Guest Post by Catalin from www.ecommerce-platforms.com
When building an ecommerce store, you need the best ecommerce software.
We’ve spent countless weeks rigorously testing out the top solutions, and we’ve come upon the conclusion that Shopify is currently the best ecommerce software on the market.
This is due to Shopify’s impressive set of ecommerce templates, along with its simple page builder, large app store and the incredible support you get for a reasonable monthly price.In addition, you’re not required to self-host your website, taking much of the load off your own shoulders when it comes to security, speed and every other hosting problem that generally comes along.
Read on to see the rest of my shortlist.
During my testing I started with around 20 ecommerce software options. Some of them are meant for niche stores, while others are designed to support gigantic enterprises. Shopify does a good job of staying in the middle, with simple tools for smaller shops as well as enterprise features for scaling up. Since you have so many options when choosing an ecommerce software, it makes sense to try and narrow it down to the best solutions.
That’s why we’ll be covering a few runner-ups to Shopify, since some people will find more suitable software, whether it be because of pricing, feature sets or the market in which the software caters to. The point of this article is to showcase the top ecommerce software in the world. After that, you should be able to decide which one is most appropriate for your business.
In fact, the evaluation began with trying to figure out exactly what people want out of ecommerce software. We discovered that folks want to make sales without having to go through a complicated development process. Conversions are most important, but ecommerce professionals have also come to expect built-in tools for marketing, A/B testing, coupons, social media and more.
The good news is that places like Shopify have app stores just in case you can’t find a built-in feature that services your needs.
In terms of selling items online, it’s worthwhile to take a look at the wide variety of things you can peddle. This way, you can identify the type of selling you would like to complete, then go with the ecommerce software that gets the job done.
What can you sell with an ecommerce software?
- Physical products
- Digital products
It all depends on the type of ecommerce site you decide to build, but here are some of the items you might find sold throughout the internet:
- Subscription boxes
- Beauty products
- Workout gear
- Thousands of other product categories
Obviously this is an extremely short list in terms of the actual range of products you can sell online. However, it gives you a glimpse into the versatility and power that comes along with an ecommerce platform.
In fact, Shopify supports the majority of objectives listed above, making it the top candidate in our eyes. For example, you do have the opportunity to build a multi-vendor marketplace, and Shopify does provide tools for selling digital products. As for the wide range of industries, that’s one of the main reasons Shopify is so incredible. The theme store offers various designs, many of which are catered directly to niche industries. For instance, a quick search in the Shopify theme store located several themes for jewelry stores, clothing, furniture and even one for a winery.
Seeing as how the selection process may still seem intimidating to you, I want to walk you through the methodology I took to land on the decision of Shopify as my number one pick. I’ll also go through some of my runner-ups, along with the features that were most important to me when making my decisions. Therefore, keep reading to learn more about the best ecommerce software!
Table of Contents
- Why You Should Trust Us
- Who is it For?
- How I Chose and Tested
- Our Pick: Shopify
- The Runner-up: Bigcommerce
- How the Competitors Compare
- Some Final Thoughts and Things to Remember
Why You Should Trust Us
Before working with Ecommerce Platforms I spent most of my time researching, managing and designing ecommerce stores. As a web designer I needed to know the ins and outs of an online store, making sure that all of my clients had the tools needed for success online. After that, I joined Ecommerce Platforms to become the master researcher and in-house expert.
This means that every time a new ecommerce software comes along, I’m the first to get my hands on it. Writing reviews is only one aspect of my job, because it all begins with understanding who the ecommerce tool is for, what features are built in and whether or not it has a place in the market.
Unlike many ecommerce reviewers, I actually run through a software as if I were going to implement and use it myself. Some websites mainly list the feature-sets, pulling everything from a software’s product page. But I start the process as if I’m a completely new customer, and I generally shun sales pages since they can cause my decision to be swayed.
Therefore, I strive for objectivity, keeping a blind eye to sales pitches and only making conclusions based on the experiences I have with a software. For example, this ecommerce software review required me to understand which app stores are the best. It was easy to weed out the platforms that lacked app stores. That’s not the case with ones that did. I vetted the apps by reading reviews and seeing if the apps were mainstream enough to be taken seriously. Finally, I installed a handful of apps from each software to see if the process was seamless.
I have the credentials, but more importantly, I have the experience. The whole point of you coming to an article like this is to see the details. You’re more interested in what the backend interface of an ecommerce software looks like. Is it too intimidating? Can you locate all the tabs and buttons quickly? Pictures and descriptions give you a look into what’s available. That’s what I try to focus on.
I’ve researched and reviewed hundreds of ecommerce software choices on this site, so this article serves as a way to narrow down all of those reviews. It’s a tough gig, but I figure a movie critic would be able to tell you a few of her favorite movies. This gives you a chance to start off with one or two platforms that are proven and bound to provide you the tools you need.
Who is Ecommerce Software For?
I would like to say that ecommerce software is for every business in the entire world. However, this probably isn’t the case, since some companies just aren’t ready to dive into the online retail world. In addition, some organizations are more comfortable selling through brick and mortar stores, and there’s no reason to disrupt success. However, I do think that every business should at least consider an online store platform, because there is a chance you could end up making lots of money from it.
Keep in mind that some businesses use ecommerce less frequently. For example, a law firm is not going to be selling products online. You could try to sell some of your own published law books or whatever else lawyers have to offer, but your main revenue source is not coming from the online shop. However, you can process services rendered through an online store. For example, you may take a retainer or ask a client to submit their credit card info through a website.
However, it’s essential to keep ecommerce in the back of your head at all times, regardless of what you’re selling. Think about it. A landscaping business might find it silly to even consider an online shop. However, plenty of tools are available for that company to collect payments from customers before or after the job is done. This removes the need for the customer to be around for payment, and it opens up options for recurring payments (minimizing missed payments and creating a nice recurring income for you).
In addition, it doesn’t matter if you organization is big or small. You’ll eventually have to choose an ecommerce platform to work with, whether it’s Shopify, Bigcommerce, Magento or WooCommerce. The cool part about it is that the best ecommerce systems help smaller stores compete through search engines, email marketing and social media. The big names like Amazon and Target already have the brand recognition, but smaller companies don’t need huge marketing teams if they have the right platform.
Ecommerce software is also useful for organizations trying to collect money in any form. For example, a site like AirBnB is considered an ecommerce presence. It’s a highly customized booking platform, so you also have the opportunity to generate a similar site with something like Shopify or WooCommerce and the right WordPress template.
The final category I want to talk about involves bloggers and people who sell entertainment and information. Podcasters would be in this category as well. They’re selling content, most of the time for free. Sometimes advertisers will be announced or shown on blogs or podcasts, but you can also expand your offerings through an online store. For instance, Joe Rogan does stand up and an extremely popular podcast. His site includes a store where he sells merchandise and past stand up specials.
How I Chose and Tested the Best Ecommerce Software
Now that we have a stronger understanding of who should think about getting an ecommerce software, let’s take a gander at the finalists I landed on when completing my research over the past months:
During the beginning of my research I started with hundreds of ecommerce software solutions. I began with a clear mind, hoping to complete my analysis as if I were a completely new customer to each one. This way, I had the chance to review all of the required features and pick out the software that stood out the most to me. The three listed above are my favorites for a few reasons. Shopify is the all-encompassing tool, while Bigcommerce has more built-in features and a wonderful enterprise solution. TicTail is my favorite when it comes to a free software to test your store or start a small operation.
I’ll outline some other software options below, considering some people might be more into a marketplace software, or you may want to sell online video courses. I also have a favorite for vendors with digital products.
With all good research comes a list of requirements. As I discussed a little above, I have a few items that are “must-haves” when it comes to ecommerce software. This allows me to cut out some of the less powerful platforms right from the start.
The three must-have features are:
- A large quantity of beautiful ecommerce site templates – This is one of the biggest things you want to look for in an ecommerce software. Not only does a solid set of templates assist complete beginners, but it gives advanced users a place to start with their customizations. I enjoy seeing hundreds of templates and themes, and it’s nice to have a filter for narrowing down the templates into categories and industries. For example, you might want to locate a restaurant theme. In that case, you should at least have a handful of solutions to choose from. The templates need to look modern and have all of the basic elements like responsiveness, social media buttons and blogs.
- A website builder that doesn’t require a professional to understand – Some ecommerce software has drag and drop builders. Sometimes this is a huge deal, while other times you wish they didn’t include it. It’s important to understand that a drag and drop builder doesn’t mean that the design process is going to be simple. In fact, this technology is still fairly young, so you’ll stumble upon some that don’t work all that well. Therefore, I seek out website builders that are intuitive, easy to manage and basic enough for even the most beginner of users. Drag and drop elements are wonderful to see, but the main point to consider is whether or not you have access to the primary editing tools. We’re talking editors for colors, fonts, locations, sizes and more. The website builder should also include preset modules for quickly inserting items like video, images and tabs.
- An app store that solves most problems when you’re having trouble finding a built-in feature – If you’ve ever used an iPhone, you know that the true power comes in the form of the apps. Sure, you can call people, text and browse the internet with an iPhone, but apps provide functionality for everything from weather to video chatting. Ecommerce software works in a similar way. You’ll want plenty of built-in features, but it’s always important to have that app store to browse through and find more advanced features. For example, you might desire a recurring payment system for your site. Or you may be looking for an accounting app to integrate with QuickBooks. With a fully stocked app store you can generally go through, install the app within seconds and start playing around with the settings.
The above features are included with quite a few software options, but many of them failed to make the cut. For example, a few ecommerce builders didn’t have app stores. In my eyes, that’s reason enough to drop out of contention. However, the following two still stuck around:
That’s all fine and dandy, but those three features are not the only ones that make a state-of-the-art ecommerce platform. In fact, several other features are needed to make your store the best it can be.
Therefore, I made a list of the tools and features I feel are the most crucial for setting up a quick store and launching into a full-service online store. These features include pricing (considering we all want to save money,) all the way to POS offerings and marketing support.
The additional features that I factor into my ecommerce software analysis include:
- Reasonable (and flexible) pricing plans – With pricing we’re not only looking for the cheapest rates. The prudent ecommerce professional also craves value, meaning you’re interested in a lot of features for the price. A cheaper plan may seem tempting, but does it have support for unlimited products? If not, you might want to look elsewhere. Another thing to consider with pricing is variety. Do some of the plans cater to small businesses, while others are more suitable for enterprise operations? That’s something you want to consider, especially if you plan on scaling up your own business. After all, the entire point of starting an online store is to begin small and rapidly grow to make more money. The ecommerce software should have pricing plans to accommodate this. Finally, some platforms have more flexible pricing than others. Overall, you shouldn’t be spending too much money for features you’re not using.
- Support for larger enterprises (and scaling up in general) – This ties into the pricing, but it involves more in terms of cheaper credit card rates and extremely customizable interfaces for those companies that want to make their brand look perfect online. You typically gain access to an account manager with an enterprise plan, and you’ll get more staff accounts for your entire team of customer support reps and design experts to have access to the site. You can also expect more advanced reporting. Sometimes enterprise plans include options for viewing customer behavior in real-time. Lastly, it shouldn’t be a problem to upgrade to more advanced plans. For example, if you realize that your Christmas sales are off the charts, the ecommerce software needs to have the ability to change plans in an instant.
- Incredible ecommerce customer support – Customer support ranges from email technicians to incredible online communities. I put lots of weight on the quality of support, because you’re going to have to complete some research and call up the support team at some point with an online store. You should have access to a full Help Center, where you can search for forums, articles, guides and tutorials. I enjoy seeing support that’s available 24/7 throughout the year, along with people who actually know what they’re talking about. I can’t stand it when it sounds like the person is reading off of a script. Finally, you’ll want everything from phone support to email support and live chat to online documentation. Blogs and online courses come in handy as well.
- Point of sale offerings – Quite often we stumble upon brick and mortar stores that want to expand to an online shop. The only problem is that they then have to integrate their current systems with that of the online store. There’s nothing worse than accepting orders inside a physical store and not having those sales synced up with your online store. Therefore, I like it when an ecommerce software provides all of the POS tools for you. This includes hardware like card readers and monitors. Furthermore, you’ll want all of your orders to be managed on one system, making it easy to check-in on inventory and see which items need to be restocked.
- Integrations with social media accounts and other sales outlets – Social media is one of those things that should be built into the ecommerce software. There’s no reason to have to go out and install an app to make this happen. It’s nice to have social media buttons that link to places like Facebook and Twitter. Social sharing buttons are useful as well. This involves sharing buttons on blog posts and product pages, boosting your marketing efforts and getting people to share your content for you. Finally, other sales outlets expand the amount of business you do elsewhere. A good ecommerce software has integrations with places like Amazon, eBay and Etsy. In addition, many social media websites have business pages you can sync with. Some of these include Facebook Stores, Pinterest Buyable Pins and Facebook Messenger support.
- Support for dozens, if not hundreds, of payment gateways – Not everyone wants to accept payments through PayPal. Therefore, it’s interesting to see how many payment gateways are supported through each ecommerce platform. Surprisingly, this is one of the features that eliminates many of the software options out there. For example, I’ve noticed a few systems that exclusively hook up to Stripe. Now, Stripe is great, but I’d like to see more choices. Therefore, I seek out software that has dozens of payment gateways, from Authorize.net to Amazon.
- Community for working with an expert – At some point you’re going to require the help of an expert. Whether it’s a web designer, logo creator, marketing expert or someone to clean up your database, having these people at your disposal is pivital to the success of your business. Not many ecommerce platforms ave communities like this, but it’s certainly a bonus. Think about the amount of time and money you can save with a database of experts.
- Mobile commerce ready – Although I have come to expect this from all website builders, you’ll want to keep an eye on platforms that still have non-responsive templates. Here’s the short story: If your customers can’t walk through a clean user interface on a mobile phone or tablet, get a new ecommerce software.
- Marketing tools like blogs, email marketing, product reviews, SEO, discount codes, coupons, gift cards, etc. – Quite a few of your marketing tools are going to come in the form of an app. That said, I enjoy platforms that include as many marketing tools as possible. The givens include email receipts, social media buttons and coupons. On top of that you should consider finding platforms with full email marketing systems, gift cards, product reviews, blogs and discount codes. These are the tools that drive people to your site. Otherwise you’re just another business deep in the search engine rankings.
- Can you sell digital products and services? What about a multi-vendor marketplace? – There are several niche ecommerce software that serve more distinct companies. For example, Shopify does have support for digital products, but if that’s all you’re selling, you might want to consider a different solution. The same goes for selling services or setting up a multi-vendor marketplace.
Our Pick for Best Ecommerce Software: Shopify
Some of my favorite ecommerce software includes Bigcommerce, Volusion, 3dCart, Magento, WooCommerce and Squarespace. All of the listed solutions can work wonders for your brand, and they all make setting up an ecommerce site pretty simple. However, Shopify still gets our vote as the clear victor. Keep in mind that you shouldn’t immediately signup for Shopify just because I said that. Quite a few other ecommerce platforms are available for different uses. However, Shopify stands strong when it comes to pricing, features and the ever so valuable app store.
Basically, Shopify covers the majority of the features I outlined above, and it does it with flying colors. Not only that, but it’s a great place to start for small business. After gaining some success, Shopify offers the plans you need to upgrade and scale up your business.
We’re certain that Shopify has incredible templates, a quality theme builder and a beautiful set of apps. But let’s keep going to see how it stacks up with some of the other main features we desire for a solid ecommerce software.
- Reasonable (and flexible) pricing plans – Shopify sells a total of five pricing packages. The first is a Lite version for $9 per month. It gives you the tools needed to insert Shopify Buy buttons on any existing websites. You can also sell your products on places like Facebook and Facebook Messenger. The Basic plan goes for $29 per month, giving small businesses a wonderful value getting started. It allows for unlimited products and a full ecommerce store with all the basic features (and access to the app store). I’d assume the Regular $79 per month plan is the most popular with smaller credit card fees, gift cards, professional reports and abandoned cart recovery. Advanced Shopify goes for $299 per month and you get an advanced report builder and real-time carrier shipping. Finally, Shopify has a plan called Shopify Plus, which requires a custom quote for huge businesses.
- Support for larger enterprises (and scaling up in general) – As we stated above, Shopify does indeed have a plan for larger enterprises. You’ll have to contact Shopify in order to figure out the pricing for the Enterprise plan, but the unlimited bandwidth and transactions are enough to at least get you started with high volume sites. The main reason I enjoy the Enterprise solution from Shopify is because of the thriving ecosystem of apps and integrations. They open up the API for advanced developers, and you customize your checkout with SDKs.
- Incredible ecommerce customer support – With customer support, no one does it like Shopify. I rave a lot about the Shopify app store, but no one competes with Shopify when it comes to support. You get all the basics like a blog, knowledge base, documentation and technicians who are on call 24/7. Even better is that the techs know what they’re talking about and don’t sound like they’re a million miles away reading off of a script. Furthermore, the Shopify has guides, videos and podcasts to motivate you and walk you through the ecommerce journey. I particularly like the forums, since you get a chance to talk with other people who are going through the same situations as you. Heck, I figure some people even find good business friends when interacting through the Shopify forums. All of the conversation in there is about the Shopify platform, so you’re never getting off topic.
- Point of sale offerings – The Shopify POS is offered as one of the primary ways to sell. You don’t even need an online store to get all setup with the hardware they sell. However, I would assume that most companies opt to setup the whole system with an online store, POS and a card reader that can be brought to places like trade shows. Everything in the POS is synced up to your online store. Therefore, if you make a sale through your physical store, the Shopify backend notices that and updates your inventory accordingly. Both custom email and printable receipts are available, and custom sales are provided for setting the price of anything you want. In terms of the hardware, you can setup the POS with any smartphone or tablet you want. Shopify also sells a bunch of other pieces of hardware. Some companies pick and choose what they need, while others go for the whole package. For example, Shopify has options for barcode scanners and printers, credit card readers, receipt printers, cash drawers and more.
- Integrations with social media accounts and other sales outlets – Even the Lite Shopify plan has support for selling on places like Facebook and Facebook Messenger. The Messenger app connects you with customers on Facebook Messenger, where they can browse products and talk to customer service reps through one of the most popular chatting platforms on the internet. The Facebook shop syncs with all of the products in your current online store, making it much easier for folks to buy items without leaving their beloved Facebook page. Shopify also syncs with Amazon, bringing you an additional method for peddling your items. Generate a full Amazon storefront, make sales and send out branded emails to the people who like your store best on Amazon. You can find some other selling methods as apps. For example, some companies utilize the Instagram Shoppable apps, which configure a full Instagram gallery with clickable links to sell through your store. Finally, Shopify integrates with the Pinterest Buyable Pins feature, where someone may notice a Pin they like then click to buy without having to go through a ton of steps on your website.
- Support for dozens, if not hundreds, of payment gateways – Shopify has its own payment gateway, which I would assume most merchants opt for. The reason for this is because the fees are much lower than other options. However, Shopify also provides support for over 70 gateways, making it an ideal solution for online stores all over the world.
- Community for working with an expert – The Shopify Experts community is a place with dedicated professionals who can help you with all sorts of tasks. The majority of them are web designers and developers, but you’ll find other experts for marketing and photography. My favorite part is that you can become a Shopify expert as a developer. You only need a handful of client sites under your belt to start marketing your services to the rest of the Shopify world. In short, the expert community lets merchants contact experts. The rates range, but you can notify experts based on skill or location.
- Mobile commerce ready – All of the Shopify themes are completely ready to be viewed on mobile devices. This means that folks can stop by your store on a smartphone, throw something in the cart and make a purchase. Some of the older themes don’t have mobile support, but from the looks of it these have all been deleted from the theme library.
- Marketing tools like blogs, email marketing, product reviews, SEO, discount codes, coupons, gift cards, etc. – Each Shopify site has a full blog. You also get some watered down email marketing tools for sending out messages. The product reviews require an app, but it’s pretty much integrated right when you get setup. The Shopify SEO is some of the simplest you’ll find, and the discounts codes, coupons and gift cards all have their own tabs for you to play around with.
- Can you sell digital products and services? What about a multivendor marketplace? – A multi-vendor marketplace is possible with Shopify, but I would recommend something like WooCommerce instead. You can also sell digital products with Shopify. However, a completely digital store would be better off with Easy Digital Downloads.
How the Competitors Compare
Bigcommerce is the runner-up, seeing as how it offers the majority of the must-have features we like to see in an ecommerce software.
The overall pricing is a little higher than Shopify, but the majority of the features are already built-in. For example, the marketing tools are far more advanced with Bigcommerce, whereas you’d have to go out and find some apps for many Shopify marketing items. Another reason to go with Bigcommerce is because the templates are by far the best in the industry. They look modern and professionally designed. Shopify is a close second, but dang, Bigcommerce delivers on the template front.
TicTail works as a free, lite option. I like to recommend it to inventors or small companies with just a few products to sell. It’s also a marketplace similar to Amazon, so the customers are already there for you to sell to.
Easy Digital Downloads is my choice if you’re only selling digital products like eBooks, music or photographs. It integrates with a WordPress site and immediately has all the email, receipt and sales tools you need.
If you’re looking for some rather unique, media-oriented templates, Squarespace is the place to go.
Some Final Thoughts and Things to Remember
When looking for the best value ecommerce software, Shopify is by far the best option to start with. It has a 14-day free trial to test the waters, and the app/template store is too good to pass up.
I would recommend TicTail if you’re not entirely sure about whether or not your product is going to do well with customers. It’s a wonderful way to see if a product can perform in the marketplace, especially since it already has built-in customers waiting to buy you products.
Overall, if you have any questions about the best ecommerce software, feel free to drop a line in the comments section below. Also, let us know which platforms you have used in the past. We’re always interested in feedback!