Hello ✧˚ · .

A couple of years ago I wrote a 62-page paper for my thesis class and part of that paper included a section comparing a few of the most common website platforms in the context of online shops. With rising fees and costs on a few of the more common platforms like Etsy, I felt this information may be relevant again and also helpful to someone looking for alternatives. As someone who draws and uses a site for multiple things (portfolio, info, shop) and did a lot of research before going with my current platform, I wish someone had a basic guide like this haha

I will include a downloadable PDF version of this in the post…somewhere (I really don’t know where it will pop up lol)

Disclaimer: I’m not an expert or someone sponsored by any of these platforms. I have a little experience with some but not all. I tried to source as much of the information I gathered that wasn’t easily searchable or from my own experiences.

I will try to copy/paste or summarize most of the content from my document, but I may not do this for everything. I recommend you download the PDF.

Website Platforms

Presented by batsouppe

In a time where businesses can operate successfully solely online, they benefit from a strong online presence with a robust front and back end. Taking into consideration some sellers already have a shop online or are unable to sell in person as often due to personal reasons, this business should focus on strengthening their online shop. As the hub for their online presence, online businesses should highlight their brand’s greatest strengths and overall message. It should also provide an easy-to-navigate back-end system to expedite more tedious tasks.

WORDPRESS

An open-source Content Management System (CMS) that is free to use but requires users to host and manage the site themselves.

SQUARE

A simple online store solution meant to complement their robust POS system used in person. Little to no customization for the price.

SHOPIFY

A user-friendly e-commerce platform built for larger businesses. Not many built-in features and relies on apps.

BIG CARTEL

A simple yet robust online store platform for new small businesses or individuals just starting to sell their products.


WORDPRESS

What you save in money, you lose in sanity

WordPress is a Content Management System, or CMS, that offers users nearly complete control over their site (refer to the appendix section about CMS). Unlike the other options, WP itself is completely free, what you pay for is the host service, which keeps the website online and viewable, and your domain. This gives users flexibility when it comes to their budget since there are hundreds of website hosts available at various price points. What you save in money, you give up your own time in exchange. It is up to the owner to investigate problems in their site and fix them when they arise. In this section, we will break down the costs and benefits of migrating to WordPress.

Criteria Breakdown

By itself, WordPress does not have an automated tax option. But it can be accomplished with a plug-in. By itself, it does not have a complex inventory management system, but there exist multiple plug-ins that can meet the needs of users who want a more complex system. Most WordPress themes are one-time purchases ranging from $3 to $200+. A good value lies in the $60 range. A good site to find a customizable theme is through themeforest.net.1 Recommended site types to search for are Multi-Purpose and e-commerce. WordPress offers subcategory options but these can expand with the help of a plug-in. WordPress does not have its own POS system but there are third-party solutions that sync with WordPress.

Pros

  • Greatest variety of customization
  • Best value
  • Integrates with nearly any third-party app
  • Active community of developers and experts
  • Strong blog platform

Cons

  • Hosting prices can get expensive after the first 3 years
  • Have to manage and maintain domain and hosting subscriptions
  • Some plug-ins don’t update automatically and require manual updates
  • Most likely to break occasionally
  • Recommended prior knowledge and proficiency in WordPress

Conclusion

With all of its available options, WordPress has the most variable cost. Users can customize their back-end to be the cheapest or most efficient according to their needs. Tech-savvy users and users comfortable experimenting with third-party plug-ins can accomplish a lot with even the platform’s free features.

If you want something a little cheaper for inventory management, you can choose Katana, which can accomplish similar tasks as CraftyBase. However, its interface isn’t as well thought out and has a steeper learning curve.

WordPress’s edge over all other consumer-friendly platforms comes from its open-source system. Individuals and companies can create and provide plug-ins, themes, and support documentation for virtually any task imaginable on the platform. This gives users the flexibility to customize everything on their site if they wish. However, this brings an extra layer of complexity for the owner.3
In addition, you should expect an increase in hosting prices after the first few years with WordPress. You will have the freedom to select a hosting provider that offers you the best long-term deal. However, for some host providers like SiteGround, annual hosting prices can rise from around $36 a year to $204 a year. Cheaper hosts exist but you should take this into account for your decision.


SQUARE ONLINE

It’s giving no sauce tbh

Square is primarily a payment processor system geared toward brick-and-mortar stores, which gives it a unique edge over other platforms. As a site and online store platform, it brings its inventory and in-person selling integration features to the table that other platforms can’t.
If you decide to sell not only online but also pursue selling in person, whether at a permanent location or at seasonal shows, you would benefit from Square’s integrated platform. However, unlike its card processor platform, its site-specific features are complicated to navigate and require additional one-time and subscription purchases to access. In this section, we will break down the costs and benefits of migrating to Square.

Criteria Breakdown

By itself, Square Online does not have an automated tax option. But it can be accomplished with a plug-in. It does not have a complex inventory management system, but there exist multiple plug-ins that can meet the needs of users who want a more complex system. Square does not let users add or design their own custom theme and it offers subcategory options. Square has few customization options which makes it easy to set up and use.

Pros

  • Strong POS system for in person sales
  • Built in marketing
  • Short learning curve

Cons

  • Expensive and has fewer features
  • Limited customization
  • Punishes users who don’t use their payment gateway
  • Does not integrate with Pirate Ship

Conclusion

Square Online’s greatest and only advantage comes from its primary service; POS service. Most in-person sellers prefer to use Square, which makes it a reasonable conclusion for sellers also looking for an online platform as well. For sellers looking to integrate their online and in-person inventory seamlessly, Square provides a strong platform. However, they offer virtually no customization options for their users and some of the fewest add-ons.

“It’s virtually impossible to “mess up” when creating your online store with Square, and the setup process is really quick. You’ll be given a general layout to work with, which you can edit to include your company’s logo and your desired colors and fonts. You don’t need any prior technical knowledge to start selling on Square Online, but that being said, the trade-off is that customization options can be limited.” 2

However, Square offers the closest feature available to automatic sales tax.

“If you’re shipping across states, Square Online will automatically account for the taxes in both states. If you’re shipping within your own state, it recognizes this too, and you’ll only get the one rate.”2

Square Online can automatically calculate and collect a store’s sales tax, but it will not pay that tax on your behalf. It is up to the seller to manage and pay their sales tax.

In addition, Square tries to make it as hard as possible for sellers to use alternative payment services like Stripe or PayPal. Thankfully, Square’s card processing fees match Stripe’s, but if users need to use another method, Square will charge a transaction fee on every sale.

Square Online does have a free version which makes it very appealing to new businesses that don’t require much complexity. But you will be charged a higher transaction fee for each sale. And for the same price as Shopify’s basic plan with far fewer features and options, it makes Square Online a far less reasonable option

You should only choose Square if you plan to scale up your in-person selling and scale down your online platform. However, even then we can’t really recommend Square Online. Your colors and brand are incredibly important to your business and Square Online’s lack of customization would limit you in this area.


SHOPIFY

Expensive but good if you are head empty, no thoughts

Shopify is one of the most widely used platforms for more established online businesses. Most creative and non-technical users chose Shopify because of its short learning curve and provides automated features that make running a site easier. However, Shopify is recognized as one of the most expensive platforms on the market, with some of its coveted features blocked by a subscription paywall. In this section, we will break down the costs and benefits of migrating to Shopify.

Criteria Breakdown

By itself, Shopify does not have an automated tax option. But it can be accomplished with a plug-in. Shopify itself does not have a complex inventory management system, but there exist multiple plug-ins that can meet the needs of users who want a more complex system. Most Shopify themes are one-time purchases ranging from $3 to $200 USD. It offers customizable premium themes through its app store, but these can reach over $200+. A good value lies in the $60-$80 range. A good site to find a customizable theme is themeforest.net.1 (Recommended site types to search for are Multi-Purpose and e-commerce. Shopify does have its own POS system. Shopify has a short learning curve and users can utilize Shopify’s customer support service.

Pros

  • Easy to set up, shorter learning curve
  • Huge variety of apps and plug-ins
  • Better security & support
  • Supports 100 + payment options
  • Has built-in POS integration
  • Multi-platform selling

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Some features blocked by pay walls
  • Punishes users who don’t use their payment gateway

Conclusion

Shopify is the best option for business owners who either don’t have a lot of site experience or don’t have the time, but are OK paying a higher price. Unlike WordPress, Shopify offers some of the best customer support for its users. And for a web-hosted platform, they have one of the widest ranges for app and theme customization, right below WordPress.

“Shopify’s themes are professionally designed and look clean, stylish, and appealing. Each one also comes in a variety of different styles and color schemes, so you can always find the right tone for your brand.”2

While it has a more user-friendly back end, Shopify’s editor still takes some time to understand.

“You won’t get a site live in five minutes, but Shopify manages to combine powerful eCommerce tools with an easy-to-use editor. Shopify still packs a serious amount of power into its back end. However, it manages to make its editor smooth and simple to use.”2

While Shopify presents a lot of built-in features, it still lacks some basic features found in other platforms. As a result, you would likely need to find and install apps to meet your needs. This leads to the main issue with Shopify: their costs. With one of the highest plan prices, it’s hard to believe they can charge for more, but in reality, there are a lot more hidden costs with this platform. Since Shopify will require a lot of apps, their cost adds to the monthly fee. In addition, Shopify tries to make it as hard as possible for sellers to use alternative payment services like Stripe or PayPal. Thankfully, Shopify’s card processing fees match Stripe’s, but if users need to use another method, Shopify will charge a 2% transaction fee on every sale.

However, Shopify has an extensive range of SEO tools that will be more than satisfactory for most stores. It also has blog-specific SEO, although its blogging tools aren’t quite so impressive. For email marketing, you can choose between built-in tools or third-party apps. If you want to improve your site SEO, but don’t know where to begin and how to navigate it. Shopify would likely help you find success in this area.

While Shopify gives users more customization over their online store than other platforms, they place a premium on their services. However, while it is not the most cost-effective option, they built a platform aimed toward a user base that depends on ease of use and simplicity.


BIG CARTEL

You will probably outgrow this really fast

Big Cartel is perfect for a new business that is still learning the ropes. They help to streamline tasks that new entrants wouldn’t know how to accomplish on their own and offer additional subscription options that can expand with the business’s growth. But for larger businesses looking to expand their operations, Big Cartel’s simplified platform can become more of an obstacle rather than an asset. In this section, we will break down the costs and benefits of using Big Cartel.

Pros

  • Cheapest overall option
  • Automated taxes
  • Easy to use

Cons

  • Product and image limits
  • Few integrations
  • Limited customization
  • Doesn’t integrate with crafty base or other similar apps

Conclusion

Big Cartel offers excellent services for brand new and small businesses. However, larger businesses can no longer operate comfortably with this platform. You should only continue to use Big Cartel if you need a very cheap and simple option with automated taxes.
All three of our alternatives integrate with Tax Jar, which provides the same service, for a monthly fee. Giving up this free feature expands the customization and organization potential of your business.


PDF VERSION