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August 5, 2020

Small Business E-Commerce on a Budget in 2020

I recently reviewed some of the most popular e-commerce platforms with the goal of narrowing down the most affordable and easiest to use options for a small business owner. After spending an entire day perusing e-commerce sites, comparing plans, and creating fictitious stores to test functionality, I have narrowed them down to what I think are the best choices.

First, let's clear up the difference between fee structures and subscription prices.

Platform Subscription

It's important to note that outside of the few free plans available any platform you decide to use will also have a monthly or yearly subscription in addition to payment process and/or transaction fees. Typically, you can save a few dollars a month or more if you decide to pay yearly. Subscription prices are mentioned in the recommendations below.

Payment Processing Fees

No matter which platform you choose you will have payment processing fees for every online sale. This is pretty straightforward. In order to sell online, you need to accept credit cards or banking information for payment. Stripe, Square and Paypal are some of the most well-known and largest payment processing companies. Standard processing rates are roughly 2.9% per transaction. Some platforms like Shopify lower the processing rates at higher subscription prices.

There are also few companies offering lower rates but I am not going to discuss those here. I didn’t find any of the lower rate options to provide an ease of installation for a small business owner with limited computing skills - which is the primary goal for most of my clients and this article.

Transaction Fees

Depending on which platform and payment processing company you choose, you could also end up paying transaction fees up to 3% on top of your payment processing fees. For example:

  • Squarespace charges a 3% transaction fee at the lower business subscription level.
  • Shopify charges from 0.5 - 2% transaction fees if you use an external payment processor such as Stripe or Paypal.
  • Webflow charges an additional 2% transaction fees at the lowest subscription level.

You can usually avoid transaction fees by using the native platform’s built-in payment processing system if they have one or by upgrading to a higher subscription plan.  

So, which platform is best for you? Here are a few suggestions to get the most bang for your buck and avoid costly transaction fees. Keep in mind that with every platform listed here you will still have payment processing fees of around 2.9% plus 30 cents per transaction unless otherwise noted.

Small Basic Online Store $0 - $12 per month

Weebly and Big Cartel are among the cheapest options for an online store and both have a free version. Of course, with less expensive options you shouldn’t expect too many features. But sometimes, less features also means they can be easier to use for someone with limited computing skills.

Weebly: Payment processor Square bought Weebly back in 2018 which means there are no added transaction fees if using Square for payment processing which is a huge bonus at such a low subscription price. For as little as $6/month you can have a store with a custom domain, unlimited products and no added fees but you will have square ads on your storefront. Upgrade to $12/month to remove all square ads and get a few added features like a shipping calculator and free domain for the first year. For what its worth, I built an online store for a friend a few years ago using Weebly and I found the process to be quite easy to do, it worked well and looked pretty good to boot. But see more in the next section re: its limitations.
Big Cartel is inexpensive as well but you are limited to 5 products on the free plan, and 50 products on the $10/month plan in addition to other feature limitations. Personally, I found Big Cartel underwhelming. But I do think the free plan is a good choice if you just want to get your feet wet selling a few products online before committing to a monthly subscription elsewhere and you won't have to deal with the addition of ads as you would on Weebly. Its also fairly easy to use as a storefront without worrying about more website-like features.
Final Decision: If you just want to try out selling online and have 5 products or less give Big Cartel a try. Otherwise, go with Weebly.

Small Online Store with Web pages $12 - $29 per month

If you need a small online store and want some additional website features Weebly, Wix or Squarespace are all viable options at this price range. Each has their pros and cons and I will list a few here:

Weebly: I find Weebly incredibly easy to use although I have seen reviews that state just the opposite. Weebly’s drag and drop builder is a mixed bag. I find the UI to be simple and easy to use, but the design options are extremely limited unless you edit the actual code. There are some really great apps you can use, but most of the really good ones are tied to a subscription driving up the price to be on par with better platforms. If you just need a basic website with some informational pages, and want to spend less than $20/month it’s a good choice but there are better alternatives once you get up to the $24 - $26 range.
Wix:  I have sort of a love/hate feeling for Wix. I really don’t like their UI at all. I find it to be visually cluttered and not intuitive at all. However, bear in mind that I also found Weebly’s UI to be easy to use where others haven’t. With that said, as much as I don’t like using Wix, they really do have one of the best options for an online store at this price range. In addition, Wix is actually the only store I found that allowed me to limit the quantity of a digital product for sale to a single purchase – which is really important for custom digital designs that you can or want to only sell once to one person.  
Squarespace: Squarespace is a solid drag and drop website builder with some really beautiful templates that also offers moderate customization. At that time of this posting Squarespace has a $26 a month plan with no added transaction fees. While you can get the same pricing on Weebly and Wix, Squarespace is a bit easier to customize in my opinion and has better starting templates.  
Final Decision. If you need to sell digital products go with Wix. If you just have physical products and want a beautiful template to start with go with Squarespace. If you're really concerned about the monthly subscription price and need to be under $20 Weebly will work too.

Medium to Large Online Store Only: $29 - $79 per month

If you just need an online storefront and really aren’t concerned with customizable website features Shopify is hard to beat. This is what Shopify was made for and they do it well. They even have some of the lowest transaction fees at the higher subscription levels. The only problem I have with Shopify is they charge $15 for every chargeback. That’s pretty steep if you're selling low-cost items. However, the pricing can begin to rise if you need to add on plug-ins for things like selling digital products.

Large Website and Online Store with Customization $79 and up per month

If you fall into this category your probably not looking for the cheapest options and are most likely going to need some help in setting up your website and online store. While Webflow is newer to the e-commerce game, and is a bit more expensive than other platforms, the level of customization and content management system makes it a great option if you need both a large website and an integrated online store. Webflow is on another level and really can't be compared to these other builders when it comes to content management and design options.

At Arctype Creative Design we can help you get started with any of these e-commerce platforms for your small business. Start your e-commerce store with us today.