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The Best Ecommerce Website Builders

The future was always ecommerce— but no one anticipated how Covid-19 would accelerate that transition.

November 19 2020 Steve Benjamins

This has been the year of ecommerce. All of a sudden retailers have to figure out curbside pickup and restaurants have to figure out the world of food delivery. Things are moving fast and the best ecommerce website builders are adapting to this changing world.

This is my guide to the best website builders for an online store. Shopify and Squarespace are the best overall but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are the right choice for 100% of stores. There are big differences between the top tools and it’s always best to match the tool to fit your requirements.

Note: My work is supported by affiliate commissions. Read more »

    Recommended
  • Shopify

    • Best overall ecommerce builder.
    • Clear and intuitive— unlike other ecommerce builders that are often clunky and difficult to use.
    • Innovative features that competitors struggle to keep up with.
    Try Shopify → Read More
  • Squarespace

    • Excellent option for ecommerce stores that also need non-ecommerce features.
    • Visual, drag and drop page editor is better than Shopify’s page editor.
    • Beautiful templates.
    Try Squarespace → Read More
    Also Great
  • Square Online

    • The easiest ecommerce website builder.
    • Not very customizable.
    • Integrates with Square’s suite of business tools: team management, point of sale, invoicing, appointments and more.
    Try Square Online → Read More
  • WooCommerce

    • WooCommerce is a Wordpress plugin— so it can only be used with Wordpress websites.
    • Learning curve. For example: will require you to setup a web host (SaaS ecommerce builders like Squarespace and Shopify include hosting).
    Try WooCommerce → Read More
  • Webflow

    • The Designer tool gives you the flexibility of coding without actually requiring you to code.
    • Freelance web designers who want design flexibility will love Webflow.
    Try Webflow → Read More
    Average
  • Ecwid

    • Adds ecommerce on top of an existing website.
    • Strong free plan.
    • No templates… instead they match your website color with Color Adaption.
    Try Ecwid → Read More
  • Big Cartel

    • Simple, too simple.
    • Lacks important features like digital products, gift cards, curbside pickup and email receipt customization.
    • Cheaper than competitors.
    Try Big Cartel → Read More
  • BigCommerce

    • Difficult to use.
    • Has an app store but lags significantly behind Shopify in total apps.
    Try BigCommerce → Read More
  • Wix

    • Unstructured editor lets you move any element to any place on the page— which allows for more freedom than other website builders.
    • Can be confusing.
    Try Wix → Read More
    Not Recommended
  • Volusion

    • Not recommended.
    • Difficult to use and complicated.
    • Building a store can become time-consuming.
    Try Volusion → Read More
  • GoDaddy

    • Not recommended.
    • Missing or incomplete features: checkout not hosted on your domain name, tax system is painful to setup and no email receipt customization.
    Try GoDaddy → Read More

The Best Ecommerce Websit...

The future was always ecommerce— but no one anticipated how Covid-19 would accelerate that transition. youtube.com

  • Shopify is the best overall ecommerce website builder. I highly recommend it. They have grown HUGE over the last five years— if they they were a retailer, they’d be the 2nd largest online retailer in the US (Amazon would be first).

    Shopify has grown because they’ve managed to combine intuitive software with powerful features— which is not easy to do.

    Intuitive

    Ecommerce website builders are often clunky and difficult to use— but not Shopify. Shopify is clear and intuitive.

    To illustrate this, take a look at Shopify’s product editor…

    Shopify's interface is clear and intuitive.

    … Compared to a competitor’s product editor:

    Volusion's product editor.

    Notice how Shopify’s interface is just much cleaner?

    App Store

    Shopify’s App Store is their most important feature. The Shopify core covers 80% of what users will need (products, discounts etc.) while the Shopify App Store covers the remaining 20%:

    Shopify's core vs Shopify's App Store.

    Shopify's core vs Shopify's App Store.

    The App Store is the reason why Shopify’s core is able to be so clear and intutive— Shopify does not need to shoehorn every possible ecommerce feature into it. Instead users can just add different features a la carte from the App Store.

    Shopify is not the only ecommerce website builder to offer an app store but they were the first to do it and they have the largest user base— so developers tend to prefer building apps on Shopify first.

    Today Shopify has significantly more apps than it’s closest competitors:

    Comparing total app count between ecommerce builders with app stores.

    Comparing total app count between ecommerce builders with app stores.

    Innovation

    Shopify’s lead on other ecommerce website builders has only grown. They are constantly pushing the industry ahead with new innovations:

    • Shopify Payments — Shopify was the first ecommerce builder to launch their own credit card processor. This made it significantly easier for new stores to get up and running.
    • Augmented Reality — Let customers preview your product in augmented reality on their phones.
    • Shop Pay - Lets customers save their information across any Shopify store.
    • Multi-Currency — Stores using Shopify Payments can accept payments in any local currency.
    • Shopify Capital — Small business loans.
    • Shopify Fulfillment Network — Shopify is building a network of fulfillment centers where they cover your store end-to-end: you send them your products and they take care of distributing, packing and shipping your product. This is Shopify’s most ambitious innovation yet.

    You can read more about Shopify in my Shopify review.

  • If Shopify has a weakness it’s in their website editor. It’s not nearly as easy to use as Squarespace’s visual, drag and drop editor.

    You will want to check out Squarespace if a drag-and-drop page editor is important to you:

    Squarespace's visual drag-and-drop editor.

    Unlike Shopify, Squarespace isn’t just for online stores. Instead Squarespace is for non-profits, blogs, portfolios, small businesses and ecommerce. That broader focus means Squarespace’s ecommerce isn’t as powerful as Shopify— but it does mean that Squarespace will work well for websites that need ecommerce in addition to non-ecommerce features.

    Squarespace is known for beautiful templates with big, bold photography. I’ve talked to many users who tell me they specifically chose Squarespace because of the templates.

    Example Squarespace template.

    Customizing your theme in Squarespace is much easier than it is in Shopify. In Shopify you’ll almost certainly need to tweak some code— but not in Squarespace. Customizing themes is easy and intuitive.

    You can also get into more detailed font customization.

    You can also get into more detailed font customization.

    Squarespace is different from Shopify. Shopify is a pure ecommerce builder— it’s only for building ecommerce websites. Shopify will always be more powerful than Squarespace for ecommerce. But ecommerce stores with a small product line will find Squarespace easy to use and more than enough.

    Note: Squarespace is not Square. They are two different companies.

  • Square Online (not to be confused with Squarespace) is the easiest online store builder in this list.

    Pages are created by simply dropping sections into your website— not individual elements:

    Adding a section

    You can toggle individual elements on and off in sections but you can’t add additional elements! This makes Square pretty limited and not very customizable.

    You can toggle individual elements— but you can't add any new elements!

    It’s worth pointing out that Square Online is just one tool within a suite of tools. Square also offers tools for appointment scheduling, invoicing, point-of-sale, team management and more. All of these tools integrate together and are really easy to use. Though like Square Online these tools are designed to be simple and easy— not highly customizable.

    Read more about it in my review of Weebly. (Why Weebly? Well it’s confusing. But basically Square bought Weebly a few years ago and they are transitioning the brand name.)

  • WooCommerce is a Wordpress plugin— so you manage it within Wordpress admin and you can only use WooCommerce on Wordpress websites. WooCommerce is a no-brainer if you’re already comfortable with Wordpress or if you want to add ecommerce to an existing Wordpress website. Otherwise I’d probably stick with Squarespace or Shopify.

    WooCommerce is a Wordpress plugin— so you manage it within Wordpress admin.

    WooCommerce is a Wordpress plugin— so you manage it within Wordpress admin.

    Because WooCommerce is a Wordpress plugin, it has the same pros and cons of any Wordpress website:

    Setup & Maintenance

    With Wordpress you’ll have to setup SSL and use DNS to connect your domain name. This can be intimidating for many people— especially SSL since security and trust is critical to ecommerce.

    You’ll also have to stay on top Wordpress updates— which can feel like a minefield when a plugin or theme is incompatible with new versions of Wordpress. SaaS solutions like Shopify and Squarespace take care of this for you.

    New Wordpress update— you'll want to update for security but will it break something on your website?

    New Wordpress update— you'll want to update for security but will it break something on your website?

    Open Source

    WooCommerce is open source— which means you can tweak anything about it and you have access to the Wordpress ecosystem’s thousands of plugins. The flipside to this is that you can end up spending a lot of time tweaking and things don’t always just work.

    This Reddit post summarizes the difference perfectly:

    Editor

    Overall the WooCommerce interface is not quite as intuitive a Shopify but it’s certainly clearer than most other ecommerce builders. Existing Wordpress users will probably be very comfortable in WooCommerce but if you’re less familiar with Wordpress you might find the interface overwhelming:

    WooCommerce product editor

  • Webflow is perfect for anyone who wants complete control of their store design— without having to code.

    The big innovation with Webflow is their Designer tool. It has the flexibility of coding without actually requiring you to code. You can design your website exactly how you want:

    Webflow's Designer.

    Webflow's Designer.

    Webflow launched Ecommerce in 2019 and now you can add ecommerce to your Webflow websites. The big difference here is that it all works with Webflows Designer tool— so you can design your store and checkout exactly how you want. This means product pages and checkout experiences all match the rest of your store.

    Read more on Webflow in my in-depth review.

  • Add Ecommerce To An Existing Site — Unlike every other ecommerce builder on this list, Ecwid is not for building an ecommerce website from scratch. Instead it let’s you add ecommerce to an existing website.

    All you have to do is embed this code:

    Installing Ecwid is as easy as embedding this code into an existing website.

    Installing Ecwid is as easy as embedding this code into an existing website.

    There are no themes or templates with Ecwid. Instead they automatically match your website style through a feature they call Color Adaption. If you’d like to customize colors any further you need to use apps in the Ecwid app store (example: Store Designer and Decorator) though they are pretty janky and can be a bit limited. The lack of easy theme customization is a downside.

    I added Ecwid to a Squarespace website and it was able to adapt to the style of the website.

    I added Ecwid to a Squarespace website and it was able to adapt to the style of the website.

    Because Ecwid is added on top of an existing website, you might think it’s a lightweight solution— but it’s actually fairly sophisticated: there’s an app market and it integrates with popular POS systems.

    Finally, Ecwid has a strong free plan. It includes basic features and up to 10 products. This is limited of course, but it’s the least limited of any free plan.

  • Simple Ecommerce — Big Cartel is actually priced cheaper than competitors— so if you want ecommerce but need to stay in the $10 / month range you might want to try Big Cartel.

    Just be aware that it is simple— often too simple:

    • No digital products
    • No gift cards
    • No curbside pickup
    • No email receipt customization
    • Only 1 product variation type. So if you’re selling a t-shirt you can’t offer variations for both size and color— you have to choose one.
    • Even at it’s most expensive plan you can’t sell more than 300 products.

    Simple can be good— after all, simple is often easy to use. And Big Cartel is simple and clear to navigate:

    The Big Cartel editor is spare and easy to navigate— but it's just too simple.

    The Big Cartel editor is spare and easy to navigate— but it's just too simple.

    But over all Big Cartel if often just too limiting.

  • Can Be Difficult to Use — The elephant in the room is Shopify. At one time BigCommerce and Shopify competed for the same customers— but that’s no longer. Shopify has won and BigCommerce seems to understand this. Their homepage now targets enterprise sales— pivoting away from small and mid size businesses— and they recently launched a Wordpress plugin (part of their “headless” commerce push).

    BigCommerce's homepage now targets enterprise rather than small business.

    BigCommerce's homepage now targets enterprise rather than small business.

    I found one consistent complaint after interviewing several BigCommerce users: it can be difficult to use:

    “I find it a little clunky and challenging.”

    “Not the most intuitive. “

    “Before signing up with Shopify, I started with BigCommerce and honestly it was more difficult to understand for me so I cancelled it. “

    BigCommerce has an app store but like other ecommerce builders with an app store, it lags significantly behind Shopify:

    BigCommerce lags Shopify in total apps.

    BigCommerce lags Shopify in total apps.

  • I’ve always had reservations about Wix. Their unstructured editor may seem great at first because it allows you to drag any element anywhere on the page— but it often creates more problems than it solves.

    Watch what happens when I move this image— I end having to make the same change twice!

    Simple tasks sometimes feel unnecessarily difficult in Wix. For example: I wanted to add give all my product grids a background color. In order to do that I had edit each one individually. That’s just annoying.

    Like Squarespace, Wix a is general purpose website builder— so it has more intuitive page and content creation than a pure ecommerce builder like Shopify but is also not as sophisticated in ecommerce as Shopify.

    Wix would not be my first choice for an ecommerce store BUT it will work fine for users building a simple store who can accept the tradeoffs of the unstructured editor.

  • Not Recommended — I’ve talk to plenty of Volusion users and heard the same thing many times: it’s just not easy to use.

    “Volusion is expensive, complicated, and difficult to work with”

    “Product entry is cumbersome and buggy”

    ”[Building a store] can be a time consuming process.”

    The complaints are well-founded. Volusion has been around since 1999 and it feels like they’ve just kept adding features since then with out any thoughtfulness. The result is an overwhelming editor— pages of ambigious options that feel shoehorned into the interface:

    Volusion product editor

    This is the kind of bloat that Shopify avoided by creating their App Store. Unfortunately Volusion is sorely behind in app store development: Shopify has 2,600+ apps while Volusion has 80.

  • GoDaddy’s website builder has really improved over the last years but their ecommerce has a few major limitations:

    Checkout Not Hosted On Your Domain When customers go to checkout on a GoDaddy website they are redirected from your domain name to mysimplestore.com— a poor branding a trust signal:

    Customers are redirected off your domain name during checkout.

    No Email Receipt Customization — You’re not able to customize the email receipts that customers get after making an order. This is standard in almost every other ecommerce website builder and is important for certain product categories.

    Poor Tax System — Applying taxes is nearly impossible. You have to manually add each tax:

    Adding taxes.

    Platforms such as Shopify make taxes far, far easier by automatically applying standard taxes for regions (while giving you the option to override where you’d like).

Curbside Pickup

No one thought hard about curbside pickup until 2020— so it’s very much a new feature for many ecommerce website builders.

This table shows you which website builders support curbside pickup but I would encourage you to try the website builder before picking it based on this table— some may work better for you than others.

Company Curbside Pickup
Shopify Yes — You can assign products to be picked up at specific locations. No app necessary.
Squarespace Sort of — Squarespace recommends you set curbside pickup as a free shipping option. It doesn’t let you specific different locations.
WooCommerce Sort of — WooCommerce recommends you set curbside pickup as a free shipping option. It doesn’t let you specific different locations.
Webflow No
Square Yes — Square has outstanding support for curbside pickup. They offer curbside order management, different location options for customers and hours for pickup.
Volusion Yes — Volusion has support for curbside pickup.
Big Cartel No
Ecwid Yes — Ecwid also lets customers tell you their preferred time to come for pickup.
BigCommerce Yes — Customers can select curbside pickup as an option.
Wix Yes — It’s a little complicated (you have to set it per region) but Wix let’s customers choose curbside pickup.
GoDaddy No

Gift Cards

Which ecommerce website builders support gift cards?

Company Gift Cards
Shopify Yes — Gift cards are a specific type of product.
Squarespace Yes — Gift cards are a specific type of product.
WooCommerce Yes — Gift cards are available as a paid extension ($49 / year).
Webflow No
Square Yes — Square can sell both digital and physical gift cards.
Volusion Not Really — Technically Volusion has a support doc explaining how to do it… but it’s a 16 step process! Yikes!
Big Cartel No
Ecwid Yes — Gift cards are a specific type of product.
BigCommerce Yes — Gift cards are a specific type of product.
Wix No
GoDaddy No

Restaurant Ordering

With restaurants transitioning to delivery and curbside pickup— these are the ecommerce website builders that allow you to build your own order system without relying on delivery apps like Uber Eats.

Company Restaurant Ordering
Shopify Yes
Squarespace Sort Of — Squarespace has an integration with ChowNow, a 3rd party plugin.
WooCommerce Sort Of — There are extensions you can buy ($49) but they do not look very promising…
Webflow No
Square Yes
Volusion No
Big Cartel No
Ecwid Yes
BigCommerce No
Wix Yes
GoDaddy No

Point of Sale

A point of sale system is for accepting in-person payments— for example, a cafe may use a credit card reader and an iPad as their point of sale system.

Company Point of Sale
Shopify Yes — An official POS system with hardware by Shopify.
Squarespace Through 3rd Party — An integration with Square’s credit card reader.
WooCommerce Through 3rd Party — There is an additional extension that costs $199 / year.
Webflow No
Square Yes — Square has an official POS system.
Volusion No — Their POS system is just an in-browser form for adding orders manually. No hardware credit card reader.
Big Cartel Through 3rd Party — An integration with Square’s credit card reader.
Ecwid Through 3rd Party — Integrations with three different credit card readers: Square, Clover and Vend.
BigCommerce Through 3rd Party — Integrations with three different credit card readers: Hike, Clover and Vend.
Wix Through 3rd Party — An integration with Square’s credit card reader.
GoDaddy Through 3rd Party — An integration with Square’s credit card reader.

Subscription Products

Subscription products are growing in popularity— for example, subscription boxes that go out every month or razor blade refills that go out every 3 months.

Here’s which ecommerce website builders cover this:

Company Subscription Products
Shopify Sort Of — Several 3rd party apps allow you to sell subscription payments. These apps have additional costs.
Squarespace Yes — You can create subscription products.
WooCommerce Yes — There is an extension that costs $199 / year.
Webflow No
Square Sort Of — You can setup recurring invoices but you can’t sell recurring products.
Volusion Yes
Big Cartel Not Really — Your visitors can create recurring payments to you in the form a tip jar— but you can’t sell subscription products.
Ecwid No
BigCommerce Yes
Wix Yes — You can create subscription products.
GoDaddy No

Written By Steve Benjamins

I’ve been building websites for over 20 years and websites have been featured in Wired, The Next Web, Smashing Magazine, The Huffington Post and Forbes. Read More →