Not that long ago, setting up a business selling products online was an expensive exercise and a considerable commitment.
You’d certainly need a web developer, and you’d need to put a lot of thought into your back-office systems. You’d need ways to effectively track payments, manage stock, and keep on top of the fulfilment of your orders. The cost of entry was high.
Thankfully that’s no longer the case.
There’s now a wide range of inexpensive eCommerce platforms out there. Many are easy to use and set up, allowing you to launch an eCommerce business with a small budget and no specialist technical skills.
In some cases, it gets little more complicated than uploading photographs of your products and setting prices. If you can competently use Facebook, you will work out how to use some of these systems!
In this detailed guide, we run through the 7 best eCommerce platforms for the UK market specifically. Some of the solutions here start from as little as £13 per month. One is actually free, although you will need to budget for a website and a few other costs.
We begin by looking at the platforms individually, before moving onto some specific recommendations for particular scenarios. It’s well worth reading through these to see which system might best fit your own circumstances.
We then follow up with lots of valuable tips and FAQs.
Whether you’re making products of your own, reselling, or even sourcing products for drop-shopping, there’s are solutions here you can build a thriving business around. So let’s get started.
What are the Best eCommerce Platforms for the UK?
1. Wix eCommerce
Established in 2006, Wix is well-known as an easy-to-use website builder. With over 180 million users, it’s almost certain you’ve used plenty of Wix sites before, and perhaps built one yourself. Thanks to Wix’s free pricing tier, many entrepreneurs use Wix to build their first ever website.
What’s perhaps less well known is that Wix also offers a fully-featured (and competitively priced) eCommerce platform.
Wix eCommerce certainly ticks the “ease-of-use” box. You can run your entire eCommerce business with this platform alone. There are over 500 online store templates to choose from, and – pleasingly – they don’t all look the same.
Just because Wix is an easy-to-use platform, it doesn’t mean it’s not scalable. If the Wix brand name makes you first think of a simple website builder, you can be reassured that their enterprise level clients include Hilton, DHL and Lyft.
- A wide choice of attractive site designs, with simple setup.
- Dropshipping integration in partnership with Modalyst.
- A solid range of payment and delivery integration options.
- Plenty of included bells and whistles, including social media functionality, a logo maker and an invoice generator.
- Fairly basic inventory management.
- Back-end control panels can slow down if you have a particularly extensive product range.
You can get started with Wix eCommerce for as little at £13 per month for the “Business Basic” tier. The “Business Unlimited” and “Business VIP” packages (£16/month and £22/month respectively) add on features like additional storage space, professional logos and priority access to support.
Wix has a separate enterprise division should you be fortunate enough to outgrow these packages.
Shopify is probably the most well-known name in small business eCommerce. Over one million businesses use the platform.
Shopify is a very approachable solution, but the learning curve is steeper than you’ll find with Wix. This is primarily because of the wide range of bolt-on apps and integrations you can use with Shopify. It has its own app store with over 4000 apps.
If you decide on Shopify as your eCommerce platform, you have two options: One is to use Shopify to do everything, including building and hosting your website. Alternatively, if you already have an active website, you can choose to integrate Shopify Lite (from US$9 per month), and use Shopify to add store functionality.
Even the most basic Shopify package includes the ability to run a bricks and mortar (or pop-up) store, in addition to your online eCommerce business. There are various Point of Sale (POS) options, including Shopify POS Lite, which allows you to take in-person payments.
- A very popular platform with many users, making it easy to find support and best-practice advice.
- 14 day free trial.
- A vast selection of integrations, from print-on-demand (POD) services to email marketing solutions.
- Centralised inventory management for both online and in-person selling.
- Integration with social media platforms and Google Ads.
- Transaction fees – if you use third-party payment processors, Shopify also takes a transaction fee.
- Shopify’s blog functionality has some limitations if you decide to use Shopify for your main website.
Shopify’s pricing is in US Dollars, but don’t worry – thousands of UK eCommerce stores use the platform. The “Basic Shopify” package costs $29 per month, and includes support for unlimited products.
As you step up the tiers to “Shopify” ($79 per month) and “Advanced Shopify” ($299 per month), you gain additional features and also pay lower transaction fees for card payments.
BigCommerce offers eCommerce solutions for businesses of all sizes, with both “Essentials” packages for SMEs, and larger, bespoke options for enterprise-level businesses.
BigCommerce is another eCommerce platform that offers everything you need to run your business, from the website to the payment processing. It also integrates with eBay, Amazon and other sites, so you can branch out into other platforms and maximise sales.
In-store options are supported too, via integrations with well-known platforms. These include Square, Vend and Clover.
Inventory management is included, and there are plugins for various dropshipping and delivery firms. These include Royal Mail Click and Drop, which will be of particular interest to UK businesses.
- 15 day free trial.
- Integration with Facebook, Instagram and Google Shopping.
- BigCommerce mobile app to manage your store on the move.
- Plenty of payment options including Apple Pay, Amazon Pay and Google Pay.
- Built in functionality for customers to leave Google Reviews for your business (on “Plus” and “Pro” packages).
- A steeper learning curve than some platforms.
- Plenty of functionality and support for the UK market, but a US focus is apparent with some of the plug-ins.
BigCommerce tiers its “Essentials” pricing based on the level of sales going through the platform, with the cheapest “Standard” package supporting sales of up to US$50k per year.
That package costs $29.95 per month, with the next, “Plus,” costing $79.95 per month. This supports sales of up to $180k annually. “Pro” at $299.95 per month is suitable for up to $400k per year and bolts on some extra features, primarily around advanced customisation and API access.
All of the prices above are for based on monthly payment. The “Plus” and “Pro” tiers come with a 10% discount for those choosing to pay annually.
WooCommerce is a very different proposition to the eCommerce platforms we’ve looked at so far. It’s an open source solution, so it’s starting price is free – in theory.
We say “in theory” because you’ll still need to find the budget for some things, such as payment processing and the website you use WooCommerce on. These are things that come with the “all in” price with most other solutions.
WooCommerce is built on the WordPress platform, and it designed to sit on top of WordPress sites to add online store functionality. Many WordPress themes are “WooCommerce ready,” allowing for relatively simple integration.
If you’re already familiar with WordPress, you could find that upgrading your knowledge to also understand WooCommerce to be quite an easy process. On the other hand, it may seem rather intimidating if you already find WordPress hard to work with,
Regardless of this rather different approach, WooCommerce is no less capable than the other systems discussed here. There are lots of extensions, both free and commercial, that allow you to bolt on extra functionality. This ranges from PayPal and Stripe payment integration to Amazon FBA support and linking to Facebook.
- The only open source product here.
- Highly configurable thanks to extensions and plugins.
- Readily available community support, and compatibility with a wide selection of WordPress themes.
- Built-in support for 24 languages if you wish to sell globally.
- Not a “one stop shop” – requires you to choose you own solutions for payments etc.
- Quite a complex setup procedure compared to other platforms.
WooCommerce itself is open source, so you need to calculate what your required bolt-ons will cost. For example, if you decide to use PayPal as a payment gateway, you’ll have to allow for their fees.
If you don’t already have a WordPress site, you’ll need to allow for the cost of establishing that too. However, if you already have one, layering WooCommerce on top may be an tempting proposition.
EKM is a UK-based eCommerce platform with a glowing reputation. The Trustpilot scores speak for themselves, with a 4.8-star average rating at the time of writing.
Established in 2002, EKM powers brand names such as Oxfam, Chico and BAE. But there are solutions on offer for much smaller businesses, with prices starting at £32.49+VAT per month.
EKM offers an all-in-one package, including the online store website itself. All you need is a business domain name to point to their systems.
EKM do a lot of “hand-holding” as you set up and run your eCommerce business – great if you feel you’d benefit from lots on ongoing support. Users of the entry-level package get a personalised on-boarding call. Those on higher tiers are assigned an account manager. There’s even a (chargeable) option for EKM to do the entire store setup for you.
- Free trial and generous money-back guarantee.
- Good add-ons for customer service, such as integrated Facebook chat and a landline number.
- No transaction fees.
- Free trials and generous money-back guarantees.
- Stellar customer support.
- Website themes are elegant but many look rather similar.
- Fewer add-ons and integrations than some platforms.
EKM’s pricing is competitive, but it’s well worth looking at the pricing table in detail. Features and turnover limits change notably on the different pricing tiers.
The “Basic” package for £32.49 plus VAT per month supports online sales of up to £50k per year. This is also limited to up to 500 products.
“Standard” at £64.99 plus VAT adds six months of account management and priority support, and is good for sales of up to £150k. Beyond this you have “Advanced” and “Pro” at £194.99 and £549.99 respectively, with higher limits and various other enhancements.
All of EKM’s pricing is on a monthly “no contract” basis with no long-term commitment.
Squarespace is a similar platform to Wix. Originally focussed on template-based drag and drop website building, the company added on eCommerce functionality in 2014.
Over one million websites run on Squarespace. The sites have distinct look, which is modern and minimalist. Squarespace is a particularly good choice if your product range meets that description. Squarespace designs lend themselves well to showcasing high-end, aspirational products.
Squarespace is relatively easy to use, although its website builder certainly isn’t short of options. Where options are rather more thin on the ground is in terms of plug-ins and integrations.
This doesn’t mean Squarespace doesn’t do everything a typical eCommerce platform needs to. It’s just that you don’t have a dozen options for how to do each part of it, as you have with some other solutions.
- Partnership with Square provides POS functionality for in-person sales.
- Includes appointment booking for selling services as well as products.
- Instagram integration.
- Unlimited products on both pricing tiers.
- A simple inventory management solution built in.
- If you don’t like the Squarespace “look,” it’s hard to avoid!
- Limited third-party integration options.
Squarespace offers one of the simplest pricing models here. Its eCommerce packages are a simple upgrade from its website offerings.
The “Basic” commerce package costs £24 per month. “Advanced” is £37 per month, and adds some more advanced features such as abandoned shopping cart recovery and more options for running promotions.
In both cases, you can save 13% by paying annually, reducing the costs to £20 and £30 per month respectively.
Lightspeed differs from the other solutions here, as it’s specifically intended to provide a POS system as well as an eCommerce solution.
This means it could be a great fit for you if you are building a bricks and mortar store that’s also an online shop. If your business is online only, you’d be better off choosing a different option.
Lightspeed’s USP is being “inventory-centric.” There’s a significant focus on inventory management, complete with discount functionality to help you shift any excess stock.
There are several integrations on offer, including those for payment providers like iZettle, and email marketing systems such as Mailchimp. However, Lightspeed’s add-ons list is smaller than some, with some big names conspicuously absent.
Lightspeed definitely offers a high-end experience that can be tailored to your needs. But do be aware that some add-ons can make the pricing seem a little more “bespoke.” For example, while store themes are varied and of a high quality, these are charged for separately on a monthly basis.
- Specifically designed to combine in-person Point of Sale with eCommerce.
- Great marketing and customer loyalty tools.
- Social media integration with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
- In-built SEO tools.
- Restricted choice of which platforms to use for add-on functionality.
- More expensive than most other options, with some features costing extra.
Lightspeed’s UK pricing starts at £69 per month (when billed annually), but that only includes POS functionality. The cheapest package including eCommerce is “Standard” at £99 per month.
“Advanced,” at £129 per month adds on the (strong) customer loyalty features. “Pro” at £199 adds advanced data analytics. Like many companies, Lightspeed charges slightly more for those choosing to pay monthly (or less for those paying annually, depending on how you look at it!)
eCommerce Systems: Specific Recommendations
Now you’ve seen all the options, let’s move onto some specific recommendations.
It’s worth emphasising at this point that every business is different. All of the platforms above are well renowned. As such, if a specific solution has stood out as particularly suitable for your business based on what we’ve said so far, it’s definitely worth adding it to your shortlist.
What is the Best eCommerce Platform for Small Business in the UK?
The best eCommerce platform for UK small businesses is Wix eCommerce. It’s a great all-rounder with a low cost-of-entry of just £13 per month.
Low cost doesn’t mean low functionality. Wix handles global deliveries, dropshipping and social media integration – everything you need for a modern online store.
You can also branch out into in-person sales thanks to POS integration with Square. However, if bricks and mortar sales are a more significant part of your business, it’s fair to say that one of the other solutions here could be a better fit.
What is the Best eCommerce Platform for SEO in the UK?
Wix eCommerce is the best eCommerce platform for SEO in the UK, thanks to Wix SEO Wiz.
Wix SEO Wiz is an easy to use, step-by-step system to help businesses ensure people find them on Google.
There’s no point in having a gorgeous online store if nobody visits it! Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) can feel like a secretive dark art, which is why SEO Wiz is such a breath of fresh air. It requires no specialist skill to use. You just need to know the phrases you’re targeting to pull people into your store.
It’s worth noting that several of the providers here work to include SEO functionality. However, it’s Wix that stands out for delivering it in the most approachable, easy-to-use format.
What is the Best Free eCommerce Platform in the UK?
There can only be one winner here: WooCommerce is the best FREE eCommerce platform for the UK – and beyond!
It’s important to note here that free doesn’t mean completely free. While the WooCommerce platform itself is open source and free of charge, you will need to think about things like payment processing and transaction fees.
As with many things in life, restricting yourself to a shoestring budget can result in you colliding with limitations. Remember, too, that WooCommerce sits on top of an existing WordPress website. It doesn’t include a website, as several of the other packages here do.
However, if you’re bootstrapping your business, are comfortable with the tech, and are happy to invest time instead of money, WooCommerce could be a great fit.
WooCommerce is also worth careful consideration if your website is already complete, and you just want to add some eCommerce functionality on top.
What is the Best eCommerce Platform for Dropshipping?
The best eCommerce platform for dropshipping is Shopify.
Many people run successful and lucrative eCommerce businesses without having to carry any stock. They don’t even have to worry about order fulfilment and postage. Instead, they market products that are directly dropshipped from their suppliers, often overseas.
Shopify wins the day here thanks to its extensive catalogue of plug-ins and integrations. Most notably, it links with Oberlo, a marketplace for import products. All you need to do is choose the products lines to feature, bring traffic to your store, and steadily build your business around dropshipping.
Key Questions About eCommerce
What are eCommerce Platforms?
eCommerce platforms join together all the key functions you need to run an online store. Fundamentally this means:
- The ability to list, describe and showcase products on a website.
- Shopping cart facilities.
- Payment processing.
These are the absolute basics. Most eCommerce platforms tend to do much more, such as:
- Helping you with managing your inventory and stock levels.
- Providing facilities for promoting your store, such as via social media or email marketing.
- Assisting in managing your postage and delivery processes.
- Providing features to boost sales and build customer loyalty
Modern eCommerce platforms aim to provide a comprehensive solution for all aspects of running this kind of online business.
What are the Benefits of Using an eCommerce Platform?
There’s nothing to stop you from cobbling together all of the component parts of an online store. Early online retailers did just that, and some continue to “build from scratch” and use bespoke solutions.
However, there are some powerful reasons to stick to specialist platforms for endeavours of this kind:
Some online stores grow steadily. Others have a PR victory or list a “viral” product and suddenly go stratospheric
As you will have noticed in this guide, eCommerce solution providers tend of offer different “tiers” of service. These are designed to support different business sizes. Several providers base their pricing on your volume of sales.
This means that eCommerce platforms are used to dealing with all kinds of online stores, from boutique side-gig sites to those from well-known brand names.
Replicating this scalability with a bespoke store in near impossible. You risk either ending up with insufficient capacity to handle a boost in sales, or a vastly over-specified system that you may never need.
Professional eCommerce platforms always include some level of customer support. Some go much further and offer dedicated account management. This can mean you qualify for help that goes way beyond the technical basics. Some providers work actively to help you to promote and boost your online business.
If your online store becomes a significant source of income, which all solopreneurs surely hope, you’ll need to know you always have somebody to call on for help. Technical glitches and downtime can mean money instantly lost.
Social Media Integration
Nowadays, many of us discover enticing new products on the likes of Facebook and Instagram. In a time where in-store shopping has suddenly become less popular, this has become even more significant.
Yes, it’s possible to manage lots of social media accounts (and their related advertising) on a manual basis. But it makes far more sense to have everything linked together. eCommerce platforms are placing increasing focus on their social media functionality these days.
Built-in Marketing Tools
Social media isn’t the only kind of marketing out there. Via plug-ins, integrations and built-in features, eCommerce platforms typically provide lots of ways to market to both new and existing customers.
Integration with email marketing platforms like Mailchimp and ConvertKit is one widespread example. Repeat customers are bread and butter to many businesses, so it’s crucial to ensure that they always hear of your latest promotions.
Other interesting ideas include loyalty schemes, custom voucher codes and points-based systems. The best eCommerce platforms don’t just concentrate on facilitating sales – they help you pull the customers in too.
SEO Tool Integration
SEO is crucially important for ensuring people actually find your online store when they search for the kind of products you sell.
The begins with using the right keywords when listing your products, but spreads into all kinds of diverse topics. They range from boosting your page speed to optimising people’s mobile browsing experience.
The platforms here offer all kinds of different tools for SEO. We’ve already mentioned Wix’s SEO Wiz. As another example, there are over 100 different SEO add-ins in Shopify’s app store.
Tips for Using eCommerce Platforms
1. Focus on Mobile Users
The majority of people out there make purchases on their smartphones. In fact, the mobile share of the whole eCommerce market is hovering at around 50%. It’s anticipated that more than half the world’s eCommerce spend will go through mobile devices by 2010.
So even if you’re “old school” and prefer to do your online shopping on a laptop or desktop, be aware that that’s no longer how the majority feel.
When you’re building your store and assessing how everything looks, you should concentrate at least as much on the mobile experience.
2. Make your eCommerce Store Look Appealing
It’s an obvious point, but first impressions are crucially important for an eCommerce store. Customers have a LOT of retailers to choose from, and your store that has to do the selling itself with no human intervention (except perhaps a live chat window!)
As well as the overall design, think about really strong product shots, with good detail and perfect lighting. If this isn’t something you excel at, it’s likely to pay dividends if you buy in some professional expertise.
3. Think About Site Navigation
You can probably think of some examples of websites that are a chore to navigate.
Don’t be one of those sites!
It’s crucial to get in the mindset of a potential customer. This can be easier said than done when you know your range inside-out and know where to find everything.
It’s wise to enlist the help of some testers who will be honest with you. Perhaps start with your most blunt and critical friends. Once you get more established, it could be worth using a professional user testing service.
4. Track your Data and Analytics
All eCommerce platforms provide some level of data analytics. Some introduce advanced analytics on their more premium pricing tiers.
As a general rule, the more data you have, the better. You can find out which products are grabbing people’s attention and which are leaving them cold. You can look at which pages of your site kick off a long browsing session and which send people straight for the “back” button.
Big-name retailers invest a huge amount of time and effort in understanding what makes their customers tick. The more skilled you become at analysing your analytics, the more you’ll be able to compete.
5. Provide Great Customer Service and Live Chat Options
Customers remember the level of service businesses give them. They talk about it too, especially if it’s bad.
eCommerce platforms build in various features to help you deliver good service to your customers. Some include live chat, for example.
The technology here is only a small part of the puzzle, however. Ultimately your store’s customer care will be down to the processes your build and how well you adhere to them. Don’t neglect this key detail, or assume that the right combination of features excuses you from getting the basics right.
How to Choose an eCommerce Platform
As you know, we’ve already made some specific recommendations above. However, it’s worth emphasising again that everyone’s requirements are different.
All of these eCommerce platforms have plenty of strong points. We’ve also been honest about the most glaring downsides of each. This probably means you’ve been able to quickly eliminate some. You’ll likely end up with a shortlist of two or three for your specific needs.
Have a look at the factors below to assist in getting even closer to the big decision.
Good website speed is one of the few search engine ranking factors that Google openly admits to. While SEO specialists can argue all day about the extent to which it matters, it’s indisputable that a slow website is a bad thing.
As such, it’s worth paying some attention to the kind of site speed you can expect. One idea is to seek out existing online stores using the platforms on your shortlist. Run them through online speed test tools such as Google PageSpeed Insights and GTMetrix.
You could take a look at how your closest competitors are performing on this metric too.
You’ll definitely want to look into the site uptime your chosen provider aims for. You should go beyond that and ask them what they achieve as well. There’s no point in promising 99.99% if recent issues mean they haven’t achieved it.
Note also that if your store brings in money 24/7, downtime means lost income. The difference between 99% and 99.99% are considerable if you extrapolate it over a year.
Apps and Plugin Options
Some of the eCommerce platforms here take distinctly different approaches to plug-ins and integrations. At one end of the scale you have systems like Wix and SquareSpace. These give you an easy-to-use platform but a relatively limited selection of ways to handle things like payment processing and dropshipping.
At the other end of the scale, systems like Shopify offer a mind-boggling array of choices and add-ins.
When you make your decision, it’s wise not just to consider what you need now, but also what you might need in the future. Moving from one platform to another once you’re established is a laborious process. So make sure you “future proof” around other things you hope to do as your business grows.
SEO is a huge topic. If you’re already well-versed in it, you may already have a clear strategy in mind. Perhaps you prefer to do your own thing when it comes to keywords and on-page optimisation.
Conversely, if SEO is a mystery to you, tools like Wix SEO Wiz can give you a solid foundation for your optimisation efforts.
Have a think about your plans for SEO. Are you doing it yourself? Do you plan to buy in specialist help? The answers to these questions could potentially sway you from one platform to another.
Marketing tools are another big consideration, and another where your needs will be particularly individual to you and your business.
Is social media a huge part of your strategy? Many online stores harness the power of Facebook and Instagram, with great success. If that’s part of your grand plan, you’ll want to find out exactly what each platform can offer you. Strong social media features could make a huge difference to your day-to-day admin.
On the other hand, if you’re operating in a more “traditional” marketplace, or selling specialist items, social media may not have such importance.
Pricing varies considerably between these tools. Again, it’s not all about where you are now. Where you plan to get to is key as well, so avoid the easy route of only comparing prices for each provider’s “entry level” package.
Some providers limit the number of products you can market on their cheapest package. Some base their tiers on your annual income. As such, it’s important to consider every element of the pricing structure, not just the headline price.
Ideally, your research (including reading this article) should mean that you arrive at the right eCommerce system for your business. Uploading all of your products and configuring everything is a significant and time consuming task.
However, money back guarantees are still well worth comparing. The security of knowing you won’t lose out financially if you change your mind is a worthwhile benefit.
As a side note, several of these platforms offer completely free trials – well worth a go just to get a basic feel of several systems.
eCommerce Platform FAQs
Is eCommerce Easy?
Starting an eCommerce store is easy. Winning in the marketplace and developing a thriving store is the challenging part.As discussed near the start, some of these platforms have an admirably shallow learning curve. If you can handle the basics of setting prices, uploading images and typing up descriptions, you’re well on your way.
But building a business takes more than that. A big part of that is using sales and marketing skills to actually drive people to your online store. There’s more to eCommerce than “build it and they will come.”
What is the Easiest eCommerce Platform?
Having looked in detail at many eCommerce platforms, we’d say the shallowest learning curve of all comes with Wix.
That said, even the more involved platforms like Shopify offer great support and documentation. If an alternative system seems more suited to your needs, it could be worth enduring a slightly more intimidating learning experience.
Is it Better to Sell on Amazon or an eCommerce Platform?
Many online sellers begin their journey by selling products on Amazon. The platform undoubtedly offers an easy route to putting products in front of millions of people.
However, it’s important to remember that selling on Amazon and selling via your own eCommerce store aren’t mutually exclusive. Even big names operate Amazon stores. It’s just another potential way of pulling in business.
There’s no single answer to this question. You can take an either/or approach, sell on Amazon before setting up your own store, or vice versa. Some eCommerce platforms actually make integrating the two approaches remarkably easy.
eCommerce is booming, and the low cost and ease of entry into this exciting world is incredibly enticing.
Whether you’re thinking of setting up a small product-based side gig, or have plans to be to next household-name fashion house, these platforms can help you do it.
Of course the key thing is getting started, so build your shortlist, try some of these platforms out, and decide which is the very best fit for your next money-making project.