Best Ecommerce Platforms » Our Top 9 Providers
Selling online has never been easier, thanks to the development of modern, user-friendly ecommerce platforms. These allow pretty much anyone with a computer to create a professional-looking, accessible, and responsive online sales presence, most often, in less than a few hours. Unfortunately, with over 600 different solutions and counting, the question isn't so much getting started, but choosing the right service to build your digital business with. But don't worry! EXPERTE.com has done all of the legwork so you don't have to, and in this article, we'll present our Top 9 ecommerce platforms!
To do this, we opened test stores on nine of the top store building platforms, and in the accompanying reviews, report on the ins and outs of each. Here, we've summarized our results and will show you our Top 5 picks. Without further ado, these are:
It isn't Wix's first gold medal from EXPERTE.com: The Israeli provider's site builder also impressed us owing to its variety of features, intuitive use, and considerable design freedom. Wix's ecommerce platform could be seen as their site builder's younger brother, since it's based on the same engine and utilizes a number of its components, adding handy shopping and sales features to an already proven product.
The result is a versatile and powerful ecommerce platform. With its excellent drag and drop functionality, you can customize the facade of your online store without any programming knowledge whatsoever, tailoring it to your every wish and whim.
Proven excellence: Wix's impressive site builder is the engine of the service's ecommerce platform.
In terms of ecommerce features, Wix Stores doesn't leave many stones unturned, scoring with its solid product management and multiple options for selling. Drop shippers and multi-channel sellers will be pleased with Wix's attention to their needs, as will those selling at points of sale (POS). Planning to sell internationally? No problem, Wix has got your back, providing support for different localizations of a single store.
So, what, if anything, did Wix do wrong? Well, its storage limits are frustrating, and in our opinion, unnecessary. Similarly, you'll need to reach for third-party add-ons to enable selling in multiple currencies. And finally, once you've chosen a template to build your store with, you're stuck with it, that is, unless you want to start all over again.
In the grand scheme of things, these weaknesses are really just minor inconveniences, or, in the case of the last point, a reminder that you should carefully select your template when starting out. Overall the service is first-class, and did we mention, priced nicely too?
Powerful site/store builder which provides lots of design freedom
Intuitive to use
Supports dropshipping, multi-channel sales, and POS
Responsive and fast support
BigCommerce is primarily geared towards English-speaking users and sellers, there just isn't any other way of putting it. If you're planning on opening a store with multiple language localizations, you'd better equip yourself with a translation app, or manually prepare all of your site's content.
BigCommerce provides excellent ecommerce solutions, but foreign languages aren't its strong suit.
If undeterred, you're in luck, because from here on, BigCommerce is filled with big advantages. Product management is easy and allows for unlimited variations. Selling is greatly facilitated too, with all important options and features never far from your digital fingertips. We particularly liked the platform's versatile marketing settings which include nearly limitless options for discounts and coupons.
Even though BigCommerce is poor in foreign languages, it doesn't have a problem helping you sell in multiple currencies, making the process much easier than its competitors. To top it all off, the store building platform is great for dropshipping and multi-channel sales too.
Intuitive to use; clearly-arranged dashboard
Possible to sell in multiple currencies
Excellent product management with unlimited variation
Loads of marketing features, including comprehensive discount options
Shopify does a nice job of catering to both beginners and more advanced users. For the former, it makes it easy to create an online store, while for the latter, the service's own, highly versatile Liquid open-source template engine provides nearly unlimited design freedom.
With this online store building service, it's possible to offers variations (albeit only with three different characteristics, i.e. size, color, and material) while the integrated email marketing tool makes it easy to quickly create simple newsletter campaigns. Multi-channel support means that Shopify won't be jealous if you want to sell elsewhere, even lending a helping hand by allowing you to organize all of your sales in a single area.
Shopify's store builder does somewhat limit your creative freedom, however, it's incredibly easy to use.
Users without a background in programming or web design might feel a little bit less loved by Shopify than they would with Wix or 1&1 IONOS since to unlock Shopify's true potential, you'll need to use its Liquid engine. We were also disappointed in Shopify's live support, waiting 10 days longer than the guaranteed response time (48 hours) for an answer to our email query. The delay was blamed on COVID-19. Non-live support is, however, top-notch.
User-friendly and easy to navigate dashboard
Intuitive store builder
Well-stocked App Store providing access to lots of features
Excellent support center featuring useful guides, videos, and podcasts
1&1 IONOS's eCommerce Website Builder
Like Wix, 1&1 IONOS is well-known to us here at EXPERTE.com, impressing with its web hosting and extremely versatile site building solutions. The German provider added ecommerce functionality to its already strong site builder, tapping Ecwid for a suitable shop system.
1&1 IONOS's eCommerce Website Builder makes a big splash thanks to its high degree of drag and drop freedom, providing users lacking in programming knowledge with the ability to fully customize their online store. Multiple language localizations for a single store are possible and easily accomplished. We also felt well taken care of by the provider's support, which assigned us a personal assistant, available in live chat.
1&1 IONOS combines its own powerful site builder with Ecwid's shop software.
1&1 IONOS's eCommerce Website Builder dropped points in terms of marketing, primarily owing to the paucity of its discount options and lack of support for embedding external email marketing software. The service was also one of the few to not offer a free or trial version of any kind and to make registering something of a hassle.
Powerful store builder
Easy to add products and variations
Easy to implement multiple language localizations
Response support thanks to the live chat and personal adviser
We liked a lot of things about Lightspeed. Its user-friendly dashboard is easy to navigate and use; there are tons of options for adding and selling products; and for more advanced users, you're given access to advanced features like API integrations and the ability to work directly with HTML/CSS.
In particular, Lightspeed's support for multiple language localizations rubbed us the right way, as did the ability to sell in different currencies. Rounding out the plusses are the good SEO options and solid support.
Lightspeed comes packed with features, but puts a lot of them behind paywalls.
We can't recommend Lightspeed unconditionally for a single reason: The paywalls. Yes, paywalls, for already paying subscribers, and not just for a feature here or there, but for basic things, which should be included in any subscription price, like selling digital products (only possible by booking a paid add-on which you're charged for monthly). Lightspeed takes our breath away, and not in the good Top Gun-like way, but the "I have to pay for that too?!" one.
Easy to use; user-friendly dashboard
Lots of templates
Extensive product management and sales options
Strong support for multiple language localizations and currencies
Each of the nine platforms we reviewed excels in some areas and lags behind in others. Our Top 5 generally performed well in each, but that doesn't mean that the ideal solution for you or your business can't be found in the bottom half of our results. Here, you'll find reviews for each of these:
How We Evaluated
To help our readers, we went step-by-step through the entire process of opening a small online store, from creating an account, all the way up to viewing sales reports and analytics. For each step along the way, we gave a score, six in total, while for pricing, we didn't score providers. Below, we'll explain each of these steps, and how we scored each category.
Configuration & Usage
The first step entailed taking a look at how each provider handles registration and new account creation. Thankfully, most of the providers we reviewed in this series offered a free trial version in one form or another and didn't require us to input credit card information. We scored this positively because it not only allows users to test a platform before buying it but also, doesn't put them at any risk for falling into the dreaded "subscription trap", as readers of our antivirus series will be all too familiar with.
Generally speaking, the amount of time between creating a new account and landing in the platform's dashboard shouldn't encompass more than a minute.
A few clicks, keyboard clacks, and no credit card information: If only every provider was as easy to register with as Sellfy.
Once in the dashboard, we pay attention to how easy the service makes it to find all necessary functions and navigate through the various menus and tools. Ecommerce platforms can be roughly divided into two types. The first of these are those which have a general administrative dashboard with various sub-menus (typically featured in a sidebar menu to the left) which lead to the most important areas. These include product management, orders, marketing, reports, analytics, and design. Adherents to this way of doing things include Shopify and BigCommerce.
The second type, which is far less common, is that featuring a site/store builder as the focus of attention, around which all other aspects are arranged. Prominent examples of this are Wix and 1&1 IONOS. Their approach makes sense considering how each is built off of the respective company's highly successful site building solutions.
In 1&1 IONOS's eCommerce Website Builder, all features are subordinated to the site/store builder.
Which type of layout is better depends largely on personal preferences. The site/store builder is important, and having it placed so prominently removes the barrier between the backend and frontend of your store, which might make it easier for beginners to understand how the two interact with one another. At the same time, the presence of builder elements might be distracting, especially if you've finished designing your store and are more concerned with selling or fulfilling orders.
We also looked favorably upon the presence of tutorials and setup assistants, which walk new users through the first steps of building their online store, as provided by Lightspeed, for example:
When first starting out, Lightspeed provides new users with a checklist of everything they should do.
We also graded the presence of smartphone apps for building or selling on the go positively. Ecwid's app, for example, allows users to follow their orders, add new products, or offer discounts on the go.
Top scores were awarded to those store building platforms which offer free test or trial versions, quick registration, and easily usable interfaces/dashboards. We deducted points from those who weren't transparent in advertising their product, such as Jimdo.
The ability to manage the products you have for sale is one of the most important aspects of any ecommerce platform. In this category, we paid close attention to how easy online store building services made it to add new products. Of particular importance here is the ability to make product variations or those items which differ in certain characteristics (i.e. size, color, material, etc.).
For each combination, it's important that the service enables users to add individual pictures, quantities, and if necessary, further options, like weights, shipping fees, or the like. Customers should have the ability to easily select these variations on the product's page, and there shouldn't be any limits on the number of variations, or possible combinations.
In this area, Ecwid lead the way, making the creation of variations intuitive, while offering users the ability to organize their combinations in different types of menus. Ecwid also includes a preview button in the dashboard, with which store owners can see how a product's page looks before making it available to their customer base.
Ecwid provided the perfect solution for offering variations to your clientele.
In addition, it should also be possible to tag your products or assign them to categories or collections.
It's also important that a platform makes it possible to sell digital products. This is provided by most platforms we looked at, however, a few services (like Lightspeed) only allow this with a paid extension. For selling only digital products, Sellfy is probably the best choice, offering a sizable 10 GB file size limit, which easily wallops the other platforms we reviewed.
Selling digital products shouldn't be a big hassle with Sellfy making this a breeze.
In terms of inventory management, it's also important that a platform doesn't create more headaches for you than it alleviates. For example, we graded those services which notify you when a product has low stock or is sold out, highly. Some services, like Shopify, make it possible to automize incoming deliveries of new stock, automatically updating your quantities available so you don't have to.
Personalizing Your Store
To rate the degree of customization and personalization that an ecommerce platform permits, we asked two questions:
1. How easy is it to make changes to the design of an online store?
2. How extensive/intricate can these changes be?
The second question raises two further issues, namely:
1. Is it necessary to have a detailed knowledge of programming to make such changes?
2. Does the site/store builder have complete drag and drop functionality?
Those platforms which make it easy for changes to be made, provide extensive customization options, complete drag and drop functionality, and don't require detailed programming knowledge for the frontend were rated highest. The best examples of these include Wix and 1&1 IONOS.
Wix Stores' builder offers total design freedom.
It isn't a coincidence that the two providers whose dashboards are arranged around their respective site builders performed best in this category. Most other platforms, even those placed within our Top 5, dropped points owing primarily to the absence of drag and drop functionality. Of course, setting guidelines for which design steps users can take does create an easier to use program, which, in turn, is more appealing to beginners.
Should you be familiar with HTML or CSS, you'll be able to take full advantage of platforms that offer users the ability to work directly with their store's source code. This is the case with Shopify, which enables users to create unique templates using its open-source Liquid template language.
Site/store builders that don't have drag and drop functionality are easier to use, but at the cost of customization.
We also awarded bonus points for well-stocked App Stores or Markets, which allow users to add extensions, features, templates, and other content elements to their stores, either at cost, or for free.
The main difference between a website and an online store is that in the latter, you can sell goods, which is primarily a matter of accepting payments. To facilitate this, it's necessary that you're able to offer your customers the use of different payment methods. A good ecommerce platform should enable users to integrate payment gateways that cover credit cards, debit cards, bank transfers, and the like. Transaction fees shouldn't be charged by the platform, but only by the individual gateways.
Tax settings also need to be configurable so that you can sell your products locally and internationally. We looked out for platforms that offer both automatic, as well as manual input of taxes for different regions. We deducted points if providers don't offer the ability to show before-tax and after-tax prices since this is important for B2B sales.
In terms of shipping and delivery, we looked favorably upon those platforms which offer integrations from logistic services that supply automatic and current prices for orders. This makes it easy to determine how much an order will cost to ship, based on the weight of the goods and their destination. Options for offering free shipping to customers if their order total reaches a certain sum or weight are also a nice feature.
Volusion offers the ability to integrate live rates from delivery services like DHL, UPS, or FedEx, and calculate their amounts in real-time:
Volusion excels in terms of shipping and delivery.
Once you receive an order, you should be notified directly in the dashboard, and be able to readily see details such as the customer's address. In the order management area, it should be possible to filter orders and search through them, either by the customer's name, item(s) bought, order number, or date. It's also essential that you or your employees can take certain actions here, such as marking an order as sent, including a tracking number, printing a receipt, cancelling an order, or even editing it. Some platforms, like Volusion, also provide a fraud rating here, to warn you of orders which seem to have not been made in good faith.
Volusion generates a risk rating for each order by comparing it to known methods of deception and fraud.
We also paid attention to whether multi-channel sales, point of sale (POS), and dropshipping are supported/possible with the platform.
Marketing & Analytics
As far as marketing is concerned, the more options provided, the better. It's important that your ecommerce platform offers you not only the ability to create discounts and coupons but also to specify as many guidelines/conditions for these as possible. Some of the most critical include the ability to offer discounts either in a lump sum, or as a percent, include a validity period, limit the offer to certain categories, or even individual products, add a minimum order amount, and so on.
Although it's difficult to imagine an ecommerce platform being able to compete with a dedicated email marketing solution, we still looked favorably upon those providers which offer users the ability to send simple newsletters or emails to clients. On most platforms we reviewed, this is limited to the ability to integrate an existing provider, which is also okay. Shopify performed well here thanks to its in-house email marketing tool.
Shopify shows you exactly how effective your marketing is.
Of course, apart from sales and newsletters, we noticed a lot of other marketing features too, some of which are pretty neat. For example, Wix allows you to create personalized video ads and Volusion offers a feature called Deal of the Day. Upselling features or tools are also something to watch for, since they allow you to target customers based on the items they've already placed in their shopping cart, boosting the likelihood that they'll make additional purchases. Finally, the ability to 'rescue' abandoned shopping carts or orders is another nifty feature that can help to generate more sales.
Turning away from marketing directly to customers and visitors, we also paid attention to what sort of SEO support each platform provided. On the provider's side, their themes and automatically generated pages should be optimized for search engines, while it's important that they make it possible for users to edit as many SEO elements as possible, including titles, meta-titles, descriptions, keywords, and URLs, the last of which isn't offered by all too many of the online store building services we reviewed.
As far as analytics or statistics are concerned, these should provide as much insight as possible into visitor/customer behavior, and in general, how your store is doing. BigCommerce takes this to the next level, allowing users to integrate statistics from their other sales channels into the dashboard.
In addition to the analytics generated by the platforms themselves, it should also be possible to easily link external services, such as Google Analytics and Facebook Pixel, at no charge.
Good support is composed of two key elements: Non-live support, in the form of FAQs, guides, and an active user community or forum for DIY types who like to figure things out on their own, and live support which is professional, responsive, and competent.
For the first, we look for help centers that have full-text search functionality loaded with articles and guides logically grouped into categories or subject areas. The inclusion of pictures, gifs, and links are important for visually-inclined learners or more hands-on types. Similarly, it's nice when help articles or FAQs can be loaded directly in the platform's dashboard, sparing the need to navigate to a different page.
The best thing to see in non-live support are video guides. Similarly, active forums with regular support staff appearances are a nice touch, but not essential, since only the most dedicated users are likely to use them.
For live support, once again, more is better. The bare minimum should be email (or support ticket) and hotline support. A live chat is something which we at EXPERTE.com always look upon with favor.
But, options are only half the battle. Responsiveness and competence are the other. In a perfect world, emails should be answered within a day, but so long as a response is received within 48 hours, we can't complain. Hotlines shouldn't replay endless cycles of "Your call is important to us! Please stay on the line!" and "A customer service representative will be with you shortly!" messages. Similarly, live chats should be answered in less than 20 minutes, but preferably much sooner than that.
In terms of pricing, we didn't score any of the platforms, instead going into detail about which features and limits are included (or not included) for each kind of subscriber. Between the lines, it's possible to ascertain how we feel about what is on offer and at what price.
Some platforms limit the number of products that can be added, others restrict the functions available to different levels of subscribers, and yet more segment subscribers on the basis of their total yearly earnings. Most packages can be paid for either month-by-month or as a single yearly payment, with the latter often including a discount (for example, Sellfy knocks 34% off the yearly subscription in comparison to month-by-month payments).
Alongside the regular subscription charge, you'll also have to pay transaction fees depending on the payment gateway you're using. Only one of the providers we reviewed requires that users pay a transaction fee, and only then if they don't use its in-house payment gateway.
Most ecommerce platforms offer app stores or marketplaces where it's possible to download free or paid extensions, templates, and additional features. However, some providers also use these to charge a premium for features that are offered for free elsewhere, such as selling digital products or linking external marketing and analytic services. Where conspicuous, we've drawn attention to these unusual practices.
The table below shows the yearly price per provider including the ability to sell at least 100 products:
A solid ecommerce platform shouldn't create more problems than it solves, helping your business to grow along the way. Determining the best platform depends largely on your individual needs, level of experience, and budget.
If you're planning to offer a range of variations based around a few basic products, you should pay attention to those platforms which offer unlimited variations and provide notifications about low in-stock quantities. Should you be selling digital products, you'll want a platform that offers high file size limits. Or maybe you want to bring your vision to life, but don't have a lick of programming know-how? Then, you'll need a platform with drag and drop functionality.
In general, none of the platforms we reviewed were terrible, however, there are certain key differences in terms of the number and type of integrations offered, the amount of creative/design freedom afforded users, and the marketing and analytic features provided by each. If you want the best package overall, we can recommend Wix Stores, our overall winner, however, it's worth exploring each of the nine we reviewed to find the best fit for you, especially since practically all of them offer free trials in one form or another.
What is an ecommerce platform?
An ecommerce platform is a digital toolbox that allows users to create, manage, and run an online store. All nine providers we analyzed are cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS) systems, which include hosting in their price. Through templates and plugins, it's possible to create a professional-looking online store without any background knowledge in programming or web design. For more technically inclined users, some platforms offer the ability to work directly with the backend, as well as security and administrative aspects.
What's the best ecommerce platform?
The best online store builder depends entirely on your needs, expectations, and budget. During EXPERTE.com's evaluation, Wix came out as the overall winner, thanks to its high degree of functionality, built around its powerful store builder. BigCommerce, Shopify, and 1&1 IONOS's eCommerce Website Builder didn't lag far behind.
What are the costs?
Costs vary from provider to provider. Subscriptions are based on a number of different criteria, such as the total number of products, yearly earnings, or range of features made available, so it's important to use these differences to your advantage! Planning to sell a limited quantity of high-ticket items? You'll get the most bang for your buck with a basic subscription to a product-based service. For a shop with at least 100 products, annual prices range from $200 to $550. In terms of raw numbers, Ecwid is the most affordable, while Lightspeed is the most expensive service.
How to create an online store?
After selecting and registering with an ecommerce platform, you'll need to input some basic information, as well as configure your tax and payment settings. After that, start adding products and designing your store's interface and digital facade. Once everything is to your liking, you can open for business and accept orders, managing them through the dashboard. Make sure that you use the marketing insights and reports provided by the service to improve your sales and generate more purchases.