An ecommerce software is a great tool that can help you build an online store even if you have no technical chops.
There is just one tiny problem, though.…
Which one is the best ecommerce software for you?
There are a lot of them, and they all seem to promise to make building an online store simple. They also seem to offer similar tools and features.
It’s confusing as heck… we get it as we’ve been through it ourselves.
It is not easy to sort through all the technical jargons and find the ecommerce builder that is right for you – especially if you are a beginner and new to the world of selling products online.
It can become even scarier if consider yourself a normal computer user (not a coding nerd, but only comfortable with using computers for every day tasks). The idea of building a machine that can sell products and make money for you sounds a bit craaazy, right?
But you know what?
It’s totally achievable for you – as ecommerce software nowadays that can help normal folks like yourself get an online business going.
If you are thinking of creating your own online store and looking for some ideas for the top ecommerce platform to use, this article will shed some light on this subject for you.
When we first started building online stores to kick start our side business while we were working our regular day jobs, we didn’t know where to start, how to build a good website, how to upload products, or how to connect a store to payment processors. It was overwhelming to say the least.
WHAT ARE HOSTED & SELF-HOSTED ECOMMERCE SOFTWARE?
There are two main ways to build an ecommerce store:
- Hosted ecommerce software (more user-friendly)
- Self-hosted open source ecommerce software (more advanced)
The good news is, both can enable you to build an online store.
However, depending on the degree of customization you need, the volume of products you are selling, and the magnitude of learning curve you are willing to undertake (which takes time and energy), one will be more suitable for you over the other.
Let’s dive into what are the key differences between them, and help you figure out which one is better for you!
HOSTED ECOMMERCE SHOPPING CART SOFTWARE
“Hosted ecommerce shopping carts enable you to build an ecommerce store without you having to be technical at all!”
This is the ecommerce software of choice for the every day men and women who want to focus on their business, and not on the technical side of running an online store.
Who should use a Hosted Ecommerce Shopping Cart?
Here are the 3 top reasons why people want to use a hosted ecommerce builder:
1. You don’t want to worry about hosting, security or any technical aspects of running your online store.
Basically, these online store builders give you ecommerce tools / features, and take care of all the technical system administrative aspects of operating a website so you don’t have to play the role of being your own IT manager. This enables you to focus on your business instead.
2. You want a turn-key solution – where all the shopping cart tools come pre-installed and are ready for you to use immediately.
All the tools you will need to run an online store like product management and payment processors are already built-in to the hosted ecommerce builder. There is no integration work, and minimal configuration needs to be done.
They all work out-of-the-box, right away. If you get stuck, they have dedicated support teams to help.
3. You want to be able to build your website using simple drag and drop technology that requires no coding skills.
The idea is that hosted shopping carts “hide” all the codes, and create simple and non-technical user interface for you to create your own website (using drag and drop technology for you to insert your content such as images, galleries, etc) upload your products, connect your website to a payment processor, so you can start selling very quickly.
The main benefit of these ecommerce software is that they are quite easy to use even if you are not technically savvy.
The drawback is that there isn’t as much flexibility for you if you want to modify the functions provided by these ecommerce software providers.
What do we think about hosted ecommerce shopping cart software?
After testing a number of hosted ecommerce builders, we’ve compiled what we think is a list of good software that is well suited and helpful for beginners / intermediate users. We’ve listed our recommendations below.
Keep in mind some of the key benefits of using hosted ecommerce software:
- You can build a functional online store very quickly (usually in a couple of day)
- You don’t need to know how to code (though it can help, but not a necessity)
- You don’t need to hire expensive developers
- They have dedicated teams of support staff to answer your questions
- They manage all the technical parts operating a website (hosting, security, coding, etc), so you don’t have to
After a series of trial and errors, we found that using a hosted shopping cart software is the fastest way for us to get set up without the headaches of learning how to code or hiring expensive developers, which is quite resource intensive (both time and money).
So without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the best ecommerce software available in the market today.
eCommerce Software Comparison Chart – also see our side-by-side comparison of different ecommerce builder software
Professional, Free eCommerce Templates – click to see some beautiful storefront designs you can use to build your store
1) Shopify (275,000+ Active Online Stores)
Shopify is probably the best ecommerce software in the market today.
It’s suitable for small businesses who are just starting out, all the way up to store that are selling millions of dollars in products. What this means is that they have the scalability to grow with your store, as your business expands.
Here are some key highlights about Shopify:
- Over 100 beautiful, professional, mobile ready themes so your store looks great
- Over 1,100 apps for you to add to your store to extend the functionality of your business
- 24/7 any time support (very important especially if you have questions at 3am)
- Qualified / Pre-Approved Experts available for hiring if you want to customize your design and functions
(Click on image above to see short video overview of what Shopify is all about and how it can help you build an ecommerce store)
Shopify is a one-stop-shop ecommerce website builder where they simplify the challenges of building an online store to drag and drop – making life easier for you without having to worry about coding.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that they are too simple and cannot handle larger stores, as their users include smaller businesses that are generating thousands of dollars in sales, to million dollar businesses.
1) Our Shopify Review – see our detailed pros & cons discussion of Shopify here
2) Free eCommerce Guides – see these helpful Shopify guides on different techniques on how you can grow your business
3) Success Stores / Case Studies – see how others have built successful ecommerce businesses using Shopify
4) Shopify Plus (Enterprise Level Users) – If you’re in the big leagues and your business generates 6 to 7 figures in sales per year, Shopify Plus can help you achieve more.
2) BigCommerce (95,000+ Active Online Stores)
BigCommerce is another reputable ecommerce website builder that allows you to build your store without getting tangled up in technology.
BigCommerce is suitable for smaller businesses, all the way up to very large stores.
- Comprehensive set of “out of the box” e-commerce tools to help you build your store
- Leverages on different social channels to help you grow your sales
- You can add more advanced tools through their App store (just like Shopify)
- 24/7 support
(Click on image above to see short video overview of what BigCommerce is all about and how it can help you build an ecommerce store)
BigCommerce is also one of the best ecommerce software available in the market. In our opinion their biggest competitor is Shopify, and each of them has their own pros and cons.
Overall, while BigCommerce has a bit more tools available in its basic package, we feel that Shopify has better storefront designs, a lot more apps for you to add to your store, and has a much larger pool of qualified / pre-approved experts for hire (if you want to) than BigCommerce.
Both Shopify and BigCommerce support teams are easily accessible through the phone, live chat and email.
1) Our BigCommerce Review – see our detailed pros & cons discussion about BigCommerce here
2) Shopify vs BigCommerce – see the major differences between Shopify and BigCommerce, and how they affect you
3) Wix eCommerce (100,000+ Active Online Stores)
Wix is a “pure” drag and drop website builder that literally enables you to drag and drop any content anywhere on your website.
What this means is that you get more creative freedom in terms of where you want to insert your content, as Wix is a “pure” drag and drop platform. So the other ecommerce software don’t give you as much precision as to where exactly to insert your images, slideshows, text, etc.
Compared to Shopify and BigCommerce, Wix is a less advanced ecommerce software. It is best suited for users who want simpler store configurations, who are not planning on selling a lot of products (such as 20 or more), and have less sophisticated requirements (such as the need to integrate accounting, marketing, fulfillment software, etc).
If you don’t plan on building very advanced stores, Wix can be a very interesting option for you to test drive.
(Click on image above to see short video overview of what Wix is all about)
A nice thing about Wix is that they offer you good looking ecommerce related designs, so to make your store look more professional. Having a nice storefront is important for branding, and inspiring trust to your prospective customers.
When it comes to basic ecommerce features, you can insert products with multiple variations of the same product (such as different color or size of the same product), and offer you a fully integrated shopping cart where you can connect to payment processors such as PayPal, Authorize.net and you can even conduct offline payments.
As mentioned above, Wix’s range of ecommerce tools are not as comprehensive as pure ecommerce builders such as Shopify or BigCommece, but they give you enough flexibility and tools to build a good online store to start selling your products.
So if you are a beginner, not considering building a very advanced ecommerce website, or selling a lot of products, then Wix is great website builder for you to test out as they give you tons of flexibility as to how to build your website with their drag and drop tools.
Wix eCommerce Review – see how Wix can help you build an online store
4) Weebly eCommerce (441,000+ Online Stores)
Weebly is one of the most user friendly, and intuitive drag and drop website builders in the market. Further, their eCommerce features are comprehensive and allows you to quickly build a full featured online store.
Not only do you get to insert multiple products with multiple variations of the same product (such as color, size, etc), they also have a fully integrated shopping cart in which your shoppers never leave your website to ensure a fluid, consistent shopping experience, as well as easy integration with popular and trustworthy payment processors such as Stripe, PayPal, Square and Authorize.net.
(Click on image above to see short video overview of what Weebly is all about)
Similar to Wix, Weebly is best catered for businesses who don’t need a lot of advanced ecommerce tools. It’s suitable for stores that are selling 20 products or so, and don’t have the requirement to integrate external software (such as accounting, sales, marketing, inventory fulfillment software, etc) to help automate a lot of administrative processes.
Having said that, although Weebly’s eCommerce tools are not as comprehensive as pure online store builders such as Shopify and BigCommerce, they do have enough for you to build a very successful online store.
Again, they are very user friendly and intuitive website builder, so the learning curve to how to work their tools is relatively low. So it’s a wonder ecommerce software for beginners.
Weebly eCommerce Review – see how Weebly can help you build an online store
5) Squarespace Commerce
Squarespace is known to help users such as yourself create very beautiful, image rich websites. Their templates are very polished and stunning, but what a lot of people fail to appreciate is that their ecommerce tools are under-rated.
In addition to being able to create a very beautiful storefront, Squarespace also allows you to have full control over product variants, manage your inventory, upload unlimited products, sell physical or digital products, coupon generation, configure shipping options and costs, configure sales taxes, manage your customer email list, and other helpful tools for you to build a comprehensive online store.
(Click on image above to see short video overview of what Squarespace is all about)
We would group Squarespace in the same category as Wix and Weebly – suitable for more straight forward, less sophisticated ecommerce needs.
Although Squarespace’s available ecommerce tools are not as comprehensive as Shopify or BigCommerce, if your store is simple enough and doesn’t need all sorts of bells and whistles, Squarespace might just work for your needs, especially if you are picky about your website design.
Further, Squarespace is a much cheaper option than Shopify and BigCommerce.
Squarespace Commerce Review – see how Squarespace can help you build an online store
SELF-HOSTED OPEN SOURCE ECOMMERCE SOFTWARE
“Self-hosted ecommerce software is very flexible, but you need to be quite technical (or hire a capable developer) to help you build your store.”
Self-hosted carts are lot more technical and confusing if you are not computer and code savvy.
If you don’t consider yourself a techie like most people, a hosted ecommerce website builder might be more suitable for you (see discussion above).
Some examples of open source shopping carts include:
Open source shopping carts are basically standalone programs that require you to install them into your own host (such as Bluehost). So you’ll have to set up, configure and manage your own hosting service to power your online store.
Once you sign up to a hosting service, you’ll then need to install a shopping cart software into your hosting account. Hosting services such as Bluehost, usually have a 1-click installation process. But there are still quite a bit of tinkering to do, especially if you’re doing it for the first time. When we tried it ourselves for the first time, it took a couple of hours and was a bit frustrating. But after you figure things out, the next installation went a bit smoother.
Once you have the shopping cart platform installed, you’ll need to install a design template. You should know that unless you are quite savvy with codes, you’ll most likely need to hire a coder to help you make most design changes. The templates are not as user-friendly as drag and drop builders (such as the ones highlighted above).
The main benefit of using self-hosted open source software is that you can configure it to function the way you want it to, meaning your store can be heavily customized. So flexibility is a huge benefit here.
The drawback is that it requires you to be technically savvy to install, setup and configure it to work properly. If you’re not proficient with codes and technology, you will have to hire someone capable to help you.
So if you’re not a techie, or if you don’t have time to learn more advanced coding functions, self-hosted shopping carts will not be the best approach for you.
Open source shopping carts are flexible and have a lot of advanced features that you can use and configure. But bear in mind that you’ll need to be technical, or have someone who is technical to help you out here.
ADVANCED TOOLS / PLATFORM TO GROW WITH YOUR BUSINESS (AND SAVE YOUR SANITY)
One thing to consider when selecting which ecommerce software to use to build your online business, is whether the software has a good selection of advanced tools that you can “bolt on” to your website as your business grows.
Let’s face it, as your business grows, you will need more tools to help you manage your growing operations.
For instance, you might be manually managing the shipping process of your products, or you might be manually doing your bookkeeping at the moment. Or you could be running some marketing functions without automating too much of it. You might be able to do this because your business is still relatively small / new, so these tasks are still manageable.
But what if your business starts to grow? Sales volumes are up, new product creations are being demanded from our shoppers, and you now have a lot less time to deal with a lot of operational and administrative issues. This is where picking a good ecommerce software with a strong platform will help save your sanity!
Self-hosted, open source shopping cart software do have a lot of options for this. But if you are looking for similar solutions for hosted shopping carts, Shopify and BigCommerce both have Apps that can be bolted to your online store to “extend” their functionality. This will automate a lot of business tasks for you, freeing up your time to address more important issues instead of doing a lot of tasks manually.
We discuss more about where to find and how to leverage a good ecommerce platform to help you grow your business here.
SUMMARY / CONCLUSION – BEST ECOMMERCE SOFTWARE
Finding the best ecommerce software is not an easy task when you are trying to figure out how to sell online.
The first step is to determine whether you are technically savvy or not. If you are, self-hosted open source software will give you more flexibility and you can configure the cart as you wish.
If you are are a beginner or intermediate user, not comfortable with codes, or if you want to quickly and easily set up an online store and start selling, using hosted ecommerce shopping carts / website builders is an excellent way to proceed without having to deal with technological headaches.
Further, with hosted ecommerce builders, they have dedicated full time support teams to answer your questions should you have any. That in itself is worth investing in.
Within the category of Hosted Ecommerce Software, Shopify and BigCommerce have much more advanced tools, when compared to Wix, Weebly or Squarespace.
They are pricier, but their platforms can help you scale from a small business, to a very large, high sales volume business.
Shopify and BigCommerce also allow you to bring in and integrate external tools, giving you a bit more flexibility here. If you don’t know how to do that, they both offer pre-qualified experts for you to hire to customize your store.
Wix, Weebly and Squarepace are better suited for smaller stores, that are more straight forward in nature. They give you enough basic tools to operate a functional store, and are very easy to use. They are less pricey than Shopify and BigCommerce.
To conclude, here are our recommended hosted ecommerce software again: