For first-timers, there’s a dizzying number of website builders out there, let alone ecommerce platforms, vying for your attention.
We’ve taken the time to remove as much confusion as possible from the equation so that you can choose the right platform for you with confidence.
Pure Ecommerce Platforms
Pure ecommerce platforms are one-trick ponies, doing just as the name implies.
Generally, they make better online store platforms than the general website builders do but they begin to show their weaknesses when we start exploring their non-ecommerce features, such as blogging.
Most of these pure ecommerce platforms are all-in-one packages that include hosting, apart from WooCommerce which is a WordPress plugin rather than a standalone platform.
If you’re a total novice and are looking to launch your first ever website then you may find that the general website builders listed in the other section are more forgiving of beginners.
With its impressive array of out-of-the-box features, as well as optional plugins, it’s no surprise that Shopify is the go-to platform for launching a new online business for many.
Some won’t even bother exploring other options because Shopify is the biggest ecommerce platform and all their friends and competitors are using it.
If that is the case for you then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with diving straight into Shopify without checking out the competition; you can’t really go wrong with Shopify if you’re a beginner.
Being the only comprehensive ecommerce solution that covers everything from inventory management to hosting, it’s no surprise that Shopify dominates the do-it-yourself ecommerce sector.
More seasoned webmasters and ecommerce entrepreneurs would benefit to learn the features of alternative platforms, however.
Without further ado let’s examine the pros and cons of Shopify as an ecommerce platform:
- We’re currently working on two Shopify apps for Catalyst; one captures body measurements, the other enables direct orders via the API. Both are due for release in Q3 2020.
- Includes reliable hosting service that can handle sudden bursts of traffic, meaning your store will always be online.
- Site is HTTPS-ready with its own SSL certificate. HTTPS is preferred over HTTP by Google and sites with it receive a search engine ranking boost. Many customers won’t shop from sites that don’t have SSL certificates because of security risks.
- Different subscription tiers mean that Shopify scales with your business needs. Start at the lowest tier and pay for a higher tier only if necessary.
- Conversion rate optimisation features like abandoned cart recovery included.
- Discount codes and promotional features included out of the box.
- Supports over a hundred payment options, including all of the major payment gateways and even cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Litecoin, Ethereum and over 300 others.
- CDN (Content Delivery Network) enabled automatically. This means your site will load quickie for users across the globe, regardless of their geographic location.
- 24/7 customer support is provided for most packages, even via social media.
- Compatible with many other marketplaces like Facebook, Instagram and Amazon.
- Many free and premium plugins available to add features your store is lacking, such as dropshipping capabilities.
- Plugins and themes are reliably compatible with your store, as well as being virus free, as long as they are downloaded from the official Shopify site.
- Wide range of themes to suit shops of all styles.
- Free trial available but you can’t launch your store without subscribing to a paid plan. However this gives you the chance to play around with Shopify and set your store up before committing your cash.
- Shopify has its own coding language, Liquid, which is necessary to learn for advanced modifications and coding custom plugins but only the most advanced users will need to bother. There are many freelance Liquid specialist programmers on sites like Upwork and Fiver who excel at this already, however.
- Most expensive option. The basic package starts at $29 per month and scales all the way up to $299 for enterprise-level stores. Combined with costs of hiring Liquid coders, this has the potential to to be a significant upkeep.
- If you don’t put work into the theme, design and aesthetics of your store then it will look the same as countless other generic Shopify stores.
- Transaction fees range between 0.5% - 2% for using third party payment options unless you’re subscribed to one of the higher tier packages. No transaction fees apply if you use Shopify Payments to process your transactions instead of third party payment apps.
Volusion makes its purpose clear with its homepage mantra, ‘ecommerce for everyone’, making it clear that the platform is intended to be accessible to a wide range of skill sets.
Another pure ecommerce platform like Shopify, Volusion offers a different balance of pros and cons to its more well-known counterpart.
Because Volusion is so similar to Shopify, we can make a direct comparison and therefore a recommendation.
Shopify is better than Volusion in almost every aspect and there isn’t much reason to pick Volusion over Shopify.
Whilst Volusion does have the edge over Shopify in a small number of aspects, explained in the pros and cons section, it’s the inferior choice overall.
The final nail in the coffin for Volusion is that it doesn’t come with an SSL certificate out of the box and charges an extortionate fee for one ($89-99).
Considering that Shopify automatically installs a free SSL certificate with every subscription and that most hosting providers bundle them in for free, this is an outrageous tax that would surprise us if any experienced webmaster would pay it.
- Better analytics tools than Shopify’s simplistic reporting dashboard.
- No transaction fees.
- More price plans that Shopify, potentially costing less if you’re willing to sacrifice some features. However this is without the cost of the SSL certificate that Volusion charges extra for ($89-99).
- Cluttered UI compared to Shopify.
- SSL certificates cost an extra $89-99. Shopify includes one with every subscription. We can’t recommend that anyone attempts to run an ecommerce site without an SSL certificate because your customers will feel less confident about entering their payment credentials, plus it comes across as unprofessional.
- No support for selling digital products, unlike Shopify.
- Less free and premium design templates than Shopify. The premium templates are also more expensive on average than Shopify’s.
- No live chat support, only phone support that’s restricted to office hours. Shopify offers both live chat and phone support 24/7.
- No built-in blogging feature.
A younger contender in the pure ecommerce field, BigCommerce is an independent platform and isn’t to be confused with WooCommerce, the WordPress plugin.
The closest competitor to BigCommerce is Shopify as both are pure ecommerce platforms aimed at all catering to all sizes of online stores, from tiny bedroom projects to global enterprises.
The main argument for using BigCommerce over Shopify is based on value for money; BigCommerce comes with more features out of the box than Shopify, which would require you to purchase apps in order to implement them.
However if you’re launching a brand new store with no customer base or indication of how quickly it will grow then BigCommerce probably isn’t the solution you’re looking for.
It’s a heavyweight ecommerce platform compared to Shopify due to its impressive array of features, many of which you mostly likely won’t need if you’re only running fledgling store.
- No transaction fees.
- Many features that would require apps in other platforms like Shopify come preinstalled out of the box. This may save money but also increases the learning curve.
- Supports the sale of digital items.
- More themes than Shopify, both free and paid.
- Store Design tool is a great way of designing your store and seeing the change on the live site simultaneously.
- Steeper learning curve than Shopify. Whilst BigCommerce boasts an impressive array of features it can be overwhelming for those who don’t like to be thrown in the deep end.
- Far less apps than Shopify but many come out of the box as built-in features.
- Certain features are restricted to specific themes, for example, product zoom is only available to fashion themes.
- Free themes aren’t anything special.
- Slightly more expensive than Shopify, starting at $29.9 per month--almost a dollar more. Bear in mind that BigCommerce comes with many features that would require premium apps if using Shopify though.
Magento is a pure ecommerce platform but differs from the others mentioned here because it’s open-source and relies on community support rather than a centralised committee.
Without coding knowledge, Magento is challenging for those seeking a fast and easy way to launch their own online store.
However, Magento is one of the most powerful and cost-effective options for those with coding knowledge and the resources to dedicate to its implementation.
If you’re not an experienced programmer and don’t have the resources to hire one then Magento isn’t the right choice for you.
If you’re a one-man-band and it’s your first venture into setting up an online store, again, Magento is unlikely to be the right choice for you.
On the other hand, if you have an established customer base, a proven business model, and you’re ready to up your ecommerce game to global enterprise level, then Magento could be what you’re looking for.
- Expansive number of apps dwarfs other options, with around 5,000 available at the time of publishing this post.
- The cheapest option by nature of Mangento itself being free, but this doesn’t include additional costs like hosting and premium apps and themes.
- Offers highest degree of customisation, the only limitations being your coding expertise or the skill of the developers you hire.
- Wide range of payment processor options for countries around the world. With multilingual translation support to compliment this, you can cater to a global audience rather than just a western one as supported by other platforms.
- Big user community with active forum.
- No dedicated live support. If you need help then you must refer to the comprehensive help resources, which include official documentation, tech resources, and forums. If you still can’t solve your problem then you can hire a certified solution partner.
- No hosting included. You’ll have to research and find your own hosting solution, which can be a daunting task for less experienced webmasters.
- More time-consuming than other options. Magento doesn’t offer much in the way of handholding unlike other platforms mentioned here.
- Comes with only 16 themes, free and paid, but only 10 of them are mobile-responsive. You can build your own theme but it will be knowledge and time-intensive to do so.
- Each payment processor option requires the installation of a different app, which can be time-intensive if you want to add a wide range of options.
A free open-source plugin for WordPress, WooCommerce is the black sheep of the herd because it’s not a SaaS like the others.
If you already have an established WordPress site with significant traffic then WooCommerce is probably the right choice for you.
If not then you might want to pay more attention to the other options as they are better suited for entrepreneurs who are starting from scratch.
- Technically free, but costs are unavoidable with setting up a WooCommerce site. Unlike the other SaaS options, you have the luxury of a lot of freedom when it comes to hosting and setting up a WooCommerce site, meaning it can cost as little as you like. Unfortunately this means that monthly costs may be unpredictable and inconsistent, depending on what premium themes and plugins you want to implement, if any.
- Highly customisable, unlike the other options. Shopify and Squarespace are polished and streamlined products but their code is mostly sealed in behind a pretty user interface with restricted means of editing it. WooCommerce allows you to edit any part of its code because it’s open-source by nature. It can do anything Shopify offers and more as long as you’re technically skilled enough to implement it.
- Enormous theme library by the nature of it being based on WordPress, with many WooCommerce-specific themes available.
- Features a huge arsenal of free and premium plugins due to it being based on WordPress, a favourite of ours being Yoast, the go-to plugin for many SEO professionals.
- No charge for using third party payment gateways, unlike Shopify which charges 2% per transaction unless you’re subscribed to a higher tier package. This could be a huge bonus if you’re running an enterprise-level ecommerce site and could potentially lose a significant amount of money to transaction fees if selling large volumes of products.
- No live support; if you need help with an issue there’s no team waiting to help you immediately. Instead you’ll have to submit tickets and be patient or trawl forums to find immediate answers.
- Not beginner friendly. If you have no knowledge of Wordpress then you’ll have to learn that before implementing WooCommerce, meaning the learning curve could be steep for novices. This also means learning basic website setup processes like domain and host registration. Bluehost simplifies the setup with its specialist WooCommerce hosting package.
- No CDN (Content Delivery Network) included. If you’re serious about SEO and page load speeds then a CDN is essential, especially if your site is visited by users spread out across the globe. Cloudflare offers a free CDN service but it takes time to learn how to implement it correctly on a WordPress site via a caching plugin like WP Rocket.
- No guarantee that plugins will be compatible with your site, especially plugins downloaded on third party sites outside of WordPress. Some may even contain malware that could compromise the security of your store or hijack your site. Nulled WordPress themes are notoriously risky for containing malware--always scan themes and plugins before installing them on your site.
- Blogging features feel more like an afterthought than a developed feature of the platform. Not a problem if your blog posts are simple but could be a hindrance if you’re planning on publishing large volumes of rich content.
General Website Builders
Rather than just being designed exclusively for online retailers like their pure ecommerce brethren, general website builders offer drag and drop interfaces in place of code and make web design accessible for everyone.
However, ecommerce is often an afterthought on these general platforms, with some requiring business-tier subscriptions or the installation of third-party apps to enable ecommerce features.
Scaling your small store into a global enterprise will be far less practical on a general website builder than a pure ecommerce platform too.
If you’re a non-technical person who’s only selling a handful of products and your site is going to be content-heavy then one of these could be the right choice for you.
If you don’t fit into this category then you may want to ignore this section and focus on the pure ecommerce platforms listed above.
Whilst some of the other products discussed in this guide are specifically geared towards ecommerce, Squarespace is more of a general website builder platform that offers ecommerce features.
If your site is going to be heavy on content and light on products then Squarespace fulfils that niche better than ‘pure’ ecommerce platforms like Shopify, due to its versatility.
Squarespace also boasts the best lineup of free themes compared to its competitors; they’re impressively stylish, modern and most importantly, mobile responsive out of the box. They look better than many of the premium themes sold by other platforms.
However if you’re launching a pure ecommerce site with little content then you’ll almost certainly want to look at the other options.
Squarespace is great for novices but frustrating and too limited for advanced users.
- One of the easiest website builders we’ve ever used. No coding knowledge required at all.
- Good value for money if you’re a beginner who doesn’t require any advanced features and you’re not looking to extensively modify your site.
- Generous library of free templates that also look better than the equivalents offered by most website builder platforms.
- Comprehensive site builder package that includes hosting, an SSL certificate (HTTPS) and a CDN (Content Delivery Network) out of the box.
- Cheaper than most other options, starting from $12 per month for the Personal plan, but you’ll need the Business plan to start selling online, which is $18 per month.
- Squarespace Email Campaigns offer the seamless integration of email marketing from your website’s dashboard. You can pull design elements from your site into your email templates to ensure your branding is consistent between your site and marketing collateral. However, Squarespace Email Campaigns come with additional costs, ranging from $7 for 500 emails per month to $68 for 250,000 emails per month.
- Rich blogging features make it more suitable for content-heavy sites that rely more on content marketing and SEO for traffic generation.
- Offline card payments for those seeking to run physical shops are supported via Square.
- AI website building feature can do some of the hard work for you.
- Extensive help documentation and live 24/7 support.
- Able to change design template at any time.
- 14-day free trial.
- Experienced webmasters may get frustrated with how backend functionality is effectively sealed off and inaccessible for editing unless ‘developer mode’ is enabled.
- No third-party app support.
- 3% sales transaction fee.
- Proper domains cost extra. Your site’s out-of-the-box domain will be www.yoursite.squarespace.com which won’t inspire a great deal of confidence in your potential customers compared to www.yoursite.com.
- Limited support for payment options compared to other ecommerce platforms. Only supports PayPal, Stripe and Apple Pay.
- Inferior shipping features support compared to competitors’. Only allows you to add basic variables like countries and weight.
- Section based design arguably less intuitive than pure drag and drop website builders like Wix.
Like Squarespace, Wix is first and foremost a general website builder platform rather than a pure ecommerce platform like Shopify.
Again, like the former, Wix is a drag and drop website builder geared towards less experienced webmasters who want to launch a stunning site without getting entangled in complexities like coding and hosting.
Wix is arguably easier to use than Squarespace and we think Wix users will be able to launch their site faster than Squarespace users can.
This may swing your decision in favour of Wix if deliberating between it and Squarespace if you’re in a rush, however Squarespace rewards those who are able to sink the time with its superior array of design templates.
We view Wix’s position as similar to Squarespace’s as a beginner-friendly drag and drop website builder platform that novice webmasters may prefer to Shopify.
- Pure drag and drop website builder platform, more so than Squarespace. We praise the intuitiveness of its interface and find the building process to be amongst the smoothest for drag and drop builders.
- AI website building feature can do some of the hard work for you.
- Biggest range of design templates for a drag and drop builder.
- A wealth of official and third-party apps, free and premium.
- Dropshipping supported by Modalyst.
- Wider range of payment options than Squarespace, including Stripe, Square, PayPal, Moolah, MercadoPage, PagSeguro, LeumiCard, as well as offline payments and more.
- No transaction fees regardless of which ecommerce plan you subscribe to, unlike Squarespace.
- Wix Email Marketing allows you to send up to 5,000 emails per month for free, unlike Squarespace Email Campaigns which have no free option apart from a trial.
- Wix SEO Wiz allows for novice-friendly search engine optimisation with its intuitive wizard approach.
- Cheapest ecommerce plan is $3 a month cheaper than Squarespace’s ($27 vs $30 per month).
- Free plan available for those who want to extensively trial Wix before committing to a subscription. The free plan, however, fills your site with Wix ads and limits you to a ‘www.yoursite.wix.com’ subdomain, both undesirable for any budding ecommerce entrepreneurs.
- Our developers have described Wix’s code as ‘messy’ but if you’re not worried about tinkering with the backend then this is a moot point.
- Missing some ecommerce features like abandoned cart recovery that other platforms like Weebly provide.
- Design templates aren’t as aesthetically pleasing as Squarespace’s.
- Unable to change design template once published.
- Less out of the box blogging features than Squarespace, though you can add them manually via the official app.
- No live chat support but a call centre and support centre. On page help is provided via tooltips so you can find answers to your questions as you’re working on your site.
Weebly is another drag and drop web design platform in the vein of Squarespace and Wix, meaning that it’s primary purpose isn’t ecommerce but it supports it with optional features.
Again, if you’re a novice webmaster and don’t have the time to research the technical aspects of setting up a website like hosting then you’ll probably want to use Weebly or a similar product like Squarespace or Wix.
All three of these products are positioned similarly so we will focus on comparing them with each other more than other products discussed in this guide.
In summary, Weebly is easier to use and cheaper than Squarespace and Wix, with a wider range of apps than both.
Squarespace still has the edge on design with its stunning selection of themes, whilst Wix beats it on transaction fees and email marketing tools.
Regarding SSL certificates, Weebly comes with a similar caveat to Volusion, Shopify competitor, as its cheapest subscriptions don’t include one and you must subscribe to the Business plan for $25 to get one.
Again, we think this is somewhat deceptive and taking advantage of novice webmasters who aren’t aware that an SSL certificate is required to switch your site from HTTP to HTTPS.
Our final verdict is that Weebly is overall the worst choice of drag and drop website builders for ecommerce, and should only be considered by those who have very little confidence in their technical literacy due to its ease of use.
Weebly’s free plan is worth checking out if you’re new to website builders in general and want to get a feel for how they work before diving straight into a trial or paid subscription.
- Has a free plan but you can’t sell products on it.
- Focus on simplicity makes this drag and drop builder even easier to use than Squarespace and Wix.
- Cheapest ecommerce subscription is $8 per month, far cheaper than Squarespace and Wix. However this subscription doesn’t include an SSL certificate which you must subscribe to the $25 per month package to get, similarly to Wix.
- No coding knowledge required whatsoever.
- More impressive selection of free and premium apps compared to Squarespace and Wix.
- Includes a tax calculator, inventory management, coupons, and abandoned cart recovery.
- CSV upload feature allows you to import existing product feeds in just a few clicks.
- 30-day money-back guarantee can be used as a month-long trial period.
- Knowledge base has good coverage.
- Weaker online store features than pure ecommerce platforms.
- Themes are nothing special compared to its counterparts.
- Weak reporting dashboard makes Weebly more dependent on Google Analytics than other platforms.
- No SSL certificate included unless you subscribe to the Business plan for $25 per month, much like Volusion.
- Limited to 24 products unless on the Business plan.
- 3% transaction fee unless on the Business plan.
- Requires Pro or Business plan to receive phone support, which is only available during office hours.
Best Pure Ecommerce Platform
Best General Website Builder
Best Choice Overall