These lists are exhaustive at all. There are tons of smaller options, there are also really niched options like for example, CrateJoy is a website platform for businesses that sell subscription boxes.
Like I said, a million options.
I couldn’t begin to tell you what’s the best one for YOU. So I’m going to tell you about the factors you should consider when choosing the one for you.
1- Are you planning to set this up yourself or are you going to hire help?
I speak for all designers when I tell you that we can’t possibly know how to design on every web platform out there because they all speak different languages. If you already know of a designer you want to work with then you will probably want to check out their blog to see what platforms they recommend. You can usually schedule a discovery call with them as well to chat about the options they offer.
It’s perfectly fine to pick a platform before choosing a designer, just make sure that you look for that specific type of designer. Like a Squarespace designer or a Shopify designer. Some of us do the design on multiple platforms, you just need to do your research.
2- Are you going to be updating/maintaining the site yourself?
With an e-commerce business, you have to do quite a bit of site maintenance. You’ll have to be able to upload new products, new collections, swap out photos, change prices, add coupon codes. These can be easy or hard, depending on the platform.
You could also hire this out to VA or your designer, but it’s something you want to consider before choosing a platform.
3- Do you consider yourself tech-savvy?
If you are doing everything yourself which is absolutely fine, you need to ask yourself how comfortable you are with technology? How do you feel about Googling for tutorials, watching YouTube videos, learning new systems?
It’s totally possible to do it all yourself and do it well, but odds are you will spend a lot of time in Google university to get everything figured out.
4- What does the platform have for support options?
Whether you do it yourself or you hire out, you want to look into the support offered by the company. Do they offer any support at all? Do they have live chat or a phone number? How long does it take to get a reply back?
Support looks very different from company to company. For example, on Shopify, they offer a 24/7 live chat, which can be very helpful. I was once up at the crack of dawn to help one of my clients launch her site, and she lives in St. Croix. We had to contact support for a billing problem, so I was really grateful to have online chat for that.
Other companies have no support whatsoever. It’s important that you are aware of that when you are starting. If you are someone who likes one on one support you should pick a platform that is available for that or has a developer who can work with you.
5- What’s the cost associated with using the platform?
Most platforms will have you pay a monthly subscription, but some require annual hosting subscriptions. Or you might need to add additional apps or plugins to get the features that you want in your shop.
When I’m working on a client's website, I like to do research ahead of time on the apps I will need to use to get certain features. I’ll also try to figure out if something can be easily added with coding.
This gives you a good understanding of what you can expect to pay for your website each month.
6- Does the platform have good security and backups? Or is this something you have to take care of yourself?
For example website platforms that are “all-in-one” like Shopify and Squarespace have the security and updates built-in. You don’t have to worry about those.
Others like WordPress will require you to manage the updates and security plugins.
Backing up your site in case of emergency, it’s also different on every platform. So I recommend you do some research on those aspects.
7- Does it have all the features you need?
Not every website platform has every feature you might want or need. You’ll want to decide if you want a website that meets your needs right now or do you want to be able to expand and stay on the same platform. Sometimes those are different things.
I’ve helped a number of clients move from one platform to another that’s a better fit for their business. I think that’s pretty normal and I’d add that I do suggest you be open to trying something else if you aren’t able to really use your website as a tool.
This is a great lead into my tips for finding the best platform.
1- Take advantage of free trial periods to familiarize yourself with a platform.
2- If you are planning on hiring someone to help, schedule a call with them prior to making a decision so they can answer your questions. You wouldn’t believe how many times, I’ll help someone through an easy problem that they were really overwhelmed by. I won’t claim to know everything but every time I build a new website I learn something new.
3- Look at websites you like for inspiration. See what platform they are using. You might not always be able to tell, but a design friend could help you. Especially take time to look at features they have that you love.
4- Plan for the future, if possible. If you have a really specific vision for your future then I suggest you plan for those changes even if you aren’t implementing them right away.
5- Be open and flexible! You might love one platform but it doesn’t have the options you need. You want to make a decision based on your research.
Lastly, because I know you’ll ask, everyone always does.
What platform do I recommend?
Shopify (affiliate link) is my recommendation almost 90% of the time for e-commerce clients. It was built for product-based businesses. It’s good for small businesses and huge enterprises. You can really grow into it no matter where you are headed. It’s fairly easy to learn to maintain. I also tell my clients you can change out the copy and the photos within the design I created, but if you want a fresh design you’ll want to come back to me.
Of course, there are circumstances when you might want to use something else like WordPress with WooCommerce. But most of the time, my recommendation is Shopify.
I’ve also done a whole episode on exactly why I love Shopify eCommerceif you want to scroll back and find that one, it’s episode number four.