Building a website is often simultaneously the most exciting and the most daunting part of starting a new business. It’s a combination of diving into a new world of possibility while juggling the technical and design elements that go into building a new online venture.
You’ll need to consider what the site will look like, how you’ll organize products on the page, and what pages and sub pages you’ll create, and ensure the checkout process works smoothly. That can be a lot to juggle on top of choosing a tool to actually build the website with. The good news is that there are affordable website builders that cater to small businesses like yours. And, the process can be as simple or as involved as you’d like it to be.
What website builders are best for small businesses?
We evaluated the best ecommerce website builders specifically for small businesses based on four criteria: price point, ease of use, amount of features, and the level of customization offered.
These criteria are best to consider if you’re just getting started and don’t want to get bogged down by a tool with a steep learning curve. They also are a good indication of scalability—as your shop grows, you’ll want a tool that can scale with you.
Affordability is always important for any software purchase, but it’s especially crucial when you’re just starting a new business. After all, in the growth phase, you’ll need to keep costs as low as possible.
Ease of use
You might know HTML like the back of your hand. Or, you might prefer a drag and drop builder that does any coding needed for you. We looked at how easy these builders actually make it to create your online store.
How many additional features, besides the actual function of building a website, does the company offer? Make sure to look at what kind of customer support options the company offers, as well as how payment processing works. Great customer support (a hefty knowledge base, clear tutorials, or live chat support) will make your journey much easier. And, having a payment processor you can count on will increase sales.
Level of customization
Some website builders, while being extremely easy to use, are limited in the creative flexibility they offer. We looked at how rigid each website builder is.
The best website builders for small businesses
Let's look at some of the top ecommerce platforms you can use to build your store:
- Big Cartel
As you start this process, you might think you need a website builder to simply get your website up. And while that will be your initial goal, you’ll later find that there's a big difference between tacking on commerce features (listing products, accepting payments, tracking inventory, fulfilling orders, etc.) to a website builder and having them built in natively.
If you truly are just looking for a website builder, you might not need all of the additional commerce tools. But if your goal is to create a thriving ecommerce business, you're better off going with an all-in-one commerce platform from the very first day—not trying to stitch together the functionality later.
Shopify is an all-inclusive subscription based commerce tool that’s perfect for stores of any size, at any stage. It’s designed to grow with you. What’s great about Shopify is that it’s a good fit for most business owners most of the time for these reasons:
- Simplicity. It's easy for anyone to get started on Shopify and it remains easy to use as you scale. You can go underneath the hood if you want to, but you can also maintain, customize, and scale your store without learning to code.
- Performance. Shopify has superfast load times and the best-performing checkout on the internet. You don't need a managed host for your domain and you don't need to hook up a third-party checkout tool. Shopify's built-in stuff is world class.
- Omnichannel. Sell literally wherever your customers are! Shopify is always helping merchants bring their products to new markets. We recently launched the TikTok sales channel and offer a Shop Pay plus Facebook and Instagram partnership. There’s no need for extensive addons or plugins.
🎯 Quick facts:
- Price: Shopify offers a free trial for 14 days so you can play around without having to pay upfront.After that, Basic Shopify is$29/month (best for new businesses like yours!), Shopify is $79/month (best for a growing business with one retail shop), and Advanced Shopify is $299/month (best for growing businesses with 2+ retail shops).
- Ease of use: Shopify is incredibly intuitive, and if you need help you can turn to the extensive help center, forum, or 24/7 support.
- Features: Great customer support is available 24/7 via live chat, phone, and email.Features include: 100+ beautifully designed themes that are mobile friendly, search engine optimized pages, inventory management, an app store that features over 4,000 easily integrated tools, reporting and analytics, and a handy mobile app.
- Level of customization: Each template on Shopify is easily customizable, and if you want even more control, you’ll always have access to the HTML and CSS of your site.
- Example shop: Check out Greens Steel Premium Drinkware to see Shopify in action.
If you’re an artist interested in selling your work online but want a custom domain rather than going the Etsy route, Big Cartel is for you. It’s easy to use and set up, and it’s made by artists, so the founders have already considered anything you might need to sell your work on the internet.
🎯 Quick facts:
- Price: Big Cartel is free for up to 5 products, so if you’re an artist just starting to sell your work online, this could be a great option for you! After that, Platinum (50 products) is $9.99/month, Diamond (250 products) is $19.99/month, and Titanium (500 products) is $29.99/month.
- Ease of use: It’s very easy (and quick!) to set up your website with BigCartel.If you’re looking to grow your business over time though, it’s hard to scale this to more channels than just web.
- Features: Customer support is available by email 7 days a week, 8am to 6pm EST. Up to 5 photos of each product, free themes you can customize (plus code access), make sales both online and in person, use a custom domain, offer promotions, hook up Google Analytics, shipment and inventory tracking, sales tax auto pilot, bulk editing.
- Level of customization: Use one of BigCartel’s pre-baked themes to set up your site in a pinch, or design the entire thing yourself with full code access.
- Example shop: Take a look at the Feebles shop to see what a Big Cartel store looks like IRL. The Feebles uses Stripe as their payment processor.
One of the most well known website builders out there, Wix offers a myriad of different plans based on what you need. It falls short on inventory tracking, and many ecommerce features require an upgrade to the highest tier of plan. Still, Wix does have options for plans, subscriptions, and recurring payments, so if you sell a product customers subscribe to, this builder might be perfect for you.
🎯 Quick facts:
- Price: Wix differentiates its standard website plans from its ecommerce plans. Because you’ll need to accept and process payments, you’ll have to go with one of their business plans. Business Basic is $23/month, Business Unlimited is $27/month, and Business VIP is $49.99/month. Wix will refund the cost of any premium plan plan as long as you cancel the plan within 14 days of upgrading.
- Ease of use: The drag and drop builder makes Wix an easy tool to use.
- Features: Wix lacks inventory management tools, so if that’s something you know you’re going to depend on, you may want to look elsewhere. For full ecommerce access you’ll want to go with the Business Unlimited or Business VIP plan, as the Basic plan is lacking in many features like dropshipping and tax automation. Features for the upper level plans include: drag and drop website builder, recurring payment options, 24/7 customer care, automated tax, dropshipping, search engine optimized pages, shopping integrations with Facebook, eBay, Instagram, and Google Shopping.
- Level of customization: Use the drag and drop builder to customize one of 800 templates. Every element of any template is customizable.
- Example shop: Check out Coal and Canary candle company.
Squarespace is known for its simple, beautifully designed website themes. This is a great option if you want to build a site quickly and customize very little. Squarespace is also a good choice if you sell services in addition to physical items. For example, a day spa might need a place for clients to book services and purchase or subscribe to the items their therapists use after a treatment. Squarespace designs already function well and look beautiful, so in general you won’t need to do much legwork to create a beautiful website fast.
🎯 Quick facts:
- Price: The Basic Commerce plan is $30/month, and the Advanced Commerce plan is $46/month. You can save 30% on plans by committing to one year.
- Ease of use: Squarespace is pretty simple to use, and if you need help the company offers webinars, a help center, and community forum.
- Features: Drag and drop builder, customizable templates, responsive design and image scaling, sell physical goods or services, no limit on the number of products in your shop, product catalogs, post purchase email sequences, inventory management and low inventory notifications, Stripe and Paypal integrations, subscriptions.
- Level of customization: All templates are customizable via the Squarespace editor, and if you have coding knowledge, you can also pop into the code. Keep in mind that if you do choose a Squarespace theme, you won’t be able to customize down to the page level—the styles you choose will be consistent site wide, which gives you less flexibility overall.
- Example shop: Accessories brand Bembien runs on Squarespace.
Weebly has a completely free plan option, so if you don’t need your own domain and don’t mind the ads, this is the pick. If you do decide to upgrade, Weebly is an affordable option and it’s really easy to use.
🎯 Quick facts:
- Price: Weebly offers a free basic ecommerce account. The Personal plan is $9/month or $6/month billed annually. The Professional plan is $16/month or $12/month billed annually. The Performance plan is $29/month or $26/month billed annually.
- Ease of use: It’s easy to set up and customize a website on Weebly, and no prior technical knowledge is necessary.
- Features: Drag and drop website builder, customizable themes, bulk product editor, coupon creator for promotions, mobile optimization, shipping tool with real time rates, advanced inventory management, product search, integrations with PayPal, Stripe, and Square, and auto tax tool.
- Level of customization: Weebly’s drag and drop builder makes it pretty easy to start with a theme and customize it with your brand’s colors, custom fonts, video backgrounds, and animation. If you want to dive into the code, the option to play around with HTML and CSS is available too.
- Example store: Check out watercolor shop Case for Making to see Weebly in action. CFM uses Weebly for their site and Square as their payment processor.
3dcart by Shift4Shop
If you want a no-frills set up process and you don’t mind going with a premade template, 3dcart will allow you to set up your online store very quickly. Its templates are already mobile friendly too, which makes setup a snap. The downside though is that if you want to customize anything, the learning curve involves a bit of HTML knowledge. Overall this is a good, affordable, no frills choice—but in order to get more powerful ecommerce functionality for the long haul, you’ll want to go with something else.
🎯 Quick facts:
- Price: 3dcart offers a premium plan at no cost so long as you use the Shift4 payment processor. If you don’t want to use their payment processor, 3dcart offers a 15 day free trial, and plans start at $29/month.
- Ease of use: 3dcart is relatively easy to use but has a bit of a learning curve.The website builder itself can be tricky to use.
- Features: Customer support includes a Help Center and chat. Features include: customizable themes, mobile friendly design, synchronized inventory across other sites like eBay and Facebook, supports multiple delivery methods (like dropshipping and downloads), real time shipping, 160+ payment options plus financing.
- Level of customization: 3dcart offers a variety of free and paid themes which are customizable. But, there is some knowledge of HTML required if you really want to make the site your own. Some changes will require HTML use, unlike other website builders.
- Example shop: Take a look at Too Cute Beads for an example of a 3dcart shop in the wild.
Volusion offers great data insights into how your shop is performing. It’s got its own built in analytics tools and can integrate with partners like Fullstory and Google Analytics so you can glean all of the information you need to grow your business.
🎯 Quick facts:
- Price: Volusion has a 14 day free trial. After that, plans are billed every three months. The Personal plan is $26/month, the Professional plan is $71/month, the Startup plan is $161/month, and the Business plan is $269/month.
- Ease of use: Planning to use one of Volusion’s pre-baked themes? The web builder will be pretty easy to use. If you want to mess around with any design elements, though, Volusion can get complicated quickly.
- Features: Customer support options include a help center, phone support, and chat. Drag and drop builder, mobile friendly themes, custom coupons and pricing for bespoke products, payment integrations with Apple Pay, Stripe, and PayPal, recurring pricing for subscriptions, bulk order processing, zero transaction fees, and integration with essential tools like Google Analytics, Fullstory, and Pinterest.
- Level of customization: Volusion offers solutions no matter how comfortable you are with coding. Choose from paid and free themes, and customize them down to the page level. You can customize the page layout with the drag and drop editor.
- Example shop: Antonelli’s Cheese Shop runs on Volusion.
What’s so powerful about WordPress is how much creative control you have. If you’re code savvy, you can create the whole thing yourself. Since WordPress is an open source software, it’s constantly being upgraded, so you can expect it to perform at its best at all times. The two biggest drawbacks are ease of use and ecommerce functionality. WordPress has a steep learning curve and it takes time to master its quirks. In order to get all of the ecommerce tools you need, you’ll have to connect to a WordPress ecommerce plugin like WooCommerce.
🎯 Quick facts:
- Price: WordPress offers a free version so you can check out how everything works, but in order to get full ecommerce functionality you do have to pay. The Business plan is $33/month and the ecommerce plan is $59/month. WordPress offers per month discounts if you pay annually.
- Ease of use: WordPress has a steep learning curve, so it can be difficult to use at first. Once you’ve mastered it, the amount of customization, especially if you have a blog, is powerful—it just depends on how much work you’re willing to put in upfront.
- Features: In order to get all of the ecommerce features you need, you have to also set up an ecommerce plugin like WooCommerce, which is free! In terms of customer service, WordPress has live chat support. The WordPress ecommerce plan includes features like: integration with Google Analytics, over 50,000 plugins, and shipping carriers, SEO tools, and payment options in 60+ countries.
- Level of customization: You can code your own WordPress site if you want to, but that requires a deep understanding of HTML. Basic customization is a little tricky if you’re not tech savvy: you can add your logo, brand colors, and brand font pretty easily, but other changes require HTML knowledge, and it’s oh so easy to break WordPress if your code is wrong. WordPress is probably the most customizable tool out there, but if you’re not code-savvy and you want a more customized site, you’ll likely have to pay someone to create it for you.
- Example shop: The House of Whiskey
The right tool depends on your specific needs
Your website builder is what you'll use to build your presence online, whether that’s a simple professional portfolio or a digital storefront. Just like when you assess a place to live, you’ll need to find a home for your online store based on your current needs while trying to avoid headaches down the line.
If you're just looking to put up a homepage with store hours and your phone number, a free website builder may be perfect. But if you're looking to create an online store where you can connect with customers, consider building a solid foundation right from day one.
Illustration by Pete Ryan