Online shopping is booming. Part of this is the ongoing pandemic, but part of it is also a trend that's been growing for a long time. Almost 80% of the U.S. population shops online, and more than 50% prefer to buy online than in person. By the end of 2022, it will be a trillion dollar industry.
This is good news for sellers because, with the right tools, it's easy for any small business to quickly start selling online and join the goldrush. 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, we 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, we 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 our 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.
With that said, here are the six best eCommerce platforms.
The 6 best eCommerce platforms
Shopify for getting up and running quickly
Square for selling in person and online
Ecwid 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?
How we evaluate and test apps
All of our best apps roundups are written by humans who've spent much of their careers using, testing, and writing about software. We spend dozens of hours researching and testing apps, using each app as it's intended to be used and evaluating it against the criteria we set for the category. We're never paid for placement in our articles from any app or for links to any site—we value the trust readers put in us to offer authentic evaluations of the categories and apps we review. For more details on our process, read the full rundown of how we select apps to feature on the Zapier blog.
For small businesses looking to sell online, we 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.
A hypothetical average 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. They also had to be able to make it fit with their existing brand reasonably well by being able to use their own brand assets and color schemes. This one criteria 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.
The platform had to enable you 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, we required the apps on this list to have a range of integrations, either through a plug-in and extension marketplace or built-in features.
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.
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. We'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. We've avoided 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 platform for getting up and running quickly
Shopify (Web, iOS, Android)
Shopify has been around for more than 15 years—with more than two 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. Adding a product, for example, is as simple as clicking Products in the sidebar and then the Add Products 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 10 free themes and more than 50 paid themes starting from $140. To browse them, go to Themes, and then, under Theme Library, click Visit Theme Store. Not a bad selection, right?
But because Shopify is so popular, you can also find more than 1,300 themes available on ThemeForest or get a professional designer who is 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.
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 platform for selling in-person and online
Square (Web, iOS, Android)
If you 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: we noticed fewer Weebly URLs popping up in the most recent review.)
Square has some of the best onboarding around. When you sign up, you have to fill in a quick questionnaire about your business and its needs. You've got the option to set up a single booking page, a full online store, or simple checkout links, 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, with Square you have to make your own design using the (admittedly excellent) site builder—or you can hire a designer from $99 to do it for you.
From the Square Dashboard, click Online then click Website > Edit Site to get started. In the sidebar on the left, you can select the different page elements, or you can just click on them directly. For more options, click the three little dots. You can change the colors, fonts, and layout of everything individually and, of course, upload your own images. It works well, but it is a bit constrained.
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. Just go to Items > Item Library, and click Create an Item.
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.
Square also integrates with Zapier, so you can connect it to thousands of other apps to do things like post your in-person transactions to a Slack channel for the rest of the team to see or record the details using Airtable.
Add new Square transactions to Airtable as records
Square Price: Free with 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction for unlimited products and a Square branded site; from $12/month billed annually with 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction to use a custom domain and remove ads.
Best eCommerce platform for getting started for free
Ecwid (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 $15/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.
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.
Where Ecwid stands out from some of the other free options is its customizability. In the sidebar, click Website and then Edit Site to open the site builder. To change the theme, click Themes and choose from one of the dozens of different options. Whatever you're planning to sell, there's a decent base theme to work from. Then, dive deeper into the intuitive builder to customize every section, text block, and photo.
While Ecwid is a great free option, 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 receive texts when someone places an order or track sales with Google Sheets.
Send Ecwid order notifications by text using Twilio
Add line items from new Ecwid paid orders to Google Sheets as multiple rows
Ecwid Price: Free for standard features; from $15/month Venture Plan for professional features; transaction fees depend on payment gateway.
Best eCommerce 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.
Similarly, while BigCommerce integrates with online payment processors like Stripe, PayPal, Braintree, and Amazon, you can also configure your store to take payment by bank transfer, check, or money order.
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 (in the sidebar, click Storefront > 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.
Create Salesforce contacts from new BigCommerce orders
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.
Installing WooCommerce on your site is ridiculously easy. 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 backend. 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; from $29 for additional extensions; transaction fees depend on payment gateway. WooCommerce is included in the $45/month billed annually eCommerce plan from WordPress.com.
Best eCommerce platform for simultaneously creating a 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. 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.
When you first sign up, you tell Wix what kind of site you're looking to build, and it makes a few suggestions. Then you get the option to choose from one of more than 500 templates and make your own site, or answer a few more questions and let Wix's "Artificial Design Intelligence" or ADI do it for you.
The ADI option is surprisingly quick and effective. Click Start Now, and, after answering a few questions about what you plan to sell and what sort of look you like, selecting the features and pages you want to add to your site, and adding your details, you'll have a site ready to go in a few short moments. You can even import content from an existing site or Google My Business listing. And, of course, you can dive in and customize things further once Wix's robo-designers are done.
With so much going on, Wix's onboarding to-do list is long but comprehensive. In addition to adding things like shipping rates and your shop's opening hours (if you have physical premises), you're guided through setting up a professional email address, building an email list, advertising on Google and Facebook, setting up a payment gateway, and a lot more. At times, it might veer a little close to hand-holding, but too much guidance is better than too little.
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.
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.
Create cards in Trello when new automations are triggered in Wix
Create tasks in Google Tasks when new Wix automations are triggered
Wix Price: Free for 14 days; from $30/month Business Basic Plan; transaction fees depend on payment gateway with Wix Payments charging 2.9% + $0.30.
This article was originally published in July 2019. The most recent update was in November 2021.