Choosing your e-commerce platform is a huge part of setting up a product based business. So I’m sharing the 5 best e-commerce platforms for small businesses to help you make the right decision.
Making the right choice now can make a huge difference to where your business is in one year. What a thought, hey! I’ll cover that more as we look through each platform but keep in mind that you should consider where you want your business to be in 1, 3 and 5 years before making this decision.
The 5 Best E-commerce Platforms for Small Businesses & Startups
This is not an exhaustive list of all the e-commerce platforms for small businesses available because there’s a lot to choose from! But as a web designer I do know the best e-commerce platforms for small businesses and so I’ll be sharing those based on my experience with my e-commerce web design and SEO clients.
Ultimately you’ve got to go with what feels right for your business goals and hopefully I can help you with that decision!
Etsy is an online marketplace for handmade, custom and vintage goods. So it’s perfect if you sell these sorts of products and want to focus on making your products rather than running an online shop. In terms of e-commerce platforms for small businesses, it’s where a lot of businesses start out.
The Pros of Selling on Etsy
- It’s the go to marketplace for custom/handmade goods meaning you’re likely to get exposure to new customers.
- There are known ‘tactics’ to selling your products on Etsy which guarantee you’ll appear on more searches, so a well thought out strategy can make you a lot of sales.
- Etsy tracks your product analytics so you can see who has favourited your products, visited your shop and how much money you’re making. All of which are important to know when growing an online business.
The Cons of Selling on Etsy
- You’re limited to product range because it’s best for custom/handmade items.
- Etsy charge listing AND transaction fees so before you know it you could have a sizeable bill to pay. Their fees are known to shock shop owners when they have a spike in sales!
- Your products are shown alongside your competitor’s on search results which means it’s easy to lose a sale to another shop.
eBay is an easy place to get started when selling your products online because it’s a trusty-worthy online marketplace that has years of experience. I wouldn’t usually bundle it with these other e-commerce platforms for small businesses but it is a great place to get started.
The Pros of Selling on eBay
- You have access to a huge audience. eBay’s powerful search tool means that the platform can sell your products with little marketing involved.
- It’s possible to sell ANYTHING. eBay is literally a marketplace for EVERYTHING so there will be a place for your products there.
- You can guarantee people will find you on eBay because so many people use eBay for their online shopping.
- If you take advantage of auctions, you can make more money on certain items than you would with a set price.
The Cons of Selling on eBay
- You don’t control your returns policy. If you sell on eBay then you have to go by their policies which means you don’t get a say in things like your returns policy, customer service and refunds. The decision is made by eBay.
- eBay seller fees will take a chunk of any profit you make from sales which is less than ideal if you have a low profit margin.
- eBay lists your competitor’s products on the same page as your (even on your product pages) so there’s a high possibility you could lose the sale to a competitor with better imagery/pricing.
- You have to pay a seller’s fee even if you don’t sell your product. Yuck.
Shopify is a well known e-commerce website platform and has definitely earned it’s place in this e-commerce platforms for small businesses round up. This means you’ll have your own domain, homepage, additional content pages and products all under the same roof. A huge step up from the previously mentioned platforms!
The Pros of Selling on Shopify
- It’s designed for e-commerce so everything available is set up for e-commerce businesses.
- The platform has some great paid for add ons to add new functionality.
- There’s free and premium themes to choose from, or you can work with a web designer on a custom design, so your website has the potential to look unique to your business.
The Cons of Selling on Shopify
- You have to pay a monthly fee to Shopify (around $30 USD) PLUS transaction fees on each item sold. Once you start to expand your shop features that monthly price can go as high as $299 (don’t even get me started on Shopify Plus).
- Whilst you can customise your website you are limited in comparison to other platforms which allow for total customisation.
- One of the huge bonuses of having your own e-commerce website is that you can capitalise on SEO. However Shopify is limited in SEO features ‘out of the box’ and to expand on this means paying for premium add-ons.
I’m going to pre-face this by saying that I’m not a lover of Wix but in terms of e-commerce platforms for small businesses, it does have some things to offer. Wix is a drag and drop website builder that often works well for small businesses in their early days who can’t afford a large investment for their website.
The Pros of Selling on Wix
- The drag and drop page builder makes it easy for you to customise their templates to suit your content.
- It’s cheap. Their basic e-commerce plan costs £13/$23 however you are tied in to transaction fees with their online payment option.
- Their Wix SEO Wiz tool guides you through basic but necessary SEO steps for your website. You’re not getting anything super advanced or technical but it’s enough to ensure you’re properly feeding your content through to Google.
The Cons of Selling on Wix
- It’s not a great long-term solution and as your shop grows you will probably need more than Wix can offer.
- Re-designing your website is NOT easy on Wix. This might not seem like an issue now but as your business grows and you want to add new things it can get messy pretty quickly.
- It becomes very hard to manage your shop on Wix as your product range grows and it’s known to become slow/almost unuseable.
Woocommerce (on WordPress)
Woocommerce is a free extension for WordPress (that’s WordPress.org, not WordPress.com – learn about the difference here). WordPress is responsible for around 35% of all websites online right now and Woocommerce adds e-commerce functionality to WordPress websites. That means it’s definitely earned it’s place in this round up of e-commerce platforms for small businesses!
The Pros of Selling on Woocommerce
- Your business is totally future-proof because of the scalability Woocommerce offers with free or paid for extensions.
- Because it’s an additional feature to WordPress, you can serve all of your business needs on one website.
- WordPress allows for a truly custom website design (if you work with a web designer – like me!) so every feature of your site will be unique to your business.
- Your monthly fees don’t creep up as your business grows.
- You’ll have free and powerful SEO tools at your fingertips. This will give your products the potential to show up on page 1 of Google – the dream!
The Cons of Selling on Woocommerce
- WordPress.org is a self hosted platform, meaning you need to pay a small monthly fee for hosting (usually around £10/$15 p/m).
- If you want your website to reach it’s full potential then you’ll probably need to work with a web designer.
- You’re likely to have more upfront costs with Woocommerce due to the points mentioned above. If you’re just starting out then you might not have made enough money to invest yet.
TL;DR: Some of these e-commerce platforms for small businesses aren’t great for future-proofing your business
You should consider how much you money you think you’ll make from your e-commerce business as well as how much you can invest.
If funds are low I would stick to a platform like eBay or Etsy who take a lot of the upfront costs out of the equation. And if you have some money to invest? You might be tempted by Shopify. But hold that thought…
I’m going to give you some insider knowledge here. Most of my e-commerce clients are moving from Shopify to Woocommerce because they can’t scale like they need to on Shopify. So when you’re looking a e-commerce platforms for small businesses, consider how you may want to scale in the future.
If that sounds like something you’ll need then you should cut out the middle man and go for Woocommerce on WordPress which is, in my opinion, the best of the e-commerce platforms for small businesses.
Whilst WordPress does have the steepest learning curve out of all of these platforms, it’s got the most scalability and once you get the hang of it, it really couldn’t be any easier to use! If you’re stuck or feel a bit unsure on WordPress, I have some great guides in my free resources library which can help you out.