The 6 best ecommerce platforms for small businesses in 2021
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!)
We are a team of writers, experimenters and researchers providing you with the best advice with zero bias or partiality.This article was co-authored by:
Online shopping is steadily consuming an ever larger portion of the UK retail market (21.9%, as of March 2020).
As consumer expectations change, small businesses can no longer afford not to have ecommerce functionality on their websites.
But if you don’t already have an online shop, there’s good news: you can set one up right now, using one of the best ecommerce platforms for small business.
In order to compile our list, we subjected every platform to extensive user testing, and scored each one against the seven key metrics that you, our small business audience, told us are most important.
According to our testers, Wix is the best ecommerce platform for small businesses. It’s also the best value, with wonderful templates and essential features at a very affordable price.
Squarespace came in second, thanks to its design flexibility, while Shopify, which offers the most comprehensive range of sales features, came in third.
Click on the links to get started with a plan today, or read on for a more comprehensive review of each platform before making your final decision.
The 6 best ecommerce platforms for small business in 2020
Wix eCommerce: Best value for money
According to our user testing, Wix is the best ecommerce platform for small businesses, taking top spot for its features, design flexibility, and help and support.
With more than 70 different ecommerce templates to choose from, which can be customised to your heart’s content, you can create a unique online shop that’s perfectly tailored to your brand. However, choose your template carefully, because you can’t change it once your website is live.
It’s easy to add features, and unlike other providers, you can edit text and add products within the storefront, so you’re never editing blind. On the go? Not a problem. The Wix mobile app allows you to make amendments to your website from anywhere.
And while it might not be an ecommerce-specific platform – like BigCommerce and Shopify – thanks to its extensive App Market, it offers all the sales functionality you could ever need. This includes multiple payment options, secure checkout, and abandoned cart recovery.
As of May 2019, Wix has introduced some of the best analytics tools on the market. This gives you the power to optimise your store and make effective business decisions, based on everything from site visits and store revenue to top products and average order figures.
And in June 2020, Wix expanded its ecommerce offering with even more useful tools and features including Ascend, a complete CRM and marketing product suite, and Corvid, a web development solution that allows you to build and deploy applications quickly and efficiently.
It's also enhanced its order fulfilment and management solution. It's now much easier to track and manage orders, print shipping labels, and notify suppliers and manufacturers when you receive and order.
Considering the quality of its features, not to mention the very reasonable cost of its plans (36% cheaper on average than rivals!), for our money, Wix is the best value ecommerce platform on the market.
Wix eCommerce pricing
Squarespace: Best for creative control
Like Wix, Squarespace is a website builder first and foremost. But it more than rivals the ecommerce-specific platforms when it comes to creating a professional online shop.
Squarespace was our top ranked platform for design flexibility. It offers a range of beautiful, stylish, themed templates for nearly every single industry we evaluated – and, unlike Wix, you can change your theme whenever you want. It even has a checkout style editor, so you can make sure your checkout page matches your site’s aesthetic.
The editing interface itself is clean and easy to navigate, and our testers praised the creative freedom allowed. However, they found that the user experience could be challenging for beginners.
Squarespace’s sales features vastly outshine rival website builders Wix and Weebly. You can add an unlimited number of products to your site, and monitor your success with stock management and revenue reports. Customers get a great experience too, with the ability to create an account, as well as save payment methods, shipping addresses, and shopping carts.
And it’s great value. You won’t find a more comprehensive ecommerce solution, with a genuine focus on its users’ needs, for such a great price. Check out Squarespace’s pricing plans here.
Shopify: Best for sales-specific features
When it came to the ever important customer score – in other words, the proportion of users that would be highly likely to recommend a platform to a friend – Shopify was our outright winner. No tester gave it less than a 4/5 for this metric.
While our researchers found that creating an online shop with other ecommerce builders could be overwhelming – a result of “complex terminology and confusing interfaces” – Shopify’s user interface was described as “clean and refreshingly intuitive”, making it easy to get the results you want.
What's more, you are able to change template after your site has gone live, but you will have to reformat your entire store.
Shopify offers excellent online store features – including integration with Amazon, so you can manage all your products from one place – and a range of essential tools to support scaling businesses.
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 bricks-and-mortar shop (thanks to the range of store locator apps on offer).
Shopify also fares well in the all-important realm of SEO. It's miles ahead of the likes of Squarespace and Jimdo, and it’s simple to prep your ecommerce site to rank well with Google.
Square Online: Best for selling for free
Square Online (previously Square Online Store) is unique in this ranking of the best ecommerce platforms for small businesses in that it’s the only one that allows you to start selling products without signing up for a premium plan.
*But that doesn’t exactly mean you can sell for free, as it is also the only platform that does NOT allow you to waive the transaction fee, imposing a 2.5% + 30p charge for every payment processed.
But what's it like to create an online store with this ecommerce site builder?
Well, for what it is, Square Online is pretty solid. There are no real limitations on how many products you can feature, or on the type of product – be it physical, digital, donation, event, service, or even to sell as a restaurant.
And stock and inventory can be configured any way you wish, with decent analytics and reporting tools available even on a free plan.
On the design front, Square Online scores quite low, as there’s no choice of templates and the only changes you can make are to things like font and colours. That said, the basic online store design it offers is very clean and follows user experience best practice.
Overall, then, a neat, easy, and affordable online shop builder that’s partnered with an industry-leading payment system.
Square Online pricing
Wondering about the Weebly ecommerce platform?
You might be asking “Why is the Weebly ecommerce builder not featured on this list?”, and we'd understand! But it's because Weebly's ecommerce solutions are now offered by Square Online.
BigCommerce: Best for multi-channel selling
BigCommerce does what it says on the tin. With the most expansive range of features of any platform we reviewed, and multiple languages and currencies supported, this should be your go to ecommerce platform if you’re an ambitious, growing business.
And, unlike rival Shopify, most of its ecommerce features are in-built (rather than from third parties), which means they’re generally of a much higher quality.
The feature most highly praised by our researchers was multi-channel retailing, which allows you to manage all your listings from one location. BigCommerce supports Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest ‘inhouse’, and you can add a ‘buy’ button to blogs, social media posts, and marketing emails. Amazon and eBay are only available if your store’s default currency is set to dollars.
However, with this complexity comes challenges. Some of our testers found the editing interface quite tricky to use, and struggled with jargony terminology. The reins are a bit tighter when it comes to creative control as well, wth restrictive design options that force you to rely on templates (though you’re allowed to change your template at any time).
It's important to note that for a limited time only, BigCommerce is offering a 3-month free trial for any Standard, Plus, or Pro plan. This is intended to help businesses sell more online during the uncertain times of financial downturn for many businesses due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Do you want your online shop to grow twice as fast as the industry average? According to research from Ipsos, BigCommerce stores grow by 28% year over year, compared to an average of 14% for those created with other leading providers.
BigCommerce offers a good range of plans, increasing from £24/month to £242/month, so you can definitely find one that meets your unique needs. And, if you can't, BigCommerce also offers excellent custom pricing solutions for businesses with more unique needs. Click on the links below to find out more.
It’s not for everyone, but scaling ecommerce businesses should look no further than BigCommerce.
GoDaddy: Best for ease of use
Our researchers rated GoDaddy the easiest ecommerce platform to use, with an accessible, helpful editor, and an Artificial Design Intelligence (ADI) function that saves time and makes your online store look professionally-made.
However, this very same ADI also severely limits your creative control. This isn't a problem if you just want to get up and running with a great looking online shop, but it's less appealing if you’re after something a little more unique.
At just £19.99 all-in, we like GoDaddy’s transparent fees. With other providers like Wix, BigCommerce and Shopify, you might need to upgrade your starting plan, depending on your needs. That said, GoDaddy doesn’t have the rich range of features offered by rival platforms.
However, it does have excellent on-hand SEO support. And 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.
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).
Our methodology: How do we choose the best ecommerce website builder for small business?
As we said in the introduction, each platform has been put through rigorous user testing, and ranked on the six key factors that matter to you most.
By gaining an understanding of the factors we used to determine our list, you can decide to what extent each matters for your online store.
Our customer score is based on four areas of investigation:
- User experience (UX) – how user responsive the builder is to edit
- Likely to recommend – how likely would a user be to recommend the platform to a friend
- Brand awareness – an assessment of popularity based on keyword research
This factor is based on five areas of investigation:
- Templates/themes – the variety of templates on offer, and the number of industries represented
- Flexibility of design – whether the builder is capable of amending or switching templates once the site has been published
- Brand, UX and design – is the site modern and sleek? is the website editor accessible and easy to use? Are the templates unique and aesthetically pleasing?
- Mobile editor – the builder's ability to automatically reformat changes from desktop to mobile, and vice versa
- Aesthetical abilities – an exploration into the additional aesthetic capabilities within the website builder image editor
Help and support
Help and support is based on four areas of investigation:
- Restore options – whether a website builder offers the option to restore your website
- Customer support – the assisted services provided by the website builder, and any services which fall under the umbrella of ‘help’
- Help features vs pricing plan – the help and support features on offer per pricing plan (are there certain restrictions imposed?)
- Knowledge centre – analysis of the the search term responses provided within the builder's knowledge centre
Based on 13 areas of investigation:
- Multi channel integration
- Sales types
- Payment options
- Transaction fee
- Mobile app
- Checkout and order status
- Abandoned cart recovery
- Big data
- Shipping options
- Accounting options
- Promotion and discount codes
Value for money
Based on three areas of investigation:
- Features vs price – combination of the average pricing plan score and quality of feature score
- Free trial – whether the builder offers a free trial or free plan
- Average pricing plan – average cost of a builder’s plan based on value, including tax
Based on eight areas of investigation:
- Quality of website features – whether the website builder offers certain website specific features; broken down into design, builder, business tools, additional, and tech based categories
- Internationalisation – how diverse builders are for internationalisation support/scalability
- App/widget integration – whether the builder provides users with an app market, and how easy it is to use
- Domain and email address – whether you can create an email address through the website builder, as well as explore the implementation of a domain and the cost incurred
- Storage space – how much storage space is offered per pricing plan
- SEO – how the builder assists customers with best SEO practices
- Blogging – whether the website builder offers the ability to create a blog, and how scalable this is/what blogging specific features are available
- Marketing – whether the builder offers any form of marketing assistance (email subscriptions/shout outs)
Ease of use
Best ecommerce platforms: Final verdict
Hopefully, one of the six ecommerce website builders above is jumping out at you as the best choice for your online shop.
If you’re after a great all rounder, then Wix – our top ranked ecommerce platform for small businesses – is excellent value for money.
If you’re looking for maximum creative control, then Squarespace is probably the online shop builder for you.
And if you want to fully optimise your online store with a full arsenal of top-quality sales features, look no further than Shopify.
When it comes to the best ecommerce platform, there's no one-size-fits-all approach. It all depends on what your business model is, and what you're looking for.
If you’re not absolutely sure which one is the right choice for your business, why not try out their free trial or free versions?
With Wix and Weebly, you just sign up and get a money back guarantee on your subscription if, for any reason, you change your mind. BigCommerce, GoDaddy, and Shopify all offer free trials.
Whichever you choose, happy selling!
Best ecommerce platforms FAQs
Here, we answer some of the common queries about ecommerce platforms.
1. What is an ecommerce platform?
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.
2. What are the pros and cons of a hosted ecommerce platform?
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're faced with 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) with 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 happen to have your heart set on a completely novel feature, you could be waiting years for someone to create it
- Less breaking the mould – if you have a really unique and disruptive business model, it's probably best to build your own site
- You need 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 builders d
3. 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. Good luck, and enjoy!