Top E-Commerce Platforms for Small Business Online Stores

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Updated

March 16, 2024

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To succeed in the digital market, small businesses must select an appropriate e-commerce platform. This guide outlines 7 top e-commerce platforms, emphasizing the importance of the right choice, key features to consider, and offers tailored recommendations to enhance your small business’s online presence.

What You'll Learn

Choosing the Right E-Commerce Platform as a Small Business

The e-commerce platform you choose has a significant impact on the success of your online store and your overall small business. The best e-commerce platform will provide you with the tools and features you need to create an attractive and functional online store, streamline your operations, and drive sales.

It will also give you the flexibility to adapt to the changing needs of your business and scale as you grow. Additionally, ensuring the security and trustworthiness of your platform is crucial for protecting your customer’s sensitive data and maintaining their trust in your business.

Your Business Model

A platform that can be tailored to fit different business models is key, as it allows you to create a customized online shopping experience for your customers.

When choosing an e-commerce platform, it’s essential to find one that fits your unique business model and needs. Every online business is different, with its own set of requirements and goals. Look for a platform that supports the specific needs of your business, whether it’s selling physical products, digital downloads, or services.

Consider the features and tools offered by the platform that are most important to your business, such as inventory management, product customization, or integration with social media.

Scalability and Growth

As a small business owner, you want an e-commerce platform that can grow with your business.

Scalability is a crucial factor to consider when choosing a platform, as it determines how well the platform can handle increased website traffic and sales volume. Look for features and options that support business growth, such as the ability to add new products, handle high transaction volumes, and integrate with third-party tools and services.

A scalable platform ensures that your online store can keep up with the increasing demands of your business, allowing you to focus on expansion and capitalizing on growth opportunities.

Security and Trustworthiness

Security is of utmost importance when it comes to running an online store.

Your customers are entrusting you with their personal and financial information, and it’s crucial to protect that data. Look for an e-commerce platform that prioritizes security and offers robust measures to ensure safe online transactions.

  • Secure payment gateways
  • SSL encryption
  • Protection against fraud and data breaches

A trustworthy platform not only safeguards your customer’s data but also builds confidence and credibility in your small business. Choosing a platform with a proven track record of security and reliability is essential for the long-term success of your online store.

The 7 Best E-Commerce Platforms for Small Businesses

Now that we understand the importance of choosing the right e-commerce platform, let’s dive into our top picks for the best e-commerce platforms for small businesses.

These platforms have been chosen based on their features, ease of use, scalability, customer support, and overall value for small business owners.

Whether you’re just starting out or looking to upgrade your existing online store, these platforms offer the necessary tools and resources to help you succeed in the competitive e-commerce landscape.

1. Shopify:

Overall, the best for selling products online. But, a bit expensive.

Shopify.com
Shopify.com

Shopify is a well-known and widely used e-commerce platform, making it an excellent choice for small business owners looking for an all-in-one solution. With Shopify, you can easily set up and manage your online store without any technical expertise. Here are some key features of Shopify:

Shopify has a mobile app

  • User-friendly website builder: Shopify offers a drag-and-drop website builder that allows you to create a clean-looking online store easily.
  • Complete Commerce Platform: Shopify allows businesses to create an online store, market to customers, and accept payments across multiple sales channels and locations, all from one place.
  • Customization and Integration: With Shopify, business owners can customize their online store and integrate it with various sales channels, including social media and online marketplaces, through powerful integrations.
  • Security and Accessibility: The platform is secure, cloud-based, and hosted, ensuring safe access from any compatible device with an internet connection, allowing business owners to run their operations from anywhere.
  • Comprehensive Tools: Shopify provides a suite of tools for inventory management, payment processing, shipping, and more, all integrated into one platform. It also supports third-party tools and apps essential for business operations.
  • Scalability: Shopify caters to businesses of all sizes, from small shops to multinational online retailers, with solutions that scale as the business grows.

In simple English, Shopify offers a one-stop-shop platform where you can set up and run your online store, customize it to match your brand, sell across different channels, and manage everything from a single dashboard, making it easier to grow your business. Plus, Shopify’s checkout experience is one of the most recognised worldwide.

Prices:

Shopify offers a range of pricing plans to suit different business needs:

  • Starter: €5/months. Ideal for selling directly through your social media
  • Basic Shopify: Ideal for solo entrepreneurs at €26/month, offering essential features to start a new business.
  • Shopify: The most popular plan at €105/month, designed for growing businesses with more comprehensive needs.
  • Advanced Shopify: At €384/month, this plan is tailored for scaling businesses that require advanced reporting and lower transaction fees.

With its user-friendly interface, extensive app store, and excellent customer support, Shopify is a top choice (and also my favourite) for small business owners looking to establish an online presence and sell products online.

2. WooCommerce (WordPress):

Overall, the second best as you have limitless posibilities – great for brands (Just make sure to choose the right hosting provider)

WordPress.org
wordpress.org

If you plan on using WordPress as a content management system (CMS) or already have a WordPress site, WooCommerce is a fantastic e-commerce platform to consider. As an extension to WordPress, WooCommerce seamlessly integrates with your existing website, allowing you to transform it into a fully functional online store. Here are some key features of WooCommerce:

WooCommerce does have a downloadable mobile app however requires some extra steps to connect to your store.

  • Technically free: WooCommerce is a free extension to WordPress (also free), making it a budget-friendly choice for small business owners.

*You do however need to purchase a hosting plan in order to use both WordPress and Woocommerece for free.

  • It is self-hosted: For some, this may be a disadvantage, but for me, it is a good thing. With  WordPress (WooCommerce), you have full control over your online store, assets, and website files, meaning that you can do anything you want with your website (transfer it, fully customize it, replicate it etc.).
  • E-commerce features: WooCommerce provides a wide range of features, including inventory management, product pages, and unlimited products.
  • Design customizability: WordPress (WooCommerce) offers a variety of customizable templates, allowing you to create a unique online store. It also have a variety of page builders to choose from that will provide you with the tools necessary to create a beautiful branded website.

Pro tip: Using a page builder like Elementor Pro allows you to have full control of your e-commerce design without any coding knowledge – it only costs €99/year.

  • Search engine optimization: WooCommerce is probably the best E-commerce platform for SEO, helping your online store rank higher in search engine results and drive organic traffic.

Prices:

Woocommerce and WordPress are both technically free. However, you will need to purchase a hosting service which are typically around €150 – €200 per year.

With its seamless integration with WordPress, extensive plugin options, and customizable features, WooCommerce is an excellent choice for small business owners who already have a WordPress website and want to add e-commerce functionality. Whether you’re selling physical products, digital downloads, or services, WooCommerce provides the tools and flexibility to create and manage your online store efficiently.

Learn how to build your own website from scratch

WordPress + Elementor Pro

3. BigCommerce:

Ideal for scaling small businesses

bigcommerce.com
bigcommerce.com

If scalability is a top priority for your small business, BigCommerce is a platform worth considering. It’s designed to support the growth of online businesses of all sizes, making it an ideal choice for small business owners who have plans to expand. Here are some key features of BigCommerce:

BigCommerce does have a mobile app

  • Open SaaS Solution: Combines the ease of SaaS with the flexibility of API-enabled openness, allowing for extensive customization and integration with enterprise tools.
  • Flexibility and Scalability: Designed to meet the demands of businesses for flexibility in their operations and scalability to accommodate the global shift towards online purchasing.
  • Speed and Agility: Aims to enhance the speed and agility of businesses to protect and grow sales.
  • Essential Back Office Integrations: Provides essential integrations with back-office systems without proprietary blockers, friction, or limitations.
  • Lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO): BigCommerce claims that leading brands have seen significantly lower TCO with their platform, suggesting cost-effectiveness alongside powerful features.

In simple English, BigCommerce provides a flexible and customizable online store platform that is simple to use and can scale with your business, potentially saving you money in the long run.

Prices:

  • Standard Plan: €39/month, designed for startups and small businesses just beginning their online journey.
  • Plus Plan: €105/month, offers additional features for growing businesses looking to expand their online presence.
  • Pro Plan: €399/month, tailored for larger businesses needing advanced features for scaling their operations.
  • Enterprise Plan: Pricing is based on the online sales of their customers, designed for high-volume businesses requiring customized features and services.

With its focus on scalability, customizable features, and integration options, BigCommerce is a platform that empowers small business owners to thrive in the ever-changing e-commerce landscape.

4. Wix:

Great for creative control, not so great for scalability.

wix.com
wix.com

If you’re looking for creative control over your online store, Wix is an excellent platform to consider. With its customizable templates and user-friendly website builder, Wix allows you to create a visually stunning online store that reflects your brand identity. Here are some key features of Wix:

Wix does have a mobile app.

  • Social media integration: Wix integrates with popular social media platforms, allowing you to promote your online store and reach a wider audience. It also provides a range of customization options, giving you full control over the design and functionality of your online store.
  • Apple Pay and Adobe Commerce integration options: Wix offers seamless integration with Apple Pay, making it easy for your customers to make secure mobile payments. It also integrates with Adobe Commerce, providing additional features and tools to streamline your online store’s operations.
  • Customizable Templates: Users can choose from over 900 free, customizable website templates, tailored for various industries, or start from scratch for complete customization.
  • Comprehensive Tools: Wix provides a smart drag-and-drop editor, advanced design capabilities, custom domain and branding tools, full-stack web development tools, and AI technology to assist in site creation.
  • Free trial and hosting provider: Wix offers a free trial, allowing you to test the platform before committing. It also gives you the flexibility to choose a hosting provider that best suits your business needs, ensuring your online store runs smoothly and securely.

In simple English, Wix is a platform that allows you to create a website exactly how you want it, with a variety of design options and tools to help you build an online store pretty easily.

Prices: 

  • Light Plan: Approximately €11/month, designed for basic website needs with essential features.
  • Core Plan: Approximately €22/month, includes more functionalities for personal or small business websites.
  • Business Plan: Approximately €34/month, tailored for businesses requiring eCommerce capabilities.
  • Business Elite Plan: Approximately €149/month, offers the most advanced features for high-end business and eCommerce needs.

With its emphasis on customization, user-friendly interface, and marketing tools, Wix is an excellent platform for small business owners who want creative control over their online store.

5. Squarespace:

Best for simple and clean aesthetically pleasing stores, has a lot of templates to choose from.

squarespace.com
squarespace.com

If aesthetics and design are crucial for your online store, Squarespace is the platform for you. Known for its elegant and visually pleasing templates, Squarespace is a top choice for small business owners who value aesthetics and want to create a beautiful online store. Here are some key features of Squarespace:

Squarespace does have a mobile app

  • Designer-Crafted Templates: Squarespace provides easy-to-customize templates designed by world-class designers, ensuring that e-commerce websites stand out with their expressive and unique designs.
  • Comprehensive Product Showcase: The platform allows for an attractive presentation of products, enabling customers to browse, add items to their cart, check out efficiently, and even leave product reviews.
  • Integrated Business Management Tools: Squarespace offers tools for managing shipping and fulfillment, taxes, payments, and more, all from one centralized location.
  • Connected Commerce Tools: The platform supports a range of best-in-class commerce integrations, allowing businesses to expand their capabilities and streamline operations.
  • Versatility in Selling: Beyond physical goods, Squarespace enables the sale of services, digital content, subscriptions, and more, catering to a wide variety of business models.
  • Promotion and Growth Tools: Built-in SEO, email campaigns, and social media tools help drive traffic to the online store, while partnerships with platforms like Printful allow for easy creation and sale of custom merchandise.

In simple English, Squarespace offers a stylish and functional platform for creating online stores that not only look great but also provide all the tools needed to manage and grow your e-commerce business effectively.

Prices:

  • Personal Plan: Approximately €11/month, suited for basic website needs without e-commerce functionality.
  • Business Plan: Approximately €17/month, includes additional features for small businesses and allows for e-commerce transactions.
  • Basic Commerce Plan: Approximately €24/month, designed for more serious e-commerce needs with additional commerce tools and functionalities.
  • Advanced Commerce Plan: Approximately €36/month, offers the most comprehensive set of e-commerce tools for advanced selling and online store capabilities.

With its focus on aesthetics, customization options, and advanced features, Squarespace is a platform that allows small business owners to create visually stunning online stores.

6. Volusion:

Excellent for data-driven businesses

volusion.com
volusion.com

If data plays a crucial role in your small business, Volusion is the perfect platform for you. It offers robust features and tools specifically designed to help data-driven businesses thrive online. Here are some key features of Volusion:

  • Comprehensive E-commerce Tools: Volusion provides a suite of powerful e-commerce features, including inventory management, payment collection, and unlimited product options, all within an intuitive online store builder.
  • Customizable Storefronts: With responsive themes and a comprehensive site builder, Volusion enables users to create unique stores without needing to code, making the setup process quick and straightforward.
  • Scalability for Business Growth: The platform includes built-in SEO management, newsletters, a CRM system, and more, designed to help businesses reach more customers and increase sales.
  • Seamless Checkout Experience: Volusion offers a seamless checkout experience with its e-commerce shopping cart software, aiming to improve customer satisfaction and conversion rates.
  • Integration with Popular Apps: The platform supports integration with a wide range of apps and services through certified technology partners, enhancing the store’s functionality and efficiency.
  • Expert Support: Access to SEO specialists, web designers, and marketing professionals is available to help businesses grow, providing a comprehensive support system for users.

In simple English, Volusion offers an all-in-one e-commerce platform that’s easy to use and customize, helping businesses to start, manage, and grow their online stores with a range of tools and expert support.

Prices:

  • Personal Plan: Approximately €35/month, designed for smaller online stores.
  • Professional Plan: €75/month, offering expanded features for growing businesses.
  • Business Plan: €299/month, tailored for larger online stores with more extensive needs.
  • Prime Plan: Pricing depends on your gross sales amount, aimed at very large online stores with significant sales volumes, offering the most comprehensive set of features and capabilities.

With its focus on data-driven features, customization options, and integration capabilities, Volusion is an excellent platform for small business owners who rely heavily on data for their online store’s success.

7. Big Cartel:

Ideal for artists and creatives

bigcartel.com
bigcartel.com

Big Cartel is an e-commerce platform that caters specifically to artists and creative individuals. It offers an easy-to-use platform that allows small business owners to showcase and sell their unique creations online. Here are some key features of Big Cartel:

Big Cartel does have a mobile app.

  • Affordability and Transparency: Big Cartel offers a range of affordable monthly plans, including a forever free plan for up to 5 products, with no listing fees or sales commissions, making it accessible for small businesses and independent creators.
  • Customizable Storefronts: Users can customize their online store using free themes or dive into the code for a completely unique design, catering to the creative nature of its user base.
  • Comprehensive Selling Tools: The platform includes features like inventory tracking, sales tax autopilot, product variant groups, and multiple payment options, providing the necessary tools to manage an online store efficiently.
  • Marketing and Analytics: Big Cartel supports Google Analytics, ads support for Google and Facebook, and the ability to offer discounts and run promotions, helping users to grow their business and understand their audience.

In simple English, Big Cartel is an easy-to-use platform that helps artists and creators sell their products online without taking a cut of their sales, offering customizable store options and essential tools to run a creative business effectively.

Prices:

Big Cartel offers a variety of pricing plans tailored to fit different budgets and needs, including a free option. The plans are as follows:

  • Free Plan: 5 products, €0, always free, with basic features suitable for getting started.
  • Gold Plan: 50 products, €9.99/month, including additional features like custom domain use and inventory tracking.
  • Platinum Plan: 500 products, €19.99/month, offering advanced features such as advanced Google Analytics & Facebook reporting, and priority customer support.

With its focus on simplicity, customization, and features tailored to artists and creatives, Big Cartel is an excellent platform for small business owners looking to sell their unique products online. Whether you’re an artist, a designer, or a creative entrepreneur, Big Cartel provides the tools and support you need to showcase and sell your creations to a global audience.

Key Features to Look for in an E-Commerce Platform

When selecting an e-commerce platform, consider the availability of a user-friendly website builder, comprehensive inventory management, and safe and reliable payment gateways. Efficient customer service is crucial for customer satisfaction and retention. Ensure the platform offers a seamless shopping cart experience and integrates well with your business’s software (if you have a brick-and-mortar store).

User-Friendly Website Builder

Streamlining the website creation process, a user-friendly website builder offers drag-and-drop features for effortless customization of website layouts. It simplifies design and customization through intuitive templates, empowering business owners to easily manage their sites.

Shopify: A simple and limited drag-and-drop interface which allows you to add a variety of widget-like boxes (sections/texts/images etc.). However, there are a variety of different themes available on their marketplace that are both free and paid.

You also have access to paid page builders on the Shopify marketplace.

Woocommerce (WordPress): One of the many benefits you have with WordPress is the ability to use advanced page builders like Elementor Pro and Breakdance which allow for complete customizability of the look of your website.

*Elementor Pro page builder offers a “playground” for you to try out its many features.

Wix: Wix offers a simple drag-and-drop page builder feel that is extremely easy to use and learn as a complete beginner. However, Wix will eventually limit you as your small business grows.

Squarespace: You first select a template from the collection of websites to get started, and then you make changes to the template’s colors, fonts, images, and content as you develop the pages of your website.

Volusion: Similarly, Voluions has a selection of pre-designed themes that you can later customize by changing the colors, fonts, images and texts. The interface is simple, but limited.

Big Cartel: Big Cartel has 15 themes for you to select when building your e-commerce store. Each theme has its own setting that you will be able to edit and customize. The editor is extremely easy to use but also very limited to what you can achieve.

Comprehensive Inventory Management

Inventory management tools simplify tracking product quantities and updating information, with automation for accuracy and availability. Ideal for businesses with diverse products, these tools enhance efficiency and customer experience, especially when integrated as e-commerce plugins

Safe and Reliable Payment Gateways

To ensure secure online transactions for e-commerce, it’s vital to have smooth payment processing that builds customer trust. Offering multiple payment options improves the checkout experience. Strong fraud protection in payment gateways provides added security.

Efficient Customer Service

Make sure that customer service is available to you whenever you need it so that problems can be fixed quickly and efficiently.

Things to Consider Before Choosing

Evaluating the right e-commerce platform is crucial for your small business. Understanding the different types of platforms will help you make an informed decision. Hosted (Cloud) E-Commerce Platforms offer easy setup and maintenance, while Self-Hosted E-Commerce Platforms provide more control and flexibility.

The most popular hosted platform is Shopify

The most popular self-hosted platform if WordPress (Woocommerce)

Feature / PlatformShopifyWoo
Commerce
Big
Commerce
WixSquarespaceVolusionBig
Cartel
HostedYESNOYESYESYESYESYES
Social Media IntegrationYESYESYESYESYESYESYES
Unlimited Product ListingsYESYESYESYESYESNONO
Mobile App IntegrationYESNOYESYESNONONO
User-FriendlyYESYESYESYESYESYESYES
Dedicated Customer ServiceYESNOYESYESYESYESNO
Customizable TemplatesYESYESYESYESYESYESYES
Unlimited BandwidthYESYESYESYESYESYESNO
Marketing ToolsYESYESYESYESYESYESYES
Live Chat & Email IntegrationYESYESYESYESYESYESNO
Addons & ExtensionsYESYESYESYESYESYESYES
Open Source CustomizationNOYESNONONONONO

Making the Most of Your E-Commerce Platform

Maximizing the potential of your chosen e-commerce platform is essential for business growth. By utilizing the built-in SEO features and marketing tools, you can drive more traffic to your online store for small businesses, increasing the chances of conversion.

Additionally, by integrating a user-friendly shopping cart and leveraging the apps, plugins or extensions available on these e-commerce platforms you can enhance functionality and improve the overall customer experience, leading to higher retention rates and increased sales.

Maximizing SEO and Marketing Features

Maximizing SEO and marketing features involves leveraging various tools to enhance online visibility and customer outreach. SEO tools aid in improving search engine visibility, while marketing tools, such as email campaigns, enable targeted outreach to potential customers.

Integration with sales channels expands the reach of small business products, and customizable templates facilitate branding and optimization of product pages. Additionally, the integration of social media platforms can effectively induce trust in a potential customer and increase sales.

Utilizing these features effectively can significantly boost the online presence and profitability of an e-commerce website.

Can You Switch E-Commerce Platforms Easily?

Considering switching your e-commerce platform? Evaluate the ease of transferring products, data, and customer information.

Check if the platform supports domain name migration and customization options.

Ensure compatibility with existing payment gateways for a smooth transition.

Review the platform’s customer service during the switch – if there is no customer service available, avoid it if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Look for platforms offering free trials to test migration and setup.

WordPress dashboard
This is the WordPress dashboard.

Our Recommendation

Sometimes, to avoid tedious and unnecessary research, testing and time wasted, it is best to just be told upfront which e-commerce platforms are recommended by experts. Even if you did the research and testing, you would probably find exactly what I am about to tell you…

As an expert in e-commerce sites and the business model in general, I always recommend using Shopify (in most cases) if you are expecting sales and a functioning online store within the first few months.

If you are just starting your brand or online store, you may want to skip to the alternative (WordPress).

Why Shopify?

Shopify comes already hosted which makes things much simpler for a small business.

Shopify is made for e-commerce.

Shopify is the most secure and trusted platform for selling products online.

Your potential customers are already familiar with the platform (i.e. checkout page), making your website more trustworthy and increasing conversion rates.

Cons

The only downfall to using Shopify as an e-commerce platform would be that 1) it can be quite costly and 2) you can be extremely limited with regards to the design of the website.

  1. Costly because to add more necessary functionality, you need to add apps and tensions which do not come cheap.
  2. The design, layout and page editor of the standard (free) Shopify themes are very limited. You have little control over the look and structure of your website.

Alternative

As an alternative, I recommend using WordPress (Woocommerce). It is not as easy as Shopify to set up, but neither is it hard. It is great for beginner small businesses or brands as it is quite a bit less costly and you have complete control over the design and structure of your website.

When creating an online store in the beginning, the most important aspect is the look of the website. First impressions are everything to a first-time viewer, so if you want to convert them (sell them stuff), your website needs to look amazing – your brand needs to look amazing and a well-designed website can reflect this.

If design and cost are your primary concerns, you may need to consider WordPress.

  1. WordPress is overall much more cost-effective than Shopify.
  2. Using a page builder like Elementor Pro, you can customize the look and feel of your website without any limitations.

Conclusion

In conclusion, choosing the right e-commerce platform is crucial for the success and growth of your small business. Consider factors such as your business model, scalability, security, and user-friendliness before making a decision. Based on my research, here are the top recommendations: Shopify for an all-in-one solution, WooCommerce for WordPress websites and brands, BigCommerce for scaling small businesses, Wix for creative control, Squarespace for aesthetically pleasing stores, Volusion for data-driven businesses, Big Cartel for artists and creatives, Adobe Commerce for robust features, and OpenCart for international selling.

Look for key features like user-friendly website builders, comprehensive inventory management, safe payment gateways, and efficient customer service. Evaluate different types of platforms, such as hosted and self-hosted, and consider factors like compatibility with business software, customization options, and future scalability. Budget wisely and maximize SEO and marketing features to make the most of your e-commerce platform.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which online platform is best for small business?

When it comes to choosing the best online platform for small businesses, it ultimately depends on their specific needs and goals. Popular options like Shopify, WooCommerce, and Squarespace offer different features and pricing plans. Consider factors like ease of use and available features before making a decision. Research and compare different platforms to find the best fit for your small business.

Is Shopify worth it for a small business?

Shopify, a popular e-commerce platform, is worth considering for small businesses. With user-friendly features and customization options, it provides an easy way to create online stores. Evaluate pricing plans to choose the right one for your business needs and budget. Compare Shopify with other platforms for the best decision.

What is the best platform to start up a small online store?

When starting a small online store, the best platform will depend on your specific needs and budget. Popular options include Shopify, WooCommerce, and BigCommerce. Consider factors like ease of use, pricing, customization options, and integrations to make an informed decision. Remember to choose a platform that can scale with your business as it grows.

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