Have you ever thought of selling online but didn’t know where to start? Or perhaps you are already selling online with an older-generation storefront and finding it time consuming and difficult to update and maintain.
There’s been a revolution in eCommerce platforms in the past few years. I remember setting up an eCommerce store back in 1999. It was a painful experience.
Back then, the technology was clunky and expensive. We had to choose and cobble together various pieces and parts: shopping cart software, catalog software, payment gateway, and merchant account. We had to set up our own servers. Customizing the storefront was a laborious project. We paid many thousands of dollars to send staff to week-long training because without it they couldn’t understand how to use the complex software.
Today, the process of setting up an online store is radically simplified. The technology is much less expensive. It’s intuitive for nontechnical users, so little or no training is needed. All-in-one, hosted eCommerce solutions are readily available, so you don’t have to worry about setting up servers. The provider takes responsibility for most security. Storefronts are easily customizable. They come optimized for use not only on Web browsers, but on mobile devices (because much shopping occurs via mobile today).
Here are five next-generation storefronts that are particularly good for small businesses looking for an affordable, easy-to-deploy eCommerce solution
You can tell that Shopify was built with today’s nontechnical, small-business user in mind from the start. Not only can you sell online, but with an iPad it also doubles as a point-of-sale (POS) system. You can also use it to process transactions in person, such as at craft shows or in your café. It also integrates with social media platforms so you can sell from Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, and more, so you can engage in social selling. One of the most impressive things about Shopify is how it keeps growing and innovating, and it is focused on serving even the smallest businesses. There’s a free trial, so you can check it out before committing.
WooCommerce is a free eCommerce solution for sites built on WordPress. With it, you can add a storefront to a WordPress website or blog. WooCommerce has been downloaded an amazing number of times: 11.9 million downloads, to be exact. The company’s website claims that they power more than 30 percent of all online stores. The fact that it is free and works with WordPress, which itself powers a stunning 74 million websites worldwide, is a major draw. For WordPress lovers, WooCommerce is a go-to eCommerce platform.
Squarespace is one of the newer breed of website builder tools available on the market today. It has its own eCommerce module. Websites start at $8 per month, and you can build a store starting at $26 per month. It uses Stripe as the payment processor. Squarespace itself appeals to artists, musicians, and “creative” local businesses such as photographers. It is known for dazzlingly beautiful templates. If you are in a “creative” visual business and looking for an inexpensive do-it-yourself approach, Squarespace Commerce is an excellent choice. The free trial allows you to try it without risk.
Storenvy caters to what it calls “indie brands”-;the kind of business that sells on Etsy and similar places. A couple of years ago when we needed to set up a storefront to sell a small number of items, we chose Storenvy because:
(a) It was free to set up the store. There are no monthly fees or listing fees. You can set up a store risk free and can have a storefront and pay only transaction changes.
(b) It was just so simple to set up a store.
Another advantage of Storenvy is that it offers its own marketplace. So if you want greater exposure to new customers, your products can be seen in the online Storenvy marketplace.
Yahoo Stores was one of the first hosted store applications on the Web. Yahoo sold its small business stores to Aabaco, a spinoff of Yahoo’s Alibaba stake, in 2015. I include this one with a proviso. On the one hand, Yahoo/Aabaco is popular and covers a large number of existing stores, given its early mover position. But judging from online comments as I write this, there appear to be some hiccups in the transition from Yahoo to the new Aabaco. That may be a temporary condition that resolves itself once the high volume of transition activity works its way through. Take a look, but it would be wise to talk with a few existing business owners who have Aabaco stores to make sure the issues have been corrected.