Every year, more and more small- and medium-sized businesses make their products available to buy online to remain competitive in a sharp-elbowed sales environment.
After all, why shouldn’t they? Three quarters of people admit to shopping online at least once a month while tens of millions of people take part in sales bonanzas such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday every year. So it makes sense that established retailers are set up to make the most of these trends – to find new customers and enjoy an uptick in sales.
For brick-and-mortar SMEs, the road to building an online sales portal can seem long and complicated. But that doesn’t have to be the case. There are now numerous e-commerce platforms that can help you on this journey. Best of all, they’re designed with simplicity and the user experience at their core.
First, let’s understand why you might want to use an e-commerce tool to set up your site rather than building it manually.
E-commerce platforms: build or buy?
Selling your wares online is as simple as building a website, right? Well, not quite. While the look and feel of your sales site is hugely important for driving purchases, this is only the front end of your operations. In order to effectively accept payments, track sales, manage stock and remain mobile-friendly, it’s key to have to have a fully operational platform that works when you scale from 10 orders a day to a 1000.
In the past, this would have meant contracting a web designer and coder, working with a payments provider to accept different credit cards, selecting and adding a customer relationship management ( CRM ) solution, as well as numerous other elements. Alongside this being time-consuming, doing all of these things manually could be very expensive.
For larger businesses, a custom-built solution might be a good route to take. But if you’re a time-strapped smaller business, you might want to look for a specialised platform that takes care of all these individual processes and functions for you.
Below, we’ve handpicked five different options according to what you might need.
Shopify: no coding, no problem
Shopify ticks a lot of boxes, as it assumes no technical knowledge and aims to give its users everything they could need in one platform. It provides a wealth of website design templates, which can be modified with no prior coding skills necessary, and boasts plenty of payment providers – like PayPal and Stripe – more so than any other platform.
It’s worth noting that while Shopify’s pricing works on a tier structure, you have to pay extra for certain elements and pay commission in certain scenarios. So, do make sure you’ve accounted for this when budgeting.
Big Commerce: set for scaling
Similar to Shopify, Big Commerce aims to provide its customers with everything they could need for setting up their online store. While certain elements aren’t necessarily as user friendly as Shopify – such as adding taxes, variants of products or even content such as ‘About us’ pages – it’s designed to scale with you. So as you grow, Big Commerce will come with you for the ride.
PrestaShop: personalise your brand
Unlike Shopify or Big Commerce, PrestaShop can take a little more setting up as its backend is slightly more technical.
This is because PrestaShop is self-hosted and open source, which means you aren’t tied to a particular web hosting provider. The big advantage of this is that you can create a really unique looking website from the start, which is great for brand distinctiveness. Customisability is this platform’s big selling point, but this isn’t necessarily the easiest option for those starting out on their e-commerce journey.
Wix: simple and affordable
Wix has been heavily advertised as a cheap and quick way to start selling products online in the last couple of years. Its e-commerce platform is designed for brand new entrants to the online retailing space, and as such, aims to be very easy to use. It’s also cheaper than others on this list .
For small and medium businesses, Wix is a good option to start selling online. But depending on your growth, you might lack scaling options as you expand your business.
WooCommerce: powerful and customisable
WooCommerce is a WordPress plugin that can transform your website into an impressive online store. Like Prestashop, it’s an open-source solution and is also free – but you will still have to pay separately for a domain name and a hosting service. But as with Prestashop, you’ll need to organise your own hosting, domain, support and other options.
While this may involve a bit more legwork, WooCommerce allows you to choose from a tonne of themes and designs for your site. It also offers a range of plugin and extensions to boost its firepower as you grow. But remember, this isn’t necessarily the easiest option if you are totally new to this space.