Anyone who wants to sell online has two questions to answer, straight away:
1) Do I go it alone or choose an eCommerce platform…
2) Which is the best platform for me?
Using an eCommerce platform is the quickest way to build an online store. Unfortunately, most of them charge a monthly fee, which varies with the features they offer. Even free platforms often charge for processing payments.
With all the hidden costs and extra features, it’s hard to know which platform is best for your store. So, to save you the trouble, we tried them all.
The best eCommerce platform for your new store
Our test was focused on the things that matter to new shop owners. When we set up our first online store, we had a few simple criteria…
1. Pricing (The cost of hosting our store and the commission charged on transactions)
2. The speed and performance of the platform
3. The support for shop owners
4. The flexibility (for growth and adding plugins)
5. Ease of use
A comparison of all of these features in a table is available below. Using a weighted average, we can make some pretty good suggestions about which solution offers the best eCommerce platform for you.
Est. 2006 Quick Facts: Shopify has over 1,000,000 active users and 800,000 stores
- Set-up Fee: $0
- Monthly Cost: $29-299/m
- Commission on Sales: 2.4% – 2.9% + 30p
The main difference between the plans is the quality of the sales reports and the commission charged on payments.
The most expensive plan charges 2.4% + 30p for each card transaction, which is 0.5% less than the cheapest plan. For a £1000 sale, you would earn £5 more with the Advanced package.
- Shopify Lite an alternative solution that allows you to add products and payment systems to any website for $9.00 a month
On every plan there are additional costs for certain features. For example, there are only 10 free themes, and the rest are paid-for (they usually cost between $140 and $180).
Speed and Performance
Shopify has a reputation for being safe, secure and quick to load. We tested our own Shopify store and got the following results…
Pingdom: (seconds) 1.29 1.32, 1.43s
Google Speed: (seconds) 1.9s
One worry was the big jump between the Advanced package and Shopify Plus. In practice, this turned out not to be a problem and the fact that accounts can be managed on a rolling monthly basis makes it a flexible solution. There are also a large number of apps in the App Store. Currently, there are over 2000 extensions and plugins
Ease of Use
This is actually a surprisingly low-scoring category for Shopify. The way that shops are built with templates and page categories is not very intuitive.
Adding a custom page to a theme, even for someone with a bit of web development knowledge, was quite tricky. The in-house PHP language “Liquid” means that even a developer with some experience will have to learn a bit to begin with.
Shopify themes are either sectioned or non-sectioned. Sectioned themes are easier to arrange because they can be altered with a drag-and-drop interface. However, to create a custom template is a bit of a hassle.
This is the best eCommerce platform for you if….
You want a low-hassle, worry-free solution and a well-known platform to fall back on.
Est. 2008 Quick Facts. Just 10 years after it was launched, WooCommerce was responsible for about 30% of all online stores.
- Monthly: Free + WordPress hosting
- Extras: Communication, SEO, Marketing and Security add-ons cost (on average) over £150 a year.
The cheapest plans do not come with speed optimisation and some editing is disabled. You also have limited access to the app store and the support team.
Platform Speed and Performance
This is difficult to say because it depends on hosting arrangements and the way your store is built alongside WordPress.
In the early days there were some complaints about the speed of the plugin. However, there were some structural adjustments in 2018 and the response has been positive.
Flexibility for eCommerce
The pricing is exceptionally flexible, with a number of extensions allowing you to build gradually from the basic package to the deluxe option.
Ease of Use
This is another variable that is difficult to put a number on. WooCommerce bolts straight on to a WordPress site so, if you’re familiar with the WordPress dashboard, it is quite easy. On the other hand, WordPress is known for being one of the trickier CMS to learn.
This is the best eCommerce platform for you if…
You’re getting major volume on your WordPress site and you want to turn it into cash, fast.
Est. 2009 Quick Facts. BigCommerce offers more built-in tools as standard than any other platform
- Monthly: 29.95-249.95
- An enterprise option is available on request
- Add-ons: The hosting comes with 10 free themes, but the rest are paid for. Some extra features come with an added cost.
There are a number of really useful communications and analytics solutions that are free to use. For example, there is an on-page SEO tool, full integration with Paypal, in-built product ratings and reviews, and excellent reporting features.
The starter plan is the same price as Shopify’s ($29) and SquareSpace’s, but it comes with extra features
There is one more thing that sets BigCommerce apart… there are no transaction fees.
Is there a catch?
There is always a catch! But, in this case, it’s only a minor quibble. BigCommerce puts a limit on your annual sales depending on which plan you opt for.
- Bigcommerce Standard: $50,000 limit
- Bigcommerce Plus: $150,000 limit
- Bigcommerce Pro: $400,000 limit
- Bigcommerce Enterprise: negotiable
This is not going to be a problem in practice, but it could be an unnecessary annoyance.
Platform Speed and Performance
There have been some reports of inconsistent page load times. There are also reports of broken integrations with some major partners (such as Amazon).
Flexibility for eCommerce
The pricing is flexible, but some of the leaps are quite large (which means a small increase in volume would lead to a huge increase in subscription costs.) Most complaints come from large online stores who need tailored solutions. BigCommerce is probably best understood as a solution for start-up stores and small businesses.
Saying that, there are an impressive list of super-high-calibre clients in the showcase.
If BigCommerce was a shoe, it would be …
Brand new trainers. Snappy, exciting and easy on the eye. It suits either a beginner or a world-beater, rather than anyone in between.
Ease of Use
I’ll come clean… I absolutely LOVE using Big Commerce!
It is easily the simplest and most user-friendly solution available. It takes under a minute to set up a store and the interface is clean, simple and responsive.
You can view your store at any time, the dashboard can be customised (which is a really nice touch) and even the app store is designed to be user-friendly. There’s also a preview function that lets you test-run your store before launching it and a built-in abandoned cart email system.
This is the best eCommerce platform for you, if…
you are starting a small business and you want to enjoy it.
Est. 2003 Quick Facts. Squarespace was founded in a University of Maryland dorm-room
- Monthly: $16-46
- The $26/month “business plan” seems like a terrible deal compared to the $30/month Basic Commerce plan. It comes with a 3% transaction fee, so if you sell more than $100 of products a month, it is already more expensive.
The main difference between cheaper and more expensive plans is the detail of the analytics, the availability of features like pop-ups and the eCommerce integration (to process any payments on your site you need the $26/month business plan.
SquareSpace is based around visually appealing website templates. Even the in-built analytics are heavily stylised. This makes it ideal as a way of creating a professional portfolio. However, it offers little to new shop owners.
Unlike some of the other platforms, it does offer a mobile shop editing app. However, the real value of this feature is debatable.
Speed and Performance:
Squarespace pages can load slowly – especially when there is a lot of large image files.
Along with this, one of the biggest issues is that website templates have been designed with very shallow sites in mind. There is usually only one level below the main navigation. That means your SEO options are more limited.
Flexibility for eCommerce:
Due to the limitations on site structure and the focus on visuals over functionality, this is probably suited to smaller businesses rather than growing eCommerce stores.
Ease of Use:
The interface is clean and crisp, but the ergonomics are a bit counter-intuitive. It’s like learning to use an I-phone product for the first time. You don’t feel like you have the same level of control over your webpage’s elements. I would prefer a less design-focused, more transparent interface, but some people will absolutely love this system.
The way the domains and website designs are separated is a bit disarming at first. However, once you get used to their way of doing things, it is actually more straight-forward than Shopify and WooCommerce.
It is also worth mentioning that the Free Trial is very easy to manage, and I never felt like I was being sold something. The customer support is also very well reviewed.
Squarespace is the best eCommerce Platform for you, if…
You want to create a blog or portfolio where the pictures really matter.
All of these platforms provide great value for a new shop owner. However, considering the high switching cost of any eCommerce platform, it’s worth picking one that suits you.
- For artsy stores with few products, Squarespace is a good option. It will show your images off better than any of the others.
- For eCommerce first-timers, BigCommerce is easily the best choice. Not only will you have all the flexibility you need, you’ll enjoy running your business website.
- For serious eCommerce businesses Shopify remains the default choice. Unfortunately, the fact that it relies on Liquid programming can make it awkward to scale.
- For people with a WordPress website, WooCommerce is an excellent addition to your site.