This article will take you through the best hosted and self-hosted ecommerce solutions for building an online store.
Trying to choose the best ecommerce software so you can sell online? You’ve come to the right place.
In an online world filled with stylish shops and stores, your business needs the best ecommerce software it can get. Choosing the right software for you will help make a real impression – and lots of money too.
After all, US shoppers spent over $453 billion online in 2017 – a massive 16% increase compared to 2016.
To grab a piece of that pie, you need an ecommerce solution.
What are ecommerce solutions? An ecommerce solution is specialized software which helps you sell online. You don’t need any tech skills because it’s designed to give you all the tools you need. There are hosted and self-hosted versions depending on your store’s needs.
There’s just one tiny problem, though – how do you pick the best ecommerce software for you?
There are lots of ecommerce solutions out there, and all of them promise to make building an online store a walk in the park. Even less helpfully, they also seem to offer similar tools and features.
That’s why our experts carry out research into every ecommerce platform and builder we review. We take an in-depth look at features, pricing, design, customer support, and more. We get regular people to test out each and every one to give real insight into ease of use and customer satisfaction.
We’ve done the research, and we’ve got the results – so if you’re thinking of creating your own online store and are looking for the best ecommerce software to use, this article is for you.
We’ll show you the best hosted ecommerce software:
- Shopify – best hosted ecommerce software overall
- BigCommerce – best ecommerce software for large businesses
- Volusion – best ecommerce software for analytics
We’ll also show you the best self-hosted ecommerce solutions:
- Magento – best all-round self-hosted ecommerce software
- WordPress with WooCommerce – best self-hosted ecommerce software for flexible design
- OpenCart – easiest to use self-hosted software
You can see how our top three hosted ecommerce software solutions are rated below. If you’re ready to go, follow the links to sign up for a free trial:
Our top three choices of ecommerce software for building an online store are:
- Shopify: best all-round ecommerce solution (Try For Free)
- BigCommerce: best ecommerce solution for scaling fast-growing businesses (Try For Free)
- Volusion: best for analytics features (Try For Free)
These are all-in-one ecommerce solutions dedicated to helping you build an online store.
You can see how our hosted ecommerce solutions stack up in three key areas, and sign up for a free trial, using our features comparison chart below:
Here’s what the features listed mean, and why they’re so important.
Chart Features Explained:
With all three ecommerce solutions listed, you can:
- Build a functional online store very quickly (usually in a couple of days)
- Get help from teams of support staff through various support channels
You also won’t need to:
- Know how to code (though it can help, it’s not a necessity)
- Hire expensive developers
- Manage the technical parts of operating a store (hosting, security, coding, etc)
Let’s take a closer look at the best ecommerce software available in the market today.
Best all-round ecommerce solution
Start selling from $29 a month
|Shopify Pros||Shopify Cons|
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 sell a range of products and make millions of dollars. Shopify customers include MVMT, Leesa, and Penguin Books Store. This is a solution with the scalability to grow with your store as your business expands.
Here are some key Shopify highlights:
- Over 100 beautiful, professional, mobile-ready themes to help your store look great
- Over 1,400 apps to add to your store and extend the functionality of your business
- 24/7 anytime support (perfect if you find yourself pulling your hair out at 3am)
- Qualified/re-approved experts available to hire if you want to customize your design and functions
Click on the image below to see a 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 for ecommerce solutions. Its drag-and-drop functionality eliminates the usual challenges of building an online store, with no coding required whatsoever.
In our research testing, Shopify came top for its range and quality of sales tools. Some of these tools include:
- Multi-channel selling through Facebook, Instagram, Amazon and more
- 100+ payment options
- No limit on number of products you can sell
- Mobile app to manage your store on the go
- Customizable checkout and guest checkout options
- Automatic email notifications for customers
- Abandoned cart recovery
- In-depth analytics and insight reports
- All-round shipping support
To put it simply: Shopify is one of the very best ecommerce solutions. It’s used by brands like Red Bull and Tesla, so they must really be doing something right! It’s perfect for starting and scaling your business.
Best ecommerce solution for scaling fast-growing businesses
Start selling from $29.95 a month
|BigCommerce Pros||BigCommerce Cons|
BigCommerce is another reputable ecommerce software option that allows you to build your store without getting tangled up in technology.
As one of the best ecommerce solutions, BigCommerce is suitable for businesses of any size. It has more in-built features than any of its competitors, so you’ll have everything you need to succeed right at your fingertips.
With BigCommerce, you get:
- A comprehensive set of “out-of-the-box” ecommerce tools to help you build your store
- The chance to leverage different social channels to help you grow your sales
- Advanced tools through their App store (just like Shopify)
- 24/7 support
An exciting recent update allows you to integrate your BigCommerce store with your WordPress site. This is a great option for combining the specialist ecommerce features of BigCommerce with the flexibility and customization of WordPress. You can read more about this in our review of BigCommerce’s WordPress Plugin.
Click on the image below to see a short video overview of what BigCommerce is all about, and how it can help you build an ecommerce store.
We like BigCommerce because it focuses on growing with your store. As you grow, you get access to more features and functionality to take your store to the next level. There are no limitations on whether you sell one or 100 products through your store. Plus BigCommerce gives you great analytics tools and reports to track the success of your business.
You can integrate your store with multiple social channels including Facebook, Instagram, eBay and Amazon. You can manage all your integrations from one place with the BigCommerce Channel Manager. This makes it super easy to sell across these different platforms and expand your business.
Because of the number of features and tools, BigCommerce is really best for anyone looking to scale their business. You get the top-notch features you pay for.
If you’re a small store with a small budget, you’ll find better value with Shopify – but if you’re a fast-growing business, BigCommerce is truly worth every cent. While it’s not quite as polished as Shopify, it’s still an excellent ecommerce solution.
Best for tracking your store’s progress with analytics features
Start selling from $29 a month
|Volusion Pros||Volusion Cons|
Like BigCommerce and Shopify, Volusion is a comprehensive ecommerce solution.
Key features include:
- 24/7 customer support – impressively thorough support pages and video tutorials, plus phone support on higher price plans.
- Broad range of mobile-responsive themes – whatever you want to sell online, Volusion has you covered. Its themes cover fashion, beauty, food & beverages, electronics – pretty much anything you can imagine! These themes are also mobile-optimized, meaning your customer’s experience will be smooth no matter what device they’re using. However, for sheer number of designs, Volusion can’t match Shopify (offering 45 compared to Shopify’s 100+).
- App market – you can choose from over 20 apps to bolt onto your store from Volusion’s App Marketplace.
- Ecommerce tools – add products, offer subscription billing, get automatic tax rates, and integrate with Amazon and eBay – all without touching any code.
We like the simplicity of Volusion’s design. The overall offering is not as comprehensive as Shopify or BigCommerce, but Volusion’s store editor is pretty accessible.
Volusion does not charge transaction fees on any of its plans. This means you can keep all your profits and reinvest them in your store.
Like Shopify and BigCommerce, Volusion also has a great range of analytics tools. This makes it easy to assess where your store is doing well and where it could be improved.
Volusion is especially helpful if you’re selling over multiple channels, such as Facebook and Instagram. It allows you to pull all your sales into one place, making it really easy to keep track of everything.
But beware: Volusion plans come with a bandwidth limit that must not be exceeded.
Bandwidth is the amount of data your store can handle. Think of your store like a balloon filling up with air; the air is the bandwidth. Eventually, your balloon will fill to capacity and burst – unless you buy a bigger balloon, of course!
With Shopify and BigCommerce, unlimited bandwidth on all plans means your store will grow to accommodate any extra bandwidth. Your balloon will keep expanding.
But with Volusion, if you exceed your plan’s limit, you have to buy more bandwidth in blocks. This is a potential unexpected cost of using Volusion.
And that’s not all…
Whereas BigCommerce and Shopify include SSL certificates for free, Volusion make you buy one separately for $99.
SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer. These certificates are essential if you’re running an online store because they protect your customers’ data. Running an online store without one would be like putting all your valuables in a safe without a padlock.
On the whole, though, Volusion is a more than decent ecommerce software that can get you online even if you’re not at all technical. It’s not quite up to the standard of Shopify or BigCommerce, but it’s still an ecommerce solution that lets you build a stylish store and sell online without coding.
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.
Before we go any further, make no mistake about it – self-hosted ecommerce software solutions will involve a far steeper learning curve than the hosted ecommerce solutions we’ve just looked at.
But if you are technologically savvy and want greater customization options, a self-hosted ecommerce solution might be of interest. The best ecommerce solutions that are open source (we’ll explain what this means in a moment) provide unrivaled customization.
In this section, we’ll introduce you to three leading self-hosted ecommerce software options:
Self-hosted ecommerce software solutions are open source shopping carts. But what does that mean?
Open source shopping carts are effectively standalone programs you install into your own host (such as Bluehost). This means 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 some shopping cart software into your hosting account.
See why we think these solutions are that much trickier than hosted ecommerce software?
Hosting services such as Bluehost usually have a one-click installation process. But there is 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 is a lot 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 confident 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 ecommerce software (such as the examples highlighted above).
The main benefit of using self-hosted open source software is that you can configure it to function exactly the way you want it to, meaning your store can be heavily customized.
The drawback is that it requires you to be technically experienced to install, set up and configure it to work properly. 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.
“If hosted ecommerce software is like a finished house you can start decorating immediately, self-hosted software is like a building site. You get bricks, cement, wood and steel framing – all you need to build a beautiful property. But it’s up to you to put it together.”
That being said, open source shopping carts offer good flexibility, and have lots of advanced features that you can use and configure.
Which is why we’re going to tell you a bit more about three of the leading self-hosted ecommerce software providers…
Best all-round self-hosted ecommerce software
|Magento Pros||Magento Cons|
Magento is one of the most well-known ecommerce solutions on the market. It powers over 240,000 stores, so it must be doing something right!
If you know a bit of code (or are able to pay someone who does), then you have great freedom to build the store of your dreams.
But Magento’s editor just isn’t as easy to use as hosted ecommerce software. For an inexperienced store builder, there are far more potential pitfalls. For example, we found the interface includes a lot of technical terms that will seem alien to a first-time user. The more time you spend working out what they mean, the less time you spend perfecting your store.
One area Magento is pretty strong in is support. The Magento community are very helpful, and there are lots of quality guides available. However, don’t expect the same 24/7 support you get from an ecommerce solution like Shopify!
As with Shopify and BigCommerce, you can purchase themes externally via Magento, while you can also access a large selection of apps and plugins. The key difference with Magento is that you need to pay for your own hosting. But that’s all!
Because it’s in the public domain, Magento is free to use. This means you only need to pay for hosting, rather than a subscription as you would with Shopify. Your costs will vary depending on which hosting you choose.
Best self-hosted ecommerce software for flexible design
|WordPress with WooCommerce Pros||WordPress with WooCommerce Cons|
OK, we’re guessing you’ve heard of WordPress? After all, it’s one of the most popular platforms around.
To turn a standard WordPress site into an ecommerce store, you need to use extra ecommerce solutions. The best of these is WooCommerce.
Here’s how it works: you plug WooCommerce into your WordPress site to add ecommerce functionality. It’s so good at what it does that Automatic, the company that owns WordPress, bought WooCommerce in 2015. That’s a pretty big vote of confidence!
WordPress + WooCommerce as an ecommerce solution has a lot of pluses. You get:
- Great SEO support (SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization – the practice of boosting your site’s rankings in search engines like Google. The higher you rank, the more traffic and sales you get)
- The ability to add and customize products
- Payment options like PayPal and Visa
Professionally-designed templates are mobile optimized, meaning your store will look good across all devices.
The great benefit of ecommerce software like WordPress + WooCommerce is personalization. You aren’t tied down to any one way of doing things, instead having the freedom to play around in the backend. For instance, you can customize everything from your check-out cart through to your confirmation emails.
But, while WooCommerce may sound simple in principle, just like Magento, it requires technical skill to run.
In our experience, add-ons that are included in Shopify and BigCommerce plans can get quite pricey with WooCommerce. If you’re looking for an alternative, check out BigCommerce’s WordPress plugin. This allows you to make the most of BigCommerce’s features along with the freedom of WordPress.
BigCommerce has more multi-channel integrations than WooCommerce, so if you want to sell through lots of platforms, it’s an option worth thinking about.
Easiest to use self-hosted software
|OpenCart Pros||OpenCart Cons|
OpenCart is another very powerful piece of open source ecommerce software.
Like WordPress + WooCommerce and Magento, it promises everything you need to build, scale and run your business online. However, as with those other self-hosted ecommerce solutions, you will need technical chops to get the most out of it..
We can’t stress this point enough: if you’re not experienced with code and aren’t keen to learn, head back to our three best hosted ecommerce software solutions and pick one. You will save time, money and A LOT of stress.
On the flip side, if you do have a bit of coding knowledge (or plan on hiring someone), OpenCart is worth considering.
It’s also worth noting that OpenCart is one of the easiest-to-use self-hosted ecommerce solutions. The interface is fairly accessible, and you don’t have to be a Harvard-educated programmer to add products or change your store’s theme.
One of OpenCart’s biggest selling points as an ecommerce solution is the number of payment processors it supports. You can choose from over 20 different payment methods – a great variety for your future customers!
Key OpenCart features include:
- Unlimited product categories
- Customer reviews and ratings
- Support for multiple currencies
- Ability to sell digital products (like e-books)
OpenCart is free to download, but watch out for charges for installing new features. These can be as much as $300 a pop, so scaling your online store will get expensive pretty quickly!
And remember, your hosting (where your store lives online) is not included with self-hosted ecommerce software. You will have to pay at least $5/month to host your store – a fee that’s included with hosted ecommerce software like Shopify.
So just how does ecommerce software work?
Ecommerce software is what we call an all-in-one solution that gives you everything you need to build and run an online store. It makes it possible for you to add and sell products, manage your inventory, accept payments, deliver orders, and sort out taxes – pretty much anything you need to sell products through your online store without switching between different services.
Imagine you’re the driver and the ecommerce software is the car. The software provides the engine, lights, steering wheel and gears. You can then pick the car’s color, number plate, and where you want to go!
There are two main types of ecommerce software you can use to build an online store:
- Hosted ecommerce software (more user-friendly). Hosted ecommerce shopping carts enable you to build an ecommerce store without learning to code. The top three are:
- Self-hosted open source ecommerce software (more advanced). Our recommendations include Magento and WordPress with WooCommerce.
Self-hosted ecommerce software like WordPress powers millions of online stores, while ecommerce solutions like Shopify and BigCommerce are used by some of America’s biggest brands.
Just check out this Shopify-powered online store from Red Bull…
Using the best ecommerce software, you can build a stylish online store without any technical knowledge. There’s no need to worry, either – both hosted and self-hosted software will enable you to build the online store of your dreams.
“You’ll be surprised to hear that finding the best ecommerce software is not what you should be aiming for. Instead, focus on finding the best ecommerce software for YOU.”
Think of it as like picking clothes for your wardrobe. You don’t only pick the nicest or the most expensive clothes, do you? You want clothes that fit your body shape and are suitable for the weather outside. It’s the same with ecommerce software: you need a solution that’s the right fit for you.
So how do you pick the best ecommerce solution for your store?
There are four key questions you need to ask yourself before you pick your ecommerce software. Your answers will tell you which ecommerce solution is right for you.
Let’s dive in…
- How much time do you want to spend on technical maintenance?
- How budget-conscious are you?
- How technologically skilled are you?
- How much support do you want or need?
1. How much time do you want to spend on maintenance?
Are you not particularly technical? Do you not want to spend your time making sure your site doesn’t crash? Would you rather focus on marketing your store and making money?
In other words, do you want to worry about hosting (where your site lives on the internet), security, or any technical aspects of running your online store?
If your answer is a resounding no, you might want to consider using hosted ecommerce software.
Hosted ecommerce software will also make sure your site loads quickly. Load time is how long it takes for your store to appear when a customer tries to visit.
Online shoppers are impatient. The slower your site loads, the more chance your customers bail before buying. In our experience, ecommerce software that is self-hosted will load slower. Any work needed to speed up the site is up to you.
On the other hand, the best hosted ecommerce solutions will take care of all the technical upkeep for you.
Basically, hosted ecommerce software is dedicated to selling online. These solutions take care of all the technical aspects of operating a website so you don’t have to be your own IT manager. This enables you to focus on your business instead.
In the other corner are self-hosted ecommerce software tools.
These ecommerce solutions give you great flexibility to customize your store, but are much more hands-on when it comes to technical maintenance.
They regularly update their system, and it’s your job to make sure your store is up-to-date and glitch-free.
To do this, it’s likely you’ll need to work with a developer. This can get very expensive very quickly.
Which leads us on to our second question…
2.How budget-conscious are you?
Using hosted ecommerce software enables you to create a store for a set monthly fee.
From $29 a month, you can set up your online store and start selling products.
With the best ecommerce solutions, you know what your bill will be each month, and any extra apps are clearly priced.
It’s trickier to work out your costs with self-hosted software like WordPress. This is because you may have to work with a developer to keep your site running (if you’re not a techie yourself) and make any significant changes. Developers cost money– often hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.
Furthermore, with self-hosted ecommerce software, you need to keep paying for plugins to add more functionality. This makes costing your online store with self-hosted ecommerce solutions a lot more difficult.
Now you’ve worked out how important a clearly defined budget is to you, it’s time to ask yourself…
3. How technologically skilled are you?
Hosted and self-hosted ecommerce solutions require different amounts of technical skill to help you create the store you want.
Self-hosted ecommerce software is terrific for customization. WordPress, for example, is an open source platform, meaning anyone can use its codes and create personalized templates, themes and plugins. It’s also extremely powerful, so you can build a really unique store.
However, as with technical maintenance, making changes using self-hosted ecommerce software like WordPress is going to require a developer (unless you’re a skilled coder yourself).
On the flip side, if you want to build your store using more accessible technology that requires no coding skills, hosted ecommerce solutions are the answer.
The idea is that hosted ecommerce solutions “hide” all the code, and instead provide you with a simple and non-technical user interface for you to create your own store. At the click of a button, you can insert your content (such as images and galleries), upload your products, and connect your website to a payment processor.
You can then start selling very quickly.
All the tools you need to run an online store, including product management and payment processors, are already built-in to hosted ecommerce solutions. You don’t need to spend time adding them yourself – they all work out-of-the-box, right away. If you do get stuck, dedicated support teams are on hand to help.
Which leads us to our fourth and final question…
4. How much support do you want or need?
When launching an online store, professional support is a big help.
Good support is like having a full-time business partner. They can answer your questions and point you in the right direction when things go wrong.
The best ecommerce solutions all come with at least a decent level of support.
Generally, self-hosted ecommerce solutions leave you on your own a bit more. There are communities, resources and tutorials to help, but you may find it hard to sift through the information to find the answer to your specific problem.
In our research, we found that hosted ecommerce software like Shopify and BigCommerce provided an excellent level of support. Agents are typically available over the phone, email and LiveChat.
Now you’ve had an overview of the best hosted and self-hosted ecommerce solutions on the market, and know exactly what to look out for, you can choose the best solution for your online store.
Let’s recap the six best hosted and self-hosted ecommerce solutions:
- WooCommerce with WordPress
Finding the best ecommerce software is not an easy task when you’re trying to figure out how to sell online.
The first step is to think about how technically confident you are. If you’re a master coder, then self-hosted solutions like Magento will give you more flexibility and you can configure the cart as you wish (head back to our discussion on the best self-hosted ecommerce software).
What if you are a beginner or intermediate user, not comfortable with code, or want to quickly and easily set up an online store and start selling? Hosted ecommerce solutions like Shopify are your best option.
To wrap up, here are our recommended hosted ecommerce software suggestions again:
3 Best Hosted Ecommerce Solutions
Should I choose a hosted or self-hosted ecommerce solution?
For most people, we recommend hosted ecommerce solutions like Shopify and BigCommerce. This is because these options are more accessible to a wider range of people. They already have all the tools built in for you to create your online store, so you can start selling quickly and easily without knowing a line of code.
Self-hosted ecommerce solutions like Magento and WordPress (with WooCommerce) are more advanced. While this means they’re more flexible, it also means they’re more complicated to set up and manage. If you’re confident with code and technology, these are a great choice. If not, they can be overwhelming and expensive for you to run.
How much do ecommerce solutions cost?
There’s no perfect answer! The good news is there are tons of options, so you can find a price to suit your budget. If you want to sell online for $20 or less, check out our best ecommerce platforms review, which includes website builders like Wix and Weebly.
For dedicated hosted ecommerce solutions, Shopify starts from $29 a month, and BigCommerce starts from $29.95 a month. Self-hosted solutions are a lot harder to calculate, because hosting plans vary so much.
You can get hosting for as low as $2.95 a month from Bluehost, up to as much as $119.99 a month on a different Bluehost plan. It really depends on the size and needs of your store. Remember to include the cost of add-ons in your budget too.
Which ecommerce solution is best for small businesses?
We recommend Shopify! It’s the best all-round ecommerce solution. It’s designed to help you get your online store up and running, whether you’re a small business or ecommerce empire. It’s got all the sales features you could need, from abandoned cart recovery to shipping labels. It has something for everyone and is our top choice for running your online store.
Want to find out more? Read our Shopify Review for a full look at this leading ecommerce solution.
What should I look for in an ecommerce solution?
There are tons of things that go into making an online store successful, but, there are some important features which benefit all businesses and which you should look out for when choosing your ecommerce solution.
The main one is getting an SSL certificate. This stands for Secure Sockets Layer and makes your site a safe place for customers to enter their payment details and information. This means it’s essential for any online store.
Shopify and BigCommerce both include an SSL certificate for free in all their payment plans, whereas Volusion will charge you an extra $99.
Can I actually make money through ecommerce solutions like Shopify?
Yes, definitely! These are dedicated ecommerce solutions, which means they have all the tools and features you need to create a successful online store and get selling. From printing shipping labels to creating discounts, you have the tools to build your store and make money right at your fingertips. If you want to find out more about getting started, why not check out our guide on how to build an online store?
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