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 you considered yourself a normal computer user (not a coding nerd, but only comfortable with using computers for everyday 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) – see our recommendations
- Self-hosted open source ecommerce software (more advanced) – see our recommendations
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.
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 everyday men and women who want to focus on their business, and not on the technical side of running an online store.
How to Build an Ecommerce Website: Your Guide to Start Selling Online
As we said, you can build an ecommerce website with hosted ecommerce shopping cart software without having any technical know-how! To prove it, we have created a step by step guide to show you just how easy it is.
- Research and choose the right ecommerce website builder for your business
- Sign up for an ecommerce plan (from as little as $8/Month!)
- Choose your domain name (this is your website address, so think carefully!)
- Choose a professionally designed ecommerce template for your online store
- Customize your store by adding products, media and text with the drag and drop editor
- Set up your payment, shipping and store settings (be aware that different payment methods invoke different charges)
- Preview your store and test it to ensure your online store looks and works the way you want it to
- Publish your website and start selling online
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 days)
- 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.
1) Shopify (500,000+ 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 larger stores 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 1,400 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.
2) Wix eCommerce (388,000+ 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. This makes Wix a very versatile ecommerce website builder for smaller, more independent businesses.
You’ll find that many other ecommerce website builders don’t give you anywhere near as much precision as Wix does when adding product images, slideshows and text, etc to your webpages. This is be a huge positive when designing a unique and eye-catching online store.
Compared to more “dedicated” ecommerce website builders, Wix is slightly less advanced. However, this is Wix’s strength as it shifts the focus away from the in-depth analytics needed by large businesses and puts the emphasis back on the essentials: promoting your products or services and then being able to sell them.
Wix eCommerce is best suited for:
- Small or independent businesses
- Users looking for clean and easy store configuration
- Store owners who are not planning on selling a huge range of products (e.g. under 50 items)
- Individuals with simpler ecommerce requirements (e.g. you don’t need to integrate accounting for payroll reasons, or require fulfillment software, etc)
One of Wix’s key strengths is that they offer you a large choice of great looking ecommerce related designs, which can go a long way to making your store look more professional. Having an attractive or eye-catching storefront is important for branding and inspiring trust in potential customers.
With a focus on the essentials, Wix makes it easy for you to insert and stock products with multiple variations (e.g. different sizes), and offer you a fully integrated shopping cart connected to payment processors such as PayPal, Stripe, and WorldPay. You can even conduct offline payments.
A huge bonus for Wix eCommerce users is the addition of Wix Code. This new tool helps non-technical individuals create websites that would have previously required a professional developer. It will be a massive time and money saver for you!
So if you are a an independent trader or a small business, have no sophisticated requirements, and only want to focus on the ecommerce essentials then Wix can be a very interesting option for you to test drive.
3) 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.
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 allow 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.
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.
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
Here is a summary table of our recommendations:
|eCommerce Software||Our Recommendations|
|Hosted eCommerce Software||User-friendly and not technically challenging:|
|Self-Hosted Open Source eCommerce Software||More advanced & flexible, but technically challenging:|
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