Published: Jun 27, 2012 Last updated: Jun 27, 2012 Yan Kulakov

When building a full-featured online store, creative web design simply isn't enough—you will need a special software type to empower your website with the e-commerce functionality, or in other words, to make it possible to display and stock products, manage storefront, control inventory, register customers, receive payments, control delivery, etc. All these crucial tasks can be easily addressed by special eCommerce platforms.

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TOP-7 eCommerce platforms for eCommerce stores in 2021

We gathered 7 most mentioned eCommerce solutions on the web in different TOPs, ratings and industry blog articles. Here are the best eCommerce software for this year:

Types of Platforms

These days, there are 2 major types of eCommerce platforms that differ in the way of implementation: a self-hosted eCommerce software and a SaaS eCommerce platform.

The main difference between them is that self-hosted eCommerce platforms are downloaded as usual computer applications and installed to your own server, and SaaS solutions are stored in the provider’s cloud.

Self-hosted online shop solutions are often open source eCommerce platforms. It means that you have access to the code of the application and can modify it to your business needs. This gives you maximum flexibility for customization and scalability but requires coding skills. SaaS (or Cloud) eCommerce CMS is usually closed systems and only offers a storefront with a simple backend with no access to the code.

In recent years, another type of an eCommerce platform has come to light. It is so-called CaaS—Commerce as a Service. This is a mixed type of a platform: the solution’s backend is integrated with the existing frontend and forms a whole ecosystem.

Self-hosted (Open Source)

Self-hosted (or on-premise) eCommerce software is hosted on your own server. You can use a dedicated server that is physically located in your office or rent one in a data center. A self-hosted solution gives you access to its source code, which is great because in this case you have almost limitless scalability.

The platform deployment process is usually as follows: you buy the license, download the installation package, and install the open source eCommerce software to the server and bind it to a custom domain name. Now you have your online store up and running.

Reasons to go for self-hosted:
  • It’s 100% under your control
  • Limitless scalability
  • Great customizability
  • Usually on-time fee
Reasons to avoid self-hosted:
  • Server and store security are your responsibility
  • Sometimes tricky installation
  • To make code modifications, you need a developer who knows the platform

Hosted (SaaS)

SaaS eCommerce platforms are usually available by a monthly subscription. Online stores are hosted on the provider’s servers and you don’t have access to the code. These are great web shop solutions to quickly and cheaply start a small or medium online store without serious scale potential.

The deployment process is very simple: you just choose a subscription plan, and register an account, which is basically your online store. Then you just pay monthly to keep it running.

Reasons to go for SaaS:
  • Super easy and quick deployment
  • Affordable monthly payment
  • Tons of ready-made design themes and plugins
Reasons to avoid SaaS:
  • You don’t own your store—you just rent it
  • Poor customizability
  • No scalability potential
  • The provider can place limits and introduce new conditions any time

Mixed (CaaS)

CaaS is quite a young type of eCommerce platforms. Not so many vendors offer this type of solution. CaaS means that the eCommerce software company provides the client with only backend. The backend is integrated with the client’s existing frontend through API and custom development. For example, one of the most known eCommerce platforms that offer CaaS is Mirakl—they provided the backend to many companies such as Best Buy, Auchan, Leroy Merlin, and others while maintaining their frontends.

Reasons to go for CaaS:
  • You make your existing website a full-featured online store
  • Great scalability
Reasons to avoid SaaS:
  • CaaS platforms are usually expensive
  • Custom development is obligatory
  • Compatibility issues may occur in the future

How Much Do Ecommerce Platforms Cost?

Top eCommerce platforms are not always the most expensive ones. There are tens of thousands of top e-commerce sites built on a free eCommerce platform. The thing is that a free solution doesn’t guarantee you that you won’t spend a dime on it.

Let’s take Magento, for example. It is an opensource eCommerce platform, some even say it is the best free eCommerce platform. Yes, it is free but most likely you won’t be able to deploy a functional online store according to your requirements out of the box. You will need custom development and adaptation to your business. And here come spendings on customer development and configuration. The development can cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many top online retailers use Magento because it’s scalable, and because they have money to maintain it.

Another free eCommerce shop platform is WooCommerce. It’s also a great solution for small online shops and absolutely unsuitable for large web stores and even medium ones.

So, how much eCommerce platforms cost? There’s no clear-cut answer to this question. There are platforms that don’t cost anything at all but require costly further development.

There are SaaS platforms you pay monthly for. For example, Shopify will cost you a minimum $29 per month. And in case of SaaS there’s no final price tag for your shop because you pay forever.

There are self-hosted licensed eCommerce platforms that you buy once and use forever on your own server. Usually, you can start an online store on these platforms out of the box and grow it later. Custom development is not necessary but to grow, you will need it in the future. For example, CS-Cart’s price starts from $385/one-time fee with no obligatory recurring payments. Plus hosting—from $10/month.

Best Ecommerce Platform List

Based on the popularity of online sales systems on the web—in industry media outlets, blogs, and ratings—we made a list of the most mentioned eCommerce service providers. It’s not an eCommerce platforms comparison—it’s more of a list for your consideration if you are looking for a shopping cart software for your business.

1. CS-Cart

cs-cart ecommerce platform

CS-Cart is a professional online store solution that has been around for more than 15 years—since 2005. It is suitable for building B2C and B2B eCommerce platforms for sales. This is a self-hosted open source eCommerce platform that is installed and maintained by the business owner on their own servers.

CS-Cart is one of the best eCommerce software for building online retail platforms. It is developed for small and medium-sized businesses. The cool thing is that CS-Cart ships with all the necessary cart functionality to start your store right off the bat without any development because it is made for businessmen and not for technicians.

For example, CS-Cart features a built-in block manager. It’s a section in the admin panel that allows you to arrange content on any page of your storefront without altering a single line of code. All is done by dragging and dropping visual blocks.

Block manager in CS-Cart

Block manager in CS-Cart

The CS-Cart shopping cart software also has powerful built-in marketing and customer retention tools, such as a flexible promotion system with lots of conditions and bonuses, reward points system, customizable checkout page, promotion blocks with product recommendations, and more. It is also SEO-ready: you can input meta tags, set redirects, compose Google Snippets, and whatnot.

This eCommerce shop software is available in three editions:

  • B2C: perfect for small retail online stores selling physical products.
  • B2B: great for medium and large businesses that sell physical products and services to other businesses.
  • B2B&B2C hybrid platform: this one is for the biggest online shops that work both in B2C and B2B. It allows you to run multiple independent storefronts for different sectors and niches.

2. Magento

magento online shopping platform

Magento is one of the most flexible and feature-rich e commerce frameworks on the market. Big brands such as Nike, and Cisco use Magento solutions. This is the best free eCommerce platform out there. But despite it being free, you will need money for additional development and configuration. It is initially a self-hosted eCommerce CMS but later they introduced a cloud version.

Magento is like 15 years old and has surrounded itself with a large and loyal community. There are thousands of developers in the community that are ready to help you develop an online shop on Magento for a fee. And you will definitely need a developer for it.

Magento opensource eCommerce software has tons of features out of the box. And you can add even more cart functionality via ready-made extensions that are available on the Magento marketplace.

This is probably one of the most popular eCommerce platforms in the world—over 250,000 stores have been started on this solution. The thing is that all the successful websites on Magento have been built by companies with a large IT infrastructure or a big budget for development. So, if you have money for custom development or a Mageno-savvy team of programmers, then go for this solution.

3. BigCommerce

bigcommerce webshop platform

BigCommerce is definitely one of the top eCommerce platforms in the SaaS segment. Not only it is suitable for startups but also for large enterprises—the company offers flexible eCommerce packages. The cool thing about BigCommerce is that this shopping cart has flexible APIs, which allows you to integrate it with your existing business ecosystem easily (well, if you can code of course).

The BigCommerce online shopping platform integrates with all major payment gateways, such as PayPal, Braintree, Stripe, and Amazon. You can also configure payment methods manually to accept money via a bank transfer or a check. You can easily export your product listings to Amazon or eBay and get extra sales from those channels.

The downside of this online store software is that additional design themes and extensions can be quite expensive. For example, a theme costs from $150 to $300. One more con is that they place limits on the amount of revenue pushing you to upgrade the subscription plan.

Recently, BigCommerce has introduced a headless eCommerce cart. The solution integrates a BigCommerce backend to an existing website built on some other CMS.

4. Wix

wix website builder

Wix is a complete and simple website builder. It’s the best eCommerce platform for startups on a budget with no plans to scale in the future. Wix is not an online store software—it’s a versatile website building tool. But it suits great for creating a simple online sales website.

The key advantage of Wix is its simplicity. No coding skills required to start an online store—everything is constructed via drag and drop and ready-made content blocks. E-commerce sites created on Wix are hosted in the cloud so there’s no need for a dedicated server and SSL certificate.

For online shops, Wix can offer you all the basic cart functionality, such as multi channel integration, abandoned cart recovery, dropship, and print on demand capabilities. There are over 100 of design themes available and about 70 of them are free.

Affordable pricing, all the basic features, and simplicity make Wix the best eCommerce platform for small business.

5. WooCommerce

woocommerce ecommerce plugin

WooCommerce is a plugin that allows you to add eCommerce features to your website based on Wordpress. It’s the cheapest eCommerce platform from our list—it’s absolutely free and doesn’t require custom development (you won’t need it and if you will, Wordpress developers are affordable).

This is the best eCommerce solution for hobbyists and bloggers who want to transform their blogs into online shops. WooCommerce doesn’t have many functions out of the box but there are plenty of integrations available.

On the downside—zero scalability because Wordpress can’t handle higher loads, and tricky installation process for non-wordpress users. Overall, it is a great eCommerce application for solopreneurs and hobbyists.

6. Shopify

shopify saas ecommerce platform

Shopify is one of the world’s largest and most popular eCommerce providers. It’s a cloud eCommerce solution that has been around for 15 years. This is a perfect SaaS eCommerce software for small and medium-sized businesses and especially for those that have never run an online store before—Shopify is known for its super user friendly interface and the ease of use.

This online store platform ships with all the essential functionality to run an online sales platform hassle free. It’s a fact that cloud eCommerce apps are often limited in terms of scalability and customizability but it’s not about Shopify. This platform has hundreds of extensions and themes most of which are pretty affordable.

Shopify is not an open source eCommerce platform so you won’t be able to modify its code and create new custom features. But this doesn’t bother it to be featured in as one of the most popular eCommerce platforms ever in multiple blogs and websites.

7. Squarespace

squarespace saas shopping cart

Squarespace is another eCommerce SaaS platform for hobbyists and solopreneurs. It’s a light-weight web store software and only suitable for small batch sellers. But the eCommerce engine simplicity is its main advantage. It’s one of those “drag and drop" type eCommerce platforms that doesn’t require coding or technical skills to start a shop.

Squarespace online e commerce solution has only basic eCommerce tools and integrates with PayPal and Stripe to accept money. Among the built-in functionality are: abandoned cart auto recovery, selling subscriptions and gift cards, flexible discounts, marketing, inventory, social selling, SEO, and analytics features. There are also some integrations with third-party applications and services.

The platform has been around since 2003 and formed a loyal community around it. An affordable monthly subscription makes it an even greater choice for solopreneurs and those who don’t rely on online sales as their main source of income.

Best Ecommerce Platform by Product, Service and Industry

Starting an online shopping cart project, you need to define your goals and objectives. Do you want to enter in the top 10 Ccommerce websites in the world? Or do you want to start a niche online shop and take over the nice? What are you going to sell and to who? You have to consider all these questions before you start browsing eCommerce platforms for the right choice. In this section, we will list top online shop software by certain criteria.

Startups

As a rule, a startupper is often limited in terms of time, money, and experience in online sales. If this is the case, then the best eCommerce software for a startup (or a beginner) should be easy to use, fast to deploy and shouldn’t require additional development and features. According to the mentioned criteria, these solutions can be considered as best for startups:

  1. Shopify
  2. Wix
  3. WooCommerce

Small businesses

Whether a small business expands online or moves online completely, the e platform should be affordable and reliable. It must include all the necessary eCommerce tools, plus support third-party services integrations, which means the eCommerce CMS should have a flexible API. Open source code would be an advantage as well because the business will grow and the online store must grow along with it.

Considering the criteria, take a look at these sales website platforms:

  1. CS-Cart
  2. BigCommerce
  3. Shopify

Large or Enterprise Businesses

Large businesses and enterprises usually have resources for buying and developing online store software so that it fit their business needs perfectly. These companies often have in-house developers or money to hire a development team. Enterprise customers appreciate the software scalability, flexible API, and security. We recommend taking a look at these solutions enterprise eCommerce platforms:

  1. Magento
  2. CS-Cart
  3. BigCommerce

Selling Fashion, Clothes and Apparel

Almost any solution from our list is suitable for selling physical products. First, take a look at:

  1. Shopify
  2. BigCommerce
  3. CS-Cart
  4. WooCommerce
  5. Wix

Artists and photographers

To sell digital art or photography, you have to make sure the shopping cart software supports digital products. This is a special feature that is often not available in a free eCommerce platform and even in some best eCommerce software on the market. These solutions should work for you pretty good:

  1. Shopify
  2. BigCommerce
  3. CS-Cart
  4. Squarespace

Dropshipping

Dropshipping is an easy way to offer your customers a large product catalog without the need to store all the products in your warehouses. But at the same time, the dropshipping model forces you to work with third-party suppliers and many of them are not ready to follow your rules and guidelines. So, the online store software should have powerful tools to work with suppliers and control them. Here are the software you want to consider:

  1. Shopify
  2. BigCommerce

Digital Products

This is the same as selling photography. Choose the shopping cart software that supports downloadable products:

  1. Shopify
  2. BigCommerce
  3. CS-Cart
  4. Squarespace
digital products in CS-Cart

Creating a downloadable product in CS-Cart

Selling books

Books are physical products, so, any of the listed solutions will work. The choice only depends on the size of your business and the sales volume. Start with these eCommerce platforms:

  1. Shopify
  2. BigCommerce
  3. CS-Cart
  4. WooCommerce
  5. Wix

Service-Based Products

To sell services, you need special cart functionality because there are specifics about selling this kind of product. For example, if you sell maintenance and repair services, you need a booking functionality to control the schedule. Features really depend on the type of services you will provide. There are no versatile platforms that fit selling any kind of service—it is likely you will need to develop custom functionality. So, make sure the platform has open source code or at least flexible APIs. Our recommendations are:

  1. Magento
  2. BigCommerce
  3. CS-Cart

Electronics

Same a apparel, books, and other physical products:

  1. Shopify
  2. BigCommerce
  3. CS-Cart
  4. WooCommerce
  5. Wix

Best Ecommerce Platform by Features

If features are in the first place for you, then make sure the shopping system is feature rich out of the box. Also, bear in mind that many platforms support third-party extensions that add extra features. But remember about the balance between feature richness and the ease of use—many feature-rich webshop platforms are user-unfriendly because of the complexity. These eCommerce platforms are feature-rich out of the box and support extensions:

  1. Shopify
  2. BigCommerce
  3. CS-Cart
  4. Magento

Ease of use

When it comes to the ease of use, Shopify is the leader here. It is a perfect electronic commerce website software for those who have never used shopping cart software. If you’re looking for the most easy to use platform with simple functionality, then Squarespace is good for you, too. Here’s what we recommend:

  1. Shopify
  2. Wix
  3. SquareSpace

Sales Features

All the shopping cart systems from our list has basic sales features but these can offer advanced sales functionality out of the box:

  1. Shopify
  2. BigCommerce
  3. Magento
  4. CS-Cart
  5. WooCommerce

Website Features

Looking for a versatile CMS that has advanced website management features? There are some on our list:

  1. Wix
  2. Magento

Design Functionalities

While your website changes and evolves, it lives. Make sure you can make design and layout changes in your webstore quickly and easily without coding. These platforms should work for you:

  1. CS-Cart
  2. Shopify
  3. BigCommerce
  4. Wix

Value for Money & Cheapest

This is important. Just remember one thing: cheap doesn’t mean profitable. For example, Magento is a 100% free electronic commerce platform. But it will require development that can cost you tens thousands of dollars. WooCommerce is free too but you won’t be able to scale it in the future. In our opinion, these platforms have the best value for money:

  1. Shopify
  2. BigCommerce
  3. CS-Cart
  4. Squarespace
  5. Wix

Help and Support

Support can be official, community-driven, or both. eCommerce service providers that offer free eCommerce platforms usually don’t provide you with support. In this case you can only rely on community forums. Paid solutions usually offer free or paid customer care. All of the platforms from our list can offer you support but we recommend that is the official customer care service:

  1. Shopify
  2. BigCommerce
  3. CS-Cart
  4. Wix
  5. Squarespace

SEO

SEO is crucial for an online business. If your SEO is bad, the potential customers will never find you via search engines. And a big piece of traffic comes from organic search. So, make sure the online shopping script supports SEO features that can be implemented without extra development. Wordpress has one of the best SEO, that’s why it’s in the first place here:

  1. WooCommerce
  2. BigCommerce
  3. Magento

How to Choose the Best Ecommerce Platform?

It’s really hard to pick the best CMS for online sales for your particular business. There are plenty of shopping cart software that have absolutely different characteristics. Some are intended for small businesses, some are complex systems for enterprises, and some are only for certain niches.

It’s correct to say that there’s no best eCommerce platform. There is one that suits your business goals in the best possible way.

When choosing an online shopping platform for your future webshop, bear in mind the following general criteria:

  1. It is better that you choose open source eCommerce software. Open source code will give you maximum flexibility in reaching your business goals. Open source eCommerce platforms are not always free—many of them are licenses but with open code.
  2. Make sure the platform ships with maximum features. Feature richness will guarantee a quick start and will save you money on additional development.
  3. It’s important that the online shopping cart solution is actively supported by the developer and the community. Top e commerce companies usually offer premium support and regularly release updates.

Mobile Optimized

As you might have noticed, the biggest online shops always look great and are convenient to use in mobile devices. More than half of online traffic comes from mobile these days and it’s critical that your web shop is optimized for mobile screens.

Make sure the web platforms you’re choosing from have responsive design at least. A mobile application will be a great advantage.

Ease of use

You don’t want to spend a month on learning how to use your eCommerce cart. The platform should be easy to understand and operate. The interface should be intuitive and responsive. It’s great if the vendor provides you with video tutorials and detailed documentation. Overall, the platform’s learning curve should be short—check what other users say about it.

Scalability

Your online store will grow along with your business. Bigger catalog—more load. More traffic—more load. Your web shop engine has to withstand high loads. If it doesn’t, you won’t be able to scale your online business. Give priority to standalone solutions with open source code such as Magento and CS-Cart, not plugins.

Extensions and Apps

If you don’t have a development team behind your business or don’t have resources to hire one, make sure the platform supports 3rd-party extensions. This is a great way to extend the solution’s functionality without coding: you just download the extension and install it to your store as a usual application.

Payment options

Have you already decided on the payment method you’ll use in your shop? Yes, PayPal is the most popular payment for e-commerce sites but it’s not available in some countries. You will have to offer different payment options to your customers. Choose the online store software that integrates with as many payment gateways by default as possible.

FAQs

What is an Ecommerce Platform?

A shopping cart platform is a web application for creating an online store. It is hosted on a server on the Internet. Ecommerce platforms consist of the backend environment and the storefront. The backend is the store’s control panel and available only to the shop administrators. The storefront is open to anyone on the Internet and available at a certain domain name.

How do ecommerce platforms work?

The platform usually consists of two separate environments: the administration panel and the storefront. Once you deploy the software on a server (or register an account on a SaaS online store platform), you gain access to the admin panel and the storefront. The former is only available and visible to you, and the latter is open to anyone on the web.

What are the top 5 ecommerce platforms by number of paying customers?

WooCommerce is the most popular online shop solution in the world with over 2 million websites using it. Here’s the eCommerce platforms usage rating based on the information from BuiltWith.com:

  1. WooCommerce
  2. Shopify
  3. Magento
  4. Prestashop
  5. Other platforms

Are Shopify, BigCommerce, Webnexs, Volusion, and Magento the only big eCommerce platforms?

No, there are plenty of other big online store software: CS-Cart, PrestaShop, 3dcart, OpenCart, and dozens more.

What are some of the top ecommerce marketplace platforms (other than Amazon, eBay and Alibaba)?

There are hundreds of large multi vendor marketplaces worldwide. For example: Aliexpress, JD.com, ShopClues, PayPal Mall, Walmart, Taobao, Etsy, Flipkart, Allegro, and more.

The largest marketplace in India—ShopClues

The largest marketplace in India—ShopClues

What is the difference between ecommerce websites built on platforms such as Shopify, Squarespace and Big Cartel and ones built from scratch?

The main difference between them is that SaaS platforms such as Shopify provides you with a ready-made online shop available on the web right away. The setup is much simpler but the sales and marketing tools are limited compared to the platforms built from scratch.

What ecommerce platform has the best bulk product import feature?

CS-Cart features a flexible product import tool. For example, when you work with several suppliers, they send you product data sheets in different formats. Bringing them to one format takes much time and effort. And if you do it every time the supplier sends you the sheet, this is a real nightmare. In CS-Cart, you can create product import templates for every supplier and use these templates to import products quickly without manual work.

What about WordPress and Magento? Should I consider them?

These are really great eCommerce platforms. But they serve different goals. WordPress with WooCommerce is an easy-to-use simple shopping cart for solopreneurs and hobbyists. It is not suitable for scaling your business. Magento is a super feature-rich and flexible system that can be used for enterprise-level online stores. But it requires investments in development.

Which Ecommerce platform allows multiple vendors?

Any multi vendor marketplace software has this function. The most popular solution according to user reviews is CS-Cart Multi-Vendor. Among other popular multivendor solutions are: Mirakl, Dokan, IXXO, Yo!Kart, Sharetribe, and Arcadier.

What essential features should an eCommerce marketplace platform have?

Make sure the online store software has these features:

  • Flexible product management
  • Built-in CRM to manage orders and customers
  • Built-in popular payment options, as many as possible
  • The availability of extensions, add-ons, and plugins
  • Powerful marketing tools: promotions, loyalty system, privileges
  • User-friendly designing tools to set the look and feel without coding
  • Configurable checkout page
  • Powerful CMS

Can I sell online for free?

Although there are free shopping carts, such as WooCommerce and Magento, you will need money to host them on a server and maintain. Any business requires investments, and if it is not the software, then something else.

Can I change ecommerce platforms easily?

It’s never easy. To change the platform, you need to transfer all the data from one software to another and even after that you will need to adapt the data to the new environment. There are paid services that can ease the platform to platform transfer. For example, Cart2Cart. And even this kind of service can’t guarantee a smooth transfer. So, it’s important to choose your shopping software wisely to never change it.

Which ecommerce platform has the lowest transaction fees?

From our list, Squarespace has the lowest fee.

Is it better to sell on an ecommerce only platform or a website builder? What's the difference?

It is definitely better to sell on a specialized platform such as Shopify, BigCommerce, and others. These solutions are initially developed for online sales and have all the necessary tools for that. There are great website builders that can be adapted to online sales, such as Wix. They are also good but specialized platforms are preferable.