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Choosing the Right E-Commerce Software for Your Needs

Choosing the Right E-Commerce Software for Your Needs
Credit: Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock

Looking for e-commerce software for your online business? There are three important things you need to figure out first:

  1. What is your budget?
  2. What type of products are you selling?
  3. What features does your online store need?

We will help you answer these questions.

Ready to choose an e-commerce solution? Here's a breakdown of our complete coverage:

First, to choose the best software for your business, you'll need to know what to look for. Among the e-commerce options, vendors and users often refer to them as either e-commerce software or shopping cart software. Some also use the two terms interchangeably, adding to the confusion.

What's the difference? E-commerce software and shopping cart software are very similar. They both help you launch, run and manage an online store, as well as process payments and work together with the rest of your operations. But the key differences are in their specific functions. 

If you need a full-featured, all-in-one e-commerce solution, choose e-commerce software. E-commerce software includes website hosting and design, storefront setup, payment processing, merchant tools, marketing, security, and everything else you need to build and grow your online business. You can either build your website using the e-commerce software or integrate it with an existing website or blog.

An attractive user experience and interface is key to converting visitors to customers, according to MK Getler of HubSpot, so whatever option you pick, it should be flexible enough to not get in the way of your site's aesthetic.

Shopping cart software, on the other hand, is best if you already have a website and simply need to set up a way to list products and services and process payments. Unlike e-commerce software, shopping cart software often comes in the form of website plugins or extensions and is often limited to helping you set up a virtual storefront, processing payments and providing some merchant tools. Some customizations may also be possible, depending on the website and software.

As mentioned above, the terms e-commerce software and shopping cart software may be used synonymously. Make sure to do your research and ask your vendor for specifics.

Editor’s Note: Looking for an e-commerce website builder for your business? If you’re looking for information to help you choose the one that’s right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our sister site, BuyerZone, provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free:

Small businesses have many options when it comes to selling online. One way is to sign up with marketplaces that allow you to list your products in a hosted storefront, such as eBay, Amazon and Etsy. But if you want more control over your e-commerce business, setting up your own website with e-commerce or shopping cart software is the way to go.

If any of the following apply to you, investing in e-commerce or shopping cart software is the best choice for your online business.

  • You want your own website. When you use an e-commerce marketplace to sell your products and services, your storefront resides on that company's website with its branding. With e-commerce software, you get your own website and domain name to give your online store its own home and make your e-commerce business completely yours. 
  • You want control over your online store. Offering a wide variety of features and customization options, e-commerce software gives you plenty of control over your online store. You can design your website however you want, designate your own workflows, choose your own pricing models and more, so you can set up your store in any way that fits your business's changing needs.
  • You want a simple, easy-to-use solution. Not a programmer? Not a problem. Most e-commerce software can get you up and running in no time, without the need to code or manually install anything. Although some customizations and additional functions may require some tech skills, if you're just getting started, most solutions can be set up in just a few steps and take almost no work to maintain. Many also offer website templates and DIY website-building tools, so you can drag and drop your way to launching an online store.
  • You want help with marketing. Besides merchant tools to help you sell online and process payments, e-commerce software typically includes marketing tools to help you get the word out about your store. These include social media marketing and social sharing capabilities that let customers share product pages and their purchases with their followers, promotions and special discounts, and loyalty programs. 
  • You want to keep all your profits. Online marketplaces make their money by taking a cut of every sale on top of credit card processing fees, with some also charging monthly fees. With e-commerce or shopping cart software, you keep all your profits and only pay the provider's subscription and payment-processing fees. 
  • You want to simplify your operations. One of the biggest benefits of using e-commerce software as a small business is that it can integrate with other business solutions you already use. This makes it easy to streamline your operations, and you'll always have access to the latest data in real time. Read more about third-party integrations below.
  • You are a developer. Plenty of e-commerce solutions are open source, meaning their codes are available for anyone to alter. This gives you full control over the platform so you or your developer can modify the platform for just about any need or function.

E-commerce software products offer a wide range of features to help you sell online and manage your online store. When we spoke with small business owners, the two most important features they said they look for in e-commerce or shopping cart software are ease of use and customization capabilities. 

It also helps that the software automates processes and maintains itself.

"A perfect shopping cart platform is one that is customizable, and once it is set up you can forget about it," added James Fayal, founder of Zest Tea, an online specialty tea store.

Here's what else e-commerce software offers and how it can help you launch and run your online business:

  • Everything you need to build a website. With web hosting, domain names, storage and bandwidth, e-commerce software is an all-in-one solution to start your online business without any tech skills. Many also offer additional functions, such as built-in blogs, content management systems, web design and even DIY website-building capabilities.
  • Online storefront. Showcase your products and services with your virtual storefront. E-commerce software products make it easy to set up your storefront, as well as add and edit inventory, product descriptions, pricing and more.
  • Payment processing. No need to implement third-party credit card processors on your own. E-commerce and shopping cart software automatically include payment gateways, such as Stripe and PayPal, and link them to your bank account, so you can get paid fast.
  • Merchant tools. Find and retain customers with marketing tools, abandoned-cart reminders, social sharing capabilities, and the ability to offer daily deals, gift certificates, loyalty programs and special discounts.
  • Drop-shipping options. Don't have your own inventory? Some e-commerce software enables you to sell wholesale and retail products from different brands and manufacturers.
  • Third-party integration. Make your life easier by connecting your e-commerce software with apps you already use such as point-of-sale systems, customer relationship management, accounting software and email marketing to streamline your data.
  • Mobile commerce. Provide customers with mobile-friendly versions of your online store so they can shop anytime, anywhere using their smartphone or tablet. This also enables you to accept mobile payments, such as in-app purchases and mobile credit card processing.
  • Customer support. Be there for your customers with phone, email, live chat, community forums and other customer service solutions.
  • Security. Protect your business's and customers' information with SSL encryption, compliance and fraud protection tools.

Because there are so many types of e-commerce and shopping cart software, costs vary greatly. For full-featured e-commerce software, expect to pay anywhere from $10 to $200 per month. Multiple factors determine the costs, such as the features your business needs, storage capacities, domain names, customization capabilities and credit card processing fees.

Shopping cart plugins and extensions, on the other hand, are typically free and offer many add-ons at no charge. However, some plugins and extensions charge for additional functions and services, which also vary depending on the software provider and platform.

In addition to letting you set up and maintain an online store, e-commerce and shopping cart software offer many benefits that make running an online business easier, so you can focus on more important aspects, such as sales, marketing and customer service.

Here's what e-commerce business owners we talked to said they love most about their e-commerce and shopping cart software. 

  • Save money. Nima Noori, CEO and founder of online vapor store Toronto Vaporizer, said the software his company uses is very cost-effective, as it offers all the extensions and plugins you can imagine, and you can easily implement them without hiring developers to build and set them up for you.
  • Support. Brandon Ackroyd, head of customer insight at mobile deals website TigerMobiles.com, appreciates that the company's shopping cart software lets users solve problems quickly. It is well supported by the vendor's team and comes with a community of users who are eager to help, he said.
  • Boost sales. Lisa Cash Hanson, CEO of interactive baby pillow company Snugwugg, said her company's online store has made thousands in potentially lost sales, thanks to its e-commerce software's abandoned-cart emails, which automatically remind customers to go through with the checkout process. This takes zero effort on the company's part and creates a big return, she said. 
  • Accept multiple currencies. Heidi Hecht, owner of the Nothing in Particular Blog, where she also sells writing services, loves that the company's shopping cart software lowers its payment processing fees while giving customers more payment options by accepting multiple currencies, including such cryptocurrencies as Bitcoin and Litecoin. 
  • Get paid fast. Jim Letourneau, vice president of marketing and technology at Design.UX, which designs and sells accessories for wearable fitness trackers, said he loves the e-commerce software's seamless integration with the preferred payment gateway and credit card processor. Not only was it easy to set up, but the money goes directly into the company's bank account, and the company can quickly issue refunds to customers.

Ready to invest in e-commerce software? To find the best option for your business, here's what small business owners we spoke with said you need to ask potential vendors:

  • How easy is it to set up and use?
  • Is it designed for small businesses?
  • Is it customizable to fit my business needs?
  • Does it automate workflows to make my life easier while delivering a good customer experience?
  • Can it help me boost profits with marketing tools, abandoned-cart reminders and other features?
  • Does it require a lot of maintenance, or can I forget about it once it's set up?
  • Are there any service limits for instance, the number of products or transactions I can handle every month?
  • Does the software work with third-party business solutions I plan to or already use?
  • If I have a physical store, can I integrate the software with my store's data, operations and resources?
  • How is my data backed up? Can I access and restore my data immediately when there is an outage?
  • What security measures do you have in place to protect my customers' information?
  • What is the total cost? Are there any setup, maintenance or additional fees?
  • What types of tech support and customer service do your provide phone, email, live chat, knowledge base, FAQ section, support forums? Can I reach you anytime?

Additional reporting by Sara Angeles.

Editor’s Note: Looking for an e-commerce website builder for your business? If you’re looking for information to help you choose the one that’s right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our sister site, BuyerZone, provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free:

Andreas Rivera

Andreas Rivera graduated from the University of Utah with a B.A. in Mass Communication and is now a staff writer for Business.com and Business News Daily. His background in journalism brings a critical eye to his reviews and features, helping business leaders make the best decisions for their companies.