A business needs a website like a car needs a windshield. Sure, it would technically function without one, but you’d get funny looks and you’d never be able to go very far. 25 years ago, the necessity of having a website for your business was just starting to dawn on people, as the first online sales were being made. And now, with online shopping accounting for over 15% of the GDP of the United States in 2019, adding that onto your existing website is a logical next step. To start selling online, you need a hosted eCommerce platform, and we’re going to help you figure out which one to use for your business.
What is Hosted eCommerce?
When we say hosted eCommerce platforms, what we’re talking about is a bundle of existing technologies that allow your business to function as an online store with minimal without major technical hurdles. The typical things included in the bundle range from protective encryption, sales cart software, marketing and SEO plugins, payment processing, customer database management, and so on. Before you choose the site you want to hitch your proverbial wagon to, take a minute to figure out what you need out of your eCommerce platform.
Features to consider when choosing a hosted platform. . .
What is the upfront cost of the service?
Does it offer SEO and marketing tools for you to use?
What is the shopping cart like, and does it allow you to reach out to customers who have abandoned their cart?
Does it accept online payments the way you need it to?
Is the site responsive for mobile users?
Does it integrate with Amazon, eBay, or another retailer where you also sell your products?
Can you use it to drop ship products?
Can you integrate it with your brick-and-mortar store?
Does it have a Point-Of-Sale integration for in-person sales?
WooCommerce is a plugin built for WordPress sites that allows you to transform them into an online store in just a few minutes. Woo works well for businesses who have been selling in reality and are looking to expand into the digital realm using an existing WordPress site.
It also accepts Apple and Google Pay, Square, Stripe, Amazon Pay, and most major credit cards. It allows you to put your products into the Google Store and use Google Analytics to integrate with SEO and PPC, and it offers point-of-sale integration as well.
Woo is free to start out with, just download the plugin and add it to your WordPress site.
Squarespace is a website builder with built-in eCommerce functionality. You can host an unlimited number of products through their eCommerce website templates, and everything is mobile-friendly.
It also comes built-in with Point-Of-Sale functionality so you can get paid in-person; perfect for a Bazaar at Christmastime or a farmer’s market. You can build your site for free and trial it for a week, and from there the annual plans cost $18 a month for the standard business plan or $26 for the commerce plan. Take a look at the differences here.
Shopify starts out by offering a 14-day free trial, so you can get your feet wet and get products loaded into the site before you pull the trigger on a paid subscription (starting at $29 a month.) There’s no limit to the number of products you can have in a Shopify store.
The site is powerful enough that it integrates with up to four physical locations (warehouses, sales floors, stores; etc) at the starting price, so it works well if your business is larger and distributed. It accepts basically all forms of payment, and Shopify is the go-to standard for most internet-based businesses.
The one downside is, if you don’t use Shopify Payments, their built-in card-accepting software, each transaction has a small fee attached to it. If you’re already using NCR or some other payment-processing program, you may want to keep that in mind or switch over to save yourself the money.
Big Cartel is a great free starter for a smaller business. You can Sign up and sell 5 products for free, and the pricing scales up beyond that based on the number of products you’re selling. It integrates with point-of-sale technology, and the site bills itself as perfect for artists and designers so you can sell at a pop-up or a convention, and then hand out business cards and make some dough selling online as well.
Volusion’s pricing starts at $71 a month for businesses and goes up from there, based on what functionality you want. Volusion comes with a ton of accessible ‘how to use this product’ articles that can really help you get started if you’re new to the game, or looking for help. It comes with built-in integrations with Apple Pay, Stripe, and PayPal, and it integrates with tools like MailChimp and Google Analytics so you can keep using software you’re familiar with if you’ve gotten started in the eCommerce world already.
It also boasts a pretty substantial data collection suite, so you can categorize and contact customers based on their purchase history, gender or age, or whatever data point would suit your business most.
Still Can’t Choose? Here’s Our Recommendation
If you’re still uncertain which is for you, we’ll tell you our personal preferences: WooCommerce and Shopify. Woo is perfect if you’re already set up on WordPress or if you want to have an easy-to-use website that doesn’t really require coding knowledge to set up and manage. Shopify is a well-rounded tool that achieves everything you’d want an eCommerce hosting platform to do with minimal coding. Looking for more scalability and customization, WooCommerce is going to your best bet—just know you’re looking at more of a development lift when compared to Shopify.