Selling products online is conceptually simple, but finding the right platforms and fulfillment systems can be hard. Depending on the volume, origin, and the target market of the product you’re selling, you have hundreds of options available.
It’s impossible to cover everything, so we’ll show you how to pick from the most popular platforms on the internet. If you need help identifying a more specific market, or if selling online still feels confusing and difficult, [[click here]] to schedule a consultation. We’ll identify the best tools for your business, and help you get started with them.
Here are the traits we looked for in compiling this list:
- Easy to use
- Relatively affordable
- Backed by great analytic features
- Good for businesses that are just starting out
Shopify calls themselves “the best eCommerce platform that has everything you need to sell online, on social media, or in person.” Which is a fairly bold claim. There are over three hundred thousand merchants currently using Shopify, though, so their pride makes sense.
At its heart, Shopify is a suite of tools you can use to sell your own products through your own channels. They offer tools for everything from inventory management to customer profiling, and they integrate with dropshipping sites and fulfillment centers, too. Think of Shopify as a full suite of tools for online stores, instead of just a storefront.
Shopify accounts can be connected to Amazon accounts, creating a growth path for businesses that want to start on their own platforms and branch out as they develop a customer base. Shopify plans range from $9 per month for a Facebook-based sales account all the way up to enterprise solution. They center their marketing efforts on their $79 per month tier, which contains their core feature set.
The primary weakness of Shopify is that it isn’t a good platform for selling customizable goods. Using Shopify you can include up to three options per listed item, which is a low ceiling for handmade or made-to-order items. All considered, though, It’s a great hosted platform for selling goods online, and its point of sale integrations have been well received by brick and mortar stores.
You should use Shopify if…..
- You want a popular, affordable, growing service
- You want tools for your entire sales system, from inventory to POS
- You aren’t selling customizable goods
Amazon is a large sales platform that’s used by over 300 million shoppers. It is the largest online sales platform around, which means that it gives small businesses and other sellers access to a humongous audience. There are tons of businesses that sell on Amazon exclusively, without relying on their own social media channels or website to drive traffic.
Unlike Shopify, which is all about setting up your own store, Amazon’s features are built around positioning your products on their marketplace. One of the most popular ways to take advantage of that is through their fulfillment services.
They’ll pick, pack, and ship your orders to both national and international customers, saving you the time and hassle of trying to handle stock logistics on a tight time table. All you have to do is pay storage and service fees.
The downside to Amazon’s hands-off flexibility and large audience is the lack of control. You don’t have free reign on Amazon; they regulate what and how products can be sold, and they arbitrate customer complaints. Amazon also competes with many of their third party vendors, and retail arbitrage is common.
All considered, Amazon is a large platform with unbeatable fulfillment features and unparalleled brand awareness. The competitive nature of selling on Amazon might be a detractor for some, but it’s a great choice for businesses with strong marketing backgrounds.
You should use Amazon if…
- You want your products listed on the world’s largest online marketplace
- You’re up for some competition from similar sellers
- You need a fulfillment service
- You’re selling products in categories approved by Amazon
Etsy is currently the most popular platform for homemade goods that sells itself on low transaction fees and user-friendly management tools. It’s a bit different compared to the other platforms we’ve explored so far, but it plays an important role in the eCommerce landscape.
Etsy only allows the sale of handmade goods, vintage items (at least 20 years old), and craft supplies. Items for sale on Etsy are heavily curated by the company and engaged customers return to the platform often. For sellers who fit the demographics, it’s a great way to get your products out there with a limited marketing budget.
Comparing it to Amazon and Shopify, it’s drastically simpler in terms of features, but that’s not a bad thing. The way Etsy pages are setup allows for better branding than Amazon, and the way individual products are listed allows for more avenues of discovery than Shopify. It’s primarily limited by the permitted product categories.
Don’t bee too worried about fitting the product categories, though. The definition of “handmade” is flexible, as it includes just about anything made in a non-commercial setting. Digital goods, machined goods, and goods that are made in approved partnerships with manufacturers are all good to go. Etsy is focused more on not becoming Ebay than it is on regulating how products are made.
At its heart, Etsy is all about demographics and branding. It appeals to a fairly narrow subset of buyers and it does a lot to promote outstanding sellers, which is perfect for small businesses that want to sell online without heavily investing in a complex platform. Etsy charges sellers per listing instead of per month, which is great for businesses with slower sales cycles, too.
Etsy is the best pick for anyone selling highly customizable hand made goods.
You should use Etsy if….
- Your products are primarily handmade or made to order
- You’re looking for a platform with strong on-platform advertising tools
- You want to pay per-listing instead of per month to maintain your storefront
- You’re targeting demographics who prefer Etsy over other platforms
WooCommerce powers over 28% of all online stores. It doesn’t have quite the same consumer brand recognition as the other platforms we’ve looked at here, but it makes up for it in customizability and low entry prices.
WooCommerce isn’t one tool; it’s a suite of Wordpress plugins and supporting tools designed to integrate with custom sites. It’s somewhat like Shopify, but the tools are more self-contained and it’s up to the user to figure out the best combination of them.
This makes configuring it a bit harder, but it comes with an upside: The core features of WooCommerce are free. You just have to do most of the work yourself in order to create an attractive and well-organized storefront.
There are tons of features and a large marketplace of extensions, which means that no two WooCommerce stores will feel exactly the same, but it comes at a cost. Managing a complex WooCommerce shop can be hard, and making all of the themes, plugins, and tools play nicely together can feel like a fulltime job.
But for those who have the technical experience and the need for a self-hosted storefront, WooCommerce is a great choice. It integrates with Amazon Pay, Google Ads, and tons of other services, it allows you to tightly control your shopping cart page flow, and you can even develop your own plugins for it in order to create the perfect experience.
You should use WooCommerce if….
- You want to keep the entire sales process on your own site
- You have an existing website you want to add a shop to
- You have web development chops to set it up properly
- You’re selling something that Etsy and Amazon doesn’t like
What About __?
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and every major platform deserves its own in-depth review. Here are a few more eCommerce platforms that are worth looking at, just in case you’re looking for something slightly different than what we’ve already explored:
Magento is an enterprise-level eCommerce platform originally created by eBay. It represents 25% of the eCommerce market and offers an amazing feature set, but it’s primarily aimed at companies with larger budgets than the average one-product startup or limited stock small business.
Magento is a great pick for businesses that need an upgrade from WooCommerce or Shopify’s enterprise suite, but it’s a bad fit for small businesses that can’t afford a dedicated web developer. It’s popular for a reason, but you need a head for the technical side of things to get the most out of it.
BigCommerce is similar to Shopify, but for whatever reason it just isn’t as popular. It integrates with Amazon, Ebay, and Facebook, allowing business owners to manage multiple sales channels with relative ease, and it’s used by big brands like Camelbak and Toyota.
If Shopify doesn’t quite fit the bill and you aren’t ready for Amazon or WooCommerce, BigCommerce is an affordable alternative that also claims to have the best customer support in the business.
If Etsy is the online equivalent of a craft store, Big Cartel is the online equivalent of a local print shop. Aimed primarily at artists, musicians, and other creatives, Big Cartel is a cheap, easy to use, and somewhat generic online storefront.
If you’re looking to sell just a handful of products and you don’t quite line up with Etsy’s demographics, Big Cartel is by far the cheapest option.
The Bottom Line
There are tons of options out there for eCommerce platforms. You can sell on shared platforms that have larger customer bases (and lots of competition) on sites you control (that you have to promote and manage yourself), or through tools that hybridize the two.
If your budget is limited, start small and choose a platform that helps you develop an audience. Many successful small businesses have started with Etsy or Amazon shops.
If you already have brand recognition, a hybrid approach is great. Shopify is a good pick for people with limited web development resources, while WooCommerce is the pick for those who prefer customization.
And if you’re moving enough stock, Magento is an amazing platform.
Meanwhile, if you’re just looking to get your feet wet and you have a small catalog, Big Cartel will let you list up to five products for free.
Take the time to research your choices in depth, or consult with a professional. Transferring large catalogs of products between sites can be a time-consuming process, so it’s best to figure out your needs before you dive in.
Picking the right platform is a balancing act between features and technical requirements.
- When it doubt, pick something that matches your scale
- Make sure that your platform fits your marketing plan
- Don’t sell things where you shouldn’t