Saturday, October 1, 2022

The Best Ecommerce Software in 2018 – Reviews & Comparisons

Rather than digging through the feature lists of all the different eCommerce options out there this article will attempt to compare all of them in a single, relatively easy to understand article. What I’ve found is that eCommerce solutions come in three distinct flavors. The All in one scalable solution, the entry level business solution and the bespoke do it yourself solution. Each topic will be divided as such, then sub divided further by brand.

Weebly themes

The all in one solution refers to brands like Shopify and Squarespace. They provide everything you need to sell the product. A site, sales tools, hosting, SSL etc, all for one simple price. The benefit is you get most of the tools available to bespoke sites, but streamlined for those who can’t program. These firms seem to be doing the best overall, as the entry requirements are low and the rewards are high.

The Entry level business solution is similar to the All in one Solution, but focused on very small businesses. Think BigCartel or Etsy. They have plenty of useful tools, but no real ability to scale if your business takes off. They tend to be cheaper in the short term, but many charge transaction fees meaning you might be paying more in the very long run.

The Bespoke do it yourself solutions are little more than programming environments. Magento and OpenCart are two of the more popular options. The entry costs are low, the software is free after all, but the technical knowledge required is sky high. IN all likely hood you will have to hire someone to build the site. The benefit here is that the site will be custom in every way, and as a result can suit both the small business and the large. You do have to pay for your own hosting, SSL and apps, but played right it can still be a long term saving.

So let’s get to the guts of the piece, starting with Aesthetics.

eCommerce Appearance, Professionalism, & Overall Look

Your site needs to be user friendly, device friendly and appropriate to the item you are selling. At the end of the day that is it. When it comes to building it it helps to have a variety of themes for testing, and some robust editing tools to tweak your choice. Some companies are great at that, and some are not. Let’s take a look through them.

All in One Solutions

Weebly:

Verging on the entry level, Weebly is still a fully featured eCommerce solution, when you look at their most expensive package. Their theme selection leaves a lot to be desired though. For a firm that began life as a site building company you’d expect more variety than what they offer, as when you filter by eCommerce ready sites you are greeted by a mere nine templates. Not great, but they are all well designed, and have plenty of customization options. They really have made crafting custom layouts very easy. Overall, too small a selection of mobile ready templates, what is there is good and the options for making them better are fantastic.

SquareSpace:

SquarespaceThey may be a relative newcomer to the eCommerce solution market, but SquareSpace know how to enter a market. Their selection of themes, while small, are beautiful. The attention to detail in all of them is impressive, they are sleek, modern and each customizable. While your customization options are limited when compared to Weebly, if you want a boutique like site SquareSpace are well worth a look. Not much there in terms of variety though, all the templates are distinctly nouveau, so selling fishing tackle on one of them might look weird. Overall some of my favorite designs, but they aren’t for everyone.

Volusion:

Volusion is one of the weirder options here. On the one hand they have a huge amount of themes, and nearly 100 of them are free. But less than twenty five are mobile ready, and when they do charge for a theme you can expect to spend between $100 and $1000. What is there is a bot of a mixed bag. Some of the themes are nice, and your options for editing them are good, but overall I would put these guys below the competition. It’s too important to have a mobile capable site, and with so few options in that department out of the gate you’ll find yourself at a huge disadvantage.

BigCommerce:

While BigCommerce has a lot of variety in their theme selection these days, they still lack something. Namely free themes. There are currently seven free themes in the pile, with twenty one styles between them. Styles are a nice touch, they allow you to change the tone on the fly, but it is not as useful as a simple drag and drop system. Their paid themes have tremendous variety, but you can expect to spend at least $140 on one, which is a little too expensive from my perspective. Overall, they need more free themes and a wider variety of same. The Themes that are there are all mobile ready though, which is a huge plus. Plus you can get a free trial right now by clicking here so it’s worth at least giving a shot. 

Shopify:

shopify-themesShopify pride themselves on their themes. Not hard to see why. They offer a huge variety of free themes, each professionally designed and ever expanding. Each one is easy to customize, the back end editing tools are some of the best on the market, and allow for customer code injection. Rounding it all off is the screen size scalability of the themes, allowing them to function on a variety of devices. The paid for themes are of the same, and higher quality, but unless you fall in love with one, you needn’t bother. Overall, the standard by which All in on solutions are judged.

Entry-Level Solutions

BigCartel:

Users of BigCartel may feel slighted by me calling this an entry level solution. The argument is they sell to artists. They provide stores to the lone creative peddling their wares, and that’s fair enough, but it still counts as an entry level eCommerce solution. Their themes are well designed, all coming from the ultra modern school of design like SquareSpace. You can edit the templates to some extent, and even create your own within limits, but overall this is a sinewy selection of themes.

Etsy:

They reason I called BigCartel a sinewy selection of themes, rather than a bare bones experience is due to knowing Etsy was up next. They launched their Pattern service recently, a store front for their users separate from the Etsy clusterfudge. As nice as it is, there is almost no customization options and only a few basic templates to choose from. Still a young service, but in this market you gotta grow up quick. Overall, Basic.

GoDaddy:

One of the biggest site building firms around, actually the biggest, and they now offer eCommerce stores too? They must be fantastic. sadly that is not the case. GoDaddy offer a measly twenty five themes total, not free vs premium but overall. You can change colors and fonts, but there is no real site builder available for those setting up shop here, so you are forever stuck with either a tacky color scheme or a minimalist ASCII nightmare. Why you can build sites with their core packages, but not the eCommerce ones is baffling to me.

Wix:

A hard one to place Wix. Their top level package has about the same scope has the lowest package from Shopify, meaning it can be a fully featured medium sized business. They offer scalability, something few other entry-level solutions offer. On the theme side of things though they lack something. They have plenty of design choices, I just don’t think they are as professional as those offered by other companies. They are pretty new to the market though, so I expect the range to expand soon. Expect to spend a little extra time making sure your site looks the best it can.

Bespoke Do-it-Yourself Solutions

Magento PrestaShop OpenCart

Magento themesAll of these work in an almost identical way. The open source eCommerce options are all free, and they all require a fair amount of technical knowledge to get the most out of them. When it comes to themes you are spoilt for choice. You can find a nearly limitless number of free templates for all of these solutions, but most of them are poorly designed and horribly outdated. If you want something professional looking you either buy one, anywhere from $10 to $1000, or you hire a designer to make one. Overall, limitless choice if you have the skills, time or cash.

eCommerce Features & Integrations

This section can be broadly summed up with the phrase, mostly the same. The vast majority of options right now come with everything you need to set up shop, unlimited item listings, unlimited bandwidth, SEO tools, apps and social media. If you have those you should be fine. But there are a few options we can dismiss, by virtue of lacking a few features I would consider essential.

All in One Solutions

Weebly:

Weebly comes with all the features you are looking for, but only if you are willing to buy the most expensive package. Unlimited storage, listings, bandwidth, digital goods, shipping calculator etc, all there. They are not present in their cheaper packages, making them less useful.

SquareSpace:

Another firm offering everything you’ll need, though their app store is a little bare bones at the moment, when it comes to eCommerce tools. The Basic package will give you enough tools to get going, and their more expensive packages pill on the features.

Volusion:

Volusion have a particular focus on social media integration, which is great, in addition to in built site syncing with eBay. Having multiple storefronts as standard is great, but Volusion lack one simple feature that I would call standard. They cap bandwidth. Meaning if you get too many people going to your site in a month you pay a fee to Volusion. Granted, you need to be doing very well before customer traffic starts becoming an issue, but unlimited bandwidth is becoming industry standard.

BigCommerce:

BigCommerce comes with all the basic features you need to get going, and unlike others on this list a fair few bonus features too. Most of integrated features, like their social media tools and listing edits, come in the form of apps for other solutions though. This makes their app store a little lacking by comparison.

Shopify:

Again, all the standard features, and a few pricing tiers that increase the tools available. Their Basic package includes blogging support as standard, which you will need for SEO and marketing purposes. Shopify also boast one of the best app stores on the market, second only to the open source options. They also have one final ace in the hole. Shopify POS. POS is an offline integration system, that allows you to manage your offline store and your online storefront at the same time. You can also take payments with it on  the fly, which is great for those who follow the festivals or sell at conventions.

Entry-Level Solutions

BigCartel:

It has built in support for Facebook and you can list and sell products. You also have access to some basic SEO tools and a blog. BigCartel’s features are not the most expansive, and moving up through their packages allows you to sell more unique items, it does not add features. A little lacking.

Etsy:

Etsy auto syncs your Pattern store to their own marketplace, which is a great feature. You have unlimited listings, bandwidth and with the press of a button you can sell your items on Pinterest and Facebook. A little lacking in the app department, true, but their core feature list is quite impressive for a company aiming at the bespoke retailer.

GoDaddy:

You cannot edit your store very much. Sure, you can list your items, sell, keep records, all the standard salesman stuff, but you have to pay for blogging support. Considering they sell websites the fact you have to pay extra to add in a page that just has text on it is a little unexpected. Their app store is geared more towards site creation, and their list of eCommerce specific tools is small. Not the best option.

Wix:

Wix has some of the best language support I have seen. This is an area that many other eCommerce solutions have trouble with. They also have integrated social media support and excellent customer service. Their app store is a little all over the place, seen as eCommerce tools are listed along with regular site building tools, but it shouldn’t take anyone long to get used to it. Overall, there is a lot here to like, but it doesn’t have much room to grow.

Bespoke Do-it-Yourself Solutions

Magento PrestaShop OpenCart

Again, the only limit with these three is how much you are will to pay. All the open source solutions allow you to add in custom apps and change code. The biggest issue is that if you decide to buy apps from the community marketplace you may find them not playing well together. The reason All in One Solutions are so attractive is due to their stability. All the features are designed to work well with one another, and if you do come across an issue you usually have a customer support agent on hand to help you out. Here it’s up to you, or whomever you hire, to fix your own issues. Overall, limitless options, but the buck stops at you.

eCommerce Flexibility, Ease of Use, & Scalability

This is a difficult section to call. Usually a gain made in one area leads to a deficiency in another area. Not always the case, there are a few on this list that manage to strike a good balance. Let’s go into detail.

All in One Solutions

Weebly:

Weebly features and priceExcellent flexibility, due to it’s easy to use editing features but has fewer base design options than most. This does make it slightly easier to use, and reduces the set up time needed. Scalability is practically non-existent. If you do go for Weebly there is no real reason to buy their lower end packages, as they do not have all the required features. Meaning that you have to start from the top. If your business grows you have no where to go.

SquareSpace:

This is one of the solutions that manages to strike a good balance. The back end design options are well put together, and adding custom code is simple if you have the technical knowledge. Product listings have an array of options too. Setting up is simple, and the lack of themes makes it faster than most. There is some real scalability here too, with you gaining more useful features as you move up the packages.

Volusion:

They almost have it. The back end tools are wonderfully set up and it takes no time at all to get used to them. That ease of use is complimented by an array of listing options, report tools and design edits you can make. Where it falls short is in scaling. While they do offer packages that add features suited to larger businesses, they all have bandwidth limits. Meaning that stores with a large amount of traffic will be paying a premium simply for having customers.

BigCommerce:

BigCommerce is another one that has struck a nice balance. They offer excellent scaling, via their packages, and every theme can be customized for any sort of store. The only real downside is their back end is a little more cluttered than the others. This can be a good thing, as your listing options are all right there in front of you, but it is somewhat unsightly. Still a good option.

Shopify:

Shopify have become the yardstick by which we measure eCommerce solutions. Their design options are robust, without being complicated. Their back end is streamlined and easy to manage, while still providing the full array of features and their packages each bring something useful to the table depending on the size of your business. Another company that has struck that balance, and better than most.

Entry-Level Solutions

BigCartel:

Bit of a mixed bag with this one. On one hand they have excellent themes, that can be customized to a degree, and each of their paid packages provides the functionality of a full store. Setting up is easy and their back end is uncluttered and streamlined. It does have few listing options than others, hurting the flexibility and, worst of all, all of their packages have a listing limit. 5, 25, 100 and 300. Those are the total unique items you can sell. No scalability there, but perhaps sufficient for the lone salesperson.

Etsy:

Etsy are too new to put up a decent fight. Not the core store, I mean their Pattern service. You have minimal design options and no room for business growth. Very much a what you see is what you get deal. Great for existing Etsy customers maybe, but not a system I would opt in to.

GoDaddy:

volusion-paymentThey may be the kings of site building but their eCommerce solution is less than amazing. GoDaddy offer fewer features and less customization options on the whole. This does make it very easy to use, but there are solutions here that are both easy to use and packed with features. You also have no room for growth here. GoDaddy offer just the one package, so what you see is what you get, and I am not all that impressed by what I see.

Wix:

Wix straddle that line between Entry Level and full scalable all in one quite well, similar to Weebly really. They offer less customization than a full All in One, image layouts, fonts and little else, but this is countered by its ease of use. In terms of scalability though, while there is more room here to grow than at GoDaddy, Etsy or BigCartel, there is still a limit. A good option if you’re entering the market, but long run you may have been better going for a comparably priced real All in One.

Bespoke Do-it-Yourself Solutions

Magento PrestaShop OpenCart

Here’s where the power of the Open Source kinda hits a wall. True, these solutions are as scalable as you want them to be and they can be as flexible as you want them to be, but all that requires a damn fine programmer. If you hire the wrong guy you can be left with a less than desirable store, hard to use and locked by shoddy notes. It essentially means that open source solutions can be as good as services like Shopify, or worse than services like GoDaddy. Be good, or hire someone good, and you still have a system that is more difficult to use than most though.

eCommerce Cost & Value

All in One Solutions

Weebly:

Weebly starts off fairly weak. Their first two packages, while cheap, have additional costs with them. The Starter Package is $8 per month, but you have to fork out for your own SSL, anywhere from $7 to hundreds of dollars per year, and you pay a 3% transaction fee and have a listing limit of 10 items making it impossible for me to recommend. Their Pro Package is $12 per month, but similar restrictions apply. If you want a good foundation you’ll have to go for the Business package, $25 per month. Unlimited listings, no transaction fee and if you go in for two years you can get the price down to $21 per month.

SquareSpace:

SquareSpace’s Basic package is great, and the subsequent package allows a little room to grow. They may have fewer customization options and a sparser app store, but they are by no means a bad bet. Their Basic Package is $30 per month, if you pay upfront for the year that goes down to $26 per month. Their top level package sits at $80 per month, again you can get it cheaper if you pay a year up front. No transaction fees here though, just the standard Credit card fee that everyone charges.

Volusion:

Volusion’s entry level price is remarkably cheap.  For $15 the mini package allows you to set up a store, track inventory and sell to your heart’s content. Their is a fee hidden among all the packages from Volusion though. Their bandwidth limits. Every one of their packages have a limit  there, meaning that you’ll likely be paying a penalty fee for having a large amount of traffic. Their next three packages are $35, $75 and $135. They each add tools useful to a growing business, and they each allow a greater amount of traffic per month. If you out grow that though you’ll likely have to begin the laborious process of migrating to a different service.

BigCommerce:

Well priced with excellent scaling. Their entry level package comes with everything you need to get going and costs $29.95 per month. They do limit your profits though, allowing a maximum of $50k per year in sales with the standard package. That figure goes up as you move through the packages. The $79.95 Plus Package allows $125k in sales per year and their $199.95 Pro package allows a full $1m in sales. Overall it’s great, but I can’t help but feel that those sales limits are a little arbitrary.

Shopify:

shopify-pricing-2016More features than both SquareSpace and Weebly and slightly cheaper than BigCommerce. Shopify’s Basic package is $29 flat. The Pro Package is $79 and the Unlimited Package is $179. There are no transaction fees or sales limits and moving through the packages adds all the tools you’ll need to grow and keep track of your business.

Entry-Level Solutions

BigCartel:

BigCartel packages are priced according to the number of items you want to sell. If you have less than five items you want to peddle then the total cost to set up is nothing. You’ll have fewer features, but it is arguable that you don’t need to track inventory if you only have five items. Moving up to the Platinum package will cost you $9.99 and allow you to sell 25 items, you also gain all the features offered by BigCartel. The Diamond Package is $19.99 and has a 100 item limit and their top package is $29.99, and tops out at 300 unique items. Overall, the first two packages are good, but if you find yourself selling more than 25 items you might be better off looking elsewhere.

Etsy:

Just the one package with the Pattern service, $15. It comes with most of the usual features, and can be great for those entering the market. However, considering it’s for handmade items, and factoring in the competition from “Hand made” factory’s overseas, it severely limits its usefulness.

GoDaddy:

Again just the one package on offer, limiting your growth, and several features that I would call standard are missing from it. It will cost you $29.99, making it more expensive than Shopify. I don’t want to spend too much time on this. It is shocking to me that they are selling this product at this price. That is all.

Wix:

WixTheir entry level package is $16.58, and for what you get that is a bargain. They offer a little room for growth, and you’re going to need it if you hit that bandwidth limit of 10GB, but as far as Entry level solutions go this is probably the best option. The next rung up the ladder is their VIP package, and it does away with the bandwidth limit and adds some much needed customer support options for $24.92.

Bespoke Do-it-Yourself Solutions

Magento PrestaShop OpenCart

prestashop themesThis is difficult to estimate. The software is free, and if you know how to code and use it setting up shop can be free too. You will have to pay for site hosting and SSL, combined they can be anything from $20 a year to a grand per year. If you lack the knowledge yourself you will have to use an outside hire, and that can be expensive. You’ll also likely have to go back to them to scale the business up and then pay ongoing maintenance fees. Just know that in the beginning you’ll have to spend a little more money, but if you play the long game well you’ll be saving quite a bit.

eCommerce Top 10 & Conclusion

10 – GoDaddy

Lacks features standard in other solutions. Price is far too high for what you get.

9 – Etsy

Great for existing Etsy users, not so great for someone entering the online market.

8 – Volusion

A good service overall, hamstrung by bandwidth limits. Good entry price though.

7 – BigCartel

Perfect for the lone creator selling his masterpieces, less so for the young business person.

6 – Wix

Great for those just entering the market. Simple to use and set up with a little room to grow too.

5 – Weebly

Like Wix, but slightly bigger. Good for the entry level business and has much more growth options.

4 – SquareSpace

Makes it here by the value of its themes. Great service, lovely looking sites.

3 – Open Source Solutions

OpenCart, Magento and PrestaShop, all perfect, if you have the knowledge or the money to make use of them. If you don’t they might as well not exist.

2 – BigCommerce

Great price, nicely balanced, though the back end is a little complicated. Sales limits are a little odd, but when looked at as a whole BigCommerce has a lot to recommend.

2018 Update: You can get a free trial of BigCommerce right now by clicking here.

1 – Shopify

It couldn’t be anyone else. Shopify have the same level of quality to their themes that SquareSpace has, the scaling options of BigCommerce, the ease of use of Wix and a better price than all the other All in one eCommerce options.

At the end of the day it is 2017. We are able now to create services that allow the layperson to craft custom sites, outfit them with items, tweak everything in an easy to understand GUI and let it all loss on the world. That some services place arbitrary restrictions on eCommerce is ridiculous to me. Shopify have been innovating in the market for a long time now, and with new features being added daily and outside of a few select kinds of entrepreneurs it is impossible to recommend any other service but theirs.

To take advantage of a free trial with Shopify and any other discounts on monthly pricing you can click here.

Barry W Stanton
Irish born writer who drinks too much caffeine and reads too much Terry Pratchett. I enjoy long walks on the server and Korean cuisine.
RELATED ARTICLES

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Most Read