Consumers are increasingly turning to the internet for their shopping needs, either to purchase or to research products. Studies show that by 2017, over $370 billion in sales will come through online purchases. If you want your share of that pie, you need an online store that appeals to your customers, attracts new shoppers by harnessing the power of search engines and other marketing tools, and offers you administrative features to let you study and react to the changing online marketplace. eCommerce software makes opening and running an online store as fast and trouble-free as possible. With marketing, shopping and administrative features, these applications have the tools you need to set up and run a successful online store.
The best eCommerce software walks you through every step of creating and stocking your online store, from home page design to checkout security. In addition, it should offer tools to get you in other popular shopping venues like Amazon or eBay and give your customers what they need to make informed purchases. Some of the companies take the extra step to help you succeed by offering educational opportunities and support.
Most eCommerce software comes with plans that offer different features and cater to stores of varying sizes. However, we've found the overall best services to be 3dcart, Volusion and BigCommerce. Also, don't forget to check out our articles about eCommerce software for tips on creating and managing a successful online business.
When choosing the best eCommerce platform for you, seek those that offer a variety of features, plenty of storage and bandwidth, and the flexibility to grow with your business. Most of the products we reviewed offer strong basic programs suitable for most online stores. However, everyone's business is different, so in order to make the best decision, know your specific needs as far as reports you want, where you want to sell and what customer benefits you want to offer.
eCommerce plans vary greatly, so to get the most comparable plans, we considered the plan that would best fit an online business with around 100 products that needs 3GB of storage and 1GB of bandwidth, and which costs less than $60 a month. However, we touch upon the breadth of options in each plan, so if a company appeals to you, check out both its minimum and maximum offerings.
Plans, Hosting & Website Tools
The ranges of storage, bandwidth and products allowed can help you determine if a company has a plan to suit the size and activity of your online store. Storage space and bandwidth offerings vary by plan as well as provider, so we've included the specifics for the plan we reviewed and also what the service offers in its minimum and maximum plans. Storage space is how much information you can store on the product's servers. This includes not only your inventory, but also photos, video, downloadable products, blog posts, press releases and anything else you put on your website. Bandwidth refers to the traffic your site gets, from people clicking around your site to your employees uploading new inventory.
The best eCommerce solutions offer tools that assist with hosting, web design and loading of products. As all the services we reviewed offer SEO tools such as product tags, we looked at which offered blogs. Blogs are an easy way to keep new content on your website, something Google and other search engines look for when determining the rank of your site in a search. WordPress' rising popularity makes it a great way to reach people, so if you have a WordPress blog, look for services that will integrate your store to your site. If you have a large inventory, you'll want bulk upload and bulk editing features that save you time.
Flexibility enhances any service, so we looked at how many templates you can choose from as you develop your webstore, as well as how many payment gateways you have to choose from. These include PayPal and credit card companies throughout the world.
Shopping Features & Marketing
Most eCommerce software automatically simplifies your storefront to make it easy to view and navigate on cell phones or tablets. Such mobile-friendly stores are becoming vital, as more and more people are making their purchases using smartphones, even after visiting physical stores.
A pleasant online shopping experience keeps your customers coming back. Most webshop software offers hundreds of features to help people make buying decisions they feel good about, so we choose a few that stand out, such as customer reviews and product comparisons. Daily deals entice impulse buys, while loyalty programs bring customers back. If you are seeking a multinational audience, a storefront in different languages attracts an international clientele.
Your website does you no good if customers don't find your store online. Many of the best eCommerce solutions offer marketing tools to attract customers and keep them coming back for more. Popular marketing tools for eCommerce software include affiliate programs, which let third parties advertise your store or sell your products for you. In addition, many will include your inventory if you sell your products directly on Amazon, eBay or Facebook.
Back Office & Security
Managing your business can be time consuming, but with the right tools and features, eCommerce platforms save you a lot of time and frustration. Nearly all the programs we looked at offer such things as low inventory alerts. Not all have integration with QuickBooks or other external accounting software, however. If you employ dropshipping companies to handle warehousing and delivery of your products, check for eCommerce software that will automatically place the orders and track payments for you.
Also, look for mobile-responsive administrative panels that make it easy to run your store on your cell phone or tablet. Not every eCommerce solution includes email accounts, but they are an extra convenience.
Marketing analysis can help your business grow, especially online. If you do a lot of marketing analysis, seek out an eCommerce solution that allows you to create a wide variety of custom reports. Obviously, you'll want reports that show your sales daily or over a designated timespan, but most eCommerce software goes further by tracking the most popular items, which items customers look at the most but do not buy, even what keywords customers are using to search for your products.
When you're working with online payment options, you need strong online security. All the sites we reviewed are PCI compliant, meaning they meet the Payment Card Industry's standard for secure transactions. In addition, all offer Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protection, a special encryption for secure transactions, which is a must for taking credit card payments. Everyone offers 128-bit (also known as 1024-bit) encryption, but 256-bit (also known as 2048-bit) is quickly becoming the new standard. Regardless of the encryption level, some eCommerce software companies expect you to purchase the certificate that you need to conduct credit card transactions, and if you do not purchase a hosted eCommerce solution, you need to ensure your website host is SSL secure.
Nearly all the services include fraud prevention features, such as requiring customers to enter the CVV2 codes from their credit cards. Some eCommerce solutions provide fraud scores, which alert you to potential fraud risks before the sale is completed, while others expect you to rely on your credit card company for this protection.
Help & Support
Questions and concerns will likely arise while you run an online business. The best eCommerce software services provide several options for reaching a customer support representative, such as telephone, email and live chat. Look for manufacturers that provide a variety of additional resources, such as extensive FAQs, user guides and a knowledgebase. As a bonus for entrepreneurs, especially those new to eCommerce, some services provide community forums for sharing ideas and even education centers with webinars and articles on the latest aspects of online business.
With the right eCommerce software, you can get your online business up and running in no time. This software eliminates much of the frustration you might experience with the complex process of setting up and running an online store, while providing the tools you need to make your online business a success. Knowing what to look for and what you need for your business can help you make the best choice in eCommerce software.