Ultimate Comparison of Webshop Builders & E-Commerce Platforms
A comparative review of the best e-commerce platforms on the market
When starting a new e-commerce business or turning an existing physical store digital, you need the perfect e-commerce platform for maximum success chances. Especially in these trying times.
A good match between an online business and an e-commerce platform can help sustain the long-term growth of your online business and allow for everyday operations to run smoothly.
So, in this post, we will take a close look at what e-commerce platforms are as well as their benefits and possible downfalls.
Then we will present an in-depth comparison between the best e-commerce platforms out there, their features, pricing plans, reviews, and more!
Let’s see if you can find the one for your business.
You'll Get Here
- What is an e-commerce platform?
- When and why to use an e-commerce platform?
- 1. Shopify
- 2. BigCommerce
- 3. Ecwid
- 4. Wix eCommerce
- 5. Squarespace Commerce
- 6. Zyro
- 7. WooCommerce
- 8. Magento Open Source
- 9. PrestaShop
- 10. OpenCart
What is an e-commerce platform?
Before diving into the particular e-commerce platform providers, we should understand the general idea of what they are.
So, e-commerce refers specifically to the actions of selling and buying goods or services online. Naturally, an e-commerce platform is essentially the software that allows a business to sell their goods and/or services online and helps to manage the fundamental operations that sustain the company digitally.
Aside from the obvious sales operations, many e-commerce platforms also provide supporting tools, such as invoicing, order management, promotion and coupon options, and so on.
Moreover, although some e-commerce platforms are built from scratch specifically for a company, most of them are Content Management Systems in their own rights.
In simple words, no coding is needed in managing and updating e-commerce platforms, although it is recommended to employ a developer for the initial setup.
When and why to use an e-commerce platform?
An e-commerce platform can be utilized in a variety of scenarios – when starting a new business, when looking to switch an existing business from a physical shop to an online one or when simply looking to add an additional sales channel.
Before the e-commerce platforms became so readily available, e-commerce would typically have to be designed and executed by an IT and development team, which was a time and money costly process.
Nowadays, there’s a large selection of providers, offering different features, pricing, and level of customizability, so both small and large businesses are able to find the most appropriate platforms.
One could still choose to build an online store from scratch or use a plug-in, but arguably neither of these options is as convenient, especially for a beginner.
Nevertheless, plug-ins can have their own benefits as they offer to expand already an existing site into e-commerce.
In addition to simplifying the management of complex online operations and presenting a variety of solutions to match the different needs, e-commerce platforms can help to unify front-and back-end operations.
From helping to manage the inventory and customer relations to offering different types of website design and transactions, the e-commerce platform acts as a backbone, which allows the online shop to actually stand and, hopefully, run as smoothly as possible.
The variety and customizability of these actions vary, conditional to the platform you choose, which is a great segue to the next main part of this post – the overview and comparison of some of the best e-commerce platform providers.
Starting with the current leading force of e-commerce solutions – Shopify, which started out in 2006 as an online store selling snowboards. Since then, it has exploded to being used by more than 1 million businesses worldwide.
Shopify is a software as a service (SaaS) platform, meaning that it has its own service which is then licensed out for a subscription fee.
Thus, no purchase of web hosting or any software installation is necessary. As long as there is a possibility to access the internet and a web browser, the online store can be managed from anywhere.
- Easy to use, tailored for e-commerce
- Unlimited number of product listing
- Key functions available across all the plans
- 24/7 customer support (live chat, email, phone)
- A small number of free templates
- Transaction fees
- The structure of URLs could be improved
Shopify is quite straightforward to use, even for a beginner venturing into the world of e-commerce. Most actions can be completed with a few clicks.
You can add an unlimited number of product listings, however, the variant options are limited to 3 per product, meaning if you are selling clothes, for example, you could add parameters such a size, color, and style. However, you could not allow the customer to pick additional details on top of this – you would have to then replace one of the three variants.
Shopify’s customer support is available 24/7 by email, live chat, and phone, making it a comprehensive way to receive guidance. You could also utilize the Shopify Community, which features different forums for different topics, where both experts and novices can engage in a discussion.
Shopify supplies all of its plans with many of the key functions, such as instant purchase button and abandoned cart recovery, which allows you to see the users who started the purchasing process but did not complete it.
Nevertheless, some of the significant features, such as the multi-language setting, are not considered standard and thus a more expensive plan or an app from the Shopify App Store would have to be purchased in order to have that function.
Though the Shopify App Store in itself can be considered an asset as it features thousands of apps – both free and paid, it might be also an inconvenience to have to purchase an app to add the additional features you might want.
Speaking of paid-for options, while Shopify offers an abundance of themes, only 9 of the templates are free, which is comparatively low to some other providers we will cover later on.
Another, arguably negative aspect, is the transaction fees when using credit cards and third-party payment gateway. These fees can be avoided when using a built-in payment processing system – Shopify Payments, but this is not an option available to use in all countries.
When it comes to search engine optimization (SEO), a hindering aspect might be that Shopify adds subdirectories to URLs such as /pages/ or /products/and search engine algorithms tend to prefer a less complex URL structure.
In addition to the three options depicted above, Shopify also offers Shopify Lite and Shopify Plus.
Shopify Lite is the cheapest plan available, costing 9 USD/month, however, it does not provide the possibility to build a standalone store.
Instead, it allows you to add a Shopify Buy button to an existing webpage, for instance, hosted on WordPress or conduct social media selling.
Shopify Lite also helps to make custom orders and invoices and grants access to Shopify’s point of sale app, which helps to manage inventory and sell products at a physical location.
Shopify Plus is geared towards enterprise-level companies as in addition to the platform itself it offers a selection of services suited for major, international companies.
Here, the exact monthly subscription fee depends on which of the additional features are selected, though the starting point is 2000 USD/month.
An option for a 14-day free trial is available for all of the plans.
BigCommerce is another major SaaS platform and is quite often cited as the arguably most direct competitor to Shopify. While it was launched in 2009, its two founders originally met 6 years prior – by chance and in an online chatroom. BigCommerce is used by tens of thousands of companies, located in over 120 countries.
While it appears that BigCommerce mostly targets people without major web design experience, there are also possibilities to edit HTML and CSS codes for those who might wish to do so.
- No transaction fees
- SEO and reporting functionality
- Essentially unlimited number of product listings as well as variants
- Limit of annual sales per plan
- No built-in multilingual feature
- Limited range of free themes
Depending on your location (for instance, if you live somewhere where Shopify Payments are not available), a major advantage of BigCommerce can be the absence of transactional fees from all the plans, when it comes to third-party payment processors. Credit card processing fees still apply.
Furthermore, if you want to offer products that are more customizable, with BigCommerce you have the possibility to offer up 250 product options – compared to just 3 on Shopify.
When it comes to SEO, BigCommerce enables you to quite easily edit foundational elements of SEO, like meta descriptions and page titles as well as to create short URLs.
BigCommerce has also a great focus on the mobile performance of its websites and offers comprehensive reporting even with the lower-priced plans.
A significant drawback of using BigCommerce is the annual sales limit. If you go over the set threshold of the purchased plan, you will be automatically upgraded meaning a higher than expected cost.
The free themes are quite similar, not offering the same variation as the ones from Shopify and it can be complex to make your store multilingual as it requires coding to function properly.
The above-pictured prices are part of BigCommerce’s essentials range. Similarly to Shopify, this platform also has custom priced enterprise options for larger businesses.
If you decide to pay annually, there is a 10% discount available for the Plus and Pro plans.
Many important features, such as product reviews and unlimited staff accounts, are present in all of the plans. However, the abandoned cart recovery function is only available from the Plus plan (79.95 USD /month) and up.
Once again, there is an option to try out the software without purchase as there is a free 15 day period.
Ecwid’s name comes from shortening the term ‘e-commerce widget’ as this was originally the company’s purpose – let individuals and businesses to sell products from an existing site.
Nowadays, however, you can also use Ecwid to create a standalone online store.
Ecwid can be an especially suitable option for those, who already have a successfully established website and are looking to incorporate selling capabilities without building a fully separate online store.
- Free plan option
- Language detection
- Limited functionality
- Limited SEO capabilities
Businesses planning to sell less than 10 products can take advantage of the free plan, keeping in mind that it lacks certain e-commerce features such as discount coupons and the option to sell digital products.
The free plan also does not really grant access to SEO features. With Ecwid, you are also unable to edit product URL’s or create accelerated mobile page (AMP) versions of your product pages, which is not optimal when it comes to SEO.
And while Ecwid has an option called ‘Instant Site’ which allows creating a quite basic, one-page website with built-in e-commerce, its functions can be considered limited in comparison to some of the other e-commerce platforms. There are fewer apps and integrations available, for instance, there is no built-in blogging tool, compared to Shopify, instance.
As mentioned above, if you are planning to sell a small number of physical products (less than 10), the free plan could be a starting point for your online store.
The next plan – Venture, unlocks both physical and digital product options and the limit is raised to 100 items.
The business plan raises the product limit to 2, 500, and while the Unlimited plan, as the name suggests, removes the limit completely.
Features such as phone support, automated abandoned cart recovery, and multi-language are only available from the Business plan and higher.
If paid annually, you could save on all of the Ecwid plans.
4. Wix eCommerce
Founded in 2006, Wix might be familiar to you as one of the most popular website builders, but it also has functions tailored to opening an online store. These can be collectively found under Wix eCommerce. It uses the same type of convenient drag-and-drop editor Wix is known for, allowing you to easily move around elements such as the ‘About’ text box, within the template.
There is also an option to automatically generate a website by using Wix ADI (artificial design intelligence), which uses a few questions to identify your needs.
- Easy to use
- No transaction fees
- Large selection of free templates
- Overly customizable
- Not optimal for SEO
- Inability to switch templates
Wix tends to be recommended for businesses, which are planning to sell less than 100 products. It is easy to use and customize and offers over 500 free templates. However, the number of features available to customize can also be overwhelming, especially for beginners. And if you would wish to switch to a whole other template, you would have to rebuild the site as simple change is not really an option.
The Wix App Market offers an extensive variety of apps, however many of them aim to enhance your blog or a website, rather than being tailored for e-commerce use.
In the past, there were many discussions concerning issues with SEO when it came to Wix websites, however since 2016 the company has made great efforts to improve. Still, they are not as optimal as they could be.
For instance, with Wix’s editor, the positioning of the website elements is absolute – this is also the reason why the template is not changeable. Unlike websites done in responsive design, the elements of Wix websites are not positioned relative to the user’s screen.
While absolute positioning can be more flexible as you can place the elements anywhere on the page, your e-commerce website built this way might not adjust as well to different screen sizes.
Furthermore, search engines, such as Google tend to prefer responsive design. On the other hand, Wix’s mobile editor does offer more control over the details of how the website will be viewed on a mobile device.
The websites have also had the tendency to not be the most fast-loading, but the company did launch a Wix Turbo tool in 2019 to counter these issues.
While there also other, cheaper plans available from Wix, the possibility to sell products online through your Wix website unlocks only with Business plans.
The most affordable Business Basic plan lacks some major features such as drop-shipping and the option to add product reviews.
Wix also provides an enterprise option and there is a possibility for a 14-day trial, with a money-back guarantee when upgrading to premium plans.
5. Squarespace Commerce
Similar to Wix, Squarespace is a known website builder founded in 2003. The owner actually developed the platform while still in college. The functions needed for an online store are combined under Squarespace Commerce.
- Strong selection of designs
- Better for product images
- Limited payment getaways
- Limited multi-channel selling
Squarespace’s templates have often been praised for their high-quality design. The over 100 free bundled templates give you the opportunity to create an impressive-looking store. One of the things to be aware of though, when it comes to making changes is that there is no autosave function with Squarespace.
It can be a great solution for those, who wish to showcase a lot of visual content, such as images, within their e-commerce platform. This not only due to how it handles the product images, allowing to automatically apply image ratios to all the products. Squarespace also makes it easy to find and add stock images through built-in integrations – Unsplash (free) and Getty (paid).
And you can add background videos to play on a loop and thus even further elevate your visuals.
However, some of the functions which increase the effectiveness of an online store can be seen as lacking. There are only two payment getaway options – Stripe and PayPal and while Apple Pay support is possible through the former, that is not the case for GooglePay.
There is also no multi-currency selling and the extension selection is relatively small. Squarespace also doesn’t integrate with third-parties such as Facebook or Amazon, which means there’s no real possibility for cross-selling.
A 14-day trial is also available.
Upon purchasing any of the plans for a year upfront, Squarespace enables you to get a free custom domain for the duration of the first year.
As indicated by the name, the latter two plans – Basic Commerce and Advanced Commerce, are the most viable option for an online shop. The Business plan could also be used, but it comes with a 3% transaction fee and lacks key features, such as checkout on your domain and e-commerce specific analytics.
Zyro is another website builder that offers access to a variety of e-commerce functions. It is the most freshly launched e-commerce platform on the list as it was founded in 2019.
Zyro’s main focus seems to be to appeal to the very beginners as it offers support in actions such as helping to find a business name or creating a logo as well as other artificial intelligence (AI) solutions.
- AI tools
- Access to free images
- Limited amount of integrations
- Limited support
Zyro’s utilization of AI technology is one of its main distinguishing features. The most notable are perhaps the AI content generator, which generates texts which can be modified to produce a copy, and the AI heatmap, which aims to analyze how the visitors would use the website. While the options of these tools are limited, they can be a good starting point for someone inexperienced.
In line with the beginner-friendly focus, Zyro also comes with an option to import images from Unsplash. This is an easy way for that user without their own images to gain access to some – without extra cost.
There are 11 pre-built templates for e-commerce, but they are not always very customizable.
However, compared to other e-commerce platform builders, there a fewer add-on available for Zyro and there is also no app-tore to obtain third-party extensions. This could eventually limit the development of your online store and its abilities.
Zyro’s support also does not seem to be comprehensive, there is no phone support and users have expressed the receiving a reply by email or chat can take a while.
While Zyro also offers two other plans – Basic and Unleashed, they do not come with e-commerce features.
There is a product limit of 100 on the eCommerce plan, while the number of products is unlimited in Ecommerce Plus. Features such as the abandoned cart recovery, selling through social media channels, and multi-language are available only through the latter plan.
Zyro offers a 30- day money-back guarantee with all of its plans. Signing up for 4 years comes with significant savings – from 22.99 USD/month to 8.99 USD/month.
Unlike the websites mentioned previously, WooCommerce is not a SaaS platform but an open-source WordPress plug-in.
WordPress, as you might be aware, is another website builder or in other words an open-source content management system (CMS).
Open-source refers to the possibility for everyone to examine a software’s source code and in some cases also change and redistribute it. What this means for an e-commerce site is that the owner of the site can be in control of its every aspect and modify it through coding and is responsible for installing the platform.
So, while SaaS is a readymade service, open-source will require you to be more involved in the process.
The big difference between SaaS and open-source platforms is that for the latter you would need to find a hosting site yourself. As you may know, web hosting essentially means the possibility to make a website accessible through the Internet.
There are many web hosting providers out there and while they are not generally free, the monthly cost for their services can be as low as a few US dollars.
A website can be hosted in different ways. The open-source platforms can for instance also be hosted on a cloud server – this is called cloud hosting. While shared hosting servers usually contain multiple websites, cloud hosting exists on multiple servers.
Cloud hosting can thus have a performance and scalability advantage but is also usually priced at a higher level.
- Control and customization
- Can take additional time and technical skill to fine-tune
- Additional security considerations
A precondition to using WooCommerce is that you have an existing WordPress site or will create one before installing the plug-in. This could be good news for those already used to using WordPress and its themes for their website.
Open-source allows for basically limitless possibilities of what kind of a store you can build – as long as you have the skills or are able to hire a developer. For those looking to offer a highly customized shopping experience for the customer, an open-source platform such as WooCommerce is the way to go.
And since you can choose which features to exclude and which to focus on, there are great possibilities for scaling your e-commerce site. You can avoid slowing down traffic with unnecessary features as well as pinpoint and add the ones you need in coherence with your store expansion.
If you are not very familiar with WordPress, setting up an e-commerce site through WooCommerce might come with a steeper learning curve. However, there is an invested community behind the platform, since it has a large active user base and its software is continuously being developed and fixed by other interested users.
Another aspect to consider is security. Necessary certificates are usually included in the services provided by SaaS platforms. This is not to say that open-source platforms are less secure – it is just another area you would need to research and take care of yourself as opposed to when you license a ready-made platform.
To summarize, there are various ways to get help with and answers to the issues one might encounter when setting up an open-source e-commerce site from scratch, but time, skill level, and patience are likely to be factors here.
While installing the WooCommerce plug-in is free, there are still costs involved when setting up an online store by implementing it. You would need to purchase a domain name as well as pay for a hosting service as mentioned above.
Moreover, the various extensions and plug-ins you might need as your online store expands are rarely free, although a lot of them are reasonably priced.
The total cost will depend on how many modifications the online store requires and if you are able to do most of them yourself or will need to hire a developer.
While in theory a WooCommerce site could be set up for under 100 USD/year, in practice this would be a very basic version without additional payment getaways and advanced shipping options.
8. Magento Open Source
Magento Open Source is a free, open-source CMS platform with the main goal of being an e-commerce solution. It appears to be mostly geared towards developers and medium or large online stores.
- Development flexibility
- Detailed product management
- Can be tricky to learn
- Scalability is best in the paid version
Compared to WooCommerce, Magento is less beginner-friendly. But an advanced user is able to create a large, impressive, and highly customized store.
Without purchasing additional extensions, Magento users are able to utilize functions such as reviews and wish lists.
As Magento is a more complex platform, the surrounding costs, such as developer fees, tend to be higher. And while Magento is known for its high scalability, its potential in this regard is mostly unlocked in the paid version, where hundreds of thousands of products and orders can be processed rather straightforwardly.
Similar to WooCommerce, Magento´s Community plan is free to use but you will need to pay for hosting and for certain extensions.
As mentioned above, Magento also has a paid e-commerce plan – Magento Commerce, which comes with a bundle of tools and is easier to use, but is rather expensive. Pricing starts at 1, 600 USD/month.
PrestaShop is another free downloadable e-commerce software. It has existed on the market since 2007.
- Easy installation
- No free themes in the marketplace
- Errors due to add-ons
PrestaShop is lightweight and comes with a guided installation and the dashboard is easy to navigate as it is clearly labeled.
It is available to use in 75 languages and it also has a very active and diversified user community, accessible through a public forum.
There are no free themes available on the official marketplace, but they can be found on third-party providers, often linked in forums. The theme customization can also be limited.
Users have reported that due to frequent updating and new versions of PrestaCart software some of the extensions can end up interfering with each other and lead to errors.
Same as most other open-source platforms – free to use on its own, but you’ll need to pay for hosting and add-ons.
PrestaShop also offers paid support plans, which promise quicker service and access to professional consultants. These include options for Tickets (1 hour of direct service per month), and Migration/Update (PrestaShop will move your site from another as well as updated your site for you).
OpenCart is another open-source software, allowing you to build a stand-alone online store. There are two ways to install the software: an easy one-click option or the more complex, but also more customizable manual approach.
- Variety of free extensions
- Multi-store management
- Limited scaling
OpenCart can be a good option for those who do not own a website prior to wanting to create an e-commerce platform. Its marketplace includes over 13, 000 extensions, many of them free.
However, OpenCart’s standard version already includes a good selection of features, such as the option to translate your website into over 40 languages, setting up recurring payments for subscriptions, and even managing multiple storefronts from one dashboard.
In order to upscale and continuously develop your store within OpenCart higher level of technical skill can become necessary, for instance, to make bigger changes within a theme or improve the SEO of the site.
Once again, while this platform is free, charges apply when it comes to hosting, domain registration, paid extensions, and so on.
OpenCart does offer two dedicated and paid support plans – a one time fix and monthly support, which you can utilize if you are experiencing issues with your online store.
If you made it through this comparative list, you can probably tell that there are a rather large variety of options available when it comes to building an e-commerce platform.
When choosing the right platform, the business should consider several factors. The fundamentals are the size of the business, how many products are going to be sold and in which variety, where are the target customers located and which payment method would they be most prone to use.
Next, it would only make sense to prioritize, which features are a must while being mindful of the budget.
Narrowing down what your business is about and what solutions you want to offer through the online store will help to steer the decision-making process and hopefully pinpoint the right solution for you.
If applicable you should also consider your existing website and its popularity in terms of traffic. It might be more beneficial to add a develop a successful website with an e-commerce plug-in rather than building a new/separate standalone e-commerce website.
And last but not least, consider your technical skill level, how much you are wanting your e-commerce site to be customized, and how much time and effort you are able and/or willing to dedicate.