The best ecommerce platforms will help you grow your retail business, and help more customers find you online - find the right one for you today (and try it for free!)
by Xanthe Gilmore
The best ecommerce platform for your small business won’t only kit your site out with a shopping cart and checkout. It’ll also need to offer those must-have features that'll give your customers the best shopping experience – without costing you the earth.
An ecommerce platform is a software solution that enables you to turn your ordinary website into an online shop.
Amazon and ebay are both examples of third party ecommerce sites, but many small businesses like to take the lead and build their own ecommerce website using an ecommerce platform.
In doing this, you can give your online store a personal (or branded) touch, your products won’t be rubbing shoulders with competitors and your customers will easily be able to check out when they find your site online.
Best ecommerce platforms: Explained
(1/5) The best ecommerce platform overall: BigCommerce
CONS – Potentially too much choice, credit card fees
What is BigCommerce?
BigCommerce is a comprehensive ecommerce website builder trusted by over 95,000 online stores – and it’s especially popular with small and mid-sized business owners wanting to boost their sales.
Though it’s a fairly new player in the ecommerce market, it’s been growing by around 700% for the past couple of years and is already one of the most popular ecommerce solutions in the UK.
What’s BigCommerce like to use?
BigCommerce combines dozens of free designs with themes that are easy to customise. We like how it offers an all-in-one online shopping cart software that even lets you recover abandoned carts and offer instant checkout, without the transaction fees.
Is it for me?
If you want a reliable platform to sell your products online, and are dead serious about growing your business, BigCommerce will be one to check out.
According to Ipsos research, BigCommerce grows stores by 28% a year (that’s twice as fast as the industry average), so we think it’s the best ecommerce platform for ambitious small businesses in the UK.
(2/5) The best ecommerce platform for SEO: GoDaddy
PROS – Track record in growing small business sales, user-friendly, features-rich, transparent pricing
CONS – More limited designs, single-price packages
What is GoDaddy?
GoDaddy is an entry-level website builder that makes starting your own ecommerce site a breeze, even if you don’t have a techie bone in your body!
The GoDaddy Online Store software was built with users in mind – but it’s also designed to be best friends with Google to make sure as many customers as possible actually find your site in the first place.
What’s the GoDaddy Online Store like to use?
Alongside the ADI (Artificial Design Intelligence) that saves you time (and makes your online store look professionally-made), you get on-hand SEO support with the SEO Wizard. Plus, in today’s mobile world, it’s good to know GoDaddy sites are mobile-first to keep you ahead.
GoDaddy is also one of the few ecommerce website builders offering 24/7 phone support (and trust us, you don’t want to be emailing a bot when it comes to any queries on your online store).
We also like its transparent fees: just £19.99 all-in for everyone (with other providers like Wix, BigCommerce and Shopify you might need to upgrade your starting plan, depending on what you need).
Is it for me?
With 93% of all internet activity starting from a search, you’ll have a tough job shifting sales if people can’t find you online. That’s why SEO (search engine optimisation) will be a top priority when choosing your ecommerce platform – and GoDaddy is the go-to for SEO.
GoDaddy Online Store is ultra-easy to get to grips with, even for complete beginners. It’s also one of the cheapest ecommerce website builders, and promises real business growth (not just a pretty shop front).
CONS – Flexibility means it can be time-consuming to use, some templates won't be as good for SEO (but now Google is better at crawling websites anyway)
What is Wix Stores?
Wix is an easy-to-use ecommerce platform that was designed to make it simple for small businesses and entrepreneurs to start selling online.
It’s got one of the largest selections of ecommerce templates to help get you up and running fast, plus there’s a comprehensive support team and a big Wix App Market to give you extra back-up.
What’s Wix Stores like to use?
Wix is one of the more user-friendly ecommerce website builders we came across. Its drag-and-drop editor makes it so easy to customise websites, and even users with no experience can create something that looks professional, completely from scratch.
Our favourite thing about Wix is how easily it integrates with lifesaving ecommerce tools that you’ll find in the Wix app store to help you up your game in social media, marketing and promotions.
Is it for me?
Wix is the best ecommerce platform for small businesses looking to create an online store that’s simple and straightforward – making life easier for you as well as your customers.
The £11 a month ‘eCommerce Plan' was designed specifically for small businesses, and you're free to cancel your Premium Plan within the first 14 days, no questions asked.
PROS – Lite plan is ultra-cheap, great for drop shipping, no transaction fees, clean interface, slick integration with Paypal/Wordpress/Amazon etc., mobile access
CONS – Could be easier to add custom fields, GDPR compliance requires cookie banner app, extensive reporting only comes with pricier plans
What is Shopify?
Shopify is one of the world’s most popular ecommerce platforms, and powers over 500,000 ecommerce sites, grossing over £35bn. Why does that matter? For one thing, it means you’re in good hands: Shopify is unlikely to vanish overnight.
What’s Shopify like to use?
With Shopify, you get 10 free (modifiable) ecommerce templates that display well on desktops and mobiles. The interface is clean and refreshingly intuitive, so you can easily expand your store to sell across Pinterest, Facebook and Amazon.
Shopify also fares well in the all-important realm of SEO (miles ahead of the likes of Squarespace and Jimdo), and it’s simple to prep your ecommerce site to get on well with Google.
Is it for me?
Most users choose Shopify because of its ultra-intuitive interface and competitive prices – and the recent integration with Amazon lets you manage all your products from one place.
But it’s also the go-to if you specialise in drop shipping (where you sell goods you don’t personally stock) or if you sell online but also have a brick-and-mortar shop (thanks to the handy Shopify Store Locator app).
BigCommerce, Shopify and GoDaddy are all examples of hosted ecommerce platforms. They're sites that take the pain out of creating your own online store by providing the code and server you need to run your ecommerce site for a small monthly fee.
The alternative would be to build the website yourself (if you're a tech whizz) or hire a website developer (which usually costs more than small businesses would like to spend).
Here are the main differences between the two options:
Benefits of hosted platforms
No hosting or server nightmares – Not using a hosted ecommerce solution means you get the headache of having to find your own server and hosting platform for your website.
Cut costs – There's no comparing the small monthly costs of hosted website builders (usually between £6 and £30) and the stacks of cash you'll pay to get a professional to build (and constantly update) your online shop.
Extra security – Hosted platforms offer trusted servers and security updates that will take care of most online risks for you.
The sky's the limit (when you can scale) – Whether you're growing your business or just experiencing some traffic spikes around Black Friday, you want a large platform that can roll with the punches, and the flexibility to upgrade with a few clicks.
Features galore – Hosted platforms are jam-packed with the latest features for your ecommerce site – with a custom ecommerce site you may be the last to hear.
Limitations with hosted platforms
More limited customisation – Most ecommerce platforms like Wix and Weebly let you customise your online store. But if you happened to have your heart set on a completely novel feature, you could be waiting years for the company to build it.
Less breaking the mould – If you have a wackier business model (like you're Airbnb), it's probably best to build your own site.
You need a good customer support – Not having your very own developer could mean waiting in a phone queue for help. GoDaddy offers 24/7 phone support, but not all do.
Do I need a hosted ecommerce platform?
To decide whether a hosted ecommerce platform is for you, just ask yourself these three questions:
Are you selling different types of products? – Are you just trying to shift your first book, or do you have a mini-business selling different dog T-shirts?
Are your sales needs simple? – Is it just a click-and-pay job you need, or would you like to grow your business with marketing and SEO support?
Is your business international? – If you'll be shipping abroad, you may want different languages as well as local and international delivery options.
Did you answer “yes” to any of these questions? Then it looks like you're ready for a killer ecommerce platform.