Businesses use ecommerce platforms to create online stores that have shopping cart and payment processing features. In addition, ecommerce software has inventory and order management tools to fulfill customer orders. The best ecommerce platforms integrate with POS systems for in-person sales and online marketplaces, like Amazon, with scalable pricing plans that start under $100 per month.
Based on our evaluations, the best ecommerce platforms are:
- Shopify: Best overall ecommerce platform for small businesses
- BigCommerce: Runner-up, best overall for growing online-only businesses
- Ecwid: Best for adding an ecommerce store to an existing website
- Square Online: Best simple solution for storefronts
- Squarespace: Best for artists and creators wanting top-rated templates
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How We Evaluated Ecommerce Platforms
We compared 10 of the most popular ecommerce platforms based on what is important to small businesses, including price, site builder tools and maintenance, sales and product features, and ease of use. We also considered our retail and ecommerce experts’ personal evaluations of each software.
Based on the above criteria, Shopify is the best ecommerce platform for small businesses. The software received the highest overall score (4.68 out of 5) according to our grading system for ecommerce software. Based on our personal experience trying different ecommerce software and working with small businesses that utilize ecommerce platforms everyday, Shopify is also one of the top software that we would personally recommend as retail experts.
Click through the tabs below for a more detailed breakdown of our evaluation criteria.
15% of Overall Score
First, we looked at whether or not each platform offers a free plan and monthly pricing options under $100 because most small businesses operate on a budget. Then, we made sure those plans include options that grow with the business. Finally, we gave points to platforms that integrate with the most popular payment solutions (like Stripe, PayPal, and Apple Pay), with bonus points for one-click checkouts because we find it’s a more user-friendly and revenue-driving option for small businesses.
30% of Overall Score
Every small ecommerce business needs to build its online store on a solid website builder. We considered the available templates, customization options, and the overall flexibility of the site builder. We also considered if the software includes a free domain and SSL certificate, unlimited storage and bandwidth options, and built-in SEO tools and site analytics. The quantity and quality of third-party extensions compatible with the software were also reviewed.
30% of Overall Score
We evaluated features particularly important to online stores, including the ability to sell unlimited products, easy product set up, catalog and SKU management, tools for selling in-store and mobile, integrated social media selling, and marketplace selling (such as Amazon). We also consolidated shipping options and PCI compliance. Many small businesses also do marketing themselves, so we considered the availability of marketing tools, such as abandoned cart recovery, promotions and discounts, customer segmentation, email marketing, personalizations tools, and product recommendations.
15% of Overall Score
Because online stores operate 24/7, we prioritized platforms that offer 24/7 customer support and have multiple customer touchpoints, such as phone, email, and chat. We also awarded points to solutions that are easy to set up or have guided prompts and a comprehensive help center.
10% of Overall Score
Finally, we considered any stand-out features of each individual platform and whether or not the software offers a good overall value for its price. We also rated each platform’s popularity with small businesses and its compatibility with other small business software. I also awarded points based on my personal experience interacting with the software and the company’s customer support.
- Print discounted postage straight from Shopify
- Powerful reporting tells you which items are most likely to sell
- Access to hundreds of additional features and integrations via Shopify app store
- Costs at least $29/month for a full ecommerce store
- No low-stock alerts without upgrade
- Shipping calculator requires an annual plan
|RATING CRITERIA||Pricing & Payments||4.06||OUT OF||5|
|Site Builder and Maintenance Features||4.50||OUT OF||5|
|Sales and Product Features||5.00||OUT OF||5|
|Ease of Use||5.00||OUT OF||5|
|Expert Score||4.69||OUT OF||5|
Shopify is sometimes called the only true competitor to Amazon—and for good reason. It’s one of the easiest ecommerce systems to use in terms of creating an ecommerce website and managing orders, yet it gives small businesses all the tools they need to compete with ecommerce giants. It has product reviews, customer live chat, geolocation to change your language or currency based on the visitor’s location, and a customer return portal—and that’s just scratching the surface.
Shopify has also made a name for itself in providing POS software to manage in-store sales, so it’s perfect for businesses that sell in-person and online. In fact, it’s also our recommended multichannel POS system. Last but not least, Shopify integrates with Amazon, so you can easily sell your products there, as well as on Facebook, Instagram, eBay, Pinterest, and other marketplaces.
Based on our evaluation criteria, Shopify earned a 4.68 out of 5. We gave Shopify perfect scores on its sales and product features and ease of use. However, a lack of a free plan and domain name prevented it from getting a perfect score.
Ready to get started? Our guide on how to set up a Shopify store will walk you through the process.
- $29 per month for Basic Shopify, which includes all the main ecommerce features but has limited reporting. Online transactions are charged at 2.9% + 30 cents.
- $79 per month for Shopify Standard, which provides stronger reporting (such as first-time vs returning customer sales), USPS cubic pricing, and a discounted transaction fee of 2.6% + 30 cents.
- $299 per month for Advanced Shopify, which lets you build custom reports and show third-party calculated shipping rates at checkout. Online transactions are further discounted to 2.4% + 30 cents.
As your business grows and your needs go beyond what’s offered in Advanced Shopify, you can contact the provider to upgrade to Shopify Plus, Shopify’s enterprise-level solution.
Shopify also has a $9 per month “Lite” plan, which lets you add a buy button to your existing website or blog. This plan is startup-friendly and is ideal for sellers who want to: 1) add products to their existing blog or standard website; and 2) sell on Facebook or in-person using a mobile device. It also allows you to send invoices and accept online payments but does not let you build an online store.
Shopify Standout Features
- Website builder: A big part of what’s made Shopify so successful is the powerful website builder that is very easy to use. User menus, like the one for adding a new item, are sleek and streamlined, providing just the right amount of detail. For example, whenever you change the URL of a webpage, there’s an option to redirect the old URL to the new one—a simple but often overlooked step.
- Inventory management: Shopify has one of the best inventory management systems, although the most advanced features will require a paid upgrade. All account levels can import items, manage returns, and view basic inventory reports. With POS Pro (additional $89 per month), you can create purchase orders (POs), receive orders with a barcode scanner, and run much more advanced profitability and product demand reports.
- Shipping: You can set up flat-rate, weight-based shipping, or charge actual shipping rates from USPS, UPS, or DHL. While Shopify’s pricing page indicates that the latter feature is available only to Advanced accounts, the platform will enable it upon request for anyone who’s on an annual plan. All accounts can print discounted postage labels directly from Shopify for the aforementioned carriers. Shopify also integrates with hundreds of third-party fulfillment apps, should you be using an alternate delivery service, such as ShipStation, or dropshipping.
- Multi-channel selling: Simultaneously sell your items on Amazon, eBay, Facebook Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, and many other websites. Shopify offers more multi-channel selling options than any other platform.
- Marketing tools: Abandoned cart recovery is included with all accounts $29 per month and higher. Email marketing is also included with 2,500 emails provided per month, and additional emails priced at $1 per 1,000. Shopify has by far the best built-in email marketing tools, as it allows you to segment customers based on their purchase history, geography, and other variables (third-party apps may be required).
- Analytics: In addition to all the standard sales reports, Shopify provides much more detail about website visitors, like demographics, and which page they first clicked on to access your site. Shopify’s standard plan ($79 per month) includes website cart analysis, which tells you which items a customer is likely to be interested in based on what they’ve previously added to their cart.
- Customer support: Phone, live chat, and email support are available 24/7.
- No transaction fees with numerous payment processing integrations
- Great value plans: Competitive pricing for the features included
- Ability to sell on enterprise and ecommerce apps (Google Shopping, Walmart Marketplace, and PriceGrabber)
- Customization tools aren’t beginner-friendly
- Has sales volume limits on its plans
|RATING CRITERIA||Pricing & Payments||4.06||OUT OF||5|
|Site Builder and Maintenance Features||4.25||OUT OF||5|
|Sales and Product Features||4.50||OUT OF||5|
|Ease of Use||4.50||OUT OF||5|
|Expert Score||4.69||OUT OF||5|
When it comes to choosing the right ecommerce software for your business, it will most likely come down to BigCommerce vs Shopify. In fact, we consider BigCommerce as a close runner-up to Shopify in being the best overall ecommerce platform. BigCommerce, as its name implies, is best for growing businesses that need a scalable sales platform and tech-savvy users who want to customize their online stores. Its open SaaS structure makes it an attractive platform for businesses that want to personalize their stores as much as possible.
In our evaluation, BigCommerce came in right behind Shopify with a score of 4.38 out of 5. Its built-in sales features, advanced level of customization, SEO capabilities, and zero transaction fees earned this software high marks. However, its ease of use and sales volume limits on pricing plans prevented BigCommerce from getting a perfect score.
Ready to get started? Learn how to set up a BigCommerce online store.
- $29.95 per month for Standard, which includes a responsive website, access to the BigCommerce mobile app, a single page checkout, and payment integrations (Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Amazon Pay). It also provides real-time shipping quotes, professional reporting tools, coupons, discounts, and gift cards.
- $79.95 per month for Plus, which features an abandoned cart saver, persistent cart saver, customer groups, and stored credit cards.
- $299.95 per month for Pro, which provides product filtering, custom SSL (Secure Sockets Layer), and Google customer reviews.
All plans include unlimited staff accounts, products, file storage, and bandwidth. Each plan is also provided access to 24/7 live support, BigCommerce’s POS tool, and multiple sales channels such as a branded online store, eBay and Amazon, Facebook, Instagram, and Google Shopping.
BigCommerce Standout Features
- Website builder and design tools: You can customize how your website looks and feels using its page builder visual editor, fully-customizable themes, checkout customization tools, and WordPress integration.
- Sales channels: BigCommerce offers multiple ways to sell your products outside of your storefront—like on social media platforms (Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram). You can also list your items on ecommerce marketplaces—such as eBay and Amazon.
- Order management: This feature lets you access all your orders and sort them according to which fulfillment process stage they are in—like awaiting payment, fulfillment, and shipment. Incomplete, refunded, and archived orders are categorized in this dashboard, and all order information can be exported as a CSV file for use with other services such as third-party fulfillment companies.
- Inventory management: The “Products” tab offers an at-a-glance view of your stock status. Here, you can update products, add new items, and edit product descriptions and prices. You can also be as detailed as you want with your products’ metadata descriptions and both product and category URLs—allowing you to take advantage of SEO tools.
- Multi-currency and multi-language capabilities: The platform accepts over 100 currencies and offers local payment options with your preferred gateway. You can also localize your store’s front-end according to the language of your market.
- SEO features: Features such as automated image optimizer, on-page SEO capabilities, sitemap generation, and site speed enhancers are advantageous for SEO. AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) is implemented on all of BigCommerce themes as well.
- Sell anywhere (website, social media, and in-person)
- No ads shown on free sites
- Free USPS, UPS, and FedEx shipping calculator
- Works on Wix, Squarespace, Blogger, Tumblr, WordPress, and more
- Free plan is limited to 10 products, doesn't provide coupon codes, and lacks inventory tracking
- Limited customer support
- Limited customization options
|RATING CRITERIA||Pricing & Payments||5.00||OUT OF||5|
|Site Builder and Maintenance Features||4.50||OUT OF||5|
|Sales and Product Features||4.25||OUT OF||5|
|Ease of Use||4.00||OUT OF||5|
|Expert Score||4.06||OUT OF||5|
If you already have a Wix, Squarespace, or WordPress website and want to start selling products, then Ecwid is an excellent free option. While Wix and Squarespace have their own ecommerce plans, they can get expensive and often lack features that Ecwid provides for free, like a shipping calculator and a related products section. It can be integrated with both those platforms and any other website builders where you can inject code. Ecwid can also be used as a free standalone website, although this is less common.
In our evaluation of ecommerce platforms, Ecwid scored a 4.38 out of 5 (same as BigCommerce). A forever-free plan with the ability to upgrade to paid versions, free shipping calculators, and the ability to sell anywhere contributed to Ecwid’s high score. Ecwid, unfortunately, has limited customization features and customer support, both of which are crucial for ecommerce solutions. However, it is still the best choice if you want a free ecommerce software for your existing website.
Ready to add Ecwid to your WordPress website? Read our step-by-step guide on using Ecwid.
- Free plan has provision for 10 products, and you can create your online store or add products to an existing site. Social media sharing buttons can be enabled within the product page, making promotion easier for you. It is notable that Ecwid is the only free ecommerce platform that has free shipping calculators for all the major US carriers, as well as Canada Post, Royal Mail, and more. This means you can charge customers actual shipping rates based on their location and the package weight. However, support is only provided by e-mail.
- $15 per month for Venture, a basic plan that allows you to feature 100 physical products and connect your store into other sales channels, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Etsy. You can also sell digital goods—and these have a 25GB per file limit. Android and iOS apps and store management features (such as discount coupons, gift cards, inventory tracking, and advanced SEO tools) are included. Moreover, support in this tier is provided through chat.
- $35 per month for Business, which includes all of the Venture plan’s features, except you can now sell up to 2,500 products and connect to Amazon and eBay. Moreover, advanced store management features (e.g., abandoned cart emails, product filters, wholesale pricing groups, and a multilingual storefront) are added to your dashboard. Support is provided by phone and chat and, for those under annual plans, free customization for up to two hours.
- $99 per month for Unlimited, which has provision for an unlimited number of products, your own branded iOS and Android shopping app and point-of-sale (POS) system, and priority support. For those under annual plans, you are entitled to up to 12 hours of free customization.
All of Ecwid plans allow you to build your own online store, add it to any website, and then sell on multiple sites simultaneously. It also comes with a mobile-responsive shopping cart and the Apple Pay one-tap checkout feature.
Ecwid Standout Features
- Sell Anywhere: You can sell either online—through Ecwid’s storefront, an existing website, social networks, on mobile—or in person. In-store or in-person sales can be done by connecting your store to a POS platform of your choice. Additionally, its Buy Button feature can be added to any web page and links directly to your product. It automatically adapts to the website’s colors and style without the need for coding knowledge.
- Storefront Customer Experience: Ecwid makes it easy for your customers to buy products by providing a drag-and-drop “add to cart” feature, an easy “checkout without creating a store profile” option, a customer address book, and the ability to save favorite products. Language is easily detected and can be translated to over 45 different languages, and real-time shipping rates are adjusted based on the customer’s IP address.
- Store Management: Ecwid allows you to sell both physical and digital products, and you can categorize those goods based on their features, such as colors, sizes, etc. Promotions can be done with discount coupons and volume discounts, whereas different shipping options can be calculated in real time based on carrier rates. In addition, inventory tracking is synced for online and offline purchases.
- Mobile App: Ecwid provides a store management app (iOS and Android) for paid subscribers through ShopApp. You can also manage your store through the app by updating inventory, managing orders, and receiving notifications. Images, prices, availability, and any changes that you make online automatically sync with the mobile app.
- Create an online store for free
- Sell items on Instagram and Facebook
- Integrates with all major postal carriers (with upgrade)
- All-in-one ecommerce and payment processing solution
- The free option is filled with Square ads and branding
- Limited customization options
- Inventory can be counterintuitive
- Premium features can get expensive
|RATING CRITERIA||Pricing & Payments||4.50||OUT OF||5|
|Site Builder and Maintenance Features||3.13||OUT OF||5|
|Sales and Product Features||3.75||OUT OF||5|
|Ease of Use||4.00||OUT OF||5|
|Expert Score||3.13||OUT OF||5|
Square Online is best for businesses that want to add online ordering to brick-and-mortar stores, such as cafes, retail outlets, and professional service shops. There is a completely free plan to create a professional online store and sell an unlimited number of products with built-in credit card processing. Additionally, paid subscriptions are available for more advanced features, such as the ability to use a custom domain instead of the yoursite.square.site domain that’s provided for free.
Like Shopify, Square also includes a POS for businesses that sell in-store as well as online. Unlike Shopify, its POS is free to use, with optional paid upgrades. Square Online is our top-recommended free ecommerce platform. Square also offers some of the best POS systems for small businesses.
Square Online earned a 3.65 out of 5 in our evaluation of best ecommerce platforms. Its strongest feature is the ability to sell in multiple channels (in-store and mobile) and social media platforms, giving the advantage of having hardware options (POS) for processing payments. However, the lack of customization options and counterintuitive inventory management tools prevented it from getting a perfect score.
Ready to create a free Square Online store? Read our step-by-step guide to Square Online.
Square Online Pricing
- Free plan includes all the main features for a professional ecommerce site. Create a full website, list unlimited products with variants, and manage your orders through the Square dashboard. The free option requires you to use a yoursite.square.site domain, though, and will display a Square logo on the footer.
- $12 per month for Professional*, which lets you use a custom domain and custom fonts and removes Square branding from your website.
- $26 per month for Performance*, which adds product reviews, abandoned cart recovery, and priority customer support and lets you buy discounted postage labels straight from Square.
- $72 per month for Premium*, which adds a shipping calculator to charge customers real-time rates from USPS, UPS, FedEx, or DHL. Transaction fees are also discounted.
Square Online Standout Features
Square Online works a lot similarly to Shopify, and they both offer user-friendly POS software, online store, and ecommerce functionalities, and integrated payment processing with industry-leading omnichannel and contactless payment tools. The biggest difference between Square Online and Shopify is that Square Online’s POS and online store products are free to use, whereas Shopify requires a monthly subscription. Read more about Shopify vs Square here.
- Website builder: Square Online allows you to build a full-blown website with multiple pages, contact forms, an email sign-up, and much more. The website can be custom branded with your logo and colors, and you can choose which features you want to appear—and in what order. However, you cannot fully edit the layout or add integrations as you can with Shopify.
- Inventory management: Square Online lets you import your inventory with categories, variants, and modifiers and set up low stock alerts. All of this needs to be done from the Square Item menu, however, and not the website item library, which can be a little confusing. Unlike Shopify, Square Online does not provide inventory reports or let you automate customer returns.
- Shipping: Square Online requires you to set up your own shipping rates (which can be flat-rate or based on weight)—unless you upgrade to the Premium edition ($72 per month), which lets you charge the actual prices from mail carriers. With the Performance edition ($26 per month) or higher, you can also buy discounted postage labels for USPS, UPS, FedEx, or DHL straight from the dashboard.
- Multi-channel selling: Sell items on Instagram or Facebook, and manage the order through Square.
- Marketing tools: Abandoned cart recovery (available to $26 per month accounts and higher) automatically sends reminder emails to customers who stopped before checking out. Square Online also has email marketing features available, starting at $15 per month.
- Built-in Analytics: Square Online provides a range of sales reports, including sales by category, discounts applied, and tax collected. Paid versions of Square Online also provide some basic website analytics—like page views, search terms, and referring sites.
- Customer support: Email, live chat, and phone support are available weekdays from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern time, and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern time. During my evaluation, it took about 30 minutes to get connected to a live support agent who was very knowledgeable and helpful.
- Highly-rated website templates
- Easy to use
- Sell items on Instagram and Facebook
- High transaction fees without upgrade
- Moderate design freedom
- No phone support
|RATING CRITERIA||Pricing & Payments||3.00||OUT OF||5|
|Site Builder and Maintenance Features||4.13||OUT OF||5|
|Sales and Product Features||3.25||OUT OF||5|
|Ease of Use||3.00||OUT OF||5|
|Expert Score||4.38||OUT OF||5|
Squarespace is simple but doesn’t sacrifice quality, making it ideal for solo entrepreneurs that don’t have the time to learn a more advanced system like Shopify but want to showcase their products with top-notch quality. Squarespace sites are designed to always look modern and trendy, no matter how much of a novice you are at web design. Its pricing is also a little cheaper than Shopify, starting at $18 per month. However, to access comparable features, like a shipping calculator, that price will push closer to $40 per month.
Squarespace scored a 3.55 out of 5 in our evaluation. It earned a perfect score on its design functionality and available templates, as Squarespace is known for top-rated templates. However, some of its ecommerce features are limiting for larger sellers, such as few available third-party integrations or extensions. Basic ecommerce features, like unlimited products and abandoned cart recovery, are also only available in premium or higher-priced plans.
- $26 per month for Business, which is the lowest-price plan that supports ecommerce. You can sell unlimited products, including digital items and gift cards, but there’s no shipping calculator and limited reporting. There’s also a 3% fee on transactions on top of your payment processing fees.
- $30 per month for Basic Commerce, which removes the extra 3% transaction fee, allows customers to create accounts, and provides more advanced analytics, like a purchase funnel report.
- $46 per month for Advanced Commerce, which adds a USPS shipping calculator, abandoned cart recovery, and the ability to sell subscriptions.
Squarespace Standout Features
- Website builder: Squarespace is one of the easiest website builders to use and also one of the hardest to mess up. Its highly acclaimed website templates are among the most stylish and best designed. While you do not get nearly the same customization options as Wix, many users will find they can simply enter their product details and are good to go.
- Inventory management: The platform lets you import your items via a spreadsheet or add them manually with photos and a description. You can create variants for products (such as different colors or sizes) and set up low stock alerts. Another unique feature worth noting is that Squarespace lets you set up forms for products, so you can request additional information from customers when they make a purchase.
- Shipping: With Squarespace, you’ll need to set up your own shipping rates, which can be flat-rate or based on weight. To calculate real-time rates from USPS, FedEx, or UPS, you’ll need to be on the Advanced Commerce plan ($46 per month). However, unlike the other ecommerce systems we reviewed, Squarespace does not let you print postage labels directly from the program, but you can do so through a ShipStation integration.
- Multi-channel selling: Squarespace lets you tag your items on Instagram with a link to purchase, and create dynamic Facebook ads for your products. Unlike Shopify, there is no integration with Amazon, eBay, or other ecommerce channels.
- Marketing tools: Abandoned cart recovery is available with the Advanced Commerce plan ($40 per month). Squarespace also has email marketing available for an additional fee, or you can integrate Mailchimp.
- Analytics: It includes a few very basic reports, including sales by product, traffic sources, and geography of visitors (by country or state). The Commerce plan ($30 per month) provides a purchase funnel report, telling you what percentage of visitors are viewing products, adding them to their cart, and making purchases.
- Customer support: Squarespace offers email support 24/7 and live chat support on weekdays, from 4 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern time.
If you want your online store to scale with your business, you need to consider the features that your customers will expect as you grow. For example, are you prepared to support multiple languages and currencies or provide customer support through an automated chatbot? Do you have the ability to set up customer user accounts, email marketing, and a loyalty program?
These features not only become more important as your store expands, but they also play a key role in helping your store grow. This is why it is crucial that ecommerce platforms offer the essential features at a lower starting price point but also have options for advanced functions and extensive integrations.
Shopify has advanced functionalities and plans that scale with your business in a user-friendly package and at an affordable price point. This is why we recommend it as the best ecommerce platform for small businesses. Visit Shopify to try it free for 14 days.