Last Updated September 9 2020
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Best Ecommerce Website Builder — Shopify is the best ecommerce builder. If you’re building a pure ecommerce website, I highly recommend Shopify.
Shopify has come to dominate ecommerce software by constantly innovating and improving— while always remaining clear and easy of use. It’s a magical balancing act that’s unusual in the world of software.
The App Store is it’s biggest differentiator. The Shopify core covers what 80% of online stores will need and the app store covers the other 20%— that way the core doesn’t get bloated with features most stores don’t need. Shopify is not the only ecommerce website builder to offer an app stores but they have significantly more apps than any competitor:
Besides the app store, Shopify has continually launched innovative features like Shopify Payments, Shopify POS and Shopify Augmented Reality that push the industry forward— at a pace competitors rarely keep up with.
Beyond features, the thing I most often hear from users is that they love that Shopify is so easy to use. It’s clear, simple and intuitive.
Beautiful Templates & Simple Ecommerce — Squarespace is known for beautiful templates with big, bold photography— perfect for showcasing products. I’ve talked to many users who tell me they chose Squarespace because of the templates.
Squarespace is different from Shopify. Shopify is a pure ecommerce builder— it’s only for building ecommerce websites. Squarespace on the other hand is a general website builder— it builds websites for non-profits, restaurants, small businesses and in increasingly for ecommerce.
Because Squarespace isn’t focussed purely on ecommerce, it’s ecommerce features are not as powerful as Shopify and probably not ready to host mature ecommerce stores. Instead I’d recommend Squarespace for small stores and stores just starting out.
One thing to note: One of the benefits of choosing Squarespace for ecommerce is their drag-and-drop page editor. It’s really intuitive— much better than most ecommerce builders. So if your store needs a lot of supporting content, you may want to try Squarespace.
For Users Already Familiar With Wordpress — WooCommerce is a Wordpress plugin— which means WooCommerce is run on top of a Wordpress website.
For that reason, WooCommerce is best for users who are already familiar with Wordpress. Otherwise there’s a steep learning curve— that includes learning Wordpress.
Hosting — You need to setup and configure a web host with Wordpress. This has upsides and downsides. The upside is that you’re not stuck on one host— you can change your host whenever you want. The downside is that you have to setup the host, monitor it and configure it. With hosted ecommerce builders (like Shopify) you don’t have to setup or configure a web host— but your website can only be hosted by Shopify.
Open Source — Wordpress is Open Source which means anyone can contribute to it. This is both a strength and a weakness. For example, there are 50,000 plugins available for Wordpress (note: plugins are different from WooCommerce’s extensions). But taking advantage of these plugins seldom works perfectly. It often requires tweaking code. Things seldom just work out of the gate.
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).
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:
Strong Multi-Language — Jumpseller has strong multi-language features. Translating your store into multiple languages is simple and clear. You can even translate the language of your backend admin— I haven’t seen that degree of language customization in other ecommerce builders.
I talked a number of Jumpseller users and kept hearing one reason they chose it: it supports local Chilean payments. According to the users I talked to, the process of setting up card payments for new businesses in Chile can be quite long and bureaucratic but Jumpseller has an agreement with the local payment service provider— so set up is easy and paper work is limited. This really only applies to Chilean stores but is certainly good to know.
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:
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.
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 & Easy To Use — Like Squarespace, Weebly isn’t a pure ecommerce builder. Weebly is a general website builder that can build websites for non-profits, restaurants, artists and more. Weebly has prioritized ecommerce over the last few years and in 2018 they were acquired by payment provider company, Square— which means ecommerce will likely remain a big part of their strategy.
As you can read in my full review, Weebly isn’t as flexible as Wix and it isn’t as sophisticated as Squarespace— but it’s easier to use than both. Weebly is what I recommend to anyone who doesn’t feel tech savvy.
Weebly doesn’t match Shopify’s sophisticated ecomerce features but it does still support enough for simple ecommerce websites— for example, you can sell gift cards, add customer accounts and deal with abandoned shopping carts.
There is one ecommerce feature I particularily like: Weebly has a drag-and-drop email customization tool. You don’t have to dive into code like you do with most ecommerce builders.
The downside to Weebly is theme customization. It’s too limited and cookie cutter— and that limitation extends to ecommerce. For example, you can’t customize the style of the checkout page— like you can with Squarespace.
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:
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.
In addition to ease of use, users also complained about bandwidth overage charges— which become a kind of success tax. Most modern ecommerce builders include unlimited bandwidth but not Volusion. This is especially frustrating since Volusion is a hosted website builder which means they are disincentived to create bandwidth saving features.
Simple Ecommerce — Big Cartel is simple— too simple. For example, you can’t sell more than 300 products and you can’t have multiple variations on a product— which means if you’re selling a t-shirt you can’t offer variations for both size and color— you have to choose one.
Simple can be good— after all, simple is often easy to use. And there is some truth to that with Big Cartel— the editor is sparse and easy to navigate after all— but it’s just too simple.
But these days, easy to use in ecommerce is more than just a simple interface— it’s also about providing features that let users get up and running quickly.
For example, Shopify provides their own payment processor called Shopify Payments. That way Shopify users can get up and running quickly. But with Big Cartel users have to setup a 3rd party payment provider.
Or consider taxes. Most eommerce builders include some smart defaults for taxes— but Big Cartel requires you to configure taxes.
In the end, I would recommend Big Cartel for one thing: the free plan. It lets you get started with selling 5 products.
Detailed Template Control — Like Squarespace and Weebly, Wix is a website builder that has added ecommerce over the last few years. The ecommerce features aren’t as sophisticated as Shopify but they are enough for small stores looking to get started.
Wix’s editor is what differentiates it from Squarespace and Weebly. It’s an unstructured editor— you can drag any element anywhere on a page. Squarespace and Weebly let you drag elements— but only within a complete grid.
Wix’s unstructured editor is ideal for users who don’t want any constraints— though be aware the unstructured editor has downsides.