The Best Platforms to Build an eCommerce Website in 2020

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Not sure how to get started on your new eCommerce site? Don’t worry, you don’t even need to know what HTML and CSS is anymore to get one up. (They are the standard web coding languages if you are curious.)

With ready-built templates, drag-and-drop builders or even platforms where everything is already pre-built for you, it’s never been easier to set up your eCommerce site.

Now the question is not how to set it up but instead a myriad of other factors to determine which platform is the most suitable for your business.

5 Critical Factors To Guide Your Platform Selection

Let’s break down the key criterias when selecting your eCommerce website builder:

  1. Pricing: What is your budget?
  2. Customisability: How much flexibility over the design and site do you need?
  3. Complexity of Setup / Usage: How much technical expertise do you need?
  4. Level of Support: How much technical support do they give you?
  5. Additional Features / Integrations: What other features do they have to make your life easier? (ie. inventory management system, payment system integrations, etc.)

Here’s a bonus factor to consider - Scalability: Can this platform support you even as your business grows and your needs change?

The more customisation and features you require, the more complex it will be to set up. Conversely, the easier it is to set up, chances are the more expensive it will be. 

Our advice will be to set your budget first, decide what sort of features and customisations are necessary and find out if the available platforms are able to meet your needs by reading on. 

If you are a Singapore-based SME (Small Medium Enterprise), you should also check out the PSG (Productivity Solution Grant) by IMDA supporting eCommerce developments, allowing you to get up to 80% off their list of pre-approved eCommerce vendors. Do note that this 80% grant will be reduced to 70% after December 2020.

Shopify, a top contender in our list is one of these pre-approved vendors as well!

Top 8 eCommerce Web Builders

1. Shopify

Pros: 80% PSG grant eligible, all-in site builder and product management platform, great support services
Cons:
Charges transaction fees, additional paid add-ons can quickly rack up setup costs, 

Pricing: From US$29 / month to US$299 / month, excluding transaction fees and paid add-ons.
Customisability: Many free / paid themes you can customise in a drag-and-drop web builder and add-ons available, subject to certain limitations.
Complexity: Low - easy to set-up and use. 
Support: 24/7 support and a self-help knowledge base
Additional Features: Hosting, Point-of-Sale (POS) system, Payment Gateways, Shipping, Product Management, Order Management, Sales Reports, Discounts / Coupons and more features available via add-ons.

Shopify is typically the top choice being an all-in package of web hosting, website builder, eCommerce platform and even includes POS systems allowing you to use it in physical stores. You can set up your entire eCommerce business without leaving their platform.

It’s user-friendly with a strong 24/7 support service and extensive knowledge base extending to even marketing your business, and has high customisability with many apps available to extend whatever functionality you require.

The only downside? It’s not cheap, with both a monthly subscription fee and transaction fees you can be prepared to pay a hefty amount for all the upsides you are getting with Shopify.

2. BigCommerce

Pros: All-in site builder and product management platform, great support services.
Cons:
Expensive subscription fees.

Pricing: Starting from US$29.95 to US$249.95 / month or even higher for Enterprise service.
Customisability: Many free / paid themes you can customise in a drag-and-drop web builder and add-ons available, subject to certain limitations.
Complexity: Low - easy to set-up and use. 
Support: 24/7 support and a self-help knowledge base
Additional Features: Hosting, Payment Gateways, Shipping, Product Management, Order Management, Sales Reports, Discounts / Coupons and more features available via add-ons.

BigCommerce and Shopify are pretty much similar except for three key differences.

Firstly, Shopify is eligible for the PSG grant and BigCommerce is not, that creates an 80% difference in their previously competitive pricing.

Secondly, Shopify, having been around longer, has many more add-ons, themes and extensions available compared to BigCommerce. However, BigCommerce has many more features built into their base platform as compared to Shopify so that might save you some setup fees.

Lastly, BigCommerce has no transaction fees as compared to Shopify which can save you a huge amount in the long run as your sales revenues rise!

screenshot of BigCommerce platform
screenshot of BigCommerce platform
screenshot of BigCommerce platform

3. eCommerce Marketplaces (Amazon, Lazada, Shopee, etc.)

Pros: Easiest to get started with, large customer base ready without any marketing required.
Cons:
Stiff price competition, little to no customisation, charges transaction fees!

Pricing: Free but transaction fees can quickly become much more expensive! (varies between platforms)
Customisability: Low, you get what they give you!
Complexity: Simplest and often guided step by step process.
Support: 24/7 support and a self-help knowledge base
Additional Features: Large Customer Base, Hosting, Payment Gateways, Shipping, Product Management, Order Management, Sales Reports, Discounts / Coupons. (May vary slightly between platforms)

This is the easiest way to get started for anyone, it’s not really a website builder but tapping on a ready-made platform. 

While there’s next to no customisability, this option gives you a huge advantage none of the other platforms have - immediate access to real paying customers! You can be making sales on the same day with no upfront fees or technical set-up as long as you have a product ready.

Shipping methods, payment gateways, order management are also all handled by the platform - you just need to have a good product, market it, ship it and profit. 

Keep in mind though, once you start raking in the big bucks, the transaction fees on these platforms can quickly become very expensive!

screenshot of Amazon platform
5 benefits of joining lazada
screenshot of shopee platform

4. Wix eCommerce

Pros: Easy to use, many designer templates available, free version available
Cons:
Certain limitations to customisations

Pricing: From US$17 / month (Basic) to US$35 / month (VIP)
Customisability: They have quite a lot of templates which you can easily customise in the drag-and-drop web builder but there are limitations if you wish to adjust certain elements.
Complexity: Low but it may take some time to go through all the options available.
Support: 24/7 support and a self-help knowledge base
Additional Features: Wix ADI,Hosting, Payment Gateways, Shipping, Product Management, Order Management, Sales Reports, Discounts / Coupons, Customer Management, and more Wix plugins available.

Wix used to have a bad name amongst web developers as they were built on Flash which made their sites really slow and mobile-unfriendly. However, they seemed to have rebuilt their offerings and are now competitive with other website builders in the market. 

They do have many attractive design templates and a user-friendly drag and drop web builder (which is now standard in most platforms) but mostly fail to stand out compared to other options.

One thing that does stand out is their WIX ADI which builds a custom site for you as a base from a few questions you fill out.

There’s no harm giving them a try as they have a free option (with their branding splashed all over your page) but it’s a decent way to see if you like Wix enough to purchase their eCommerce plan.

screenshot of Wix eCommerce Editor
screenshot of Wix eCommerce Stores

5. Magento

Pros: Free, many free / paid themes available, advanced sales analytics and many extensions for additional features.
Cons:
Requires some technical / design expertise, subscription can be expensive, limited support available.

Pricing: Free (excluding domain, hosting fees and paid themes/plugins). Cloud subscription starts at US$2000 / year. 
Customisability: Extremely customisable with many extensions available.
Complexity: Moderate to high as it requires technical knowledge to set up.
Support: Community support and knowledge base, dedicated support for Enterprise version
Additional Features: Hosting, Payment Gateways, Shipping, Product Management, Order Management, Sales Reports & Analytics, Discounts / Coupons, Customer Management.

Magento is very similar to Wordpress as it’s an open-source software which requires self-hosting, they were the incumbent eCommerce platform but have been ousted by Shopify and WooCommerce in popularity in recent years. 

It is still a great option but as it requires more technical knowledge and self-hosting, it is highly recommended that you get a professional to assist you in setting up.

With a strong Business Intelligence module enabling sales analytics and many extensions available, Magento is a strong contender if you have the technical expertise or budget to outsource.

answer to why magento is good for small business ecommerce

6. Wordpress + WooCommerce

Pros: Extremely customisable, free (if you DIY - excluding domain/hosting costs), plugins for almost any feature you can think of, many beautiful themes/templates available
Cons:
Low level of support available, hosting & domain setup required

Pricing: Free (excluding domain, hosting fees and paid themes/plugins)
Customisability: Thousands of themes are available online plus anything you want to do is possible… if your developer is good enough.
Complexity: Setting up a simple Wordpress + WooCommerce site isn’t hard, but getting the hosting and domain set up along with customisations can rapidly increase the difficulty.
Support: Low / community only (free) to high (for paid plugins)
Additional Features: Payment Gateways, Shipping, Product Management, Order Management, Sales Reports, Discounts / Coupons, Customer Management (via other plugins) and many more plugins / integrations available.

Based on our experience, we are biased towards Wordpress + WooCommerce because of how powerful it is. After all, this specific combination (along with other plugins) is sufficient to build eCommerce sites for brands at a national level. 

Even if you aren’t tech-savvy, getting someone to set it (and the hosting/domain) up for you for a small fee is by far the cheapest and most flexible option here. 

If you are willing to put in a little time to learn, it’s not that hard too as the default Wordpress platform is meant for casual users to easily start blogs and sites.

That said, beware for this option is only as good as your developer / designer! 

If you are keen on this option but aren’t unsure about where to get the best web hosting solution, check out our list of the best cheapest web hosting providers.

7. Webflow

Pros: Very customisable site builder, content and product management platform
Cons:
Subscription fees and transaction fees, limited features (requires integrations)

Pricing: Starting from US$29 to US$212 / month or even higher for Enterprise service.
Customisability: Many free templates you can customise in a drag-and-drop web builder which is extremely customisable and integrations available.
Complexity: Moderate, customisability of tools increases the learning curve.
Support: No live chat or phone support, email only but boasts a good knowledge base.
Additional Features: Hosting, Payment Gateways, Shipping, Product Management, Order Management, SSL, Google Shopping Integration, Discounts / Coupons and more features available via integrations.

Webflow is an upcoming challenger that mixes the customisability of Wordpress with the features of Shopify and BigCommerce, unfortunately it also mimics the pricing range of Shopify and BigCommerce but lacks their level of support.

Although it does have a free option, that plan is insufficient for running an e-commerce site. Though the option serves as a good way to test-run Webflow to determine if it suits your needs. 

All in all, this is a good option if you are looking for greater customisability but also less complexity.

8. PSG Vendors / IT Developers

Pros: Subsidised (80%) for PSG vendors, professional services
Cons:
Retainer fees (for maintenance), results may vary...

Pricing: Varies but generally not cheap, if it is cheap you should question why is it so.
Customisability: As high as your budget.
Complexity: Varies depending on the solution they are offering or building for you.
Support: Varies (usually dependent on your retainer)
Additional Features: Varies per your budget.

While the PSG grant does consider a substantial amount of the upfront development costs, do keep in mind that it does not cover running costs for maintenance, so please check to ensure that the solution you purchase (cheaply) does not become a white elephant for the lack of maintenance and support. 

Our personal recommendation is to go with the vendors offering solutions based on Wordpress or Magento instead of custom systems which will lock you to that specific vendor even if they turn out to be non-ideal.

Here’s A Summary of Our Top 8 eCommerce Web Builders

Platform Pricing Customisability Complexity Support
Shopify From $29 USD monthly (80% off) Moderate - High Low High
BigCommerce From $29.95 USD monthly Moderate - High Low High
Amazon / Lazada / Shopee / Etc. Transaction fees (varies) Low Low High
Wix eCommerce From $17 USD monthly Moderate - High Low - Moderate High
Magento Free (less development, add-ons, domain & hosting costs) High Moderate - High Low (Community support)
Wordpress + WooCommerce Free (less development, add-ons, domain & hosting costs) High Moderate - High Low - Moderate (Community support)
Webflow $29 USD monthly High Low - Moderate Moderate - High
PSG Vendors / IT Developers Varies / High (80% off) High Minimal Varies

What’s Best For You

Personally, we’ll recommend Shopify if you don’t have any existing websites and Wordpress + WooCommerce if you already have an existing Wordpress site. 

However, getting the site up is only the first step which brings us to our final recommendation. eCommerce marketplaces like Amazon, Lazada, Shopee are great if you do not have any site or eCommerce experience as they come with an inbuilt audience and hence traffic to your eCommerce business.

Once you have your site up, it’s time to consider how to get the customers in! Not sure how to get started with digital marketing? Find out more about how you can select the right digital marketing agency for your business. 

See also:

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