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The Best Ecommerce Software of 2016

Under the supervision of ecommerce and marketing expert Ryan Draving, our research team spent 60 hours reviewing 25 of the most popular hosted ecommerce software solutions across 25 key features to rank the 10 best for small businesses in 2016. The top three ecommerce solutions for 2016 were Shopify, BigCommerce, and 3dcart.

 

Overview of Research

Our research team, along with ecommerce expert Ryan Draving, spent 60 hours researching and narrowing down over 300 actively-used hosted ecommerce solutions to a final group of 25 established software brands, and then used that research to evaluate each one across 25 key features selected for their importance to small business owners and their customers.

ryan
Ryan Draving

Marketing Consultant

Ryan Draving is a marketing and advertising consultant with a 20-year history of growing businesses and increasing ecommerce sales.

We determined the final ranking using a weighted methodology which consisted of those 25 key features categorized into four core metrics: Customer Experience (35%), Ease of Use (30%), Reputation (20%), and Growth Potential (15%).

Sort/filter by price, core metric scores, sub-metric scores, and more

The Best Ecommerce Software of 2016

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Abandoned Cart Recovery
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Coupon Code & Gift Certificate Functionality
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Shipping Integration
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Digital Product Delivery
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Drag and Drop Templates
Drag and Drop Templates
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External Store Integration (Ebay, Amazon, Google, Facebook)
24/7 Technical Support
24/7 Technical Support
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Methodology

Our expert

Our research was guided by Ryan Draving, an expert in ecommerce sales and marketing. As the CEO of Referable.com and a partner at Muhlenhaupt & Co, Ryan has consulted both Fortune 500 companies and Silicon Valley startups on how to accelerate their business growth and increase sales.

How we selected our test group

The first step in determining which ecommerce solutions to rank was the decision to only focus on hosted software solutions. Open-source, on-site software solutions offer more customization and opportunity for larger, enterprise-level business, but they also require a high degree of technical knowledge and coding ability to set-up, incorporate, and maintain. However, the purpose of this ranking is to find the best software for small businesses. Hosted solutions tend to eliminate those technical aspects by offering simple template-based designs as well as handling all of the details like security, system updates, and hosting the store on their servers (hence the name). They make it simple to get a store up and running quickly. Ideally, a small business will grow beyond the limitations of a hosted ecommerce solution, but they are a great place to start, and many can capably handle the load of larger, growing operation.

There are well over 300 hosted ecommerce solutions actively used by businesses today. In order to narrow that number down, we went straight to the market itself. Using information gathered from Builtwith.com, we determined exactly which hosted ecommerce platforms are currently in use by stores ranking in the top percentile of all websites. There are plenty of solutions that power a large number of stores online, but if those stores aren’t ranking with visitors, chances are that they aren’t doing much business either. We only want to recommend hosted solutions that will give small business the best chance at success. Therefore, we eliminated those that didn’t have significant representation in at least the top million websites, with much more emphasis placed on those ranking in the top 10,000.

This left us with the following 25 hosted ecommerce software solutions to rank:

  • 1Shoppingcart
  • 3dcart
  • Avactis
  • Big Cartel
  • BigCommerce
  • CoreCommerce
  • ecwid
  • epages
  • fortune3
  • GoDaddy
  • Goodsie
  • LemonStand
  • Miva Merchant
  • Nexternal
  • PinnacleCart
  • Prestashop Cloud
  • Shopify
  • Sparkpay
  • Squarespace
  • Volusion
  • Webs
  • Weebly
  • Wix
  • Yahoo Store/Aabaco
  • Zoey

How we selected which data to use in our methodology

Our expert decided on 25 key features to grade each hosted ecommerce solution against. These features were selected from his professional experience, recommendations from published professional reviews, praises or complaints from aggregated customer reviews, and commonalities found in our initial research of the 25 final programs.

Those key features where then categorized as sub-metrics into four weighted core metrics.

Here is the breakdown:

Metric 1: Customer Experience (35% of final score)

  • Mobile-ready interface
  • Number of payment options/gateways
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Coupon codes/sales/gift certificate functionality
  • Shipping integration
  • Digital product delivery

Metric 2: Ease of Use (30% of final score)

  • Skill level required for set-up/customization
  • Drag-and-drop/template functionality
  • Custom domain names
  • Ebay/Amazon/Facebook/Google store integration
  • 24/7 technical support

Metric 3: Reputation (20% of final score)

  • Active stores in the top 10k of all websites
  • Active stores in the top 100k of all websites
  • Active stores in the top one million of all websites
  • Average user review score

Metric 4: Growth Potential (15% of final score)

  • Maximum bandwidth – base tier
  • Maximum bandwidth – premium tier (if applicable)
  • Maximum storage – base tier
  • Maximum storage – premium tier (if applicable)
  • Maximum number of products – base tier
  • Maximum number of products – premium tier (if applicable)
  • Analytics support
  • SEO optimization
  • Social media integration
  • In-store transaction functionality

With the exception of the active store numbers and user reviews, all information was sourced directly from each company website, either from their product descriptions or a direct inquiry.

How we scored our methodology

After categorizing each sub-metric into their core metrics, we assigned each one a score of 1-10 for each product ranked every state across all sub-metrics. The final core metric score was then average from the sub-metric totals.

For example, our #2 overall program, BigCommerce, ranked 3rd in Ease of Use with a score of 8.8. That core metric is made up of five sub-metrics.

Here’s how BigCommerce scored for each:

  • Skill level required: 8/10
  • Drag-and-drop/template functionality – 10/10
  • Custom domain names: 10/10
  • Ebay/Amazon/Facebook/Google store integration: 8/10
  • 24/7 technical support: 10/10

Finally, we took each software’s core metric scores, applied the weights (as described in the previous breakdown), and calculated the final ranking.

Understanding Ecommerce Software Features

Which features matter and why?

1. Customer Experience back to metric

Very Important

35.00% of our methodology score

The old adage “the customer is always right” exists for a reason. A businesses sole purpose is to cater to its clients. The customer has already been drawn to a store for their products. But if they don’t find the features they want, or have a bad transaction experience, they won’t return. Businesses can’t survive without repeat customers. For that reason, our expert chose this as our most important core metric.

Every hosted ecommerce software solution has basic shopping cart, check-out, and payment functionality. So rather than evaluate those basics, we opted to focus on other features that add to the shopping experience and ensure repeat business. The best programs came with features like mobile-ready interfaces, ensuring that customers could shop a store anytime on any device. They also had coupon capabilities, as discounts are always a great way to entice new and repeat business.

We also paid special attention to a key sub-metric that benefits both the customer and the business owner: abandoned cart recovery. If a customer fails to complete a transaction, some programs monitor that abandoned cart and either send the seller a report or an email to the customer reminding them of the unfinished transaction. If the customer opts to return to complete the check-out, all of the items are saved in the cart, creating more convenient experience for the customer and saving a lost sale for the seller.

Highest Scoring Software in Customer Experience
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2. Ease of Use back to metric

Very Important

30.00% of our methodology score

We approached these rankings with the mindset that most small business owners have a product or service that is their passion, and they want to get it into the marketplace as quickly as possible. Most likely, their strengths lie more in commerce and innovation than in computer coding and developing. Our ease of use metric refers to the overall simplicity of the software, not in capabilities, but in initial set-up, customization, and maintenance.

We graded each program on how much design and customization was possible with little to no experience in design or development. This includes how quickly a seller can go from sign up to store launch, the ability to easily integrate their stores into alternate platforms like Ebay or Amazon, and the availability and quality of technical support.

Important caveats and notes: Some of these programs had limited drag-and-drop capabilities or template options. In some cases, their offerings were enough to meet our thresholds of easy set-up and launch, but any further customization required those technical or design skills that not every small business owner possesses. However, in many of those cases, the software company did offer the services of professional designers to assist. Those services come with additional fees, which did reflect negatively on our grading.

Highest Scoring Software in Ease of Use
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3. Reputation back to metric

Important

20.00% of our methodology score

Small business owners understand the importance of word-of-mouth advertising and positive customer reviews. So, when it comes to software that facilitates commerce, it’s only fitting that one of the better places to examine its value is in the marketplace itself.

Our reputation metric examines both how well a program is represented on the internet and also how well it is reviewed by the business owners who use it. A top-ranked, successful website utilizing a specific ecommerce program is one of the best endorsements to be found in the crowded online marketplace. Higher priority was given to programs with active stores in the top tiers of the internet rankings. We also gave more weight to user reviews over professional product reviews in our research. Testimonials from actual small business owners is perhaps the most important of our sub-metrics.

Highest Scoring Software in Reputation
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4. Growth Potential back to metric

Somewhat Important

15.00% of our methodology score

While it’s not guaranteed, as they become more successful, many businesses will eventually grow beyond the constraints of a hosted ecommerce software and need to transition to an enterprise, on-site (self-hosted) solution.

The growth potential metric looks for a balance between a hosted software’s ability to accommodate a growing business as long as the seller needs it to, but also to provide the tools needed to accelerate that growth to the point that an enterprise-level solution is needed. In it, we examine things like bandwidth, storage, and product limits. We also grade on the search engine optimization, analytics support, and social media tools that help grow a customer base.

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Editor's Awards

Shopify has the most well-rounded suite of tools and features that small business owners need to start, maintain, and grow their online storefronts.

With a staggering number of active stores in the top ranked websites on the internet, Shopify is clearly the most popular choice among online sellers. There are nearly 6000 Shopify hosted stores in the top one million websites on the internet, with 89 of them being in the top 100,000.

Shopify has such a wide variety of selling options that it’s no surprise so many businesses use it. And for those not ready to commit to setting up and running an online storefront, Shopify even offers a Lite plan, which allows you to embed products and place a “Buy Button” on any pre-existing blog or website. There are also options for selling directly through Facebook and Twitter pages.

And though ecommerce is the major focus, Shopify also shines in its physical sales offerings. Through its POS (point of sale) system, those business owners who also have a physical storefront can seamlessly link their brick and mortar sales with their virtual sales. When a physical purchase is made through the POS system, the online inventory is automatically adjusted.

Shopify is the perfect hosted solution for small businesses looking to stake their claim in the online marketplace.

Drawbacks:

  • Shopify charges transaction fees for all payments processed through external gateways, as well as a minimum 2.4% + 30 cent rate for all credit card payments processed through their gateway.
  • Some of the most valuable features, like abandoned cart recovery, only come with the higher-tiered plans.

Ranking Results:

  • Customer Experience – 10/10
  • Ease of Use – 9.6/10
  • Reputation – 9.3/10
  • Growth Potential – 10/10



Coming in second place by the narrowest of margins, BigCommerce rivals all other ecommerce solutions on every front, and bests them on most.

With BigCommerce’s hosted ecommerce platform, small business owners are limited only by their own drive and potential as the software has all of the tools needed to grow any online business from a small money-making hobby into an online sales juggernaut. The landing page on its website boasts that it is the best platform for growing sales, and we found nothing in our research to dispute that claim.

According to research by Ipsos, (and provided by BigCommerce) sellers using their platform see a 28% growth every year, which is nearly twice the industry average. That statistic comes as no surprise as their nearly perfect marks in our customer experience metric, combined with their excellent SEO, analytics, and social media support make it simple to both maintain and grow a customer base.

They also received perfect marks from us in all of the growth potential sub-metrics. With their unlimited bandwidth, storage, and product listings, it is one of the few hosted solutions that sellers could potentially stay on long after they’ve grown to an enterprise-level business.

Drawbacks:

  • While there is unlimited storage and no limit on the amount of listed items, business are limited in the total dollar amount of sales they can process every year before having to move up to a more expensive plan: $50k for Standard, $125k for Plus, and $1m for Pro.
  • At $199.95 per month, BigCommerce does have one of the higher priced top-tier plans. However, their base plan costs $29.95 per month, which is about the average for comparable features.

Ranking Results:

  • Customer Experience – 9.7/10
  • Ease of Use – 8.8/10
  • Reputation – 9.3/10
  • Growth Potential – 10/10



With a quick and easy set-up, no transaction fees, and advanced features available at every plan level, 3dcart is one of the most attractive hosted software solutions for businesses of all sizes.

With so many ecommerce software solutions vying for business, many of them have adopted the same tools and features. Sometimes the different programs toward the top end of any ranking can start to look indistinguishable from the next in terms of functionality. However, the first place that 3dcart stands out is in the initial set-up. They have one of the highest offerings of customizable templates available at the offset. Many companies boast the amount of designs that 3dcart does, but upon closer inspection, it’s discovered that they have to either be purchased or downloaded later through add-on programs or apps. 3dcart offers a wide variety of completely customizable options right at the start. And if a seller does want a custom store build from scratch, 3dcart has a built-in marketplace where designers and developers offer their services.

Also, 3dcart doesn’t charge transaction fees. Many ecommerce solutions claim not to, but the fine print reveals fees for payments processed on any gateways other than their own. 3dcart doesn’t sneak them in anywhere. Less fees means more money in the seller’s pocket. And with Facebook, Ebay, and Amazon store integration, there’s potential for even more of that pocket money.

Depending on the specific business needs, 3dcart may be as attractive of an option for sellers as the top two stores on this ranking.

Drawbacks:

  • The number of products able to be listed are fairly limited on the lower-tiers, with an unlimited option only available on the most expensive plan.

Ranking Results:

  • Customer Experience – 10/10
  • Ease of Use – 10/10
  • Reputation – 7.4/10
  • Growth Potential – 8.4/10

Last Updated on April 15, 2016

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