If you want to start an online business or if you're dissatisfied with your current website host, you've got to be wondering: "What is the best ecommerce platform?"

It's a critical question.

Choosing an online ecommerce platform for your business is like choosing the person you marry — you really don't want to mess it up, and changing your mind later can be a nightmare.

No pressure then…

What's more, many of the top ecommerce platforms have similar features and fees. And at first, it can be incredibly challenging to spot the differences between them.

And even once you manage to identify the differences, how can you tell which ecommerce platform provider is best for your business?

We're here to help you find out.

This article will guide you through the essential aspects of choosing an ecommerce platform. In it, we'll explore 7 of the most popular ecommerce platforms and what they're each particularly suited for.

But first, what exactly is an ecommerce platform?

(Disclosure: This website is a part of Shopify inc. media properties. Although we strive to publish objective, accurate, and factual content, this article may contain biased opinions.)

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What Is An Ecommerce Platform?

Many people think of ecommerce platforms as simple online store builders. In reality, the top ecommerce platforms are software applications that enable businesses to manage online and offline sales channels, business operations, marketing, sales, and more.

Think of them as business command centers. For example, top ecommerce platforms like Shopify provide a way to do things like:

  • Purchase a domain name and create a mobile-responsive ecommerce website
  • Customize your website's appearance with pre-designed themes
  • Extend the functionality of your website with apps
  • Sell physical products, digital products, and services
  • Sell through popular online sales channels and social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, Google, Amazon, and Walmart Marketplace
  • Promote your offerings with digital marketing tools, discounts, and gift cards
  • Sell in-person with an integrated point-of-sale (POS) solution
  • Process online and offline sales using many different payment gateways
  • Process orders and refunds, manage inventory, and create shipping labels
  • Handle large volumes of website traffic and sales
  • Translate your website into multiple languages and expand your operations internationally
  • Automate tax and online security

7 of the Best Ecommerce Platforms in 2021

Now that you understand the basics let's check out 7 of the best ecommerce platforms in 2021.

1. Shopify

Best all-round ecommerce platform with everything you need to start and grow a successful business.

Is Shopify the best ecommerce platform?

Shopify is the largest hosted platform for ecommerce in the world. It provides everything you need to go from occasionally making a few sales to running a multi-million dollar ecommerce business.

You can sell on every major sales channel — from Facebook to Amazon — and get email and phone support whenever you get stuck. Plus, there are more than 6,000 Shopify apps that you can use to customize your marketing, sales, and operations until your heart's content.

It gets better: Shopify POS and Shopify hardware let you integrate your online and offline operations seamlessly.

Shopify pricing is competitive and straightforward:

  • Basic Shopify: $29/month
  • Shopify: $79/month
  • Advanced Shopify: $299/month
  • Shopify Plus: $2,000+/month
  • ~$15/year for a domain name
  • Free trial: 14 days

2. WooCommerce

Best ecommerce platform for WordPress websites.

Open-Source Ecommerce Platform: WooCommerce

WooCommerce is the largest self-hosted platform for ecommerce in the world.

It's actually a WordPress plugin rather than a standalone platform. For this reason, it's ideal for those who'd like to start selling through their existing WordPress website.

This flexible open-source ecommerce platform is very developer-friendly and can integrate with virtually any service.

WooCommerce estimates costs to be:

  • ~$15/year for a domain name
  • ~$120/year for hosting
  • ~$0-$100/year for a website theme
  • ~$0 – $108/year shipping management costs
  • ~$0-$30/month for a payment gateway
  • ~$0-$348/year for communications
  • ~$0-$79/year for search engine optimization (SEO)
  • ~$0-$300/year for security
  • ~$0-$65/year for an SSL certificate

2. Magento

Best for larger enterprise businesses with significant technical resources and a need for granular control over their ecommerce platform.

Ecommerce Platform Comparison: Magento

Magento is a popular self-hosted ecommerce platform for enterprise businesses.

It's ideal for developers who want a flexible system and complete control over every aspect of their ecommerce platform. However, Magento also demands advanced coding and development skills.

To learn more about Magento's pricing you'll need to contact sales for a custom quote.

4. Big Cartel

Best simple ecommerce platform for small-scale businesses.

Easiest Ecommerce Platform: Big Cartel

Big Cartel is a hosted ecommerce website builder designed for artists and creators.

Compared to the most-used ecommerce platforms like Shopify, it has limited features. For example, you're limited to just 5 images per product.

However, Big Cartel's minimalist approach makes it very simple and easy to use. Plus, it still provides the essentials: domain registration, customizable templates, and basic marketing tools.

Big Cartel's bases its pricing on the number of products you sell:

  • 5 products: Free (limited to 1 image per product)
  • 50 products: $9.99/month
  • 250 products: $19.99/month
  • 500 products: $29.99/month

5. Wix

Best for building beautiful websites with essential ecommerce features.

Hosted Ecommerce Platform: Wix

Wix is primarily a hosted drag-and-drop website builder popular with small businesses in the creative space. However, it also provides ecommerce functionality.

Wix offers all the main features expected from an ecommerce platform, such as the ability to accept online payments, sell via multiple channels, track orders, and create abandoned cart campaigns.

However, it lacks many things that many ecommerce businesses would consider necessary, such as low stock alerts.

Wix offers 3 ecommerce plans:

  • Business Basic: $23 per month
  • Business Unlimited: $27 per month
  • Business VIP: $49 per month

6. BigCommerce

Best for enterprise businesses that access to many third-party integrations.

Ecommerce Platform Comparison: BigCommerce

Like Shopify, Big Cartel, and Wix, BigCommerce is a hosted ecommerce platform that's simple to set up.

However, BigCommerce is focused primarily on enterprise businesses. In fact, the website's homepage is dedicated to enterprises — you'll need to click the "Essentials" tab at the top of the page to learn more about its offerings for small and medium-sized businesses.

BigCommerce provides all the essential features of a top ecommerce platform, such as marketing tools and multichannel selling via social media sites and third-party marketplaces.

BigCommerce also has many partnerships with other services that extend its functionality. For example, it integrates with five different POS solutions. However, this means that you'll likely need to manage multiple integrations with third-party services as your business expands.

BigCommerce offers 3 pricing plans:

  • Standard: $29.95/month
  • Plus: $79.95/month or $71.95/month when paid annually
  • Pro: $299.95/month or $269.96/month when paid annually
  • Enterprise: Custom pricing
  • Free trial: 15 days

7. Squarespace

Best drag-and-drop website builder with ecommerce functionality.

Simplest Ecommerce Platform: Squarespace

Squarespace is a website builder that provides a highly intuitive drag-and-drop editor that makes it simple to create beautiful websites.

Like Wix, Squarespace is a website builder first and an ecommerce platform second. For this reason, the functionality is somewhat limited compared to fully-fledged top ecommerce platforms like Shopify.

Still, Squarespace provides all the main ecommerce features and integrates with numerous ecommerce services, such as Stripe, PayPal, FedEx, and USPS.

Squarespace provides a free 14-day trial and has 3 ecommerce plans:

  • Business: $18/month — save 30% when paying for one year upfront
  • Basic Commerce: $26/month — save 25% when paying for one year upfront
  • Advanced Commerce: $40/month — save 25% when paying for one year upfront

The 2 Different Types of Ecommerce Platforms

Perhaps the most fundamental choice you need to make when choosing an ecommerce platform is whether to go with a hosted or self-hosted solution.

Here’s the thing: Your choice will have enormous repercussions, so it's crucial that you make the right decision for your business.

So, which should you go with? And what is hosting exactly?

Every website is 'hosted' on a physical server somewhere. You can think of website hosting like the land a high-street store is on — it's where your ecommerce platform 'lives.'

Right, so what's the difference between self-hosted and hosted ecommerce platform providers?

1. Self-Hosted Ecommerce Platforms

This is when websites 'rent' server space from a third-party hosting provider. When you do this, you're responsible for purchasing hosting, installing your ecommerce platform of choice, and then maintaining your website's technical foundations.

In other words, self-hosting is a bit like renting a piece of land and then building a store on it — you're responsible for every aspect of the build and maintenance.

What's more, just like when building a brick-and-mortar store, you'll often need to source different things from many providers to get your website working in the way that you want. Most of these tools charge a monthly fee — and depending on the features you need, these costs can rack up pretty quickly.

Here's a real-life example of how you could set up a self-hosted ecommerce platform:

  1. Purchase a domain name and hosting from a third-party provider like BlueHost, GoDaddy, or SiteGround.
  2. Install and configure WordPress — an open-source content management system that provides a basic website framework.
  3. Source a website theme to customize your website's appearance. You can find many themes built by third-party developers on sites like Theme Forest.
  4. Install the WooCommerce ecommerce plugin.
  5. Add your products and begin selling!

The core benefit of self-hosting is total freedom and flexibility — everything is entirely customizable.

However, self-hosted solutions also come with lots of complexity, technical demands, and responsibilities — such as managing updates, general maintenance, and bug fixes.

Consequently, self-hosting may be a good choice for you if you want granular control over every aspect of your ecommerce platform. However, you need to be technically-minded or have the budget to outsource the development and maintenance of your site to a third-party.

2. Hosted Ecommerce Platforms

Hosted ecommerce platforms take the hassle out of creating and maintaining an ecommerce platform.

Hosted providers are an all-in-one, out-of-the-box solution — every tool you need is under one roof. In other words, all you need to do is signup and sign in and your ecommerce website will be ready and waiting.

This means that you don't need to manage technical responsibilities or site maintenance — those are all handled by the ecommerce platform providers' experts.

To continue with our analogy, choosing a hosted ecommerce platform is like renting retail space in a mall — you don't need to build or maintain a property. As a result, you can focus all your attention on growing your business.

That said, some hosted solutions still enable you to customize virtually every aspect of your site's functionality. For example, the Shopify app store is full of apps optimized to integrate with your Shopify store effortlessly.

Here's what it's like to get started with Shopify's hosted ecommerce platform:

  1. Sign up for Shopify
  2. Log in to Shopify
  3. Customize your website's appearance
  4. Add your products and begin selling!

Bottom line, hosted solutions are designed for those who would prefer to focus on growing their business, leaving the technical aspects of setting up and managing an ecommerce platform to the experts.

Summary: The 7 Best Ecommerce Platforms

Choosing an ecommerce platform for your business can feel overwhelming at first. However, by thoroughly exploring the available options, it's possible to identify which platform suits your needs most.

In summary, here's a list of ecommerce platforms to consider in 2021:

  1. Shopify: Best all-round ecommerce platform with everything you need to start and grow a successful business.
  2. WooCommerce: Best ecommerce platform for WordPress websites.
  3. Magento: Best for enterprise companies with significant technical resources who want granular control over their ecommerce platform.
  4. Big Cartel: Best simple ecommerce platform for small-scale businesses.
  5. Wix: Best for building beautiful websites with essential ecommerce features.
  6. BigCommerce: Best for enterprise businesses keen to continue using their existing third-party services.
  7. Squarespace: Best drag-and-drop website builder with ecommerce functionality.

Remember, there are two main types of ecommerce platforms: hosted and self-hosted.

If you're technically-minded or have the resources, choosing a self-hosted platform like WooCommerce provides ultimate control. On the other hand, if you'd prefer to focus all your attention on growing your business, it's best to choose a hosted ecommerce platform like Shopify.

Which of these online ecommerce platform providers are you most interested in and why? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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