Which E-commerce Platform Is Right For You?

What e-commerce platform to use

 

For the love of all things holy: Please choose your e-commerce platform first, and then find a designer skilled in the development and design of that particular platform. Too many of us chose a designer we love and then develop an e-commerce site on whatever platform the designer is most comfortable with. The problem? If the engine that drives your site is aesthetically pleasing but lacking the core functionality that you ultimately need to be successful, then you’ve just made a significant investment in your business without deriving the full benefit of that investment. That’s a “best case” scenario. The worst case scenario? Your site can’t perform as needed and you abandon it, reinvesting time and energy into a new platform.

 

I’m assuming that you don’t have money to burn, yes? If so, then I urge you to read on and carefully weigh software options before making a commitment. While this post isn’t an exhaustive exploration of each platform listed nor a comprehensive list of available e-commerce engines, I’ve done my very best to extract key differences between several of the most popular e-commerce systems available to makers and product designers. I’ve designed this blog post thoughtfully… my least favorite platform is listed first and the options get better as you move through this review.

 

I hope you’ll roll up your sleeves and dive in!

 

THE PROS AND CONS OF WIX

1. The basic platform is free to use, though Wix advertisements will be tucked into  both the header and footer of your site unless you upgrade to a paid package.

2. Those seeking an actual e-commerce platform will need to upgrade to a paid package, the most popular of which is their “VIP” package at $25 a month. That’s $300 a year in website fees before you process a single sale. That’s not a bad price for a sharp website, but keep reading to see how the value of Wix stacks up to its competitors!

3. A wide array (500+) of design templates are available, but you can’t switch templates once you choose one and begin building it out.

4. Many of those design templates look pretty dated. Wix templates are decidedly less elegant and design-centric than many of its contemporaries.

5. Wix isn’t designed to handle complex e-commerce needs. Customer communication features and general order management features are anemic at best.

6. You will enjoy easy “drag + drop” design capabilities when designing your site.

7. Customer support isn’t available 24/7 like many of Wix’s competitors. Enjoy email and phone support from 9am-8pm Eastern. Support via live chat isn’t offered.

8. Wix templates aren’t responsive (which is ideal), but they do offer a dedicated mobile editor.

9. The “VIP” package limits you to 20GB of storage.

Explore Wix.

 

THE PROS AND CONS OF WOOCOMMERCE

1. Woo offers a tremendous amount of flexibility in the design, but it’s not “drag + drop” easy. You’re going to have to put in some hours in the development of this site, or pay someone to execute the development on your behalf.

2. There are only 5 free themes available. However, you can enjoy 50 more for about  $79 each or buy all a package which contains all of the themes for $399.

3. WooCommerce itself is free (hooray!) but you’ll need heaps of add-ons and those apps can get pretty spendy pretty quickly. The good news? You only add the functionality you need because pretty much everything is offered “a la carte.”

4. WooCommerce is the e-commerce arm of WordPress. While I’m particularly fond of WordPress as a blogging platform, I’m far less smitten with it as an e-commerce solution. I recommend choosing a platform that’s been developed with e-commerce as its primary purpose.

5. The “out of the boxes” payment gateway is Mijireh, which charges a .5% processing fee on every transaction.

6. WooCommerce isn’t a “hosted cart” which means that you’ll need to allocate funds for a third-party hosting solution each month.

7. Because WooCommerce is free, there’s no strict customer care. Generally speaking, you’re left to your own devices with the support of advice in Woo’s forums.

8. WooCommerce is significantly less secure than other available options. Because WordPress/WooCommerce is such a target for hackers, you’ll need to stay on top of updates and change your password often.

9. I once tried to build a site with WooCommerce. It was a maddening experience, even after I tagged in a seasoned pro who’s built several non-Woo sites for me in the past. My liver couldn’t withstand the amount of alcohol necessary to develop WooCommerce sites on a regular basis.

Explore WooCommerce.

 

THE PROS AND CONS OF SQUARESPACE

1. Squarespace sports super-simple “drag + drop” site design that you can take live in almost no time.  You can enjoy lots of design flexibility without touching any code.

2. Enjoy 40+ design templates which are decidedly rich and modern: minimalist, clean, chic, and image-oriented.

3. All Squarespace templates are responsive- they resizes instantly to play well on mobile devices.

4. However, Stripe is the only available payment processor, which means that you can’t operate a Squarespace site in certain countries where Stripe isn’t available. Essentially, Squarespace is only available in the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom, and Ireland at the moment. And you can’t include PayPal as a payment option.

5. Squarespace doesn’t automatically keep a history of site changes. If you make an error, then you can’t simply restore an older version.

6. Enjoy 24/7 email support with an impressive 1-hour average turnaround for support requests. Regrettably, no phone support is available.

7. There is some limitation to SEO (search engine optimization), particularly when it comes to blogging.

8. Squarespace includes some nice photo features, including automatic aspect ratio and designated focal points.

9. If you’d like “abandoned cart recovery” features or real-time carrier shipping quotes, then you’ll need to go with the “advanced” plan at $46 per month.

10. The Squarespace “basic” package weighs in at $30 a month, reduced to $26 per month when you pre-pay annually.

Explore Squarespace.

 

THE PROS AND CONS OF BIGCOMMERCE

1. There are 90 apps designed to support Bigcommerce, which means this platform can grow with you and you can largely build functionality as needed.

2. The “standard” package on Bigcommerce gives you three things that Shopify doesn’t: gift cards, a built-in review system, and real-time carrier shipping quotes.

3. That “standard” package does limit you to $50,00 in sales per year, though. After that, you’re bumped to “Bigcommerce Plus” at $80 per month. That plan taps out at $125,000 in annual sales. Then you’d need to move to the “pro” plan which is a spendy $200 per month. Ouch!

4. There are 7 free theme variants from which to choose. 76 additional themes are available, ranging in price from $145-$235.

5. Bigcommerce supports 30+ payment gateways. “Out of the box” gateways that require minimal configuration and quick set-up include: PayPal, Stripe, and Square.

6. There are no transaction fees with Bigcommerce.

7. Enjoy 24/7 support via phone, email, and online chat.

8. The “standard” package will set you back $30 a month, $360 a year. Pay annually up front and get a 10% discount.

Explore Bigcommerce.

 

THE PROS AND CONS OF SHOPIFY

1. There are more than 1200 available apps designed to support Shopify. That means this platform offers you more opportunities to build functionality into its feature seat then virtually any other e-commerce platform on the planet.

2. However, Abandoned cart functionality is absent from the $29 “basic” plan. For that, you’ll need to upgrade to the $79/month package. Even then, you can only send one automatically dispatched “abandoned cart” email to each user.

3. If you elect to use an external payment gateway versus “Shopify Payments” for card processing (which is powered by Stripe), then you’ll incur an additional transaction fee, which is 2% for Shopify’s “basic” plan.

4. Shopify plans have no sales limit, which is a big win over BigCommerce.

5. There are 24 free theme variants. 139 additional themes are available, ranging in price from $100-180 in price.

6. Shopify supports an astounding 70+ payment gateways. “Out of the box” gateways include PayPal and Stripe, which need minimal programming.

7. You can only offer customers 3 sets of option per product: size, color, fragrance, etc.

8. Shopify offers an app for managing your store while on the go.

9. Enjoy 24/7 support via phone, live chat, and email. Shopify’s customer support is widely praised as exceptionally helpful.

10. The “basic” plan is $29 a month or $348 a year. Pay annually up front and get a 10% discount; prepay for two years and you’ll receive a 20% discount.

Explore Shopify. Pssssttt: word on the street is that you can often sweet-talk a Shopify customer support member into throwing in those real-time carrier shipping quotations in for free if you ask nicely and pre-pay your first year. *wink*

 

WHAT E-COMMERCE PLATFORM ARE YOU USING?

I’d love to know! Drop a comment below to share your e-commerce platforms success stories. And let me know, too, if you’re having buyer’s remorse about the platform you’ve selected. Sharing your experience could very well help someone else! Perhaps a second post that explores Big Cartel, Weebly, and Volusion is in order.

If this post has proved helpful to you, then I invite you to share with those in your circle and any entrepreneurial Facebook groups that you might be a part of.  Grazie…

 

P.S. This post triggered an avalanche of questions about e-commerce  cart providers not mentioned in the original article. I circled the wagons and created a follow-up post which dissects Pinnacle, Spark Pay, Magento, Volusion, 3D Cart, and Weebly. I invite you to Which E-Commerce Platform is Right for You, Part 2

 

43 comments

    • Michelle,

      The real-time shipping quotes come standard with the $79/month plan. I have heard from two different people that they asked nicely and pre-paid the full year when they signed up and were able to get that add-on at no cost. It never hurts to ask, right?

  1. I’ve been with Weebly for the entirety of my eCommerce lifetime without any regrets. Loads of templates, live chat support, knowledgeable friendly support staff, easily customized to suit your personal & professional taste, very reasonable pricing for every level and they offer choices for the ordering/cart portion. I use Stripe as well as PayPal and included (at a reasonable fee) an SSL certificate for the checkout page. They might be based in CA but they never sleep. Help is always there. Sending an email for support is always answered within a few hours at most unless there’s a holiday. Usually it’s just within minutes.

    • Hi Denise! Thanks for weighing in. I heard from someone yesterday that was very pleased with Weebly too, and I know they’ve been working on the e-commerce side of things over the past 12-18 months. I still have some concerns about the software, but if it’s serving you well then more power to you! 🙂 I might try to do a second post in a couple of weeks that throws a Weebly analysis into the mix.

  2. A Wild Soap Bar has been using Spark Pay (was Americommerce) for many years and we’ve been pretty satisfied. It’s not exactly cheap and most of their templates leave something to be desired. We hired a designer to get our new design just right and all the functionality that we wanted (not cheap either!), but it’s been a good solid platform for us with loads of built in features and unlimited capabilities if you hire a designer (or can write code yourself). It’s highly customizable and it’s easy to make the day to day changes yourself. I recommend it!

    • Hiya Maggie! Funny that you should mention Spark Pay. My developer used to work on that platform until a year or so ago and he’s hella picky, so I know it’s got to be pretty solid. I’m going to ask him why he migrated away from it.

  3. I’m a fickle wench and have had sites ranging from Adobe GoLive (dinosaur times) with A PayPal Button to ZenCart to WooCommerce and now Shopify. My liver and many brain cells are recovering from the time spent with Woo. I count that one platform as the biggest stress in my business for the whole time I tried to use it and I am pretty durn techy! Shopify had been a true breath of fresh air. I wept when I realized the 24/7 tech support was REAL. Shopify has been my eCommerce hero since I’ve used them. The cost is a drop in the bucket compared to what I paid to use the free – cough – WooCommerce.

    Maybe my fickle, wanton days are behind me and I can settle down with Shopify as THE ONE.

    • Think we should start a PTWD (post-traumatic Woo disorder) support group Kathy? I’m glad those days are behind you and three cheers for solid customer support!

      • I’d join that support group… Though it’s current-traumatic as I haven’t found my match to make the switch away from WC. I confronted them one time after asking a question and getting told it was yet another expensive add-on. I told them that I felt gauged. And the customer support rep got testy with me and scolded me for saying that, practically telling me to just go elsewhere because he didn’t want my business if I wasn’t happy with exactly what they already have. It was a surprising take on customer service.

        • Welcome to the support group, Laura… though I regret that you need to be a member. I haven’t ever heard raves for Woo customer service like I have for Shopify and Bigcommerce. Is there anything I can do to help you feel confident in ditching Woo for good? I don’t have a dog in the fight, I just hate to hear that you’re frustrated. I think anything listed in my blog post after the Woo entry would be an upgrade!

  4. At Naturalicious, we use Shopify. We were on MivaMerchant for a 18 months (I know, you’ve never heard of it…neither has any one else) and while it was okay in the beginning, it became apparent quickly that we needed something far more robust. Shopify has been a dream and the customer service is bar none. Sales have gone up 40% in the year since being on Shopify and I attribute that to the ton of available apps that allow the site to “sell” for us, where as MivaMerchant’s apps were extremely limted.

    • “…I know, you’ve never heard of it…neither has any one else…”

      That cracked me up, Gwen. So glad you’ve migrated to Shopify!

  5. I switched to Squarespace from WordPress + WooCommerce one week ago because of issues with WC and my WP theme not playing well on mobile. I’m still getting to know SS but so far it’s much better for me than WP + WC.

    • Awesome, Jessica! I really prefer SS over woo, for so many reasons. I bet you’ll have the hang of it in no time!

  6. I am using Squarespace and I’m liking it. Coming from a WP/Woo that was all but impossible for me to deal with, this is so nice and easy, yet classy. It’s easy to manipulate the templates and make it your own. For someone like me that likes to know the nuts and bolts of things and wants control of the site, this was a perfect match for me. While I’m still learning the different features, it’s not without some issues. In the coupon area, it has some limitations. It’s not as flexible to customize as Woo was. Yes, you have to upgrade to get real-time shipping, but for me, I’ve found my sweet spot with what shipping will cost and so far, it’s been working. Utilizing it for wholesale is another bag of worms. Here is where it falls short, at least for now. I can create a password protected page, create forms, and even another store. But the downside is, that whatever parameters are set in the retail store will be set in the wholesale store. This is where the shipping is a problem. I know I can work around this to some degree, but I may ultimately end up creating another site special for wholesale someday. So for now, I end up invoicing the stockists through Paypal. So far it works, but not as streamlined as I would prefer. I’ve only had the site for a few months and I’m loving it over my old site.

  7. I started with the free weebly with paypal (but I truly despise paypal ) So being a Quickbooks Pro Advisor I made the switch to Homestead for a few years. My CC processing was with Intuit Go Payment and QB merchant services. I liked it as far as the shipping went. It was dead on perfect and I have yet to be able to nail it down since leaving. My rates were super low as a Pro Advisor I was paying 1.87% total for CC transactions and no monthly fee. You can’t shake a stick at that!

    Then I decided to give Square a chance because the reporting capabilities with Intuit Go Payment were archaic! You would think a software made by a flipping accounting software company would have decent reports….nope…

    So then I suffered a major head injury and stayed drunk ( I mean why else would I have done what I did?) I moved over to WooCommerce. A friend of a friend built it for me and hosted it for free for a year. He never had it the way I wanted it and it was clunky. Then last year (mind you I am still processing cards with my Intuit merchant account) and Woo had an update the night before Black Friday?!?!! I had no clue until a customer emailed me that my site could not process credit cards the entire weekend…FM! I was livid! I got it fixed only to have a plug in go tits up….arghhhh….and then on Cyber Monday…yup…you guessed it…Intuit took a dive!! The biggest weekend of the year and I had failures left and right and sadly could see the lost carts….thousands ..I lost thousands!! It had major heart burn two more times in the next two weeks…So I dove in and moved it all over to Big Commerce with a Square connection.

    I LOVE it!!! I have Commerce Sync added to the back end of my Square. So when someone buys online it tells my Square to remove it from inventory and then Commerce Sync pulls it into my Quickbooks once a day!! I love that my accounting has been greatly reduced. Then there is the inventory finally being synced and working right. Nothing worse then selling a bar of soap online only to figure out you sold it in person that morning and you are now out. Cannot make soap on the fly…lol I also love love love love love…did I mention I LURVE that I can move all products out of square into a spreadsheet. I then update all pricing, descriptions, SKU’s ect and then push them back into Square and then back into BC …it makes changes and adjustments in multiple places super duper easy and far faster then anything else.

    I had the choice of Shopify, Big Commerce or an updated Wix to pair with my Square ..Shopify only allows ONE import of product for free….I change stuff up all the time and that would never work for me.

    a little more my 2 cents but it has been a journey over the years to find what works and reduces how long I have to wear the bookkeeper hate, inventory control hat and web designer hat…and that free time is mucho importante to me!

  8. This is an incredible amount of wonderful information. I have been thinking of setting up an online store for the past month, and this has helped me choose what will be best for me. Thank you for all the specific information on the pros and cons. I am a small seller so I will use Big Commerce after reading all this information. Thank you so much!

    • I’m high-five’ing you, Jen! So glad you found it helpful. I think you’ll be really pleased with Bigcommerce… good luck!

  9. Lela, thanks for making some sense out of the options out there. I am a happy BigCommerce customer but I often wonder if the grass is greener elsewhere. I’m staying put! Thank you!!

    • Well, hello there Teri! I’m thrilled to hear that you’re happy with Bigcommerce and I totally vote for staying put. And I appreciate your comment, too. I’m always trying to keep a finger ont he pulse of who’s happy with what so I can make better recommendations and knowing you’re pleased with BC helps me do just that!

  10. The designer than someone referred me to used Adobe so that is where I started. Hindsight is 20/20. It wasn’t user friendly so making any changes was always a painful experience which almost always entailed bringing in the designer for even more money. I have just redone my site myself using Spark Pay. I did use one of the templates, but anytime I needed help, they were just an email or phone call away. Very pleased with the service. The site has only been live a couple of weeks and I know there are some bugs to work out. We’ll see how it goes.

    Lela, did you mention that your designer is no longer using Spark Pay?

    • Hiya Susan! I just rang me web developer (Padraic) and this is what I learned: he is building on SparkPay and whole-heartedly endorses it. He only works on two platforms (I’m obviously on the non-SparkPay platform *wink*) and I was confused. I thought he did SparkPay but now doesn’t. In fact, he used to Ammericommerce, but now doesn’t… because Capital One bought Ammericommerce and renamed it SparkPay. So one and the same. 🙂

      We’re going to tag-team on a part 2 of this blog. I’m going to pro + con Weebly and he’s going to pro + con Pinnacle (which I’m on) and SparkPay. Give us a week or two, but stay tuned!

    • Hello Eyanna,

      While I have heard of Storenvy, I don’t have any personal experience with it. From what I understand, it’s more of a social marketing platform (more along the lines of Etsy, Open Sky, etc.) than a stand-alone e-commerce platform. Whenever possible, I always vote for having a stand-alone website at a URL that you actually own. That path is a little more work but it also means that your brand is far less vulnerable in the long run. I hope that helps!

  11. Thanks for making this article so tech free. It always seems such a daunting decision for us creative Makers to decide on a platform. Seems I’ve spent more time investigating platforms than I can afford, and often find the ‘reviews’ filled with overly techy speak which is a waste of time for my medium tech-self. I certainly appreciate the factual and clear presentation here, Lela. I’m still deciding on where to migrate, but because your article cuts to the important pieces us Makers should be looking at, I’ve crossed out several options! (also love that you and Padraic are going to tackle additional platforms. I looked heavily at Ammericommerce/SparkPay and found it a bit over my head although loved the options it brought to the table)

    • Hello, hello Patti! You’re most welcome for the article. I’m eager to pull together that “part 2” blog with Padraic and hope to have it live in a week or two. Swing back by the blog soon so you can learn about some other platforms that might be suitable. I know he’s a huge fan of SparkPay so I’m especially excited to see his breakdown of that one!

  12. My previous Cre Cart went belly up and my webhost started using Open Cart. I have just started playing with this platform and I find it clumsy and time consuming. Since I have to re-create my site from the ground up, I’m seriously considering Shopify. I appreciate all the feedback and recommendations besides the excellent option comparisons! Thanks for validating my concerns with Open Cart….I never heard of it either,,,or Cre Cart!

    • Bless you, Marj! I have heard of OpenCart (though generally not favorably) but I’ve never heard of Cre Cart. So many e-commerce options, so little time, right? I’m pretty confident that Shopify will be a huge upgrade form either.

  13. This is very helpful! Thank you! I was leaning toward Square Space but I have a lot of customers in Australia, and didn’t know the site would not be available there! I never would have even thought to check that. One question I have: do you have any comparison info on how much time it takes to add items for sale to big commerce vs. Shopify? I’m frequently adding new items and am wondering if one platform would make it faster/easier to do this than another.

    • Hi Debra,

      I don’t have any information about the amount of time it takes to load products into Shopify versus Bigcommerce. The forums for each platform seem like a good place to pose that question and I’m optimistic that someone can help!

  14. Great post, Lela! I’m currently on Big Cartel, which has been great, but I fee like I’ve outgrown it. Since I want to grow further, it’s just not going to work much longer. I’ve always leaned toward Shopify, and am going to take a closer look at Big Commerce before I take the final leap.

    • So glad this post proved helpful for you, Pam! I’ll have a “part 2” posted in a week or two that throws Pinnacle, Big Cartel, SparkPay, and Weebly into the mix. I hope you’ll take a peek and meditate on those findings, too, before making a final decision. I’m forever cheering you on! xo

  15. I am using Squarespace’s “basic” account and have been happy with the ease of use. I like the clean, simple look of my website. The commerce has been streamlined, so when I get a sale I am notified via email, and all I have to do is complete the order by sending tracking info. I love the simplicity but others with heavier sales volume may want more features.

  16. I’m a Squarespace fan. I came from a Sandvox site where I linked each product to my etsy shop in order to have commerce. Anything is better than that! I had a senior marketing student at our local university adopt me as her senior leadership project and she picked SS because she’d built her own site there. My only requirement was that I could manage it myself when she was done. I definitely got that. I love that SS is so visual. When you have a story to tell I think it’s a great place. I too wish there was a better interface for my wholesale clients. Right now I invoice them through Square but it would be nice to have it all integrated. All in all I’m a really happy SS customer.

  17. Thank you for this. I’ve only been with Volusion for 4 months, but I knew there had to be an easier way. I think this is the info I need to jump ship and find a better platform. Big Commerce looks like a much better fit for my needs and set up, and much less expensive.

  18. I am currently with Big Commerce with $79/mo plan. As well as I have a few apps running. So far so good, I can’t complain. And bless their heart for 24/7 support. The other day I was trying to install another app and I don’t know how, but I accidentally clicked something wrong on the ‘design’ end and WIPED OUT the entire site. Like literally. I had a custom design coding there. There was no site if you would go to my domain. I was panicking so bad that in the end I had to delegate the recovery project with Big Commerce to my husband, because my own gasket flew off at that point.

    Bless their hearts. The guy on the phone at midnight was super helpful and somehow they managed to bring everything back. And we did a backup, just in case any time in the future I have one too many and click something else wrong.

  19. Squarespace now accepts PayPal for payments! Woot woot! We like that we can change our website design super easily without having to reinvent the content. We are able to keep it fresh without paying someone every time we need a change made. I wish they had a few more robust options for listing items with multiple options instead of having to build out each SKU. I also wish the listing picture would change for each SKU. Other than that, it works well for us!

  20. Has anyone tried Pinnacle? I notices that you pay $14.95 a month for SSL. However, that may be ok. For example, if you go with Shopify, GoDaddy, etc. I noticed the 2.9% fee plus .30. (Example continues), If you are making $5K a month in sells, then a nice chunk will go towards “fees”, Am I looking at this correctly? I am new to the e-com game and wanted to know what others think? Pinnacle anyone?

  21. Another happy Bigcommerce user. However they are releasing a WordPress plug soon that’s currently in beta testing. It’s essential WordPress in the front, Bigcommerce in the back. I’m very interested in see that.

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