The Best E-Commerce Platforms

There are 3 great e-commerce platforms to choose from

Quick Sprout recommendations for e-commerce platforms are based on months of research and testing. We’ll never point you to a product or service that we don’t believe in or have first-hand experience with. Our content is reader-supported, which means if you click on one of our links to a recommended e-commerce platform, we may earn a commission.

So, you’re ready to build an online store and sell, ship, and manage your business. We’re here to help. We took a look at six of the biggest names in e-commerce software to find out which store is easiest to set up, customizable to your liking, and economical. There’s no stress needed here: all of our options offer at least 14-day free trial periods for you to set up your store and see if you like it and it has all the features you need.

Our 3 Favorite E-Commerce Platforms

Which one’s right for your e-commerce site?

There are two worlds in e-commerce software: hosted and self-hosted. With hosted platforms, like Shopify and BigCommerce, you’ll get ready-to-go drag-and-drop templates, but you’ll give up some customization ability and pay a subscription fee. Between the two, we like Shopify.

For more customization power, or to skip that monthly subscription fee, you want self-hosted software like WooCommerce or Magento. This is the route we recommend for most people. You’ll be nearly limitless in what you can do, and there are plenty of pre-made plugins you can pay for and install to avoid coding every little thing (think abandoned cart e-mails or related products carousels).

Between the two platforms, we like WooCommerce. It’s built on WordPress so it has a more robust content CMS and it’s a cheaper, lighter weight software to use and maintain than Magento. For most digital businesses, Magento is more than you need in both features and price. If you go the self-hosted route, you’ll need to buy your domain name and sign up for a web host.

It’s also possible to build a store with a Wix or Squarespace site, to monetize your existing site, or even build a non-store site and then convert it to a credit-card accepting store later on. This is a good option if you’re already using Wix or Squarespace or if you’re just in the ideation phase. Wix is our pick between the two: you can build your whole site for free and it has a mind-reader-y AI setup process. You’ll only need to upgrade to its e-commerce subscription when you’re ready to take that first credit card transaction. Playing around with Wix is a cool way to get your creative juices flowing.

No matter which platform you pick, our best practices for running a successful e-commerce site apply.

In-Depth E-Commerce Software Reviews

WooCommerce

WooCommerce has 53,216,823 downloads, and as such is the most popular e-commerce platform for building an online store (stats from Builtwith). It makes since that WooCommerce powers 30% of online stores — the most of any e-commerce software — because it’s built on the system that powers 30% of all websites on the internet, WordPress.

WooCommerce is free open-source software that runs on any self-hosted WordPress.org site. You’ll need a domain name, a web host, and a theme. Then you’ll need to install Woo. (If you’re already running a WordPress site, then installing Woo is as simple as activating any other plugin. You know the drill.)

If you don’t already have a theme, WooCommerce has a free template called Storefront, which prioritizes speed, uptime, and theme/plugin simplicity. It’s the “official” theme, and it’s purposefully clean and simple. It is built and maintained by WooCommerce core developers, and promises “water-tight” integration between the theme, WooCommerce, and any extensions or plugins you add. (WooCommerce.com is running on a $39 Storefront child theme, which gives the Storefront theme a new look.) There are also plenty of templates for sale that aren’t created by WooCommerce or WordPress.

Like with anything WordPress, there are some features built into your theme, and some features you’ll need to install a plugin for. Some WooCommerce extensions are free, but many aren’t; they’re $29, $79, sometimes $199 for a one-site subscription. If you want to do more advanced or powerful things in your store, like run a recommendation engine or sell recurring subscriptions, you’ll need to pay for extensions.

Example of WooCommerce Storefront theme

The free Storefront template from WooCommerce.

With Woo you’ll be able to sell physical and digital goods, instant downloads, or affiliate goods in online marketplaces. It also accounts for product variations and configurations. Shipping, including drop-shipping, “is highly configurable.” Want to calculate shipping prices per customer? Want to limit shipments to specific countries? Offer free shipping? It’s all possible.

If you upgrade using any of the 300+ premium extensions, you can add on bookings, repeating subscriptions, and memberships. There are hundreds of extensions in the WooCommerce official marketplace. Popular ones include Stripe, PayPal, USPS, Amazon Payments, Authorize.Net, ShipStation, and MailChimp. For example, want to add reviews to your Storefront site? There’s a $19 extension for that. Want a pricing comparison table to show the difference between your Bronze, Silver, and Gold Memberships? There’s a $19 extension and you’ll get access to a shortcode generator to copy and paste into your layout how you’d like.

At WooCommerce, the customer service team is manned by “Happiness Engineers.” These very same team behind WordPress.com, Simplenote, Jetpack, and Longreads. The motto? “We believe in making the web a better place.” They work remotely from 69 countries, speak 84 languages, and strive to live by the Automattic Creed, which includes the line, “I am more motivated by impact than money, and I know that Open Source is one of the most powerful ideas of our generation.”

That customer loyalty and product-first mindset permeates the entire company. In fact, the first three weeks of any employees time are spend in customer service, and one week a year “forevermore” after that. Why? “We believe an early and ongoing connection with the people who use our products is irreplaceable.”

To get in touch with this support squad, the first stop is documentation. You’ll find extremely detailed step-by-step instructions, how tos, and ways to fix common issues like blurry images. Need more help than that? Woo also has a help desk where you can submit a ticket or start a live chat. There’s no phone, Facebook, or Twitter support.

WooCommerce courses and training videos

Magento

If you’re in the market for e-commerce software you’ll see some pretty impressive claims from Magento. It’s also an open-source self-hosted software, but it’s aimed at the enterprise level. Magento boasts huge clients like Burger King, Nike, and Rosetta Stone. For large-scale stores in need of the ability to create complex customizations without limit, Magento makes sense. (In 2016, 202 Magento customers were in the Internet Retailer Top 1000 list, compared to 12 Shopify customers — and 42 merchants in the Internet Retailer B2B E-Commerce 300.) Impressive, but if you’re starting a digital business, you’ll still likely be happier with WooCommerce. Why’s that? It’s more expensive to maintain Magento, it has a steeper learning curve, and it’s not as robust with content tools as WooCommerce.

Shopify

Shopify is one of the most recognizable out-of-the-box solutions for small business owners — by some measures, it’s the second most popular e-commerce platform in the world after WooCommerce, and continues to grow like crazy. We think it’s a good fit for e-commerce sites that don’t have a lot of in-house technical support and don’t crave a ton of complex customizations.

Shopify is a full-blown hosted e-commerce platform, which means that it takes care of everything you need to run an online business, from a website to website hosting to inventory management to accepting credit card information. It also offers point-of-sale hardware, and integrates into online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay.

Shopify’s core product comes in a few different plans for different prices, ranging from $29/month to $299/month. More robust functionality (and more perks, like better credit card rates, more user accounts, and advanced reporting) come with the higher price tag. If you already have a website and are interested in adding some shoppable products and a shopping cart, we recommend skipping down to where we discuss Shopify Lite. Full-blown Shopify is probably more than you need.

Thumbnails of six Shopify e-commerce templatesShopify makes it pretty straightforward for a small business to get up and running — like a lot of hosted e-commerce platforms, you have a 14-day free trial where you can actually build your entire store and try out the features and functionality without ever entering a credit card number. Shopify is template-based, which means you choose the basic look and layout of your store from 10 free or 57 for-purchase themes, and customize from there. Shopify claims that its templates are fully customizable, and it does give its merchants full access to the HTML and CSS of their stores, but heads-up: Shopify uses a Liquid setup, which will have a little bit of a learning curve for those who are more used to PHP.

Because it’s such a force in the industry, Shopify integrates with pretty much every other app, SaaS, and technology out there, be it live order tracking, automated up-selling bots, or finding dropship products to sell. Shopify has its own app store a la Apple and Google with built-for-Shopify (and often built-by-Shopify) technology that you can plug and play to make your store do everything you want. This is a double-edged sword for some merchants, who find that Shopify relies so much on third-party integrations that some of its built-in technology is lacking. A good rule of thumb: Make a list of all the functionality you want for your site and see if you’re satisfied with what you get for free during your 14-day trial. If not, explore what add-ons and plugins are available (there are over 2,400 in the Shopify app store) and see how much they’ll add to your bottom line.

Speaking of bottom lines: You’re going to have to do a lot of math to see which payment gateway makes the most sense for your business no matter which e-commerce platform you choose. But one of Shopify’s biggest standouts is that it’s built its own payment gateway, Shopify Payments. While you still can integrate with over 100 others (in fact, you’ll have to if you have customers outside of the US, the UK, Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, and Singapore), Shopify Payments potentially eliminates one more integration you’d have to do to get up and running. At 2.9% + $0.30, Shopify Payments’ rates are right in line with other leading payment gateways, including PayPal, stripe, and Authorize.net, but it does tack on an extra 2% transaction fee for any payment that isn’t processed through Shopify Payments. Check to make sure you qualify to sign up for Shopify Payments in its Terms of Service, then get out your calculators. Remember, accepting multiple payment options is one of the 11 best ways to boost online sales.

Shopify buy now button for Shopify Lite

Shopify Lite comes with a “Buy Button” that can go on any site.

Outside of its core e-commerce hosting, Shopify offers a supercharged and highly customizable ShopifyPlus plan for high-volume merchants and enterprise businesses, and Shopify Lite, which is essentially just Shopify’s payment processing functionality. The Lite plan might be interesting to very small businesses just entering e-commerce. It acts a lot like PayPal: you can pop a Shopify Buy Button into your WordPress or Squarespace site, swipe credit cards with its app, and sell on Facebook and Facebook Messenger. Shopify Lite is $9/month.

Shopify customer support, training, and resources

BigCommerce

Like Shopify, BigCommerce’s core product is available at a few different functionality tiers, ranging from $30/month to $250/month; also like Shopify, higher tiers are more robust, including features like abandoned cart saver, product filtering, and customer loyalty programs. Unlike Shopify, though, BigCommerce has a sales cap on each of its plans. If you’re bringing in more than $50k/year, for example, you’ll no longer qualify for the Standard plan, and be automatically upgraded to Plus ($80/month with a sales cap of $150k per year).

The biggest difference you’ll notice if you’re testing out both Shopify and BigCommerce is how many native features BigCommerce has installed right out of the box. It offers an outstanding number of technical integrations and marketing features that Shopify might only be able to provide if you buy and install a plugin or extension (for example, single-page checkout). For some, BigCommerce’s roster of pre-installed features is going to be annoying. But those who aren’t overwhelmed by the sheer options may find that they don’t need to pay extra for the functionality they want.

Wix

You might know Wix as a drag-and-drop website builder, but it’s also a drag-and-drop e-commerce shop builder, too. And the process is just as simple: create an account, choose your template (there are 60 e-commerce templates to choose from), load your inventory and product pages, set up payment information, and start selling. You can even get started picking your template, designing your store, and trying out the store manager where you’ll track orders, manage inventory, and send out customer newsletters with coupon codes or sales — all for free. Signing up is a simple a logging in with your Google or Facebook account.

It’s not until you want to accept payments that you’ll need to upgrade your account to a business / e-commerce account. Wix Business plans range from $20 to $35 per month  — but they’re billed in full yearly subscriptions at the time of purchase, so really you’ll be laying out $240 to $420. You’ll get 14-days to test drive the plan.

All business plans allow you to accept online payments without paying commissions, and get unlimited bandwidth (so any number of customers can visit your store). The more expensive plans grant you more storage, up to 100,000 emails a month and higher-priority support response. You’ll also get 30G of Google Drive and email storage, so once you connect your domain you can use Gmail as your email at your unique address.

With a business plan, you can take credit cards, PayPal, offline payments, and don’t have to pay any commissions to Wix. Not all businesses are the same, so neither are the Wix templates. Any Wix template can run a store, if you add the “Wix Stores” app, or you can get a head-start with a pre-made stores template. To do that, you’ll first choose your business-type.

Thumbnails of nine Wix online store templates

Some Wix online store templates.

Run a bookings-based business? You’ll start with a Wix Bookings template. Your customers will get auto-email reminders about the event. Sell sessions individually or as part of a membership plan. If you accept offline payments, it’s as simple as checking the “mark as fully paid” box on the bookings dashboard. There’s even a bookings template for restaurants.

We like that it’s super fluid to make sales and note when you’re busy: simply block off time you’re not available in your Wix schedule on the mobile app; sync your Wix Bookings with you Google calendar automatically. Customers can also book directly from their mobile phones, too — by creating a club and inviting your customers to it, they can chat you, book a service, RSVP to an event, or start a discussion from the app.

We haven’t seen anything like the Wix Music page includes a customizable music player and a way to sell your music directly from your page, without paying any commissions. Your reporting will include most-played, most-shared, most-purchased, and most-downloaded songs.

There’s also a pre-made template for ticketed events businesses. You can set the ticket price, manage the RSVP list, invite and add guests, and edit details.

From there, it’s all the drag-and-drop joy Wix is known for. You’ll want to design a “storefront” or homepage, product pages for each of the items you sell with images and product information. Want the menu in a different place, in a different font, with other elements? Drag it, change it, save it. If you’ve ever felt templates to be limiting — I can change that but only in those 3 predetermined ways?! — then you’ll love the new Wix Code. It’s a hybrid platform, with all of the ease of a drag-and-drop and the control of your own customization and scripting with a built-in database, JavaScript backend and integrated development environment. Simply turn on the Wix Code editor and you’re in. (We should note: it’s in beta.)

We like the clean lines and look of the Wix templates, the drag-and-drop ease of it all, and the head start the pre-made stores give you. Unlike self-hosted e-commerce plans, which require upgrades to access features like coupon codes, everything’s included with a Wix e-commerce plan.

Wix courses and training videos

Squarespace

Squarespace is best known as a website builder, but its e-commerce solution is one of the most popular in the world. In large part that’s because e-commerce functionality is built straight into nearly all of its plans: Even if you start with just a basic website, you can sell products. That grow-into-it flexibility makes it an interesting option for businesses who aren’t quite sure of their future plans.

With Squarespace, what you get is what you get. Unlike pretty much every other e-commerce platform, it doesn’t integrate with endless apps and extensions. It comes with about 70 of the most popular and most useful built right in, and provides setup support, troubleshooting, and general questions for all of them. But there’s no app store or marketplace like you see with lots of other platforms. You can install third-party customerization, but those will required some sort of code injection or “Code Block” — no one-click install. It’s really important to test out the functionality of your Squarespace site during your free trial and see if you like what you’re getting. If not, another platform with more integration capabilities might be a better option.

Recap: The Best E-Commerce Platforms

Make a list of all the features you want, decide how much hands-on customization you’re after, and give your first pick a spin. All of our top picks have at least 14 day trial periods for you to get your store up and test the software:

Update notes

  • Last updated December 18, 2018 – We’ve updated this page for accuracy and readability. Plus, screenshots!
  • First published October 31, 2018