We recommend Shopify as the best overall e-commerce software for small businesses. We chose Shopify from dozens of e-commerce software solutions because it has everything you need to launch, run and manage a successful e-commerce business.
Shopify is packed with tons of features to help you launch and manage your online store. It doesn't require any coding or tech skills to get started, and the software can grow as your business grows. This includes offline sales with the Shopify POS system. Shopify also offers 24/7 customer support by phone, email and live chat.
Shopify plans start at $29 per month and include everything you need to launch an online store. A cheaper Shopify Lite plan is also available for $9 per month, which lets you sell on Facebook, accept credit cards and use buy buttons on any website.
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:
Of the e-commerce software we reviewed, Shopify offers the best and most affordable packages for small businesses. We really liked that it offers several subscription packages for any stage of your e-commerce business. Shopify plans start at $29 per month. This includes unlimited products, a custom domain, Shopify Payment (so you can easily accept credit cards without setting up a third-party payment gateway), two users, customer support and more. Additional plans are also available if you need more users and advanced features for growing businesses.
If you're just starting out, a Shopify Lite plan is also available for $9 per month. This is a great choice if you don't need a full-fledged online store. Shopify Lite lets you sell on Facebook and use Shopify buy buttons on your blog or other websites, as well as easily accept credit cards using Shopify's built-in payment processor.
We also liked that there are no hidden fees. When we called Shopify, the customer service representative confirmed that there are no transaction fees, adding that there are no transaction fees if you use Shopify's payment gateway either. Note that this is separate from credit card processing fees, which range from 2.25 percent plus 30 cents per transaction to 2.9 percent plus 30 cents per transaction, depending on your plan. [See Related Story: Best Credit Card Processors for Small Business]
Learn more about Shopify's pricing here.
Ease of use
To test e-commerce software, we signed up for our own business accounts on several platforms. We found Shopify to be super easy to use, and we set up our account in seconds.
When you sign in to Shopify, you're greeted with a simple dashboard with a side navigation menu, which makes it easy to get around and quickly get to a specific task. The dashboard homepage also has shortcuts to commonly used features, so you don't have to waste time going through each section -- for instance, to add products or edit your website.
Using Shopify, you can launch your online store in three steps: add products, customize the look of your website, and set up your domain. Adding products is as simple as entering details such as product descriptions, pricing and options (size, color, model, etc.), and then uploading product images.
You don't need any tech skills to build, design or edit your website. You can choose from more than 100 ready-made themes, and then just add your logo and pick colors that match your branding using a color picker. You can also customize its look and feel using menu options in the Themes section, or with HTML/CSS if you're a more advanced user.
In addition to letting you create a professional storefront, Shopify offers all the tools you need to manage and grow your e-commerce business. These include an online shopping cart, the ability to sell on social media, reports and analytics, marketing tools, and mobile access.
Shopify's online shopping cart lets you easily accept credit card and PayPal payments, as well as automate sales to save you time. The service has its own payment gateway, so you don't need to set up any third-party processors. The sales rep we spoke to said this means you can start making sales as soon as your online store launches and get paid fast into your merchant account.
Shopify also automates sales while giving customers fast, painless checkout. Taxes are automatically calculated for your region. Products are saved into shopping carts, and when customers are ready to check out, all they have to do is choose their shipping method – preset by you or by using automatic carrier shipping rates – and enter their payment information. Everything works in the background, and orders are automatically added to the Orders section of your dashboard, so all you have to take care of is shipping your products to the right customers.
In addition, Shopify offers all types of merchant tools to help you run and grow your online business. For instance, you can use its reports and analytics tools to measure the performance of your store and website. There's also a search engine optimization (SEO) wizard that helps potential customers easily find your store and individual products on Google and other search engines.
Shopify also features several marketing tools to help you find and retain customers, including the following:
- Discount code and coupon generators
- Custom gift cards
- Social network integration
- Facebook selling
- Targeted email marketing
- Product reviews
- Google ads
- Facebook ads
Need to access your store from a mobile device? Shopify Mobile for iOS and Android lets you run your e-commerce business wherever you are. You can get order notifications by text or email whenever new orders come in, fulfill orders straight from the app, and even manage inventory and product or pricing information from your iPhone.
One of the biggest benefits of using e-commerce software is that you can easily run your entire business without having to purchase additional solutions or worry about the back end or IT aspects of running an online store.
First, Shopify is all-inclusive e-commerce software that provides much more than an online store and shopping cart. It also offers the following:
- Customer relationship management (CRM) tools to help you manage customers
- A content management system (CMS) so you can enrich your website with multimedia, additional pages and even a full-featured blog
- Third-party integration so you can connect apps you already use
Second, the company takes care of the infrastructure and security side of your online store and website. The representative told us that not only are its servers fast, but it also guarantees a 99.94 percent uptime, so your store is always live and accessible. In addition, upgrades are installed automatically, so you don't have to worry about manually installing the latest features and updates.
When we asked about data accessibility and security, Shopify confirmed that the company automatically performs daily backups of all data – which includes product information and inventory, orders, and customer information – in its secure servers. Shopify also keeps your business's and customers' information safe with 24/7 monitoring, Level 1 Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance for secure credit card processing, and a 256-bit SSL certificate for data protection.
In case you need help using Shopify, the company provides a variety of resources to solve any issue. For those who want to get in touch with a live person, Shopify's dedicated support team is available 24/7 via email, live chat and phone, so there's always someone there when you need assistance. The small business owners we spoke with said Shopify's customer service is always fast, accessible and friendly. Sometimes representatives are busy, and you are put in a queue with an estimated wait time, but we waited no longer than 10 minutes to reach someone.
For those who prefer to resolve problems themselves, Shopify's library of self-help resources includes the following:
- A knowledge base of frequently asked questions, and a collection of user guides and tutorials from the Shopify Manual
- Discussion forums to connect with the Shopify community, ask questions and get answers from fellow Shopify users
- An "E-Commerce University" filled with e-books, videos, webinars and more to teach you the ins and outs of selling online
You can also find one-on-one help with growing your online business. Known as Shopify Experts, these partner designers, developers and marketers have been approved by Shopify to hold your hand as you build your online store, boost engagement and grow your customer base.
Although Shopify is our top pick for the best e-commerce software for small businesses, it does have some drawbacks. It can be difficult to customize your online store. Although you have several options to change the look and feel of your website, there is no drag-and-drop website builder that lets you fully tweak templates and design your online store by simply moving things around with your mouse.
Another issue we came across relates to Shopify's coding. Many of the small business owners we spoke with said they found it difficult to get the more advanced customizations they wanted without touching its code. Not only is that a problem for less tech-savvy users, but the difficulty is within the language itself.
This is because Shopify uses ".liquid" programming, a templating language most users don't know. To get around this, one option is to hire a website programmer who knows the coding to tweak your website for you. Another option is to use the simpler HTML/CSS feature to override any template coding.
Keep in mind that these issues apply primarily to those who require advanced customizations for their stores. Shopify offers more than 100 templates, many of which will already fulfill your online store's needs.
Ready to choose an e-commerce solution? Here's a breakdown of our complete coverage:
- Choosing the Right E-Commerce Software for Your Needs
- Best E-Commerce Software 2018
- Best Enterprise E-Commerce Software
- Best E-Commerce Software for Digital Downloads
- Best Wordpress Shopping Cart Plugin
Additional reporting by Sara Angeles.