The Merchant’s Guide To CVV2 And CVV Checks

The post The Merchant’s Guide To CVV2 And CVV Checks appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How to Accept Online Payments With Square

When you are ready to start selling online, Square (read our review) offers a wide variety of options depending on your skill level and needs. For example, if time is of the essence or you don’t want to fuss with code, build a free online store from Square’s templates and get up and running by the end of the day.

Already have a site? Choose a plugin integration from the Square Dashboard that solves your problem — without the need for code.

But those aren’t all of your options. If you do have developer expertise, you can build your checkout flow with Square Transactions API and start accepting all major credit cards with digital wallet support, too.  Square Checkout is yet another developer option that requires less coding with a pre-built payment form and digital wallet support.

In this post, we’ll explore each path so that you can get the facts and navigate to the choices right for you. Before you know it, you’ll have launched your own online store and can move on to more exciting business matters.

Note: If you’re also curious about in-store payments, check out our related post, How To Use Square To Accept Credit Cards In Person.

Webstore Integrations Developers

Build Your Webstore Quickly & Easily

Integrate With Popular eCommerce Software

Developer-Friendly Tools For Customization

Get Started

Get Started

Get Started

Highlights:

  • No coding required
  • Free personalized URL
  • Premade customizable themes
  • No hosting fees
  • Manage from your Dashboard
  • Mobile-ready storefront
  • Integrate with your in-person store

Integrate with:

  • WooCommerce
  • BigCommerce
  • Ecwid
  • 3dcart
  • OpenCart
  • Zen Cart
  • Weebly
  • WordPress.com
  • Wix
  • +More

Highlights:

  • API for custom solutions
  • In-person solutions
  • Online solutions
  • Card reader SDK
  • Customer management solutions
  • PCI and EMV compliance
  • End-to-end encryption
  • Dispute management
  • Fraud detection

Instant Account Setup

Fast Funding

No Monthly Fees

2.90% + $0.30 for online sales

Instant Account Setup

Fast Funding

No Monthly Fees

2.90% + $0.30 for online sales

Instant Account Setup

Fast Funding

No Monthly Fees

2.90% + $0.30 for online sales

How Much Does Square Charge For Online Payments?

The cost question can be a very loaded one when it comes to payment processing. The great news is that Square offers a transparent pricing model.

To process credit cards online with Square, you’ll pay 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction. The significant thing to note is that this flat fee encompasses much more than is typical with traditional merchant accounts. For instance, you don’t need to worry about a payment gateway (and the expenses that go with it) when you process through Square. Read on below to learn the differences between Square and a traditional merchant account — and why they matter.

Traditional Merchant Account Vs. Square

Square’s hardware and services encompass an end-to-end processing system that captures payment information and encrypts it through the payment chain with no need for a separate payment gateway.

What this means for you is cost-savings compared to a traditional merchant account. You won’t be paying initial set-up fees, PCI compliance fees, monthly account fees, batch fees, or higher rates for processing cards like American Express. Square also doesn’t assess any chargeback fees and offers merchants up to $250/month in chargeback protection. All of this is a pretty big deal because Square spares business owners from the laundry list of itemized charges that can come with traditional merchant accounts.

So if Square isn’t a traditional merchant account, what is it? Square is a third party processor. This means that instead of opening a merchant account directly, you are basically a sub-user on Square’s giant merchant account, along with all of Square’s other customers. Square acts as a payment processor and also assumes the financial risk associated with your business to do so. The whole premise behind Square is that it makes setting up a shop very easy for the busy entrepreneur. In fact, you can get an account set up and running to take payment the very same day. The Square sign-up process doesn’t even require a credit check!

While you don’t need to jump through a lot of hoops to open up an account with Square (as you would working directly with a bank), Square is more apt to terminate or put a hold on an account if certain red flags are raised. While the overwhelming majority of businesses will never have a problem with an account hold, it can be disconcerting if it happens to you. Check out our post How to Avoid Merchant Account Holds, Freezes, and Terminations to find out more. Again, most merchants will likely never have to face this issue, but it helps to cover your bases.

Now that we have covered Square Payments as a third party processor and the cost of processing, let’s dig into Square’s offerings when it comes to going live and selling online.

Option 1: Build A Free Square Online Store

Square Store Template

As I said in the introduction, you can get a free Square store up and running today with no technical expertise needed. This whole process is powered by Square Payments and Weebly (read our review). After creating a Square account, you can go back into your dashboard and select “Online Store” in the menu. Then, Square leads you through the process of selecting the categories that most closely apply to your business. You’ll get a suggested template, but you can choose a different one if you fancy another one better. You can also add your logo, choose from limited fonts, and have some color choices, but overall the design freedom here is limited to the template itself.

Again, for being free, there isn’t much to complain about. A Square store is the simplest solution to get your shop up and running. All you need to do is add your products — your eCommerce shop syncs with Square POS and all of the other Square software and tools. Your inventory automatically updates when you sell an item, too.

One potential drawback to the freemium option, however, is that you are bound to the Weebly logo in your domain name and the footer of your website, and your shipping options are minimal. The screenshot below shows the shipping options available when setting up the free Square store with Weebly. Note that you must upgrade your Weebly plan to calculate real-time shipping rates:

Square Free Store Shipping Setup

If you want a bit more customization and dynamic shipping calculations (among other upgrades), you can purchase a domain and upgrade to a professional or premium account through Weebly.

Square Online Store Upgrade Options

Square and Weebly

The free online store option, although robust in its own way, limits you a bit. As you can see from above, for example, if your company relies heavily on shipping items with large size or weight ranges, it may be worth it to you to go to the Premium eCommerce plan for the real-time shipping rate calculator and accurate rates for UPS, FedEx, or other third party carriers.

The free store also has a 500 MB storage space limit, which could limit the number of photos on your site. The paid tiers give you a considerable upgrade with unlimited space, along with website analytics and insights.

As far as accepting payment goes, you can accept all major credit cards. Digital wallets like Apple Pay are not supported at this time, but I suspect they will be soon. For more about the pros and cons of this solution, check out our Square Online Store and eCommerce Review.

Option 2: Connect Square To An eCommerce Platform

Square eCommerce Apps

Whether you already have your site up and running or you are building your site from the ground up (or somewhere in between), you can probably find what you need in the Square App Marketplace. Square integrates with many eCommerce platforms, including:

  • 3dcart (read our review)
  • Wix (read our review)
  • BigCommerce (read our review)
  • WooCommerce (read our review)
  • Ecwid (read our review)

And of course — let’s not forget that Square also integrates with Weebly, as well as WordPress and WP EasyCart.

On the topic of app integrations and Square, it’s worth noting that Square can easily integrate with a range of different types of apps that you can shop for right from your dashboard. You can find everything from accounting to invoicing, employee management, loyalty and rewards, and marketing, to name a few. Pricing depends entirely on the apps themselves, but the Square App Marketplace is set up to compare costs easily.

All of Square’s basic eCommerce features integrate with these apps, so you’ll be able to enjoy the same payment processing rates, security protection, and inventory updates as you sell. Of course, each app platform has specific features and benefits, so the finished product (and look) varies depending on the integrated solution you choose. Check out The Best eCommerce Integrations That Work With Square Payments for our top picks!

Option 3: Build Your Own Checkout With Square APIs

If you already have your own site and you have developer expertise, then you have two more options thanks to Square API: Square Checkout and Transactions API. The most significant difference between the two is that Square Checkout is much closer to an out-of-the-box solution. With Square Checkout, Square is actually hosting the payment form, and the UI is already done for you. If you want more freedom in the checkout and payment UI and you want to host the payment form on your site with customized branding, you can opt for Square Transactions API.

Here is a handy side-by-side comparison chart to give you an overview of what you can expect with each solution. Note: All Square APIs and SDKs are free to use. As always, you pay only the payment processing fees.

Square Checkout Feature Square Transactions API
Yes Requires Developer Support Yes
No Can Customize Yes
Yes Square Hosted No (You host)
Yes Store Customer Data Yes (With integration)
No Card on File & Recurring Payments Yes (With integration)
Yes (Customer data
& itemization)
Detailed Dashboard Reports No (Transaction
amount only)
Recommended,
not required
SSL Needed Yes, with
separate integration
Yes Eligible for Chargeback Protection Yes (with conditions)
Yes Data Encryption Yes
Yes PCI Compliance Included Yes
Yes Itemization Yes, with Orders API
No Dynamic Shipping Calculations No
Yes Accept Google Pay Yes
Yes Accept Apple Pay Yes
No Accept MasterPass Yes
Yes Accept All Major Credit Cards Yes
Yes Inventory Syncing Yes, with Inventory API

The choice between Square API and Transactions API largely depends on your particular needs and what you find most important in the customer journey.

Other Ways To Accept Online Payments With Square

Square Developer In-App

Though we have explored several options in Square payments, there are yet a few more to keep in mind. Before we go on, it’s worth mentioning that you can’t add an embeddable “Buy Now” button to any site like you can with PayPal or even Shopify. However, there are still ways to take payments online — even without a website! Let’s check out the last two ways you can take payments via Square from your customer online — through invoices and in-app payments.

Invoices

Square Invoices

You don’t need an online store to send and collect payment from your customers if you use invoices. Square allows you to send one-off invoices for single orders, or to set up recurring invoices for subscriptions or even installments. It’s easy to track the status of invoices and follow up right from your Square Dashboard, too. Want more info on invoices? Check out How To Use Square Invoices To Ensure You Get Paid On Time so you can leverage this option for your business.

In-App Payments

With all the cash being exchanged through in-app purchases, it was only a matter of time before Square decided to join the party. That’s right; now Square offers in-app payment support with a few lines of code! You can update elements to match your app’s style and have the freedom to customize the look and feel however you want. It’s all in Square’s Transaction APIs and completely free for you to use with your Square account.

Is Square Online Payments Right For You?

Square offers solutions for both the tech-savvy and those who want something ready to run out of the box. With that being said, the more appropriate question is, “Which of Square Online Payment solutions are right for you?” And that answer comes down to your needs. From a quick-to-set up Square Store to Transaction APIs that are customizable and free to us, or plug-ins apps that add eCommerce to your existing site, there are many solutions to choose.

Keep in mind that you can add or subtract Square’s services and other integrations to scale up or down with you as needed, so you don’t have to make a final decision today. Setting up a Square account is the first step to get the ball rolling and see the options along the way. With no sign-up fees, binding contracts, or credit checks, Square is one of the least intimating companies to deal with if you are just checking things out.

The post How to Accept Online Payments With Square appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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What Is An Acquiring Bank?

Accept ACH payments online

Keeping all of the terms straight when it comes to processing payments can be a bit tricky. And there are so many entities involved in payment processing. So we’re going to start with one of the most important terms and players in credit card processing: the acquiring bank. We’ll start with a general definition of an acquiring bank, and then we are going to explore what it means for your business:

What Is An Acquiring Bank?

The acquiring bank is a financial institution that plays a crucial role for the merchant by creating and managing the bank account. Also referred to as an acquirer or a merchant bank, this financial institution is a licensed member of the card networks, including Visa and MasterCard. When you process a payment with a debit or credit card, the acquiring bank plays a role in approving the sale. The bank makes this determination based on the cardholder’s data (made available at the time of the sale from the issuing bank and the card network). Note that the issuing bank is the bank that provided customer’s credit card.

For instance, let’s say your customer pays you with a Visa card and taps their card to pay. Their card’s issuing bank makes information available about their credit card account to your merchant bank (acquiring bank). If there are enough funds on the card and everything else is copacetic, the acquiring bank approves the purchase and puts the funds in your account.

Now keep in mind that the term “acquiring bank” primarily refers to the specific role it plays in the whole credit card processing interchange. A merchant’s acquiring bank can be an actual bank, or it can be another type of financial organization. A large acquiring bank may also issue credit and debit cards to its customers, thus also acting as an “issuing bank” when a consumer pays with the card (this is the case with Bank of America). An acquiring bank is also sometimes referred to as a payment processor, and it might contract directly with merchants to provide merchants services. That said, not all payment processors are acquiring banks. 

There’s a lot to keep straight, but keep reading as we further de-mystify these terms and give you the tools to understand how money moves from your customer to you.

The Acquiring Bank’s Role In Payment Processing

The acquiring bank plays a pivotal role in processing credit card payments for merchants. When a merchant processes a payment, the acquirer’s purpose is to authorize the card transaction and connect with the issuing bank (the consumer’s bank) on behalf of the merchant.

In a nutshell, the acquiring bank acts as a go-between with the customer’s financial organization to ensure funds are transferred. In doing so, the acquiring bank assumes some financial risk (that’s where the acquiring bank fees come in.) We’ll talk more about security, disputes, and more in an upcoming section.

Want to know what happens to your funds in a transaction? Here is an overview to help you wrap your mind around the process itself:

  • 1st Step: A cardholder receives a credit card from their issuing bank and visits your shop. When they are ready to buy, they present you with their card to pay for your wares.
  • 2nd Step: The transaction information and the card information passes between the payment processor to the card network, and then to the issuing bank.
  • 3rd Step: The issuing bank charges your customer for the amount of the purchase.
  • 4th Step: The issuing bank transfers the amount to the acquiring bank.
  • 5th Step: The acquiring bank deposits the funds into your account.

Keep in mind that your payment processor may not be the acquiring bank. Read on to find out more about the difference in the roles and how you can find the right solution for your business needs.

Payment Processor VS Acquiring Bank: What’s The Difference?

When someone discusses payment transactions, the words payment processor and acquiring bank are sometimes used interchangeably. Some acquirers are themselves also payment processors and you can sign up for a merchant account with them directly. However, not all processors are acquiring banks. In this case, they contract with an acquiring bank to provide services. While they may or may not be two separate entities, the acquirer and payment processor roles are unique.

The payment processor plays more of a direct role with the merchant, as they are obtaining and processing the credit or debit card information during the transaction. Your payment processor handles the lion’s share of the data security as the card information moves from your customer to you. Processors are also the source of the hardware or software you may use. They provide connection to the payment gateway and thus are also integral to the authorization as well.

The acquiring bank is more of a go-between among the card networks, including the issuing bank and the merchant. For example, the acquiring bank essentially mediates any disputed transaction from the issuing bank. When an issuing bank reviews a dispute brought up by a customer, the card network passes the dispute to the acquiring bank, which then conveys the issue to the merchant. The merchant’s response gets passed back to the acquiring bank and so forth. This example is simplified but illustrates where the acquiring bank sits as it relates to you and your customer.

As mentioned earlier, though the role of an acquirer and a payment processor may be unique, sometimes the same organization fulfills both duties. In other cases, payment processors and acquiring banks have contract agreements with one another to perform their separate roles.

Why Does An Acquiring Bank Charge Fees?

As we’ve shown, the acquiring bank is the financial institution that’s involved in each sale and also assumes some financial risk when it comes to funds transfer during credit card processing. The other thing to keep in mind is that just like your payment processor, your acquiring bank is dealing with sensitive customer data and has to follow strict payment security standards. For these reasons, the acquiring bank also charges a fee to cover its own risks and financial investment in the whole process.

For more information on the different types of costs you may incur with processing credit cards, check out What Are Interchange Fees For Credit Card Processing?

How Do Acquiring Banks Affect Merchant Services?

Acquiring banks are essential players in the whole credit card processing landscape. As a merchant, it’s important to at least generally understand who the players are and how they may affect your business. It’s not always obvious who your acquiring bank is, as some processors and acquiring banks are separate entities, while sometimes you’re dealing with the same organization.

On a similar note, smaller processors that contract with acquiring banks often bring better customer service because of their specialization. They also may have different pricing and contract terms, such as month-to-month agreements. Keep the whole picture in mind when you are shopping around for a merchant account so that you can make the best decision for your business.

Wondering what companies are out there and which one is right for your business? You are in the right place here at Merchant Maverick. If you haven’t yet, visit our Merchant Account Comparison page and peruse our small business resources that cover the gamut when it comes to payment processing and you.

The post What Is An Acquiring Bank? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Best Accounting Software For Freelancers

Best Freelance Accounting Software

There are over 55 million freelancers in the US. With perks like being your own boss, setting your own schedule, and the flexibility to work from anywhere, it’s easy to see why freelancing is becoming such a popular choice. Whether you are self-employed full-time or are freelancing on the side to earn some extra income, there are key software tools that can help you run a more effective and profitable business — the most important being accounting software.

As a freelancer, it’s easy to focus on growing your business, finding new clients, creating marketing campaigns — anything but accounting. However, having a strong accounting process and being in control of your business’s finances is the key to running a successful business.

Luckily, there are plenty of easy to use, affordable accounting solutions that will help you manage your freelance finances and taxes quickly so you can get back to doing what you love.

In this post, we’ll share the top accounting software for freelancers. We’ll also share some other great freelance tools that you should know about to help your business succeed, including everything from email marketing software to website builders to mobile payment apps and more. We’ve spent hours researching and testing software so that you can find the perfect software solutions to run your freelance business.

heading QuickBooks Self-Employed AND CO Wave

Best Accounting Software for Freelancers

Best Accounting Software for Freelancers

Best Accounting Software for Freelancers

ReviewCompare

ReviewCompare

ReviewCompare

Pricing

$10 – $17/month

$0 – $18/month

$0/month

Size of Business

Self-Employed

Self-Employed

Small

Ease of Use

Very Easy

Very Easy

Very Easy

Customer Service

Fair

Very good

Poor

Number of Users

1

1

1

Number of Integrations

4

10

4

Cloud-Based or Installed

Cloud-Based

Cloud-Based

Cloud-Based

Mobile Apps

iOS & Android

iOS & Android

iOS & Android

Characteristics Of Good Freelance Accounting Software

In terms of accounting software, freelancers have very specific needs. Most traditional small business accounting software simply won’t fit the bill. Freelancers need an easy-to-use financial management solution designed specifically for the self-employed. Here are some of the key characteristics a good freelance accounting software should have:

  • Affordable: For freelancers, every penny counts. With a slim or nonexistent accounting budget, freelancers need a solution that is free or offers affordable, low monthly payments.
  • Easy To Use: Good accounting software should be easy to use as most freelancers don’t have time to spend hours balancing the books. Many also may have little to no previous accounting experience so they need something that is easy to learn and understand.
  • Time-Saving Automations: All accounting software should feature automations, but freelancers are in particular need of any way to save time. Standard automations include automatic receipt uploading, mileage tracking, and live bank feeds.
  • Manage Personal & Business Finances: While freelancers should open a separate business banking account to safeguard against tax audits, this simply isn’t the reality for many self-employed individuals. Because of this, many freelancers need to be able to separate their personal expenses from their business expenses using their accounting software
  • Good Organization: As a freelancer, it’s easy to put finances on the back burner, but knowing your exact income and expenses is key to running a successful business. Accounting software should help you stay organized, run key financial statements, and make more informed business decisions.
  • Tax Support: With estimated quarterly taxes and ever-changing deductions, freelance taxes can be overwhelming. The best freelance accounting software will include tax support to help you manage your self-employed taxes.
  • Support Resources: Good accounting software will also provide you with ample learning materials to help you better your business.

We weighed all of these factors when selecting the best accounting software for freelancers. Each of the top three accounting options displays many, if not all, of the features listed above to help make managing your freelance finances as simple as possible.

1) QuickBooks Self-Employed

Best For…Best Accounting Software for Freelancers

Overall freelance accounting and tax support. Ideal for filing directly with Turbo Tax.

Created in 2014, QuickBooks Self-Employed was designed specifically to help freelancers manage their finances and file their taxes easily. QuickBooks Self-Employed is incredibly easy to use, offers great mobile apps, and has the best tax support of all three programs on this list. The software helps you calculate your estimated quarterly taxes, track your mileage, find other deductions like the home office deduction, and even has a Turbo Tax integration for easy filing. On top of tax support, QBSE also helps freelancers keep track of their income and expenses.

The software is ideal for freelancers looking for tax support, a way to separate personal and business expenses, and basic expense tracking.

Pros Cons

Suited for freelancers

Limited invoice features

Calculates estimated quarterly taxes

No state tax support

Easy to use

Turbo Tax integration

Pricing

QuickBooks Self-Employed offers two pricing plans ranging from $10 – $17/month. The difference between the two is that the larger plan includes a built-in Turbo Tax integration and the ability to pay estimated quarterly taxes online.

Features

Best Freelance Accounting Software

QuickBooks Self-Employed supports a good amount of features, especially where taxes are concerned. Here’s an idea of what QuickBooks Self-Employed has to offer:

  • Track income and expenses
  • Separate personal and business expenses
  • Invoicing
  • Record tax deductions
  • Fixed asset management
  • Calculate estimated quarterly taxes

Ease Of Use

QuickBooks Self-Employed is incredibly easy to use. It has a modern, well-organized UI that takes very little time to learn and offers strong mobile apps that are also easy to navigate.

Customer Support

QuickBooks Self-Employed’s customer support has its pros and cons. There’s no phone support, but there is a live chat feature if you want to get in touch with a representative directly. The good news is that QBSE provides a great selection of learning resources for freelancers including a comprehensive help center and a small business center chock full of business advice.

Takeaway

QuickBooks Self-Employed is one of the best accounting and tax support solutions out there for the self-employed. The software offers the most advanced level of tax support on the market, and while this isn’t a full-fledged accounting app, it allows freelancers to manage their income and expenses.

Read our full QuickBooks Self-Employed review to find out if this software is right for your business.

2) AND CO

Best For…
Best Accounting Software for Freelancers

Freelancers looking for strong accounting, good customer support, and the ability to create and send contracts to clients.

Founded in 2015, AND CO is an up-and-coming freelance accounting software that was recently acquired by Fiverr, one of the leading freelance marketplaces. The software is easy to use, offers great customer support, and provides traditional accounting features like time tracking and project management. While the software does not offer tax support, it does have a one-of-a-kind contract feature that allows you to create legal contracts for projects that are compliant with the Freelancers Union. This allows you to dictate who retains rights to your work and accept signatures directly from clients.

AND CO is ideal for freelancers who don’t need the extra tax support of QuickBooks Self-Employed and would rather have more traditional accounting features, contracts, and better customer support.

Pros Cons

Suited for freelancers

No tax support

Easy to use

Unsuited for product-based businesses

Good customer support

Limited integrations

Strong mobile apps

Pricing

AND CO has a free plan for freelancers with a single client and a paid plan which costs $18/month. The larger plan includes unlimited reports and more advanced proposals and contracts.

Features

Best Accounting Software for Freelancers

While AND CO may be lacking in tax support, the software has a lot of great features going for it. Here are some of the features AND CO has to offer:

  • Invoicing
  • Contact management
  • Expense tracking
  • Time tracking
  • Project management
  • Proposals
  • Contracts
  • Subscriptions

Ease Of Use

AND CO is incredibly easy to use. The software was originally designed solely as an iPhone app so the mobile apps are also easy to navigate.

Customer Support

AND CO offers great customer support. Representatives are generally kind and quick to respond to questions. The company also offers great business tools and support resources for freelancers, as well as all of Fiverr’s extensive freelance resources.

Takeaway

AND CO is a great accounting and finance management tool for freelancers. The main drawback is that there is no tax support. However, you won’t find such developed proposal and contract features anywhere else.

Read our complete AND CO review to see if this freelance tool is right for you.

3) Wave

Best For…Best Freelance Accounting Software

Freelancers looking for a complete accounting solution for free.

Wave is a free accounting software solution that offers an incredible number of features for $0/month. While the software wasn’t designed specifically for freelancers like QuickBooks Self-Employed and AND CO, Wave is one of the best accounting programs to fit the needs of freelancers. It’s affordable, easy to use, and allows business owners to separate personal and business accounting.

The software is ideal for self-employed individuals looking for a full accounting solution or those who need an affordable way to manage their freelance finances.

Pros Cons

Free

Limited integrations

Easy to use

Poor customer support

Good feature set

Limited mobile apps

Positive customer reviews

Pricing

Wave only offers one accounting package and it’s completely free. There are no user limits or feature limits. You get all of the great features of Wave for $0/month. The only extra costs are payment processing, payroll, and professional bookkeeping services.

Features

Best Accounting Software for Freelancers

Of all three options on this list, Wave offers the most features. While you won’t find tax support, Wave does offer strong accounting and is full-fledged accounting software. Because of Wave is actual accounting software, it’s the only program on this list that will allow you to actually balance the books. Here are the features you’ll find with Wave:

  • Invoicing
  • Estimates
  • Contact management
  • Expense tracking
  • Accounts payable
  • Inventory
  • Reports

Ease Of Use

Wave is well-organized and its modern UI is easy to navigate.

Customer Support

Wave offers many great support resources; however, getting in touch with an actual representative is difficult. There is no phone support and response times are slow.

Takeaway

Wave is an affordable accounting program that gives you strong accounting and tons of features without breaking the bank. The software does not offer tax support, but it does offer payroll, making it a scalable solution if you plan on growing your freelancing business. The professional bookkeeping services are also great for freelancers who aren’t comfortable doing their own accounting or simply don’t have the time.

Read our full Wave review to see if this accounting software is right for you.

Other Great Freelance Tools

Your freelancing business is your baby, and as it takes a village to raise a child, it can also take an army of integrations to run a business. There are tons of great freelancing tools that can help you manage and grow specific areas of your business, like email marketing, invoicing, ecommerce, and more. Here are some of the top freelance software tools we recommend.

The Best Invoicing Software For Freelancers

If your freelance business relies heavily on invoicing and isn’t quite ready for all of the other features included with accounting software, invoicing software could be a simpler alternative to meet your business needs.

Zoho Invoice

Best Invoicing Software for Freelancers

Zoho Invoice is an easy to use, cloud-based invoicing program with incredible invoicing features. With over 15 invoice templates to choose from and international invoicing options, Zoho Invoice has a lot to offer. Read our complete Zoho Invoice review to learn everything this software is capable of.

InvoiceraBest Invoicing Software for Freelancers

Invoicera is also a could-based program with a good feature set and attractive invoice templates. A forever free plan and over 35 payment gateway integrations are just a few of the perks of this invoicing option. Read our complete Invoicera review to learn if this software is right for you.

Visit our invoicing software reviews for more options or compare our top favorite invoicing solutions for small businesses.

The Best Receipt Management Software For Freelancers

Business owners are all too familiar with the dreaded receipt shoebox. Receipt management software or expense tracking software can help freelancers get organized and handle reimbursements with ease.

ExpensifyBest Receipt Management Software for Freelancers

Expensify is a cloud-based expense management solution with mobile receipt scanning, expense approval workflows, and next-day expense reimbursements. The software also integrates with key accounting programs for a seamless expense tracking experience.

ShoeboxedBest Receipt Management Software for Freelancers

Shoeboxed is also a cloud-based expense management solution with receipt scanning, mileage tracking, expense reports, basic CRM, and even tax prep. Shoeboxed also integrates with key accounting programs.

The Best Payment Processing Software For Freelancers

Need to accept mobile payments from your customers? Mobile payment apps allow freelancers to accept payments anywhere — whether that be at a home show, a small storefront, or even a client meeting at Starbucks. If your freelance business could benefit from accepting payments on the go, mobile payment processing is a must.

SquareBest Payment Processing for Freelancers

Square is one of the most popular mobile payment apps. It offers affordable flat rate pricing and free tools for selling online, making it easy to accept payments from your customers in multiple ways. Read our complete Square review to learn how Square could benefit your business.

Take a look at our other mobile payment processing reviews or compare our top five payment processing solutions for businesses.

The Best Website Builders For Freelancers

A website is key for many freelancers who sell goods online or who need a professional online portfolio to showcase their work to clients. Luckily, there are plenty of affordable, easy to use website builders that can give your freelance business the edge.

WixBest Website Builder for Freelancers

Wix is an easy to use website builder that is ideal for ecommerce and blogging. Wix offers a compelling free version with unlimited pages and hundreds of customizable templates to choose from. Read our complete Wix review to learn more about this affordable website solution.

SquarespaceBest Website Builder for Freelancers

Squarespace is a website builder that is perfect for ecommerce and blogs While there’s no free plan, the software offers amazing templates with a huge degree of customizability. Read our complete Squarespace review to see if this website builder is right for you.

Read our other website builder reviews and ecommerce reviews to find the perfect solution for your business.

The Best Email Marketing Software For Freelancers

One of the most challenging parts of freelancing is finding clients. Email marketing software can be a great way to market your services and target clients so you can grow your business.

MailChimpBest Email Marketing Software for Freelancers

MailChimp is an easy to use email marketing software with affordable payments. The software offers email campaigns, email automations, and even analytics and reporting. Read our complete MailChimp review to learn how this software could help your business.

BenchmarkBest Email Marketing Software for Freelancers

Benchmark is another great email marketing option that is easy to use and offers good customer support. The software has hundreds of templates to choose from and the unique ability to send video emails and online surveys. Read our complete Benchmark review to see if this software is right for your business.

Read our other email marketing software reviews or compare the best email marketing solutions to find the right option for your business.

Picking The Perfect Freelance Accounting Software

Choosing Accounting Software

Running a freelance business can be difficult, but with the right tools, you can set your business up for success. With accounting solutions like QuickBooks Self-Employed, AND CO, and Wave, you can manage your finances and gain valuable insight into your business’s income and expenses.

QuickBooks Self-Employed is ideal for freelancers in need of tax support; AND CO is ideal for legal, professional contracts; and Wave is ideal for the complete accounting package. Identifying your freelance needs and examining your current financial process can help you decide which program is the perfect fit for your business.

Then ask yourself, what other tools could benefit my business?

Email marketing software could help you grow your clientele. A website builder could help you create a professional brand. A payment processing app could help you increase your sales. Here at Merchant Maverick, our goal is to help you find the best software to help your business succeed. We have hundreds of reviews across multiple software industries so you can find the perfect software combo. Check out our comprehensive reviews and our other freelance resources as well.

Top 10 Tax Deductions For Freelancers

Loans For Freelance Businesses: Your 13 Best Options

heading QuickBooks Self-Employed AND CO Wave

Best Accounting Software for Freelancers

Best Accounting Software for Freelancers

Best Accounting Software for Freelancers

ReviewCompare

ReviewCompare

ReviewCompare

Pricing

$10 – $17/month

$0 – $18/month

$0/month

Size of Business

Self-Employed

Self-Employed

Small

Ease of Use

Very Easy

Very Easy

Very Easy

Customer Service

Fair

Very good

Poor

Number of Users

1

1

1

Number of Integrations

4

10

4

Cloud-Based or Installed

Cloud-Based

Cloud-Based

Cloud-Based

Mobile Apps

iOS & Android

iOS & Android

iOS & Android

The post Best Accounting Software For Freelancers appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Shopify VS Etsy

Shopify VS Etsy

Tie

Pricing

Tie

Tie

Hosting

Tie

✓

Specific Size Of Business

Tie

Hardware & Software Requirements

Tie

Ease Of Use

✓

✓

Features

✓

Web Design

✓

Integrations & Add-Ons

✓

Payment Processing

✓

Customer Service & Technical Support

Tie

User Reviews

Tie

Tie

Security

Tie

Winner

Final Verdict

Review

Visit Site

Compare

If you’ve arrived at our comparison of Shopify and Etsy, I’m guessing you’re an online seller (or an aspiring one) of the “artsy” or “craftsy” variety. Perhaps even “artsy-craftsy.” Whichever identifier you prefer, you’ll be pleased to know that both Shopify and Etsy can help you sell all sorts of unique, handcrafted, and/or vintage items.

I’ll admit that in some respects, it’s a little unfair to compare Shopify and Etsy head-to-head. Shopify is a shopping cart platform/website builder you can use to create and manage your own, standalone ecommerce store. The Shopify brand itself operates almost completely in the background from your shoppers’ point of view. (If you build your store correctly, no one will know that it’s really powered by Shopify.)

By contrast, Etsy is an online marketplace that allows you to set up shop directly alongside other ecommerce vendors, all with a similar artsy and/or craftsy vibe. All the while, Etsy’s involvement in the whole operation is directly front and center for your shoppers.

You could also argue that a direct comparison between Shopify and Etsy is quite fair and appropriate. People often wonder 1) which of the two software platforms provides the best starting place to sell online, 2) under what circumstances it makes sense to use one or the other (or both), and 3) at what point a seller might need to transition from Etsy to Shopify.

Plus, the introduction of Pattern by Etsy a few years ago made the comparison between Shopify and Etsy even more apropos. For a monthly fee, Pattern makes it possible for Etsy sellers to maintain a standalone, inventory-synced site of their own. Sites built with Pattern can even offer additional products and services that don’t meet the handmade/vintage/craft supply restrictions of normal Etsy shops.

Pattern aside, a huge draw of Etsy in its original form is the built-in traffic and existing customer base from which you can directly benefit as a seller. (You don’t get that with a standalone Pattern site.) The downside, of course, is that you must share your customers with similar stores.

So, with Pattern thrown in, can Etsy compete directly with Shopify? Does the magic combination of Etsy and Pattern render Shopify completely unnecessary for some Etsy-type sellers? You can already tell from our chart at the top of this article that we are still fans of Shopify, but we think all sellers should understand precisely how these two services stack up on all the important dimensions. Ultimately, the right fit is up to you.

Shopify’s eCommerce Options

Mobile POS Online Social Media
Mobile App + Free Card Reader Point of Sale Online Store Social Media Selling
Get Started Get Started Get Started Get Started
Low-cost POS for iOS and Android with free hardware All-purpose POS integrated with all sales channels Build a store or integrate with your current website Sell on Facebook and other platforms
Starts at $9/month Starts at $29/month Starts at $29/month Starts at $9/month
Free Trial Free Trial Free Trial Free Trial

Pricing

Winner: Tie

Despite some overlap, there’s no getting around the fact that Shopify and Etsy have very different pricing structures. The differences are significant enough that we can’t call a clear winner for cost.

Here’s a very generalized way to compare the two:

  • Sellers who are just getting started, are very concerned about cash-flow, and simply can’t afford a monthly subscription fee will find an initially cheaper option in Etsy.
  • Once you have a moderate and fairly predictable stream of transactions and need a full website for your store, Shopify starts to become more cost-effective.

That’s the condensed version of our pricing comparison. For the full breakdown, strap in and keep reading!

When comparing these two platforms, you should first wrap your mind around the main categories of fees involved. It will also help to keep the following overarching difference in mind: Shopify’s main charge is a monthly fee for using the service, while the main component of Etsy’s cost is a fixed 5% transaction fee charged on every sale that occurs on the platform.

Here are the different categories of costs you should keep in mind when comparing Shopify and Etsy:

  • Monthly Fee: Subscription fee for using the platform.
  • Listing Fee: Cost of listing a product (or group of products that make up one listing) in your shop.
  • Transaction Fee: Percentage commission per sale charged by Etsy or Shopify itself.
  • Payment Processing Fee: Not the same as a transaction fee! This is a per-sale fee (usually a percentage and a dollar amount) charged by your credit card processor/payment gateway. While this entity is usually a third-party company, it turns out both Etsy and Shopify have an in-house, pre-integrated option that most sellers use (Etsy Payments and Shopify Payments, respectively).
  • Standalone Website: Cost of having your own, hosted website with a customizable theme template.

Let’s take a close look at the numbers, shall we? All prices will be shown in USD.

Shopify Pricing

Shopify plans have a monthly fee, no listing fee, and a variable transaction fee that only comes into play if you do not use Shopify Payments as your credit card processor. Starting at the $29/month level, you get your own store website. This involves choosing a free Shopify template or purchasing a premium template from the Shopify theme store. As you look through Shopify’s five pricing plans, remember that you can completely avoid Shopify’s extra transaction fee if you use Shopify Payments as your credit card processor.

Shopify Lite Plan 

  • Monthly Fee: $9/mo.
  • Transaction Fee:
    • If Using Shopify Payments: None
    • If Using External Gateway: 2.0%
  • Payment Processing Fee (Online)
    • Shopify Payments: 2.9% + $0.30
    • External Gateway: Varies
  • Standalone Website: Unavailable. Sell on an existing website, Facebook, or in-person only.

Basic Shopify Plan

  • Monthly Fee: $29/mo.
  • Transaction Fee:
    • If Using Shopify Payments: None
    • If Using External Gateway: 2.0%
  • Payment Processing Fee (Online):
    • Shopify Payments: 2.9% + $0.30
    • External Gateway: Varies
  • Standalone Website: Included. Templates are $0-$180/ea.

Shopify Plan

  • Monthly Fee: $79/mo.
  • Transaction Fee:
    • If Using Shopify Payments: None
    • If Using External Gateway: 1.0%
  • Payment Processing Fee (Online):
    • Shopify Payments: 2.6% + $0.30
    • External Gateway: Varies
  • Standalone Website: Included. Templates are $0-$180/ea.

Advanced Shopify Plan

  • Monthly fee: $299/mo.
  • Transaction Fee:
    • If Using Shopify Payments: None
    • If Using External Gateway: 0.5%
  • Payment Processing Fee (Online):
    • Shopify Payments: 2.4% + $0.30
    • External Gateway: Varies
  • Standalone Website: Included. Templates are $0-$180/ea.

Shopify Plus: Custom pricing. Reserved for enterprise-level customers.

With each bump in subscription level, Shopify sellers have access to additional features, as well as more staff accounts for their stores. Check out our full Shopify review, or our quick guide to Shopify pricing, for a more complete breakdown of features by plan.

Basic Shopify Advanced

Monthly

$29.00/mo

$79.00/mo.

$299.00/mo.

Yearly

$26.10/mo.

$71.10/mo.

$269.10/mo.

2 Years

$23.20/mo.

$63.20/mo.

$239.20/mo.

3 Years

Same as above

Same as above

Same as above

Etsy Pricing

Etsy has two main plans — Standard and Plus — and a Premium plan that will launch sometime in 2019. Most Etsy sellers use the Standard plan with no monthly fee, whereas the Plus plan is $10/month. Other components of Etsy’s cost include a fixed listing fee, as well as 5% transaction fee on every sale. There is no avoiding this 5% fee, even when you use Etsy Payments as your credit card processor.

Also, keep in mind that your only web presence is your shop page within the Etsy marketplace. If you’d like your own store website separate from (but synced to) your Etsy shop, you can create and maintain a Pattern site for an additional $15/month.

Here are the plans:

Etsy Standard

  • Listing Fee: $0.20/ea.
    • Lasts 4 months
    • Charged when listing is first published or when renewed
  • Transaction Fee: 5.0%
    • Etsy’s commission per sale
    • Also charged on the shipping price
  • Payment Processing Fee w/Etsy Payments: 3% + $0.25
  • Standalone Website: None, or $15/month with Pattern. Pattern site templates are free.

Etsy Plus

  • Monthly Fee: $10/mo.
  • Other Costs Same As Above
  • Additional Features:
    • A monthly budget of credits for listings and Promoted listings ads
    • Access to a discount on a custom web address for your Etsy shop
    • Restock requests for shoppers interested in your items that have sold out
    • Advanced shop customization options
    • Access to discounts on custom packaging and promotional material like boxes, business cards, and signage

Etsy Premium

  • Launching 2019
  • Will include premium customer support and advanced management tools for businesses with employees

One final note about pricing before we sum up this section: if you want a standalone site built on Pattern, you’ll also need to purchase and/or connect a domain name. The annual cost varies, but should be comparable to purchasing a domain for a Shopify store. Of course, if you stick to just selling on Etsy and not on Pattern, you don’t need your own domain URL.

Again, this is one of those comparisons you’ll have to decide the winner of for yourself. You can see that once you have a steady flow of significantly-sized transactions, avoiding that 5% Etsy fee on every sale and ponying up $29/month for Shopify instead (and using Shopify Payments to have the Shopify transaction fee waived) starts to make more sense.

Hosting

Winner: Tie

Shopify and Etsy stores are both fully-hosted solutions based in the cloud. You don’t need to download or install anything to use either. If you create an Etsy-connected website using Pattern, your site’s hosting is covered by your $15/month Pattern subscription. Similarly, Shopify store hosting is covered by the monthly fee.

Specific Size Of Business

Winner: Shopify

Shopify deserves the win in this category for accommodating a much wider range of business sizes. For just $9/month, you can start selling on Facebook with no additional transaction fees (beyond payment processing itself) if you use Shopify Payments. From there, Shopify scales all the way up to enterprise-level merchants. Etsy, on the other hand, is better geared toward small to mid-sized operations and doesn’t scale nearly as well. That said, for those who just want to test the ecommerce waters and dabble in selling a few handmade or vintage products, Etsy is ideal.

Hardware & Software Requirements

Winner: Tie

No special hardware or software is required to open and manage a shop on either platform. You do have the option to add hardware (like card readers) if you wish to sell in-person.

Ease Of Use

Winner: Etsy

Shopify usually earns our top rating for ease of use in the ecommerce software category, and with good reason. In this case, however, I’m awarding Etsy the narrow win. As a marketplace with a uniform structure across all web shops on the platform, the whole Etsy setup process is much less open-ended, so it’s easier to start selling right away. Once you fully dive into the admin dashboard and start manipulating individual features, however, I think the two platforms are equally easy to use.

Let’s peek inside the setup process and backend structure of each system, so you can see what I mean.

Shopify Setup

Shopify offers a two-week free trial of the platform — all you need is an email address. You’re free to test the software to your heart’s content, short of making actual sales.

Shopify Dashboard

Once you’ve started a trial account, you’ll gain immediate access to your store’s admin panel. The Shopify dashboard is quite streamlined, with daily operation menus contained in the left sidebar. There are even a few tips to get started setting up your store in the center area:

Shopify — Add A Product

Listing your first product is typically one of the first tasks inside Shopify, but it doesn’t have to be. Adding a product involves completing a simple interface:

In addition to configuring products and setting up the rest of the backend of your store, you can work on customizing your online storefront at the same time. We’ll have more on this process in the Web Design section.

While Shopify is easy to use, you are ultimately responsible for locating and configuring all the settings (shipping, tax, billing, etc.) to get your store going.

Etsy Setup

The cookie-cutter look of Etsy shops is no accident — it’s achieved through a simple, highly-controlled system behind the scenes. In fact, Etsy guides your hand to such a strong extent that by the time you’re taken through the basic setup process, you already have a store that’s up and running.

Unfortunately, there is no free trial of Etsy. Instead, you must enter a product, your bank account routing number, your credit card info, and other personal/business details before you can even enter the admin dashboard. Coming from the land of ecommerce software where no-credit-card-required free trials abound, I find this system annoying. However, I can’t deny that it is also very effective.

From my personal Etsy account, I’ve used to make Etsy purchases in the past, I simply clicked “Sell on Etsy.” I was then taken through a very detailed setup wizard, all the way from setting my country, to listing my first product, to inputting my billing and payment methods. As you can see from the dots across the top of the wizard interface, it’s a five-step process:

Etsy Dashboard

When you finally make it to the main admin panel (called Store Manager), you’ll find it’s actually fairly similar to Shopify. In my own testing, I could find all the menus and features I was looking for in the left sidebar:

Etsy — Add A Product

The most detailed piece of the store setup wizard is step three: adding products (a.k.a, listings). As I mentioned, you’re forced to list at least one item before you can even complete the Etsy signup process and see your main dashboard. Below is the third screen from the setup wizard. Yep, it’s long. Click it to enlarge, if you dare.

This may seem like a lot of work, and it kind of is. Mercifully, Etsy makes it all extremely straightforward. You just need a touch of patience. As part of this process, you’re actually also setting up a shipping profile that can then be reapplied to other products. And, once you choose the type of product you’re selling, Etsy is very good about predicting the type of attributes and variations you might need for that product. I walked away from the processing thinking, “Wow, Etsy knows its sellers and their products really well.”

Side note: Once you finally make it to your dashboard, you can load additional products with a similar interface:

As soon as I was (finally) done with the initial setup wizard, my shop was online and ready to sell. I received so much guidance steering me directly to the goal that I almost felt like I was tricked into suddenly having an active store. In a good way, I guess!

I’ve focused on getting a store up and running in this section as an illustrative example — there are lots of other components of each platform to consider. As you’ll see in our Feature section below, though, Etsy has fewer features than Shopify overall. This makes it easier to quickly get a handle on the entire software platform’s capabilities and scores Etsy another point for user-friendliness. Still, the ease of going from zero to ready-to-sell is what really puts Etsy on top.

Features

Winner: Shopify

Let’s acknowledge right away that comparing the features of Etsy and Shopify is hardly an apples-to-apples endeavor. One is an online marketplace including multiple sellers, while the other is a platform on which to build a website that you ultimately own. Etsy has a specific target market of crafters, vintage resellers, and the like, while Shopify’s merchant pool is much wider. The feature sets of each platform work really well for sellers within their specific contexts. Once we add Etsy’s Pattern to the mix, the comparison gets a little closer, but it’s still slightly unfair to both systems.

I do think the best “features” of Etsy have already been highlighted — it’s very easy to get started selling, and you’ve already got a built-in traffic base. Beyond these important advantages, there’s not a lot you can do on the back or front end of your Etsy and/or Pattern shop that you can’t do with Shopify. And, if the core Shopify platform doesn’t have a specific tool you’re looking for, I can almost guarantee you’ll find a solution in the immense app store (more on that later).

All in all, I’m giving Shopify the win because I think it’s a more advanced system for ecommerce. Shopify adds several features that Etsy and Pattern are missing, like checkout on your own domain (customers are redirected back to Etsy if they purchase through your Pattern site), manual order creation, a built-in POS system, and bulk product import/export/editing. In addition, many of the features the two platforms share in common are more robust or flexible with Shopify (I’m thinking of their respective discount engines, abandoned cart recovery systems, SEO tools, etc.).

Despite their core differences, Shopify and Etsy/Pattern still have a lot of great things in common. Thus, I’d like to end this section with a list of some features both platforms share:

  • Sell unlimited products
  • Sell physical or digital products
  • Free SSL certificate (with Pattern)
  • Built-in blog (with Pattern)
  • Social media sharing
  • Automatically calculate shipping & tax
  • Purchase/print shipping labels
  • Shipping discounts
  • Inventory & order management
  • Create discounts & coupons
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Guest checkout
  • Analytics & reports
  • SEO tools
  • Mobile store management app

Web Design

Winner: Shopify

Shopify easily wins this category, even after you throw Etsy’s Pattern software into the mix. Shopify’s frontend template options have Pattern’s beat on all counts — the sheer number of options, the variety of styles, and the overall quality of designs. Not to mention that once you’ve chosen a theme, Shopify gives you much more flexibility to perform further customizations. Allow me to illustrate!

Shopify Design

Shopify offers 70 templates, most with 2-4 style variations. Ten themes are free and supported by Shopify developers, while the remaining third-party themes are offered at $140-$180 as one-time purchases.

I think most of the free themes from Shopify outshine Pattern themes, but we’ll get to Pattern in a moment. For now, you should know that Shopify has tools to adjust fonts and colors (via the Theme Editor), and to drag-and-drop page elements up and down your layout (via the “Sections” tool) — all without touching any code. You can also make further adjustments with code if you have those skills, but this is not necessary for the average user.

Here’s a quick screen-grab of Shopify’s visual, non-coding editor:

For more information on how these tools work, check out our full Shopify Review.

Etsy Design

Your Etsy shop comes with just one design template that’s the same as everyone else’s on the marketplace. You already saw the default store layout that popped up when I initially created my store. In the backend admin panel, you can customize your homepage by adding a banner image, your logo, a featured area to highlight products, an About section, and a few other basic elements. Each piece is fixed in place, though — no drag-and-drop tool to be found. Anywhere there is a little “+”, you can add a specific element:

With the $10/month plan, you have a bit more flexibility in your design. For example, you can insert a rotating image carousel in lieu of a fixed banner image across the top. And yet, there’s still no dragging nor dropping allowed.

If you decide to create a standalone website with the Pattern feature (remember, that’s another $15/month), you can choose from 10 possible templates. Pattern will recommend an option for your shop depending on your current Etsy store, but you can easily swap it out later:

Once you’ve chosen a theme, you have the option to customize your colors, fonts, text, and images — but again, all with pre-defined placement: Here’s the interface after I added a logo and header:

You can also add a few select pages to your site, like an About or Contact page. You just have to be okay with your layout being completely fixed for each page. Even if you wanted to try tweaking the template code, it’s just not an option.

Sorry, Etsy. Shopify has some of the best designs and editing tools of all shopping cart platforms on the market, so I’m not surprised that Etsy is completely overshadowed in this area. Pattern is only ideal for the most basic of websites. Fortunately, it does offer a 30-day free trial of a live site (once you’re already signed up for Etsy) if you’d like to test the site builder for yourself.

Integrations & Add-Ons

Winner: Shopify

Etsy and Shopify each offer a collection of free and paid add-ons to integrate with your shop. The big difference is in the quantity. Etsy’s selection of a couple dozen apps just can’t compete with Shopify’s approximately 2500 offerings. If you’re worried about the quality of these Shopify add-ons, you have access to thousands of user reviews in the app store. You’re likely to find anything and everything you need to expand your store beyond the core Shopify platform.

A large selection is certainly great, but with the important caveat that the vastness of it all could end up becoming too overwhelming, costly, and unnecessary for small sellers. I was happy to see that Etsy at least offers a few well-known accounting and tax integrations (e.g., Quickbooks, Wave, TaxJar, TaxCloud) and email marketing apps (e.g. AWeber, or MailChimp if you use Pattern). You’ll need to decide if you will ultimately need the store expansion capability that Shopify provides, or can settle for Etsy’s offerings. If you set up a Pattern store, you’ll definitely want to add a good SEO integration.

Payment Processing

Winner: Shopify

Payment processing is a complicated and nuanced topic, so we’ll just cover some basic comparisons. Your mileage on this verdict in favor of Shopify will vary depending on your location, currencies, risk level, etc.

We’ve already mentioned that Shopify and Etsy both have their own self-branded payment gateways. Do note that Shopify Payments is actually built on Stripe’s infrastructure, while Etsy Payments is largely powered by Adyen, another big payment gateway company.

At any rate, most sellers on either platform end up using these pre-integrated options. Why? Well, even though you have over 100 processor options with Shopify, recall that you’re penalized with a separate transaction fee (usually 2%) if you don’t pick Shopify Payments. Meanwhile, Etsy Payments (formerly Etsy Direct Checkout) is essentially your only credit card processor option with Etsy. The only reason you wouldn’t use Etsy Payments is if it’s not yet available in your location. If you’re not operating from one of the approximately three dozen approved countries, you can only accept PayPal or manual payment methods (like check or money order) that you arrange separately with your buyers.

Etsy Payments allows you to accept credit and debit cards, Etsy gifts cards and credit, PayPal (pre-integrated), a few bank transfer services, Apple Pay, and Google Pay. Shopify Payments offers similar options but adds Amazon Pay and Shopify Pay to the mix. Meanwhile, Etsy Payments does allow you to accept a few more currencies than Shopify Payments (Danish or Norwegian krone, anyone?).

Below is a quick look at the processing fees for Shopify Payments versus Etsy Payments (shown in USD). As you’ll see, Shopify Payments it the better processing deal, especially as you climb the subscription ladder. Of course, you need to factor this into the larger picture of costs we discussed earlier.

Shopify Payments:

  • $9 Lite Plan
    • 2.9% + $0.30 Online (including manual entry)
    • 2.7% In-Person
  • $29 Basic Plan
    • 2.9% + $0.30 Online
    • 2.7%  In-Person
  • $79 Shopify Plan
    • 2.6% + $0.30 Online
    • 2.5% In-Person
  • $299 Advanced Plan
    • 2.4% + $0.30 Online
    • 2.4% In-Person

Etsy Payments:

  • 3% + $0.25 Online
  • In-Person (with Square integration only):
    • 2.75% Swiped/dipped/NFC
    • 3.5% + $0.15 for manually-entered online transactions
    • + $0.20 for any Square product not synced with your Etsy store

An “in-house” payment processor can really streamline this aspect of your business, so it’s nice that both platforms offer one. Neither is a 100% perfect processor for everyone, as you’ll see when we discuss user reviews later. Nevertheless, Shopify Payments comes out ahead because it offers better rates, more payment methods for shoppers, and a native system for in-person transactions. Plus, if Shopify Payments doesn’t work for you, you’ve got plenty of other gateways from which to choose. Not so with Etsy.

Customer Service & Technical Support

Winner: Shopify

This particular contest was closer than I expected. Both platforms offer 24/7 email and phone support, but Shopify adds a third contact channel via 24/7 live chat. That’s really the main reason for Shopify’s win here. I know a lot of online sellers prefer this option over email and phone, since it works like a nice blend of the two. Etsy does offer a callback option when waiting on hold, which is very handy. On the flip side, I’d like to see Etsy’s contact number and ticket system more easily accessed from the help center page — it’s much too buried for my taste at the moment.

While both platforms also offer great self-help resources such as blogs, forums, knowledgebase articles, and videos, the information for Etsy sellers is mixed in with support resources for Etsy shoppers. This can feel a bit cluttered and confusing at times.

I will say that Etsy does go beyond the support of a typical ecommerce platform in a unique and specific way. As a marketplace that gathers lots of merchants together in one place, sellers are automatically part of a built-in community. There’s even an opportunity to join Etsy Teams — groups of sellers in the same location, selling the same types of products, or with other unifying aspects to their stores. Some teams even meet up in real life or organize special events together. While Shopify users can tap into the strong community of developers and merchants offering mutual support in forums, the overall camaraderie can’t compete with Etsy’s community vibe.

You also may have more access to seller protections as part of a marketplace, but this can heavily depend on the specific situation. Etsy aims to look out for its shoppers as well!

User Reviews

Winner: Tie

Because Etsy is a marketplace full of buyers as well as sellers, buyer complaints abound. When something goes wrong with a sale, it’s more accessible and more public for a shopper to point a finger at Etsy than the actual seller, even when the seller was primarily at fault. Shopify mostly operates behind the scenes from a shopper’s point of view, so it’s easier to isolate feedback about the platform that’s specifically from store owners.

For these reasons, Etsy’s reputation on review sites can be skewed quite negatively, so I can’t make a truly fair comparison with Shopify. Nevertheless, I’ve teased out some seller-specific feedback, just so you can get an idea of the common threads that appear.

First, the good. Not surprisingly, Etsy sellers like how easy it is to set up shop. They enjoy access to an existing customer base and the effective site search tools that make it easy for shoppers to find their products. Some users have mentioned their positive experiences with Etsy’s customer service, and the help they’ve received resolving disputes with customers (or even other sellers).

Of course, some Etsy sellers mention bad experiences with customer service, saying the marketplace isn’t taking enough responsibility for regulating seller behavior. I found several complaints that Etsy gets away with being a “neutral” party, shifting blame to its users on either end of transactions. At the very least, people are confused about Etsy’s role.

Other Etsy shop owners contend that the marketplace is too saturated with similar sellers, and that competition is simply too tough to sustain their shops. Still others have issues with payments or chargebacks or claim their shops were suddenly closed without warning. I’ve also seen plenty of sellers lament the increase in Etsy transaction fee from 3.5% to 5% in mid-2018 — that wasn’t so popular.

On the Shopify side, the top accolade is typically its ease of use. Sellers also like the opportunity to add functionality and scale their stores using add-ons from the app store. Shopify’s web design is highly praised, especially among those who appreciate the ability to easily customize their sites without code.

Like with Etsy  — and many other large software companies — Shopify’s customer support receives mixed reviews. Other common Shopify complaints include the added cost of integrations and the extra transaction fees if you can’t use Shopify Payments. Sellers do sometimes have problems with the payment system itself as well — their funds were held, or their Shopify Payments accounts were terminated due to various factors.

If that all sounds a bit scary, understand that a lot of the problems that pop up for Etsy and Shopify are common across the ecommerce world. The good news is that the research you’re doing now will help protect you against some of the more avoidable issues!

Security

Winner: Tie

Etsy and Shopify are both PCI complaint systems, offering site-wide SSL certificates for data encryption. If that all sounded like nonsense and jargon, don’t worry. You should know, however, that part of the reason Pattern websites meet security requirements set out by the data regulatory folks is that your shoppers are directed back over to Etsy checkout pages to complete their transactions. This kind of ruins the illusion that your site was actually your own site, but it does at least help with security. With Shopify, your customers can check out directly on your site with the same level of security in place.

Final Verdict

Winner: Shopify

 

Shopify won this battle handily, coming out ahead in most of our individual comparison categories. And yet, I’ll be the first to admit that the one-sidedness of our comparison does not do the key selling points of Etsy justice. The main advantages to Etsy — the ability to get a shop up and running quickly on a shoestring budget, and built-in access to the traffic of an entire online marketplace — are absolutely huge for beginning sellers. If you’re not ready to go whole-hog into selling online and would prefer to test the waters first, Etsy is definitely the way to start. For first time sellers, it’s akin to setting up your craft booth at an established craft fair, versus plopping your stall on a street corner in the middle of nowhere.

This is all to say that Shopify only really wins if you’re ready to take responsibility for maintaining and drawing traffic to your own website. You’ll need to learn and implement an effective SEO and marketing strategy, for example. This is no small feat for the budding online seller and should not be taken lightly. If done well, however, any customers you obtain are your own, and this is the big reward that accompanies your efforts with Shopify. Your sales and growth will not be limited by super-direct competition with other sellers within a marketplace. You’ll completely sidestep this major downside to Etsy.

When we start talking about actual ecommerce features and web design, Shopify is a more powerful ecommerce tool. Specifically, we’ve seen that Etsy’s Pattern software can’t compete with the standalone storefront-building capabilities of Shopify. For most sellers who are ready to launch their own websites, I’d suggest skipping over Pattern and heading for Shopify. Yes, a Pattern subscription is cheaper than Shopify, but it seems like too much of an intermediate, half-way step that won’t get you fully where you want to go. Besides, there’s no reason you can’t keep your Etsy shop open in the meantime as you grow your Shopify-based store — and, you could ultimately connect an app to sync up your inventory between the two. Etsy could then become one marketing channel of many for your main online store’s top products. Something to consider!

I think if you’ve made it this far, you’re probably ready to at least test the capability of Shopify with a free 14-day trial. Of course, if you’re already an Etsy seller, you can also play around with Pattern’s tools for free before even connecting a domain and going live with your site. Since you’ve got nothing to lose with either platform in that respect, why not set up your own mini-showdown between Pattern and Shopify?

Let us know how it goes in the comments. Happy artsy, craftsy, or artsy-craftsy selling!

Shopify’s eCommerce Options

Mobile POS Online Social Media
Mobile App + Free Card Reader Point of Sale Online Store Social Media Selling
Get Started Get Started Get Started Get Started
Low-cost POS for iOS and Android with free hardware All-purpose POS integrated with all sales channels Build a store or integrate with your current website Sell on Facebook and other platforms
Starts at $9/month Starts at $29/month Starts at $29/month Starts at $9/month
Free Trial Free Trial Free Trial Free Trial

The post Shopify VS Etsy appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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WooCommerce VS Shopify

WooCommerce VS Shopify

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Pricing

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Cloud-Based Or Locally-Installed

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Specific Size Of Business

Tie

Hardware & Software Requirements

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Ease Of Use

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Tie

Features

Tie

Tie

Web Design

Tie
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Integrations & Add-Ons

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Payment Processing

Customer Service & Technical Support

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Tie

User Reviews

Tie

Security

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Final Verdict

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Review

Visit Site

Review

Visit Site

WooCommerce and Shopify are both wildly popular software systems that can help you build a thriving online store. Behind-the-scenes, however, the two platforms work quite differently from one another. Before we jump into comparing these juggernauts of the ecommerce software realm, let’s quickly get oriented on the basics of each.

At its core, Shopify (read our review) is a SaaS (software as a service) online shopping cart platform. Starting at just $9/month, you can upload products to an online catalog and sell them on Facebook, or post them on an existing website of your own via embeddable “buy” buttons. You can even sell your products in-person with the Shopify POS app. Then, beginning at $29/month, Shopify facilitates the creation and hosting of a fully-fledged ecommerce website.

By contrast, WooCommerce (read our review), is a free and open-source ecommerce shopping cart plugin that was created specifically for installation inside the WordPress dashboard. The WooCommerce plugin turns a WordPress website or blog into an ecommerce storefront. In other words, WooCommerce has no actual website-building capabilities of its own — WordPress handles that part.

To understand WooCommerce and how it works, you need a little familiarity with WordPress itself. To put it simply, WordPress is a website builder/CMS (content management system) that exists in two forms: WordPress.org and WordPress.com. WordPress.org is the self-hosted version, whereas WordPress.com uses the same basic software as WordPress.org, but provides web hosting for your site as part of its services. Either WordPress version can actually be combined with WooCommerce, but each setup has different implications for cost, site maintenance, etc.

For the purposes of our Shopify versus WooCommerce comparison, we’ll focus on combining WooCommerce with WordPress.org, the self-hosted option. Most ecommerce sellers are attracted to WooCommerce because they already use WordPress.org for their websites, and/or they like the WooCommerce plugin’s “free” price tag in conjunction with WordPress.org. While the WooCommerce plugin itself is always free, you can only add plugins to the dot-com version of WordPress if you’re on the $25/month WordPress.com subscription.

Now that you know the basics, we’ll break down the two platforms into their various components — usability, features, comprehensive cost, and more. It’s basically the same old compare-and-contrast essay we were all forced to write in middle school. The stakes are a bit higher with this particular essay, however. By the time we’re done, you’ll hopefully have a good sense of which ecommerce platform (if either) is best for your online business.

Pricing

Winner: WooCommerce

You might be tempted to think WooCommerce immediately takes this category without contest. After all, both the WooCommerce plugin and the WordPress.org software download are free, whereas Shopify automatically involves a monthly subscription. In reality, you need to invest in a few services (e.g., web hosting) to get a WooCommerce + WordPress.org ecommerce store off the ground. The bottom line is, WooCommerce may be a bit cheaper at the outset, but it’s not 100% free. Just wanted to clear that up first!

Before we run a more detailed cost comparison of the two platforms, here’s a quick look at why WooCommerce wins this category:

  • You can launch an online storefront up for well under $29/month, which is the starting price for a full online store with Shopify.
  • All WooCommerce features are included with the free plugin. You don’t automatically need to jump to higher subscription levels for additional features or staff accounts (you just may need some add-ons as time goes on). In other words, you pay only for exactly what you need.
  • Neither WordPress nor WooCommerce charge any additional transaction fees per sale, beyond those charged by your credit card processor. Shopify only waives its extra transaction fees (that start at 2%) if you use Shopify Payments as your credit card processor, and not everyone is eligible for Shopify Payments.

WooCommerce is the budget option of the two, but only if you have the skills to run your own website and don’t need to hire extra help for web development, site maintenance, security, backups, etc. If you do need lots of extra help, you could still end up paying more with WooCommerce + WordPress in the long run. Fair warning.

That’s the summary explanation. Now, here’s a more detailed pricing breakdown if you’re interested:

Shopify Pricing

  • Monthly Subscription Fee: $9 (no standalone storefront), $29, $79 or $299/month.
  • Domain: Unless you want your store URLs to end in “myshopify.com” (and you probably don’t), you’ll need to purchase or connect a custom domain. Domains from Shopify start at $11/year, or there are lots of third-party options.
  • Web Hosting: Included
  • SSL/TLS Certificate: Included
  • Additional Transaction Fees: 0.5%-2.0% depending on your Shopify subscription — unless you use the in-house payment processor (Shopify Payments), in which case these extra fees are waived. Note: these transaction fees are on top of regular credit card processing fees you must pay per sale with any processor.
  • Additional Cost: Primarily add-ons from the marketplace, and perhaps a one-time purchase of a premium theme.

WooCommerce + WordPress.org Pricing

  • Monthly Subscription Fee: None if you set up a free WordPress.org site. The WooCommerce plugin itself is always free.
  • Domain: Varies, but can start at less than a dollar per month from third-parties.
  • Web Hosting: Rock-bottom hosting can cost as low as around $3/month, but most people end up paying at least $10 per month, depending on the size and traffic levels of their stores.
  • SSL/TLS Certificate: Often included with your hosting or domain provider, but may need to be purchased separately. Basic certificates cost just a few dollars per month.
  • Additional Transaction Fees: None. Neither WooCommerce or WordPress charge a commission per sale.
  • Additional Cost: Add-ons, themes, and any web development and ongoing site maintenance if you’re not taking care of all that yourself.

Sample WooCommerce + WordPress.org hosting

Cloud-Based Or Locally-Installed

Winner: Tie

As we’ve mentioned, a major difference between Shopify and WooCommerce is that your Shopify subscription includes web hosting. No downloads or installations are required. To use WooCommerce, however, you first must download the WordPress.org software and install it on a web hosting server. Then, you add the WooCommerce plugin to that setup. Some web hosts do offer preloaded WordPress + WooCommerce packages or “one-click” installations.

Is the Shopify or WooCommerce method better? This one really comes down to personal preference and ability. The self-hosted setup of WooCommerce requires more hands-on involvement and skill from the user, but you may be just fine with that.

Specific Size Of Business

Winner: Tie

Both WooCommerce and Shopify are scalable, working for small to enterprise-level businesses.

Shopify has predetermined subscription brackets. While none of these put hard limits on your revenue, number of products, bandwidth, or storage, the implication is that you’ll increase your subscription as your store grows. The exception is the jump to Shopify Plus, which is required if your revenue reaches over $1 million per year. These plans cost a couple thousand a month to start, but it can be worth the investment in return for a service that’s tailored specifically for enterprise-level merchants.

You will also need to change your Shopify subscription as you add more staff accounts to your store. For example, the $29/month plan accommodates two admin seats in addition to the owner’s account, while the $299/month plan gives you 15 spots.

WooCommerce also has the potential to grow with your store, but the system is much more fluid. You have 100% flexibility to expand your operation (and perhaps employ more help with your site) in a piecemeal fashion, exactly when and how you see fit. As your site traffic increases, for example, you’ll want to adjust your hosting service accordingly to accommodate more bandwidth.

Hardware & Software Requirements

Winner: Shopify

As a fully-hosted, SaaS platform, Shopify takes care of nearly all technology requirements on your behalf. All you really need is an internet connection and an up-to-date web browser.

With WooCommerce and WordPress.org, most of the hardware and software requirements are functions of your hosting environment. Your server needs to support specific versions of PHP and MYSQL, for example. You’re responsible for staying on top of the evolving requirements for both WooCommerce and WordPress.org when you set up a WooCommerce store. This includes installing updates of both the Worpress.org and WooCommerce software as they are released. Plugins are available to help automate some of these steps for you, but you’re still ultimately responsible for finding and updating those plugins!

Because dealing with hardware and software issues with WooCommerce is more nuanced and requires more vigilance from the user than Shopify’s arrangement, we award Shopify the win.

Ease Of Use

Winner: Shopify

It’s hard to beat Shopify in terms of user-friendliness. Even compared with other all-in-one SaaS platforms designed with the complete ecommerce novice in mind, Shopify usually comes out on top. Open-source software like WooCommerce, on the other hand, is not generally known for its ease of use. You’re trading some degree of ease and simplicity for increased flexibility and customization.

It should be noted, however, that WooCommerce actually isn’t all that bad when it comes to ease of use, especially compared with most open-source solutions. For starters, many folks are already somewhat familiar with WordPress, which gives them a head start in navigating WooCommerce. (Keep in mind that the reverse will apply if you’re not already familiar with WordPress — you’ll be learning two systems at once.)  Once you get everything installed and up and running, day-to-day operations and manipulation of features are all pretty straightforward with WooCommerce.

Still, as we’ve already touched on, it can be quite overwhelming to stay on top of updates, extension compatibility, security issues, and the various tertiary systems underpinning your WooCommerce store. The cliché I’ve often read about WooCommerce is true — you have to be willing to get your hands dirty. Shopify is a much more plug-and-play, hands-free system.

WooCommerce offers to install some additional free plugins (like Jetpack and WooCommerce Services) from the get-go that help bring the system more in line with a fully-hosted solution like Shopify, but you still end up with a sort of cobbled-together setup that is more difficult to manage than an all-inclusive platform.

Have a look at our full Shopify and WooCommerce reviews if you’d like more information on the topic of ease-of-use, but I’ve included just a quick peek at the dashboards of each platform, as well as what it’s like to add a product.

Shopify Dashboard:

After signing up for a free 14-day trial, you’re taken to a clean and easy-to-navigate dashboard, with all your major functions in the left menu, and a few tips to get started in the center:

Shopify — Add A Product:

Shopify has a super-simple product interface. All fields are completed simply by scrolling down the page.

WooCommerce Dashboard:

Below I’ve shown a WordPress dashboard with WooCommerce already installed. If you look closely at the left menu, you’ll see that WooCommerce is just one item of many. I haven’t even expanded its own menu yet, nor the “Products” menu right below. In the center of the dashboard, I’m faced with additional suggested configurations and plugin choices. Do I need them all? Should I set them up now? Just “Dismiss?” It’s certainly all doable, but I find it bit cluttered and overwhelming to get started. Plus, this is all after I completed the setup wizard.

WooCommerce — Add A Product:

Once you scroll past the plugin suggestions, adding a product is quite straightforward with WooCommerce. If you’ve ever used WordPress, it’s a lot like creating a blog post. You’ll just need to configure ecommerce settings like price and inventory levels.

Another aspect to consider is that you won’t be able to test WooCommerce (like you can test Shopify with its free trial) unless you have a host and server already set up to install WordPress.org. Ease of use is always a bit subjective, and it’s hard to get a good feel for usability without testing the software yourself.

Features

Winner: Tie

Although one is software-as-a-service and the other is open-source, both Shopify and WooCommerce actually take a similar approach to features. The basic components to get a store launched and managed on a day-to-day basis are included with the software, but you’re expected to add a few extensions and integrations to either platform in order to tailor your store to your exact specifications.

With Shopify, this occasionally even means bumping up your subscription level, whereas with WooCommerce, features are always expanded through separate add-ons. WooCommerce has also been known to test new features by treating them as extensions first, and then eventually incorporating the features into the core offering once all the kinks are worked out by users. It’s really a community effort with Woo.

However you slice it, a common complaint about both platforms is that extra plugins can cause extra cost and extra headaches. Each system is kept as simple (yet functional) as can be from the outset, so that new users are not immediately overwhelmed by all that’s ultimately possible with these powerful software programs.

Let’s do a couple of quick sample feature comparisons. WooCommerce lets you add unlimited product variations, sell digital products, and incorporate product reviews without separate extensions, while Shopify requires (free) add-ons for each of these functions. Meanwhile, Shopify already includes abandoned cart recovery, invoice creation, and pre-integrated shipping software (Shopify Shipping). You’ll need extensions for these features in WooCommerce.

I’m tempted to give Shopify the win because I feel it comes with a slightly more well-rounded ecommerce feature set out-of-the-box without any plugins. And yet I also don’t want to overlook the enormous capability that comes with an entire WordPress.org ecosystem at your fingertips, nor dismiss the potential to customize each feature to your liking in an open-source environment. There are just too many factors at play to declare a clear winner here. The best advice I can give is to check for the features you need, as well as how they are obtained with each platform.

Web Design

Winner: Tie

I know this makes our compare-and-contrast essay less exciting, but it’s difficult to call a winner in this category as well. Each platform has advantages and disadvantages, and your own perception of what actually qualifies as an advantage or disadvantage will differ depending on your situation.

Below is a quick summary of each system’s approach to the design and customization of your storefront, along with some screenshots to help illustrate.

Shopify Overview:

  • 67 total templates, most with 2-4 style variations
  • 10 templates are free and supported by Shopify developers
  • Remaining third-party themes cost $140-$180
  • Built-in theme editor with drag-and-drop capability
  • Additional customization available with HTML, CSS, and Shopify’s own theme coding language (Liquid)

Shopify Theme Marketplace:

Shopify Theme Editor:

The Shopify theme editor consists of two elements: “Theme Settings” (for changing fonts, colors, etc.) and “Sections” (for dragging and dropping widget blocks up and down your pages).

WooCommerce Overview:

  • Access to thousands of free and commercial/supported WordPress.org themes (over 900 show up when filtering for “ecommerce” in the marketplace)
  • WooCommerce recommends its free “Storefront” theme for foolproof compatibility and web ticket support
  • 14 Storefront “child” themes available (two free, premium are $39 each)
  • Theme editor allows color changes and placement of widgets (but without drag-and-drop)
  • Storefront expansion bundle ($69) allows further customization without coding
  • Theme modification also possible with HTML and CSS (no proprietary coding language involved)
  • Add a free plugin (such as Elementor) for drag-and-drop design editing of WordPress.org pages without code
  • WordPress.org’s new Gutenberg editor provides additional non-coding customization for your overall WordPress site

WooCommerce Storefront Themes:

WooCommerce Theme Editor:

Below, I’ve shown the portion of the built-in theme editor where you can choose widget blocks for various spots within your pages.

So, how do WooCommerce and Shopify stack up when it comes to web design? Does Shopify win for having a drag-and-drop theme editor and font tweaking built-in, or does it lose for making you learn a proprietary coding language if you want to do further template customizations? The new Gutenberg block editor for WordPress enhances your theme editing capabilities without code, and lets you easily place WooCommerce products wherever you’d like within your larger WordPress site — so that’s another factor to consider going forward. It’s issues like these that make this category a toss-up depending on your point of view.

Integrations & Add-Ons

Winner: WooCommerce

Even though I’ve already spoiled the winner of this category, we need to highlight the fact that Shopify also has an amazing app marketplace with around 2500 integrations at your disposal. With Shopify, you have the opportunity to connect with many of the most popular third-party software platforms associated with ecommerce (think shipping, marketing, accounting, and the like). Thousands of developers have invested in creations for the Shopify extension ecosystem. In most ecommerce software battles, Shopify easily wins this category.

All that said, open-source systems like WooCommerce + WordPress.org typically offer more integration possibilities than even the most well-connected SaaS platforms. The whole point of an open-source platform is for users at large to jump head-on into the codebase to customize and build connections. In the open-source world, WordPress has a particularly enormous and active community of developers extending the platform. As a WooCommerce user, not only do you benefit from hundreds of WooCommerce-specific extensions, but also from the over 50,000 plugins available in the WordPress.org marketplace. Even Shopify can’t fully compete.

Some argue that because many WooCommerce integrations are one-time installations, it works out cheaper in the long run, or point out that more WooCommerce plugins are free. In truth, integrations can add to your monthly cost with either Shopify or WooCommerce — especially if your integrations are to third-party software platforms with their own monthly subscription fees (and not just one-off feature installs). Be cognizant of the potential for ballooning add-on costs with either system.

Payment Processing

Winner: WooCommerce

The complete freedom WooCommerce offers to choose a payment processor and associated pricing model that best suits your particular store’s needs is the reason we award the open-source plugin the win in this category.

While Shopify technically offers more pre-built payment integrations than WooCommerce in its respective marketplace, you are actually penalized with an extra 0.5% to 2.0% Shopify commission on every sale if you don’t select the in-house Shopify Payments option. This percentage — 2% for most merchants starting out — is applied on top of the fees charged by your payment gateway itself. Trust me, that extra 2% adds up fast.

Shopify Payments has its own advantages and disadvantages, but for starters, some merchants don’t even qualify to use this processor in the first place. While Shopify Payments definitely works well when it works, a lot of merchants end up stuck in no-man’s land when it comes to payment processing with Shopify. Caught between an extra fee and a hard place, as it were. (Insert your own, better metaphor here.)

While you may need to pay a one-time fee to integrate your favorite processor with WooCommerce (Stripe and PayPal come as free, built-in options), you can ultimately select an option that fits perfectly with your risk level, sales volume, and transaction size. You can also select for any customer support and feature requirements you may have for your payments system.

Customer Service & Technical Support

Winner: Shopify                                  

Both WooCommerce and WordPress have produced a plethora of self-help resources and documentation. Moreover, both boast thriving communities of developers and merchants working with the software who readily share problem-solving advice via forums. This is all very good and helpful.

WooCommerce can’t compete with Shopify when it comes to personalized support, however. A “help desk” is offered with WooCommerce from which you can submit a web ticket for specific purchased items, but a personal response is not always guaranteed.

Meanwhile, along with great self-help resources and community forums of its own, Shopify offers 24/7 phone, email, and chat avenues for contacting live representatives in real time. This is part of the all-inclusive nature of the Shopify platform, and part of the reason you pay that monthly subscription fee.

Now, this is not to say you couldn’t potentially receive personalized assistance from your hosting provider if your site goes down, for example. The quality and availability of this sort of third-party tech support will vary widely by company, though. Not to mention, things can get complicated very quickly regarding exactly who holds responsibility for whatever’s gone horribly wrong with your online store in the middle of the night. Once again, our point is that neither WooCommerce nor WordPress.org has a team of service reps standing by waiting for your distress call. You’re largely on your own.

User Reviews

Winner: Tie

Shopify and WooCommerce each have devoted followings of satisfied users, and both platforms tend to score very highly on user review websites. Shopify merchants love the user-friendliness of a powerful SaaS platform where most things are taken care of for you, while WooCommerce devotees appreciate that most things are not taken care of for you — it gives these users the flexibility and control they desire.

Of course, neither ecommerce platform is perfect. Here are a few of the complaints that arise most often:

Shopify

  • Extra transaction fees when not using Shopify Payments
  • Costly add-ons
  • Poor customer support
  • Frustration with Shopify Payments

WooCommerce

  • Costly add-ons
  • Lack of personal customer support
  • Steep learning curve
  • Technical difficulties (i.e., extensions, themes, updates, etc.)

I’m still calling this one a draw. One platform does not dramatically outshine the other when it comes to real user feedback.

Security

Winner: Shopify

Shopify wins this category because all Shopify stores are automatically PCI compliant out-of-the-box and come with a built-in SSL certificate. With WooCommerce, your store’s security falls more directly upon your own shoulders. You’re ultimately responsible for choosing a secure and PCI-compliant web host and payment gateway, obtaining an SSL certificate, performing Woodpress.org and WooCommerce plugin updates, and staying on top of the latest security patches. As WooCommerce reminds you in its own documentation, “a given WooCommerce site is overall exactly as secure as the WordPress installation itself.”

There’s no doubt that a WooCommerce store can be just as secure in as a Shopify store, as long as all the right pieces are in place and carefully managed. There’s just a higher chance for site security to go (horribly) awry due to mismanagement or innocent mistakes.

Final Verdict

Winner: Shopify

 

This was a tight race, folks. Shopify and WooCommerce have both earned their popularity in the ecommerce world, even if for different reasons and for different segments of online sellers. Based on our experience, as well as our sense of the needs of our Merchant Maverick readership overall, we’re still more likely to recommend Shopify over WooCommerce.

The majority of online sellers will have an easier time with Shopify right out-of-the-box. Shopify is much more “foolproof” and all-inclusive than WooCommerce, with technical aspects like installation, hosting, updates, and security all handled on your behalf. This allows you to expand your focus beyond just building and maintaining your store, even as an absolute web-beginner. The opportunity for 24/7 personalized customer support with Shopify is also a huge factor in our verdict.

All Shopify gushing aside, we firmly maintain that this SaaS platform is not a magic bullet solution for all online merchants, and WooCommerce may be just the alternative you seek. As an open-source software plugin combined with WordPress.org’s vast ecosystem, WooCommerce offers a degree of ownership, control, and flexibility that isn’t possible with Shopify. It’s the perfect platform for the technically-inclined among us who have the time and skill to tinker with code, updates, and integrations to customize their stores at a finely-tuned pace. The freedom to select your own web host, as well as a payment processor that works best for your specific country and risk level without financial penalty (hello, Shopify’s extra transaction fees) is also a big draw for a lot of business owners using WooCommerce. The power truly is in your hands if you go this route.

As the old adage goes, however: with great power comes great responsibility. If you choose an open-source platform like WooCommerce, you should definitely heed this nugget of graphic novel-based wisdom.

Have you worked with Shopify or WooCommerce? Let us know if the comments — particularly if you have experience with both!

The post WooCommerce VS Shopify appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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What Is AVS For Credit Card Processing?

Address Verification Service

Like it or not (and you won’t like it), credit card processing comes with a bewildering variety of small, nickel-and-dime fees that add to your costs in ways you might not even be aware of. One fee that you might have seen on your credit card processing statement is the AVS Fee. If you’re an ecommerce merchant, you probably already know what this is, but if you’re in retail, you most likely don’t see it very often and may not understand how it works. Well, we’re here to help. In this article, we’ll explain what AVS is, how to use it, and how much it might cost you in additional processing charges.

AVS is an acronym for the Address Verification Service, a feature that’s used to compare the address given to you by your customer and the billing address on file with the cardholder’s issuing bank. AVS serves two primary functions: (1) to deter fraud by confirming that the customer is the legitimate cardholder, and (2) to help prevent chargebacks by giving you additional information to verify your customer’s identity. AVS is provided by MasterCard, but is used by all major credit card brands in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

As you’re probably already aware, card-not-present fraud is a growing problem in today’s ecommerce-driven world, and it can come in many forms. Using AVS won’t eliminate CNP fraud, but it will lower the chances of it happening to you. Likewise, chargebacks are also becoming more common. If the address the customer provided and the address on file with the issuing bank matched when you processed the transaction, this provides additional evidence to improve your chances of successfully defending against the chargeback. Better yet, effective use of AVS can lower the chances of a chargeback occurring in the first place.

How Address Verification Works

Use of the Address Verification System isn’t necessary for all credit/debit card transactions. In fact, the only time you’ll need to use AVS is for card-not-present transactions and situations where you need to key in a customer’s card information manually. This can happen if for some reason your credit card terminal is unable to read the customer’s magstripe or EMV chip. Note that while it’s fairly common for the magstripe on an old card to wear down over time and eventually become unreliable, the chance of this happening with an EMV card is very small.

If your business is retail-only, you’ll only rarely need to use AVS, and the impact on your processing costs will be minimal. On the other hand, ecommerce-only, mail order, and telephone order businesses will need to use AVS for every transaction. If you’re in one of these types of businesses, the cost of using AVS can be very substantial, depending on how (and whether) your credit card processor charges you for using it. If you process a lot of B2B transactions, you should also be aware that some processors require the use of AVS to process Level II and III credit card data.

Using AVS is actually very simple. In addition to their credit card information, your customer also provides a billing address. This information is submitted to your credit card processor, which queries the AVS system to determine whether the customer-provided address matches the billing address on file with the credit card’s issuing bank. AVS can be set up to run automatically through a payment gateway or virtual terminal, or you can manually query the system through your credit card terminal. The Address Verification System will compare the submitted billing address with the one on file with the issuing bank, and return a code that tells you how closely the two addresses match. Here’s an overview of the most common codes returned by the AVS, and what they mean:

Common AVS Codes (for Visa, MasterCard, and Discover)

AVS Code Meaning
B No address information submitted, AVS check could not be performed
E AVS data provided is invalid (or AVS is not allowed for the card type submitted)
R AVS unavailable at the time transaction was submitted. Retry transaction
G Credit card issuing bank is of non-U.S. origin and does not support AVS
U Address information is not available for the customer’s credit card
S U.S. card issuing bank does not support AVS
N Neither street address nor 5-digit ZIP code matches address and ZIP code on file for card
A Street address matches, but 5-digit ZIP code does not
Z First 5 digits of ZIP code matches, but street address does not
W 9-digit ZIP code matches, but street address does not
Y Street address and first 5 digits of the ZIP code match perfectly

Note that there are additional codes that you might see. However, they’re far less common than the codes listed in the table above.

Okay, so you’ve got a code from the AVS system. Do you approve the transaction or not? In some cases, your credit card processor will automatically decline a transaction if certain AVS mismatch codes are returned. If this happens, your only recourse is to ask the customer for an alternative billing address and try again. There are legitimate reasons why a customer might inadvertently supply an incorrect billing address. For example, your customer might have recently moved, but hasn’t updated their new billing address with their credit card company. Or perhaps the customer simply doesn’t remember their address correctly. However, if the customer doesn’t provide the correct address on the second try, there’s a very good chance that it’s because the card is stolen, and the customer has no idea where the actual cardholder lives. In this case, you should decline the transaction.

In a retail setting, a merchant will have to decide whether to accept a transaction if the Address Verification System returns a code indicating something other than a perfect match. Different AVS codes present varying levels of risk in accepting the transaction, as summarized here:

AVS Risk of Transaction Approval

Transaction Approved If: AVS Codes: Risk Level:
ZIP code or street address do or do not match None High
Street address matches B, N and Z Medium
5-digit ZIP code matches B, N and A Medium
Either 5-digit ZIP code or street address match B and N Medium
Both 5-digit ZIP code and street address match B, N, A and Z Low
Both 9-digit ZIP code and street address match B, N, A, Z, W and Y Extremely Low

Again, retail merchants will have to make a decision based on the level of risk if a partial mismatch occurs. We recommend that you set specific policies regarding which AVS codes will be approved and which will be declined, and that you ensure your employees are trained to recognize AVS codes that will require them to reject a customer’s card. Mail order and telephone order businesses will also have to set similar policies to ensure consistency in accepting or declining transactions.

For ecommerce businesses, things are a little easier. In most cases, you can set up your payment gateway to automatically accept or reject transactions based on the returned AVS code. Popular gateways such as Authorize.Net (see our review) allow you to configure your gateway to automatically accept only transactions where specified AVS codes are returned. You’ll want to exercise extreme caution in selecting which codes to approve based on the overall level of risk. Accepting too many partial mismatch codes can leave you vulnerable to fraud and chargebacks. At the same time, you might lose a lot of sales if your AVS code acceptance policies are too restrictive. Although you’ll obviously want your gateway to be able to process transactions automatically 24/7 without input from you, we suggest that you set up a system to automatically email a customer notifying them that their transaction was declined due to an AVS mismatch. This gives the customer a chance to either correct the billing address information or submit an alternate payment method, and keeps you from losing a sale.

Address Verification Fees

Credit card surcharge fees illustration

Regardless of how frequently you use the Address Verification Service, you’re almost always going to have to pay for it one way or another. For starters, MasterCard charges an automatic AVS assessment fee whenever AVS is used, regardless of the circumstances. This fee is currently $0.01 for card-not-present transactions and $0.005 for card-present transactions. Your processor has to pay this fee to MasterCard when they process your transaction, and they’ll usually pass it on to you in one form or another.

If you use Square (see our review) or a similar payment service provider and are on a flat-rate pricing plan, you won’t pay a separate AVS fee. Instead, Square incorporates this fee into their processing rates, so you’ll never see it. Note that Square, along with almost all other providers, charges a higher rate for ecommerce and keyed-in transactions. While a lot of this increased rate reflects the higher risk associated with card-not-present transactions in general, use of the AVS service is also included.

If your processor uses a tiered pricing plan, you may or may not be charged a separate AVS fee for each transaction where the Address Verification Service was used, depending on your processor. However, using AVS for a card-not-present transaction is usually a requirement for placing that transaction in the qualified tier. Conversely, failure to use AVS will often result in the transaction being downgraded to nonqualified, and you’ll pay a much higher fee for processing it. Because the nonqualified rate will cost you up to two or even three times the qualified rate, you’ll save money using AVS – even if you have to pay a fee for it.

Merchants on an interchange-plus pricing plan may or may not be charged a separate AVS fee, but use of AVS will give you a lower interchange rate, thus reducing the cost of processing your transaction. Again, in most cases, the savings from the lower interchange rate will more than offset the cost of the AVS fee.

Subscription-based pricing works the same way as interchange-plus, with the exception that you usually don’t pay a percentage markup on your transactions. Once again, you’ll save money overall by using AVS for your card-not-present transactions. Note that most providers offering subscription pricing usually don’t tack on extra fees like the AVS fee, as you’re already paying a monthly subscription fee that’s intended to combine these and other costs associated with maintaining your merchant account.

To find out how your provider handles the AVS fee, you’ll have to wade through the fine print in your contract. Although some of the more transparent providers disclose this information on their website, most do not. Most providers that impose a discrete AVS fee will charge anywhere from $0.01 to $0.25 per transaction where AVS is used. These fees can add up quickly, especially if you process a high number of small-ticket transactions. Other providers might simply include this extra cost in their rates for card-not-present transactions, as you will be using AVS for 100% of these types of transactions.

Because of the potential for AVS fees to add significantly to your processing costs, some providers will permanently waive the fee if your business is ecommerce-only. Businesses with both a retail and an online presence probably won’t be so lucky.

Final Thoughts

The Address Verification Service provides valuable protection for your business from both fraud and the possibility of a chargeback. While it isn’t foolproof, it’s far better to use it rather than simply accepting all transactions without it. In this sense, AVS is worth paying a little extra for and is in no way a “junk” fee.

At the same time, you’ll want to make sure that your provider isn’t ripping you off by charging an AVS fee that’s much higher than what they have to pay to MasterCard for the use of the service. Your best defense is to discuss the AVS fee with your sales representative when negotiating the terms of your merchant account. And, by all means, read your contract documents thoroughly before signing to ensure that what your sales representative told you is reflected in your legally-binding contract.

eCommerce merchants are particularly vulnerable to overpaying for the Address Verification Service, and you’ll want to choose a provider that will either waive the AVS fee entirely or merely charge you the pass-through cost. Paying significantly more than this will add up quickly if you’re assessed an AVS fee on every single transaction that your business processes.

We also recommend that ecommerce merchants set the automatic rejection policies on their payment gateways to balance the risk of fraud against the possibility of lost sales from legitimate customers. Your provider can help you select automatic rejection policies that will meet this goal.

Each provider treats AVS fees differently, so you’ll want to research this issue before considering a particular provider for your business. For example, one of our highest-rated providers, Dharma Merchant Services (see our review) charges a flat $0.05 per transaction to use AVS. However, they disclose this fee on their website, and they also point out that the lower interchange costs from using AVS will still, in most cases, result in a lower overall cost to process the transaction.

The post What Is AVS For Credit Card Processing? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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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

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

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

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The Best CBD Oil Merchant Account Providers

CBD oil

What are CBD oils? Perhaps you’ve heard of this new class of products, and you’re curious about what they are and what benefits they can offer you. Maybe you’re also interested in opening a business that sells CBD-derived products, and you’d like to know more about the special requirements you’ll need to meet in order to be successful. Well, we’re here to help! Cannabidiol (or CBD) is a substance (or phytocannabinoid, to be more precise) that’s derived from hemp (Cannabis sativa) plants.

Now, you’re probably already aware that marijuana is also derived from Cannabis plants. The major difference between CBD products and marijuana is that the former contain little or no THC or any of the other psychoactive ingredients that marijuana contains. In other words, CBD products won’t get you “high.” Despite this rather obvious distinction, CBD-based products have been illegal under Federal law until very recently. In fact, as of the time of this writing, they’re only legal under certain specific conditions.

Although medical marijuana and, by extension, CBD products are now legal in many US states, most banks and credit card processors have been extremely reluctant to approve CBD oil businesses for merchant accounts, and many such businesses have had their accounts suddenly closed without notice. In this article, we’ll update you on the current (as of January 2019) legal status of CBD products and recommend several merchant account providers that accept businesses selling CBD products.

Legal Issues In The CBD Oil Industry

Until just a few weeks ago, CBD-based products were still listed as Schedule I drugs by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), effectively prohibiting their sale, transportation, or use under Federal law. However, many states (33 as of this writing) have passed medical marijuana laws which legalized the use of marijuana and CBD-based products for medicinal purposes. Several other states have gone even further, legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes and removing all prohibitions against CBD-based products.

The recently-passed 2018 Farm Bill changes all of that. Under this legislation, which was signed into law on December 20, 2018, hemp-based products (defined as containing less than 0.3% THC) are now removed from the Schedule I list of controlled substances. However, you must be a licensed grower and comply with all applicable Federal and state laws to produce and sell your product legally. With so many variations in state laws, it’s well beyond the scope of this article to attempt to cover them all. We recommend that you look into the laws of your state and consult with an attorney or qualified consultant to determine the specific requirements that apply to your business.

Needless to say, selling a product that can potentially still be illegal under Federal law makes it very difficult to get approved for a merchant account. Only a small number of high-risk specialists accept CBD businesses, and in many cases, they’ll require you to obtain an offshore merchant account. Of the small number of providers that do accept CBD merchants, there are only a few that we feel comfortable recommending, and we’ll profile them below. Desperate CBD merchants have tried using PayPal or Square (see our review), but this strategy inevitably involves being dishonest about the nature of your business, and providers won’t hesitate to shut you down if and when they catch you.

Before the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considered it illegal to sell or transport CBD products across state lines. This made it nearly impossible to sell CBD products legally through a website, and many eCommerce-focused high-risk providers were reluctant to accept CBD merchants. The new law eases many of these concerns, so we anticipate that the opportunities for CBD merchants to obtain a merchant account will improve dramatically in the coming year. In the past, we’ve seen reports of banks and credit card processors suddenly deciding to shut down accounts en masse, leaving many CBD merchants in the lurch. This situation should improve considerably with the recent legalization of hemp-based products.

For the time being, we’re going to confine our recommendations to processors that we know already accept CBD merchants and that have a strong reputation for providing fair prices and honest service. As legal limitations on CBD products continue to be rolled back, CBD merchants should find expanded opportunities to get approved for merchant accounts. At the same time, you can still expect to be assigned a high-risk merchant account for now. Until the day arrives when CBD products are fully legalized in all 50 states, we don’t anticipate that low-risk merchant accounts will become available.

What Makes A Good High-Risk Merchant Account Provider?

Finding a good high-risk merchant account provider involves the same criteria as a low-risk provider – it’s just harder to find a provider that offers the right combination of reasonable prices, fair contract terms, and high-quality customer service.

  • Pricing: The bottom line here is that any high-risk merchant account is going to cost significantly more than a comparable low-risk one. Be prepared to have to accept a tiered pricing model (although some established businesses might be able to negotiate a more affordable interchange-plus model). You can also expect to be charged higher monthly and annual fees as well, although the difference in these costs isn’t as much as it is with processing rates. Another additional “expense” that most high-risk merchants have to contend with is a rolling reserve, where your processor withholds a certain percentage of your funds every month until the reserve is met. While you’ll eventually receive all your money, rolling reserves can create serious cash flow problems for a small or newly-established business.
  • Contracts: We really like month-to-month billing arrangements that don’t lock you into a long-term contract or force you to pay an early termination fee (ETF) if you close your account early. Unfortunately, CBD merchants (like any other high-risk merchants) will usually have to accept both a long-term contract (typically for three years) and an ETF. Also, be aware that if you have a long-term contract, it will probably also include an automatic renewal clause that extends your contract, typically for one-year periods at a time. If you don’t keep careful track of when your contract is scheduled to auto-renew, you might find yourself locked in for another year or longer.
  • Hardware: If you plan to sell CBD products out of a retail location, you’ll need either a dedicated countertop credit card terminal or a mobile processing system that uses your smartphone or tablet in conjunction with a mobile card reader. Your terminal should be able to accept both magstripe and EMV payments at a minimum, and we also recommend that you consider getting a terminal with NFC-based capabilities so that you can take payment methods such as Apple Pay and Android Pay. For some specific recommendations, check out our article, The Best Credit Card Machines And Terminals. We also highly recommend that you purchase your terminals outright rather than leasing your equipment. Leasing arrangements lock you into noncancelable long-term contracts, and you’ll wind up paying several times more in leasing fees than what your machine is actually worth.
  • eCommerce Support: Naturally, you’ll want to be able to sell your CBD products to as many customers as possible, and selling via a website allows you to do that. As we’ve noted above, there are still some significant restrictions on selling CBD products across state lines that you’ll want to be aware of before you launch your website. At the same time, the recent legalization of hemp-based products is going to open up eCommerce opportunities that weren’t there just a few months ago. All of our recommended providers can set you up with a high-quality payment gateway that will allow you to process transactions over the internet and significantly expand the reach of your business. As not all states have relaxed their marijuana laws, you’ll want to find a gateway that will automatically filter out customer addresses where CBD products are still illegal.
  • Customer Support: In researching dozens of merchant account providers, we’ve found that high-quality customer service is the true “secret ingredient” that separates the merely average providers from the truly outstanding ones. Customer support issues occur more frequently with CBD and other high-risk merchants, so you’ll want to pay particular attention to a provider’s reputation in this area.

Best Merchant Account Providers For CBD Oil

With the above factors in mind, here’s a brief overview of five of the best merchant account providers in the industry that accept CBD merchants:

Easy Pay Direct

Easy Pay Direct logo

Easy Pay Direct is headquartered in Austin, Texas and has been in business since 2000. The company provides merchant accounts for both low-risk and high-risk businesses, and is one of the few providers to advertise service for CBD merchants. The company’s primary product is their proprietary EPD Gateway. While you’ll have to pay a premium in terms of processing rates and account fees, you’ll be set up with a domestic bank or credit card processor. They’re also one of the very few CBD providers to disclose their rates and fees on their website.

You will probably have to pay a $99 account setup fee to get started. While we normally don’t approve of this kind of fee, it’s appropriate in this case given the more extensive effort required to underwrite a CBD account. Processing rates start at a flat 3.95% + $0.25 per transaction, although lower rates are available if your business meets certain monthly processing volume limits. There’s also a $29.99 monthly account fee, but this appears to include the use of the EPD Gateway. You can also expect a standard contract with a three-year initial term that automatically renews for one-year periods after that. One very positive feature about Easy Pay Direct’s contracts is that they do not have an early termination fee, even for high-risk businesses. While this isn’t quite the same thing as true month-to-month billing, it does make it much easier to close your account without penalty if you have to.

One helpful feature offered by Easy Pay Direct is called load balancing, where a business can divide its incoming funds among multiple merchant accounts. This is particularly helpful for high-risk businesses that often exceed the monthly processing volume limits imposed by the processor underwriting their account. Just be aware that you’ll usually have to pay separate monthly fees for each account, so it might not be cost-effective for some merchants. Also, be aware that you might not need this feature if you opt for an offshore account. Underwriting guidelines in some (but by no means all) foreign countries are more relaxed than they are in the United States, and you might not have a monthly processing limit imposed on your account at all.

Although Easy Pay Direct doesn’t get as much attention as other, better-known processors, it’s a solid choice for merchants selling CBD products. We particularly recommend the company for eCommerce merchants due to the robust feature set of their EPD Gateway.

Pros

  • No early termination fee
  • Load balancing feature allows higher monthly processing limits
  • High-quality proprietary payment gateway

Cons

  • $99 account setup fee
  • Three-year contract with automatic renewal clause

Check out our full review of Easy Pay Direct for more information.

SMB Global

SMB Global logo

SMB Global is a new high-risk provider that was spun off from one of our favorite providers, Payline Data, in 2016. Headquartered in South Jordan, Utah, the company specializes in providing merchant accounts to high-risk and offshore businesses. Using a variety of backend processors, they’re able to approve a merchant account for almost any high-risk business, including those selling CBD oils. They have an excellent reputation for fair prices and top-notch customer service.

As a newly-established business, SMB Global is still a little rough around the edges, lacking a mobile processing system and credit card terminals for retail merchants. At the same time, they offer a full range of services for eCommerce merchants, including a choice between the NMI Gateway and Authorize.Net (see our review).

Because they work with so many banks and processors to get you approved for an account, the company doesn’t offer any specific pricing information. Processing rates, account fees, and contract terms will all vary widely depending on which backend processor is handling your account. While we highly recommend that you request an interchange-plus pricing plan, be prepared to have to accept a tiered plan instead, particularly if you haven’t been in business for very long. Likewise, you can also expect to have a standard three-year contract with an automatic renewal clause and an early termination fee if you close your account early. As a CBD oil merchant, you should be prepared to have a rolling reserve included in your account agreement.

SMB Global requires a minimum processing volume of $50,000 per month for an offshore merchant account, which can present a formidable barrier to a newly-established CBD business. The company will occasionally waive this requirement if your business has a very strong financial history. Offshore accounts support multi-currency processing, allowing you to avoid cross-border fees. They also feature dynamic currency conversion, letting your customers pay in either their local currency or the currency in which you bill them. SMB Global appears to accept CBD merchants only through offshore accounts at this time, although this could change quickly with the recent deregulation of hemp-based products.

Pros

  • Accepts CBD businesses through offshore merchant accounts
  • Reasonable pricing and contract terms
  • Excellent customer service

Cons

  • Requires minimum $50,000 monthly processing volume for offshore account
  • No mobile processing system at this time
  • No information available about credit card terminals or POS systems

For a more detailed look at SMB Global, be sure to check out our full review.

PaymentCloud

PaymentCloud review logo

PaymentCloud is headquartered in Sherman Oaks, California, and has been in business since 2010. The company specializes in placing high-risk businesses (including CBD oil merchants), relying on a network of third-party processors and acquiring banks both in the United States and offshore to get you approved for an account. While they can’t place every merchant for one reason or another, they have a higher success rate than many of their competitors in getting merchants approved for an account. Best of all, they do the extra work required to accept a high-risk account without charging you any application or account setup fees.

Like almost all high-risk specialists, the company doesn’t disclose its processing rates or account fees, so you’ll have to get a quote from their sales team and do a little negotiating to see how their offer stacks up against other providers. For retail merchants, they’ve de-emphasized expensive credit card terminal leases and now offer a “free” EMV-compliant terminal with each account. Note that in this case, “free” means you’re free to use it for as long as you maintain your account, not that you can keep it even if you later close your account or switch providers. Nonetheless, it’s a pretty good deal if you’re a small CBD business owner who only needs one terminal.

PaymentCloud also offers Authorize.Net as their payment gateway, although their system is compatible with other third-party gateways as well. Additionally, they provide a free virtual terminal with each account. While their line-up of products and services isn’t as robust as some other providers, they offer all the essentials you’ll need for a small or medium-sized CBD oil business.

The company doesn’t have a BBB profile, and we’ve found almost no complaints against them on the internet. Feedback from our readers has been overwhelmingly positive – something that’s quite rare in the processing world.

Lastly, PaymentCloud is now recommended by one of our favorite low-risk providers, Dharma Merchant Services (see our review). Dharma recently decided to stop accepting high-risk merchants themselves, and now refers inquiries from businesses in the high-risk category to PaymentCloud. To us, a recommendation from a company as highly respected as Dharma carries a lot of weight, and we give PaymentCloud a strong endorsement as well.

Pros

  • No application or account setup fees
  • “Free” credit card terminal with each retail account
  • Dedicated account manager for customer support

Cons

  • May require offshore account for CBD merchants
  • No online knowledgebase

Be sure to read our full review of PaymentCloud for more details.

eMerchant Broker

eMerchantBroker logo

Los Angeles, California-based eMerchant Broker has been in business since 2011 and is one of the few reputable high-risk merchant account providers that was deliberately marketing to the CBD oil industry before the recent deregulation of hemp products. Although the company has a reputation for charging above-average processing rates and account fees, we’re very impressed with their efforts to educate CBD oil merchants on the ins and outs of high-risk processing. Many CBD merchants are also new to running a business, so the information that eMerchant Broker provides, particularly about chargebacks, is very educational. Even if you don’t sign up with them, we highly recommend that you take a look at the eMerchant Broker website for detailed information about high-risk processing in general, as well as specific issues unique to the CBD oil industry.

eMerchant Broker offers a reasonable lineup of products and services that you’ll need in addition to a high-risk merchant account. Their proprietary eMB Payment Gateway offers an impressive set of features, and they also support Authorize.Net and other popular third-party gateways. The company mainly supports eCommerce and doesn’t appear to offer any credit card terminals or mobile processing systems. They should, however, be able to integrate their processing system with third-party products if you need them.

Don’t expect to save money with eMerchant Broker. They appear to mainly use tiered pricing plans, although interchange-plus pricing might be available to some merchants. The only rate they advertise – 2.99% — represents the lowest available qualified rate. In most cases, your actual rate will be much higher. You can also expect to be saddled with a standard three-year contract with an automatic renewal clause and an early termination fee. Fortunately, they don’t charge application fees, setup fees, or annual fees. Be sure to review your contract thoroughly before signing up, so you’re clear on the assortment of fees you will have to pay.

eMerchant Broker has a good reputation with the BBB and a low complaint volume. Reports from our readers have been mixed, with some praise for their ethical, well-trained sales staff, and some criticism for their customer service department. All in all, eMerchant Broker rates as an above-average high-risk provider, and we’re comfortable recommending them for your CBD oil business.

Pros

  • No application or account setup fees
  • No annual fee
  • Good sales practices

Cons

  • Expensive tiered pricing processing rate plans
  • Long-term contract with early termination fee
  • Some complaints about customer service

For more information about eMerchant Broker, check out our full review.

PayWize

PayWize logo

Another company you should consider in your search for a CBD oil merchant account provider is PayWize. This very small provider is based in Costa Mesa, California and has only been in business since 2017. However, they’re affiliated with Payment Depot (see our review), one of our top choices for low-risk businesses.

At the moment, PayWize offers just a simple, one-page website. However, it does include some significant disclosures that help to set it apart from other high-risk providers. The company markets primarily to medical marijuana dispensaries and CBD oil merchants, so they have more specialized knowledge of the unique issues affecting this industry than many of their competitors.

PayWize offers predictable flat-rate pricing, although they don’t disclose specific rates. Flat-rate pricing is popular among merchants who want to always know in advance how much they’ll pay to process a transaction. At the same time, this pricing model can become very expensive for a large business that has a high monthly processing volume (typically over $5,000 per month). The company also claims not to impose any rolling reserves, which is a real plus for a business that’s just starting up. PayWize offers several credit card terminals and a payment gateway, but discloses very little information about them. Their gateway integrates with a large number of popular online shopping carts, including Shopify, WooCommerce, and many others.

We haven’t produced a full review of PayWize yet, but based on their association with Payment Depot, we’re willing to recommend that you check them out and compare what they have to offer against any quotes from other providers that you obtain.

Pros

  • Predictable flat-rate pricing
  • Appears to offer month-to-month billing
  • Extensive compatibility with third-party online shopping carts

Cons

  • New company with little online feedback from merchants

Final Thoughts

With the very recent deregulation of hemp products by the Federal government, 2019 is shaping up to be a breakout year for the CBD oil industry. Your chances of getting approved for a merchant account have never been better, and it should get even easier as acquiring banks and credit card processors adjust their underwriting guidelines to reflect the diminished risk associated with CBD oils – and cash in on a booming new industry. At the same time, we don’t expect that CBD oils will be treated as a low-risk business any time soon. With products such as diet pills and nutritional supplements still firmly in the high-risk “nutraceutical” category, CBD merchants can expect to have to pay the extra cost of maintaining a high-risk merchant account for the foreseeable future. The only way we see this situation changing is if the Food and Drug Administration ever formally backs up the claims CBD merchants make as to the medicinal value of their products.

In addition to opening the floodgates so more high-risk merchant account providers can accept CBD merchants, the recent deregulation should make it easier to obtain a domestic merchant account rather than having to take on the additional risk and expense of an offshore account. Unless you specifically need to get around monthly processing limits imposed by your provider for a domestic account, we don’t recommend offshore accounts. The added expense and the risk that you might never receive your funds make them a poor choice for most merchants. However, if you do need an offshore account, check out our article The Best Offshore Merchant Account Providers for some recommendations.

Of the five providers we’ve covered in this article, Easy Pay Direct and SMB Global have the best overall reputations for fair pricing and quality service. However, we recommend that you obtain quotes from several providers and compare them closely before deciding which one to sign up with. Also, remember that the CBD oil industry is changing very rapidly now, so there inevitably will be more providers offering merchant accounts to CBD merchants in the coming years than just the ones we’ve profiled here. Finally, if you’re a CBD oil merchant and have had any experience working with the companies listed in this article – or other providers – be sure to tell us about your experience in the Comments section below. Thanks!

The post The Best CBD Oil Merchant Account Providers 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

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

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

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