Top Online Store Platforms – “51 percent of purchases by ‘avid’ online shoppers over the past three months, excluding groceries, were made on the web.” 5th Annual UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper Report, Jun’16.
Avid online shoppers are defined as those consumers who make two or more purchases on the web in a typical three-month period. This implies more than half of the ‘regular’ online shoppers are making their purchases across categories on the web. And this figure (51%) has grown from 48%(2015) and 47%(2014) in the past 2 years. Another report by Goldman suggests that web purchases are going to increase further as even the not so web-savvy generations are going to get influenced by the avid ones and start shopping online.
All of this data points to one simple conclusion. Any business needs to be on the web. The next logical question to ask would be – Can a small business owner, who doesn’t have the financials similar to big retail organizations, come up with an online store?
The answer is a resounding “Yes”. Online ecommerce and shopping cart platforms have evolved to an extent where launching your own e-commerce store is a matter of a few hours to a few minutes – depending on your digital know-how.
Over the past decade, several ecommerce platforms have sprung up which provide you everything that you might need in terms of setting up your online store. And the best thing is that neither do they cost a bomb nor do they require a geek to operate upon.
Let us look at the top 10 online shopping platforms and how they are enabling small business owners to grow out of their boots by creating their presence in the digital space –
Shopify has emerged as the premier online store provider over the past decade and it’s included in “Top Online Store Platforms”. It is a hosted solution and makes the whole process of setting up an online store a smooth affair. Shopify has a sizeable collection of free as well as premium themes. This allows a store to get their required look and feel out-of-the-box.
Shopify platform has been able to keep itself synced-in with the changing technology space throughout its years of existence. This is a huge benefit for the online stores it hosts, as they get to use the latest technologies in their sites without having to worry about the technical nitty-gritties of implementing them. The latest announcement from Shopify to support Apple Pay’s Touch ID for payment is another step in this direction.
The App store of Shopify is also a huge technology enabler. Through Apps a business owner can easily extend the functionality of his store with ease. Shopify provides SEO benefits such as meta descriptions, canonical URLs to uniquely identify internal URLs and custom title tags. It also provides an XML-Sitemap for search engine indexing automatically for your site.
Shopify has built an effective customer support system for the business owners with support being provided over email, chat and phone. It has excellent integration with shipping providers and fulfilment centres which helps in efficient inventory management. It also provides a POS (Point of Sale) system for entering physical store purchase data which allows a business owner to manage online and offline sales in one place. Shopify’s price ranges from a basic $9 store to a full-fledged store for $179.FULL REVIEW VISIT SITE
BigCommerce is the second most popular online ecommerce platform after Shopify. It comes close to Shopify in terms of ease of setting up of a store along with a well-designed and easy to navigate dashboard. BigCommerce comes equipped with essential marketing features as well as regular ecommerce features like gift cards. It also provides an in-built review and rating system for your online store.
BigCommerce supports integration with eBay as well as ChannelAdvisor for sales across multiple online channels. This helps in putting your products in front of a potentially much higher number of customers and enhances your sales prospects.
Customizations to BigCommerce look and feel will require you to have some knowledge in HTML & CSS as it doesn’t support a drag and drop editor yet. However, a person with no knowledge of web designing will have no issues with the platform as it offers a wide range of easily customizable templates.
One of the biggest reasons for the popularity of BigCommerce is that it delivers more bang for every buck that you spend. Although its plans start at a slightly higher rates of $29.95 per month and go up to $79.95 per month, yet when compared to its peers it offers more features for the same price point. From the initial plan($29.95/mo) itself, BigCommerce provides a full-featured online store, unlimited products, no upper limits on storage and bandwidth as well as unlimited staff accounts. Small and medium sized businesses have taken to BigCommerce in a major way primarily due to these extra benefits that its base plan provides. Of course BigCommerce is included in “Top Online Store Platforms”.FULL REVIEW VISIT SITE
3DCart is not so popular as its bigger counterparts Shopify and BigCommerce are but it is also included in “Top Online Store Platforms”. Having said that, 3DCart does have few unique advantages that it provides to online business owners.
It is one of the easiest to use e-commerce platforms. Its technical support team is also touted to be one of the best. One of the unique aspects of 3DCart platform enhancements is that the company listens to its customers a lot. It is known to come out with updates at the request of the business owners. With their business features being driven by the business community it hosts, 3DCart is more customer-oriented than many of its accomplished peers. 3DCart also has the highest number of shipping options among all the ecommerce platforms.
For those who dabble a bit with web design, 3DCart has few specifically designed features like extensive permission systems and the option of selling re-branded stores. 3DCart has more than a hundred mobile-ready themes. It offers both front-end and back-end via mobile.
It’s plans start from $9.99 per month and go up to $99.99 per month. However, one drawback with 3DCart is that its basic plan is rather limited with only 25 products allowed. However, the fact that it does not charge a transaction fees across its plans makes it quite attractive for growing businesses as their variable costs are controlled.FULL REVIEW VISIT SITE
Volusion has a relatively easy-to-use interface for setting up of your online store. It provides a range of pre-existing templates for designing the look and feel of your store. You can easily create catalogues of products, use a CMS to manage your store’s contents and accept online payments via a broad range of online payment gateways.
Volusion has the least priced abandoned cart recovery feature among all ecommerce platforms. This feature sends reminders to customers who do not checkout their shopping carts and can be very useful in finalization of sales. It bundles this feature along with its starter ($15 per month) plan itself which is the lowest subscription amount for this feature among all e-commerce platforms.
Volusion boasts of an in-built loyalty program feature for your site along with a ‘deal of the day’ feature. These can be helpful in retaining customers and boosting sales respectively. Volusion also provides integration with eBay and Amazon to enhance your online sales footprint. Apart from its starter plan for which there is online support provided, rest all plans have 24/7 support over email, chat and phone.
Among the drawbacks, Volusion has a major limitation in terms of not having a blogging tool. This means you don’t have the option of doing content marketing for your business which is a good option for generating targeted traffic. Volusion provides much fewer apps than its competitors such as Shopify. This severely limits the capability addition to your online store. It provides fewer templates than its competitors for customizing the look and feel of your webstore and the number of responsive themes is even lower. In addition, the paid templates of Volusion are much costlier than that on its competitors.
Plan prices start from $15 and go up to $135 per month. Although Volusion’s plan have limitations in terms of number of products and bandwidth as compared to its peers, it does cover up some lost ground by not charging transaction fees in any of its plans. Volusion are included too in “Top Online Store Platforms” list.FULL REVIEW VISIT SITE
Unlike the other ecommerce platforms covered in this article, WooCommerce is not a hosted ecommerce platform. Rather it is an open source WordPress plugin which integrates with your WordPress-based website and allows you to build an online store but we decided to include it too in “Top Online Store Platforms” list.
WooCommerce is easy to use and can be set up just like any other WordPress plugin. With WooCommerce you get features such as product variations, 5 payment gateways, SEO capabilities of WordPress platform, Inventory Management, Discount coupons and codes, customer accounts, option guest checkout option, review system as well as basic analytics and reporting capabilities. You also get mobile versions of store front and admin for your online store.
WooCommerce has the ability to work with any WordPress theme. However, WooCommerce to avoid display headaches, it is better to go for a WordPress theme which has been designed keeping WooCommerce in mind. WordPress Themes from WooThemes are considered the best source of themes for a WooCommerce-based online store. Or, you can go in for WooCommerce’s own StoreFront WordPress theme.
WooCommerce supports 5 payment providers out of the box, but provides extensions for enabling more than 100 payment processors. It also supports Checks, CODs and transfers as payment modes.
Among its drawbacks, WooCommerce support is not at the same level as its peers. It does not have a support team across channels. I.e. there is no support via social media, email, chat or phone. Support is in the form of FAQs, solutions mentioned in online forums, documentations and video tutorials online. Regarding pricing – although the basic version is free and open source, you can purchase extra add-ons for increasing your store’s capabilities. But these will cost you from $29 to $129. So, it may cost you more than you initially budget for.FULL REVIEW VISIT SITE
LemonStand does compete with other ecommerce platforms but its turf is a little different. It caters to fast growing businesses who have a constant need of evolving their online store in response to their customer feedback. If you have a rapidly growing aggressive business, then LemonStand gives you full access to the website code and expects you to have coding knowledge to tweak it as per your needs.
A quick run through the features of LemonStand reveals the targeted business it wants to cater to. It provides complete design control, customizable checkouts and allows the use of any of the front-end frameworks such as Bootstrap, React or Angular. It even provides a tool known as LemonSync for enabling local development and workflow, thus encouraging local development on its platform. It also contains a powerful theming engine along with free open source themes which are adaptable as per your requirements.
LemonStand is a fully hosted SaaS-based e-commerce platform. It integrates with all the major payment providers as well as 3rd party payment processors like Payfirma or Stripe. It has an excellent technical support over email, chat and phone with quick turnaround.
Among its drawbacks, the one significant limitation with LemonStand is that it is not meant for a business with no knowledge on the technical front. If such a business does decide to go for LemonStand then they will have to hire one or more web developers to customize the platform’s default offerings as per its needs.
LemonStand’s plans start from $49 per month with a 200 orders per month limit and go up to $499 per month which is a complete White Glove offering. And Yes! It is included in “Top Online Store Platforms” list.FULL REVIEW VISIT SITE
Wix has been built around the philosophy of providing an easy option for building online stores for small business owners. And it has been successful in expanding its base among its target customers due to its easy-to-use interface, good training material and a wide range of integrations (social media, BigStock images) and apps (Wix App Store) for enhancing the small business’ online store.
Wix comes equipped with a dashboard built keeping a business user in mind and is quite easy-to-use with the drag-and-drop interface provided. The interface allows playing around with the components on the page using the mouse. Once you are done with the designing, you can use a Preview button to see the end result before submitting your changes. Wix has an in-built blog manager to cater to content marketing requirements of the online store. It also has excellent SEO and Marketing features as well as full mobile compatibility.
Among its drawbacks, Wix does not offer support via email or chat. It has a phone based support but waiting times can be quite long. Wix has an interesting ‘scheduled call’ feature to book a scheduled time and date slot for help. It does have extensive help resources online in the form of articles and FAQs along with a community forum.
With regards to pricing Wix has a free basic version which shows an advertisement of Wix on the top right corner along with displaying the site’s URL as wixusername.wix.com/sitename. Its paid plans start with the basic plan priced at $6.9 per month or $4.9 per month (if paid annually) and go up to $15.9 per month or $12.92 per month (if paid annually) for the unlimited plans. Wix is included too in “Top Online Store Platforms” list.FULL REVIEW VISIT SITE
Ecwid has been built with the philosophy of providing an ecommerce solution which can be quickly integrated on top of an existing site to utilize the benefits of the Ecwid platform. It takes only a few minutes (5 minutes as per Ecwid’s website) to integrate. Ecwid allows the mirroring of your store on many sites at the same time and then allows managing all of them through one single dashboard. It integrates with all social networks. Ecwid comes with a feature wherein it syncs between multiple devices allowing you to sell from your mobile device along with synced automatic updates at the backend. It is aimed at primarily smaller businesses who need quick-fix ecommerce stores.
Ecwid steals an edge over other ecommerce platforms in terms of its excellent responsive design which works well on any device – phone, tablet or desktop with ease. It also provides drag and drop based interface for page design. Ecwid is compatible with more than 30 payment providers. There is no extra processing fee involved other than the mobile payment processing fee of 2.7% charged by PayPal.
Among its drawbacks, Ecwid does not have personal support via email and chat for lower plans. The merchants on lower plans have to make do with FAQs, online knowledge base and user forums. Ecwid has fewer integration and add-on options for adding new features on top of the provided plans.
Pricing plans start from a free plan with a limit of 10 products, a basic plan at $15 per month with 100 product limit and go up to Unlimited plan for $99 per month. Ecwid is included too in “Top Online Store Platforms” list.FULL REVIEW VISIT SITE
BigCartel is an ecommerce platform aimed at the artist community who want to sell their products online. It caters to a wide range of artists including clothing designers, record labels, crafters, jewellery among other artists. The user interface has been created keeping non-technical users in mind and is very simple. BigCartel, by design, doesn’t aim to provide extensive features.
BigCartel provides a WYSIWYG editor for customizing and designing your online store and has a few free themes to choose from. You can add your own logo. If you want to customize the HTML and CSS for look and feel, then you will need to purchase a paid plan. Among integrations, it only has a Facebook app for integrating your online store in to your Facebook page. It provides two options for payment processing – Stripe and PayPal.
Among drawbacks, one can list a host of limitations when comparing with other ecommerce portals. But then one has to realize the intent with which BigCartel has been built – that of providing a simple ecommerce platform for artists to sell their wares. Then the absence of large number of payment options and the lack of add-ons and integrations doesn’t pinch. One limitation, however, would hurt even the artists as there are no email or chat based customer support options. The phone-based support is also only on weekdays from 9 AM to 6 PM EST.
Pricing plans start from the basic Gold Plan which is free and has a limit of 5 products while the highest plan is Titanium which is $29.99 per month which allows selling up to 300 products. BigCartel is included too in “Top Online Store Platforms” list.FULL REVIEW VISIT SITE
Squarespace is among the successful top online store platforms in use today. It boasts of a user friendly drag-and-drop functionality which simplifies the design of the online store immensely. Squarespace gives a lot of importance to aesthetics and style. It has excellent features such as progressive image loading, automatic metadata detection and responsive image loader which greatly enhance the visual design of the store across devices and for various bandwidths.
Squarespace has 41 templates to choose from and comes with its own developer platform where web designers can create their own designs using CSS and HTML. It comes with a blog for your online store which increases the scope for content marketing. Squarespace provides an effective announcement bar for site wide announcements. Squarespace comes equipped with a liking, commenting and associated moderation feature as well. It integrates well with Aviary image editor, Dropbox and Getty images along with Flickr and OpenTable.
Squarespace has provided multiple mobile Apps for managing many of the store’s aspects such as blogs, notes, metrics and images. These mobile Apps are primarily aimed at iOS users. Squarespace provides 24/7 customer support with email and live chat support.
Among its drawbacks, Squarespace lacks in third party apps and add-ons. It’s SEO tools are also not up to the mark. Its initial setup is tougher than its peers and customization of templates is tough. With Squarespace you will have to pay 2%-3% transaction fee for your sales.
Squarespace has 2 pricing plans. Personal plan is $12 per month (paid annually) or $16 per month (paid monthly). Business plan is $18 per month (paid annually) or $26 per month (paid monthly) which is more or less unlimited in nature. Squarespace is included too in “Top Online Store Platforms” list.FULL REVIEW VISIT SITE
Conclusion of Top Online Store Platforms
We had an exhaustive look at various ecommerce platforms which aim to enable businesses to move online by setting up ecommerce stores for them. However, as you would have read through their descriptions, you would have realized that not all stores aim at the same set of business users or merchants.
While some cater to niche merchants such as artists (BigCartel) or small businesses (Wix and Ecwid), others cater to technically equipped organizations who want to deep dive into customizations as per requirements (LemonStand). Then there is the WordPress plugin (WooCommerce) which is unique in the way it is used. We also looked at a host of providers aiming at the broader market (Shopify, BigCartel, Volusion, Squarespace, 3DCart). So, ultimately the choice of which ecommerce platform to use for setting up your online store depends on which ecommerce provider’s features and benefits match your business needs.
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