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Newbie's Definitive Guide to Ecommerce Platforms

I think you'll agree with me when I say...

There are TONS of Ecommerce platforms out there to help you launch your first online businesses


They all sound the same, so you rather just go with Shopify or a free platform.

We'll, it turns out that I have done tons of research on Ecommmerce platform and tool comparisons because I'm constantly looking for new technology and features to grow my own online stores.  

This is what you'll expect to learn after reading this post


1. Hosted vs. Self-hosted solution (for beginners)

If you're completely new to this, the best way to explain the difference between a hosted and a self-hosted Ecommerce solution is to think of renting vs. owning a house.

  • Consider hosted platforms as renting.  You are renting the property, paying for the utilities, furniture, and upkeep.  When you go with a hosted provider such as a Shopify or Bigcommerce, you're paying for the hardware and technology for you to run your business.  You're most likely limited to how much you can customize your store, just like you can't paint the house to any color you want or do any major construction on the property.
  • On the flip side, self-hosted is owning.  When you own the house, you pay for everything, the property taxes, construction, maintenance, decoration... you get the idea.  You own both the software, hardware and responsible for the setup with a large up-front cost.

My advice, go with a hosted solution rather than a self-hosted Ecommerce solution when you first start building your store because you're not in the business of finding the best hosting platform, troubleshooting technical issues and fixing hacked sites.  

I spent hours/days trying to figure out how I got hacked on my Wordpress/WooCommerce site, backing up my sites and keeping up with software upgrade rather than focusing on marketing and sales.  

If you are dead set on a self-hosted solution for your store, at a minimum, use a managed host provider.  You pay a little more than your typical Bluehost account, but companies like Flywheel (recommended) and WP Engine will take care of technical upgrades and deal with all things technical issues for you.

2. The 10 Point Ecommerce Checklist

When reviewing Ecommerce platforms, I use a simple 10 point checklist to evaluate between different platforms.

Point 1: Ease of Use

Ecommerce platforms should be relatively easy to use.  The navigation of the admin screen should flow smoothly and you should be able to figure out where to find most of the things you need.  

Here’s an example of what I have used in the past, please note that all Ecommerce navigation are very similar.   

  • You have the dashboard, where it gives you an overview of your store, sales to date, traffic and mailing list sign ups. 
  • Customers list out all your customers, contact information and total spending.  
  • Orders tab give you the order details and allow me to set custom statuses as they flow my order process.  It allows me to enter tracking information and add/remove items.  
  • Catalog (or Products) lists out all your products and categories for your store.  
  • Content are pages (like your About Us and Terms & Condition) and blog posts.  
  • Reports tab should give you some general statistics on visitor and sales information.  
  • Marketing contains email templates used for my drip campaigns and order statuses, discount and gift certificate management. 
  • Tools include import and export options and 3rd party integration.   
  • Themes control the look and feel of your website and finally, your Settings controls things like taxes, shipping rules, and store information. 

Point 2: Design & Templates

Does it have out-of-the-box responsive and mobile templates?

Does it have a design editor that allows me to drag and drop different sections of the website if I do not have any development experience?

When designing Ecommerce websites, there are generally several pages you should be concerned about:

  • Home Page
  • Content pages, such as About Us, Terms & Condition/Privacy Policy
  • Category Page
  • Product Page
  • Add to Cart and
  • Checkout Page 

Run your store for a couple of months before you redesign these pages.

Point 2: SEO & Marketing

Most shopping carts have the basic SEO optimizations in place, automatically creating friendly URL products names and titles with the option to update your META tags, though Google is focusing more on content and page relevancy rather than the META tags when it comes to ranking based on this announcement.  

Even though it's no longer a Google ranking factor, if the META description is written well, it will certainly attract people to click on your link.

Another component of marketing is email.  Other than your normal transaction emails (orders, shipped confirmation and cancellation), your Ecommerce provider may have a simple abandon cart sequence and the ability for you to send broadcast messages.  

Introducing email automation and logic based sending to your campaign would require a third party email service provider (ESP) like a or Convertkit.  ESP varies in price and features and is worth a look after you launch your business.  Just make sure you have an opt-in for subscribers when you first start.

Point 4: Customer Relation Management (CRM)

Does it have any CRM tools to manage interactions with your customer or do you need to use your Gmail?  Email interactions tend to get lost if you are not organized and using a built-in CRM system keeps all your conversations under one site.  It is not the most important, but a nice to have.

Point 5: Product Management

Product management is a vital part your Ecommerce ecosystem.  I usually look at this page first because if they do not allow me to create a product with my specific attributes and variants, I would most likely look somewhere else.  You should have the ability to create beautiful product pages for physical and/or digital products.  Think of these as landing pages... these can be from your paid ads or organic traffic.

Does it allow you to enter unlimited product options? (ie colors, size, material)

Can you vary price by product options and create groups/kit products?

Can you sell on social networks and other shopping portals?

Can you easily manage inventory?

Point 6: Apps & Integration

Does it work well with 3rd party tools like Quickbooks?  Some store has a lot of 3rd party integration and some include them as part of their offering which is nice.

Checkout their app store and see how much apps they have.  Does it have apps to your favorite tools?  Most SaaS apps today are platform agnostic and all you need to do is drop a piece of code with some minor configurations and it should work, ie Olark for chat.

Point 7:  Order Processing

Every business has their own way of processing orders.  In most cases, your order processing workflow should be something like this.

  1. You receive the order.
  2. Review the order.
  3. Process the order by sending it to your fulfillment center, make the physical product or deliver the digital product.
  4. Complete the order by sending shipping confirmation.

If its different from the above, write it out and make sure your Ecommerce solution can accommodate it.

What's involved, who is involved, how do you imagine the communication to occur between departments and vendors.

Does it allow me to send automatic notifications to my vendor to dropship?

Does it allow me to send automatic notifications to my vendor to drop ship?

Can I add custom processing logic, ie creating different logic statuses or route to different departments?

Can I enter phone orders?

Point 8: Price

Understand the fees.  Know your one-time and monthly fees.  Fees vary by Ecommerce platforms and include Setup fees, Monthly fees, Transaction fees, SSL certificate fees and Technical support fees.  

I tend to stay away from software that double dips and charges both transaction and monthly fees.  This is like paying double rent in my opinion.

Ecommerce hosting plans have changed over the years, just like your wireless plans.  You'll mainly see plans limited by

  • the number of products per month
  • the number of orders per month
  • the total monthly revenue
  • the available features for each plan

Point 9: Scalability

Is it future-proof?  Some store restricts the number of products you can ever have.

Can it support unlimited products, storage, and traffic?

Do they have affiliate programs in case I want to wholesale my products/services?

Do they provide dedicated servers so that you don’t have the share the same resources with other online stores?

How does it support burst of traffic, ie Black Friday or holiday shopping?

Can it support multi-channel where you can manage inventory across Amazon, Ebay or anywhere else?

Does it support POS system should you decide to have a brick and mortar store?

Point 10:  Support

What type of support do they provide? 24 hours, 7 days a week?  Phone, email and online chat?  What is their turnaround time?

Do they provide training video, blogs, and active forums?  I have seen forums such as WooCommerce that only have questions and no responses and some like Shopify where they are more active.

Try out their support during your 14 day trial period.  You should get a good feel on how they will manage the relationship when you become a paying customer.

3. For the skimmers... my tips.

If you're first starting out, there is no "perfect" solution for your business.  No silver bullet.  You always end up giving one thing for another.  Here are a few tips that will help you decide which

No silver bullet ecommerce platform.  

You always end up giving one thing for another.  Here are a few tips that will help you decide which Ecommerce platform to go with. 

  • Just know that whatever online solution you pick, you probably end up moving to another platform within 6-18 months. This is because you might end up changing your direction for your online business or perhaps you outgrew what you started with. So don't get married to it.
  • Make your MUST have checklist before you start. If you don't, it's like going Black Friday shopping without a wishlist, you'll feel overwhelmed and lost. This is not your nice to have or I wish I have. These are your absolute list of features you must have in order to launch your online business. For example, if you're planning to order a subscription box business like a Blue Apron  or FabFitFun, make sure that your Ecommerce provider has a subscription module included.
  • Most online stores have free trials. Try it out. Spend no more than just a few hours on each one and run through your list of requirements.  Do a quick implementation to make sure it has all the bells and whistles.
  • Keep your technology footprint small when you first start out.  What I mean by that is don't build your own ugly Frankenstein online store by using dozens of third party app to make it work.  

Now that I have given you a few platforms to consider with my tips... here's a laundry list of providers if you don't like any of the 3 below with my quick two cents on them based on my own testing.

Building your online business should be easy.

The idea of launching with what you absolutely need is critical to remember. Don't waste your time with customization and over building before you made some sales and know what your customers want.

The difficult part is getting sales (click here to enroll or get on the waiting list).

Ok... here are the three hosted Ecommerce solutions (in no specific order) you should consider. 

4. Three Ecommerce Platforms for Small Businesses


They come a long way since I first started looking at them a few years ago.

They have a new all-inclusive pricing structure, meaning you get ALL the features of a Professional even though you might be a newbie in Ecommerce.  Features include unlimited products and variants and file storage & bandwidth (something that ALL Ecommerce platforms should have, sell both digital and physical products, create discounts & coupons, customizable checkout pages, subscription based orders and integrated with Zapier, which is great for non-techies to connect with your other favorite apps.

This platform is highly customizable. They have a few modern themes to choose from, but if you're technical, you'll love the open-source theme engine Twig for you to create you own branding experience.

I think Lemonstand is an absolutely great platform for you to scale and grow with. If you're not technical, you might need some time to learn how to customize the app or hire a developer.

Click here to sign up for a free trial of Lemonstand to see if this is right for you.

Next up is...


This is a U.K. based Ecommerce platform who is also an all inclusive online shop. Each plan includes all the features. This is easy to use, drag and drop features, nice templates, abandon cart savers, unlimited products with unlimited bandwidth and dedicated account manager to help you setup your store.

If you can get over the fact that their admin panel is a bit dated and that they are based in U.K., supporting you between Monday - Friday from 8am to 6pm, EKM is worth a look.  

Click here for a free trial of EKM.



This company is based in Florida has a lot of potentials. All their plans include features such as abandon cart savers, affiliate program, a customer relationship management module for you to manage all your customer communication instead of using your Gmail, group deals (ie Groupon) and recently added, their Zapier integration in beta. These are things you have to pay for in most other platforms. It's great that they include these features.

In my opinion, they have a great bulk import/export feature, great for businesses with a large number of SKUs. 

They have plans for all type of businesses. Smaller plans do limit the number of products, storage, and bandwidth for smaller stores, but they also have an unlimited products plan for big sellers.

One thing that will make them a stronger contender in the Ecommerce space is to have a better customer success team really interested in making store owners succeed and an update theme store.

Click here to try 3dcart out, free for 30 days!

5. Ecommerce Platform for Entrepreneurs

Here's the list of shopping carts for entrepreneurs to also consider.  This is not an all-inclusive list, but ones that I have experience with or popular in its space.  

Please comment below and tell me who you chose any why.

Good luck my friends.  

Great all around contenders

Shopify, great customer service and modern template for newbies. Great app store and a lot of developer buy-in, but that's because they don't offer some of the core functionalities on their plan.  The plus is that you can quickly launch in just a few hours - if you can stay focus.

Bigcommerce, great dependable overall service, and solution, not so great, I have a store with 10,000+ SKU's and their import does not allow you to easily import a large number of SKU's efficiently. Even their professional services don't have a solution for me.

PinnacleCart is focusing more on building our integrations with other marketplaces and social media channels with a good set of marketing tools.

Volusion, CoreCommerce, Sparkpay, Lemonstand and 3dcart all have different business plans that scale from small to enterprise.  I have used every single one of these and they all differ by features.  So make sure your key functionality is there.

Good for Small Shops With Small Number of Products

These Ecommerce solutions are good for artists, photographers, musicians & wedding.  That means their features are focused on this niche and you will not get a lot of the features and benefits from the all around providers.

Bigcartel is designed for small shops, not more than 300 products.

Squarespace has 2 pricing plans, personal and business below $20 a month, but you are limited in the number of pages you can produce and they do take a small percent of each transaction you make.

Free & Low Priced Ecommerce Platforms

Material is part of the Volusion family and started with only a free plan.  Now they have both a free and small $9 month plan with limited features.  If all you have is a very simple Ecommerce site, they are good to start with.

WIX and Weebly is a couple I haven't tried yet.  They have clean layouts and seem to focus on small niche businesses.

Enterprise Ecommerce Software

Miva is based here in San Diego, CA.  Their software is fully customizable and a flexible solution with plans that you can start with and scales to their enterprise solution without leaving them.

Open-Source Ecommerce Shopping Carts

Open-source means that the software source code is made freely available and may be redistributed and modified.  In other words, not for beginners.  

Open source is normally a self-hosted solution where you can customize the application, look and feel to exactly what you need.  

There normally isn't a dedicated support team, you'll need to go to forums or buy extensions to get custom features.  Think of them as a la carte model, you get the core application free, but you'll need to shop for features.

They can take a lot of time, money and planning, but you'll get that next level of customization you won't get from a hosted solution.

Four critical things to consider when deciding which open-source shopping cart to go with:

  1. How widely it's supported by both the community and the company
  2. Technology used
  3. Documentation AND
  4. On-going efforts that bugs are fixed and improved.

WooCommerce is one of the biggest open-source Ecommerce platforms with tons of developers and resources available.   They are created by WooThemes and one of the few that does have a support staff.  WooCommerce is an extension of Wordpress.  WooCommerce provides the core Ecommerce feature, but you'll need to purchase your own plugins and themes to customize it, ie UPS integration and Product Import CSV with a fee that entitles you to one year of software updates.  

If you like Wordpress, here are a few other Ecommerce extensions, Cart66, WP eCommerce, and Jigoshop.

osCommerce is one of the oldest open-source shopping carts out there, in fact, I think I might have started with them, been such a long time and that's why it took me so long to be successful.  I was cheap and wanted everything perfect.

Magento, Open Cart, PrestaShop, simpleCart, Spree Commerce, Drupal Commerce

What about digital platforms?

I will expand on digital platforms on future posts, but New Kajabi is my favorite.  

New Kajabi is a premium online course that is loaded with great features and always improving.  BTW, this site is hosted with New Kajabi, which allows me to consolidate a lot of my 3rd party apps.

It has great themes, the ability for you to create online courses with powerful offering options with upsells, blog, video hosting, course creation tools. create landing pages, email and affiliate tracking.

Additional reads:

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