With the right tools, it's easy for any small business to quickly start selling online and join the gold rush—and with a decent eCommerce website builder, you can list your products, take payments, and handle shipping, all without leaving the comfort of your home office.
In researching this list, I looked at more than 50 different options for building eCommerce websites. There are solutions for every kind of business, from indie creatives to multinational corporations, but for this list, I focused on platforms that best fit the needs of small and medium businesses, especially those newly exploring selling online or selling physical products. This isn't to say my picks won't work for other kinds of businesses, but if you're selling a couple of dollars a month worth of Lightroom presets or $5 million worth of potatoes, you might want to look elsewhere. (Though you can scroll to the end to get some enterprise eCommerce options.)
Here are the six best eCommerce platforms.
The 6 best eCommerce website builders
Shopify for getting up and running quickly
Square for selling in-person and online
Ecwid by Lightspeed for starting with a free plan—then growing
BigCommerce for large-volume sellers
WooCommerce for adding a shopping cart to an existing WordPress site
Wix for building a complete site
What makes the best eCommerce website builder?
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For typical small and medium businesses looking to sell physical products online (or at least a mix of physical and digital products), I identified five key features that every platform had to offer. There are other good platforms out there, but if they don't offer a feature on the list, they didn't make the cut as they're likely too niche for most businesses.
A mildly tech-competent person had to be able to build a good-looking, responsive, modern online store with the tools and themes offered—without needing a computer science or graphic design degree. If you can set up an email account on your iPhone, you should be able to use these picks. Also, the website builders had to allow you to make everything fit with your existing brand materials. This one criterion actually eliminated quite a few platforms from consideration for being either too limited with boring, super similar, or outdated themes, or requiring too much technical know-how to make the most of them.
You have to be able to sell whatever you want, wherever you want, however you want. This meant it had to be able to handle both digital and physical products and offer some way to manage sales taxes and international shipping. This last point is particularly important for small businesses: if you have physical premises or plan to sell internationally, you may be liable for collecting and filing various kinds of taxes.
We only considered full-service eCommerce platforms. You need to be able to sell your product through a consumer-facing website, but also manage orders, ship goods, track inventory, and otherwise deal with the back-end running and admin of your eCommerce store without using some other service or (please no) a giant spreadsheet.
Whatever platform you choose, it has to play nice with any other apps and services you rely on for your business. For this reason, I required the apps on this list to have a range of integrations, either through a plug-in and extension marketplace or built-in features. You should be able to send your orders straight to your accounting software.
All of this had to be available for a clear and affordable monthly price. Opaque fees were a big no, and while done-for-you solutions are wonderful, they cost thousands of dollars per month—far more than any SMB needs (or has) to spend on setting up an eCommerce site.
To test all the different online store builders, I signed up for an account and…set up an online store! I went through the signup process, built out a simple site, added a few products, and generally went through all the steps that someone starting out on the platform would go through. Really, the only thing I didn't do was start selling.
This was enough to get a feel for most eCommerce website builders and allowed me to make sure they met my core criteria. From there, I was able to compare and contrast the various different options to find the best eCommerce builders for most people.
How to choose the right eCommerce website building platform for your online store
If you're new to eCommerce platforms, it can be a bit overwhelming. Here are the primary things you should focus on when making your pick:
Budget. Start small, and scale as you need. While it's tough to find a robust free option, you can get a feel for a product on one of its lower tiers before committing to something that will break the bank.
Features. Of course, your budget will affect the features. All the eCommerce website builders on this list offer the basic features, but if there's one thing that's a dealbreaker for you (e.g., the ability to also sell in person), start there and work backwards.
Your familiarity with website builders. Some apps are just more beginner-friendly. Your time is valuable, so if you're not super technical, be sure you feel ok navigating the interface.
Support. When you run into issues, are you comfortable troubleshooting on your own? If not, you'll want to prioritize support features.
Analytics. Robust analytics are important as you grow, so be sure the platform you choose is reporting on your metrics in a way you feel confident analyzing and acting on.
How much does an eCommerce website cost?: eCommerce software fees
While we're talking about pricing, it can get a little complicated with eCommerce platforms as they charge a little differently from other services. There are three kinds of fees you may have to pay for an eCommerce website builder:
Monthly fee. This is anything from free to a few hundred dollars and goes straight to the platform. For most of the eCommerce services on this list, expect to pay around $30 for a basic plan.
Payment gateway fees. These are the fees you pay when you process a credit card charge. The normal fee is around 2.9% plus an additional $0.30, although this goes down with volume and higher upfront payments. Some platforms, like Wix and Shopify, operate their own payment gateways that you can choose to use, while others rely on Stripe, PayPal, and similar services.
Transaction fees. These are another percentage-based fee that's on top of any gateway fees. A lot of eCommerce sites bill themselves as having 0% transaction fees, but this merely means there's no extra charge. Other services charge a 1% or 2% transaction fee if you don't use their gateway.
Let's give this a quick example using Shopify's current pricing. A Basic plan costs $29/month. On top of that, you pay 2.9% + $0.30 for each transaction. There's also a 2% transaction fee if you want to use a different payment gateway.
This means that if you were to sell 10 T-shirts at $50, you would pay Shopify $29 for your monthly plan, and $1.75 for each T-shirt sold. That's a total of $46.50. Of course, if you had a month where you didn't sell any T-shirts, you'd only pay $29, or if you had a great month where you sold 50, you'd pay $116.50.
Also, if you sold 10 T-shirts but decided to use Stripe's payment gateway instead, you'd pay Shopify $39 ($29 plus $1 for each T-shirt sold) and Stripe $17.50 (2.9% + $0.30 for each T-shirt), for a total of $56.50.
As you can see, your monthly costs will vary based on what options you choose and how you run your business. I'd recommend doing a few back-of-the-envelope calculations when you're selecting your plan and payment gateway, just to see what will work out best for you. I've avoided selecting online store websites with unreasonably high fees and transaction charges, or ridiculous volume expectations, but run some numbers to be sure.
With that, here are the best eCommerce websites.
Best eCommerce website building platform for getting up and running quickly
Shopify (Web, iOS, Android)
Shopify has been around for more than 16 years—with almost four million stores built using the platform—and it's hard to find a better option for most small businesses looking to get an online store up and running quickly.
Sign up for a credit card-free 14-day trial, and within a few minutes, you can have a first build of your store ready to go. The onboarding wizard walks you through adding your products, customizing the look of your store, connecting your own domain, and getting set up to take those all-important payments.
Even if you've never built a website before, you're unlikely to get lost in Shopify's intuitive web app. Everything is clearly labeled, buttons do what you think they should, and the help docs and setup guide are comprehensive. Things like adding a product are as simple as clicking Products in the sidebar and then the Add Product button. Fill in the name, price, quantity you have on hand, and any other relevant details, change its status to Active, and it's straight in your online store and ready to be sold.
While Shopify ticks most boxes right out of the gate, its extensibility and app store are what really make it such a powerful option. Take the theme situation: Shopify has 11 free themes and more than 100 paid themes starting from $180. But because Shopify is so popular, you can also find more than 1,300 themes available on ThemeForest or get a professional designer who's already experienced with the platform to make you a custom one.
It's the same with almost any feature you could want. If it's not built in to Shopify, you can find an extension, plug-in, or service that does it in the app store. Just go to apps.shopify.com, find the app you need, and click Add App. Head back to your Shopify dashboard, and click Apps in the sidebar to manage all the ones you've installed. Be warned though: adding lots of apps can quickly increase your monthly fees.
It should be no surprise that Shopify integrates with Zapier, so if you want to automatically add new customers to your email marketing list, track orders with a project management tool, or connect Shopify to any of the other apps you use, you can do it easily.
Shopify price: Free for 14 days; from $29/month and 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction for Basic Shopify plan with unlimited products
Best eCommerce website building platform for selling in-person and online
Square (Web, iOS, Android)
If you run a small business and want the option to sell in-person, like at a farmer's market or craft fair, as well as through your online store, Square is the best choice. Your online and offline orders are all organized under a single dashboard, so there's no jumping between apps, trying to track down customer details using random spreadsheets, or having to enter things manually after the fact.
Square bought the website builder app Weebly in 2018, so when you set up your store, that's what's running under the hood. If you occasionally see a URL direct to weebly.com, it's nothing to worry about. (Note: I noticed fewer Weebly URLs popping up in my recent tests.)
Square has some of the best onboarding around. When you sign up, you have to fill in a detailed questionnaire about your business and its needs, and it will walk you through the process of configuring everything to meet them. However you want to sell stuff, Square makes it easy. You've got the option to set up a single shopping page, a shoppable Instagram page, or a full website and online store, depending on what you're looking for. The default theme will also be tweaked to match the business category you chose.
In terms of storefront customization, Square is a little more limited than some of the other options. Instead of picking a theme that does most of the work, you have to make your own design using the (admittedly excellent) site builder—or you can hire a designer from $199 to do it for you.
You can create "items," what Square calls products or services for sale, through both the regular Square Dashboard and the Square Online Dashboard, and they'll be synced to a common Item Library. This means that you can sell the same products both online and off, or have some things you just list in one location.
When you want to make an in-person sale, open up the menu, and select Virtual Terminal, which acts just like a digital cash register. If you have a Square credit card reader (available for free), you can swipe your customers' cards for a 2.6% + $0.10 fee from Square, and their details will automatically upload to your account. Otherwise, you can type in your customers' credit card information for a 3.5% + $0.15 fee per charge. Online, Square's charges are similar. On the free plan, you're charged 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction.
Create contacts in eEndorsements from new Square customers
Square price: Free with 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction for unlimited products and a Square branded site; from $29/month billed annually with 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction to use a custom domain and remove branding.
Best free eCommerce website building platform
Ecwid by Lightspeed (Web, iOS, Android)
If you're launching an online store but want to minimize your initial outlay, Ecwid is the best place to begin: it's got a great, free plan that lets you start selling your first 10 physical products, and affordable upgrade tiers starting at $14/month as you grow or need extra features. There are also no additional transaction fees on top of what your payment gateway charges, so it isn't skimming any profit with hidden fees. (Note: Ecwid was bought last year by Canadian payment gateway, Lightspeed. So far, nothing has changed, but there may be incentives to use Lightspeed's payment gateway in the future.)
When you sign up, Ecwid gives you the option to integrate your store with your existing website—it supports most platforms like WordPress, Weebly, Drupal, and the like—or to set up your own store with a
company.site domain name (although you can change that to a custom domain at any time by upgrading to the Venture plan).
At the Dashboard, you're presented with a big, bold to-do list that walks you through setting up your site, adding your first products, localizing your store, and choosing how you want to deliver goods—and get paid for them. Working through the full list takes less than 15 minutes.
While Ecwid is a great free eCommerce website builder, it doesn't skimp on the features with the paid plans. It integrates with social channels like Facebook and Instagram so you can sell directly to your followers, you can list your products on Amazon or eBay, or take payments in person. It automatically calculates tax, offers discounts, and tracks your inventory. If you set up a free store on Ecwid, you don't have to worry about moving to a new platform if things take off.
Ecwid integrates with Zapier too, so you can connect it to all your other apps and do things like add new customers to your email campaigns or track sales with Google Sheets.
Ecwid price: Free for standard features; from $15/month Venture Plan for professional features; transaction fees depend on payment gateway.
Best eCommerce website building platform for large-volume sellers
BigCommerce (Web, iOS, Android)
BigCommerce is, unsurprisingly given the name, an enterprise eCommerce solution used by multinational companies like Ben & Jerry's. BigCommerce Essentials offers a similarly powerful platform for small businesses looking to sell online, at significantly more affordable prices.
With that said, BigCommerce Essentials is still aimed at businesses that are already selling a lot, either in units or dollars (less than $50,000 a year is considered "just starting out" when you sign up). This means that, unlike most other options, as part of the onboarding process, you're prompted to set up sales taxes and automated shipping—both things that smaller stores that are just getting started can kind of improvise on until they're up and running properly. If you only sell 10 T-shirts a month, you're not going to suddenly be on the hook for a multi-thousand dollar tax liability. This really is aimed at businesses looking to launch online and start selling immediately, not indie hustlers.
It's also super simple to list your products on other marketplaces like eBay, Amazon, and Facebook, so customers don't have to buy directly from your store. Just head to Channel Manager in the sidebar, and connect the option you want. BigCommerce will automatically import any products you've got set up and keep any changes you make up to date across all your channels.
This focus on bigger small business isn't without its downsides, however. While BigCommerce has 12 free themes built in, the majority of the ones available in the theme marketplace cost between $150 and $300. They look great, and the drag-and-drop site builder is powerful enough that you can customize themes as you please, but you need to be in a position to justify the investment.
The $29.95/month Standard tier is capped at $50,000/year in sales, while the $79.95/month Plus tier is capped at $180,000/year. You don't necessarily need to be shifting that level of inventory for BigCommerce to be the right choice for you, but it certainly doesn't hurt.
BigCommerce also integrates with Zapier, so you can connect it to the other apps in your tech stack to automate tasks like sending all of your customers to your CRM.
Add new Bigcommerce orders to Google Sheets as rows
Create or update HubSpot contacts for new Bigcommerce customers
BigCommerce price: Free for 15 days; from $29.95/month Standard Plan for unlimited products; transaction fees depend on payment gateway.
Best eCommerce platform for adding a shopping cart to an existing WordPress site
WooCommerce (Web, iOS, Android)
Most eCommerce solutions work best if you use them to build your full online store, rather than to add payment processing to your existing site. It's just simpler if everything runs seamlessly from a single dashboard and is built using the same tools. What, then, do you do if you already have a website set up?
Well, presuming you use a service like Squarespace or Weebly, then their built-in tools should be your first option. But if, like huge swaths of the internet, you use WordPress, then WooCommerce is your best bet. Instead of starting over on a different platform, this WordPress plugin seamlessly integrates into your WordPress site for easy selling.
The same is also true if you're merely familiar with WordPress. In a recent head-to-head with Shopify, we found that—at least for people who could tame its quirks—WooCommerce could be both cheaper and better. It's the tool I plan to use for my own online store, even though it means setting up a new site.
Installing WooCommerce on your site is easy, at least as far as WordPress goes. Sign up on WooCommerce's website. Then, when you reach the final step of the onboarding process, select Auto-install WooCommerce on an existing WordPress site. You'll be prompted to log in and then set up the plugin. If you're already rocking WordPress, it couldn't be handier.
Similarly, WooCommerce slots perfectly into your existing back-end. You can manage your orders, create coupons, and view sales reports from your WordPress dashboard. Adding new products is as simple as creating a typical post—since WooCommerce is a WordPress plugin, it has the same interface as WordPress, which means that you won't have to take the time to learn a new platform. The only difference between adding a new product and creating a new post is that you'll have to add specific information about your product, such as a description, image, categories, and tags.
If WooCommerce doesn't have some features you need, there's a serious extensions marketplace. WooCommerce offers a variety of free and paid options that can enhance your store: get real-time shipping rates with the USPS extension, integrate various payment gateways, or add WooCommerce Subscriptions to let your customers subscribe to your product, services, or even your paid newsletter. You can also combine these extensions with any plugins from WordPress to customize your store even more.
You can connect WooCommerce to thousands of other apps with Zapier, to do things like saving orders to a spreadsheet or adding new customers to your email marketing tool.
WooCommerce price: Free for standard features on a self-hosted WordPress site; transaction fees depend on payment gateway. WooCommerce is included in the $70/month eCommerce plan from WordPress.com.
Best eCommerce platform for creating an online store and business website
Wix (Web, iOS, Android)
Most eCommerce platforms make it possible for you to add an about page, contact page, or even a basic blog to your site, but it's normally more of an add-on than an out-and-out feature. If you're looking to build a full website where an online store is a part of things, but not the whole package, then Wix is your best option—at least if you aren't prepared to learn how to use WordPress. It's a powerful site builder, but it doesn't skimp on the eCommerce features like order tracking, automated sales tax, and abandoned cart recovery, even on its lowest plans.
When you first sign up, you tell Wix what kind of online store you're looking to build, how many products you plan to sell, and what features you need, and it creates a guide to walk you through the process of setting things up.
Adding a few products, configuring payment methods, and setting up your shipping options all just take a few moments. Building your site can take a little longer, but Wix makes it simple. You have two options: start with one of thousands of templates, or let Wix create the site for you based on a few questions. The latter option is actually surprisingly effective and the one I'd recommend. Once you add a few details, pick a rough theme and home page layout, select the other pages you want, and you'll have the barebones of an online store ready for you to add your marketing copy and other important information to.
All that's left then is to connect a custom domain and get your site out into the world—both of which Wix offers to help with.
Wix is one of the most popular site builders around, so there's also a healthy third-party app and extension marketplace. If you want to integrate your store with accounting services like QuickBooks or shipping coordinators like Shippo, there's a simple one-click install app. Or you can use Zapier and connect Wix to thousands of other apps like Trello and Google Tasks.
Create cards in Trello when new automations are triggered in Wix
Create tasks in Google Tasks when new Wix automations are triggered
One last note: While Wix is our favorite site builder for eCommerce websites, it's not so much better than Squarespace, Weebly, or any other option that you should switch platforms. If you already have a website through another site-builder, try its eCommerce features first.
Wix Price: Free for 14 days; from $34/month Business Basic Plan; transaction fees depend on payment gateway, with Wix Payments charging 2.9% + $0.30.
Deciding between Wix and Shopify? Read our showdown: Wix vs. Shopify.
What about options for enterprise eCommerce websites?
While there are plenty of large companies operating stores using Shopify and WooCommerce, there two other options available to larger enterprises that may be worth exploring.
First up is to create your own online store with either an open source platform like OpenCart or a licensed one like CS-Cart. Instead of working with themes and site builders, your developers will have total access to the code, so they can build things however you want. This means managing your own server through something like Amazon Web Services and generally just employing a team of people who understand how all the underlying bits and pieces fit together. If you're selling huge volumes of product, have multiple store locations, want to operate a marketplace, or otherwise have specific needs that aren't met by the SMB-focused tools, this option can save you time, money, and a lot of headaches—but it requires significantly more upfront investment. (This option also works for developers who are looking to create an online store, but I focused on the simpler tools aimed at most people in the list above.)
The other option is to go with an enterprise-focused platform like Adobe Commerce, BigCommerce, or Shopify Plus. These similarly require a dedicated team of developers—or a willingness to hire knowledgeable contractors—to get up and running, and they come with enterprise-grade tools, service contracts that guarantee uptime, support staff, and all the compliance, admin, and other bells and whistles you'd expect from software aimed at big companies. Of course, you also get that big company price tag. While most deals are customized and the specifics kept private, you can expect to pay at least $22,000 per year for a "basic" Adobe Commerce (formerly Magneto Enterprise Edition) store with less than $1 million in sales. Shopify Plus starts at $2,000 per month.
As you can imagine, neither of these options is a great fit for a small bakery looking to sell a few cookies online, but for a large chain, they're required.
This article was originally published in July 2019. The most recent update was in January 2023.