Top 3 Shopping Carts For Beginners
As an eCommerce software reviewer, I spend a lot of time haunting SMB community boards and forums. And, over my hours spent scrolling, I’ve noticed a few trends in the types of questions merchants ask one another. They want information about marketing, taxes, and price setting, but most often, they want to know the answer to the following question:
“How do I start selling stuff online?”
This may be the most commonly asked question I come across, but very rarely do I find a complete response to it. The trouble is that these merchants want their answers in 500 words or less, and in truth, the answer is much more complicated.
Often, my advice is that merchants begin by selling on pre-established marketplaces. Amazon, eBay, and Etsy are great platforms to test the popularity of your products without investing a lot of time or money. And, compared to running your own site, selling on a marketplace is a breeze.
However, marketplace selling has its downsides. Merchants who sell on marketplaces are faced with massive competition from other sellers and are unable to fully develop an individual brand. Most frustrating of all, marketplace sellers are charged mounds of fees based on a variety of factors. They have to pay transaction fees in addition to listing fees and storage fees (in the case of a fulfillment program like FBA).
With so many negatives, it’s easy to see why a seller would soon grow frustrated with an online marketplace and begin looking for other options.
Unfortunately, running an entire online store is a much bigger challenge than simply listing products on a marketplace. Without the proper tools, attempting to build your own online site can leave you (at best) frustrated and (at worst) a couple thousand dollars poorer.
For this reason, it’s critical that any merchant making the jump from a marketplace to an online store does their research. Find out what features you need, calculate your budget, and look for an easy-to-use solution that fits your skills set.
If that all seems a bit too difficult or overwhelming, never fear. During my time at Merchant Maverick, I have tested, researched, and reviewed over forty separate shopping carts. From those forty, I have handpicked three carts that stand out to me as excellent options for beginners. All three of the following shopping carts boast spectacular ease of use and a good feature set, all at relatively low costs.
Sounds pretty good, right? I certainly think so. Let’s get started.
(If you’re looking for more options, take a look at a brief comparison of our top-rated shopping carts by clicking this link.)
Table of Contents
For the Etsy Graduate: Big Cartel
Big Cartel is designed with artists in mind. Their goal is to make online selling easy so that you can focus on your craft. With Big Cartel, it’s easy to tweak your website to fit your look, even if you don’t know any code. Adding products and creating discount codes only takes a few clicks.
And, Big Cartel does all of this at a relatively low price. In fact, you can operate a store on a Big Cartel platform at no cost at all if you plan on listing five products or fewer. I’m including a (very brief) breakdown of pricing below.
- Gold: $0 per month, 5 products
- Platinum: $9.99 per month, 25 products
- Diamond: $19.99 per month, 100 products
- Titanium: $29.99 per month, 300 products
I’ve already stated most of the reasons to choose Big Cartel, but for your convenience (and for the sake of anyone speed reading this article), I’m listing them again below.
- Low Cost: You can get started with Big Cartel for a dollar a day (at the highest price point). That price includes your platform, web hosting, domain name, and an SSL certificate.
- Ease of Use: It’s very easy to set up shop on Big Cartel. A WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor makes theme editing simple. You can customize your site to fit your brand with absolutely zero coding experience.
- Ongoing Development: Big Cartel is currently working to improve their admin. They are releasing the new backend bit by bit. You can read about it here.
On the other hand, Big Cartel has a few downsides. Here are three of the main issues that customers complain about with Big Cartel.
- Product Limit: You’ll notice that at the highest price point, you can only list 300 products. That number, while fine for many artists, is limiting for others. If you’re planning on expanding your inventory to include more than this, you’ll want to look elsewhere (Take a look at Shopify, the third platform in this list).
- No Front End Search Function: You won’t be able to add a search bar to your storefront. This can make site navigation difficult for customers.
- Limited Features: In part, Big Cartel is so easy to use because of the simplicity of the platform. There aren’t a lot of complex inventory tools or customer management features to clutter up your admin. Unfortunately, that means those tools are unavailable to you. Additionally, Big Cartel is not a highly customizable platform. There isn’t a lot you can change by way of functionality.
For these reasons, I declare Big Cartel to be a good solution for a small-scale seller. But I’ll also include a word of caution: Big Cartel is generally only a good fit for smaller merchants. If you plan to grow your site to include lots more products or you think you’ll need a more robust feature set in the future, look elsewhere.
Regardless, I still think that Big Cartel is an excellent place to begin an online business venture and fully merits its place in this list.
To learn more about Big Cartel, read our full review.
For the Blogger who’s Looking to Monetize: Ecwid
On the other hand, maybe you’ve never sold on Etsy, and you never intend to. Perhaps you’ve had your own website all this time, and now that you’re getting decent traffic to your site you’d like to make a little cash on it.
If you’re planning on opening a store on a pre-established website, Ecwid’s your main man…er…software.
Ecwid, like Big Cartel, offers a free plan for customers who are selling just a few products. If you’re planning to sell more than ten products, you can choose between Ecwid’s three paid plans. Each step up in pricing includes more products and more features.
- Free Plan: $0 per month, 10 products
- Venture: $15 per month, 100 products
- Business: $35 per month, 2500 products
- Unlimited: $99 per month, Unlimited products
For the full pricing model, click here.
Here are a few of the reasons that merchants choose Ecwid for their online stores.
- Seamless Integration into your Site: When you add Ecwid to your site, you get to leverage all of your current traffic. Your store will be readily available to anyone who visits your site. Ecwid also has premade integration modules for Joomla, Drupal, and WordPress.
- Ease of Use: Setup takes very little time with Ecwid. And once you have all of your settings configured and products uploaded, you just copy and paste a few lines of code into your website’s editor, and voila! You have a store.
- Free Plan: If you’re planning to sell fewer than ten products, you can take advantage of Ecwid’s free plan. I see this as a great solution for bloggers who want to sell a few items of merchandise and aren’t looking to invest too much time in an online store.
Here are a few things that Ecwid customers are less thrilled about.
- Tiered Support: Ecwid only provides phone support for customers on the Business plan or higher. Venture plan customers only have access to live chat support, and (unsurprisingly) merchants on the free plan don’t have access to any personalized support at all.
- Limited WYSIWYG Editor: Unless you use Ecwid’s new Starter Site (which includes a visual content editor), the only way to edit the look and feel of your store is via the CSS editor. If you don’t have that skill, and you want to use any other theme than the Starter Site, you’ll just have to stick with what you get.
In short, if you’re looking for a quick solution to add a store to your website, Ecwid is an excellent option.
To read our full review of Ecwid, click here.
Note: Another option that you might consider pursuing is WooCommerce, a free, open-source WordPress plug-in. WooCommerce requires a bit more user skill than Ecwid, and therefore didn’t make the list, but still deserves an honorable mention.
For Everyone Else: Shopify
Of the three platforms on this list, Shopify (see our review) is the most common (and arguably, the most viable) solution. Shopify comes with a larger feature set than either of the two options above and includes some truly elegant themes. Shopify is also still a highly user-friendly solution.
Shopify does come at a slightly higher cost than the other solutions on this list. Additionally, it is the only one of the three to charge transaction fees. Here’s a summary of Shopify’s pricing.
- Shopify Lite: $9 per month + 2.0% transaction fee. One staff account (in addition to the owner’s account
- Basic Shopify: $29 per month + 2.0% transaction fee. Two staff accounts
- Shopify: $79 per month + 1.0% transaction fee. Five staff accounts
- Advanced Shopify: $299 per month + 0.5% transaction fee. Fifteen staff accounts
As you can see, each step up in pricing includes more available staff account and a lower transaction fee. Higher level plans also come with additional features. You can see what those features are on Shopify’s presentation of pricing here.
Shopify host over 350,000 individual online stores. Why do so many choose Shopify? Here are a few of the most popular reasons.
- Ease of Use: That’s right, folks. Shopify’s dashboard is clean and easy to use. Basic operations are intuitive and most add-ons are simple to implement.
- Beautiful Themes: Shopify has some of the most attractive themes in the market. Most of them are priced between $120-$180, and all are fully mobile responsive.
- New editor: In November of 2016, Shopify introduced their new theme editor, Sections. Sections lets you make major changes to your site, adding and adjusting widgets, without ever touching a line of code.
Shopify, however, is not always a perfect solution. Here are some of the biggest downfalls you’ll encounter.
- Transaction Fees: If you’re a marketplace seller trying to escape transaction fees, you’re out of luck! Shopify is annoyingly persistent in its transaction fees.
- Pricey Add-ons: Many Shopify merchants find that they need to add on extensions to further their platform’s functionality. Most of these extensions are billed on a monthly basis, which can get expensive quickly.
- Spotty Customer Service: I’ve seen varied reports on this one, but it seems that recently Shopify has been slipping behind in customer service. The company is growing at a rapid rate, and it’s likely that they’re having trouble keeping up with so many new merchants.
In short, if you don’t fit either of the first two categories (meaning, you aren’t an artist or a blogger), Shopify is your best bet for starting an online store.
To learn more about Shopify, try our full review.
Starting an online store isn’t easy. Fortunately, these three eCommerce platforms can remove some of the difficulty of getting started.
Granted, you’ll still have to add all your products, configure tax and shipping settings, tweak your site design, and optimize your search engine tools. But, with any one of these platforms, those tasks are manageable and affordable.
I recommend you take a closer look at any of the three platforms that interest you. Read our reviews, look into current customer comments, and sign up for a trial of the software. Hopefully, you’ll find one that fits your needs.