The ten best e-commerce platforms for small businesses

The internet has revolutionised retail. No longer are aspiring entrepreneurs required to invest big before they can display and sell their wares. With the bricks-and-mortar concept now feeling slightly dated if anything, the first steps tend to be taken online.

In order to get your business up and running though, you'll still need to pick the right infrastructure. You need a great website for starters, and you'll need to choose an ecommerce platform to go with it.

So how do you go about picking the right ecommerce platform? There are so many to consider; each one with different benefits; each one claiming to be the best. Below, we list ten of the most popular examples to give you a bit of inspiration.
 

Perhaps the best-known of all ecommerce solutions, Shopify has plenty to offer for small businesses. The biggest selling point is undoubtedly ease of use; it's designed for business owners who simply want to set up and go without fussing around.

While visual customisation capabilities are limited, Shopify does have an impressive feature in its app store. Much like you would with a smartphone or tablet, you're able to pick and choose from a huge range of functionality-extending add-ons - many of which are free.
 
Bigcommerce is one of the most popular platforms, not only in the UK, but around the world. This hosted solution is particularly SEO-friendly, with well-formatted pages and URLs making it easy for prospective customers to stumble across your store.

What's more, Bigcommerce is pretty. This may sound a bit trivial, but a good-looking and easy-to-use interface will only make your products more likely to sell. This extends to the admin dashboard as well, making all the behind-the-scenes stuff easier for you.

If you're looking for something a little cheaper, Volusion might be the answer. Similar in many ways to Shopify, it takes a no-nonsense approach that allows even the biggest of technophobes to set up shop online. With fewer customisation options than Shopify, it certainly has its limits, but this will add to the appeal for some.

Volusion also integrates well with Amazon and eBay, meaning you can easily run stores on these sites alongside your own for maximum reach.
Yahoo might be seen as a search engine provider before anything else, but it has also been delivering e-commerce solutions to small businesses since the early days of internet retail. Yahoo Store is extremely versatile, in that it can be connected to almost any payment, shipping and inventory solution you can think of.

Even the basic Yahoo Store plan has space for 50,000 products, meaning you won't necessarily have to worry about upgrading should your business begin to grow.

Magento has built up quite a user base since being launched in 2008. Among the retailers relying on it are Nike, Olympus and Paul Smith - but that's not to say it won't be a great fit for your small business too.

The platform's popularity can be put down to a number of factors, not least its sizeable collection of features, near-limitless customisability and invaluable versatility. Above all, Magento is powerful - so powerful in fact that it requires dedicated web servers, but if you can account for this, the possibilities are endless. Otherwise, Magento Go - the hosted version - is a great compromise.

6. X-Cart

Founded in Russia in the early 2000s, X-Cart is now used by more than 30,000 businesses across the world, many of which are in the UK. Firstly, X-Cart is an open source solution, meaning you have complete control over design and function - perfect if your company's needs change regularly.

What's more it's available either as a hosted platform or an on-premises one. If you have the infrastructure in place to go for the latter, you only pay a one-off fee of £125. Otherwise, expect to pay an ongoing monthly fee, but there's still plenty of value on offer.

Like X-Cart, osCommerce is an open source solution, so the customisation possibilities are huge. This means the suite can be used 'out of the box' or tailored to your company's needs. It can also run on shared web servers, making hosting much cheaper - this can't be said for all of the options listed.

The flexibility goes even further with a Shopify-esque app store filled with thousands of free add-ons. The osCommerce team recently unveiled a new PayPal App, for instance, making transactions even easier.

Close to 75 million websites depend on WordPress; if yours is one of them, you might want to consider the dedicated WooCommerce plugin as your selling platform. Seeing as it's designed to be used alongside the CMS, it's extremely easy to install and learn. The basic version is also free.

Handy features include a central dashboard that tells you exactly what's happening in your store and a selection of 'WooThemes' to help you make it look pretty.

BigCartel has been around since 2005 and is aimed specifically at artists and other creatives looking to sell their products online. For this reason, it's a favourite among musicians selling merchandise, and small clothing label owners.

The focus here is on simplicity. BigCartel won't give you all the features present in the bigger platforms, like Shopify and Magento, but this can be a good thing if you're looking to get things off the ground quickly and with minimal fuss.

10. Etsy

If vintage trinkets and handcrafted goods are your thing, you'll be at home on Etsy. Once again, it won't give you the freedom afforded by many of the other platforms listed here, but it's definitely easy to use and provides a great base from which to build a new business. Plus you won't need to set up your own website or domain.

Benefits include the site's ready-built audience of 30 million users, and a simple payment model which involves a small listing fee and a minute percentage of each transaction going to Etsy.

So when the time comes to find a new ecommerce platform, you certainly won't be short of options. The competition in this sector is fierce, and it has forced each provider to do what they can to make their offering stand out from the crowd.

The result is a wide range of solutions with varying benefits; pick one that matches your needs and you'll be set for small business success.
 

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