When I started online bookstore Boomerang Books way back in 2002, there weren’t too many of software options available for establishing an online store. Today that’s all changed and there are plenty of great eCommerce software products and services available for new online businesses.
At Boomerang Books, we custom-built an eCommerce platform from scratch. This is the most risky, time consuming and expensive option in most cases (my business partner at the time was a software developer and built the platform for us). If we were ‘starting up’ today, then I suspect that we would think twice about that option, although the vast number of books for sale in our store always meant that we needed a fairly robust and customised solution. But the vast majority of online stores don’t need a bespoke solution like ours.
Best eCommerce Software – Your Options
In this article, we’ll talk about the best eCommerce software for small business: some entry-level eCommerce solutions (eBay, Paypal and WooCommerce) and some more dedicated eCommerce solutions (Shopify, BigCommerce, Ashop and Magento) for small to medium businesses.
Entry-Level eCommerce Solutions
If you’ve only got a small number of different products to sell, then you don’t need a very sophisticated solution and you don’t need to spend too much money at all on your setup. Here are some great options:
For example, you can set up a Paypal ‘Buy Now’ button by pasting a small snippet of HTML code into your page. Customers click the button and are taken to Paypal to make their payment securely.
There’s no monthly, set-up, or cancellation fees, with only a small transaction fee paid for each sale made. Paypal also has a simple shopping cart system, a donate button, gift voucher button and a subscription button.
If you already have a website, and want to sell only a small number of products, this is a great solution.
Whilst you may have used eBay to sell unwanted, second-hand household goods previously, did you know that you can create a dedicated eBay Store to sell new products? It’s an all-in-one solution and there’s no need to have an existing website. Many successful online retailers started out this way with just an eBay Store (eg. one of Australia’s leading online retailers, DealsDirect, started out with just an eBay Store) and many well-known Australian retailers currently maintain a store on eBay (eg. Myer, Target, Styletread, Officeworks).
With an eBay Store you can display all of your product listings in the one place, you can customise the look-and-feel of your store, and you can host the store at a unique web address. Your monthly fee (starting at $19.95) gives you access to eBay Stores tools that you can use to build, manage, promote and track your business.
An eBay Store represents a great way to make a first foray into eCommerce – it’s cheap, low-risk and you can be up and running in minutes.
A good percentage of the world’s websites are powered by the WordPress blogging/content management system, so it’s no wonder that there are a number of eCommerce solutions that are available within WordPress. The most popular WordPress eCommerce plugin is WooCommerce, which according to their website, powers 37% of all eCommerce stores on the web.
The base WooCommerce product is ‘open source’ and can be used completely free of charge. In addition, there are hundreds of free and paid WooCommerce extensions, spanning all manner of logistical & technical requirements, to extend the base functionality of the product.
If your current website is powered by WordPress, then it’s certainly worth experimenting with WooCommerce as a potential solution for your online store requirements.
Dedicated eCommerce Solutions
The following solutions are for those businesses that are quite serious about their foray into online retailing, have quite a number of products to sell, and are looking for a fairly robust and fully-featured eCommerce platform,
Shopify is the world’s fastest growing commerce platform with over 100,000 active global retailers. It’s a software-as-a-service product, which means that you pay on a subscription basis (starting from $29 per month) and the software is hosted, maintained and constantly improved by Shopify.
Shopify is a fully-featured eCommerce package. There’s no limit to the number of items in your store, you can use your own domain name, and secure payments can be processed directly through Shopify, or through your own payment gateway.
Shopify offers advanced features including the ability to sell gift cards, the ability to create discount and coupon codes, and it has built-in search engine optimisation functionality. Shopify also has a mobile app that you can use to manage your store and an integrated point-of-sale system if you have a physical storefront.
Importantly, Shopify supports integration with many other online tools and applications, which means that you can connect an email marketing platform (like Mailchimp), accounting software (like Xero) and a CRM platform (like Salesforce).
Like Shopify, BigCommerce is a fully hosted, scalable software-as-a-service product and a monthly subscription starts at $29.95 USD.
BigCommerce is an Australian company that has achieved some excellent global growth and now operates mostly out of the United States. It’s one of only a few Australian tech startups that have really made a splash globally (others are collaboration software provider Atlassian and email marketing software provider Campaign Monitor).
BigCommerce allows you to build contemporary eCommerce websites directly out of the box with over 100 different themes, or you can build a completely customised look-and-feel with BigCommerce’s advanced customisation framework. Key functionality includes faceted search, high-resolution product images and image zoom, real-time shipping rates, bulk product import/export and fully-responsive design for both desktop and mobile devices.
Magento is probably not the right solution for those just starting out in eCommerce. It’s the world’s most well-known and best supported enterprise-level eCommerce platform. Magento does have a Small Business offering and their software-as-a-service solutions start from $89 USD per month, which is quite considerably more expensive than Shopify, BigCommerce and Ashop.
If you’re a large business, or have aspirations to take over the online retail world, then you should take a good look at Magento as it is a highly scalable and robust solution for big online retailers.
Other Product/Service-Specific eCommerce Options
There are a host of other services available online for selling particular products and services. Here are a select few:
- Etsy – if your products are handmade, then Etsy is for you. It’s the best marketplace for selling clothing and accessories, jewellery, craft supplies and vintage products.
- Envato Marketplace – sell your digital products on this marketplace – themes, scripts, stock imagery
- Eventbrite – if you’re selling tickets for events, then Eventbrite is your tool.
- Freelancer / Fiverr – sell your own freelance services online via these outsourcing marketplaces
- Uber – operate a ride sharing business using your own car
- Airbnb – share your home and make money
- YouCanBook.Me / bookitlive.net / Appointy – use these tools to accept self-service appointments and bookings from customers via your website