This section provides free and low-cost resources for small businesses interested in launching an e-commerce website. E-commerce has become an increasingly relevant mode of selling goods. Many e-commerce site-building options are currently available, and reflect the varied needs of different sectors and businesses.
Although this page will focus specifically on tools to help you build an e-commerce website, it is important to know that online selling goes hand-in-hand with digital marketing. Take a look at our Digital Marketing page to explore relevant concepts, such as Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Social Media Management, Email Marketing, and Analytics/Usability testing. Effective digital marketing practices will attract users to your site and boost interest in your products.
- Major E-commerce Options (Pros and Cons)
- Hosted Platforms
- Marketplace Sites
- E-commerce Ad-ons
- Open-Source E-Commerce Software
- Customer Support Software
- Other Useful Resources
Want to know more about e-commerce basics, or perhaps find detailed information about a specific aspect of e-commerce? Take a look at our curated selection of e-commerce books:
Hosted e-commerce platforms: Hosted platforms such as Shopify or Squarespace allow the user to set up an online shop using a pre-determined set of formatting options, with some (but limited) customization options. Users have less control over the look and feel of their site; however hosted platforms are a good option for those who do not want to create a site from scratch. These platforms often charge monthly fees.
- Marketplace sites: Sites such as eBay, Etsy and Amazon allow small businesses to sell their goods alongside other sellers in an online marketplace. Customization options are limited, however the benefit of marketplace sites is that they provide a built-in audience. Sites such as these tend to charge listing fees or percentage fees of sales.
- E-commerce ad-ons: Ad-ons require the seller to already have their own website. After creating a site, the user installs a plug-in (such as Woo Commerce on Wordpress sites) to create a shop on their website. Some ad-ons are free, whereas others require purchase.
- Social media: Selling goods through popular social media sites such as Facebook or Instagram is a viable option in today's e-commerce climate. Options vary depending on the platform, however major platforms have options to create "shoppable" posts and/or storefronts. This e-commerce method is generally free of cost.
- Creating your own e-commerce shop: This option allows for maximum control and customization, as well as maximum time and effort. Business owners who choose this option must set up their own website hosting and domain, and build the shop elements of the site themselves. Alternatively, they may choose to hire a web developer to do this work. This option has associated costs.
- Big Cartel: This option caters to the needs of artists and creatives. Offers a tiered pricing plan, with prices based on the number of items being sold.
- BigCommerce: One of the most popular major hosted platforms. Has built-in features such as SEO control, and is focused towards small businesses.
- Magento Commerce: The hosted option available from Magento is called Magento Commerce. Pricing options exist for small businesses. Magento is known for being scalable, and can handle large amounts of traffic.
- Shift4Shop: Formerly known as 3DCart, Shift4Shop is known for its scalability. Offers both free and paid plans.
- Shopify: One of the most popular hosted platform options. Shopify offers a tiered pricing plan as well as some built-in digital marketing tools.
- Square Online: A cost-effective option for those with smaller shops. No monthly fees—instead, users pay a percentage of each sale.
- Squarespace: This platform offers website templates with modern designs, as well as integrated social media support. Pricing plans are tiered.
- Weebly: This site-builder with e-commerce capabilities offers a free option as well as several paid options.
- Wix: Offers tiered pricing plan options, and is known for being an affordable option. Easy to set up and use.
- Amazon: One of the most popular marketplaces in the world. Offers 1st-party and 3rd-party options; fees vary depending on pricing plan.
- Bonanza: Although not as recognizable as its counterparts, Bonanza is known as a popular and less costly option for sellers.
- depop: A relatively new marketplace site with a focus on fashion retail. Charges a percentage of fees.
- eBay: eBay allows both auction and fixed-price selling options. Offers plans for individuals or businesses, and charges monthly fees, listing fees and a percentage of sales.
- Etsy: A popular choice for creatives and artists. Charges listing and transaction fees, and offers additional tools for a monthly fee.
- Facebook Marketplace: Fully integrated into Facebook’s social media platform. This option is comparable to Craigslist, as sellers cannot actually sell items through the platform. Does not charge fees.
- fruugo: Offers support for those focused on entering the global marketplace. Charges a percentage of sales.
- SPUD Marketplace: An relatively new option for specialty food vendors in select Canadian cities. Offers home-delivery of items.
- Vendio: This option differs from the rest in that it helps vendors manage cross-platform selling from one central platform. A good option for those who plan to sell on multiple marketplace sites.
- BigCommerce Plugin: Available for Wordpress sites, this option from BigCommerce offers a tiered pricing plan.
- Ecwid: Available as a plugin for a variety of website platforms. Offers tiered pricing plans, including a free plan.
- Woo Commerce: This option is available as a free plug-in for Wordpress sites. Customizable and open-source, with additional features available for a price.
- WP Shopify: Another option for those with a Wordpress site. This plugin from Shopify is open-source, however a paid Pro version with additional features is also available.
- nopCommerce: Offers one-click download options for those without much programming experience. Experienced programmers have the option to download a version with the source code, which allows for unlimited customization.
- Magento Open Source: The open-source version of Magento. This option is quite popular, and offers extensive features. Requires some developer knowledge.
- OpenCart: This is a well-known and easy to use open-source software. Fewer customization options, and offers additional features for a fee.
- PrestaShop: This option is geared towards smaller businesses, and offers an array of well-designed templates. Additional features are offered for a fee.
- Freshdesk: A popular ticket-based customer support option for small businesses. Freshdesk offers a free trial, followed by a tiered pricing plan.
- Helloify: A relatively simple customer support option. Allows customers to live-chat with your team. Requires monthly payments.
- Hubspot Service Hub: This option offers a ticket-based system, live-chat, and the ability to create a searchable Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page for simple inquiries. Offers a tiered pricing plan, and includes a free option.
- Salesforce Service Cloud: Offers a tiered pricing plan, with the lowest tier catering to the needs of small businesses. In addition to ticketing and FAQ searchability, Salesforce offers an AI-powered chatbot.
- Zendesk: This option offers a wide variety of pricing plans, with an integrated ticket-based system that consolidates inquiries across platforms.
- Unbxd: An AI-powered product discovery software.
- OptiMonk: An “onsite journey optimization platform” aimed at increasing sales.
- Wunderkind: A one-to-one marketing platform for e-commerce sites.
- CrashPlan: Provides cloud backup for small business e-commerce data.
- SearchSpring: Site-searching and site navigation tools to personalize e-commerce experiences.
Launch Online BC- A BC-specific grant program aimed at helping small and medium-sized businesses move their business models online.
- Campbell, A. (2019, December 19). 5 ways to start selling online. U.S. Small Business Administration. https://www.sba.gov/blog/5-ways-start-selling-online
- Sabanoglu, T. (2020, November 30). Retail e-commerce sales worldwide from 2014 to 2023. Statista. https://www-statista-com.ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/topics/871/online-shopping/
- Warnimont, J. (2021, January 6). 20 best open source and free ecommerce platforms for 2021. Ecommerce Platforms. https://ecommerce-platforms.com/articles/open-source-ecommerce-platforms