Every business is different so when it comes to choosing the best platform for an online store, there’s no standard answer. The stage of your business, your marketing budget, and future plans could all impact which platform makes the most sense. And there are more than just these four e-commerce platforms – we just chose the four that best represent their respective categories.
Etsy is a platform geared towards handmade items, clothing, crafts, housewares, and items along those lines. If you’ve ever been to a craft show or farmer’s market, consider it a virtual version (minus the food). To list an item on Etsy, you simply create an account and then add listings. There is a small fee per listing and you can pay extra to boost your listing (you can run ad campaigns like you can on social media and Google search). Etsy also takes a small percentage of each transaction to cover payment processing.
We’ve recommended Etsy for new businesses that are testing whether there’s interest in their products. Again, Etsy doesn’t allow all products –you can’t sell electronics, for example – so be sure your products qualify. For under $20, you can list dozens of SKUs to gauge interest. This is ideal for businesses with little to no marketing budget.
The downside to Etsy is that you’re extremely limited on their platform. You’re promoting their brand (and URL) rather than your own and are subject to their rules (and any changes). If for some reason your account gets suspended, you’re out of luck. So we recommend Etsy for two uses. The first is to test the waters, as mentioned above. The second is to use it to generate customers that you can redirect to your own website and email list where you have more control.
Etsy isn’t the only game in town and your product might be a better fit for a similar service.
Amazon is the world’s largest retailer. The model for selling and promoting your products on Amazon is like Etsy, except more complex. You start by creating an account and choosing whether to sell as an individual or a professional. The former has a per-listing fee whereas the latter plan has a monthly fee. There are also other fees such as shipping, seller fees, and FBA (Fulfilled By Amazon) fees. So as you can see, it’s similar yet more complex than Etsy. However, you can sell practically any product. And yes, you can use paid ads to boost your listing.
Our strategy for Amazon is similar to Etsy in the sense that it’s a great way to test whether there’s a market for a product. Also, if your product does well on Amazon, we recommend continuing to use it to attract new customers to bring over to your website and email list. Like Etsy, Amazon has rules you have to follow, fees, and limitations. It’s intended to be more of a kiosk in the mall rather than a full-fledged store. It doesn’t mean you can’t make a comfortable living selling on Amazon (many sellers do), but the model may not align with your future plans for your business.
If you’re wondering why anyone would not want to just use Amazon for their store, then look no further than the “Discover Similar Items” on any product listing. There’s nothing like taking the time to create the perfect listing and seeing an ad for your competitor’s product on your listing page.
We rarely recommend Shopify due to its limitations. But it’s the most common of the Software as a Service (SaaS) website solutions for online stores. Shopify is a DIY website builder with a user-friendly interface that allows you to quickly create an online store. Shopify sites have monthly fees and also give you the ability to purchase add-ons. Some add-ons may require a more expensive plan, so make sure you understand what you’re getting yourself into if you’re building your site yourself.
We only recommend Shopify when you don’t have the budget to get help and platforms like Amazon are not an option. Think of it as either a starter home or the used car that you drive right after you get your license. It’ll give you a URL to start getting authority for until you outgrow the shop or your needs change. And it’s exponentially better than using your Facebook page as the home base for your business.
If you’re just listing products and don’t need features like integrations with your CRM and payment processor, then a Shopify site might work for you. If you have a complex store (multiple variants), you may run into its limitations.
Aside from the situations listed above, this is the platform we recommend but it’s not without its downsides. WordPress needs to be maintained and while the editor has improved significantly in recent years, setting up an online store usually requires help. Many people that consider themselves WordPress web designers won’t even attempt to create an online store. But the good news is that once everything is set up, it’s relatively easy to maintain it and make it edits on your own.
WordPress is the most extensible website platform. It can do things that you can’t do in Shopify such as having over 100 variants (which can be an issue with customizable variety packs), displaying your YouTube channel within your site, or displaying your site in multiple languages. Want to allow customers to name their own price (perhaps for a donation or tip)? WordPress can do it. WordPress grows with you. So you could start out with a basic store and then add on as your business grows. And while many people will say that WordPress is difficult to learn, it’s actually not true. We’ve trained hundreds of people since 2008 on how to build and maintain their WordPress sites. And many of these people are not very technical.
You need to factor in the stage that your business is in along with your budget to find the right e-commerce platform for your business. If you’re trying to figure out whether there’s a market for your unique products, then start with Etsy or Amazon. Keep in mind that there’s no easy way to copy listings between the different platforms so if you can start WordPress, then we recommend you do. If you have only a handful of products and no budget, a Shopify site might be the appropriate choice. If you’d like to discuss and get our input, we’d love to have a complimentary consultation with you to help point you in the right direction.