Today’s consumers are making more purchases than ever online via PCs and mobile devices. They’re also using online sites and mobile apps to compare prices and search for the products and services they want, making it even more critical for businesses to have an online sales presence.
Whether you want to build an online business or expand your sales to an online platform, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll highlight five top options for setting up an online store and give you a ballpark cost for each option.
If you have programming skills or have a web developer in mind, consider creating an e-commerce site to your exact specifications. If you do want to hire professional help, ask the web developer some essential questions before choosing one. You and your developer will need to decide precisely how your online store should look and how you want it to work.
Once you’ve created your e-commerce site, you’ll need to choose a payment gateway or payment processor; your developer will integrate your website’s shopping cart and payment page with the payment processor.
These are some advantages of building your own e-commerce site:
These are some drawbacks of this approach:
These are some of the costs of building an online store from scratch:
If you are tech-savvy but not a programmer, you can build a highly customized online store with WordPress. WordPress has a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) interface, so you can design and add content without any programming expertise.
If you’re willing to go through some initial extra work, you can create a unique and compelling online store with WordPress that is easy to update and inexpensive to maintain.
These are some advantages of WordPress:
These are some drawbacks of WordPress:
It’s free to use the WordPress platform, but you’ll pay $5 to $15 per month for hosting and a custom domain. [Related article: How Much Does It Cost to Start an Online Business?]
If you want to build an online store, a website builder may be your most straightforward option. Although building a website used to be only for experts, today’s drag-and-drop tools allow anyone to create a professional-looking website in less than an hour with little technological know-how.
Website builders give you a choice of templates that include website design elements and programming. Add your custom content and make any necessary changes. The website builder platform includes hosting, but if you want a custom domain, you’ll need to pay for that separately. Examples of website builders include Wix, Weebly and GoDaddy.
Some website builders offer a free plan that allows you to sell one to five products. However, nearly every website builder also has an online store or e-commerce plan, allowing you to sell more products and access dedicated e-commerce tools.
It costs around $15 to $30 per month for a website builder plan with online store or e-commerce features.
An online marketplace is like a virtual mall. Shoppers come to the marketplace to browse or perhaps buy something specific from a particular store. Each marketplace has ways for e-commerce stores to promote themselves via site-specific search features or advertising.
Amazon, Etsy and Facebook Marketplace are a few examples of online marketplaces to consider.
Amazon is the biggest online marketplace in the world, with more than 197 million visitors each month. In fact, Amazon’s total sales accounted for 56.7% of the U.S. e-commerce market in 2021, according to PYMNTS.
Sellers can take advantage of Amazon’s massive traffic and customer base, including Prime members, while accessing payment processing features. With its FBA (fulfillment by Amazon) program, sellers don’t have to worry about packing or shipping the products. No programming skills are needed.
Costs for selling on Amazon include the following:
Etsy is another popular e-commerce marketplace, but it’s a more product-oriented site, specifically for handmade and vintage items and craft supplies. With Etsy, you basically enter some information about yourself or your business, add some items, and then start selling.
Costs for selling on Etsy include the following:
The highest-earning sellers on Etsy make $10,000 or more per year, with the top Etsy seller in the U.S. making more than $1.2 million.
You can also set up an online store through Facebook Marketplace. If you have a Facebook page for your business, you can directly integrate your shop onto that page.
Some website builders and dedicated e-commerce sites (see below) include a Facebook store at no cost when you pay for their traditional online store service.
Like Etsy and Amazon, Facebook has a built-in customer base, and creating a store is effortless. You just enter your products and wait for sales.
Facebook costs are variable, depending on which store service you use. You’ll pay about $15 to $30 per month plus per-transaction credit card fees.
If online sales are the primary focus of your business, a dedicated e-commerce platform may be the best choice for effective e-commerce web development. These online store providers are all about sales, and their features and services reflect that focus. Although basic plans are similar to website builders’ e-commerce plans, higher-end e-commerce platform plans will include various sophisticated tools.
For example, e-commerce platforms may offer abandoned cart recovery. If a customer leaves items in their shopping cart, the platform will automatically send the customer a coupon to encourage the purchase.
Additionally, higher-end plans have real-time shipping calculators for all the primary shipping methods, integration with other online sales platforms (e.g., Etsy, eBay and Facebook), highly advanced reporting capabilities, and white-glove customer support.
If you want to become an online sales force to be reckoned with, dedicated e-commerce platforms have all the features to get you there. Here’s a look at three top e-commerce platforms.
BigCommerce has templates to help you design your store, but only a few are free. It takes some time and effort to set up your shop. Still, once you’re up and running, BigCommerce provides a range of valuable features, including blazing fast-loading speeds, the ability to add more than 70 discounts and promotions, merchandising options, SEO tools, and cross-channel support.
BigCommerce is easily scalable and can support a massive product catalog. Unlike some other e-commerce platforms, BigCommerce does not charge additional transaction fees.
BigCommerce has four pricing plans.
Shopify’s setup process is more straightforward than BigCommerce’s, so merchants can quickly get started with its interface. Shopify offers 10 free themes; paid themes typically cost between $100 and $180.
Shopify sites have fast load times and plenty of integrations, including Shopify Payments, so you don’t need to work with an outside payment processing company. In fact, you can use the Shopify point-of-sale (POS) and payment processing system in your brick-and-mortar store whether or not you are selling online. Shopify sites also integrate with more than 6,000 apps.
While Shopify provides marketing tools to boost your e-commerce sales, its SEO isn’t as good as some of the other e-commerce platforms’, so sellers may need to rely more heavily on other marketing strategies. Additionally, Shopify doesn’t work with Amazon, so if you’re also selling on Amazon, you’ll have to manage that channel separately.
Shopify has three plans.
If you use Shopify Payments, there is no transaction fee. Otherwise, the transaction fee is an additional 2%, 1% or 0.5% for each plan, respectively.
Shopwired is a relatively new player in the e-commerce platform space; it offers many of the same features as BigCommerce and Shopify. Shopwired’s monthly prices are less than those of the other two. Some features that require a higher plan on BigCommerce and Shopify – such as abandoned cart recovery, ratings and reviews – are available for free.
Shopwired has faster load times than either BigCommerce or Shopify, and shops are easy to set up. Shopwired also has several B2B features, such as setting up trade accounts, credit accounts, a quote-request system and bulk discounts. Like Shopify, Shopwired does not work with Amazon.
Shopwired has three plans, none of which charge transaction fees.
If you sell goods or services and don’t already sell online, you’re missing out on potential customers. Here are some facts to consider:
Aside from opening your business to a broad array of online shoppers, these are some additional benefits of having an online store:
Setting up an e-commerce store is just the first step. To generate sales, you’ll need to create an e-commerce marketing strategy. Here are some ways to drive traffic to your online store:
For most small businesses, website-building e-commerce plans are a balanced option when starting an online store. However, many services and platforms can accommodate businesses of all sizes. Many website builders and online store platforms offer free trials so that you can test a service before committing long term.
Marc Prosser contributed to the writing and research in this article.