E-Commerce Platforms: Details on Your Top Options

When it comes to choosing a platform for an e-commerce website there are plenty of options. Having options can be a good thing, but in some cases having too many options can make it difficult to know which one to choose. In this post we’ll take a look at the leading e-commerce platforms and we’ll provide some details about each. They are actually broken down into 3 categories: hosted, open source, and hosted shopping cart.

Hosted e-commerce platforms will charge a monthly or yearly fee, which will include web hosting, use of the e-commerce system, and support. You’ll have to host your site with them in order to use the system. The downside to this is that you won’t be able to choose your own host, but the upside is that you’ll get support for hosting and the e-commerce system from the same place, and they will know their own system very well. Also, since it is hosted they can take care of most security details.

Open source e-commerce platforms can be downloaded and hosted anywhere. You’re not committed to a particular host, which can be a good thing. The downside is that support is likely limited to a forum or wiki. For designers and developers, open source solutions can be a good choice. End users who are looking to set up their own site will likely face more obstacles with an open source, self-hosted system as compared to a hosted platform.

Hosted shopping carts will allow you to use the CMS and host of your choice, and they will just host the shopping cart and checkout process for you. So they’ll still handle the security details since the payment will be processed through their site, but you won’t host your entire site with them.

Let’s get started:



Shopify is a hosted e-commerce platform that is extremely popular with designers/developers and end users. If you’re a designer you’ll appreciate the ease of implementing you designs and templates with Shopify. For end users, Shopify offers a attractive and intuitive user interface and a wealth of features.

Because it is a hosted platform and your site will be hosted on Shopify’s servers and they handle the security details, which is always important for any site that collects payments from visitors. The hosting comes with no bandwidth limits, and also includes a content delivery network (CDN) to help pages to load as quickly as possible.

Shopify users can select from a large number of well-designed templates for free. They also have a theme shop where you can purchase premium templates Having a custom design is also an option, and Shopify provides a list of experts that they recommend for these types of projects.

You’ll also appreciate the fact that Shopify includes a mobile commerce shopping cart and responsive templates, making it possible for your customers to purchase from any device.

On the backend, Shopify provides detailed customer data and allows store owners to create customer groups. The CMS makes it easy for users to update the content of their sites, and it even includes a blogging engine.

The shopping cart integrates with over 70 different payment gateways. If you’re already accepting payment online and looking for a new e-commerce platform, chance are Shopify will integrate with your current payment gateway.

Shopify also includes marketing features like a discount code and coupon engine, social media integration, and email marketing integration with MailChimp. Users have control over things like page titles, URLs, alt tags, and other elements that can be helpful for search engine optimization.

Shopify offers a free 14 day trial on all of its plans, so there is no need to commit without giving it a test drive. Pricing starts at $29 per month for their basic account that allows you to sell ulimited products. Shopify Summary:

  • Hosting and security provided by Shopify
  • Pricing includes hosting
  • Free templates available
  • Premium templates available for purchase
  • Marketing functionality included
  • Customer and order management from the admin dashboard
  • Mobile-ready
  • Full CMS, including blog functionality
  • Pricing between $29 – $179 per month



Highwire is a hosted e-commerce platform that has a lot in common with Shopify, but there are some significant differences as well. Like Shopify, Highwire also offers a large number of quality templates that can be used with their system. They also have premium templates that can be purchased for $50-$90. Their templates and shopping cart are also mobile-ready.

If you’re a designer or developer, Highwire gives you full creative freedom and implementing their system is not complicated to learn. Since online shops using their system are hosted by Highwire, they handle all of the security details, so you won’t need to worry about it.

Highwire features a powerful and well-designed admin interface, which provides plenty of details regarding orders and customers. Store owners have control to easily manage products, categories, and inventory.

Several important marketing features are also included with Highwire. You can set up discount codes, offer gift certificates, allow customers to post reviews of your products, and integrate with popular mailing list managers like MailChimp and Campaign Monitor.

Part of what makes Highwire unique is its multi-channel approach. In addition to selling products on your own website, you can also use Highwire to sell on Facebook, Bonanza, and Ebay. Inventory is integrated, so if you make a sale through Facebook it is tracked and reflected accordingly.  Paid plans start at $14.95 per month.

Highwire Summary:

  • Hosting and security provided by Highwire
  • Pricing includes hosting
  • Free templates available
  • Premium templates available for purchase
  • Sell on your site, Facebook, Ebay, and Bonanza
  • Marketing functionality included
  • Customer and order management from the admin dashboard
  • Mobile-ready



BigCommerce is a feature-rich hosted e-commerce platform. They provide the hosting and security for users, although you can also purchase your own SSL certificate if you prefer not to use the shared SSL certificate. They also use a CDN (content delivery network) to decrease load times and improve the experience for your visitors.

After signing up for BigCommerce you will be able to get assistance (if needed) from one of their staff members for getting your site set up. The have a selection of more than 100 free templates that you can use, and they also have a list of recommended designers if you need a custom design.

With BigCommerce you can sell any type of product, including physical goods, digital downloads, events, and services. You can manage inventory, set up unlimited product options, and manage tax and shipping calculations. For payment processing you can choose from more than 60 payment gateways.

BigCommerce provides detailed reporting and analysis, and you can easily manage orders and customers from the admin area. Marketing features include coupon codes, gift certificates, email marketing integration with leading services (MailChimp, Constant Contact, iContact), social media integration, sell on Facebook, RSS feeds, Ebay integration, Google Shopping integration, and more. You also have control over details for SEO, like page titles, URLs, meta data, alt tags, robots.txt, and more.

Sites using BigCommerce are also ready for mobile commerce, feature a single page checkout, and allow user reviews of products. A unique feature that is available on some plans is the abandoned cart saver, which you can set to email users who place an item in their shopping cart and then do not complete the purchase.

Pricing for BigCommerce starts at $29.95 per month for the basic plan that allows you to sell up to $50,000 in a year. A 15-day free trial is available with all plans.

BigCommerce Summary:

  • Hosting and security provided by BigCommerce
  • Pricing includes hosting
  • Free templates available
  • List of recommended designers is available for custom designs
  • Sell on your site, Facebook, Ebay, and through shopping comparison sites
  • Marketing functionality included
  • Customer and order management from the admin dashboard
  • Mobile-ready



Volusion is a hosted e-commerce platform with a few unique features and a lower starting price point for those who only need to sell a small number of products. Like the other hosted options, they take care of the hosting and security, and they also use a CDN to help reduce page load times.

Features include unlimited product options, product comparison, one-page checkout, inventory tracking, coupon codes, user reviews, email newsletters, social media integration, reporting and analytics, and more. One of the more unique features is the daily deal option that is great for promoting your specials. Another great feature is the option for users to create a wishlist of your products. With Volusion you can integrate you store to sell on Facebook and Ebay.

Pricing starts at $15 per month for a mini plan that allows you to sell up to 100 products and has some feature limitations (such as no daily deals, email newsletters, and Ebay integration.). Plans range from $15 per month to $135 per month for the premium plan with unlimited products and all features.

Volusion Summary:

  • Hosting and security provided by Volusion
  • Pricing includes hosting
  • Free templates available
  • Premium templates available for purchase
  • Custom designs available for purchase
  • Sell on your site, Facebook and Ebay
  • Marketing functionality included
  • Customer and order management from the admin dashboard
  • Daily deals
  • Customer wishlists



Magento (community edition) is one of the most popular open source e-commerce platforms. Aside from the open source community edition Magento also offers an enterprise edition that is more robust and advanced, and is used by large companies like Nike, Vizio, OfficeMax, and others. They also offer Magento Go, which is a hosted solution that includes support.

The open source community edition is popular with designers and developers who are creating custom e-commerce sites for clients. Because it is free and open source it helps to keep the cost low, which is important for many small businesses and start up e-commerce sites. In addition, it can be hosted anywhere, so you are not locked in to using any particular host.

Free templates and premium templates are available for Magento users. The community edition includes features like analytics and reporting, control over shipping calculations, choice of payment gateways, up-sells/cross-sells/related products, SEO options, coupons and promotions, customer and order management, and mobile commerce.

If you’re a designer/developer who creates a lot of e-commerce sites for clients, Magento is a platform that should be considered. If you are an end user who is looking for the right e-commerce platform for your own site, you’ll probably need to hire a designer/developer if you want to use the community edition. Magento Go is their version that is best suited for small businesses that want to set up their own site.

Magento Community Edition Summary:

  • Free to download
  • Open source
  • Can be hosted anywhere
  • Free templates available
  • Premium templates available
  • Add-ons available from community members
  • Marketing functionality included
  • Customer and order management from the admin dashboard
  • Mobile-ready
  • May require the assistance of a designer/developer



DPD (Digital Product Delivery) is similar to FoxyCart in that they only host the shopping cart and checkout, but DPD specializes in digital products. You can still sell tangible goods with DPD, but most of their features are intended for selling digital products. DPD is ideal for blogs and websites that want to sell digital products in a simple and easy way. DPD not only handles the checkout process, but it also manages the download process for your customers. The buyer will be provider with a secure download link that will be instantly available following the purchase.

Features include checkout security provided by DPD, hosting for your digital files, activation keys for selling software, coupon codes, control over tax and shipping calculations, customizable checkout, mobile-ready checkout, customer management, reporting, and more.

DPD includes a built-in affiliate program, so you can expand your sales by paying a commission to affiliates in exchange for their referrals. You can integrate DPD with your email marketing service, like MailChimp, Aweber, iContact, and Get Response. In addition to standard digital products, you can also sell subscriptions that involve recurring payments.

Pricing starts at $10 per month, which allows you to sell up to 20 products and store up to 1GB.  A 30-day free trial is available.

DPD Summary:

  • Only the shopping cart and checkout is hosted by DPD
  • Host your site anywhere
  • Use any CMS



Though WooCommerce is a bit newer, it’s a popular option among those using WordPress.

WooCommerce is a WordPress plugin, so if you already use WordPress or know how to use it, installing and operating this platform will be a breeze for you. WooCommerce is a open-source platform that anyone can download for free. However, to use it to its full potential, you will need to download the add-ons, which come with fees. You can add it on top of your WordPress theme, or you can purchase a WooTheme to spruce up your shop. WooCommerce supports more than 100 payment gateways including Paypal.

WooCommerce is free download but you’ll need add-ons, which gets tricky. The price of these add-ons (depending on which ones you need) can be costly. However, they are one time fees. There’s also the regular credit card fees. Lastly, since it’s an open source platform, there’s very limited support, which can be frustrating since many users claim it can be difficult to acclimate to when first using it.

WooCommerce Summary:

  • Open-source platform that is free to download
  • Use it just like any other WordPress plugin
  • Quick and easy one-page checkout is a hit for customers
  • Simple and aesthetically pleasing themes (though they can be pricey).

WooCommerce is the way to go if you have WordPress. It may take some time for you to find what you need in all their apps and some of them can be expensive, but it’s a bit more of an affordable option compared to competitors since it’s a one-time fee. Even if your business scales, you won’t have to pay anything more.



Squarespace is not new to the market, but it’s a platform that receives consistently good reviews.

One of the main reasons why Squarespace gets so many positive reviews is because of its aesthetic appeal. With a minimalistic approach, its templates are very appealing to the eye and has a great design concept that catches attention. It is also very simple to use with an easy drag-and-drop interface. All templates are responsive, which is a huge plus. We all know that more and more people are making purchases through mobile and tablet.

Squarespace uses Stripe for payment processing, which isn’t available in all countries. It also does not support WordPress integration, which is a big no-no for all the existing WordPress users out there.

Squarespace Summary:

  • Visually appealing and minimalistic themes
  • Mobile responsive templates
  • Helpful 24/7 customer support
  • Ability to stylize and customize without code through the Style Editor

It’s a tough call on this one. Squarespace may be better suited for those selling tangible goods, those looking for that ‘visual punch’, and/or those starting a new ecommerce site. It doesn’t integrate with WordPress, which is a very significant negative against it.

Other notable options

Aside from thse, there are a few other ecommerce platforms that deserve an honorable mention. If you need a simple store plug-in for your existing site without any bells and whistles, try ECWID. They integrate with most major payment options, and their basic plan is free. If you’re not a fan of WooCommerce but have a WordPress site, try Easy Digital Downloads. Easy Digital Downloads is another digital downloads management plugin for WordPress that’s simple to install. Just watch out for the fees for add-ons. Lastly, if you are looking for an all-in-one platform with most major integrations, take a look at Selz. Selz is a newer ecommerce platform that works particularly well for digital content. They also recently launched StorePro, which allows you to customize the look and feel of your online store.

Who’s the winner?

It really depends. There is no right or wrong answer, and all the ecommerce platforms we covered can be suitable for your digital content. It really comes down to what you’re looking for:

  • If you plan to add more products to your shop: Shopify
  • If you already use WordPress: WooCommerce
  • If you are looking for visual appeal: Squarespace
  • If you’re looking to test what’s hot on the market: Selz

If I had to pick a one-platform-fits-all solution for most users, the award would have to go to Shopify. It’s an all-in-one ecommerce solution that will give you most of the functionally that you need. Yes, it falls a little bit more on the pricey side, but it’s a platform that can scale with you as your business grows.

Looking for hosting? WPEngine offers secure managed WordPress hosting. You’ll get expert WordPress support, automatic backups, and caching for fast page loads.