WooCommerce Review: Pros & Cons of Using WooCommerce for an Online Store

WooCommerce Pros Cons Alternatives for Online Store

WooCommerce is the most popular ecommerce plugin for WordPress, which is the Internet’s most popular content management software.

Explore WooCommerce’s Feature Set

Explore my WooCommerce Setup Guide

WooCommerce was originally developed by a small theme / web design firm in 2011. It grew rapidly among the WordPress community due to its feature set, but also due to its business model.

Same as now, you could download & use the full WooCommerce plugin for free from the start. WooThemes made money by selling compatible designs, support, and from specific extensions (e.g. to connect to a credit card processor).

1 WooCommerce Install

In 2015, Automattic bought WooCommerce from WooThemes. Automattic is the software company run by Matt Mullenweg, the original author of WordPress software.

Ever since, the development of WooCommerce has been tightly coordinated with the development of both self-hosted WordPress and Automattic’s hosted WordPress.com software.

So that’s enough introduction. The point is that WooCommerce is legit, WooCommerce is growing, and WooCommerce can be a great fit for many storeowners…but not all.

Disclosure – I receive customer referral fees from companies mentioned on this website. All data & opinions are based on my experience as a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

What is WooCommerce?

To run an ecommerce website, you only need a few additional features. You need a product listing, a shopping cart, a payment processor, and order functionality that will merge & manage all the order information within a database. That’s it.

Because of that, ecommerce platforms are very similar to general website software…with just a bit of added functionality.

And like general website software, your choice of software depends on your personal desire for control / customization vs. convenience.

It’s a bit like real estate. A house provides maximum control. But you have to deal with maintenance, contractors, and random issues. A hotel offers zero control or customization, but they take care of *everything*.

Ecommerce Real Estate Tradeoffs

WooCommerce lives on the more control / customization end of the spectrum. If Etsy & Amazon are hotels, then WooCommerce is a house.

WooCommerce is a software plugin that adds ecommerce functionality to WordPress, which is general website software (aka “CMS”).

And WordPress is part of a 3 part bundle that “makes a website” –

  • domain (your address on the Internet)
  • hosting (where your website files live)
  • software (what generates the files & pages that make up your website)

In other words, WooCommerce can help WordPress build a stand-alone store instead of a single-family home.

Now, this leads to the first overarching choice with WooCommerce.

Your choice is that WooCommerce is *part* of that 3 part bundle. It directly competes with other WordPress ecommerce plugins.

But…it also competes with other big bundled ecommerce solutions. And many big competitors deliberately bundle domain, hosting, software & ecommerce into a single, simple monthly price.

That’s great – and there are plenty of upsides & downsides to that bundling. But it’s important to be aware of since exploring the pros & cons of WooCommerce is a bit like comparing apples & oranges with other ecommerce solutions.

But – we’ll do it anyway. I love WooCommerce for what it is, but it’s not for everyone. Here’s a few pros & cons of WooCommerce both in comparison to direct & indirect competitors.

Pros of WooCommerce

Most ecommerce platforms have a series of strong advantages, and WooCommerce is no different. Here are a few reasons to use WooCommerce, not only instead of other WordPress plugins, but also instead of other ecommerce solutions.

Long-term Cost & Value

WooCommerce is free to download & free to use. If you have WordPress installed on your hosting account, you can navigate to Plugins –> Add New and add it to your website right now.

Explore my WordPress Ecommerce Setup Guide here.

WooCommerce is also fully functional with no add-ons or extensions.

That means that your annual website costs could be as low as ~$120/yr, depending on what hosting plan you have.

For contrast, the average low-tier ecommerce bundle with a hosted service like Shopify (review), BigCommerce (review) or Wix (review) will run around $360/yr for a single website.

But it gets even better for WooCommerce.

Since your main annual cost will be for a hosting plan, you can maximize the value of your hosting account with multiple websites.

If you had 4 small WooCommerce powered websites on your hosting account, then your annual per website costs would be $30/yr.

To run 4 small ecommerce websites with Shopify or Wix, your annual per website costs would be at least $1,440/yr.

For example, one of my earliest clients had a personal website, a home decor blog, a cat collar store, and an embroidery store – all on her same hosting account.

All 4 sites used WordPress, and the 2 store used WooCommerce. It helped her defray the costs and keep her 2 stores profitable – since they were side-hobbies anyway.

But it gets even better for WooCommerce.

WooCommerce comes fully-featured and fully supported with no transaction fees of any kind. There’s no “premium tier” to move to. Your long-term per-feature costs will always be lower with WooCommerce.

Also, almost all of WooCommerce extensions are flat-fee and under $100. You have access to a huge and rapidly expanding library of advanced, complex ecommerce features for flat-fee optional cost.

WooCommerce Extensions

And, lastly, since WooCommerce works within WordPress, you get a double cost benefit for any free or premium plugins that you already want to use with your website.

For example, the most popular Redirection plugin for WordPress is free. And it’s free for WooCommerce too, since WooCommerce is integrated with your website.

If you are already paying for speed, security, and anti-spam for your existing WordPress website (with something like JetPack), then you can simply extend that subscription to cover your store as well.

And, you can piece together any 3rd party software based on cost, need, compatibility, etc.

If we stick with the housing analogy with WooCommerce, you can sub-lease rooms to help with the rent, your home office can benefit from your general security bill, and you can add-on *exactly* as your budget allows.

Now…all these massive cost benefits for WooCommerce comes with a few massive caveats, which I’ll cover in the cons. But on face value, WooCommerce is an incredible short-term and long-term value for any storeowner.

Integration with WordPress

WordPress software powers more than 1/3rd of the entire Internet. And it’s popular for a reason – it works well, it’s incredibly versatile as software, and it has a huge community (both for-profit and non-profit) supporting it.

And WooCommerce benefits from all three reasons as well, since it’s been a part of the broader WordPress community for years now.

This seamless integration with WordPress is important because WooCommerce can pull features in from an entire universe of plugins, themes, tutorials, and values that simply does not exist anywhere else.

For example, Yoast SEO has long been a hugely popular plugin with lots of international translations, advanced SEO feature support, and good usability.

There is no hosted platform with anything like it (or like any of Yoast’s excellent competitors). But since WooCommerce is integrated with WordPress…Yoast is integrated with WooCommerce as well.

The same goes with popular themes. Themes will support the same PHP structure as WooCommerce. In fact, developers will often go ahead and add bonus features to WordPress themes to make it extra appealing to WooCommerce users.

Plus, WordPress has long upheld the values of the Open Web with full RSS support, nice permalinks, W3 valid code, cross-browser compatibility, and full control over your code, content & data.

Themes for WooCommerce

f you want to leave WooCommerce, it’s easy and well-supported. Your data is only accessible to you – and anyone you grant permission to (not the other way around).

Lastly, if you have an existing WordPress powered website and want to add ecommerce, WooCommerce makes it as seamless as any other plugin so that you don’t have to style & support a store on a completely different platform.

Support from Automattic

Automattic is a company founded by Matt Mullenweg, who is also the author of WordPress software.

WordPress software is free, open-source and community supported. But Automattic is the for-profit company that makes & sells tools for WordPress software.

They run WordPress.com, a bundled hosted service for WordPress software in addition to JetPack, a speed / security / utility kit for WordPress websites, and WooCommerce.

Now, there’s a whole universe of for-profit companies offering WordPress plugins, themes, support, etc. They all do great work, and I recommend many of them.

But for longevity, consistency, and building more 3rd party integrations, I think it’s in WooCommerce’s advantage to be owned by Automattic.

There are plenty of WordPress software companies, and plenty of good ecommerce plugins. In fact, some have features and setups that I like a bit better than WooCommerce (mainly for digital goods only).

But the bottom-line when comparing WooCommerce not only to other plugins, but also to Shopify, Squarespace, Wix, etc – is that you need a large company that will be around and have an financial interest in keeping the software cutting-edge.

Additionally, since Automattic is still private and venture-funded – they are still in “growth” mode, which only means more investment in features & customer service.

WooCommerce’s ownership is a huge advantage for choosing WooCommerce over other ecommerce plugins, and put it at parity with other ecommerce solutions offered by large, stable companies.

Versatility & Compatibility

A few fun facts about WooCommerce –

  • You can use it to sell memberships
  • You can use it to sell recurring licenses
  • You can use it to sell digital goods
  • You can use it to sell apppointments
  • You can use it to sell affiliate, drop-ship, or even Amazon products
  • You can “hack” it and combine to sell really anything you can imagine

The actual plugin is incredibly versatile and compatible with a huge range of uses. Like WordPress, your imagination is likely more limited than the tool is.

WooCommerce Extensions

The plugin automatically creates & manages a range of page types including products, product categories, orders, confirmations, etc

It’s compatible not only with most single-use WordPress plugins but also with large site-type plugins like the BuddyPress social network plugin and bbPress forum plugin.

In other words, you can create a niche social network with forum and online store all with the same WordPress install.

3rd Party Integrations

WooCommerce has a large & growing Apps & Extensions store. It’s a library of premium extensions that allow you to harness powerful 3rd party software for things like payments, shipping, cross-product listings, inventory management, marketing, bookkeeping, and more.

If you are an offline merchant who loves a 3rd party processor (like Square), then you can use an extension to add it to WooCommerce.

If you love your 3rd party shipping or inventory software, it will probably integrate with WooCommerce.

Ease of Use & Onboarding

This pro has a caveat – I’m assuming that you have worked with WordPress before. If not, this will actually appear in the cons section.

But, if you have, WooCommerce’s onboarding is amazing. They’ve upgraded the process to the point where my WordPress Ecommerce Setup guide isn’t nearly as useful as it used to be.

Woocommerce Wizard

When you add the WooCommerce plugin, you are instantly moved into a setup sequence that will help you list your first product, set up your page types, and get all your basic settings ready to roll.

You really can be set up to sell in minutes. And unlike some plugins that create a dedicated section for use, WooCommerce automatically folds pages, media and options within the existing WordPress install so that everything appears where you think it should be (e.g., media settings, categories, etc).

Control & Customizations

Since WooCommerce is a PHP-based plugins that integrates with your WordPress install, you have direct access to the code via browser and FTP.

You can add, remove, edit scripts and bits of code to your heart’s content. If you want to edit your checkout flow or your error codes or your analytics script or your CSS – then you just do it.

WooCommerce Permalinks

You are not limited by a platform’s plan or code access or script limitations. If you want to hire a designer or developer or marketer, you can hire from a huge pool rather than a narrow field.

There are even custom extension developers who will create whatever extension for WooCommerce that you want.

Do you run a store than needs to accept Dogecoin? Or a very specific shipping option? You’ll need to use WooCommerce – because no major ecommerce platform will be building that anytime soon.

Cons of WooCommerce

Every ecommerce platform has natural disadvantages since there is an inherent tradeoff between control & convenience. You’ll likely find a lot of WooCommerce complaints and issues around the Internet.

Here’s a few of the key disadvantages you’ll find with WooCommerce – and using WordPress as an online store in general.

Ease of Use & Onboarding

WooCommerce & WordPress both try to make ease of use & onboarding (i.e., moving a new user to an active user) simple, straightforward and intuitive.

There are plenty of guides around the Internet, along with prompts, Q&As, support, and more.

But the bottom line is that there is still a basic tradeoff between control and convenience.

For a beginner, WooCommerce has a learning curve that is even steeper than WordPress’ learning curve. When you install WooCommerce, you not only have to learn the basic jargon of an ecommerce store (listings, checkout flow, payment tokens), but you also have to learn the basic jargon of WordPress (permalinks, posts, pages, plugins, etc) and the basic jargon of any self-hosted website (difference between HTML & CSS, page load speed, etc).

WooCommerce Menu Settings

For a beginner with zero experience with WordPress or running a website, WooCommerce will require a steep learning curve. Now, it might be worth it if you have the time & patience to learn everything.

But compared to drag & drop basic online store builders like Weebly or Wix or even comprehensive ecommerce platforms like Shopify, WooCommerce’s onboarding & setup is a huge downside.

Technical Maintenance

Sticking with the house / apartment analogy, you know how you can just call the landlord when something goes wrong?

Yeah, you can’t do that with WooCommerce. There is some semblance of support via your hosting company and Automattic (if you are a premium JetPack subscriber) and the WooCommerce community. But there’s no single place to just call and get something fixed.

In fact, like a landlord, there’s no one who will come by and just check on the HVAC filter, the roofing, and basic structure.

Running WooCommerce is really like owning a house. There are plenty of people who will help you maintain it. In fact, many are quite reasonable and even quicker than a landlord.

But…when it comes down to it, *you* and *you* alone are in charge of keeping your website maintained, available, and operating.

Plugins will notify you of security updates, but you will need to install them and manage any new conflicts. Your hosting company will give you support, but you need to know what questions to even ask. You’ll need to know how to troubleshoot.

This downside comes directly from the benefit of maximum control. With maximum control & freedom comes maximum responsibility.

Again, you can get customer support for WooCommerce. In fact, some hosting companies offer “WooCommerce Hosting” with management included.

But compared to online store builders like Wix & Weebly or ecommerce platforms like Shopify & BigCommerce, WooCommerce is lacking in simple technical maintenance.*

Shopify Backend

*The one caveat here is the WordPress.com option – they are a hosted version of WordPress run by Automattic. Since they bundle hosting, software, support & more – you can get many of the benefits of WooCommerce without this downside. They’ll take care of all the maintenance…at an extra price.

Speed & Security

With the continued growth of mobile and the profitability of hacking, website speed & security are more important than ever.

Like the situation with technical maintenance, WooCommerce leaves you basically in charge of speed & security – even though there are plenty of native & 3rd party options to help you.

WordPress & WooCommerce are inherently secure when installed with a good hosting company, maintained, and used with basic security best practices.

Additionally, WordPress & WooCommerce are inherently fast when installed with a good hosting company, maintained and used with basic speed best practices.

But your weakest link is the toughest part with both speed & security.

For hosted platforms like Weebly, Wix, Shopify or BigCommerce (and the WordPress.com option) – this is an area where they truly shine. Your website lives on their infrastructure with their team of professionals watching constantly for issues and keeping software cutting edge.

In fact, several have bounty programs where they pay hackers to deliberately seek vulnerabilities in their systems. They will also have direct partnerships with payment processors for real-time fraud alerts.

Overall, speed & security should not be an issue for WooCommerce storeowners – including beginners. But, like with owning a house, you are still the one responsible for any issues.

It remains a key downside of WooCommerce, especially if you store starts growing rapidly from hundreds of visitors to hundreds of thousands of users – which brings us to the next downside.

Growth & Scaling

Since WooCommerce is a plugin for WordPress, it has to work within WordPress’ basic functionality.

And WordPress’ basic functionality is not built specifically for ecommerce, it’s built for versatility.

This issue means that the way WooCommerce works starts to break down when you get above a certain threshold of “queries” – ie, requests of the database.

And unlike browsing content, or really any other type of functionality, ecommerce can generate *a lot* of queries, very quickly, and in a short space of time.

Imagine WooCommerce is a single dude standing between a group of customers and a library. Imagine they all need to request books and return books before paying you, getting change, and then leaving. Now, if they go one at a time, it’s fine. In fact, you can probably push the guy to handling several returns and new books at once.

But imagine they all show up at once, say, on Thanksgiving, and start shouting out lots of book orders. And they start giving books to put back…and they all want to pay all at once.

Well, the dude is going to get really confused, tired, and crash. Not because he’s not good but because it’s a not-ideal system.

That’s WooCommerce’s core problem – handing *lots* of add to cart and checkout events all at once.

Ecommerce platforms that are built from scratch for ecommerce like Shopify and BigCommerce do not have this issue. They use a completely different set of technologies to avoid WooCommerce’s inherent issues.

Now, before a bunch of WordPress folks’ start sending me emails, WooCommerce can absolutely scale to hundreds of thousands of orders. WooCommerce says that the issues is a myth and has examples to prove it.

All true. But it take a lot of work & expertise to make that type of scaling happen. Here’s an interview with a top WordPress expert on making WooCommerce scale…and even he discusses it like a huge project, not something built-into the product.

If you have a small, growing store, this is a non-issue. You can solve problems as they come.

But if you are starting what will be a large ecommerce site very quickly, it’s a critical disadvantage to be aware of – especially when looking at other Enterprise ecommerce options.

Potential Long-term Costs

WooCommerce’s price (free!) and potential long-term value are amazing for beginners and anyone on a budget.

However, you may have noted the potential need for 3rd party help, WooCommerce can become quite expensive.

One of my earliest clients back paid me $1200 to fix several emergency issues that she simply could not figure out before her sales deadline.

She had chosen WooCommerce specifically to control costs (rather than integrate with an existing content site). But it will take several years of no issues to recoup those costs compared to a Shopify plan.

Shopify Pricing

Since WooCommerce is not bundled with hosting and other software, it’s also easy to let regular costs get out of control. Once you start paying for automated backups, security scanning, managed hosting, CDN, premium plugin extensions, and more – your monthly costs may be much higher than anticipated (again, just like homeownership vs. renting).

Now, all these costs are *potential* costs. And if you have the time and patience, many storeowners would rather than potential costs that they choose rather than an high guaranteed cost. But it’s a potential downside to be aware of.

Future of Ecommerce

Ecommerce is changing rapidly. And the speed of change is happening faster everyday.

Apps like Poshmark, Depop, Pinterest, and Instagram are moving more ecommerce to happen seamlessly within apps via “headless” ecommerce backends.

In other words, some ecommerce platforms are simply inventory & order tracking systems where the actual shopping, cart, and payments happens within a 3rd party app.

In some ways, WooCommerce’s open structure should be an advantage. And yet, cutting edge ecommerce relies increasingly on APIs and direct integrations, which are not WooCommerce’s specialty.

Shopify is able to leverage its size, infrastructure, and tech team to create cutting edge integrations. Same with MailChimp, Square, and a whole universe of similar marketing tools.

And all that does not even start to discuss Amazon.

All that to say, WooCommerce does have a current disadvantage with ecommerce as it is currently evolving.

However, it could have a huge advantage as content becomes more important. And it will forever have an advantage as somewhere that you truly own & control. It’s this bet that Automattic has their money on.

It’s a potential downside to consider. There’s no right answer, it all depends on your goals, expertise, and view of the future. There’s a reason why so many website builders like Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, WordPress.com, and GoDaddy GoCentral are adding basic ecommerce functionality.

All of which leads us to a few direct comparisons.

WooCommerce Alternatives

There is a whole universe of ecommerce solutions on the Internet. Compared to 2003, this is a really good problem to have. But as an online storeowner, navigating choices is still an issue. Here’s a quick rundown of the main alternatives to WooCommerce, along with links to further posts.

WooCommerce vs. Other WordPress Ecommerce Plugins

There are lots of ecommerce plugins, but most are pretty terrible. WooCommerce’s main direct competitors are –

  • Easy Digital Downloads – a focus on simple digital goods.
  • WP Easy Cart – a focus on simplicity but limited add-ons.
  • WP Ecommerce – a non-Automattic comprehensive option. Meant for developers due to limited support options & simple extensions.
  • NinjaShop – a focus on simplicity but limited add-ons.

WooCommerce can also run on WordPress.com as part of a hosted bundle. This option removes a lot of WooCommerce’s negatives, but also increases WooCommerce’s costs & removes some of the self-hosted freedoms.

WooCommerce vs. Shopify

I wrote a full comparison of WooCommerce and Shopify here. The short version is that unless you have a specific reason to use WooCommerce and plan on running a growing ecommerce store, then you’ll probably do better with Shopify.

WooCommerce vs. BigCommerce

I wrote a full comparison of WooCommerce and BigCommerce here. The short version is that unless you have a specific reason to use WooCommerce and plan on running a growing ecommerce store, then you’ll probably do better with BigCommerce.

WooCommerce vs. Wix

Wix is much more user-friendly compared to WooCommerce. However, Wix also constrains your options more than even WordPress.com and hosted ecommerce platforms like Shopify. If you have a small store and want drag & drop convenience, then use Wix.

WooCommerce vs. Magento

Magento used to be a much tougher competitor to WooCommerce until Magento’s sale. Now, self-hosted Magento is going away. If you run an enterprise site, then scalability will likely make your choice for you. You’ll want Magento (or other Enterprise options). If you have a small ecommerce shop, then WooCommerce will be a better option.

WooCommerce vs. OpenCart

OpenCart is well-respected open-source ecommerce software. If you are building a ecommerce store from scratch and you want to host it yourself, then OpenCart is a solid option. However, it is declining in use (and with that, apps & extensions & developers). Unless you have a reason to use OpenCart, WooCommerce will give you access to a larger open-source community.

WooCommerce vs. Ecwid

Ecwid is less an ecommerce solution and more of an “anywhere shopping cart”. You can quickly add it to an existing website (ie, a plain WordPress website) and provide an ecommerce experience of a sort. However, it does not integrate with your backend. You also will have trouble competing for inbound marketing. It’s a good option to quickly add ecommerce functionality to your website without going through the WooCommerce setup process.

WooCommerce vs. Prestashop

PrestaShop is well-respected open-source ecommerce software. If you are building a ecommerce store from scratch and you want to host it yourself, then PrestaShop is a solid option. However, it is declining in use (and with that, apps & extensions & developers). Unless you have a reason to use PrestaShop, WooCommerce will give you access to a larger open-source community.

WooCommerce Review Conclusion

WooCommerce is the best ecommerce solution for 3 types of storeowners –

  • Storeowners with technical resources who want to heavily customize their store or use unique functionality.
  • Website owners who have a content-driven website and want to add-on a complementary, but seamless store.
  • Storeowners who are highly cost-conscious and feel comfortable investing time rather than money into running their own website.

If you fit those buckets, I’d highly recommend checking out the main WooCommerce website and using my guide to setting up your WooCommerce-driven ecommerce store.

If you don’t fit in those buckets, I’d highly recommend checking out a hosted solution. Explore my ecommerce platform quiz here. Or if you are building a small store (a dozen products), explore my online store builder quiz here.

Lastly, be sure to explore my guide to marketing your ecommerce store. So many stores fail, *not* because of platform…but because of a bad marketing plan. Spend as much time planning your marketing as you spend researching your store software.

The post WooCommerce Review: Pros & Cons of Using WooCommerce for an Online Store appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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Find The Best eCommerce Website Builder For Your Business

When opening an online store, one of your most important tasks is finding the right website builder. In truth, selecting the proper software fit for your needs can make or break your whole operation. It goes without saying (but we’ll say it anyway, because it’s our job) that a small online shop offering its own home-based inventory has different software requirements than a large network of websites offering thousands of products sourced from all over the world.

To assist in your search, we’ve rounded up the top ecommerce software contenders. Two of our recommendations (Wix and Squarespace) began as traditional website builders for business or personal use, but have since added ecommerce capability. The others are ecommerce shopping carts at their core but have also made advanced online storefront-building capacity a major feature of the service. These include Shopify, BigCommerce, and 3dcart.

Shopify BigCommerce 3dcart Wix Squarespace

3dcart

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Monthly Cost

$9 – $299

$29.95 – $249.95

$19 – $229

$25 – $40

$26 – $46

eCom Features

Excellent

Excellent

Excellent

Good

Good

Ease Of Use

Very Easy

Easy

Moderate

Very Easy

Easy

Web Design

Great

Good

Good

Excellent

Excellent

Customer Support

Great

Great

Good

Good

Good

In recommending these particular sitebuilders, we should note that our focus is on the DIY end of the website-building spectrum. If, on the other hand, you are confident in your coding skills (or can hire a dedicated developer) and prefer the infinite flexibility of an open-source platform for frontend design and content creation, you might try a CMS like WordPress to use in conjunction with a shopping cart plugin, such as WooCommerce or Ecwid.

However, if you’re looking for an all-in-one, fully-hosted, and simpler-all-around system for online store-building, you’ve come to the right place. The great news for you is that the online storefront creation and editing capabilities of the all-inclusive platforms we’ll highlight in this roundup have only improved over time.

How To Choose An eCommerce Website Builder

If you haven’t shopped for an ecommerce platform before, the first step is to become oriented with this type of software so you know what you’ll be examining in the first place. Fortunately, each sitebuilder we’ll cover here offers some sort of free trial, so you’ll have the opportunity for hands-on experience with the software before making a final selection.

Here are the main things you should consider when choosing ecommerce software:

Cost

  • Monthly Subscription: Most DIY sitebuilders these days are SaaS (Software as a Service), so check for the monthly cost of each plan level, which features are included at each price point, and any plan limits such as number of products you can list, revenue caps, etc.
  • Per Sale Commission: Some ecommerce sitebuilders charge a percentage commission per sale under certain circumstances, so investigate if and when this extra fee might apply to your store.
  • Add-On Features: Many features may only come as add-ons from an app marketplace. While some add-ons are free, other apps you may want to integrate with your store (like shipping, marketing, or accounting software) are fully-fledged SaaS platforms with their own monthly subscriptions.
  • Payment Processing: You’ll need to connect an online payment gateway to your store — usually a third-party processor like Stripe or PayPal — to accept payments from customers, so check out the available options that work with the platform in your country, and the processing rates charged.
  • Design Template: Some website templates come free with the software, but premium themes typically have a one-time purchase cost.
  • Web Development: While most ecommerce sitebuilders are DIY when it comes to getting things up and running, you may still decide to hire a developer or designer to fine-tune your site at some point.

Website Design

  • Template/Theme Options: Browse the theme marketplace and get a feel for several templates you could see yourself using.
  • Customization Options: Go beyond admiring templates and work with a few yourself. In particular, explore the storefront editing tools that come with the software. Look to see if and how you can move elements within page layouts — there are varying degrees of flexibility in this area.

Features

  • Admin Features: Look at the options for configuring storewide settings such as shipping methods, currencies, languages, tax calculation, and sales channels. Also, consider the ways in which you’ll be able to manipulate the specifications for individual products (pricing, SEO data, discounts, product variants/attributes, etc).
  • Storefront Features: This includes how products are displayed, organized, and marketed to customers on your site, as well as all aspects of the checkout experience.
  • Quantity VS Quality: Just because a certain feature exists, doesn’t mean it’s very robust or will work well for your needs. Similarly, you don’t want to get bogged down with (nor pay for) a bunch of features you don’t need.
  • Fit: Do the available features cater well to your business type, size, location, etc?
  • Scalability: Online stores grow in different ways, so it helps to anticipate how your operation will most likely expand over time. Growth dimensions, like number of products and their variations, number of staff accounts, file storage, revenue, marketing needs, and traffic levels, are often handled differently by different platforms.

Ease Of Use

  • Onboarding & Store Setup: All the software apps we cover in this article falls under a larger umbrella of “easy to get started,” but pay attention in your free trials to exactly how self-explanatory each step is, and to any additional guiding resources that are available.
  • Dashboard Navigation & Feature Manipulation: Check your level of comfort with both finding and manipulating features like inventory and order management, discount creation, etc.
  • Simplicity VS Flexibility: User-friendliness is a good thing, but make sure that the tools you need aren’t so basic that they can’t accomplish precisely what you want them to.
  • Coding Skill Requirements:  In most cases, the basics of admin and storefront customization will be covered without coding, but advanced customization can require advanced knowledge. Do your best to push the limits of non-coding customizability during your trial.
  • Tech Support: Know what resources you’ll have if you get stuck or if something goes wrong with your site. Since online stores operate 24/7, you’ll probably want at least one support channel (email/web tickets, live chat, or phone) that’s open 24 hours.

Between your own testing experiences, perusing the software’s website, reading reviews (like ours!), and interacting with customer service to answer any lingering questions, you should have a very good handle on how a particular sitebuilder will work for your online store before coughing up a single cent in subscription fees.

Now, let’s take a look at some software! We can’t cover absolutely everything we’ve discussed above (check out our full reviews of the software for more info), but we’ll hit some key points to help guide your choice.

1. Shopify

Pricing & Payment Processing

While there is a $9/month Lite plan with Shopify, you’ll need to sign up for the Basic plan ($29/month) or higher to build a full ecommerce website using the software. As you continue upward in plan level, you’ll see a few added features and the option to increase your number of staff admin accounts. Here are the subscription options:

  • Shopify Lite: $9/mo. Embeddable cart, but no standalone store website.
  • Basic Shopify: $29/mo.
  • Shopify: $79/mo.
  • Advanced Shopify: 299/mo.
  • Shopify Plus: Custom pricing. Reserved for enterprise-level customers.

You have over 100 gateway possibilities for accepting payments from your customers with Shopify, but note that if you don’t use the in-house option — Shopify Payments, powered by Stripe — you will be charged an extra Shopify commission per sale of up to 2% on top of the card processing fee from your payment gateway. On the flip side, if you do use Shopify Payments, you’ll receive a processing discount (i.e., pay less than the going rate for Stripe on its own) on the Shopify and Advanced Shopify plans.

We’ve put together a complete breakdown of Shopify Payments, and I’d definitely recommend reading that before you sign up for Shopify. For now, just remember that you’ll face an extra transaction fee from Shopify if you don’t use Shopify Payments.

Shopify also has one of the most extensive app stores you’ll find among SaaS ecommerce platforms. This can be a great resource for your store, but be careful to take the added cost of the apps you might need under consideration as you evaluate pricing.

Ease Of Use

Shopify users appreciate how easy it is to jump right in and start selling with the software. Once you open your free 14-day trial, your dashboard guides you toward a few steps to begin setting up your store:

Our tests of both admin navigation and individual feature manipulation have demonstrated that everything is easy to find and use. If you do run into problems, Shopify offers phone, email, and live chat support 24/7 at all subscription levels — a rare support trifecta amongst ecommerce website builders. The company has also curated an impressive library of self-help articles, videos, and even full online courses. All in all, Shopify earns an A+ for user-friendliness.

Web Design & Editing

Theme Options:

Choose from 10 free themes (made by Shopify) or 60 paid themes for $140-$180, most with multiple style variations. Even the free themes are good quality, and I’m always struck by the pleasant experience of shopping in the theme store. When a shopping cart platform is good at showcasing its own products, this gives me confidence in its ability to serve the needs of ecommerce sellers who are trying to accomplish this exact same task with their own products.

Editing Tools: 

To move elements around on your site’s pages, you’ll have access to a drag-and-drop tool called “Sections.” It’s not as flexible as the visual editors from traditional sitebuilders like Wix and Squarespace, which allow more freedom of placement, but you can at least add, subtract, and change the order of elements. You can also change fonts and colors under “Theme Settings.”

If you wish to further customize your theme, you’ll need to learn Shopify’s own templating language called Liquid. This open-source language is written in Ruby and is the backbone of Shopify templates. Of course, you may not need to further code your Shopify theme at all — we just always like to include the heads up in case.

Features

While Shopify has a strong, highly-capable core feature set, advanced features often come as add-ons (even free ones) to keep the base platform streamlined and easy to use. Here are some of the Shopify features we like:

Admin

  • Unlimited products, bandwidth, and storage on all plans
  • Built-in shipping software (Shopify Shipping)
  • Manual order creation (virtual terminal)
  • Shopify POS & other POS integrations
  • Extensive order fulfillment & dropshipping integrations
  • Extensive sales channel & marketplace integrations (eBay, Etsy, Amazon, Google Shopping, etc.)
  • Mobile store management via Shopify App

Storefront & Checkout

  • Checkout on your domain
  • Real-time shipping calculations
  • Automatic tax calculation
  • Coupons, discounts & gift cards
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Expedited checkout with Shopify Pay

Along with the features we’ve highlighted above, check individual templates for special storefront features such as parallax scrolling, customer testimonials, social media feeds, and more.

Best Fit

From an overall software quality standpoint, it’s hard to go wrong with Shopify. This platform remains our default recommendation for the typical online seller who wants to quickly launch an attractive and functional store, but who also hopes for a scalable solution that easily accommodates growth in product listings and store revenue. As far as shopping cart software goes, it’s also one of the easiest platforms to use.

Shopify not-so-subtly guides you toward using Shopify Payments as your processor by rewarding you with reduced processing fees if you do and punishing you with an extra commission per sale if you don’t. If you’re not in one of the 10 locales currently supported by Shopify Payments or don’t qualify to use the processor for another reason (such as risk level or type of products sold), you should probably take a closer look at some of the competing ecommerce platforms as well.

2. BigCommerce

Pricing & Payment Processing

Each bump in subscription level with BigCommerce gives you added features, but also implements annual revenue caps. Meanwhile, BigCommerce never charges an additional commission per sale, regardless of which payment processor you choose. You’ll have around 60 payment gateway options, one of which is Braintree (a division of PayPal), which gives access to discounted processing rates as you move up the BigCommerce subscription ladder.

Here are the plans, all of which allow you to create a full ecommerce storefront:

  • Standard: $29.95/month (sell up to $50K/yr.)
  • Plus: $79.95/month (sell up to $150K/yr.)
  • Pro: $249.95/month (sell up to $400K/yr.)
    • add $150/mo. for every additional $200K/yr. in sales, up to $3M
  • Enterprise: Custom pricing

BigCommerce also offers an app store with hundreds of connections to ecommerce-related software and feature plugins. While this platform attempts to include a few more native features than Shopify, you should still be aware of the cost of additional integrations purchased through the app marketplace.

Ease Of Use

BigCommerce offers a 15-day free trial (probably just to one-up Shopify by a day). The admin dashboard you’ll encounter upon signup is arranged in a standard ecommerce fashion — navigational menu on the left, tips to get started on the right:

I would qualify BigCommerce’s backend as quite intuitive to use, although you might find it slightly more complex and detailed than Shopify’s interface. Part of this comes down to personal preference and experience, though. If you happen to run into a snag, BigCommerce offers 24/7 phone, email, and live chat support at all plan levels, as well as good documentation and community forums.

Web Design & Editing

Theme Options:

With over 120 themes (and multiple style variations per theme) available at the BigCommerce theme marketplace, you’re bound to find a good match for your store. Seven of the themes are free, and the rest range from $145 to $235 each.

Editing Tools:

Theme editing with BigCommerce is more restricted than with Shopify. The visual editor (now called Store Design) lacks a drag-and-drop component, for example. In other words, you should carefully choose a template you really like, because you are stuck with its basic format. Alternatively, you can add a page builder app from the marketplace with drag-and-drop capability, but just be careful to factor in the added cost. You can also make customizations with HTML and CSS if you’re skilled in these areas.

Features

As always, check which features are included with each subscription level (and which come as apps), but take a look at a few of BigCommerce’s standout features:

Admin

  • Unlimited products, storage, & bandwidth
  • Unlimited staff accounts
  • Sell digital and service-based products without adding an app
  • Support for numerous product variations
  • Manual order creation & editing (virtual terminal)
  • Square POS integration
  • Marketplace integrations (Amazon, eBay, etc)
  • Shipping label printing (USPS) and discounts
  • Complimentary Avalara AvaTax account
  • Customer segmentation with loyalty program capability
  • Multiple SSL certificate options (shared, dedicated, custom)

Storefront & Checkout

  • Single-page checkout
  • Real-time shipping quotes
  • Product ratings & reviews
  • Coupons, discounts, & gift certificates
  • Faceted/filtered product search
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Public & private wish lists
  • Recently viewed products
  • Akamai Image Manager & Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)  for mobile-friendliness
  • Integrate consumer financing options at checkout

Best Fit

BigCommerce strikes a good balance between ease-of-use and powerful out-of-the-box functionality, which we think a lot of online sellers will appreciate. Individual feature quality is also quite robust. Like Shopify, BigCommerce works for a wide variety or catalog sizes and scales well. However, if you have a nuanced catalog with a lot of product variations or custom fields, and like being really hands-on with your product SEO, you might be drawn to BigCommerce.

BigCommerce is also a great option to consider if you want or need the freedom to choose a payment processor without the “threat” of extra transaction fees if you don’t select an in-house option. If you’ve already looked at Shopify but need more flexibility when it comes to payments, definitely check out BigCommerce as an alternative.

3. 3dcart

3dcart

Pricing & Payment Processing

3dcart shares pricing structure components with both BigCommerce and Shopify. Like BigCommerce, 3dcart subscription packages have revenue caps. Another similarity is that 3dcart never charges its own fee per sale (and over 160 compatible payment gateways are available, some with discounted processing rates at higher subscription levels).

Like Shopify, you get more staff accounts at each 3dcart level. And, like both Shopify and BigCommerce, each step in plan offers a few additional features.

Do also note that the Startup plan with 3dcart has an item limit of 100 products. Here’s a quick pricing summary:

  • Startup: $19/month (sell up to $50K/yr and list 100 products.)
  • Basic: $29/month (sell up to $100K/yr.)
  • Plus: $79/month (sell up to $200K/yr.)
  • Pro: $229/month (sell up to $400K/yr.)
  • Enterprise: Custom

For building a complete online storefront with the software, 3dcart comes in at a lower starting price than both BigCommerce and Shopify (at just $19/month). You’ll also note that the 3dcart $29 plan accommodates twice the annual store revenue of the $29.95 plan on BigCommerce. For these reasons, 3dcart is often considered a less expensive choice.

3dcart boasts a lot of built-in features, but watch out for the ongoing monthly cost of software integrations for shipping, accounting, and other services available in the 3dcart app store.

Ease Of Use

3dcart also comes with a free 15-day trial (and if you think everyone’s just copying each other on this, 3dcart has been around the longest!). The dashboard functions just like those of the other two ecommerce platforms we’ve discussed so far, but some advanced features are built-in modules you must find and turn on to use.

While 3dcart is easy to use, it is definitely more complex and layered than Shopify or BigCommerce. You may find, however, that you appreciate the flexibility and advanced capability of 3dcart’s features. Tech support is available 24/7 via phone, live chat, and email, but note that you must be on the $29/month plan to access phone support. The community forums are also helpful, and the knowledgebase provides step-by-step articles on most of the important features.

Web Design & Editing

Theme Options:

3dcart offers just shy of 50 themes in its marketplace, and close to half are free. The rest are $150-$200.

Editing Tools: 

If you want to customize your theme, you can make color, content, and some typography changes in the visual editor, but more significant changes require tweaking HTML and CSS. In other words, there is no drag-and-drop capability. My overall hunch is that 3dcart expects most users to eventually tinker with the code if they really want to hone their designs.

Features

Below is just a sampling of 3dcart’s features — be sure to check the website for the full breakdown by plan:

Admin

  • Unlimited product options/variants
  • Inventory & order management
  • Dynamic, unlimited product categories
  • Return management
  • Manual order creation & editing (virtual terminal)
  • Advanced SEO tools
  • Create/print shipping labels from multiple carriers
  • Multichannel selling
  • Email marketing & drip campaigns
  • Unlimited email hosting
  • Built-in CRM
  • Built-in iPad POS software (or integrate with Square POS)
  • Built-in B2B selling features

Storefront & Checkout

  • Single-page checkout
  • Real-time shipping calculations
  • Gift certificates (on all plans)
  • Wide variety of discount/coupon types
  • Daily & group pricing deals
  • Make-an-offer pricing
  • Offer financing options
  • Wish lists & gift registries
  • Reviews & product Q&A
  • Waiting list & pre-orders
  • Gift wrap
  • Loyalty program & rewards points
  • Abandoned cart recovery

Best Fit

In some ways, we’ve been climbing up the ladder of built-in complexity as we’ve progressed through this software roundup so far. The tradeoff between simplicity and flexibility starts to lean more noticeably toward the flexibility side when we arrive at 3dcart. I think it’s safe to say that 3dcart works well for users who are perhaps not coding experts, but still fancy themselves on the generally tech-savvy end of the spectrum. While still easy to use in the grand scheme of things, this platform requires a bit of initiative on the part of the user to take full advantage of what it has to offer.

Starting at just $19/month, 3dcart is also a cost-effective option for sellers on a tight budget who still require workhorse-style ecommerce software underpinning their websites (versus a traditional website builder with added ecommerce capability). Speaking of budgets, 3dcart is also a great option for sellers who may feel Shopify’s software is a good fit, but are stuck with an extra transaction fee because they can’t use Shopify Payments. With well over 100 options at 3dcart, you’re bound to find a compatible processor that suits your needs.

4. Wix

Pricing & Payment Processing

To create an ecommerce website with Wix, you’ll need to sign up for one of the “Business” plans designed for online sellers. As is common with traditional website building software, Wix advertises a monthly price for plans when paid annually, rather than a true month-to-month price. We like to focus on with the month-to-month price, so you can better compare between platforms:

  • Business Basic: $25/month (20GB storage)
  • Business Unlimited: $30/month (35GB storage)
  • Business VIP: $40/month (50GB storage)

If you decide to pay annually, the above prices drop to $20, $30, and $35, respectively. (To be fair, all the platforms in the article offer some type of discount for paying annually — it’s all a matter of advertising strategy). The package levels are defined by file storage, customer support, and whether or not email marketing campaigns are included. 

Wix never charges an extra commission per sale, regardless of which of the close to 20 gateway options you select for accepting payments.

As we’ve mentioned with the other software platforms we’ve discussed so far, you may want to add some apps to expand what your site can do. Wix apps often have both free and premium versions, so just confirm which type will work for your store so you can accurately calculate your true monthly costs.

Ease Of Use

You can dive right in and start testing Wix for free as long as you’d like — you just can’t start accepting payments through your store until you sign up for a paid plan. At that point, you have 14 days to cancel and receive a full refund on your subscription fee if you change your mind.

There are two ways to get a site started with Wix. You either let Wix ADI (Artificial Design Intelligence) create a website for you by asking you a series of detailed questions about your business, or you select a pre-made template and go from there. Either way, the ecommerce portion of your site is built on the Wix Stores app, which seamlessly integrates into the rest of your dashboard:

The backend ecommerce features of Wix are very easy to use, if sometimes not quite as powerful or flexible overall as the features of the other shopping cart software we’ve discussed so far. Wix actually takes user-friendliness to a whole new level by incorporating several visually-engaging interfaces that carefully hold your hand through important processes such as setting up email campaigns, creating discounts, configuring SEO for your site, and more. On a personal note, I really enjoy using Wix for this reason.

If you still need extra help, phone support is available Monday-Friday from 5AM-5PM PT on all plans, or you can submit an email ticket 24/7. Online self-help resources are good quality, but not as extensive in the ecommerce department as those you’d find for a platform like Shopify.

Web Design & Editing

Theme Options:

Approximately 80 templates offered by Wix are built upon the Wix Stores app, but it’s easy to add the app to any of the 500 or so templates offered. Happily, all templates are included free with a Business subscription to Wix. And, as you might expect from a platform that specializes in frontend design, your options are very elegant and modern.

Editing Tools:

While you can’t switch templates midstream with Wix, you have loads of flexibility in customizing what you’ve chosen. The drag-and-drop capability of Sections in Shopify pales in comparison to the “place anything anywhere” possibilities with Wix. Use the gridlines as a guide to ensure your site is mobile-friendly, and away you go:

If, on the other hand, you decide to have your base website constructed for you using Wix ADI, you’ll have access to a theme editor that’s more in line with Shopify’s drag-and-drop system:

I think one common path to design customization with Wix is to have Wix ADI create a base site to begin with, and then shift over to the more flexible Wix Editor for fine-tuning. You just can’t go back to Wix ADI and its simpler editor once you’ve made the switch.

Features

Once again, we’re just including a sampling of key features here. Most of those listed below are available on all three Wix Business plans:

Admin

  • Unlimited products & bandwidth
  • Sell physical, digital and service-based goods
  • Up to 6 options and 300 variants per product
  • Inventory & order management
  • Send & manage invoices
  • SEO tools
  • Track traffic with Google Analytics
  • Personalized email address that matches your domain/brand
  • 20 email marketing campaigns (100,000 total emails/mo) included in subscription
  • Customizable, automated email & chat responses
  • Mobile app for store management
  • Integrate with Square POS
  • Free stock photo library

Storefront & Checkout

  • Checkout on your own domain
  • Offer discounts & coupons
  • Customizable product sorting & filtering
  • Customer login/member area
  • Multilingual storefronts
  • Multifunctional sites (including bookings, event management, restaurants, etc)
  • Live chat with customers
  • Advanced frontend design features

Best Fit

We love Wix as a solution for stores with aesthetically-nuanced products. as well as for brands that highly prioritize visual quality and uniqueness overall. Those who feel boxed in by the somewhat limited design customization options of ecommerce platforms like Shopify will appreciate the freedom to fine-tune everything about the look and feel of their online storefronts, as well as their communication and marketing materials — all without touching a line of code. And, for those who want a visually-unique site with minimum effort, Wix ADI can hold your hand every step of the way.

If you are thinking of scaling to offer a very large number of products, or wish to significantly expand your shipping and fulfillment needs over time, Wix probably isn’t your best choice. Meanwhile, we think a lot of multifunctional businesses (like hotels, restaurants, photographers, artists, musicians, bloggers, etc.) who also want to sell a few products online will love the seamless integration of a native ecommerce app into their dashboards.

5. Squarespace

squarespace

Pricing & Payment Processing

Similar to Wix, Squarespace leads with pricing figures that assume you’ll pay for a complete year at a time. Adjusted for true-month-to-month costs, here are the Squarespace plans with fully-integrated ecommerce functionality:

  • Business: $26/month
  • Commerce Basic: $30/month
  • Commerce Advanced: $46/month

There’s a pretty big jump in the number of features between the Business and Commerce Basic plan, and a smaller jump in available features to Commerce Advanced. Another difference between the Business Plan and the two Commerce plans is that the Business plan comes with a 3% Squarespace commission per sale. If you’re serious about creating an ecommerce website with Squarespace, it will likely be worth it to have a Commerce package for the additional ecommerce-specific features and the elimination of the extra transaction fee. Meanwhile, you only get two payment gateway options with Squarespace (Stripe and PayPal), which will also charge their own transaction fees.

Squarespace doesn’t have an app store — any third-party integrations come already connected to your store. However, when activating one of these connections, you should be aware that some of them do have premium versions with ongoing monthly costs. ShipStation and MailChimp are two good examples.

Ease Of Use

Squarespace offers a 14-day free trial. If your trial expires before you upgrade and you haven’t made up your mind yet, you can simply create another trial site under the same registration email.

Before you reach the dashboard, you’ll need to select a template (but you can change it later). You’ll see a few ecommerce-geared options first if you enter “to sell” something as your site’s purpose. Unlike any of the ecommerce sitebuilders we’ve discussed so far, your admin dashboard incorporates a frontend preview on the right:

I find it a little difficult to start adding products with Squarespace — you have to create a separate product page first, and the software doesn’t do a great job explaining this. Once you conquer this initial hurdle, however, the overall learning curve for ecommerce functions is relatively small.

I also like all the direct links to applicable support articles within the dashboard that guide you directly to the right knowledgebase article if you become stuck. Squarespace email support responds 24/7 and is quite effective, but the tradeoff is that there’s no phone support offered. Meanwhile, live chat is available Monday-Friday 4AM-8PM Eastern time.

Web Design & Editing

Theme Options:

Squarespace offers approximately 90 themes grouped into 21 families. Since you’ll eventually be adding some sort of product page no matter what, any of them can be used for ecommerce, even though some are specifically suggested for online stores.

As far as traditional website builders go, the sheer variety of templates is low, but the quality is high. We’re looking at a carefully-curated selection of polished, classy, streamlined designs offered by Squarespace:

Editing Tools:

Squarespace lands somewhere in between Wix and Shopify when it comes to the amount of freedom you have to drag-and-drop page elements. You can add and arrange large sections up and down each page, insert various types of “content blocks” (including spacers and lines), and adjust the alignment of pieces within those blocks to a certain extent. Fonts and colors are also adjustable, but often exist as site-wide style settings in order to maintain a unified look.

In summary: Squarespace offers more no-code design flexibility than Shopify and less than Wix. However, if you’re comfortable adding CSS to your site, there’s an easy CSS editor available.

Features

Below are some Squarespace features that caught my eye. A handful of these features (i.e., abandoned cart recovery, gift cards, and subscription payments) are only available on the Commerce Advanced plan. Always check the full and most complete breakdown by plan on the company website!

Admin

  • Unlimited products, bandwidth, and storage
  • Sell physical, digital, and service-based products out-of-the-box
  • Unlimited staff contributors on all ecommerce plans
  • G Suite integration (full year free)
  • Shipping & accounting integrations
  • Inventory & order management
  • Set store manager permissions
  • Mobile app for store management
  • Logo creation software
  • Commerce analytics & reports
  • Advanced image/photo management & editing

Storefront & Checkout

  • Checkout on your domain
  • Customizable checkout forms
  • Promotional banners & pop-ups
  • Offer gift cards
  • Offer subscriptions to products & services
  • Accept donations
  • Offer coupon codes and discounts
  • Real-time shipping rates from multiple carriers
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Guest checkout & customer accounts
  • Express checkout for single-product stores

Best Fit

The target audience for Squarespace amongst ecommerce website owners overlaps significantly with Wix’s demographic. Both sitebuilders are great for smaller product catalogs with visual interest, but Squarespace is nice if you specifically want a posh, classy, or even minimalist vibe for your store. This sitebuilder is also great for those who enjoy the freedom to easily tweak a design but don’t feel hemmed in by a bit of built-in structure for ensuring a consistent style overall.

As far as standard ecommerce features go, it’s a tough call between Wix and Squarespace. The two platforms take a slightly different approach, so you’ll have to decide which features are a priority to you. For example, if you want an abandoned cart recovery tool and the ability to connect with popular third-party apps like accounting and shipping/fulfillment software, Squarespace will suit you better. I’d recommend skipping over the Business plan and going straight for one of the Commerce plans if you’re at all serious about selling.

Quick Pricing Comparison

Before I share my final thoughts on choosing the best ecommerce website builder for your store, here’s a quick rundown of the monthly subscription costs for each of the platforms we’ve discussed:

Pricing Levels Differences Btwn. Levels

Shopify

Lite: $9/mo.

Basic: $29/mo.

Shopify: $79/mo.

Advanced $299/mo.

Plus: Custom

  • Available features
  • Number of staff accounts
  • Shopify’s commission per sale

BigCommerce

Standard: $29.95/mo.

Plus: $79.95/mo.

Pro: 249.95/mo.

Enterprise: Custom

  • Available features
  • Annual store revenue

3dcart

Startup: $19/mo.

Basic: $29/mo.

Plus: $79/mo.

Pro: $229/mo.

Enterprise: Custom

  • Available features
  • Annual store revenue
  • Number of products
  • Number of staff accounts

Wix

Business Basic: $25/mo.

Business Unlimited: $30/mo.

Business VIP: $40/mo.

  • Storage
  • Customer service
  • Available features

Squarespace

Business: $26/mo.

Commerce Basic: $30/mo.

Commerce Advanced: $46/mo.

  • Available features
  • Squarespace’s commission per sale

Remember that traditional website builders like Wix and Squarespace typically lead with “when paid annually” pricing, so we’ve adjusted the figures to reflect the cost if you pay month-to-month. All five services offer some sort of discount if you pay for at least a year upfront.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve made it this far, I hope you’re excited about test-driving one or more of these ecommerce website builders. My guess is that you’ll probably figure out if you’re in the Shopify/BigCommerce/3dcart or the Wix/Squarespace camp first, but there’s no reason you can’t check out both types of software.

That said, anyone planning to scale their product and sales numbers dramatically over time should probably stick with one of the three ecommerce workhorse platforms. There’s a reason sitebuilders like Wix and Squarespace cap their ecommerce plan subscriptions at under $50/month, while platforms like 3dcart, BigCommerce, and Shopify can charge upwards of $200 per month for their best ecommerce packages. You’re usually paying for a larger quantity and better quality of features that help you manage the complicated logistics of selling online.

It’s a safe bet, in this case, to use pricing as a general guideline for the ability to shore up and scale your backend functions as your store grows by various dimensions. Still, Wix and Squarespace would not be included here at all if they weren’t both excellent options for smaller stores.

The thing that’s hard to nail down in a summary article like this is the quality and usefulness of the features you’ll need for your store. By listing a few highlights for each sitebuilder, we’re just giving you a flavor of the software. While we can confidently say that all the platforms in this article cover the “basics” of running an online store, that assurance is no substitute for your own experience. If you’re still stuck or confused after your research and testing, turn to the platform’s customer service and sales support for clarification. You need a good excuse to put those support systems to work before signing up anyway, so go for it!

Happy software testing!

Shopify BigCommerce 3dcart Wix Squarespace

3dcart

Review Visit Site

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Monthly Cost

$9 – $299

$29.95 – $249.95

$19 – $229

$25 – $40

$26 – $46

eCom Features

Excellent

Excellent

Excellent

Good

Good

Ease Of Use

Very Easy

Easy

Moderate

Very Easy

Easy

Web Design

Great

Good

Good

Excellent

Excellent

Customer Support

Great

Great

Good

Good

Good

The post Find The Best eCommerce Website Builder For Your Business appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Best eCommerce Platforms For Your Small Business

Selecting the best ecommerce platform for building your online store can be tough. I find it helpful to keep in mind that shopping for this type of software is similar to shopping for any other product (you just happen to be shopping for shopping cart software, which I’ll grant is slightly strange). You ultimately need your ecommerce software to do two primary things: to serve your particular online selling needs, and to accomplish this for an affordable price.

If you’ve heard of any ecommerce software up to this point, you’ve probably heard of a platform called Shopify. Shopify often receives top billing in this category, and with good reason. Still, it’s by no means the perfect solution for everyone. Along with Shopify, we’ve compiled a few other great options worth considering in your search for an online home for your store.

Shopify BigCommerce 3dcart Ecwid Wix

3dcart

Review Visit Site

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Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Monthly Cost

$9 – $299

$29.95 – $249.95

$19 – $229

Free – $99

$25 – $40

Core Features

Great

Excellent

Excellent

Good

Good

App Store

Very Large

Large

Moderate

Moderate

Small/Moderate

Ease Of Use

Very Easy

Easy

Moderate

Very Easy

Easy

Web Design

Great

Good

Good

OK

Excellent

Customer Support

Great

Great

Good

Good

Good

From a bird’s-eye view, our main reasons for recommending these platforms are user-friendliness, a solid feature set, and an accessible price. Notice that they’re also all SaaS (Software as a Service) platforms, meaning you are not responsible for downloading, installing, and hosting the shopping cart on your own server. Instead, you subscribe to the service (most often for a monthly fee), and all the hosting and software updates that underpin your online store are automatically handled for you. Easy! eCommerce software has been trending in this direction over the past several years, and the available SaaS options have only become more robust and customizable over time.

What To Look For In An Ecommerce Platform

Before we discuss the individual recommendations further, here’s a quick overview of the key factors we consider when evaluating ecommerce software:

  • Pricing: How does the monthly subscription system work (what factors determine the different pricing levels), and what are the options/costs associated with accepting payments from shoppers?
  • Features & Add-ons: How strong is the core feature set of the software, and how well can these features be expanded upon using the platform’s associated app marketplace?
  • Ease Of Use: How steep is the learning curve for ecommerce beginners (particularly those without any coding experience)? What is the balance between user-friendliness and the capability of the platform to accomplish both basic and advanced tasks?
  • Web Design: How attractive, modern, and functional are the available theme templates for designing storefronts? What customization options are available, and how robust/flexible are these tools?
  • Customer Support: What is the availability and quality of email, live chat, and phone support for the software, along with any other self-help resources provided by the company and user community?

And, of course…

  • User Reviews: What are real store owners (like you!) saying about the software, both good and bad?

That’s our basic guideline. Now, we’ll take a closer look at each platform, highlighting the main benefits and drawbacks of each one, along with the types of online sellers we think the software typically suits best. We’d definitely recommend reading our full review of each platform before making your final choice. We’ve also posted one-on-one comparisons for several of the platforms if you’d like to check out those in-depth articles as well.

1. Shopify

As mentioned, Shopify is our most commonly recommended ecommerce platform. The combination of strong core features, an exhaustive app marketplace, and high ease-of-use put Shopify at or near the top of most SaaS ecommerce platform rankings.

Pricing

There are technically five Shopify plans, but the three subscription levels in the middle are considered the standard options for most SMB owners needing an online store. The price jumps between the three middle plans are based primarily on additional features and the ability to set up more staff accounts. Here are all five levels:

  • Shopify Lite: $9/mo. Embeddable cart, but no standalone store website.
  • Basic Shopify: $29/mo.
  • Shopify: $79/mo.
  • Advanced Shopify: 299/mo.
  • Shopify Plus: Custom pricing. Reserved for enterprise-level customers.

When it comes to accepting payment from your customers, you should note that this is the only platform on our list that charges an extra commission per sale. This goes above and beyond the normal processing fees you’ll need to pay to your credit card processor. Shopify’s commission decreases incrementally as you climb the subscription ladder: 2% on Basic, 1% on Shopify, 0.5% on Advanced.

You can avoid these extra Shopify transaction fees if you sign up for the in-house payment processor — Shopify Payments (powered by Stripe) — but this gateway is only available in 10 countries. In addition to eliminating the extra transaction fee, Shopify struck a deal with Stripe to offer lower payment processing fees with Shopify Payments than if you were to use Stripe (or a similar processor) by itself. These discounts apply to your processing if you’re on the Shopify Plan or the Advanced Shopify Plan.

Shopify does provide over 100 alternative gateway options. You’ll just be saddled with that extra percentage Shopify charges per sale when you stray from Shopify Payments.

Features & Add-Ons

Shopify is defined by a quality core feature set that works well for a wide variety of sellers. Moreover, Shopify has a very large app marketplace (of around 2500 apps) that will provide virtually any additional feature you might need. If there is one disadvantage to this system, it is that these integrations can add to your monthly operating costs. Meanwhile, merchants appreciate how many of Shopify’s third-party apps are fully-fledged software platforms that are commonly used to support ecommerce, rather than just simple extensions that add a small feature or two (the app store does have those as well, though!)

Here are a few Shopify features we like:

  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Built-in shipping software (Shopify Shipping)
  • Real-time shipping calculations
  • Manual order creation (virtual terminal)
  • Automatic tax calculation
  • Shopify POS & other POS integrations
  • Extensive order fulfillment & dropshipping integrations
  • Coupons, discounts & gift cards

Ease Of Use

Shopify has one of the easiest learning curves in the ecommerce software market. Simplicity is the name of the game for Shopify — it’s clear they’d rather offer the ability to expand the platform’s capability with optional add-ons than to overwhelm the newbie with a complicated dashboard or intricate customization options from the get-go.

The Shopify dashboard is clear and well-organized, and any built-in feature can be manipulated easily with zero coding knowledge.

Web Design

Shopify offers 10 free themes (made by Shopify), as well as 67 paid themes (made by third-parties) that range in price from $140-$180. Technically, the total theme count is a bit higher, because each theme has multiple style variations that swap out colors and whatnot. Shopify themes are some of the more elegant and functional options we’ve seen. As a nice bonus, the theme marketplace can be searched by desired theme features.

While the Shopify theme editor may not be as flexible as that of a top-notch website builder (like Wix), the drag-and-drop editor makes it easy to stack and rearrange page elements, called “Sections.” (Perhaps don’t go quite as far as I did with awkward colors and fonts — just showing you what can be changed):

Beyond the theme editor, you also have the opportunity for more customization with a combination of HTML, CSS, and Shopify’s own theme templating language (called Liquid). Most novices won’t open that coding can of worms straight away, but it’s good to know it’s there.

Customer Support

Shopify offers 24/7 phone, email, and live chat support at all subscription levels. Although no customer support system is perfect, we’ve found Shopify’s responses helpful and timely in the grand scheme. On top of this, the strong community of users and developers currently working with Shopify makes finding resources, reviews, and feedback a breeze. The library of self-help articles, tutorials, courses, and videos produced by Shopify is also impressive.

Who Is Shopify Best For?

If this were a little kids’ recreational sports league, Shopify would receive the “Most Well-Rounded Player” award, if not the full MVP as well. Shopify is suited to the widest variety of store types and sizes. When Shopify works for merchants, it works really well. Store owners who benefit the most from Shopify will most likely be based in one of the 10 countries in which Shopify Payments is available, because that’s the only way Shopify’s extra commission per sale is avoided. However, the quality of Shopify’s platform is strong enough overall that many merchants are willing to accept those extra transaction fees, even if they can’t (or won’t) use Shopify Payments.

Of course, we can’t mention Shopify without also mentioning one type of merchant in particular: dropshippers. Shopify is definitely the dropshipper’s go-to platform.

2. BigCommerce

If you asked most experts at large, they’d probably tell you that BigCommerce is Shopify’s most direct ecommerce SaaS competitor. BigCommerce also has an enterprise solution (BigCommerce Enterprise) that’s comparable with Shopify Plus.

Pricing

Subscription levels with BigCommerce are organized by added features at each level, but also annual revenue caps. This means you’re automatically bumped to a higher subscription once you reach a cap. Here are the plans and their associated sales limits:

  • Standard: $29.95/month (sell up to $50K/yr.)
  • Plus: $79.95/month (sell up to $150K/yr.)
  • Pro: $249.95/month (sell up to $400K/yr.)
    • add $150/mo. for every additional $200K/yr. in sales, up to $3M
  • Enterprise: Custom pricing

Unlike Shopify, BigCommerce never charges an additional commission per sale. For payment processing gateways, you have about 60 options. One of these is Braintree (a division of PayPal), which gives access to discounted processing rates as you move up the BigCommerce subscription ladder.

Features & Add-Ons

BigCommerce has a particularly strong set of native features, while also maintaining a sizable app marketplace for optional add-ons (ballpark 600 in total). The balance of out-of-the-box features versus add-on apps leans more toward the former, especially when compared to Shopify. Offered features include:

  • Faceted (filtered) search
  • Single-page checkout
  • Customer groups & segmentation
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Real-time shipping calculations
  • Product ratings & reviews
  • Up to 600 product options/variants
  • Coupons, discounts, & gift certificates
  • Square POS integration

Ease Of Use

Some may argue that the balance toward more features included from the get-go can make BigCommerce harder to use at first. Personally, I wouldn’t let fears about user-friendliness stop a beginner from using this software. Extensive out-of-the-box features don’t complicate BigCommerce dashboard beyond reason, and the included features are intuitively configurable without any coding knowledge.

Web Design

BigCommerce offers around 125 themes, along with close to 500 total variations (or “styles”) of those themes. Seven of these themes (25 styles) are free; the rest are available for $145–$235. Quality of design is always subjective, but BigCommerce definitely has a wide variety of elegant templates from which to choose.

It’s a good thing this variety and quality of templates pre-exists, because customization options without coding knowledge or adding a separate integration are somewhat limited with BigCommerce. The theme editor lacks a drag-and-drop element, and you’ll be stuck with the theme’s fonts and colors for the most part.

Customer Support

Like Shopify, BigCommerce offers 24/7 phone, email, and live chat support at all plan levels. We’ve had mixed experiences with BigCommerce’s support, but find that more users praise the service than knock it. You can definitely make the argument (and we have) that BigCommerce support is just as good or better than Shopify’s. There are also active community forums and plenty of BigCommerce-produced support materials available online.

Who Is BigCommerce Best For?

The target market for BigCommerce overlaps significantly with Shopify’s. Much of your decision will come down to the appeal and specific fit-to-business of the extra features that come built-in with BigCommerce at your targeted subscription level. For example, I think B2B and wholesale merchants would do well to take close look at BigCommerce’s feature set. Support for more product variants or discount types will be interesting to other sellers. If you’re confident you’ll actually use most of the native features BigCommerce offers, you could definitely end up saving money and headaches. You’ll just need to be prepared for the automatic subscription bumps as your revenue grows.

Perhaps the most obvious appeal for BigCommerce is the freedom to choose your payment processor with no penalty of an extra transaction fee. That extra cut Shopify takes from your sales feels especially unfair if you’re not even based in one of the 10 countries where Shopify Payments is supported.

By the same token, maybe you already have a merchant account and/or payment processor that you like, or are looking for a specialized payment processor for your particular sales volume and/or risk profile. We often recommend merchants processing over around $100K per year look into credit card processors that offer your own dedicated merchant account with interchange-plus pricing. These accounts can provide more transparency and account stability (and often cost savings) than a standard flat-rate processor like Shopify Payments, PayPal or Square. With BigCommerce, your payment acceptance options are quite open.

3. 3dcart

3dcart

This platform has been around longer than any other on our list, and I’d actually heard of it before I’d even heard of Shopify. Over the years, 3dcart has developed a substantial and nuanced core feature set and continues to add and improve features at a steady clip. The software’s low monthly cost, extensive features, and plentiful payment gateway options make it worth a look when opening an online store.

Pricing

Subscription packages with 3dcart are delineated mainly by annual online revenue, number of staff accounts, and available features. You can sell up to 100 products on the Startup plan, while the other plans allow you to list unlimited items.

  • Startup: $19/month (sell up to $50K/yr.)
  • Basic: $29/month (sell up to $100K/yr.)
  • Plus: $79/month (sell up to $200K/yr.)
  • Pro: $229/month (sell up to $400K/yr.)
  • Enterprise: Custom

3dcart comes in at a lower starting price than BigCommerce or Shopify (if you exclude the Shopify Lite plan that doesn’t let you build a standalone store website). At the same time, the $29 plan level with 3dcart accommodates twice the annual store revenue of the $29.95 plan on BigCommerce.

On top of this, 3dcart never charges its own fee per sale, regardless which of the over 160 compatible payment gateways you select. For US merchants, there also are several “preferred” processor options (e.g., Square, Stripe, PayPal, and FattMerchant) that may give you access to discounted processing rates at the Plus and Pro subscription level.

Features & Add-Ons

3dcart prides itself on a rich supply of native, built-in features. We can vouch that the feature set is robust, especially for the price. And, while it’s true that 3dcart has managed to avoid some of the excessive “app creep” from which Shopify suffers, you can still connect with lots of useful third-party software via the app store.

We’ve mentioned that packed-in features can result in sacrificed user-friendliness. 3dcart keeps some of its complexity at bay by offering advanced features and modules that can simply be turned on and off depending on whether you need them.

Here are just a few of 3dcart’s noteworthy features:

  • Unlimited product options/variants
  • Single-page checkout
  • Robust discount/coupon engine
  • Real-time shipping calculations
  • Create/print shipping labels in-dashboard
  • Gift certificates on all plans
  • Wish lists & gift registries
  • Customer reviews & product Q&A
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Waiting list & pre-orders

Ease Of Use

When it comes to actually working with all of 3dcart’s plentiful features, we’re still looking at a user-friendly platform overall. You should just be aware that the learning curve you encounter may be slightly steeper than it is for Shopify (and perhaps BigCommerce as well) depending on your experience.

Like many worthwhile endeavors, 3dcart simply requires you put in a bit more effort in order to get more out of it in the end. The menus go a little deeper, the dashboard screens are more complex, and some advanced functions can be a little tricky to locate and use at first. Still, the basic setup and navigation are comparable to the ecommerce platforms we’ve discussed so far. You won’t need coding knowledge to operate your store.

Web Design

3dcart recently streamlined its entire theme marketplace, resulting in less quantity and more quality. The revamp brought 3dcart into better stylistic alignment with the ecommerce competitors we’ve discussed so far, but we’re still missing a bit of variety and uniqueness amongst the remaining options.

Of the 45 total themes available, about half are free, and more than half were created by 3dcart. Premium themes range from $149-$249.

With 3dcart, you get a very basic theme editor to change out photos and font colors, but you can’t rearrange any page elements:

Beyond these simple changes, you must use HTML and CSS inside the template editor:

Customer Support

Another key reason 3dcart makes our “best” list is the availability of 24/7 phone, live chat, email support. The only subscription that doesn’t offer phone support is the $19/month plan, but you still have the ability to talk to someone in real time with live chat. Support quality and responsiveness receive mixed reviews, but this is typical of all the software apps on our list. No ecommerce solution has cracked the code for keeping 100% of customers satisfied, but we’ll let you know if any of them do!

You’ll also have access to plenty of online resources produced by 3dcart, as well as an active community forum. Just note that while the knowledgebase articles are helpful, they’re sometimes low on screenshots and high on text.

Who Is 3dcart Best For?

We think 3dcart is a solid option for small-to-midsize businesses owners on a budget who still appreciate lots of built-in features. If you’ve experimented with Shopify or BigCommerce and felt a little boxed in when it came to flexibility and customization, and as long as you’re not intimidated by a relatively detail-oriented system, 3dcart opens up options for you. Or, if you’re skeptical of jumping on the Shopify bandwagon just because “everybody’s doing it,” and you balk at feeling hemmed into Shopify Payments lest you pay a penalty, 3dcart may be just the alternative you seek. Not to mention, we appreciate your Maverick spirit!

3dcart has a tried-and-true and even somewhat old school vibe, but without feeling clunky or inflexible. It has managed to stick around amongst an onslaught of newer competitors by quietly improving the quantity and quality of its core offerings over time. Meanwhile, you can still add on plenty of extra features via the app market, or do a bit of template tinkering on your own with basic coding knowledge.

4. Ecwid

Ecwid diverges the most from the software options we’ve discussed so far. At its core, Ecwid is an ecommerce shopping cart plugin (or “widget,” as the name implies) you can embed into an existing website. In this way, Ecwid is similar to WordPress’ WooCommerce, except you can add Ecwid to any website, not just WordPress sites. Ecwid also allows you to create a very basic standalone website and sell up to 10 products — for free! The company claims over 1.5 million users, which is significantly more than Shopify’s 600,ooo. The availability of a free plan likely has a lot to do with that!

Pricing

Subscription levels are organized by several aspects: available features, number of listed products, file storage, customer service access, and number of staff accounts. We’ve described the details of each level in our main Ecwid review, but here’s a quick summary:

  • Free: $0/mo. (10 Products)
  • Venture: $15/mo. (100 Products)
  • Business: $35/mo. (2500 Products)
  • Unlimited: $99/mo. (Unlimited products)

Happily, Ecwid does not charge an additional commission per sale. Along with offering around 50 payment gateway options for your store, Ecwid also has a special partnership with a payments provider called WePay. Together, they created Ecwid Payments, which offers discounted payment processing rates for merchants in the US, UK, and Canada. And, if you accept ACH or direct bank payments at your store (which is cheaper than accepting credit cards), you also qualify for discounted rates on those transactions with Ecwid Payments.

Features & Add-Ons

With Ecwid’s freemium pricing model, you can expect several new features unlocked at each subscription level. The free plan will definitely get you started with a small online store, but we don’t see most serious sellers staying on this plan for long. Fairly basic features such as inventory management, discounts, SEO tools, and access to the Ecwid app store require a paid plan. The Ecwid app store is on the smaller side, but you’ll still find several ecommerce staples in the shipping, tax, and accounting categories. And, don’t forget that if you’re embedding the Ecwid shop widget into another website, you’ll have access to that sitebuilder’s integrations as well.

Noteworthy Ecwid features include:

  • Create & edit orders
  • Several POS integration options, including mobile POS
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Branded shopping app for your store
  • Automatic tax calculations
  • Wholesale pricing groups
  • Mobile store management app

Ease Of Use

Intuitive dashboard navigation and foolproof feature manipulation make Ecwid an extremely user-friendly platform. Ecwid’s ease of use closely rivals Shopify’s. The Ecwid backend was clearly designed with the ecommerce beginner in mind.

Web Design

Remember that Ecwid’s main purpose is to act as a shopping cart plugin for an existing website that already has an established look and feel. That said, Ecwid does provide one theme template for a standalone online store. Here’s my in-progress edit of the starter template:

There aren’t a lot of customizations you can make to this starter website besides adding your own main image, your store name, and your 10 products. If your store is embedded into an existing website, you can purchase a third-party theme that helps your shop tie in with the rest of the site. Basically, unless you’re using the Ecwid Starter Site, web design for your storefront is largely dependent upon whatever existing sitebuilder you’re using.

Customer Support

Availability of customer support with Ecwid depends on which plan you have:

  • Free: Email only
  • Venture: Email & live chat
  • Business: Email, live chat, & phone; 2 hours of custom development (annual plan)
  • Unlimited: Email, live chat, & priority phone support; 12 hours of custom development (annual plan)

Also, note that email and live chat are not open on the weekends, and phone support is on a callback system. Despite these limitations, most users rate the actual quality of Ecwid’s support quite highly. Knowledgebase articles and video tutorials are also good quality.

Who Is Ecwid Best For?

Generally, we think Ecwid is a great option for small-to-midsize sellers. We highly recommend Ecwid for newcomers to online selling — particularly those with an established online presence who simply need to add a store component. If you love the platform your current website is built upon, and you’re already nailing your brand’s image and following, there may be no need to rush off and migrate to an all-in-one “website + ecommerce” system like the ones we’ve covered so far.

If you don’t have a website but would like to dabble in selling a few products online, you could also get an Ecwid starter site going for free while you develop a full-blown website on the side. It’s hard to argue with free! If you’re really on a shoestring budget or you’re just starting out with ecommerce, I’d encourage you to compare Ecwid’s free plan to Shopify Lite (at $9/mo.) to see which system might work best for your needs.

5. Wix

So, Ecwid built an ecommerce shopping cart widget that goes inside other website builders, but Wix is a website builder that actually built its own ecommerce widget (called Wix Stores) to go inside itself. I know, it’s a bit confusing! The point is that Wix began as a traditional sitebuilder, but now has ecommerce capability built in as well. Combining new ecommerce tools with its existing popularity in the no-coding-required-website-design niche, Wix presents quite an attractive (both figuratively and literally) option for online sellers.

Pricing

You may have heard that Wix lets you create a website for free. While this is true, you need a paid plan to use Wix’s ecommerce features. Below are your ecommerce subscription options, defined by file storage, customer support, and whether or not email marketing campaigns are included:

  • Business Basic: $25/month (20GB storage)
  • Business Unlimited: $30/month (35GB storage)
  • Business VIP: $40/month (50GB storage)

We’ve listed the true month-to-month price here, even though Wix advertises its monthly price if you pay for a full year. This drops the prices to $20, $30, and $35, respectively. All of the other platforms we’ve highlighted also offer discounts when paying annually — Wix just leads with these discounted figures in its advertising.

Regardless of which payment processor you choose (there are currently close to 20 options), Wix never charges an extra commission per sale.

Features & Add-Ons

If you choose to build an ecommerce website with Wix from scratch, the core of your site will be built upon the Wix Stores app. If, however, you already have a different type of Wix website (e.g., restaurant, hotel, photography site, etc.) and want to add an online shop, you simply switch to a Business subscription plan and add the Wix Stores app to your dashboard.

Wix is still working on adding some features that are becoming more standard amongst ecommerce platforms (like abandoned cart recovery), but we like a lot of what it has on offer so far:

  • Email marketing
  • Integrate with Square POS
  • Mobile app for store management
  • Send & manage invoices
  • Checkout on your own domain
  • SEO Tools
  • Create discounts & coupons
  • Inventory & order management
  • Library of stock photos for your site

The Wix app marketplace includes hundreds of apps, but not all are ecommerce-specific. You may also notice limited pre-built connections to third-party integrations (shipping and accounting software, for example). These sorts of apps become more indispensable as a store grows, but are not as critical for a store that manages fewer products and orders.

Ease Of Use

Wix Stores integrates seamlessly with the rest of the Wix dashboard. eCommerce features and settings are simply added to the left sidebar menu, like in any other ecommerce platform. Further dashboards open as you explore each individual feature (like adding a product or creating a coupon). Wix is defined in the DIY web design market by its ease-of-use, and this extends to its ecommerce functionality as well.

Web Design

There are actually two ways to design an ecommerce storefront in Wix. The first begins in a familiar fashion — selecting a template.

Wix offers over 500 templates to choose from, with over 70 of these already built upon the Wix Stores app (although you can easily add the app to any template). A nice perk of Wix’s template system is that all are included free with a Business subscription to Wix. The only tricky part is that you can’t switch templates once get your store up and running!

Wix provides the most flexible no-coding-required theme editor of any ecommerce platform we’ve covered here. Rather than simply dragging and dropping elements up and down your pages, you can adjust and place page elements virtually anywhere.

The second (and even easier) method of creating an ecommerce website with Wix is via Wix ADI (Artificial Design Intelligence). If you choose this option, you’ll be asked a series of detailed questions about your business, and Wix will use this information to draft a storefront for you.

Sites created with Wix ADI also have a theme editor available, but this editor’s flexibility is more limited than the standard WIX editor. Nevertheless, it’s comparable to Shopify’s drag-and-drop editor. You can stack and arrange elements up and down your pages.

If you decide you’d like to micromanage your design a bit more after creating your Wix ADI site, you’re welcome to switch over to the more advanced theme editor. You just can’t switch back to Wix ADI without losing your changes.

Customer Support

Here’s a quick rundown of Wix’s customer support channels:

  • Phone: Callback service open Monday-Friday, 5AM-5PM Pacific
  • Email: 24/7
  • Live Chat: None

As you can see, the phone channel is somewhat limited, but we like that you have access to this channel of support on all plans. The Business VIP plan also offers priority support, meaning your emails and callback requests jump to the front of the queue. Wix doesn’t have as thorough a set of self-help resources specifically for ecommerce as some of the other platforms, but the resources it does maintain are well done and useful.

Who is Wix Best For?

Wix may differ from the other ecommerce platforms we’ve discussed, but we see this variety as a very good thing. This platform is a great option for merchants who need a multifunctional (but still user-friendly) website — not just an online store. The way native apps like Wix Stores, Wix Bookings, Wix Restaurants, Wix Hotels, and others weave together to form a seamless dashboard on the backend, plus an elegant web presence on the front end, is really slick.

Speaking of elegance, the other (sometimes overlapping) group of store owners Wix works nicely for are those with a smaller number of visually-detailed products. You’re probably not going to want to run a massive fulfillment and shipping operation with Wix, but small shops with aesthetic priorities are perfect for Wix.

Quick Pricing Comparison

We’ve covered a lot of ground in our comparison of these five good options for building an online store. Before we wrap this baby up, let’s recap the subscription plans for each one, along with the main ways the levels are distinguished from one another. As you’ve clearly seen, pricing is just one component of your final choice, but it’s usually where people start.

eCommerce Platforms Pricing Summary

Pricing Levels Differences Btwn. Levels

Shopify

Lite: $9/mo.

Basic: $29/mo.

Shopify: $79/mo.

Advanced $299/mo.

Plus: Custom

  • Available features
  • Number of staff accounts
  • Payment processing discounts
  • Shopify’s commission per sale

BigCommerce

Standard: $29.95/mo.

Plus: $79.95/mo.

Pro: 249.95/mo.

Enterprise: Custom

  • Available features
  • Annual store revenue

3dcart

Startup: $19/mo.

Basic: $29/mo.

Plus: $79/mo.

Pro: $229/mo.

Enterprise: Custom

  • Available features
  • Annual store revenue
  • Number of products
  • Number of staff accounts

Ecwid

Free: $0/mo.

Venture: $15/mo.

Business: $35/mo.

Unlimited: $99/mo.

  • Available features
  • Number of products
  • Storage
  • Number of staff accounts
  • Customer service

Wix

Business Basic: $25/mo.

Business Unlimited: $30/mo.

Business VIP: $40/mo.

  • Storage
  • Customer service
  • Available features

Final Thoughts

Did you find your ecommerce match? We know it’s a lot to take in at once. The great news is that all of these platforms allow you to test the software before you buy. We’d suggest narrowing down our five suggestions to a couple that look like strong candidates for your store and starting a free trial of each. Test drive all the features you possibly can, work on customizing your storefront, and pepper customer support with questions at all hours. That’s the only way you’ll know which is the best fit, even with our attempts to simplify the decision-making process for you.

Generally speaking, the first three platforms we mentioned (Shopify, BigCommerce, and 3dcart) are quite similar and will work for a lot of the same types and sizes of stores. 3dcart is probably the most complicated and detailed of the three out-of-the-box, and typically requires a bit more out of the user. This is not necessarily bad, though. BigCommerce may be a good middle ground between 3dcart and Shopify, combining ease-of-use with a dense set of out-of-the-box features. And, even with Shopify’s super annoying transaction fees (if you don’t use Shopify Payments), Shopify is still a very solid recommendation — it’s just good software.

Ecwid and Wix each have their own advantages as well, especially for smaller stores. Both are well-designed and user-friendly. Ecwid has an enticing free plan and can be embedded in any existing website, while Wix allows you to develop a particularly elegant and multifunctional storefront using your choice of not one, but two different methods.

We think most small business owners will find a good solution from among these five options. And, we’ll let you in on a rather little-known secret: it’s not the end of the world if you end up needing to migrate platforms. That goes for right now if you’re looking to make a switch, or later if you decide your software isn’t working for you anymore. Nevertheless, you can still head into your decision with the confidence that you’ve done your research and tested the software thoroughly before handing over your credit card. (You’re going to test them first, right? Promise? Good.)

Do you have experience with one or more of these ecommerce platforms? Let us know how you think they compare in the comments. We love feedback from real users like you!

Shopify BigCommerce 3dcart Ecwid Wix

3dcart

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Monthly Cost

$9 – $299

$29.95 – $249.95

$19 – $229

Free – $99

$25 – $40

Core Features

Great

Excellent

Excellent

Good

Good

App Store

Very Large

Large

Moderate

Moderate

Small/Moderate

Ease Of Use

Very Easy

Easy

Moderate

Very Easy

Easy

Web Design

Great

Good

Good

OK

Excellent

Customer Support

Great

Great

Good

Good

Good

The post The Best eCommerce Platforms For Your Small Business appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Accept Credit Cards Online

So you’ve realized you want to start selling online. Good for you! The ecommerce market is certainly booming. But before you can start raking in the money, you probably have a few questions, like “how do I make a website?” and “how do I accept credit cards online?” Here’s the good news: There are plenty of software options and payment processors to choose from! The bad news? There are plenty of software options and payment processors to choose from. So how do you choose?

As always, there’s no one perfect solution for everyone. You need to know your business (and where you want to go with it) and have a rough idea of what you need. If you have no idea where to start, never fear! In this article, we’ll cover some of the basic considerations about accepting credit card payments online, as well as types of payment processors and how to accept credit card payments online with and without a website. We’ll also discuss some of our favorite solutions for ecommerce and provide resources to help you learn more.

5 Questions To Ask Before You Start

It’s really important, before you dive headlong into any kind of financial investment in your business, to sit down and make sure that you know what you want and what you need. I say that a lot, but with selling online it’s especially important to look before you leap because if you get any component of your setup wrong, redoing it will cost time and money.

So before anything, here are some questions to consider:

  1. How technologically savvy are you? Simply put, are you even able to build and maintain your website yourself? If you’re not exactly a technological wizard, your priority should be finding an easy-to-manage solution. You can also outsource tasks you can’t handle yourself, such as design or even data entry for the creation of products. Of course, if you have an ambitious idea and no ready-made solution exists, or you need a lot of customization, you might need a developer who can work with software APIs to create what you need. You can find freelance developers to help out as you go, but the more high-tech you go, obviously, the more you should consider having a full-time developer.
  2. Do you already have a website? If yes, do you like your website? Would you rather abandon it for a better site with more features? If you already have a site and don’t want to go through the effort of creating a new site to sell a handful of products, payment buttons or plug-ins are better options. If you don’t have a site or you don’t mind nixing your current site in favor of something better, shopping cart software might meet the brief nicely. But of course, you don’t need a website to accept payments online. We’ll talk about all of these options more below.
  3. What’s your budget? When it comes to numbers, you need to look at both upfront costs and monthly (or yearly) costs. How much can you spend at the outset, and how much do you expect to be able to afford on a monthly or annual basis? Keep in mind the more technically advanced your website, the more you can expect to pay to build and maintain it. Likewise, the busier your site — the more products you have and the more sales you make — the more you can expect to pay. Don’t forget the tangential costs, such as hiring a designer or a developer, or data entry, and of course, the costs of payment processing itself!
  4. What are you selling? Whether you’re offering digital goods, subscriptions/services, or retail products, look for service providers that cater to your industry so you don’t have to find creative workarounds. Many solutions are generalized for a broad array of merchants, but with add-ons and integrations to make them more tailored. You can also find payment processors and software that offer ready-made specialized solutions and service plans, such as micropayments for merchants who sell low-priced digital goods.
  5. How comfortable are you with handling security features? If you want to sell online, you have to make sure your website is secure. That means ensuring your site is PCI compliant. The more involved you are in the payments process and the more sensitive information your website handles, the more of a burden you are taking upon yourself. Fortunately, many payment processors and other software providers offer solutions to keep your customers’ information secure and reduce your PCI burden — in some cases, you may not need to do anything at all.

Once you’ve got the answers to these questions and a list of the features you need and want, it’s time to actually start looking at your options. One of your primary considerations should be finding a payment processor. However, depending on your business model, you might want to first look at what kind of ecommerce options work for you and then select a payment processor from the available options.

We’ll begin by talking about payment processors and go on to look at what other software or platforms you should explore.

Types Of Payment Processors

No matter how you go about finding a payment processor — choosing a standalone, going with the default processor included with your shopping cart, or choosing a recommended partner from a software provider — you need to consider what kind of business model the processor uses. If you’ve been here before and read any of my other articles, you know that I am talking about the difference between third-party payment processors versus traditional merchant accounts.

Traditional merchant accounts are very stable. It would take a clear violation of either your contract or card network rules in order to trigger an account termination, and you’re unlikely to encounter a hold on funds unless you’ve had a series of issues with chargebacks or fraudulent transactions. However, most merchant account providers expect you to have an established business and a monthly volume of $10,000 in credit card transactions. Plus, setting up a merchant account will typically take a few days. It could take longer depending on how many processors are on your short list and how much negotiation is required.

Third-party processors are not quite as stable as merchant accounts. That’s because instead of issuing separate accounts for each of their merchants, everything is lumped together in one giant, communal merchant account. It takes very little effort to apply for an account with one of these processors, and you can often get approved and set up to accept credit cards online within a day. Factor in no monthly minimum volume requirements and third-party processors provide a great way for new businesses to take payments. However, the trade-off is that you’ll face greater scrutiny and a higher risk for account holds or terminations, often with no warning. Check out our article on how to prevent merchant account hold and freezes to learn how to reduce your risk.

While third-party processors are riskier than merchant accounts, they are a great option for new businesses who don’t know what sort of volume they can expect and don’t have an established history. Even for established businesses, there are some advantages: namely, third-party processors offer predictable, flat-rate pricing, so you know exactly how much you’ll pay. The best merchant account providers typically offer interchange-plus pricing, which, while clear and transparent, doesn’t make it easy to accurately estimate processing because interchange rates vary.

It’s up to you to decide which type of processor is right for your business. I do want to point out that some software companies (ecommerce shopping carts, point of sale solutions, invoice platforms, and more) often build white-label payments into their solutions. These solutions can take the form of third-party processors or merchant accounts, so make sure you investigate before just going with the default processor. In addition to their native payment processing services, most ecommerce software providers support integrations with an assortment of merchant accounts and third-party payment processors.

Square is our top-pick for third-party payment processor. In addition to predictable, flat-rate pricing with no monthly fees or contracts, Square offers a whole suite of seamlessly integrated apps to address in-person and online sales at no charge at all. eCommerce transactions process at 2.9% + $0.30 each.

For merchant accounts, we recommend CDGcommerce, which offers flat-rate pricing and an interchange-plus option depending on the merchant’s payment volume. There are no monthly minimums and no contracts, just a $10 monthly fee. Low-volume merchants will pay 1.95% + $0.30 for most transactions, or 2.95% + $0.30 for premium, corporate, or international cards. Merchants who process more than $10,000/month are eligible for interchange-plus pricing with a 0.30% + $0.10 markup.

Does Your Payment Processor Include a Gateway?

If you want to accept credit card payments online, it’s not enough to find a credit card processor. You also need a gateway. As the name suggests, a gateway is an intermediary software program that transfers the payment data from your website to the customer’s bank to be approved or declined (and then routes the money to your merchant account).

Many payment processors offer gateways as part of their services. For example, PayPal, Square, and Stripe all offer gateways bundled with the rest of their services at no additional cost. CDGcommerce offers its Quantum gateway as part of its services for online merchants.

However, some processors will charge you a setup fee and/or a monthly fee for use of the gateway. While it’s fair and legitimate to charge for this service (especially if you’re being offered other discounts or freebies in exchange), there’s no reason for you to overpay, either. Make sure you know how much a gateway service will cost if it’s not offered for free.

While it’s rare to find a processor that doesn’t include some sort of gateway access, they do exist. In the event that you find yourself leaning toward one of these processors, you can find your own gateway. Authorize.net is nearly universally compatible and reasonably priced, which makes it a good option for most merchants. (Worth noting: CDGcommerce’s gateway, Quantum, also includes an Authorize.net emulation mode to maximize compatibility.)

Want to know more about how payment gateways figure into your ecommerce setup? Check out our article, The Complete Guide to Online Credit Card Processing With a Payment Gateway, for more information.

How To Accept Online Payments With A Website

A website is a pretty integral part of selling online (but it’s not 100% necessary — we’ll look at some alternatives in the next section). As mentioned above, the first question to consider is: Do I already have a website? Then ask yourself: Do I like that website, or would I rather start over completely? Fortunately, there are solutions for both of these scenarios. For existing sites, you can implement payment buttons or seek out a plug-in or extension that supports ecommerce.

Adding Payments To An Existing Site

best templates

If you’ve used a site builder such as WordPress, Weebly, Wix, or Squarespace, it’s fairly simple to implement online payments. Simply check out the sitebuilder’s available third-party apps, extensions, and plugins. If you already know which payment processor you want to use, you can search directly for an available add-on. Otherwise, you can browse and see what options are ready-made for you. These add-ons will allow you to securely collect payment information from your customers as well as manage the order fulfillment process. Do your research and go with solutions from your site builder rather than third parties, if possible. Check reviews of any plugins or extensions you add and make sure they are well supported and any glitches are fixed in a timely manner.

If you run a WordPress site, WooCommerce or Ecwid could be good starter options. WooCommerce is actually a free plug-in to add to your site, with a basic theme and your choice of payment processors. It’s a very modular setup, so you can choose from a mix of free and paid extensions that allow you to customize WooCommerce to your needs. That includes payment processors, subscription tools, the ability to create add-ons (such as gift wrap for products), and more. Most WooCommerce add-ons are charged on an annual basis, which could require more of an up-front investment than a monthly subscription, so be aware of this fact.

Ecwid is another plug-in designed for WordPress. However, it also works on an assortment of other website-building platforms, including Wix and Weebly, Ecwid does offer a free plan for businesses with 10 or fewer products, but for higher-tiered plans you’ll pay a monthly subscription fee. Ecwid supports a wide assortment of integrations, including payment gateways. With higher plan tiers, you also get access to expanded sales channels.

Wix and Weebly’s website builders can be used for blogging, personal portfolios, and any other purposes. They both offer online store modules. Online stores from Wix start at $20/month with no transaction fees and your choice of processors. Upgrading to an eCommerce plan is fairly simple from within the Wix dashboard and won’t require any substantial reworking. Simply add the “My Store” module to your dashboard, make the upgrade, and start creating products.

Finally, there’s Weebly. Square actually bought Weebly in the spring of 2018, so it’s possible we could see Weebly start to favor Square pretty heavily in the future. For now, though, Weebly’s online store plans start at $8/month (on a yearly plan), with a 3% transaction fee on top of your processing costs. The transaction fee drops off with higher-tier plans, leaving just the monthly fee.

The other way to add payments to an existing site is to look for a payment processor that supports customizable payment buttons. A good payment button creator will give you power over the appearance of the buttons as well as the settings for transactions. The obvious, go-to solution for many is PayPal, which offers a pretty powerful array of tools. PayPal’s buttons are a good option whether you are selling a single product or multiple ones. You can set up payment buttons to allow products to be added to a cart or to go directly to checkout. PayPal even allows nonprofits to create a “Donate” button for their site, which can be configured for one-time and recurring donations.

An alternative to PayPal is Shopify Lite, an entry-level solution. For $9/month plus transaction costs (2.9% + $0.30), you can accept payments on your website by adding payment buttons. The plan also includes access to Shopify’s mPOS app and the ability to sell on Facebook (we’ll talk about that option in the next section, too.) And it’s worth mentioning that Ecwid also supports the creation of custom buy buttons.

While adding payments to an existing site is incredibly convenient and often requires little work, you won’t get quite as many tools as you would with a hosted ecommerce software solution. Which brings us to the best solution if you would rather build a new site or have no website to start with:

Building A New Site With Shopping Cart Software

eCommerce software apps, sometimes also called shopping carts or shopping cart software, are hosted, all-in-one solutions to online sales. Adding an ecommerce feature to an existing website requires you to choose a platform, buy the domain, and pay for hosting, but with shopping carts, you’ll get everything in a single package: online sales and product management, hosting, and sometimes even the ability to buy a domain name directly. Typically, shopping carts will also help you centralize control of sales across multiple channels, so that if you sell on social media, on eBay, or through another channel, you can handle order fulfillment through a single platform. That even includes buying postage (at a discounted rate) and printing the shipping labels. Some shopping carts will offer marketing tools or integrations with marketing platforms, as well as integrations with point of sale systems.

As far as payment processing goes, some shopping carts have opted to include their own white-label payments as a default part of their services. One such cart is Shopify, which offers its own Shopify Payments service (read our review). However, this is just a white-label version of Stripe. Be aware that choosing a payment processor other than the default can incur additional fees.

Generally speaking, even if a shopping cart doesn’t offer all of the features you want, you can search the app market for available extensions and integrations to get what you need. It’s worth researching the available add-ons as well as the native software features.

There’s a lot to consider and compare with a shopping cart. Obviously, you can use a sitebuilder such as Weebly or Wix, which both offer eCommerce modules. Then there are ecommerce-exclusive platforms, including Shopify and BigCommerce, which make it easy to build your site and customize the design (and even offer blogging so you can centralize control of your website).

If you want a whole lot of freedom and have coding knowledge, an open-source platform such as Magento might be more to your liking. Open-source platforms tend to be chock-full of specialized features (particularly if they have attracted active user communities) and you have almost limitless control of your site. A closed-source, SaaS platform is certainly a lot easier and more convenient for business owners who are just starting out and want to go the DIY route.

If you aren’t sure what you want, we recommend you start by checking out Shopify and BigCommerce, both of which are affordably priced for new businesses and offer extensive customer support resources. They also both offer multi-channel sales manage so you can sell through your own site and through other platforms but manage all of your orders from a single portal.

If you’re still curious about what makes a great ecommerce platform, check out some of our other resources!

  • The Beginner’s Guide to Starting an Online Store (eBook)
  • Shopping Cart Flowchart: Choose the Right eCommerce Software for Your Business (Infographic)
  • Shopping Carts 101: How to Choose a Shopping Cart for Your Business (Article)
  • Questions to Ask Before You Commit to a Shopping Cart (Article)

Managing Services, Subscriptions & Other Recurring Charges

A lot of merchants, from accountants and other professional service provideres to lawn care and cleaning services, could benefit from being able to automate recurring charges. And of course, the ability to automate charges is essential for SaaS providers and subscription-box sellers.

Generally speaking, the ability to accept recurring payments — for monthly services or subscriptions — isn’t a default option for payment processors or shopping carts, which tend to be retail-focused. However, you can find plenty of solutions that will work with your existing eCommerce setup. For example, Stripe and Braintree both offer extensive subscription management tools along with their payment gateway and processing services. Add-on services such as Chargify, Recurly, and ChargeBee work with a variety of processors. Zoho Subscriptions and Freshbooks also offer recurring billing tools. PayPal offers recurring billing tools for its merchants; Square offers “recurring invoices” but not a lot of advanced customization for subscription billing.

Proper research will be very important when selecting a provider that offers all of the features you need, whether you require metered billing for usage-based online services, the ability for customers to upgrade to a higher tiered plan mid-billing cycle, the ability to offer free trial periods and extend them, or a way to calculate taxes. Tools that automatically update expired cards can also help reduce failed charges and therefore improve revenues and reduce customer loss.

Accepting Online Payments Without A Website

Most people equate taking payments online with having a website. That is the most common option, but you don’t actually need your own website. Let’s talk about a few of the alternatives for how to accept credit cards online.

Creating Online Invoices

You could create your own invoices in Microsoft Office and send them out via email, but then you’ve got to keep track of which invoices have been sent and which have been paid — and you’ve still got to deal with waiting for the check in the mail. Online invoicing solutions can eliminate every single one of these hassles.

Generally speaking, invoicing software is cloud-based, so you can access it anywhere. You can customize invoices and send them via email (or generate a shareable link to the invoice). But unlike old-fashioned invoicing, these invoices include a link to pay directly in the invoice. Your customers follow the link, enter their payment details, and bam! You get paid much quicker.

Depending on which invoicing software you choose, you can get some powerful features. For example, PayPal allows you to enable partial payments on an invoice if you are willing to accept installment payments. Square’s invoicing links up with the platform’s customer database, allowing you to send recurring invoices and even store customer cards on file to make getting paid even easier. Zoho Invoice, which starts at $0/month, also allows for a customer database, as well as project management (so you can generate an invoice based on the number of hours worked). Shopify offers invoice creation within its platform at no additional charge as well — and this feature is even available on the Lite plan.

For most merchants, Square Invoices may be the most appealing, as it’s available with a Square account at no additional charge. However, Shopify’s built-in invoicing will work for merchants who want to sell with or without a website. Merchants who need project management as part of their invoicing should look at Zoho Invoice.

Using Online Form Builders

So you don’t have a website, but you still need to collect user information and accept payment. Online form builders offer an easy way to do both. Plus, you can post links to forms on social media or send them out via email.

Off the top of your head, you might think of Google Forms, which is free to use and quite advanced for a freemium software. However, it doesn’t integrate seamlessly with payment processors. Your best option, in this case, would be to use PayPal’s embeddable buy buttons and include the button in the form’s submission confirmation page as a second step. However, you’ll have to manually reconcile the payment records versus form submissions.

Subscription-based form builders will cost you money but offer far more capabilities than Google Forms, including direct integrations with payment processors/gateways such as PayPal, Stripe, Square, and Authorize.net. Subscriptions generally work on annual or monthly plans, but one option, Cognito Forms, offers an entry-level plan that charges 1% of the transaction amount instead. (Note, that’s in addition to any processing fees.) Other form solutions worth looking into are Zoho Forms and Jotform. Zoho Forms starts at $10/month and includes unlimited forms and up to 10,000 submissions. It integrates with both PayPal and Stripe. Jotform’s paid plans start at $19/month and are limited to 1,000 submissions, but include integrations for quite a few payment processors, including PayPal, Stripe, Square, and even Dwolla. Cognito Forms’ paid plans start at $10/month plus 1% of the transactions and include up to 2,000 form submissions. Integrations include PayPal and Stripe.

And we haven’t even talked about event registration sites. There are a lot of them, but the one many people are likely familiar with is EventBrite. EventBrite allows you to put all the details of your event online and sell tickets — including setting multiple tiers of admission and promotion cards, automatically setting price changes for registration deadlines, and so on. You can even collect marketing data about your patrons, from their zip codes to how they heard about the event. Your event is searchable from within the EventBrite platform, allowing people searching for something to do to discover your event as well. EventBrite does charge fees on top of processing costs, but these can actually be passed onto event registrees, saving you some money at least.

Selling On Social Media

It wasn’t all that long ago that the idea of being able to buy products directly through social media channels was novel and experimental, but nowadays you can create your own online shop through Facebook, or sell on Instagram or even Pinterest.

With Facebook, you just need a Facebook business page to get started. You can choose your payment processor (PayPal or Stripe) and start manually uploading products, all of which have to be reviewed by Facebook before they can go live. An easier option is to link your Facebook shop to an online store builder such as BigCommerce, Ecwid, or Shopify.

Shopify is actually an interesting solution because, while its core offering is an online shopping cart, it offers a “Lite” plan for $9/month that includes access to its mPOS app, buy buttons for a website, and a Facebook store with automated tools to make the process easier. You wouldn’t necessarily have to go through the hassle of building a website with Shopify just to sell on Facebook, but you still get more tools than you would by going through Facebook directly. Check out our Shopify Lite review for an in-depth look at the plan and all its features.

Selling on Instagram requires you to have a Facebook shop (because Facebook owns Instagram) to create what it calls “Shoppable posts.” That shop can be managed directly via Facebook itself, or via Shopify or BigCommerce as one of multiple sales channels. I’d like to point out that Instagram isn’t available as a sales channel with the Lite plan; you’ll need to upgrade to Shopify Basic at $29/month to be able to manage sales via Instagram.

Lastly, Pinterest allows merchants with a business account to create “Buyable pins,” so you can sell from your Pinterest page. Unlike Facebook, where you can manage the buyable pins from the platform, to sell through Pinterest you will need to go through either Shopify or BigCommerce and actually apply for approval before you can start selling.

Shopify Lite is an ideal option if you want to start with Facebook and maybe add buy buttons to a website. You can upgrade to Shopify Basic ($29/month) to get your own site, plus access to Instagram and Pinterest if that appeals to you.

Selling In Marketplaces

Online marketplaces are a good alternative to having your own website if you’re selling retail goods. You don’t have to pay for hosting or invest anything in web design. You simply create your product listings using the tools provided and publish them. Marketplaces allow you to get your products in front of a large audience without you having to build a stream of traffic yourself. However, the trade-offs are that you generally pay more in fees (listing fees, seller’s fees, and payment processing) than you would with your own website, and you have zero control over the design of the site or even how your products are displayed. Generally speaking, you are limited to using whatever payment processing the marketplace offers as well.

A few popular marketplaces include:

  • eBay
  • Etsy
  • Amazon
  • Jet (owned by Walmart)
  • Ruby Lane

Accepting Payments Through Virtual Terminals 

The final alternative is a bit of a stretch, I’ll admit, but it can be a powerful tool for some merchants. A virtual terminal is a web portal where you can manually enter credit card information to process a transaction. (There’s the stretch: VTs require an internet connection, so they’re technically online payments.)  Virtual terminals are a necessity for merchants who want to accept payments over the phone (or even by mail).

Some payment processors offer a virtual terminal as part of their software package, others as an add-on. These providers include PayPal, Payline Mobile, Square, and Fattmerchant. However, if you want the best value for a virtual terminal, we recommend Square. You pay only the payment processing costs (3.5% + $0.15) and it is interoperable with the rest of Square’s platform.

Beyond Credit Cards: Alternative Online Payment Methods

Credit cards are the go-to for accepting payments online, but they aren’t the only options. For starters, there are ACH bank transfers, which are generally less expensive for merchants to process. They’re often preferred in B2B environments, but some consumers favor them too.

Offering ACH processing as an additional option, especially if you’re in the B2B space, could win you more customers. According to a 2017 Payment Benchmarks Survey by the Credit Research Foundation and the National Automated Clearing House Association (NACHA), ACH transfers currently account for 32 percent of B2B transactions, lagging behind checks, which took the no. 1 spot at 50 percent. Credit cards account for just 11 percent of B2B transactions. By 2020, the survey estimates that ACH will take the top spot and account for 45 percent of B2B transactions.

Despite this, most merchant accounts or even third-party processors don’t offer ACH by default. Some offer it as an add-on plan, others may require you to look for a supplemental option for ACH acceptance.

ACH is far from the only option as far as “alternative” payment processing now, too. Mobile wallets are bridging the gap between in-person and online payments, and card networks have implemented their own online checkout options for cardholders. The major advantage to accepting these options is that they offer an extra layer of security for consumers. For example, Apple Pay on the web still requires biometric authentication before approval.

Some of these alternative payment methods include:

  • Apple Pay on the Web
  • Google Pay
  • Microsoft Pay
  • Chase Pay
  • MasterPass
  • Visa Checkout
  • Amex Express checkout

Apple Pay and Google Pay are fairly widely supported, but you may not see the other options on this list everywhere.

Two noteworthy providers that offer ACH, as well as other alternative payment options, are Stripe and Braintree. However, both are developer-focused platforms, so you’ll need someone with the technical know-how to implement them. Merchant accounts that specialize in eCommerce and provide a solid gateway might offer these options too.

We recommend Stripe because of its extensive developer tools, customizable checkout, and resources for recurring billing. The company also offers round-the-clock customer support (an admittedly recent addition to its feature set). Plus, Stripe is great for international merchants who want to be able to accept localized currencies in Europe and Asia.

Begin Accepting Payments Online

Starting an online store and learning how to accept credit cards online can seem like a daunting task! There are so many factors to consider, but I hope I’ve been able to shed some light on the process and point you in the direction of some good options. A merchant account can give you security and stability, but it may not be the most cost-effective option for low-volume merchants. A third-party processor can get you set up quickly with predictable pricing that often favors low-volume merchants, but the trade-off is account stability. And of course there’s the matter of compatibility: You need to make sure that whatever payment processor you choose offers a gateway compatible with the software (and sales channels) you want to use.

But you also need to have a good idea of what you can afford to spend up front and on a monthly basis and understand your limitations when it comes to technology and software. If you want to go the DIY route, you’ll need to be fairly tech-savvy. Otherwise, be prepared to outsource tasks to designers, developers, and even admin assistants. Some software solutions make it incredibly easy to do everything yourself, others will require lots of hands-on effort to make them work.

If you’re still not sure where to go from here, we recommend you check out our article: The Best Online Credit Card Payment Processing Companies. You can also view our merchant account comparison chart for a quick look at our favorite providers.

Have questions? We’re always happy to hear from our readers, so please leave us a comment!

The post How To Accept Credit Cards Online appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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15 Best Touchscreen POS Systems

touchscreen cash register

Touchscreens are everywhere, and the point-of-sale industry is no exception. Touchscreen POS systems are more intuitive and easy to learn than traditional legacy POS software, and many cloud-based systems employ the same kind of iPad and Android tablets that your employees already use every day at home. Whether you’re running a restaurant, a retail outlet, or another type of business, a modern touchscreen POS system helps keep your sales moving and your business data secure. Besides simple point-of-sale features, most of these cloud-based systems also have advanced reporting capabilities, business management features, and integrations with other popular business software.

Arguably, the only problem with touchscreen point of sale systems is that there are so many different products to choose from. Do you go with a proprietary-hardware solution like Clover, an Android POS system like Toast, an iPad POS like Revel, or an open-source POS like Vend? In my opinion, the most important consideration when choosing a touchscreen POS is not just iPad vs. Android. More important are your industry type, your specific business needs, and user reviews. To help you get started in your search, I’ve put together this list of my favorite highly rated touchscreen POS systems, sorted by industry. Most of these are iPad-based, though I included some Android and open-source options as well.

To make it easier to find the best touchscreen system for your business type, I’ve sorted the following 15 POS systems into restaurant, retail, and hybrid (systems that can be used for either restaurant or retail) categories. Be advised that the order in which I’m listing these excellent systems does not indicate their ranking.

Restaurant POS Systems

The following restaurant point of sale systems can be used by just about any type of food industry business, from drive-thrus to fine dining:

1. Breadcrumb

  • iPad POS for restaurants
  • Pricing starts $99/month/location
  • Must use with Upserve payments (interchange plus $0.15 fee)
  • Multi-location support
  • Online ordering

breadcrumb by upserve pos logo

Cloud-based Breadcrumb POS by Upserve (see our review) is a highly versatile restaurant POS, suitable for full-service restaurants, take-out, delivery, bars, and multi-location eateries. With Breadcrumb’s acquisition by Upserve in 2016 (Breadcrumb was previously owned by GroupOn), the company has expanded its restaurant management infrastructure, making this POS a complete business management system for just about any type of restaurant.

Breadcrumb is not the cheapest restaurant POS in town, but nor is it short on features. Some of the system’s strongest features include table management, employee management, customer management, and tableside ordering. Breadcrumb also recently teamed up with GrubHub to offer online ordering and delivery (at the $249/month/location “Pro” subscription level).

One thing Breadcrumb users really like about this system is that it is specifically designed with restaurant employees in mind. While we find Breadcrumb to be a very solid all-around POS/restaurant management system, a couple potential downsides are 1) you can’t use your own merchant account (you need to use Upserve Payments) and 2) there are occasional issues with outages. Learn more in our Breadcrumb by Upserve review.

2. Toast

  • Android POS for restaurants
  • Pricing starts at $79/month
  • Must use with Toast credit card processing
  • Multi-location support
  • Exceptional customer service

toast pos logo

Android-based Toast POS (see our review) is another robust, cloud-based POS system for restaurants. It can accommodate any size or type of restaurant, and features like tableside ordering, labor management, and inventory management make Toast a force to be reckoned with on both the front and back end. Toast is intuitive and easy to use for servers, while also providing detailed reporting, customer data, and menu options.

Although we love Toast’s strong feature set and the fact that it uses Android tablets instead of iPads (cheaper hardware costs, less of a theft risk), keep in mind that if you want every single feature Toast offers, it’s gonna cost ya. For example, online ordering, table management, delivery management, and gift card support all carry an extra monthly charge. You also can’t choose your own credit card processor to use with this POS and must use Toast’s in-house processor (which Toast users seem to like, at least). What really sets Toast apart from a lot of other cloud-based POS systems, however, is their excellent customer support – an indispensable quality in any POS, given the inherent complexity of a system that lets you take payments, process orders, and manage almost all aspects of your business.

3. TouchBistro

  • iPad POS for restaurants
  • Pricing starts at $69/month
  • Compatible with multiple payment gateways
  • Best for single-location businesses
  • Locally installed system (not cloud-based)

touchbistro POS

Elegant and easy to use, Ontario-based TouchBistro (see our review) has the distinction of being the top-grossing POS Application on Apple’s App Store in over 35 countries. TouchBistro is one of the few systems on our list that, while tablet-based, is not cloud-based; rather, your store data is stored locally on your restaurant’s iPad or Mac.

TouchBistro is not a full “restaurant management system” like Toast or Breadcrumb, but it’s good at what it does, and can readily handle the POS needs of just about any size/type of eatery, from a food truck to a full-service restaurant. Since TouchBistro stores data on local servers, it’s probably best for single-location restaurants (if coordinating data between locations is important to you). Keep in mind, though, that you will need an internet connection to process credit cards.

Some great features of TouchBistro include table management, menu management, kiosk option, tableside ordering, split-payment option, bar tabs, and sales reports. Customer service doesn’t seem to be as responsive as some users would like, though 24/7 support via phone and email is included in the standard cost. TouchBistro is compatible with Mercury, Cayan, Moneris, PayPal and several other gateways.

4. Lavu

  • iPad POS for restaurants
  • Pricing starts at $69/month with annual contract or $79/month without
  • Can use in-house payment processing or BridgePay, Heartland, PayPal, Nets, or Vantiv Integrated Payments
  • Multi-location support
  • Option to install in-house server backup in case you lose your wireless connection

lavu pos logo

Lavu (see our review) is yet another highly popular iPad POS system for restaurants, used in more than 20,000 restaurant terminals across 88 countries.

Lavu is not the most advanced restaurant POS there is, but it is equipped to handle the needs of most small-to-medium restaurants (or cafes, bars, coffee stands, etc.). Some features that make this POS system a hit include its customizable table layout and menus, easy employee management, advanced menu management, and useful integrations. Lavu also has renowned customer service, which is included in the standard monthly fee. You can add both a loyalty program and gift cards onto your subscription for just $40 a month.

Customers have complained about occasional glitches with the Lavu software, but the company releases frequent updates to solve any bugs or complaints. Affordable and highly customizable, Lavu is a strong and growing contender in tablet POS systems for restaurants.

Retail POS Systems

The following POS systems are suitable for retail store establishments, such as clothing boutiques, toy stores, electronics shops, and many others.

5. Lightspeed Retail

  • iPad and web browser POS for retail
  • Pricing starts at $99/month (billed annually)
  • Integrates with Vantiv Integrated Payments (Mercury), Cayan, and izettle
  • Multi-location support
  • Bike rental store add-on

lightspeed retail pos logo

Lightspeed Retail (see our review) is one of the most fully featured tablet POS systems out there for retail. While Lightspeed can support up to enterprise-level size businesses, this cloud-based system is ideal for small and medium-sized businesses that want powerful functionality — think unlimited inventory, integrated eCommerce, work order management, and customer relationship management. Lightspeed Retail also makes it easy to transfer inventory between different store locations.

Lightspeed is among the pricier systems on this list, and various integrations to extend its functionality, such as eCommerce, can make it even more expensive. So, it’s not going to be the right POS every business. But if you want a super robust POS that you can operate from any desktop browser (meaning, you don’t have to buy expensive iPad registers), Lightspeed Retail might just be right for you. The POS is especially suited for apparel businesses but can accommodate virtually any type of retail setup, including rentals.

Note that there are several Lightspeed products in addition to Lightspeed Retail. These include Lightspeed Onsite, Lightspeed Restaurant, and Lightspeed eCommerce.

6. Vend

  • iPad and web browser POS for retail
  • Pricing starts at $69/month
  • Compatible with Vantiv, PayPal, and Square
  • Multi-store support
  • Apple Pay-capable

vend pos logo

Vend (see our review) was actually the very first web browser-based POS system when it was introduced back in 2010. Today, it is still a big force to be reckoned with in the retail POS world, used by more than 20,000 businesses in 100 countries.

Cloud-based and scaleable for retail stores both small and large, Vend uses an HTML5 browser (such as Google Chrome), or an HTML5 iPad app, for all operations. If the internet goes down, Vend can keep operating locally using the cache and will sync back up with the cloud once the connection resumes. Being browser-based means you can run Vend on a PC, Mac, or iPad. Some features on Vend we really like include customer management, eCommerce, built-in loyalty program, inventory management, and a good selection of third-party software integrations. Vend doesn’t have as much functionality as a POS like Lightspeed or Revel – for example, Vend doesn’t have item modifiers – but it is cost-effective and a good choice for a store (or even chain of stores) that doesn’t need every single “business management” feature out there.

Note that Vend’s email support is free, but 24/7 phone support costs an extra $19 per month, unless you have the multi outlet subscription ($199/month billed annually).

7. Shopify POS

  • iPad POS system for retail (Also supports mobile sales on iPhone and Android phones)
  • Pricing starts at $9/month for mobile and Facebook sales, or $54/month to also include Retail Package for in-store sales
  • Integrates with Shopify Payments and many outside processors
  • Multi-store support
  • Instant syncing with your Shopify online store

shopify pos logo

Shopify (see our review) started as an online shopping cart for businesses who wanted an easy way to sell their products online. Eventually, Shopify extended their offering to include a POS system for in-person sales. As you might expect, Shopify POS does a great job integrating online and offline sales for retail businesses that also do eCommerce with Shopify.

Shopify’s pricing structure is a little convoluted, but the most important thing to know is that if you have a brick-and-mortar store, you’ll need to purchase the Retail Package, which costs $45/month on top of whatever other package you select — the $9/month Shopify Lite plan, the $29/month Shopify Basic plan, or another higher-tier plan. The Basic plan plus the Retail Package will cost $74/month and provide pretty much everything most retailers need for both online and in-store sales. You also have the option to get better credit card processing rates at higher price tiers.

Most Shopify POS features are comparable with other top iPad retail solutions, and they have strong customer service too. The thing that really sets Shopify apart is their seamless online/offline sales integration. So, if you already use Shopify for online sales or would like to, this might be the right POS for you.

8. Quetzal

  • iPad POS for independent fashion retailers
  • Pricing starts at $75/month per location
  • Integrates with Evo Payments International, Velocity, CardSmith, National Discount Merchant Services, Vantiv, and Moneris
  • Multi-store support (max. 10 locations)
  • Clothing/shoe matrix

With its exclusive focus on fashion retailers, Quetzal (see our review) is an iPad POS that’s tailor-made (ha-ha) for stores that sell clothing, shoes, and/or accessories. This aesthetically appealing system has a streamlined iOS aesthetic; the interface seriously looks like it could have been designed by Apple itself, and Quetzal even has an iTunes app that lets managers check in on their store from their Apple Watch. Quetzal also uses a compact, sleek register, Star Micronics’ mPOP system.

Of course, functionality is more important than aesthetics when it comes to a POS, but Quetzal doesn’t come up short in terms of function either. We like the clothing/shoe matrix, in-depth sales reports, “tag cloud,” loyalty program, employee leaderboard, and “sales thermometer,” in particular. At only $75/location price is right as well, especially as there is no charge for additional users or terminals. A couple downsides are that after setup and installation, customer support costs extra, and also there is no QuickBooks integration.

While it doesn’t have a huge marketshare of the overall retail POS segment, Quetzal’s niche focus makes it a functional, affordable, and visually appealing choice for emerging independent clothing brands.

Hybrid POS Systems

These POS systems are flexible in that they are equally suited to retail and restaurant environments. Service-based industries such as beauty salons, rental businesses, and hospitality businesses also often use hybrid POS systems.

9. Shopkeep

  • iPad POS for retail and quick serve restaurants
  • $69/month/register ($29/month/register for fourth register and beyond)
  • Integrates with Shopkeep Payments and outside processors
  • Multi-store support
  • Matrix inventory feature

shopkeep pos logo

Shopkeep (see our review) is an affordable and enjoyable-to-use POS system that runs locally from an iPad and syncs data back to the cloud. Shopkeep is used in both retail and restaurant environments, and while it’s more feature-rich on the retail side of things, it will more than meet the needs of most quick-service/coffee carts/food truck businesses.

Some things about Shopkeep we especially like include its comprehensive register functionality, in-depth reporting suite, mobile app to view your business stats on the go, and unlimited inventory matrix (which includes raw goods management). Shopkeep also offers unlimited 24/7 customer support (though premium phone costs an additional $30 per month). This POS integrates with MailChimp for email marketing, QuickBooks for accounting, and BigCommerce for eCommerce.

Shopkeep is a wise choice for a small-to-medium retail business or restaurant that doesn’t need extensive restaurant-centric features like table management. Note that ShopKeep is currently only available on iPad but is in the works to make its service available on the Clover Station via a recent partnership with First Data.

10. Revel Systems

  • iPad POS for retail, restaurants, hospitality, and more
  • Supports numerous payment processors
  • Custom pricing based on industry and individual business needs
  • Multi-store support
  • Ethernet internet connection

revel systems logo

Revel Systems (see our review) is arguably the holy grail of iPad POS systems. Revel is powerful enough that franchises like Cinnabon use it, and flexible enough that it can support businesses in virtually any industry, from brewpubs to gas stations. It’s also the only iPad POS system that offers a “wired” ethernet connection for a faster an more reliable internet.

Revel POS pricing is determined by which industry-specific package you choose, but depending on your needs, you can expect to pay about $80 to $200/month per location. Myriad add-on applications and integrations extend Revel’s functionality to make it do just about anything you can imagine, though this naturally increases the system’s cost as well. Some of Revel’s more impressive features include its kiosk mode, digital menu board, and ability to accept mobile payments (including ApplePay, PayPal, Bitcoin, and others). Because Revel is so powerful and customizable, initial system setup can take a while.

Revel can manage multiple locations and up to 500,000 SKUs. It is optimized for mid-sized businesses, particularly busy quick-serve restaurants that can afford one of the best iPad POS’s money can buy.

11. ERPLY

  • Web browser/iPad/Android/Windows POS for retail and restaurants
  • Pricing starts at $200/month/location
  • Compatible with all big-name payment processors, (though currently promoting PayPal as a preferred processor)
  • Multi-store support
  • Strong inventory features

erply-logo

ERPLY (see our review) originated in 2009 as a retail POS system, though it has eventually expanded support to food service too, now offering food-centric features such as kitchen printing and sell by weight. Whether you run a retail business or restaurant, ERPLY is especially powerful in the inventory management department, with functions like automated ordering, supplier management, and multichannel (online, in-store, phone, email) inventory tracking and transfers.

ERPLY gives you a lot of flexibility as a business owner. Using just about any payment processor under the sun, you can accept traditional swipe, chip card, and mobile payments, including Apple Pay, PayPal, and Android Pay. You also have the option to use pretty much whatever device you want, even without a reliable internet connection, or run ERPLY right from your browser.

It’s actually kind of hard to come up with a feature ERPLY doesn’t have. An open API architecture allows customizability and the ability to develop your own software integrations and customize it to meet your needs (or, have ERPLY make these integrations/customizations for you). Being such a versatile piece of software, it’s one of the pricier cloud-based POS systems. If you have a larger or franchise business, or you just want the flexibility and horsepower this system offers, you might try ERPLY out for size.

12. talech

  • iPad POS for retail and restaurants
  • Standard subscription is $62/month/location (billed annually upfront)
  • Compatible with multiple payment processors
  • Multi-store support
  • Kiosk mode

talech POS logo

talech (see our review) is a smaller player in the iPad POS world, but with their affordable price point and impressive set of more than 100 features, they can certainly give their larger competitors a run for their money. talech is used by both retail and restaurant businesses, but restaurants, in particular, will find a lot of useful features, including table management, coursing, and the ability to split the check by table positioning (seat).

Advanced inventory management, self-service (kiosk) mode, and the ability to generate purchase orders are some more features that set talech apart from some of its competitors in both the retail and restaurant spheres. talech also made it possible for restaurant owners to integrate an online ordering system so that you can manage in-person and online orders all from your iPad POS terminal.

One caveat: being 100% cloud-based, talech is unable to take credit card payments in the event of a WiFi outage, and you also won’t be able to access your back office. However, it’s possible to circumvent such issues by getting a specialized backup router.

13. Bindo

  • iPad POS for retail and restaurants
  • Custom pricing depends on industry and number of SKUs
  • Works with nearly any payment processor
  • Multi-location support
  • “Favorites” grid displays most popular items as register buttons

Bindo POS logo

Bindo (see our review) is a hybrid POS whose varied and easy-to-use features make it suitable for retail or restaurant environments. A reasonable pricetag, clean interface, robust eCommerce storefront, and thoughtful inventory reporting suite make this an especially versatile touchscreen POS option. While fewer than 5,000 businesses use new-ish POS, customer support (included at all price levels) is responsive to these customers’ needs and tech support (also included) issues frequent updates to fix any software glitches.

As with most other fully cloud-based systems, you’ll need fast internet to experience the best functionality. More than one customer has also complained about being stuck in a leasing contract with Bindo for equipment they were not satisfied with (though in general, we do not recommend leasing POS equipment). Since Bindo works with most standard iPad POS equipment and offers a 14-day free trial, it is likely that you’ll be able to test out Bindo using your current equipment before you commit to purchasing.

14. SalesVu

  • iPad POS for restaurant and retail
  • Basic restaurant and retail packages start at $75/month
  • Works with Vantiv, Evo, and WorldPay
  • Multi-location support
  • Allows items to be charged by decimal and fractional quantities

SalesVu (see our review) is another affordable and feature-rich iPad POS system that can be used in many industries, including service industries and traditional retail and restaurant environments. Since this system allows you to ring up transactions in fractional amounts, it’s especially useful for hourly professionals such as therapists or dog walkers, and businesses that sell items based on weight, like fro-yo shops. SalesVu also has an appointment booking system that health, beauty, and hospitality businesses will appreciate. Like the majority of touchscreen POS’s on this list, SalesVu is best suited for smaller to medium-sized businesses, though it has the capacity to scale up if you open a second or third location.

SalesVu runs locally on iPad registers and syncs all your data to your account in the cloud. Though you can use the SalesVu POS app without an internet connection, you’ll need internet to process credit card transactions; however, you can use a specialized router with a 4G wireless modem with a data plan so that you can switch to 4G without any interruption if your main internet connection goes down.

Another cool thing about SalesVu is that it will run on an iPhone, allowing you to take mobile sales on the go. The basic mobile POS app without any frills is free, similar to Square. Which brings us to the final favorite touchscreen POS on our list …

15. Square Register

  • Proprietary POS hardware with free cloud software for retail, restaurants, service industry
  • Hardware costs $49/month for 24 months or $999 one-time payment
  • In-house credit card processing is 2.5% + $0.10/transaction or lower for high-volume businesses
  • Multi-location support
  • Best for businesses with average transaction of $40 or higher
  • Ethernet support for more reliable internet connection

While Square‘s popular free POS mobile app has been around for some time, the Square Register is a relatively new product, released in October 2017. There are still no monthly service fees, but rather than selling on your smartphone or iPad, you’re ringing up sales on fully featured POS hardware that you purchase as a complete package from Square. With a concept similar to that of Clover Station (which I didn’t include on this list because it is locked into First Data’s less than stellar payment processing), the Square Register is sleek, proprietary POS hardware that works right out of the box, complete with a customer facing screen and built-in credit card terminal. The Square Register hardware itself costs $49/month for 24 months, or you can simply purchase the system outright for $999.

Note that Square Register users have a different credit card processing rate than the standard Square mobile processing rate. With Square Register, businesses are charged 2.5% + $0.10 on every transaction, vs. 2.75% (+ $0.00) with regular Square. This pricing setup may at first blush look like Square Register has cheaper rates, but if you have a lot of small transactions you’ll actually pay more with Square Register than with the Square mobile POS. For this reason, Square Register is a more appropriate solution for larger businesses with average ticket sizes of $40 or higher. Larger businesses processing more than $250,000 per year and with an average ticket size of $15 or higher may also qualify for lower rates.

As for the specific business type, 100% cloud-based Square can work with just about any industry. Square has a built-in 24/7 online booking system for service-based industries, as well as restaurant-centric features such as suggested tipping amounts and online food orders.

Finally, Square Register is not to be confused with Square’s iPad-only, $60/month solution, Square for Retail (see our review).

Final Thoughts

When sorting through your options for touchscreen POS systems, the plethora of choices may at first seem overwhelming. But that’s why we’re here to help you sort out the stinkers and lead you to the very best tablet point of sale systems. And really, you can’t go wrong with any of the POS software systems on this list. Just check that the touchscreen POS system you’re considering meets your business’s needs in terms of functionality and budget, and test it out with a free trial before purchasing. And of course, don’t forget to check user reviews and complaints on the BBB and other consumer review sites. If you need further help choosing a touchscreen POS system, please contact me in the comments section and I’ll give you some further guidance.

The post 15 Best Touchscreen POS Systems appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Best Shipping Software For 2018

It’s 4:30 on a Friday and you’re knee-deep in packing peanuts and cardboard boxes. You’ve got twenty orders to pick, pack, and ship before the post office closes, and you keep misplacing your packing slips.

There must be a better way.

If your storage space is covered in packing materials and you record all your shipping information in spreadsheets and Post-It notes, it might be time to try something else.

In the era in which an app solves everything, it makes sense to turn to software solutions to soothe your shipping woes.

Shipping software solutions integrate with most popular eCommerce software programs and can help simplify your day-to-day operations. They let you calculate accurate shipping rates and print shipping labels and packing slips in bulk. They can even grant you discounted shipping rates.

These programs are typically available as SaaS solutions that range in price from $25/month to $99/month — a small price to pay for the shipping issues they resolve.

It’s clear you should subscribe to a shipping software, but with so many options available, how do you choose?

We’ve tested out a handful of shipping solutions, examining price, ease of use, and customer service. Keep reading to learn more about the best shipping software for 2018.

1. ShippingEasy

With a near-perfect score of 4.5 stars, ShippingEasy (see our review) is our top-rated shipping solution for eCommerce businesses. This software is true to its name: it’s easy to learn and use and customer support representatives are ready to help with any potential hiccups.

Best For…

Businesses of all sizes. It works especially well for eCommerce merchants who run their own online stores.

Pricing

Pricing for ShippingEasy is simple and affordable; plans range from $29/month for 500 shipments to $99/month for 6,000 shipments. Each step up in pricing includes more monthly shipments and higher level customer support.

ShippingEasy has a free plan available for merchants shipping fewer than 50 shipments/month. For high volume sellers, ShippingEasy also offers enterprise options. Read more about ShippingEasy’s pricing in our full review.

Features

As I mentioned above, we found ShippingEasy to be highly user-friendly. You can easily import orders, create shipments, set shipping parameters, and buy and print postage, shipping labels, and packing slips.

We also like how many features come included with ShippingEasy. And we especially love the fact that ShippingEasy’s partnership with USPS lets you benefit from lower shipping rates. You can save up to 46% on shipping rates when you sign on for one of ShippingEasy’s paid plans.

Other features include:

  • A Free Endicia Account
  • Shipping Status Updates & Real-Time Tracking
  • Individual Or Batch Shipping

If you’re worried that ShippingEasy might not integrate into your eCommerce software, fear no more! ShippingEasy integrates easily with the biggest names in eCommerce, including 3dcart, Magento, BigCommerce, Shopify, Volusion, and WooCommerce. View all of ShippingEasy’s integrations.

ShippingEasy also has a good record when it comes to customer service. Their support representatives are knowledgeable and helpful.

Takeaway

With so many positives to ShippingEasy, it’s hard to find any downsides. You should note, however, that ShippingEasy still has room to grow when it comes to simplifying their daily operations. In particular, users would like to see improvement in expediting the data entry process.

Otherwise, ShippingEasy is an excellent option. Take a look at our shipping software reviews to learn more about the software or sign up for a free 30-day trial.

Read our full ShippingEasy review

Visit the ShippingEasy website

2. OrderCup

OrderCup (see our review) is one of our favorite shipping software solutions. OrderCup offers an easy to use interface, multi-carrier shipping options, and discounted shipping rates. And best of all, OrderCup provides users with reliable and responsive customer support, so you can get answers to your pressing questions quickly.

Best For…

Merchants who ship between 500 and 12,000 shipments a month and who only need up to 12 users on the platform. With five tiered pricing plans, OrderCup is accessible to many merchants.

Pricing

As I mentioned before, OrderCup separates pricing into five tiers. To add a little fun to the pricing, OrderCup has named each tier after a Starbucks drink size. Plans range from Short to Trenta, and each step up in pricing includes more sales channels, more monthly shipments, and more users.

The Short plan begins at $20/month for 500 monthly shipments, and Trenta costs $180/month for 12,000 monthly shipments.

For more information, view OrderCup’s pricing page.

Features

OrderCup’s dashboard is well-organized and quick to learn. During setup, you’ll be able to integrate your hosted shopping cart. Your online store’s orders will be automatically transferred to your OrderCup dashboard.

Then, you’ll be able to connect with your favorite carriers and start processing orders.

OrderCup’s feature list includes everything you’d expect from a multi-carrier shipping software. They have made arrangements with several carriers, including the USPS, DHL, UK Mail, and DX to offer their customers discounted shipping rates. You’ll also be able to integrate with worldwide shipping carriers across Europe, Asia, and Australia.

Here are a few more features you can expect from OrderCup:

  • Automate Your Shipping Process
  • Print Return Labels To Include With Shipments
  • Bulk Import Orders Using CSV Files
  • Schedule Shipment Pickups
  • Integrate With Third-Party Fulfillment

OrderCup integrates with many eCommerce solutions, including Shopify, BigCommerce, Magento, WooCommerce, and Volusion. Integrated marketplaces include Amazon, eBay, and Etsy. Check the full list for more information.

Out of all these features, OrderCup users seem to be most enthusiastic about OrderCup’s support team. Support representatives are responsive and patient, often spending up to an hour on the phone with users to make sure everything is working properly. Users also praise OrderCup’s Canadian shipping options; it is easy to ship to and from Canada.

There are few negative comments about OrderCup online, though we have seen customers complain about having to pay extra in order to access phone support and get priority attention for their technical issues.

Takeaway 

OrderCup is one of our favorite shipping software programs, scoring an excellent 4.5 out of 5 stars. If you think this software might be the right fit for your business, we recommend you try it out. You can sign up for a free 30-day trial in minutes.

But if you’d like a bit more information before you proceed, take a look at our complete review. We include in-depth information about pricing, customer service levels, and more.

Read our full OrderCup review

Visit the OrderCup website

3. Ordoro

Ordoro (see our review) is a shipping and inventory application designed for SMBs. Known for its drop-shipping features, Ordoro is particularly popular among Shopify users.

Best For…

Small to medium-sized businesses. Merchants who are planning to dropship can benefit especially from the software.

Pricing

With Ordoro, you have two options. You can use Ordoro to handle just your shipping, or you can have Ordoro handle shipping, inventory management, and dropshipping. Ordoro sets up their pricing structure differently, depending on which features you choose.

In my opinion, it’s best to use Ordoro for shipping only. Paid plans for shipping begin at $25/month and go to $129/month. Each step up in pricing includes additional features and monthly shipments. There’s also a free plan available for merchants shipping fewer than 50 orders/month.

Pricing for shipping and inventory management is structured much differently. The lowest plan costs $199/month for 700 orders. This plan includes drop shipping features. Plans can go as high as $499/month for 4,000 orders. For more information, view Ordoro’s pricing page.

Features

Ordoro comes with a minimalistic user interface. You can easily link your shopping cart to your new Ordoro account during setup. Then you’ll be able to sync your inventory and push new orders automatically to Ordoro. You can create shipping labels and packing slips one-by-one or in bulk.

Ordoro’s best feature is without a doubt their dropshipping functionality (available with shipping + inventory plans). You can set select items to ship directly from your supplier, and you can automatically split orders to dropship from multiple suppliers.

Here are a few more features that come with Orodoro:

  • Process Orders From Multiple Sales Channels
  • Integrate With USPS, UPS, FedEx, DHL, Canada Post, & Amazon Seller Fulfilled Prime
  • Best-In-Industry Shipping Rates (Up To 67% With USPS)
  • Tracking Number Automatically Sent To Customers Upon Shipment
  • Inventory Management (If You Choose To Purchase It)

Ordoro integrates with a wide variety of eCommerce solutions, including Shopify, BigCommerce, FBA, 3dcart, Magento, WooCommerce, and more. See if your preferred vendor is on the full list.

Ordoro users have a lot of good things to say about the platform. In particular, they praise Ordoro’s technical support options. Customers report that a real person will be available to answer your support concerns. On the off chance you can’t reach anyone, Ordoro’s knowledge base is detailed and well organized. You might find the information you need there.

I’ve seen a few negative reports of Ordoro. Some customers cite trouble syncing their Ordoro account with other software programs (namely Shopify and FedEx). Other customers complain that while Ordoro’s interface is easy to navigate, that simplicity is due to a lack of features.

Takeaway

In our opinion, Ordoro is best suited to small businesses, especially those that engage in a lot of dropshipping. To learn more about Ordoro, read our full review, or try out the platform yourself by signing up for a free 15-day trial.

Read our full Ordoro review

Visit the Ordoro website

4. ShipStation

ShipStation

ShipStation (see our review) is arguably the best-known shipping solution, partly due to the company’s excellent marketing campaigns and partly due to the numerous integrations they offer with major eCommerce vendors.

Best For…

Small to mid-sized businesses, particularly those which sell online.

Pricing

Pricing for ShipStation is on par with industry standards. You can choose from six pricing tiers, ranging from $9/month for 50 orders to $145/month for unlimited shipments. ShipStation does not offer a free plan, but they do offer a free 30-day trial of their software.

Features

When it comes to ease of use, ShipStation prioritizes functionality over aesthetics, which is perfectly fine by me!

If you have any trouble learning your way around, ShipStation provides video tutorials to help you figure out the admin. In general, we think that ShipStation is highly usable, though it may take some time to get the hang of the advanced tools.

ShipStation offers the basic collection of features, including the following:

  • Integrations For USPS, UPS, FedEx, & DHL Accounts
  • Discounts On USPS Priority & Express Mail
  • Stamps.com Account Included
  • Batch-Print Hundreds Of Shipping Labels & Packing Slips
  • Print A Return Label To Include In Your Shipments

ShipStation really shines when it comes to integrations. Check out this full list to see which eCommerce platforms, shipping carriers, and payment solutions integrate easily with ShipStation. Happily, it integrates with the most popular eCommerce solutions, including BigCommerce, Shopify, Magento, WooCommerce, Volusion, Miva Merchant, and PrestaShop.

ShipStation’s customer service is available by email. They also provide live webinars, a knowledge base, and a community forum.

We see only one potential issue with ShipStation: it’s lacking customer management features. You cannot add identifying characteristics to a customer’s account, and ShipStation does not always recognize a customer when they make a second purchase on a different sales channel. However, for most users, this difficulty is not a deal breaker.

Takeaway

If you’re looking for an efficient, reliable shipping solution, ShipStation may be the way to go. Once you invest some time into learning the system, you’ll be able to reap the rewards of a feature-rich shipping solution.

Learn more about ShipStation in our full review or take it for a spin with a 30-day free trial.

Read our full ShipStation review

Visit the ShipStation website

 

5. ShipRush

ShipRush (see our review) is an affordable software solution that is designed to make shipping selection efficient. ShipRush displays rates from multiple different carriers on the same page in your admin, allowing you to quickly and easily choose the most cost-effective shipping rates. What’s more, ShipRush offers support for many different types of shipping, including individual package shipping, freight shipping, and LTL shipping. Keep reading to learn more about the merits of ShipRush.

Best For…

Merchants who need to ship freight. I would recommend ShipRush primarily to smaller businesses, as the pricing model is designed for three users (though more can be added on at an additional expense).

Pricing

ShipRush’s pricing model is simple. It is divided into two options: Web and Desktop.

ShipRush’s web option is based on a monthly payment model and costs $29.95/month for up to three users (additional users can be added on three at a time for an additional $29.95/month).

On the other hand, the ShipRush Desktop version can be purchased annually for $795/year per workstation.

Features

You can test out ShipRush for 60 days by signing up for a free trial. Once you sign up, you’ll be presented with this dashboard.

The dashboard is a bit austere, but we don’t mind much as ShipRush has proved itself to be very functional.

Once I got over the initial learning curve, I was able to calculate shipping rates and print shipping labels and packing slips easily.

Here are a few other features that ShipRush users benefit from:

  • Discounted Shipping Rates (Save Up To 60% On USPS Rates & 21% On FedEx Rates)
  • View Rates From Multiple Carriers On One Screen
  • Send Notifications To Customers When Orders Ship
  • Dropshipping Support
  • Print Scan-Based Return Labels

For the full list, head over to ShipRush’s website.

ShipRush integrates with over 75 eCommerce platforms, payment processors, shipping carriers, and accounting and CRM software apps. These integrations include 3dcart, Ecwid, LemonStand, Big Cartel, Shopify, FedEx, UPS, and USPS.

ShipRush has a lot of positives. Customers especially like the quality customer service and the relative ease of use. One downfall potential users should note is that merchants who maintain a large inventory (thousands of products) may have a hard time with the software. Creating shipping rules for all these different types of products could be more effort than it’s worth.

Takeaway

ShipRush is a great software for many businesses. It’s affordable, functional, and reliable, and you can test it out for yourself using their free 60-day trial.

For more information on ShipRush, take a look at our complete review of the platform. Otherwise, keep reading for more shipping options.

Read our full ShipRush review

Visit the ShipRush website

6. ShipHawk

ShipHawk (see our review) is a bit different than the alternative shipping software we cover above. While those software programs provide easy to use interfaces and hundreds of features, ShipHawk focuses its energy on one thing: an algorithm. ShipHawk is a complex shipping calculator, designed for large businesses and businesses that ship oversized or unique items.

Best For…

Larger businesses. ShipHawk’s cheapest plan is targeted at merchants who spend up to $500K on shipping annually. ShipHawk is also good for merchants who ship uniquely shaped or oversized items.

Pricing

ShipHawk offers three pricing tiers. With each step up in pricing, you’ll be able to ship more parcels and freight and have access to more advanced features and technical support.

The Starter plan starts at $250/month and is for merchants who spend up to $500K on shipping annually. Then there’s the Pro plan, which begins at $2K/month and is intended for annual shipping expenses up to $2M; finally, there’s the Enterprise plan, for an annual spend of up to $25M. Enterprise begins at $4,500/month.

As you can see, ShipHawk is not a cheap platform. It is designed for high volume shippers who need a high volume platform.

Features

In order to test out ShipHawk, you can sign up for a free demo of the starter plan. I didn’t find ShipHawk to be as intuitive as other shipping software apps I’ve tested. However, given time, I was able to figure out a few features. And as a whole, the dashboard seems well designed.

As I’ve mentioned before, ShipHawk works a bit differently than most shipping software when it comes to features. While ShipHawk does offer some of your typical features, they primarily advertise the calculator behind the software. ShipHawk will help estimate expenses for hard-to-ship items.

Here are a few of the more notable features:

  • Get Quotes From Multiple Carriers
  • Real-Time Tracking Updates
  • API: Integrate With Shipping Carriers & Shopping Cart Software
  • Set Up Automatic Shipping Rules
  • Provide Shipping Options To Customers

ShipHawk advertises that you can integrate with most software solutions through their API. You can expect to find pre-built integrations with a few shipping carriers and shopping carts, including DHL, FedEx, UPS, USPS, Magento, Shopify, and more.

Customer feedback regarding ShpHawk is very limited. However, after some time searching the web, I was able to find a few comments. Customers primarily love ShipHawk’s customer service and robust calculation abilities. I myself was a bit disappointed with ShipHawk’s support material. There did not seem to be enough tutorial information to help me set up the program.

Takeaway

ShipHawk is not the right fit for many of our readers. However, if you ship thousands of products each month and you need access to freight and individual shipments, ShipHawk may be right for you. Test it out with a free demo and read our review for more information.

Read our full ShipHawk review

Visit the ShipHawk website

Get Started!

If you’re tired of losing yourself in packing peanuts and misplaced notes-to-self, try out one of these software options. You’ll find that shipping is much less of a chore when order processing and fulfillment is automated, organized, and synchronized. With many solutions beginning at $25/month, shipping software is a small investment that could do a lot for your business. Click one of the buttons above to get started with a free trial, or search our site for more quality shipping software reviews.

Good luck, and happy shipping!

The post Best Shipping Software For 2018 appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How to Promote Your Website Online (for free!)

How To Promote Your Website

So you want to promote your website online…for free, preferably.

By now, you probably know from experience that the “build it and they will come” philosophy is flawed. You can have great content — in fact, you need at least “good” content — but unless you know how to promote it, your site is a ghost town. But you also don’t have the budget to go straight to advertising online.

You don’t need a grab bag of tips and tricks. You don’t need best practices to “go viral”. Instead – what you need is an actual process to follow that you can consistently do – to create a “flywheel effect“.

Here is an exact, step-by-step strategy that I recommend to anyone who wants to promote their website online. The specific details vary, but it’s a pretty tried and true path for anyone who wants to promote their website.

Start with Definitions & Goals

Before you do anything, you’ve got to start with the foundation: what are you trying to achieve?

Aside – “making money” or “getting customers” does not count. The key is to get specific. Quantify your marketing in other words.

This is the part so many people either get stuck on or skip entirely. Usually, website owners just want to dive in and start doing, doing, doing.

While getting your site out there and testing is great, you need a balance. It’s just as important to test with the right methods as it is to collect a ton of data and learn from it

There are three things you need to figure out before you dive in:

  • what you’re promoting
  • who you’re promoting it to
  • how much you can actually spend on promotion

Let’s break them down.

What You’re Promoting (Your Product)

What is it that you’re actually offering/promoting on your website? A product? A service? Valuable content?

Whatever it is, you need to be able to define it and sell the value. What makes you different from the million and one others out there?

Remember, this doesn’t need to be your life’s mission. In fact, it shouldn’t be. You need to define your product in a clear and concise way. Keep it simple and to the point  — and make sure you emphasize why you’re different.

Who You’re Promoting It To (Persona)

A persona is marketing jargon for a profile of your target audience and having one is crucial to your marketing.

Before your start promoting your website, you’ve got to know who you’re actually promoting it to. What do they want? What problems do they have? How do you solve those problems?

Create 2-4 personas for your brand that outline your ideal customers. Be as descriptive as possible by including things like job title, favorite device, payscale, main frustrations and problems, end goals, what they do in their spare time, etc. Use this detailed guide by Moz to guide you through the process.

Remember that your personas don’t have to be the end all be all. The focus here is to define your initial target market that’s small enough you can effectively reach them but large enough to get some sales and feedback to polish what you’re offering (your product/website/brand).

Nearly every business started this way (think about how Facebook started by targeting college students).Here’s a podcast episode explaining this concept[skip to the ~11 minute mark].

How Much You Can Spend on Promotion (Time & Financial Budget)

Thinking there’s no overhead online is lethal. You’ve got to put real numbers behind what you’re doing. Marketing costs money or time… so put real goals in place.

Outline your budget, even if it feels arbitrary. Define your product/services costs, profit margins, and what kind of marketing spend gives you a positive return. Here’s a more extensive post on quant-based marketing.”

Lay the Foundation

Once you have your goals and definitions laid out, it’s time to lay the foundation. While “build it and they will come” is a flawed philosophy, once you start getting them to come, you need to be sure what you’ve created is decent and captures data.

This is divided into three steps:

Website / Destination Set Up

To promote anything online long-term*, you need a decent website. Whether you’re an ecommerce business who needs an online store, a local business with a brick and mortar store, or an educational website that needs a place to publish content, a decent-looking website will put you ahead and allow you to do more with your brand and marketing.

*Aside – when I say long-term – I mean that you don’t want your project compromised by the whims of a platform (I’m looking at you, Facebook Pages and Google My Business). For short-term projects, plenty of people do well with marketplaces like Amazon and Etsy while content publishers do great with a good email marketing platform.

If you don’t have a website yet, I recommend setting your own website up with a common, well known software like WordPress and hosting it on your own hosting account. I have a simple guide to doing that from scratch here. There is some learning curve, but it will provide maximum versatility.

For ecommerce shops, I recommend either using a high-quality hosted ecommerce platform like Shopify or BigCommerce or set up an ecommerce website with WordPress and WooCommerce.

If you have a website and know it’s a mess, use this guide to help you clean it up.

Create Focused Pages

Depending on what you’re goals are, creating focused pages can be an essential part of conversion.

Focus pages are landing pages that target a very specific need, but they don’t have to be complex. They are simply pages that visitors can land on and take a specific action (buy your product, sign up for your service, etc.)

Why use landing pages? Because nobody cares about or even sees your homepage. Your homepage is for people who already know who you are and are just navigating around to find what they already know exists.

Landing pages, on the other hand, are for new (or returning) visitors to land and convert (AKA take whatever action you want them to take). These pages should target what your audience is searching for on a granular level.

For example, if you’re an ecommerce business, you’d want to create product pages targeting specific product information (i.e. Blue Swimwear) or a specific audience (i.e. Swimwear for Women Distance swimmers).

For service-based businesses, you’d want to create service pages targeting what your customers are searching for (i.e. Atlanta Dentist or Root Canal Services)

For sites that are focused on content creation, think about pages that can organize your posts into broader topics and orient readers who land deeper into your site and encourage them to take additional actions (like reading more or subscribing). Use this guide to using category and tag pages in WordPress to accomplish this.

If you have way too many idea – then think about how to organize your site by topic / keyword.

Set Up Analytics

Before you start promoting your website, you need a way to capture data through an analytics platform. There are tons of options, but Google Analytics is the go-to solution (it’s also free).

If you’re unclear on what Google Analytics actually does, start here.

Depending on what you’re promoting (see above), you’ll want to set up specific goals. For example, if you’re an ecommerce website, you’ll want to make sure you have Ecommerce checkout set up. If you’re a local business, you’ll want to track thinks like clicks to call and contact form completions. Use this guide to set up call tracking in Google Analytics.

You should also link Google Analytics to Google AdWords and set up a retargeting audience with Google Analytics. And lastly, you should set up a Facebook Ads account and place a retargeting (audience pixel) cookie on your website.

Work on Getting Traffic

Now that you have the foundation down, it’s time to get people to your website. This where a lot of people get way too detailed… way too fast. Why?

Because not all marketing channels operate at the same speed. They’re also not all used the same way — they have different strengths and weaknesses. They complement and supplement each other instead of compete, and it’s all about how you use them together.

For example, the US Navy’s main war-going unit is the Aircraft Carrier Group. But it’s not just made up of an aircraft carrier. Instead, it’s a grouping of different types of ships that all do different things at different speeds so that the whole group together is nearly invincible.

A lot of business owners want to start with SEO or with a fully fleshed out social strategy. To keep to the analogy, that’s like sending your battleship and aircraft carrier to scout out for the rest of the group.

Bad idea. Battleships (aka SEO) and Aircraft Carriers (Social) take forever to get going and to turn. Save those until you know where you’re going. You do not want to invest hours and hours and tons of resources and thought into SEO and Social if you have no idea if they will pay off.

Start with channels that can speed up, slow down and change direction at will. That means 3 things: direct outreach, community involvement, and paid traffic, specifically AdWords Search Network.

Testing with Direct Outreach

It’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of promoting something because you think it’s amazing. But here’s the thing — what if no one wants it?

Too often, we make assumptions for our audience. So before you go into a full-blow promotion plan and start running ads, emailing everyone on your list, and working on your SEO tactics, it’s good to get some validation.

Start by soliciting feedback from a small, targeted group. These should be people who are active in your niche, would ideally collaborate with someone like you, would give you some feedback and maybe even promote your website for you.

What we’re really doing here is finding complementary marketing “parents” — think of other bloggers and businesses your target audience also visits. There are infinite ways to do this process. The key piece is to find someone who shares your interests or has a need that you can fill. Here are some examples.

Friends & Family

Ok – friends and family will often be interested by default. They won’t be able to provide useful feedback. But here’s the thing – you are probably friends because you share interests. Additionally, you might share interests with your family.

Those family and friends are a great place to start with your outreach. It doesn’t mean spamming your Facebook page. It does mean not being afraid to show off your work personally to interested friends and family.

Individual Brands / Influencers

I hate the term “influencers” – and I don’t think that you can or should compete with big brands for social media celebrities. Instead, you should use your own advantage as a DIY website owner (rather than social media manager) to find people that you respect and listen to. Figure out what they need / want. Do they need co-promotion? Topic ideas? Reach out and pitch.

Individual Bloggers / Site Owners

A blogger of any size & influence will be deluged with pitches from big companies. Again – use your advantage as an actual site owner to go around the social media managers to reach small and up and coming bloggers. Use your agility to solve problems that agencies cannot quickly solve.

Journalists

Journalists have an infinite black hole of content that they need to fill. They are always looking for a story (not a product). If you can create a story based on your insider expertise, then you should pitch them. Keep it short, keep it relevant. Start with small sites and use successes to pitch bigger publications.

The good example is a local package delivery service pitching a story about “porch pirates” to news outlets in Philadelphia.

Complementary Business Owners

Your product probably pairs with other companies’ products. Swimwear pairs with beach resorts. Festivals pair with beverage companies. Wood refinishing pairs with historic preservationists. The list is infinite.

Find businesses where you can co-promote.

Vendors

Your vendors want you to succeed…because your success means more sales for them. Pitch your vendors on co-promotions.

Then, get to emailing and messaging. Send them to your landing pages or content piece to buy, subscribe, or review. Ask for feedback and referrals and keep notes!

Keep in mind that you are emailing people. It’s easy to get into a spammy quantity mindset. But remember that that a single, quality connection is worth way more than you can measure right now. Your goal is to get feedback and access. You cannot and should not make this a primary sales channel. Your goal is feedback to promote more effectively and more broadly.

Check out this case study or this post for even more detail.

Find Like-Minded Communities

To expand your direct promotion efforts means finding groups of individuals. And that means finding communities.

Communities can not only provide a lot more feedback – but you can also find opportunities to get sales.

The issue with a community is that you need to be a part of it. Nobody likes someone who shows up to promote rather than participate.

Even though you might need sales right now – you absolutely must set aside that need and look to the long-term.

Figure out what the community likes & needs. Provide that. Focus on being overly helpful rather than promotional. Here are some examples.

Industry Specific Forums

Whether it’s ProductHunt / HackerNews in tech or Wanelo for trendy shopping – there is an industry specific forum for everything. Find it and get involved.

Facebook Groups

Facebook Groups are super-accessible and cover topics on everything under the Sun. They are a great way to build an organic presence on Facebook now that business newsfeed organic reach does not exist. Use creative Facebook Open Graph searches to find the non-obvious ones.

Website Forums

Yes – website forums still exist. And yes, they can be extraordinarily powerful. Do your research and get in touch with moderators.

Blog Comments

Yes – people still read these. Set up alerts via Google or via RSS feeds and stay involved in relevant discussions on high-traffic blog posts.

Reddit & Crowdsourced Forums

Reddit is the world’s largest general forum – but everything from Kickstarter to Pinterest could technically be considered a forum. Again, find where your target audience hangs out. Focus less on teh actual platform and more on the people using it.

Amazon Comments

Ever noticed the “questions about this product” or the discussion sections on Amazon product? Yep – those have insane engagement…and provide an opportunity to piggyback on Amazon’s traffic. Look for complementary products / services to yours that your target audience is purchasing. Use your expertise to answer questions.

LinkedIn & Business Groups

This angle is similar to crowdsourced forums – but for B2B and vendor relationships. Discussions happen all over the place on the Internet. Everything from Slack to LinkedIn Pulse to IRC are open. They are all tools for people to connect. Think about who your people are and find where & how they talk.

Guest Posting

Do you know of high-traffic blogs that your target audience reads (not simply blogs in your industry)? Find out guest post requirements and go there.

Once you’ve found a channel that you feel comfortable with and “get” – focus on expanding your presence and being as helpful as possible. People will notice and talk.

Using Paid Traffic to Get Data

Jumping right into ads isn’t always the best approach for promoting your website. It can get expensive, especially for the return on investment. However, our goal here is a bit different.

Using some (even on a small budget) search advertising can be a great way to get data faster. Instead of relying solely on direct outreach and a content strategy that takes a few months to grow, we can get lots of data in a short amount of time by doing some advertising.

For a full breakdown of different paid advertising channels, see this guide about how to advertise your website online.

You should be doing a few different things with this data:

  • Looking at what keywords are driving conversions. AdWords gives you this information.
  • Looking at which landing pages (or content pieces) perform best based on your goals. How can you optimize those pages and use those findings to improve the ones that aren’t performing?
  • Determining which ad copy performs best
  • For ecommerce, identifying which types of offers do people find most enticing (i.e. free shipping, 20% off welcome discount, etc.)
  • Setting up retargeting campaigns – not generic “buy, buy, buy” campaigns but interesting retargeting ads that you can afford to do when your traffic is small. If you want to divert some paid budget to Facebook, follow this guide.
  • Once you have retargeting campaigns going, you should be looking at where your audience goes online. We covered this topic on this podcast episode.
  • Improving your ad campaigns in general

Understanding Organic Search

The world of organic traffic sources is wide and takes time. So while I won’t tell you it’s the best channel for immediate satisfaction, there are still some amazing results to be had.

For most, a successful SEO campaign would be a huge win due to the sheer volume of traffic that Google organic search can drive. Google processes over 3.5 billion queries per day and most of the clicks go to an organic result.

You’ll learn pretty quickly that in paid advertising, clicks for commercial keywords can be quite expensive. That’s a cost you don’t have to pay if you rank in the organic search results.

When you’re setting up your website promotion strategy, you’ll just have to know what it takes to get organic traffic and what it will take on your part to get it done.

SEO boils down to 3 components.

The first component is technical SEO.

Technical SEO is all about ensuring that Google/Bing bots can crawl and index your website effectively. It’s about making sure you’re not generating tons of duplicate content. Here’s “Technical SEO for Nontechnical Marketers”

The good news is that you are using WordPress or an HTML-based website builder (aka not Flash or Wix), you have the big barriers taken care of. THe same applies to ecommerce platforms like Shopify, Bigcommerce or a self-hosted store with WordPress + Woocommerce.

If you are already using a different platform, a technical audit might be the one SEO thing worth paying for. Mentioning a “stand-alone technical audit with recommendations” to an SEO expert can be valuable if you’re on a custom built site. Just don’t let them sell you on “ranking #1 tomorrow!”

If you are running WordPress, install WordPress SEO by Yoast and run through my guide for using it effectively.

If you are using Shopify or Bigcommerce, then your technical issues are 90% solved if you have it set up by the book (Shopify’s guide and Bigcommerce’s guide). You should just be sure to use their SEO-related toolset to implement your on-page content, which happens to be the second component of SEO.

The second component of SEO is on-page content and optimization

It is all about “targeting” the right keywords and ensuring that your website is laid out in a coherent way that is understandable by search engines and users browsing your website.

I wrote about the concept of keyword mapping and some basic on-page SEO concepts (like keyword research, title tags and meta descriptions, and using Google Search Console) previously.

Depending on what your goals are, there are a ton of different pieces of content that can bring in visitors. The goal is to bring in new people AND support sales. Don’t create keyword-stuffed content that won’t help customers on your website make a decision. Make the authoritative content that addresses problems, questions, etc of your market.

The great part about creating the absolute best content that you can find about everything your target market cares about related to your product is that it will naturally drive the third component of SEO – off-page factors.

“Off-page factors,” is the third component of SEO

This is SEO-speak for getting links, with the caveat that links are not all considered equal.

Sketchy links, the type that you buy for $5, can harm your website. However, quality links placed on a related or well-known website are the primary factor for getting better visibility in search results.

There are a lot of ways to get links. But the best ways that I’ve found for website promotion are:

  • Creating content that no one else has done well, and then promoting it. I wrote this guide to creating prequalified content. I’m a fan of this guide for the promotion angle as well
  • Hustle PR promotion – Find the blogs they read. Find the news websites they follow. Find the social media feeds they are involved with. Research and stalk every single one until you can craft a manual email pitch (see direct outreach above)
  • Get even more ideas in my guide to Ahrefs

Using Social Media

If SEO is your giant battleship, I think of social as your aircraft carrier. It’s easy to burn a lot of energy flying planes for no reason, but nothing gives you a tactical edge and far reach like your aircraft.

Social media experts make social out to be rocket science. It’s really not. Unless you started a business you know nothing about, you should know where your audience hangs out.

The key is to realize that you don’t have to be 100% present on every single social network. Effective social media is about having direct interactions where you build relationships and learn more about your audience.

So with that said, go ahead and claim your branding across all the various social networks, but focus on one or two that will generate an outsize of impact on your goals.

This is particularly effective for getting feedback on what you’re promoting. Similarly to direct outreach, you can use social media to solicit public feedback through forums like Reddit, Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, etc. Just remember — it’s not about blasting your message out there for everyone and their mother. It’s about targeting the right audience. Find where they are and go there.

For the other profiles, learn how to automate them so you can have a presence without actually interacting. Set up alerts so you can “listen” even when you aren’t actively participating.

Lastly, remember you can make the process faster by paying to jump ahead. Just as you used AdWords or alternative channels to collect data on what works and what doesn’t for your website promotion goals, you can use social ads to test networks.

Next Steps

That’s the website promotion strategy I would map out for any website. It’s a long post, but it’s a plan you can implement quickly by breaking each section into small, doable steps.

Immediate next steps: start by defining your goals, personas, and revenue/budget. Then, put a plan in place that takes you through each phase of the process outlined above in a methodical manner. Go one section at a time and break each down into smaller steps you can follow without getting overwhelmed.

I’ve also written versions of this post for both local businesses and ecommerce websites.

The post How to Promote Your Website Online (for free!) appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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Shopify vs. Squarespace: Online Store Options Compared

Shopify vs. Squarespace – they are two of the most well-known brands in the online store / website builder industry. I’ve written a Shopify review here and Squarespace review here. But how do they compare directly to each other?

First, a bit of background. Over the past few years, online store software costs have plummeted, and the technology to get a website from idea to reality has blossomed.

Whether you’re using a text editor and uploading to the Amazon cloud, hosting your own site powered by WordPress + WooCommerce or using a drag and drop website builder, there’s never been an easier time to create an online store. It’s no longer 2002 where every storeowner had to know PHP, HTML, CSS and a bit of Javascript.

All-inclusive ecommerce builders have been particularly interesting. Companies like Squarespace, Weebly, Wix, Shopify, and BigCommerce – not to mention platforms like Etsy, eBay, and Amazon – have brought ecommerce to everyone regardless of their coding skills.

On the wide spectrum of ecommerce store building solutions, they all live on the end that is all-inclusive and provides everything you need to get started and grow your website.

That is in contrast to solutions where you buy, install, and manage all the “pieces” of your website separately. That’s not a good or bad thing. But it is something to be aware of when you’re choosing one of them as a solution since it affects your website both long and short term.

In the long-term, it affects your versatility, functionality, and, of course, your brand. In the short term, it can certainly add/take away a lot of headaches. That said, just like choosing a physical house or office, there is no such thing as an absolute “best” or “top” choice. There’s only the right choice relative to your goals, experience, and circumstances.

Using an online store builder is like leasing and customizing an apartment in a really classy development instead of buying and owning your own house. You’re still in control of decor, cleaning, and everything living-wise – but you leave the construction, plumbing, security, and infrastructure to the property owner. That point is key because there’s usually a direct tradeoff between convenience and control.

Ecommerce Real Estate Tradeoffs

Shopify, Squarespace and other options like BigCommerce and Weebly as a group compete with options like WordPress (which provides the free software to build a website that you own & control – see my WordPress setup guide here) all the way to options like typing actual HTML code into a text file.

The last preface I’ll mention is that Squarespace is an all-around website builder with ecommerce capability.

Shopify, in contrast, is strictly an ecommerce platform.

This focus puts Squarespace behind as an advanced ecommerce tool and Shopify behind as a general website builder tool. With their respective free trials, you can quickly see the differences.

Try Shopify for Free

Try Squarespace for Free

Make sense? Awesome – let’s dive into the comparison.

Side note – if you want this comparison in a BuzzFeed-style quiz, you can take my online store builder quiz here…

You can also look at my posts on –

Otherwise, we’ll look specifically at pricing, onboarding/user experience, design features, technical features, ecommerce features, marketing features, and customer support.

Disclosure – I receive referral fees from all the companies mentioned in this post. My opinions & research are based on my professional experiences as either a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

Pricing

Comparing pricing between Shopify and Squarespace is fairly straightforward if you have a clear idea of your needs. This comes from the fact that Shopify focuses on *only* online store owners whereas Squarespace markets to everyone.

The short version is that Shopify is more expensive. But there’s a few caveats to look at.

Shopify Pricing

Squarespace Ecommerce Pricing

The first caveat is credit card fees.

Squarespace syncs with Stripe and PayPal. Their fees are 2.9% + $.30 per transaction.

Shopify has their own payments gateway that charges lower per transaction fees. But – if you use a non-Shopify gateway, Shopify charges an additional transaction fee that Squarespace does not have.

So why is this important? If you already have a gateway (ie, Authorize.net for your physical pop-up shop) and you want to use them with Shopify – then Shopify’s transaction fee kicks in. But – if you want to use Shopify Payment’s for your online store – you can save a bit of money on transaction fees. Those fees add up. If you have revenues of $100000 – a 0.4% reduction in fees could equal $500 per month.

The second caveat is value pricing.

On front-end features alone – Squarespace is significantly cheaper than Shopify, especially on their Advanced plan, which compares almost directly with Shopify’s Standard plan.

See Shopify’s Plans here.

See Squarespace’s Plans here.

But – like I mentioned in the introduction, it’s hard to compare their pricing tables directly since they are really different products for different audiences.

It’s a bit like comparing the pricing of a motorcycle vs. an SUV.

Sure, the motorcycle is much cheaper and it gets you from A to B. It has wheels, an engine, and it drives on the road just fine. But it’s also meant for a certain type of driving.

It all really comes down to what you need for you project – two wheels that will get you where you need to go or a vehicle that has plenty of room along with lots of features. So let’s look at other differences.

Aside – if you’re curious, Shopify’s $9/mo Lite plan isn’t applicable since it’s more of an inventory/payments software than an online store builder software. You can upload products, manage them, and accept payments, but you can only sell them via other platforms such as a Facebook plugin or a button on an existing website. Same goes with Squarespace’s Business Plan. It’s meant to do a website that happens to have a couple things for sale – not really a full online store solution. I’ll set both those options to the side for the moment.

Onboarding & User Experience

No matter how intuitive and simple a piece of technology is, there’s always that moment of “what am I looking at and what do I do now?”

Onboarding is the process of guiding you past that point. In theory, a huge selling point of online website / store builders is that they have a near-zero learning curve. They have a straightforward process from website concept to website reality.

On this point, Squarespace and Shopify both do alright but in different ways.

Shopify has a quick path from free trial signup to site launch. They have guided tours and a very straightforward setup. They also have customer support outreach focused on getting you up and running quickly.

Shopify Backend

However, Shopify also has many more features, apps, and technical options available that can present a challenge. The most daunting hurdle is linking your domain name to your store. It’s not difficult but is daunting at the mention of “setting your CNAME” (in fairness, you don’t have to direct your domain if you purchase via Shopify for a bit more per year than via a 3rd party).

Since Shopify functions as a platform for payments, offline inventory and more – their website store setup is actually on the second menu of their main dashboard rather than front and center.

Squarespace has a ridiculously fast sign up to live site process. Their backend is fairly intuitive for basic websites. However, they to have a “Squarespace jargon” to get used to. They like to appeal to developers and freelance designers – so there are advanced tools that can clutter simply launching a site.

SquareSpace Onboarding

Their support emails and tours are structured well. But since their software is made for all types of websites, the ecommerce features are a bit buried (and limited) from the perspective of an online store owner.

I would not rule either provider out on onboarding/user experience. But their differences are sort of like a restaurant with a waiter (Shopify) vs. a fast casual restaurant with a menu above the cashier (Squarespace).

If you want more help and more customization, then Shopify is your choice. If you want to quickly see and order from the features, then Squarespace is less daunting.

Design Features

Part of the overall value of website builders is simple, straightforward design – no web designers necessary.

But good design is hard. And it matters – a lot. A lot of people can spot a good looking website but have a harder time figuring out how to get there. Using a template for a foundation and then customizing it is a good way to get the site you want without paying for a custom design.

Both Shopify and Squarespace use templates (aka “themes”) for design. But they are very different in customization options.

Shopify has a solid drag and drop design feature. You can create any layout element you’d like and drag it into place. You can click and edit any portion of any web page – including both content and design.

But – Shopify does not combine design and content. You have to get your design right – and then add content in a separate area (ie, it’s a template).

Since you can edit HTML/CSS with Shopify, you can build any design possible. There are few, if any, limits to any design that you see on the Internet. Additionally, Shopify has a drag and drop template editor.

Shopify Drag Drop

Squarespace has a hybrid approach. They famously have beautiful pre-built designs.

Squarespace Designs

They also have drag and drop – and pretty intuitive editing.

But – they also combine design and content with their editor. This approach has tradeoffs. On one hand, you can edit the design for specific pages. On the other hand, your design can go “off-base” pretty quickly – especially with content for hundreds of products.

The other drawback with Squarespace is that their off-the-shelf themes require *a lot* of really good imagery. If you don’t have access to high-quality photography, their themes are not going to work well. Many of Shopify’s designs are fine and functional regardless of product imagery.

They both have large marketplaces for premium designs (in addition to professional designers).

If you are a fan of raw functionality – then you’ll appreciate Shopify’s approach to design. If you want your site to look amazing off the shelf, love to edit details, and have access to good imagery – then you’ll appreciate Squarespace.

Ecommerce Features

The absolute core features of an ecommerce store are a –

  • product database
  • shopping cart
  • checkout page
  • payment processor
  • order database

That is it.

But, especially in 2017 (and 2018 and beyond), there is a *lot* more than can (and should) go into an ecommerce store. There’s everything from selling via Facebook Messenger to syncing with Amazon FBA to integrating with eBay – not to mention features for executing on marketing fundamentals.

Even for advertising products, there’s selling via Buyable Pins, Google Merchant, Twitter cards, and more. There’s remarketing and coupon codes. There’s A/B testing. There’s inventory synchronization with vendors like AliExpress. And there’s order synchronization with shippers like UPS and USPS.

And that’s all a drop in the bucket.

Obviously, not every store needs every feature. If you are trying to sell a couple T-shirts or a couple specialty products – you certainly don’t need them all. But if you want to grow and expand, you’ll need your options open.

For ecommerce features, Shopify wins hands down, though Squarespace does make it simple to sell your product. Squarespace has a few advanced features (like abandoned cart recovery), but it’s nothing like Shopify.

Shopify not only has more features directly integrated into their platform, but they also have a well-established app store that includes free and paid apps to extend your store with every feature you could possibly need.

Shopify Integrations

That said, this section is a bit unfair to Squarespace, because, again, they are a general website builder that includes ecommerce. Shopify is strictly an ecommerce platform.

If Shopify didn’t “win” on ecommerce features it would be a surprise. Technically, Squarespace competes more with the likes of Weebly and Wix or WordPress who are also website builders that provide core ecommerce features.

In short – if you need core ecommerce features integrated in a simple, straightforward way, then Squarespace is fine. If you actually need a full suite of ecommerce features to grow, then Shopify is hands-down better.

Technical Features

Technical features are all the web development best practices that don’t really “matter”…until they matter a lot. I’m talking about generating clean URLs, editable metadata, allowing page-level redirects, etc.

On this point, Shopify does very well – and not just compared to Squarespace, but compared to any hosted platform.

Traditionally, hosted platforms presented a risk for web designers, developers, and marketers who wanted to work on the technical aspects of the site.

I know that I flinch anytime a prospective client tells me they are on a hosted platform of any kind.

But Shopify and Squarespace perform well in general. Many skeptics of hosted platforms note that they actually take care of the technical features well. You still don’t have FTP access to your server, but you do have access to change things via their Liquid editor (Shopify) or Developer Mode (Squarespace).

Where they differ (especially for me) is in their potential for technical features. And again, here, Shopify’s app store is their “killer” feature. Even if a feature is not native to Shopify, a non-developer can usually add it.

On the flip side, Squarespace has a lot of native features that simply “work” – and a process of continually adding & revising existing features.

Both Squarespace and Shopify have inherent limitations as hosted platforms (ie, when you leave, you a lot of your data), but Shopify does a bit more to eliminate the weaknesses and capitalize on strengths as a hosted platform.

Marketing Features

In Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner’s character says “if you build it, they will come.” Sadly, that is not true about websites. Like any business, you have to actively promote and market your online store for anyone to show up.

Marketing features like custom metadata, open graph information, Schema markups, email signups, share buttons, landing pages, etc all make marketing your site a lot easier.

For marketing features, both Shopify and Squarespace both do really well. They support header scripts. They integrate with many products. They add meta data, product schema and open graph tags automatically.

But like design & ecommerce features, there’s the same catch. For an ecommerce store owner, Shopify has many more (and higher quality) built-in features plus a better, more developed app store.

Squarespace has core marketing features built-in, but with more limits.

Support & Service

Customer support and service are difficult to judge. Like I’ve said in most of my reviews, a single customer can never really know if they happened upon a disgruntled rookie or if the company is really that bad.

That said, there are ways to look at a company’s investment in both customer services and support.

For Shopify vs. Squarespace, I think the clear “winner” is Shopify. Shopify not only provides more channels for customer service (phone, chat, email, forums, social media, etc), they also have an incredibly extensive help center.

The help center not only tackles technical issues, it also tackles customer success issues (aka problems with making money).

Squarespace has email support, and limited chat support – but no phone. Their knowledgebase does not have the attention or the depth that Shopify has.

Comparison Conclusion

So Shopify vs. Squarespace – which one is a better fit for your project?

If you plan on running a growing online store and want all the features possible, then you should go try Shopify.

Go try Shopify for free here.

If you want a simple store – or a general site with a beautiful look, then Squarespace might be a good fit for you.

Also – bookmark my post on creating an ecommerce marketing strategy here.

Good luck!

“”

X-Cart Versus Zen Cart

xcart-vs-zencart

If you are launching or moving an ecommerce site you’ll wish to choose which group of shopping cart software best compliments your store’s scope and your height of technical understanding. Maybe you’re available on the market for any platform which includes hosting like Shopify and BigCommerce. These cloud-based carts don’t need you to know any code but offer less wiggle room to make deep customizations.

However, if developing a totally unique online shop is really a priority I suggest thinking about both downloadable and free shopping carts. X-Cart is really a downloadable platform that charges an upfront fee to make use of. It had been produced greater than a decade back by programmers in Russia and it has developed into a sizable platform having a staff well over 100 engineers through its parent firm Qualiteam. Greater than 30,000 users have obtained the licensed CMS to produce online retailers. X-Cart’s simple to use admin keeps improving and it is fully scalable. But based on your set of skills you may want to employ a pro that will help you launch, which could add cost and time for you to your roll-out. Note: X-Cart also provides a cloud-based solution known as X-Cart Next. We’ll be searching at X-Cart’s original, licensed option within the following review.

Zen Cart is free of charge to download, and 100,000 individuals have done exactly that because the cart launched in 2003 after splitting removed from predecessor osCommerce. But to make use of the PHP/MySQL free platform you’ll wish to have a minimum of mid-level coding skills or receive the aid of a developer. Zen Cart arrives with several features which are incorporated with fee-based carts free of charge, nevertheless its insufficient support means you’re subject to a forum: Fortunately, it’s accessible and active.

Do not have time for you to read a whole article? Check out our best search engine optimization for any couple of quick recommendations. Every option we present here offers excellent customer care, superb website templates, and simple-to-use software, all for any reasonable cost.

Otherwise, continue reading for for my full X-Cart and Zen Cart comparison. I’ll examine each cart’s features, user feedback, prices, and much more below.

Table of Contents

 Web-Located or Licensed:

While users receive use of complete source code, X-Cart is really a downloadable licensed software that you will purchase upfront. Zen Cart is definitely an free shopping cart software which costs absolutely nothing to download or use.

Software and hardware Needs:

Being an X-Cart or Zen Cart user you’ll result in securing hosting for the website from the provider like Rackspace. Discover more about X-Cart’s server needs here and Zen Cart’s hosting recommendations here. Additionally, X-Cart offers in-house hosting plans.

Prices:

Champion: Zen Cart

With X-Cart’s downloadable version you’ll pay an upfront fee varying from $195 to $1,795 to gain access to this program. Retailers can pick between X-Cart’s Gold, Gold Plus, Platinum and Mobile plans, although for me choosing the Mobile choice is a no-brainer since increasingly more online purchases are now being completed on tablets and smartphones. X-Cart also provides SSL certificates, hosting, development and design work, and fee-based technical support. Take a look at our complete X-Cart review for plan and prices details.

Since X-Cart is self-located you’ll should also pencil in added monthly hosting expenses in addition to additional security, integrations, and charge card processing charges. People that use the liberated to download Zen Cart will encounter exactly the same group of charges. Plus, if you are not really a coder anticipate to budget in having to pay a developer and designer. But if you can to change PHP code, then Zen Cart is the foremost value.

Simplicity of use:

Champion: X-Cart

It’s simpler to set up and personalize X-Cart than Zen Cart, the situation when evaluating almost any downloadable Versus open source. To be able to begin using X-Cart you’ll wish to be comfortable installing software with the aid of an FTP and customizing code to produce a store that both looks great and runs easily. I discovered there to become a slight learning curve with X-Cart also it required a couple of minutes that i can find my way around its admin. But after customizing templates, importing product info, adding integrations, and inputting store settings, you ought to be through nearly all work required to start selling. Other extras can invariably be added in lower the street.

It’s harder to understand where to start after Zen Cart’s installation process is finished. The setup process takes some PHP/MySQL programming skills and it is less straightforward than X-Cart. Zen Cart’s admin is a little a bear that may need a update. Some backend options that aren’t that important their very own drop lower, just like a music genre page, while some aren’t found in the most apparent place and wish some hunting and pecking to locate. But around the plus side, if you are prepared to commit some effort to understanding the areas of Zen Cart which are helpful for you (i.e. adding products and filling orders) the cart will start to become simpler to make use of.

Product Features:

Champion: X-Cart

X-Cart offers sufficient features to help you get going, including configurable URLs and meta data (“clean” URLS are produced to exchange original dynamic URLS,) order tracking, and testimonials. I love that you could sell products with several variations with relative ease through the product option module and I like that traditional, express, and ‘fast lane’ one-page checkout can be obtained. Find out about X-Cart’s features here and find out our full review for additional features details.

Zen Cart offers a few of the same wonderful features you’ll find with X-Cart, including product critiques and downloadable products. A complete list is here now. That stated, although it downloads with increased features than some free competitors like osCommerce, Zen Cart doesn’t offer a few crucial factors that you’ll enjoy with X-Cart: I missed finding one-page checkout along with a mobile version as they are. Since clients are making physical and downloadable purchases via cellular devices increasingly more, not offering an enhanced, fast buying experience might be a real hindrance to finishing sales.

Confused or at a loss for your choices? If you want help sifting through shopping cart software software we’re here to assist. Take a look at Merchant Maverick’s talking to services.

Website Design:

Champion: X-Cart

As I didn’t find X-Cart’s free or fee-based CSS-based templates to become show-stopping, several are intuitive and could be altered to complement the theme and feel of the store. Browse some skin options here. I suggest starting with a reasonably simplistic theme and customizing it with the addition of fresh fonts, colors, and product photography.

To contrast, Zen Cart’s default theme is definitely an eye sore. You could attempt to brighten it up by installing among the several template alterations where you can, for instance, give a slideshow for your homepage or perhaps a sidebar that displays social networking buttons, but for me it’s a far greater idea to employ a professional to create your store or search for any cleaner theme such as this or this. Try Googling “free Zen Cart templates” or click on the disposable template packages on Zen Cart’s plug-ins directory for additional theme examples.

While Zen Cart’s admin area is simple enough to make use of to include products and fill orders when you get used to it, it is also seriously looking for a refresh. I’d a significantly simpler time getting acclimated to X-Cart’s more elegant admin, where one can create coupons, maintain order and inventory info, and rapidly click both to and from your backend to frontend. I additionally like this integrations are housed within “goodies” tab.

Integrations and Add-Ons:

Champion: Zen Cart

X-Cart offers a number of free add-ons like f-Commerce Go: It’s an additional that integrates X-Cart together with your Facebook business page. You’ll also find several popular fee-based extras, such as eBay and Mailchimp integrations. But when compared with Zen Cart, X-Cart offers far less add-ons.

Zen Cart arrives with sufficient fundamental features to obtain your store ready to go, but it’s likely you’ll wish to integrate a number of its greater than 1,500 extras to help make your store stick out while increasing its functionality. Bear in mind that quite a few users have experienced trouble customizing plugins previously and undergo difficulties transporting add-ons over after making sporadic Zen Cart updates. On Zen Cart integrations within our full review.

Payment Processing:

Champion: Tie

Zen Cart has the capacity to be integrated with Paypal, Authorize.internet, and FirstData, in addition to worldwide charge cards like Solo/Switch/Maestro (United kingdom), and JCB (multi-country). you may also processes checks and cash orders. Select charge cards your store accepts within the admin, including virtually all of the players like Visa, Mastercard, and American stock exchange. Take a look at Zen Cart’s plug-ins to locate several additional payment gateway and credit card merchant account integrations like PAYMILL and 2Checkout.

With X-Cart it’s very easy to integrate with any one of almost 100 gateways, including PayPal and Checkout by Amazon . com. You can process orders purchased with Visa, MasterCard, and American Express in addition to accept checks and cash orders. See the whole list here.

If you want help navigating the payment processor marketplace, take a look at our Credit Card Merchant Account Comparison page or call us for any consultation.

Customer Support and Tech Support Team:

Champion: Tie

Like other free carts, Zen Cart doesn’t maintain robust support beyond an energetic forum. However I did find Zen Cart to visit beyond a number of its free peers–it offers tutorials and FAQs, a person manual, a wiki that covers installing and upgrading this program, and YouTube videos.

For me, X-Cart’s support is a little an assorted bag–some retailers are pleased with their customer support experience, while some complain that compensated support costs $99 monthly (or $99 per single non-urgent incident should you not opt right into a monthly support plan) and isn’t offered 24/7. Also observe that tickets don’t cover all issues unless of course you have to pay yet another fee, so read the small print before you purchase a ticket. Unsupported topics vary from Search engine optimization to upgrades and gratifaction issues–see the entire list at the base of the page. Make sure to check other free sources for solutions for your questions first, via forums, a understanding base, and FAQs. I suggest going the only ticket route since X-Cart’s compensated monthly support costs almost $1,200 each year.

Negative Reviews and Complaints:

Champion: X-Cart

We spent hrs researching and compiling user feedback about both X-Cart and Zen Cart and located more negative feedback from Zen Cart users. As pointed out above, we noted that some X-Cart retailers wish its compensated support was available 24/7. For me, X-Cart could de-stress its compensated support model, especially since i have can’t make a slew of companies are pleased to fork over $99 for monthly support when cloud-based carts offer hosting, technical support, better styles and much more features for a lot less monthly that X-Cart charges for support alone.

Zen Cart users complain about its stale styles, counterproductive admin, insufficient one-page checkout (which X-Cart offers) and behind-the-occasions Search engine optimization and marketing features. And a few retailers are convinced that the woking platform can act buggy and also have experienced rocky upgrades.

If you wish to look for other complaints about X-Cart or Zen Cart, make sure to google X-Cart/Zen Cart reviews, X-Cart/Zen Cart complaints, X-Cart/Zen Cart comments, X-Cart/Zen Cart scam, X-Cart/Zen Cart testimonials, etc.

Positive Testimonials and reviews:

Champion: X-Cart

I discovered lots of positive X-Cart comments online from longtime, loyal users. Vibrant spots for X-Cart include engineers that rapidly reconcile issues, a complete group of as they are features, along with a very customizable admin. Others like its cost, social networking integrations, and PCI-compliance.

Zen Cart users like this it’s liberated to download–no surprise there–and that it is completely customizable and keeps a lively forum. Others appreciate that it arrives with a variety of features and add-ons. But overall, our search switched up more kudos from X-Cart retailers.

Final Verdict:

Champion: X-Cart

Selecting whether licensed ecommerce shopping cart software that needs an upfront payment to download like X-Cart or perhaps an free cart that’s liberated to download but requires more coding competence to produce like Zen Cart will provide you with control of your store’s feel and look. Both X-Cart and Zen Cart require that you get a host for the store and provide you with the actual capability to make serious customizations for your shop. Plus, each comes as they are with sufficient features to begin.

Which suits your company? This will depend in your shop’s scope and values. Some retailers are energized by the opportunity to opt-in for an free user community and therefore are comfortable taking it towards the forums for help when problems appear. If that’s you, Zen Cart could be the right fit. Before committing I’d also recommend searching at competitors like Spree Commerce. If it’s important to bring a developer aboard to produce your store with Zen Cart, my conjecture would be that the liberated to download platform would be the more pricey option within the finish.

If you are lured with a licensed cart that arrives prepared to be included in an entirely unique store I suggest searching carefully at X-Cart, which will keep improving. X-Cart arrives with fresher skins as well as an simpler to navigate admin than Zen Cart. I love that X-Cart also provides one-page checkout and supports responsive styles, since within my opinion both are crucial for the store’s success.

Consider using a free demo of X-Cart’s downloadable version or download Zen Cart to have an limitless trial and find out if either shopping cart software suits your web store.

“”

Magento Versus Zen Cart

Magento-vs-Zencart

If you are thinking about using free shopping cart software software to produce or migrate a current online shop, odds are you’re whether confident coder or will be ready to employ a professional to build up your shop. Either in situation, you’ll be thinking about two popular free platforms: Magento and Zen Cart.

Launched about ten years ago, Zen Cart is really a PHP/MySQL platform that branched removed from osCommerce. osCommerce was among the first free carts hitting the scene in 2000 (take a look at our osCommerce and Zen Cart comparison here.) Using more than 100,000 users under its belt, Zen Cart’s consistent performance, active forums, and relatively simple to complete installation process turn it into a serious contender which has earned many loyal users. However, many developers complain that although the program is a great candidate for code newbies, its less malleable PHP coding framework shows aging process.

Magento is completely customizable, elegant, flooded with features…and has a steep learning curve. An intricate open cart solution, Magento has been utilized by greater than 150,000 retailers because it launched greater than 5 years ago and it is a finest fit for mid to large-size companies who are able to afford help to obtain their store launched and maintained. I recommend getting a pro developer that has effectively labored with Magento prior to getting began, in addition to a designer based on your developer’s set of skills.

Observe that the next article compares Zen Cart to Magento CE, Magento’s free, free option.

Do not have time for you to read a whole article? Check out our best search engine optimization for any couple of quick recommendations. Every option we present here offers excellent customer care, superb website templates, and simple-to-use software, all for any reasonable cost.

Otherwise, keep studying to understand how Magento and Zen Cart perform within our mind-to-mind comparison.

Table of Contents

Web-Located or Licensed:

Both Magento and Zen Cart are free, self-located shopping carts that is free of charge to download or use.

Software and hardware Needs:

Since they’re both free, downloadable platforms, it’s important to find hosting for the Magento or Zen Cart store. Read information regarding Magento’s hosting requirements here and discover Zen Cart’s guidelines here.

Prices:

Champion: Tie

Both Magento CE and Zen Cart are free shopping cart software platforms that won’t cost you a factor to download. However when planning just how much to plan for your store’s creation and launch, bear in mind that it’s important to purchase hosting, charge card processing, (possibly) a design template, security to make sure PCI compliance, and (possibly) a developer and designer. It’s easy to understand the way it can finish up squandering your at least as much to produce an ecommerce site by having an free cart like Magento or Zen Cart instead of a cloud-based option which includes hosting and expenses through the month, like BigCommerce or Shopify.

Simplicity of use:

Champion: Zen Cart

When I just pointed out above, free shopping carts will vary creatures than web-based competitors for example Shopify that include hosting, templates, and security as they are. Both Zen Cart and Magento require technical understanding and a minimum of mid-level coding competency to set up and personalize. If it is not after this you you’ll want to locate a developer to obtain your shop ready to go and train staff regarding how to add inventory, manage customers, fill orders, etc.

I discovered Zen Cart’s admin to become counterproductive, with increased drop downs than needed. Zen Cart’s template system for defining the feel of your shop (its as they are template is particularly underwhelming, so customizing its PHP code is essential) is sensible after committing serious amounts of it, but anticipate to search and peck to locate standard elements like product options and tax settings. That stated, when your store is live you’ll most likely have previously mastered in which the areas of Zen Cart’s admin which are highly relevant to you reside (also known as adding products and managing orders) and may ignore admin tabs like “index listing,” “default page status,” and “option value manager.”

You’ll need to know that some developers describe Zen Cart’s code as sloppy which its periodic software updates can lead to lost design and integration customizations. But overall its PHP-based code helps it to be simpler to get going rapidly, a minimum of when compared with Magento.

Magento’s complex code is notoriously difficult to master, and it is short stack of support tools make partnering by having an experienced pro crucial, particularly if you’re shelling out cash before you’re in a position to start earning it back by finishing sales. Magento’s backend isn’t a lot more streamlined than Zen Cart’s, with confusing system settings and admin pages that aren’t always in which you expect these to be. Intend to spend some time finding out how to add orders and keep your store.

Product Features:

Champion: Magento

Overall, I discovered Magento to provide a better developed, better quality group of features which are crucial for creating effective online retailers. For instance, only Magento is enhanced for smartphones and tablets, that is a must for reducing abandoned carts, especially since a lot of us are browsing and purchasing on cellular devices. Also, Magento arrives with more powerful fundamental Search engine optimization tools. Plus, I love that it may support several store from one admin–that’s a less frequent feature overall in web-based, downloadable, or free shopping carts.

Zen Cart does present some features you will not find after installing Magento, including gift cards along with a (dated) WYSIWYG tool. But Magento’s product comparison feature, coupon system (Zen Cart offers light coupon functionality), wishlists, and uber important one page checkout tend to be more types of extras making it soar beyond Zen Cart within the features department.

For more information concerning the feature teams of both carts, take a look at our complete Magento review here and Zen Cart review here. If you are confused or at a loss for your choices and would really like help sifting through shopping cart software software we’re here to assist. Take a look at Merchant Maverick’s talking to services.

Website Design:

Champion: Magento

There isn’t any doubt that both Magento and Zen Cart can establish completely functional shops, but getting there’s most likely likely to mean dealing with a thick pile of customizations or purchasing a theme. It’s one more reason to utilize a professional if you are not confident nipping and tucking code.

When you can tweak the headers, colors, fonts, along with other fundamental elements of design with Zen Cart’s as they are theme, I counsel beginning having a different skin since its default choice is, to become diplomatic, very dated. Take a look at more Zen Cart free themes to get an understanding of what’s available. Or, you are able to employ a designer to carry out a custom look that’s totally unique, that is things i recommend.

Compared, Magento has been utilized to create what, for me, tend to be more elegant stores (browse some Magento live stores here and Zen Cart live stores here to check.) This minimal free Modern Theme for Magento is miles over the skin which comes standard with Zen Cart in looks and usefulness. Plus, Magento’s template system streamlines customizing skins. Take a look at various other Magento templates here.

Integrations and Add-Ons:

Champion: Magento

Magento arrives with several helpful features as they are, but you’ll wish to browse its countless free and fee-based integrations too. Take a look at its full plug-in list here by selecting “Community” under “Platform” around the left side from the screen. Extras are sortable by rating, relevance, and cost.

As opposed to Magento, which arrives with lots of more features after it’s downloaded, intend to depend on Zen Cart’s plugins to complete your store’s set of features. Zen Cart offers retailers an enormous database in excess of 1,500 integrations, including admin tools varying from bulk order plugins to advanced login features, language packages, social networking and marketing extras, and prices tools. A thing of warning: We found reports claiming that some Zen Cart plugins really are a bear to personalize and aren’t suitable for new versions.

I love that Magento’s application store lets users leave feedback about plugins which each integration earns a “popularity score.” Individuals factors should in no way be the sole reason you choose to make use of an add-on, but a minimum of the scores provide a frame of reference. Overall, I discovered Magento’s integrations to become more curated, reliable, and helpful.

Payment Processing:

Champion: Magento

While it isn’t suitable for as many gateways as some cloud-based shopping cart software platforms, Magento integrates with an array of gateways and third-party processors including PayPal.

Zen Cart integrates with lots of processors too, including Dwolla and Braintree, and supports plug-ins for a lot of more gateways. Also, when i pointed out above Zen Cart supports gift cards as they are while Magento doesn’t. However, Magento does support one-page checkout and guest checkout (each of which for me are essentials that internet buyers have started to expect) while Zen Cart doesn’t.

If you want help navigating the payment processor landscape, take a look at our Credit Card Merchant Account Comparison page or call us for any consultation.

Customer Support and Tech Support Team:

Champion: Zen Cart

Magento CE users depend on its active, almost 2 million member forum when questions show up pre and post stores are live, so bookmark the page for reference. Overall, I didn’t have positive interactions with Magento support–answers to questions I sent staff via email or Facebook weren’t clarified. Also, users are convinced that Magento’s documentation is thin, however it does keep growing.

To contrast, Zen Cart offers several additional tools for help which go beyond its 135,000 member forum, including tutorials and FAQs, YouTube videos, along with a wiki since the installation process and upgrades. Or you prefer holding a reference guide with you you may also order Zen Cart’s instructions.

Negative Reviews and Complaints:

Champion: Zen Cart

Retailers and developers have lots to complain about with Magento and Zen Cart. After hrs of research and time spent culling user feedback, we could find out the following common negative trends about each cart.

A vintage complaint about Magento is the fact that it’s slow and clunky. Another common gripe concentrates on the Magento customer care department and documentation, with are essentially nonexistent in the CS edition except for a properly-used forum. Other Magento users aren’t happy that developer charges, security, hosting, and processing charges allow it to be an costly option, leveling out the advantages of that download free pretty rapidly.

Zen Cart users frequently complain about its outdated admin design, lagging marketing and Search engine optimization features, and not seamless version upgrades that may result in lost data. Also, some state that the cart is glitchy, miss good choices for mobile integrations, and wish the opportunity to offer customers one-page checkout. Overall, we found more negatives concerning the better-known and harder to understand Magento.

If you wish to look for other complaints about Magento or Zen Cart, make sure to google Magento/Zen Cart reviews, Magento/Zen Cart complaints, Magento/Zen Cart comments, Magento/Zen Cart scam, Magento/Zen Cart testimonials, etc.

Positive Testimonials and reviews:

Champion: Magento

We collected assorted positive reports about Zen Cart, varying from kudos because of its solid uptime record, great support sources, and broad group of add-ons. Other Zen Cart retailers verify its customizable admin and worldwide achieve.

But we found more users singing the praises of Magento, with lots of programmers building totally unique, effective stores which are scalable, specifically for medium and enormous size e-tailers. Magento users like its meaty attributes, which rivals some fee-based located competitors, and therefore are happy that it arrives with various coupon and promotions options and may support mobile sales and multiple stores.

Final Verdict:

Champion: Magento

Zen Cart gives retailers the opportunity to build relationships an active user community that aims to constantly improve its functionality. It is also fast, lighter, and much easier to navigate than Magento and may take a shorter period to understand. Consider it started 10 years ago, some smarter, leaner free competitors like Spree Commerce and PrestaShop have challenged Zen Cart’s comparatively dated admin and lagging marketing, mobile, and Search engine optimization integrations.

Magento is really a workhorse that may create effective, beautiful stores, however it needs a real commitment. It’ll likely try taking some cold income and also the right team of developers to unveil a effective store, but Magento’s capability to scale enough to aid companies which are big names is definitely an appealing plus: The Harper’s Bazaar and Fiji Water web stores are generally operated by Magento. I additionally found it packed with some of the very features cloud-based carts charge money to make use of. When compared with Zen Cart, Magento is really a fight tested and much more impressive bit of software–if you really can afford it.

Prepared to take both ecommerce shopping carts try it out? Download Magento here and Zen Cart here to find out if either choice is the best fit for the business. Also, take a look at our full Magento and Zen Cart reviews for that full lowdown.

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