Ecommerce Website Builders

State of eCommerce website builders as of 2019

Business is hard. Scaffolding your production lines (be they real or digital), finding your customers, finding a way to deliver the goods or renting storefronts to sell them directly and finally getting money only to continue the process again and again. As if to make things harder there are tons of nuances here and there depending on the industry you're operating in. 

Things have changed greatly since the Internet stepped in: you can do all the stuff without ever leaving your cozy couch. But now you have another problem: you might not be acquainted with eCommerce sites or even with web-technologies in general so now instead of focusing on your business needs you have to first study things that are not directly related to it. How to design pages? How to make it easy for customers to find your store and get around? What about mobile users? How do you accept payments and ship stuff? What if you don't know all the answers right away?

Luckily site builders created specifically for eCommerce are here to help you. Such platforms can eliminate all the distractions that come with managing an online business. They can connect you to your customers and organize shipping for you, manage discounts and sales and much much more. They can also introduce you to entirely new markets and ways of communicating with potential customers.

The only thing you have to decide right now is what's the best way to create an ecommerce website builders. Without further ado, let's dive into the rating of top site builders the eCommerce market has to offer.

Things to know before building an eCommerce website

When choosing an eCommerce site builder the main things you should  pay attention to are:

  • Pricing plans and what's included for a price

  • Scalability: ability to serve traffic surges and business expansion

  • Payment system integrations and transactional fees

  • Online support: oftentimes business requires issues to be resolved ASAP (ideally before they occur)

  • Manageability: the amount of effort it takes to keep the site running 

Some builders will provide features that you might not really need while still paying for them since they’re all bundled together into a single pricing plan. Others will have a more robust tier scale but might have a limit on how big you can grow with them. Chances are you won't find a single provider that has everything exactly the way you want but most of them are really good at accommodating your needs. 

So what does a top eCommerce website consist of?

The first thing to mention is how does the store look. Everybody likes nice things and looking great is mission-critical when it comes to selling stuff. For that purpose, all the builders provide themes (some of them call them templates) that you can either build upon or in some cases even use as is. Such themes are organized by looks and by industry so that a vinyl store would be immediately recognized from a hardware store

Most of the site builders on the market provide a set of standard features:

  • full order process including shipping: kinda obvious since that's the main purpose of the eCommerce website in the first place

  • mobile view: design templates are responsive, meaning they look nice on smartphones and tablets which in turn means you're not limited to desktop-only customers

  • integrations: this includes many different kinds of third-party apps that will help you organize your business, e.g.  inventory management, marketing tools, etc

  • SEO: search engine optimization is crucial for any business that wants a higher rank in the search results

Other features like multiple language support, multiple currencies, and worldwide shipping may also be prudent depending on your business needs.

Different types of eCommerce site makers

What you should know prior to building an eCommerce website is that there are basically two major types of eCommerce site builders: hosted subscription-based and self-hosted ones. Let's start with subscription-based solutions first and review self-hosted eCommerce website makers right afterward.

Subscription-based eCommerce software manages the whole website creation process from start to finish. It also continues doing its job through all the lifespan of the store. Remember, creating an eCommerce website is only a part of the job, you'll have to manage and support it while accommodating to the shifts in business needs.

When talking about performance and scalability such services offer blazing fast page load and react quickly to intense traffic spikes (think Black Friday sales). They will also manage technical stuff for you so that you focus on what's really important - your business.

Most of such builders offer an about two-week free trial which is usually enough to figure out whether it works for you and if you want to ride along.

Shopify

Shopify is probably the most well-known name in the whole eCommerce site builders world. If you ask anyone who's into eCommerce how to build an eCommerce website, chances are their first answer would be "Have you tried Shopify?"

And it's really that good. It takes as little as 10 minutes to create an eCommerce website with Shopify: choose one of the thousands of beautifully designed themes and you're ready to go. 

Shopify has many features from the get-go, including such things as product reviews, Facebook selling, gift cards, multiple language support, anti-fraud system, and a fully-featured mobile app. You can also have your own blog tailored to your store.

And If that's not enough there's Shopify App store where third-party developers offer various add-ons to suit your eCommerce needs.

Shopify has a native payment system Shopify Payments that will cost you 2.9%-2.4% + $0.30 per transaction depending on your plan. You can integrate with other gateways but be aware though that in such case you'll pay both Shopify and gateway transaction fees. Offline transactions are available too via Point of Sale kit for 2.7%-2.2% charged per card swipe.

Shopify shines when it comes to tech support. They claim 24/7 and they mean it: live chats and phone support are available as well as the conventional email support.

Additionally, Shopify offers some nice-to-have quality of life tools such as generators (QR, barcode, legal stuff such as privacy policy, refund policy, etc), calculators (PayPal fees, profit, business loans) and templates (gift cards, business cards, invoices).

When it comes to pricing Shopify offers probably the most straightforward tiers system that is easy to understand. It's immediately clear what you get for a price. Plans start at $29 which is a bit more than others have to offer but it's well worth the money.

Shopify is a good all-around eCommerce solution that will fit the needs of small and big businesses alike. Many people consider it to be the best eCommerce website builder.

BigCommerce

BigCommerce is very much like Shopify in a sense that it's a turn-key solution, however, it has more features included in the plan so you'll probably need fewer apps from the store hence your final bill might be lower.

Despite having the word Big in its name BigCommerce suites perfectly well for a business of any scale. Start small, grow and go big. However, it's worth noting that each pricing plan has its own limit on the number of goods you can sell for one year. If you exceed this quota you'll be forced to upgrade your plan even if you don't need its other features.

The feature set, however, is quite rich including shipping and saving tools as well as marketing, SEO and blogging tools.

With BigCommerce template quality is on par with that of the Shopify's templates. All of them have an optimized mobile view that you can see straight from the template selection screen. The amount of the templates however especially the free ones could've been richer. If it's not enough for you all the templates can be further modified using editors or even by dropping down to the HTML/CSS modification level.

BigCommerce integrates with Stripe, Paypal and Braintree charging 2.9%-2.2% + $0.30 per transaction depending on the tier. Offline transactions are available through third-parties too.

Tech support is provided on a 24/7 basis which includes live chat, phone, and email.

Wix

This is a kind of a tool that does not require any website-related knowledge at all and as such is a good choice even for a total beginner in the world of eCommerce and web. The interface is very straightforward and helps the user to get started creating a store in seconds. Just drag the components to where you want them and that's it, no coding involved. And those components are all well-made and optimized for mobile platform views. Pre-made templates are available too which allows for creating an aesthetically appealing page without much of an effort.

Apart from the themes, Wix offers access to a plugin store called App Market. There you can find loads of different tools that can help you streamline the shopping experience for your customers.

SEO is done on a high level too. Most of the plugins are SEO-friendly and allow easy management of URLs, redirects, and keywords.

One more remarkable feature of this platform is Wix Arena - a marketplace where you can hire freelancers to design your website. There you can get a price quota based on your needs and budget.

The payment process is well-crafted too. Wix supports many conventional payment providers and it accepts almost any currency in the world. Free plan users have a limit of $300 when receiving payments.

However, there's a feature that many users find to be flawed when using Wix - customer support. With no instant chat option available all you can do is send them an email and wait for a response in about 1 day which might be simply unacceptable in some cases. Unless you're on top tier plan where the phone support is available.

Nevertheless, Wix is a great option for those who want to get the store running as quickly as possible.

Weebly

Weebly is another drag-n-drop solution. It lacks the customization variety that is present in other similar tools but its pricing is a bit lower than the corresponding tiers of other solutions starting at as low as $12/m.

Themes that are available for Weebly users are well-polished and organized. The only thing to mention is that you'll have to select everything upfront since making changes after your store is up and running is pretty hard. What you won't have to worry about is the mobile view: all the templates look nice on smartphones and tablets almost without any tweaks.

First-tier plan users can only integrate Stripe as their payment platforms, PayPal and Square are available upon upgrade. Each transaction will cost you 5.9% + $0.30 which is cut down to 2.9% + $0.30 on any plan except for the first one.

Worth noting that tech support is not 24/7 here though it does offer phone and chat options.

An important point however is, and this might be a dealbreaker for you, recently Weebly started blocking traffic from several countries for as they claim to be security reasons. This means that depending on your business' geography a part of your customers will simply not be able to reach your website, so you better double-check this before making a final call. Weebly does not have a trial though they have a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Squarespace

Squarespace offers a modular approach to the website's design that shines if you're not very sure what you want from the start. If you decide to change your mind half-way through your journey this feature will allow changing your website's design without substantial changes to the content. The modules will shuffle and accommodate to the new layout.

The plugin system allows you to integrate with different services that will enrich your site with additional capabilities. These vary from social media icons and blogging platforms to custom shipping options and mailing databases. There are even a bunch of unofficial integrations which while not being officially supported by Squarespace still have a value to deliver.

When processing customer payments you have two options to choose from Stripe and Paypal. On top of their fees which are 2.9% + 0.30 per transaction Squarespace will charge its own commission fee of 2%. That commission is dropped if you sign up for their Online Store package which you would probably do anyway. 

Squarespace offers unlimited product listings even for the cheapest tier plan. It also offers unlimited storage and bandwidth and that surely is a thing to consider if your business requires high-quality media.

Tech support will be there for you in the live chat during the business time only. Other then that help is available through email support.

In general, the amount of options and features is not that big, but the most useful and needed ones are there and for the plans starting at $18/m it's more than worth it. This might be the best eCommerce website builder for small businesses.

Self-hosted platforms

It's time for the self-hosted eCommerce website builders review. The biggest advantage of such solutions is that usually, they're free. Yup, that's right - no setup fee, no monthly payments. Exciting, right?

But of course there's a catch: there are many things that a good subscription-based eCommerce site builder would do for you for the buck you're paying them:

  • a web-hosting (that's where your site lives);

  • a domain name (that's what a customer enters into their browser address bar to get to your site);

  • SSL certificates (these are a security measure mandatory for those who operate with credit cards and payments).

With self-hosted eCommerce sites, all of these are on you which requires additional spendings and additional expertise.

However this is not to be viewed solely as a burden - it gives you great powers and control over your website. You're limited only by your imagination: with the right skill-set (or a hired team) you can get any design and employ the craziest mechanics you want and nothing could stop you.

You should also keep in mind that while subscription-based tools run in the cloud they also manage scaling and performance for you. With self-hosted ones, you'll have to manage this by yourself: scaling your system up to accommodate for high traffic and scale it down to not overpay for the calm period.

The takeaway is that self-hosted eCommerce website builders are powerful tools that can cost both more and less than their subscription-based counterparts depending on the amount of implemented features. They allow you to make more unique stores as opposed to varied but still limited options of run-in-the-cloud competitors.

WordPress + WooCommerce

WooCommerce is a free open-source eCommerce plugin for the famous CMS called WordPress which is, in turn, free too. WooCommerce builds on top of the WordPress' rich ecosystem which includes tons of themes and plugins both paid and free. 

Many of the WordPress themes will work with WooCommerce out of the box and some of them are specifically designed for such a use-case. 

In general themes for WooCommerce might not be that shiny as Shopify's but oh boy they are plenty. Since Wordpress and WooCommerce are open-source everyone can create themes and many people do that for a living which results in tons and tons of themes and plugins for any kind of industry you could imagine.

If that's still not enough you can go ahead and create your own theme from scratch. This will, of course, require more efforts and skills but will yield a unique design that is not shared with anyone in the world. 

On the other hand, you can just start with WooCommerce's own free theme called Storefront.

Once the first-time setup is complete your basic day-to-day usage is pretty much as easy as it would be with subscription-based eCommerce platforms. 

Magento

This is another self-hosted option and this one is even more barebones - in addition to needing an own server you're likely to implement many things on top of existing themes or even from scratch. There are still plenty of themes and extensions on the market (as usual both paid and free), it's just that they are not that widely spread as say for WordPress. 

Considering the lack of first-class online support you'll definitely need a crafty team of professionals if you were to consider using Magento to build your eCommerce website. This platform, however, is very well known among web developers across the world so finding a freelance team would not be hard.

But again choosing to go with a self-hosted architecture pays off in total freedom.

So what is the best eCommerce platform for you?

As you can see there's no silver bullet here. Same as it is with everything when it comes to business. However, research like this can help you narrow down on several options and give tips on pinning down that one best eCommerce site builder that will kickstart your business and skyrocket its sales.

If you're starting small and do not want to overstretch your budget the best bet would probably be on Weebly or Squarespace. Those will get you started cheaper than others and you might not even need all the options the "big brothers" offer.

If you're a beginner in web technologies you might want to explore Wix - its drag-n-drop design process is easy and crafting the design you want won't take much time. It also offers as many business and marketing options as the others do.

If you want a bulletproof solution that will ride with the big sharks - got get Shopify or BigCommerce. They're roughly the same with former being recognized as a marvelous quality themes provider and the latter being more of an all-in-one out-of-the-box solution. Both boast a top-notch 24/7 live support that will get you covered whenever you need it most.

However, if you know you're unique and won't settle for anything less - grab a tech-team and explore the truly unlimited options of self-hosted WordPress+WooCommerce or Magento. With WordPress, you can even get away with a smaller team or even without one if you have enough knowledge of how the Web works.

Regardless of which one you choose good luck with your business and let these tools help you make it successful!


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