In another article, we talked about whether you need a website. Now that you have made the decision to have a website, I will give you some basic information about the various options that are available to you as well as the results of my own experimentation with the various platforms. This article is a work in progress and I will be adding to it.
Before doing anything else, determine what you need in a website and then look at the various options. Most have a short free trial so that you can experiment yourself and see if it will work for you.
Probably the cheapest option and one that many more experienced website builders use is WordPress.org (not wordpress.com) and woocommerce. But if you are technologically challenged or new to the art of website building, I do not recommend this option as the learning curve is much larger than some of the other options. If you have some experience and feel comfortable enough, it is a good option. There are a few other plugins that can also be used with wordpress. Ecwid is one of the more popular ones.
If you are new and inexperienced but want to create your own website, you should probably consider one of the following platforms.
Shopify and Big Commerce
The two biggest and most competitive shopping carts are Shopify and Big Commerce. They are similar in many ways but there is enough difference between the two that it makes sense to look at each of them carefully before making a decision. Both of these are full-service platforms which means that you don’t have to buy additional hosting.
Both have a 15-day trial so I suggest that you sign up and try both to see which is easiest for you to use and works best for your needs.
Most of you are not large enough to require the more expensive option for either company ($79/month for Shopify and $71.95/month for BigCommerce) and will begin and probably stay with the basic account, which is $29.00 a month for Shopify and $29.95 for BigCommerce. Once you reach $50,000 in annual sales, BigCommerce requires you to upgrade while Shopify does not.
Shopify also has a “lite” plan for $9.95/month but this is just a “buy button” that you can add to other sites. This button doesn’t show descriptions, etc. Big Commerce has a wordpress plugin that allows you to embed your shopping cart into another website but I found that to be extremely frustrating to set up so I just link from my wordpress site to the category pages on my BigCommerce site. Since I made both sites look the same, the switch from one to the other is not noticeable.
Shopify has a 2% additional transaction fee on each of your sales unless you choose to use their merchant account (Shopify Payments). BigCommerce has no transaction fees regardless of what merchant account you want to use. Both offer a payment processor with processing fees of 2.9% + 30 cents per transaction. There are no additional processing fees for either which usually makes it much cheaper than most other merchant accounts.
Both have built-in blogs which you can use. However, their blogs are limited but adequate. I personally use wordpress.org for my blog and main website while linking to BigCommerce for categories and products in the shopping cart But you may find their blogging platform adequate for you.
You may wonder why I chose BigCommerce over Shopify? I tried both. As a matter of fact, I am a partner and affiliate for Shopify but chose BigCommerce for several reasons. While Shopify provided the basic needs, I would have had to pay extra for some things that were included in the BigCommerce platform. Shopify limits options (things like size, color, number of cookies, etc) to three while they were unlimited with BigCommerce. I can also easily add a “message for gift card” option in BigCommerce while it is not possible in Shopify without either adding some code to a product template, or investing in an app. Also it was much easier and cheaper to set up a local delivery or local pickup in addition to shipping options with BigCommerce. Lastly, I found customer service to be better with BigCommerce.
Here are some quotes from others that may help explain the differences:
“The feature and core technology differences that may make one better than the other. Core tech in terms of power and the ability to grow is vastly better on BC. If you’re running wholesale or both retail and wholesale, multi-currency and a few general factors, doing so on Shopify requires a patchwork of apps, all with expense, speed load additions (not good) and workarounds to do this and it’s all native to BC”
“Let me put it this way if you are planning to set up coupon codes you have to pay for a separate app in Shopify that it slows your site. In BC it is free and you can set it up from your dashboard”
“If you want to talk to customer Service in Shopify you have to set up a temporary pin and wait for the call back in BC you always have a unique pin and a customer rep who answers the phone.”
Another player is Ecwid which works very differently. Shopify and BigCommerce allows you to create a brand new, standalone online store (a fully functional website on a domain of your choosing) whereas Ecwid was designed to let people sell products on an existing site by adding a snippet of code to it (hence the name ‘Ecwid’ — e-commerce widget. Ecwid does offer a simple homepage that allows you to use it as a standalone site but does not include the blog, etc. that the other platforms have.
Ecwid offers four different pricing options:
Free — $0 per month
Venture — $15 per month
Business — $35 per month
Unlimited — $99 per month
The free plan is free forever but you are limited to 10 products. With the venture plan, you can have up to 100 products while the business plan allows up to 2500. The unlimited plan is just that – unlimited. This is pricing for companies in the United States. It differs in other countries.
You also get additional features as you upgrade your plan.
With all Ecwid plans, you can either embed your products on another site, or create a basic standalone site, using Ecwid’s ‘Instant Site’ feature. But it’s pretty basic, allowing you to create a one-page site featuring your products alongside information about your business. The aesthetics are good, and the results can be pretty impressive, but ultimately, it’s not a substitute for a proper website.
This is a great option, however, if you already have another site in a platform such as wordpress or Wix. If you’re a Wix user, different pricing rules apply — you can buy a ‘starter’, ‘premium’ or ‘unlimited’ plan for $7.99, $19.30 or $79 per month respectively. The feature sets for these plans broadly reflect those available on the standard Ecwid plans.
Like BigCommerce, Ecwid allows you to have unlimited options and as long as you’re on a paid-for plan, you can just add a simple text box or file upload button to your products to capture any additional information that you might need to fulfill an order such as a gift card message or delivery information.
While BigCommerce and Shopify both have blogging integrated into their platforms, Ecwid does not.
Ecwid is definitely a platform to consider if you have another website that you want to just add a shopping cart to.
Wix and Weeby
Wix, like Shopify and BigCommerce, is a platform that allows you to build a complete website without having to buy hosting separately or know code.
Wix offers a free plan which allows you to create a simple site supported by advertising. This is a good way to try it out but it is ad-supported, doesn’t facilitate e-commerce and prevents you from connecting a domain to your website.
On the plus side however, the Wix free plan allows you to use all 500 of the Wix templates, and provides free hosting. You can make use of images, clip art and icons provided by Wix, and can add apps from the Wix app market (which provides both paid and free apps).
The ‘Business Basic’ plan ($23.00 a month) is the cheapest Wix plan available that facilitates e-commerce. The ‘Business Unlimited’ plan ($27.00/month) is the same as the ‘Business Basic’ one, but adds logo making tools, social icon tools and more generous storage and more video hours. The ‘Business VIP’ plan ($35 per month) just gives more storage and space for videos as well as priority support.
Unless you’re selling videos and need to avail of the unlimited video minutes, I’d probably be inclined to go for the Business Basic plan.
You can register a new domain name through Wix, or connect a domain you already own. You get a 1-year free domain registration with Wix but have to pay for renewals.
The downside of this is that by doing so you will be putting all your eggs in one basket. If for any reason you lose access to your Wix account, you’d lose not just your website but your domain name too. Something to think about.
Wix gives you a choice of over 500 free templates which is not the case with BigCommerce and Shopify which have just a few free templates to choose from.
The templates look professional and are visually appealing as long as you customize them carefully and use high quality photographs. You should choose your template carefully in the very beginning because if you change templates part way through your website creation, you will need to start again from scratch which is not true of Shopify and Big Commerce.
As more and more people use mobile devices, mobile-friendliness is essential for your website.
Wix claims your website will “Look amazing on every screen with a mobile-friendly version of your website.
But the truth is that Wix uses something called absolute positioning, which gives you more flexibility in positioning elements (text, images, forms and so on) but means your website will not adapt as well to different screen sizes as does responsive design which Shopify, BigCommerce, and Squarespace use.
With Wix, you can sell an unlimited number of products with six product options.
SEO functionality is generally good as it allows you to easily perform key SEO tasks, including:
- adding alt text
- adding meta descriptions
- editing page URLs
- creating 301 redirects
One SEO feature which may particularly appeal to SEO novices is Wix’s ‘SEO Wiz’ tool. This walks you through the key steps for optimizing your website.
The company provides support over the phone and via email, but there’s no live chat.
Squarespace is a more elegant and professional website building solution than Wix, and provides truly responsive websites, but it is slightly more expensive and its e-commerce functionality is not quite as comprehensive as Wix’s.
There are four monthly Squarespace plans available:
- Personal — $16 per month
- Business — $26 per month
- Basic Commerce — $30 per month
- Advanced Commerce — $46 per month
The personal plan does not offer e-commerce ability. There is a two-week free trial available to determine if it is the right platform for you. Squarespace doesn’t impose any limits on file storage however Wix does (the amount you get varies considerably by plan).
Like Wix, Squarespace does not allow you to switch to another template after you’ve installed one on your site. However, because Squarespace templates all behave in the same way, the lack of template switching functionality is less of a problem than it is in Wix. In Squarespace, you can change colors and fonts manually to replicate another template’s look, while in Wix you will have to create an entirely new website if you want to use a different template.
Unless you are on its ‘Commerce Basic’ or ‘Commerce Advanced’ plan, Squarespace applies a 3% transaction fee to sales on top of any credit card processing fees. If you go for one of these plans, then you only have to worry about the processing fee charged by either Stripe or Paypal (the two payment gateway options available to you in Squarespace).
As far as support when you need it, Squarespace lets you get in touch via live chat or email. You generally have to search for a solution to your problem in the platforms’ help material before you are given the option to contact the support team.