium plan for $29.99/month.

BigCommerce

BigCommerce

One of the newest eCommerce platforms to hit the market, BigCommerce has much to offer. Founded in 2009, BigCommerce is similar in functionality to Shopify, and there are many likenesses within the system.

As with Shopify, the BigCommerce platform has a very easy to navigate interface which allows users to quickly setup their online store with minimal knowledge. Additionally, the platform has features that make the process of setting up credit card transactions as simple as possible. And for those users that have experience in web development and coding, learning to customize the storefront is relatively simple.

There are some cons in using the BigCommerce platform for online retail and the two most prominent involve pricing and credit card fees. As with most eCommerce platforms, BigCommerce has a variety of pricing plans to choose from, but with other fees added in, such as add-on fees and plugin costs, it can be difficult to predict exactly how much money will be spent keeping the store maintained.

Furthermore, the credit card fee rates for BigCommerce are a bit higher than they are with some of the competing platforms, and this is partly to blame on their integration with the Stripe payment processing system.

Pricing: From $29.95/month Standard plan to the Pro plan for $249.95/month.

WooCommerce

WooCommerce

WooCommerce is one of the most popular and easy to use eCommerce platforms available on the market. With its variety of strengths, it may be the perfect place for you to build your eCommerce store.

Why is WooCommerce so popular as an eCommerce platform? It allows you to build your store on your WordPress website, without the help of any professionals, such as developers or designers. This could save you money in the long run.

A plugin created by the developers of WooThemes, WooCommerce leaves the design of your website to your current WordPress theme. This is great if you have already paid for your current WordPress theme and put in a bunch of hours customizing it, which can be a tedious task. In fact, it has been built to cooperate with most themes.

When it comes to its features, WooCommerce has the main eCommerce essentials built into its software. WooCommerce offers lots of exciting additions and hundreds of plugins. It also has a mobile friendly structure, and you will have complete control over your data.

Pricing: The plugin is free to additional costs that go along with making your online store.

Shopp

Shopp

Shopp, a paid eCommerce WordPress plugin, provides a unique interface from which you can build your online eCommerce store. It aims to provide more functionality than most eCommerce plugins.

Having been around for several years, it has had many tweaks and changes from developers along the way, and you will benefit from these.

Setting up the plugin is easy and basic enough. For the shopping pages, the page settings are included, and you can edit the slugs and names. They also provide a Shopp demo site if you would like to play around with it before deciding to make your purchase.

Tax options are also included and can be based on region and the rates are fairly straightforward. If you have a formatted local tax list you can upload and apply it to local tax rates in a region. Subscription products are built into the core plugin, which is one of Shopp’s greatest features. You will be able to set a recurring billing cycle.

There is potential for paid add-ons, and they range from $25 to $125 each. There are both official Shopp add-ons and unofficial plugins for sale.

Pricing: For a single site – $55 or for a developer license – $299.

In Conclusion

Online retailing and eCommerce have drastically changed the way consumers purchase goods and services, and this is a trend that will continue into the foreseeable future with projections show a growth of up to 4.06 trillion U.S. dollars by 2020.

Therefore, if you are a business owner, or you are considering starting a small business, it is vital that you look into becoming an eCommerce merchant. As it has been shown, there is an array of different platforms that enable users to create online stores and each of these have pros and cons that need to be weighed before making a decision.

If you are looking for an eCommerce platform that has an interface that is easy to use, while still offering plenty of apps, then you will want to consider Shopify or BigCommerce, as these two platforms are similar in functionality and design.

A popular alternative to the aforementioned platforms is Volusion, which has been around since 1999. Volusion has a plethora of tools available to help integrate with other websites, such as Amazon and Ebay, and this can lead to increased sales.

Furthermore, there are platforms that are similar in nature to a content management system, such as Squarespace, which allows businesses to list as many products as they wish, without being restricted by pricing and bandwidth usage.

Additionally, many of these platforms, like that of 3dcart, utilise drag and drop technologies that make it easier for new users to design a site that is visually appealing, even if they have no knowledge of coding techniques.

Lastly, if you are an artist or designer and you are looking for a way to get your products the exposure that they need for success, then you will want to consider the Big Cartel platform.

While the sheer number of platform options available for starting your online business may seem a bit overwhelming at first, it is important to note the individual characteristics that make each platform unique in meeting certain needs.

When you are entering the world of eCommerce keep this information in mind, and you are sure to find the right fit.

After reading this article, what eCommerce platform is your favourite? Have you already used some of these platforms in the past, and if so, was your experience positive or negative? Let us know in the comment section below. We want to hear from you!

MIchelle_Deery

Michelle Deery is a writer for Heroic Search in Tulsa. She specialises in writing about eCommerce enjoys producing actionable content. Find her at @MichWriting.

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