The Best E-Commerce Software Platforms
How We Found the Best E-Commerce Software Platforms
64 platforms evaluated
9 features tested
4 top picks
The best e-commerce software platforms provide a suite of services that take you all the way from square one your online business to the day you start making sales — everything from choosing a site domain to using built-in features like shopping carts and checkout. We looked at 64 of the most popular e-commerce software providers and ranked them on scope and quality of services. Our four top picks are full-service providers that will help you build a successful site and business.
The 4 Best E-Commerce Software Platforms
The Best E-Commerce Software Platforms: Summed Up
Why we chose it
Shopify offers superior customer support throughout the whole site-building process. It has an extensive collection of learning resources — guides, a knowledge base, and even "Shopify Academy" feature — that make website-building easy, even for beginners. And once your site is up and running, these resources teach you how to increase revenue and generate more web traffic. We also love how Shopify provides access to Community Forums, so you can share and learn alongside other business owners.
Along with its learning resources, Shopify brings an excellent marketing toolkit to the table. SEO functionality will help boost your site in Google’s rankings, and integrated social media makes it easy to get free shares through your customers. You can even get $100 in Google AdWords credit when you create a new Google AdWords account and spend $25 using the Google service.
Large selection of templates
Finally, Shopify has an impressive selection of website templates — most of which are available for free. You’ll be able to choose from a long list of themes to truly personalize your website. It also offers templates with specific features, like a mobile-friendly interface and drop-down menus, that make your site more user-friendly. If you do decide to pay for an upgraded template, you can choose one of Shopify’s Guaranteed Themes, which are fully refundable within a week.
Points to consider
No free product comparison tool
For any customer trying to decide between two or three different products, a comparison tool can be a great asset. Most of the e-commerce platforms we looked at provide some form of comparison capabilities for free with a subscription. Unfortunately, Shopify currently charges an extra $5 per month for this feature after a seven-day trial. It’s certainly not a deal breaker, but we would have liked to see it included in the company's base plans.
Why we chose it
Large selection of templates
Our favorite thing about GoDaddy is its exceptional collection of website templates. Its software allows you to choose from over 800 website designs — far more than most companies offer — and the customization doesn’t stop there. You can change font, choose a color scheme, upload your company logo, change the background image, and more.
Customized navigation styles
Also unique to GoDaddy is the option to select a navigation style. You can choose how many products appear in a row or on a single page and have a little more control over the shopping experience. This is especially important for companies that offer a large number of products and might want to get more hands-on with the product layout.
GoDaddy’s e-commerce software comes with a robust shopping cart solution. It’s simple and to-the-point, with a one-page checkout system. It supports multiple payment options, international currencies, and foreign languages, so all your customers will feel right at home. And it’s fully mobile-friendly, so customers can make purchases on the fly.
Points to consider
Can’t search templates
While GoDaddy’s 800 website design templates are undeniably impressive, it’s hard to take full advantage of that breadth. There’s no template search feature, so you have to manually scroll to find the one you like. The whole process is a little more time-consuming than, say, Shopify’s.
Why we chose it
We were extremely impressed with Volusion’s high-end shopping cart software. It’s loaded with features: personal and guest profiles, wish lists, and a pop-up list that lets shoppers view their cart without leaving the page. The cart is also mobile-compatible and available in multiple languages, like GoDaddy’s, so it’s accessible for a wider range of customers. At the end, one-page checkout makes the purchase process quick and painless.
Easy to learn
If you’re new to e-commerce and website-building, you’ll love Volusion’s easy-to-navigate interface. You have quick access to video tutorials and other online resources, which are located directly on the dashboard. These offer advice on building your store, expanding it, and everything in between. Volusion also makes site design blissfully simple — just choose a template, click "Install," click "Activate," and you’re off (you can even preview the template first). For beginners, or users who want to be more hands-off with site design, this simplicity is key.
Post to social media
Volusion offers a variety of resources designed to help you market your online store. One of these marketing tools is an interface that allows you to create messages that are automatically posted to your Facebook and Twitter accounts. You can add links to products and categories and submit content to both websites with one click.
Points to consider
No blogging platform
Although Volusion offers several marketing resources, it doesn't currently offer a blogging platform. Blogging can be a low-cost way to build relationships with your customers, drive traffic to your website, and establish a better online presence. Volusion websites can link to external blogs, enabling you to use common blog hosting services like WordPress or Blogger, but accessing your blog through your e-commerce portal would be ideal.
Why we chose it
BigCommerce offers similar educational resources to some of our other top picks: user guides, video tutorials, and FAQs that help you build your site. However, this platform goes above and beyond by providing access to its "Success Squad." This group of e-commerce experts are around to answer all of your questions on a personal level and help you out step-by-step when a tutorial just won’t cut it.
Third-party selling integration
Through the marketing tab on the main menu, BigCommerce allows you to easily integrate with Facebook, eBay, or shopping comparison sites like Nextag and PriceGrabber. Operating an e-commerce store can be a competitive business, so having the ability to integrate with other websites can increase exposure and help your business grow. Any feature that facilitates this process is a great bonus.
Free trial without credit card
Getting hands-on experience with e-commerce software through a free trial is the best way to find out if the solution is going to work for your circumstances. Unlike our other picks, BigCommerce provides free access to its e-commerce platform without requiring a credit card.
Points to consider
Limited email marketing options
BigCommerce is a fairly comprehensive e-commerce software, but relative to other top e-commerce platforms, its built-in functionality is limited. BigCommerce provides email marketing capabilities, but the software is designed to have you work through Constant Contact, iContact, MailChimp, and Interspire, which all require you to have an additional paid account. Most platforms handle this feature directly.
No affiliate program
When you’re managing an online store, affiliate marketing can be a powerful tool to help drive traffic to your website and increase sales. Unfortunately, BigCommerce doesn’t provide an affiliate-tracking option. There is an integration option that may satisfy this gap, but it comes at an additional cost. If you know that affiliate marketing will be a big part of your advertising plan, BigCommerce may not be the best fit.
How We Chose the Best E-Commerce Software Platforms
“Hosting” is the service that allows you to purchase a domain name and get your website up and running — it’s the basis of any successful e-commerce software. We looked for companies that guarantee excellent hosting. That means more than 99% uptime, ensuring your website will always be accessible. It also means the software automatically backs up and restores your website multiple times per day, to make sure all your information (including orders, products, and customer records) is saved. In addition, we required unlimited data storage and unlimited bandwidth. You shouldn’t have to contend with size and usage restrictions as your business grows.
In order to protect your assets, your information, and your clients’ information, e-commerce software companies need to take specific security measures. Most allow you to set administrator permissions, meaning you can control which employees have access to which parts of the site. All e-commerce software should also come with a free SSL certificate, providing standard web-based encryption. Finally, we made sure that our top picks are compliant with Payment Card Industry Data Security Systems (PCI-DSS). This ensures that all payments made on your site are totally secure.
We looked for e-commerce platforms that can help you master your website-building skills. Some of our favorite software, like BigCommerce, provide excellent FAQs, knowledge bases, and live webinars. And when you run into a hitch, the best e-commerce companies include email, live chat, phone, and social media support. Having access to your provider through multiple channels can be a huge help when troubleshooting different issues.
The best e-commerce platforms provide templates that allow you to personalize your site without weeding through a ton of HTML. GoDaddy, for example, offers over 800 customizable templates. Some top-tier e-commerce software will also provide access to a professional designer. They must also provide a content management system (CMS) that allows you to easily upload new pages, edit existing content, add photos, and more.
The most effective e-commerce software acts as an in-house marketing pro. It creates useful product displays, taking advantage of side-by-side comparison and cross-selling to boost product awareness. It also displays ratings and reviews and showcases popular items. In doing so, your e-commerce software maximizes profit for each customer that comes to the site. The software upsells your products — and you don’t have to lift a finger.
A shopping cart refers to the range of features that allow customers to select items, view their cart, continue shopping, and eventually follow through with the purchase. Having a smooth shopping cart experience is a big part of what keeps your customers happy — if it’s a hassle to use, you may not make the sale. The best shopping carts, like Volusion’s, allow for customers to make both personal and guest accounts, apply discounts, and check out on a single page. They should also be fully functional on mobile devices; in 2017, over 40% of online sales were made on mobile devices.
Tracking and processing orders one by one can be incredibly time-consuming. E-commerce software should facilitate this process by updating your inventory, sending automatic confirmations, and tracking canceled and returned orders.
The best e-commerce software also allows for a wide variety of payment options. Ideally, it should be able to process several types of credit cards, PayPal, and newer payment systems like Apple Pay and Google Wallet. You should never lose a sale because your e-commerce software won’t accept the customer’s card. Come shipping time, the software should calculate rates automatically and give options to upgrade for faster shipping.
E-commerce software should track everything that happens on your website — customer profiles and activity, sales and revenue, site performance — and then share that information with you. This provides valuable insight into the types of customers visiting your site and what they’re looking for. Platforms like Shopify pair analytics with marketing tools, so you can put that data to work right away.
Affiliate programs, email marketing, and search engine optimization (SEO) are just a few of the tools that you can use to promote your site. Social media integration is a big help, too. Links that allow customers to share a page on Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest can bring more visitors to your site organically. We looked for platforms that allow you to easily connect with visitors through many channels.
How to Find the Right E-Commerce Software Platform for You
The price for e-commerce software can go well beyond the monthly fee. While some companies just charge a flat monthly rate for their services, most have other fees and expenses you’ll have to take into account. Before you start shopping around, determine what would be a reasonable portion of your business’ budget to dedicate to an e-commerce platform and proceed with that number in mind.
Choose a website theme
Chances are, the product you’re selling will determine a lot about how you want your online store to look. As you’re browsing each platform’s existing templates, think about how they would fit your business’s aesthetic. If one template feels like a perfect match, it could overrule other minor drawbacks from the platform.
Assess shipping discounts
Many e-commerce platforms offer shipping discounts that could provide significant savings for businesses selling physical products. Shopify, for example, provides shipping labels at a lower price, and it has deals with USPS, UPS, and DHL Express for discounted shipping rates. If your business will be shipping a lot of packages, this is definitely worth factoring into your search.
Test several platforms
Once you’ve homed in on a few e-commerce platforms that fit your budget and offer all of your must-have tools, it’s time to take them out for a test drive. All of our top picks have at least a 14-day free trial, and it’s worth having your team take advantage of them. You might find that there’s consensus around one interface or tool that everyone really likes using, which can act as a tiebreaker for otherwise-equal products.
E-Commerce Software Platforms FAQ
Does my website need an SSL certificate?
If your website accepts direct credit card payments, you’ll need an SSL certificate. SSL certificates enable encrypted communications between your website and your customers’ web browsers, which is absolutely crucial for credit card transactions. SSL certificates are standard across the e-commerce industry. In fact, all kinds of websites that transmit valuable personal and business information utilize SSL certificates. A website with an SSL certificate is a website people can trust.
What’s the difference between e-commerce software and shopping cart software?
Shopping cart software is designed to add standard online shopping functionality to a website, enabling shoppers to accumulate items in a virtual basket and pay for them all at once at the end of the visit. On the other hand, e-commerce software provides a complete framework for online selling, including everything from a website and store design to marketing and SEO.
Do you need to have a technical background to create an e-commerce website?
While a technical background certainly helps speed up the learning process, just about anyone who’s a proficient computer and internet user can employ e-commerce software to create and operate an online store.
Most e-commerce software companies provide a variety of ready-to-use store templates and simplified tools to enable you to create and manage a professional-quality website without spending weeks learning the finer points of web design and computer programming. The best companies also provide plenty of educational materials and customer support options to help you overcome just about any technical problem you might stumble upon.