How to Accept Online Payments With Square

When you are ready to start selling online, Square (read our review) offers a wide variety of options depending on your skill level and needs. For example, if time is of the essence or you don’t want to fuss with code, build a free online store from Square’s templates and get up and running by the end of the day.

Already have a site? Choose a plugin integration from the Square Dashboard that solves your problem — without the need for code.

But those aren’t all of your options. If you do have developer expertise, you can build your checkout flow with Square Transactions API and start accepting all major credit cards with digital wallet support, too.  Square Checkout is yet another developer option that requires less coding with a pre-built payment form and digital wallet support.

In this post, we’ll explore each path so that you can get the facts and navigate to the choices right for you. Before you know it, you’ll have launched your own online store and can move on to more exciting business matters.

Note: If you’re also curious about in-store payments, check out our related post, How To Use Square To Accept Credit Cards In Person.

Webstore Integrations Developers

Build Your Webstore Quickly & Easily

Integrate With Popular eCommerce Software

Developer-Friendly Tools For Customization

Get Started

Get Started

Get Started

Highlights:

  • No coding required
  • Free personalized URL
  • Premade customizable themes
  • No hosting fees
  • Manage from your Dashboard
  • Mobile-ready storefront
  • Integrate with your in-person store

Integrate with:

  • WooCommerce
  • BigCommerce
  • Ecwid
  • 3dcart
  • OpenCart
  • Zen Cart
  • Weebly
  • WordPress.com
  • Wix
  • +More

Highlights:

  • API for custom solutions
  • In-person solutions
  • Online solutions
  • Card reader SDK
  • Customer management solutions
  • PCI and EMV compliance
  • End-to-end encryption
  • Dispute management
  • Fraud detection

Instant Account Setup

Fast Funding

No Monthly Fees

2.90% + $0.30 for online sales

Instant Account Setup

Fast Funding

No Monthly Fees

2.90% + $0.30 for online sales

Instant Account Setup

Fast Funding

No Monthly Fees

2.90% + $0.30 for online sales

How Much Does Square Charge For Online Payments?

The cost question can be a very loaded one when it comes to payment processing. The great news is that Square offers a transparent pricing model.

To process credit cards online with Square, you’ll pay 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction. The significant thing to note is that this flat fee encompasses much more than is typical with traditional merchant accounts. For instance, you don’t need to worry about a payment gateway (and the expenses that go with it) when you process through Square. Read on below to learn the differences between Square and a traditional merchant account — and why they matter.

Traditional Merchant Account Vs. Square

Square’s hardware and services encompass an end-to-end processing system that captures payment information and encrypts it through the payment chain with no need for a separate payment gateway.

What this means for you is cost-savings compared to a traditional merchant account. You won’t be paying initial set-up fees, PCI compliance fees, monthly account fees, batch fees, or higher rates for processing cards like American Express. Square also doesn’t assess any chargeback fees and offers merchants up to $250/month in chargeback protection. All of this is a pretty big deal because Square spares business owners from the laundry list of itemized charges that can come with traditional merchant accounts.

So if Square isn’t a traditional merchant account, what is it? Square is a third party processor. This means that instead of opening a merchant account directly, you are basically a sub-user on Square’s giant merchant account, along with all of Square’s other customers. Square acts as a payment processor and also assumes the financial risk associated with your business to do so. The whole premise behind Square is that it makes setting up a shop very easy for the busy entrepreneur. In fact, you can get an account set up and running to take payment the very same day. The Square sign-up process doesn’t even require a credit check!

While you don’t need to jump through a lot of hoops to open up an account with Square (as you would working directly with a bank), Square is more apt to terminate or put a hold on an account if certain red flags are raised. While the overwhelming majority of businesses will never have a problem with an account hold, it can be disconcerting if it happens to you. Check out our post How to Avoid Merchant Account Holds, Freezes, and Terminations to find out more. Again, most merchants will likely never have to face this issue, but it helps to cover your bases.

Now that we have covered Square Payments as a third party processor and the cost of processing, let’s dig into Square’s offerings when it comes to going live and selling online.

Option 1: Build A Free Square Online Store

Square Store Template

As I said in the introduction, you can get a free Square store up and running today with no technical expertise needed. This whole process is powered by Square Payments and Weebly (read our review). After creating a Square account, you can go back into your dashboard and select “Online Store” in the menu. Then, Square leads you through the process of selecting the categories that most closely apply to your business. You’ll get a suggested template, but you can choose a different one if you fancy another one better. You can also add your logo, choose from limited fonts, and have some color choices, but overall the design freedom here is limited to the template itself.

Again, for being free, there isn’t much to complain about. A Square store is the simplest solution to get your shop up and running. All you need to do is add your products — your eCommerce shop syncs with Square POS and all of the other Square software and tools. Your inventory automatically updates when you sell an item, too.

One potential drawback to the freemium option, however, is that you are bound to the Weebly logo in your domain name and the footer of your website, and your shipping options are minimal. The screenshot below shows the shipping options available when setting up the free Square store with Weebly. Note that you must upgrade your Weebly plan to calculate real-time shipping rates:

Square Free Store Shipping Setup

If you want a bit more customization and dynamic shipping calculations (among other upgrades), you can purchase a domain and upgrade to a professional or premium account through Weebly.

Square Online Store Upgrade Options

Square and Weebly

The free online store option, although robust in its own way, limits you a bit. As you can see from above, for example, if your company relies heavily on shipping items with large size or weight ranges, it may be worth it to you to go to the Premium eCommerce plan for the real-time shipping rate calculator and accurate rates for UPS, FedEx, or other third party carriers.

The free store also has a 500 MB storage space limit, which could limit the number of photos on your site. The paid tiers give you a considerable upgrade with unlimited space, along with website analytics and insights.

As far as accepting payment goes, you can accept all major credit cards. Digital wallets like Apple Pay are not supported at this time, but I suspect they will be soon. For more about the pros and cons of this solution, check out our Square Online Store and eCommerce Review.

Option 2: Connect Square To An eCommerce Platform

Square eCommerce Apps

Whether you already have your site up and running or you are building your site from the ground up (or somewhere in between), you can probably find what you need in the Square App Marketplace. Square integrates with many eCommerce platforms, including:

  • 3dcart (read our review)
  • Wix (read our review)
  • BigCommerce (read our review)
  • WooCommerce (read our review)
  • Ecwid (read our review)

And of course — let’s not forget that Square also integrates with Weebly, as well as WordPress and WP EasyCart.

On the topic of app integrations and Square, it’s worth noting that Square can easily integrate with a range of different types of apps that you can shop for right from your dashboard. You can find everything from accounting to invoicing, employee management, loyalty and rewards, and marketing, to name a few. Pricing depends entirely on the apps themselves, but the Square App Marketplace is set up to compare costs easily.

All of Square’s basic eCommerce features integrate with these apps, so you’ll be able to enjoy the same payment processing rates, security protection, and inventory updates as you sell. Of course, each app platform has specific features and benefits, so the finished product (and look) varies depending on the integrated solution you choose. Check out The Best eCommerce Integrations That Work With Square Payments for our top picks!

Option 3: Build Your Own Checkout With Square APIs

If you already have your own site and you have developer expertise, then you have two more options thanks to Square API: Square Checkout and Transactions API. The most significant difference between the two is that Square Checkout is much closer to an out-of-the-box solution. With Square Checkout, Square is actually hosting the payment form, and the UI is already done for you. If you want more freedom in the checkout and payment UI and you want to host the payment form on your site with customized branding, you can opt for Square Transactions API.

Here is a handy side-by-side comparison chart to give you an overview of what you can expect with each solution. Note: All Square APIs and SDKs are free to use. As always, you pay only the payment processing fees.

Square Checkout Feature Square Transactions API
Yes Requires Developer Support Yes
No Can Customize Yes
Yes Square Hosted No (You host)
Yes Store Customer Data Yes (With integration)
No Card on File & Recurring Payments Yes (With integration)
Yes (Customer data
& itemization)
Detailed Dashboard Reports No (Transaction
amount only)
Recommended,
not required
SSL Needed Yes, with
separate integration
Yes Eligible for Chargeback Protection Yes (with conditions)
Yes Data Encryption Yes
Yes PCI Compliance Included Yes
Yes Itemization Yes, with Orders API
No Dynamic Shipping Calculations No
Yes Accept Google Pay Yes
Yes Accept Apple Pay Yes
No Accept MasterPass Yes
Yes Accept All Major Credit Cards Yes
Yes Inventory Syncing Yes, with Inventory API

The choice between Square API and Transactions API largely depends on your particular needs and what you find most important in the customer journey.

Other Ways To Accept Online Payments With Square

Square Developer In-App

Though we have explored several options in Square payments, there are yet a few more to keep in mind. Before we go on, it’s worth mentioning that you can’t add an embeddable “Buy Now” button to any site like you can with PayPal or even Shopify. However, there are still ways to take payments online — even without a website! Let’s check out the last two ways you can take payments via Square from your customer online — through invoices and in-app payments.

Invoices

Square Invoices

You don’t need an online store to send and collect payment from your customers if you use invoices. Square allows you to send one-off invoices for single orders, or to set up recurring invoices for subscriptions or even installments. It’s easy to track the status of invoices and follow up right from your Square Dashboard, too. Want more info on invoices? Check out How To Use Square Invoices To Ensure You Get Paid On Time so you can leverage this option for your business.

In-App Payments

With all the cash being exchanged through in-app purchases, it was only a matter of time before Square decided to join the party. That’s right; now Square offers in-app payment support with a few lines of code! You can update elements to match your app’s style and have the freedom to customize the look and feel however you want. It’s all in Square’s Transaction APIs and completely free for you to use with your Square account.

Is Square Online Payments Right For You?

Square offers solutions for both the tech-savvy and those who want something ready to run out of the box. With that being said, the more appropriate question is, “Which of Square Online Payment solutions are right for you?” And that answer comes down to your needs. From a quick-to-set up Square Store to Transaction APIs that are customizable and free to us, or plug-ins apps that add eCommerce to your existing site, there are many solutions to choose.

Keep in mind that you can add or subtract Square’s services and other integrations to scale up or down with you as needed, so you don’t have to make a final decision today. Setting up a Square account is the first step to get the ball rolling and see the options along the way. With no sign-up fees, binding contracts, or credit checks, Square is one of the least intimating companies to deal with if you are just checking things out.

The post How to Accept Online Payments With Square appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Find Your Business EIN Number

EIN

Tax season is upon us, and if you are a small business owner, there is a good chance that you will need your Employer Identification Number (EIN) to file business taxes. For example, if you have an EIN for the first time this year, or are using a new CPA or service to file your business taxes, you will need to bring your EIN and other information to your accountant when you file your business taxes. There are also various other reasons you might need your EIN, such as to open a business bank account, open an online store, or apply for business financing. If you have misplaced your EIN, or aren’t sure if you even have one, you have come to the right place! Read on to learn what an EIN is, how you can find your EIN, and how you can apply for an EIN if you don’t already have one.

What Is An EIN?

An EIN (also sometimes called a “business tax ID number”) is a unique 9-digit number that identifies your company, similar to the way your social security number represents your personal identity. Specifically, your EIN identifies your business to the IRS. However, in addition to IRS-related filings such as business taxes, you might also need your EIN to apply for a business license, apply for a business loan, or open a business bank account.

The IRS requires most, but not all business types to have an EIN. For example, most sole proprietors and LLCs with no employees are not required to have an EIN and can instead use their social security number as their taxpayer identification number. As the name indicates, employer ID numbers are required for companies that employ people; if you have employees, then you need an EIN. Even if you are not required to have an EIN, you may opt to get one in order to establish your business as its own entity, separate from your personal identity. For example, having an EIN can help you establish your business credit profile so you won’t have to use your personal credit for your business.

How To Find Your EIN

If you have applied for and received an EIN in the past, then it shouldn’t be too difficult to find it. You’ll just have to do a little digging.

Method 1: Check Your Business Documents

Your EIN can be found on many of your important business documents, whether you have physical or virtual copies of these items. You should have the easiest time finding your EIN on your EIN confirmation letter from the IRS, and on your previous business tax returns.

Here are some documents where you can find your EIN:

  • Your EIN Confirmation Letter — The document the IRS issued when you originally applied for the EIN
  • Previously filed business tax returns — Your EIN should appear prominently at the top of your federal return
  • Your business credit report
  • Business licenses or permits
  • Business bank statements
  • Other tax filings, such as 1099 forms issued to independent contractors
  • Old business loan applications
  • Any tax notices from the IRS

Method 2: Run Your Business Credit Report

Okay, so let’s say you don’t have any copies of the above documents on-hand and you need your EIN, ASAP. Another option is to run your business credit report online and get your EIN that way. This is not free, but it’s a quick and easy way to get your EIN (or another company’s EIN), and it’s a good idea to check your business credit report from time to time anyway.

The three major business credit scoring agencies are Dun & Bradstreet, Equifax, and Experian. Equifax and Experian are more appropriate for smaller, less-established companies, and Experian offers the cheapest business credit report at $39.95.

Method 3: Call The IRS

You can also get your EIN by simply calling the IRS and asking them for it. Just keep in mind that they might have you on hold for a long time. From the IRS’s website:

Ask the IRS to search for your EIN by calling the Business & Specialty Tax Line at 800-829-4933. The hours of operation are 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. local time, Monday through Friday. An assistor will ask you for identifying information and provide the number to you over the telephone, as long as you are a person who is  authorized to receive it. Examples of an authorized person include, but are not limited to, a sole proprietor, a partner in a partnership, a corporate officer, a trustee of a trust, or an executor of an estate.

Method 4: Ask Someone Else

IRS hold times too long? Call someone else who might know your EIN.

Here are some people who should be able to look up your EIN and give it to you over the phone:

  • Your account manager at the bank where you do your business banking
  • Your accountant (or you can consult your accounting software)
  • Your CPA
  • Any organization that you have a business license or permit from

Method 5: Use Other EIN Lookup Options

There are a few other places where you should be able to look up your EIN online:

  • Your online account with the bank where you do business
  • For publicly traded companies, the SEC’s online database
  • For nonprofits, the free Melissa database

As a last resort, you could also try a paid EIN database, but I would only recommend this if you’ve exhausted all other options. And if you’ve gone through all the other options and still can’t find your EIN, well … are you sure you even have an EIN?

Don’t Have An EIN? Here’s How To Get One

If you’ve read all the way to the end of this post without finding your EIN, odds are that you probably don’t have one. Or, you may have discovered that although you have an EIN, you need to apply for a new one. This may be the case if your ownership or business structure has changed, or you are subject to a business bankruptcy proceeding.

Fortunately, an EIN is actually pretty easy to apply for and obtain.

As long as your company is located inside the United States or a U.S.-owned territory and you have a taxpayer ID number such as your SSN or ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number), you can apply for an EIN on the IRS’s website.  The application is short and sweet, and you will receive an EIN immediately upon successful form completion and validation of your information.

Note that while you will receive your EIN immediately online, it will take up to two weeks before your EIN becomes part of the IRS’s permanent records. You will have to wait until this happens before you can use your EIN to file an electronic tax return, make an electronic payment, or pass the IRS Taxpayer Identification Number matching program.

The IRS’s online EIN assistant is secure, but if you’re not comfortable submitting sensitive info online, you can download a PDF of Form SS-4 (also from the IRS’s website) and apply via snail mail.

Final Thoughts

For just about any business owner, an Employer Identification Number, or EIN, is a very useful thing to have. It’s useful for completing various legal tasks related to your business, such as filing taxes. You also need an EIN to build your business credit profile or apply for a business loan.

If you already have an EIN and need it in a hurry, don’t panic; it shouldn’t be too difficult to find. If you need to apply for an EIN, either for the first time or because you need a new EIN, this is also a quick and easy process. Once you have an EIN or have rediscovered it after doing some digging, please keep track of it because it will likely only be a matter of time before you need to retrieve it again.

The post How To Find Your Business EIN Number appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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WordPress.com Review: Pros & Cons of WordPress.com as a Website Builder

WordPress.com Review

WordPress is one of the most popular pieces of software in the website space. WordPress powers over 25% of the Internet and is famous for its versatility and ease of use.

Its is so well-known, that it’s common for people with some web design experience to generally say “just use WordPress” when referring DIYers and freelancers to a website solution.

But for those who are unfamiliar with the general WordPress world, there is a major point of confusion: WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org.

In this article, I’ll be reviewing WordPress.com as a website builder and general website solution for DIYers.

See WordPress.com’s Plans & Pricing here.

But before I dive into specifics, let’s talk about the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org.

WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org: What’s the Difference?

WordPress is the name of a piece of software that can “power” your website on a server. So instead of uploading individual files to a server to create a website, you can use WordPress to create a “backend” where you can log in to your website to create, edit and manage web pages, blog posts, images – any sort of content.

It’s a “content management system” in web development jargon. WordPress is also “open-source” – which means that a community maintains it. A for-profit corporation does not own it. A non-profit foundation technically manages the trademark while leaving the software open under a General Public License.

The software & open-source community live & function at WordPress.org – where anyone can grab a copy of the software.

Note that I still haven’t said anything about it running a website. The other two pieces needed to run a website are hosting (ie, a server to run WordPress and render your website) and a domain name, which allows people to navigate to your website.

WordPress.org is also known as “self-hosted WordPress” because you have to provide the server for the software to live on. You pay for hosting and domain registration fees separately. You can learn how to setup a self-hosted WordPress website here.

And then there’s WordPress.com. It is a for-profit company owned by Automattic and founded by Matt Mullenweg – one of the original developers of WordPress.

WordPress.com is a service (not just the actual software & community) that offers websites / blogs powered by their install of WordPress software. They bundle hosting, support, services, and software into a single subscription. I refer it to as “hosted WordPress”, because you’re buying a hosted version of the software.

The renting vs. buying in real estate works well as an analogy.

WordPress.com = Renting a building for your living space (aka your website). You can pay for upgrades, but ultimately everything is up to your landlord (WordPress.com). That said – your landlord also has to pay to keep everything in working order.

WordPress.org = Owning a building for your living space. You own everything on your own hosting space. You do whatever you want. That said – you are responsible for everything.

If you want to get into the weeds, I wrote a whole post about the differences between WordPress.com and .org. But that analogy says it all.

The key tradeoff here is between convenience and control. WordPress.com is what we call an all-inclusive website builder. It competes directly with other hosted website builders like Squarespace, Weebly, Wix, GoDaddy GoCentral, etc. You sacrifice some control (like FTP access) to get a lot more convenience (like not installing security patches or crashing your own site).

Compared to its direct competition, WordPress.com focuses on scalability, support, and flexibility. Let’s dive further into my WordPress.com review to see how it really compares.

One other quick aside – a disclosure – I receive referral fees from all the companies mentioned in this post. My opinions & research are based on my experiences as either a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

Pros of Using WordPress.com as a Website Builder

Here’s what I found to be the pros of using WordPress.com website builder — not just in comparison to direct competitors, but as an overall website solution.

Easy Sign Up Process

One of WordPress.com’s biggest pro is how easy it is to get started. To get your website up and running, you just follow a simple, 6-step process that includes creating an account, filling in your website information, and confirming your email address.

WordPress.com Sign Up Process

They also provide a ton of “onboarding” support (AKA the process of getting up and running with a website). I immediately received an email detail next steps, and was even prodded later in the day when I hadn’t finished a step in the set up.

There was really no part in the sign up process where I wondered, “What’s next?”. The steps were easy to follow, detailed, and included support once I got inside the dashboard.

If you’re looking for a simple, straightforward, and speedy way to go from having no website to having a site ready to build, then WordPress.com is a great choice.

All-in-One Solution

Again, WordPress.com is an all-in-one solution, which means everything you need — from hosting to domain registration to integrations (more on that shortly) to design options is included in the platform.

That means everything just works — there’s no figuring out if this app or extension is compatible or is going to break your site. There’s no troubleshooting or support needs outside of what they already offer. Even things like analytics are built into the platform.

WordPress.com Functionality

Spending less time on research and troubleshooting means you can spend more time on stuff that matters – like content, design, and marketing your site.

Plus, since WordPress.com uses WordPress as it’s CMS (and WordPress is the most popular CMS platform out there), the integrations are practically limitless.

Chances are, there’s been a plugin created to do whatever you need your site to do. And if it hasn’t been created yet, there’s a developer out there who could probably get it done. Just know that on WordPress.com, your advanced customization capabilities, like installing your own plugins and themes, are limited to their highest priced plan (more on that in a bit).

You also don’t have full control over the website functionality, because you don’t have access to your hosting. You still don’t have direct access to your files or your database. So if you want to do something in bulk or something super-technical, then you are out of luck.

That said, compared to other website builders (like Site123 or Jimdo), WordPress.com is inherently more open and accessible because it runs WordPress software. All of your content is in RSS and XML format, so it’s very easy to leave WordPress.com for another service or bulk export your content.

Template Design

When you set up your website with WordPress.com, you have a ton of pre-made templates (“themes” in the WordPress jargon) to choose from, including premium themes that come with higher-priced plans.

WordPress.com also indicates which themes are best for beginners, which is helpful for those who don’t have extensive website experience and are looking for the easiest way to get their website designed and ready to market.

WordPress.com Themes

Inside these themes, you have a range of customization capabilities based on the plan you have. You also have significant customization abilities on the individual pages themselves— even with the free plan. Inside the page builder, you can change the format by adding columns, embedding elements, and even editing the page code if you know HTML / CSS.

WordPress.com Page Customization

WordPress.com Page Code

One thing to note here — you cannot edit/customize the pages on the same screen that you edit the theme. This means that you’re basically designing the pages in a bubble. You can’t see how they play out in the context of the design until you actually go in and edit the theme. If you’re not looking to do any advanced designing, this may not matter to you, but it’s something to keep in mind if you are looking to build lots of websites for clients.

Customer Support

WordPress.com has a robust knowledge base and easily accessible support. In fact, their help button floats in the bottom corner of the Dashboard (and when you’re editing pages), so you can see relevant guides and articles to help you no matter where you are in your website.

WordPress.com Support

You can also chat with another WordPress.com using their “Contact us” button on the floating help section, giving you an additional option if you can’t find the answers you’re looking for.

Cons of Using WordPress.com as a Website Builder

But of course, no website builder review would be complete without looking at the downsides. Every piece of software will have complaints, because there is no website solution that is right for everyone. Let’s look at a few specific cons I found.

Pricing

WordPress.com is a bit pricier than its competitors when you take into account what features are available to you. WordPress.com limits the amount of storage space you get on your website (AKA the number of images, video, audio files, documents, etc. you can upload to your site).

WordPress.com Pricing

Now, there is one caveat. WordPress.com does have a free plan. You can’t use your own domain name. You have to use yourname.wordpress.com – and serve WordPress.com ads on your site. But – it’s free. This plan is certainly my favorite way to get a free, well built website online.

However, it’s not clear that there’s a free plan available unless you go through the pricing tab. For example, if you were to click “Get Started” and just start filling in your information, you’re kind of cornered into buying a plan. There’s no option there to select a free plan. It’s confusing, especially if you don’t know that there’s a free plan available (which technically, you’re automatically signing up for when you create your account).

WordPress.com Pricing No Free Plan

If you are trying to start just a basic informational website or blog and don’t want to deal with hosting, then WordPress.com’s Blogger and Personal plans are well-priced. But for a business or really any size (or website that is going to strive to make money), then it’s a bit hard to compete with running a self-hosted WordPress website or finding another solution like Website Creator (a website builder built on top of WordPress) or another drag & drop website builder.

Learning Curve

Based on your website experience, using WordPress as a CMS does come with a learning curve — and it’s no different when it’s bundled with hosting and DNS services through WordPress.com. Yes, you have various themes to choose from that guide your site customization experience… but even those can be more complicated to tweak than WordPress.com wants to let on. Check out the instructions on customizing this theme I selected.

WordPress.com Theme Customization

If you’re looking for the ease of a simple drag + drop website builder where you can literally drag elements onto the page, drop them in place, and customize your template that way, WordPress.com might not be the best choice for you.

Because here’s the thing. In many ways, WordPress is more than software. It’s like a whole platform / subculture. You know how Facebook has “Likes” and “Newsfeed” and “Groups” and all these other terms that make sense…but only once you’ve used Facebook? Ok – WordPress is like that. When you first start out, there’s all this jargon to figure out. It makes sense quickly, but that doesn’t make it any less weird.

Limited Functionality + Control

WordPress is known for how flexible and adaptable it is as a CMS. It’s a great way to build a website that you plan on keeping for the long haul, because it’s so customizable and scalable. But here’s the thing — those benefits don’t really kick in until you have a self-hosted WordPress (AKA WordPress.org), or until you pay for the premium business plan on WordPress.com, and even then you don’t have full accessibility with your website.

If you’re not looking for a website that you can customize and scale extensively, then this probably doesn’t matter to you. But if you are looking to create a website that you can scale, and you were drawn to WordPress as a CMS because of that, then going with “hosted WordPress” on WordPress.com probably isn’t your best option, because you’re giving up quite a bit of functionality and control.

WooCommerce & JetPack Addendum

At the risk of making this focused review too long, there are two remaining pieces to talk about in regard to WordPress.com and their services.

First is WooCommerce. WooCommerce is a software plugin for WordPress that brings a *ton* of amazing ecommerce functionality to any WordPress website. It is amazing. It has a ton of extensions and integrations only rivaled by Shopify. And it works on any existing website running WordPress. If you are using the WordPress.com, you can add it to your plan.

Since ecommerce has a lot more considerations than a publishing site, many ecommerce owners like to have a “hosted” solution. In this case, WordPress.com provides a great option for websites that are “content-first” but also want a large-ish online store.

Second is JetPack. You know how I mentioned that WordPress.com provides a lot of things like backups, security, and support that a self-hosted WordPress website does not have? Ok, so you can get most of that with JetPack. JetPack is a paid plugin software owned by Automattic that any self-hosted WordPress website can install and get automated backups, security scans, in dashboard support, remote management via the WordPress app and more.

In fact, this website uses JetPack. It costs between Free and $29/mo depending how many services / themes you want (security is free). Plus, there are some hosting companies that bundle JetPack in with your hosting fee, so that it’s super-affordable.

WordPress.com Review Conclusion

WordPress.com has many of the tradeoffs inherent with all website builders while capitalizing on the potential strengths of a website builder (ie, usability & support).

Compared to other established website builder brands, it lacks some pretty significant capabilities, like storage, pricing, and ease of use, but it does compete well on support, theme availability, design, technical aspects, and content publishing.

WordPress.com is a really good fit for anyone looking for a solid website builder that includes more advanced functionality and theme options but still takes the headache out of finding their own hosting and additional services. It’s a great option to just get started. And it’s great for content writers & publishers plus any businesses that have the budget for the Premium Plan.

Check out WordPress.com’s current plans & pricing here.

Not sure WordPress.com fits your needs? Check out my quiz to find what the best website builder is for you based on your preferences.

Are you working on a long-term project, need more freedom, or on a budget and don’t mind a learning curve? Check out my posts on trying out self-hosted WordPress and setting up self-hosted WordPress on your own server.

The post WordPress.com Review: Pros & Cons of WordPress.com as a Website Builder appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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How to Use Square for Recurring Payments And Invoices

Subscription-based business models seem to be everywhere these days. Emerging wine clubs, personal care-in-a-box subscriptions, wardrobe-of-the-month sites — even supporting a favorite podcast! Clearly, these types of businesses are finding success as people jump into subscriptions to save money, time, or just for the fun of getting a box in the mail. And it’s not just cheese-of-the-month clubs anymore. Software as a Service (SaaS) subscriptions are booming in both business and personal markets. This environment is ripe for subscription business models, but you need the right tools to process recurring payments while protecting your business from security risks.

Of course, businesses that serve a local market with more traditional recurring products and services like gyms, childcare, or home improvement services also rely on recurring payments for their revenue stream — whether that’s automatically charging a credit card or manually sending an invoice.

Choosing a payment processor for this type of business is not a light decision, so let’s take a look at what Square has to offer in terms of solutions geared for the recurring payment model.

How To Set Up Recurring Payments With Square eCommerce

If you are about to launch an eCommerce subscription-based business or you are looking for a different payment processing setup than the one you have, Square should be on your radar. While Square doesn’t provide complete “out-of-the-box” solutions for eCommerce businesses, they offer three main options for you to get your shop live, with some flexibility under each.

Square Payment Form and Transaction API:

If you are a developer or have the in-house developer support, you can create a custom payment experience that resembles the rest of your site. That means you can save a card on file using the Square Payment Form and set up recurring billing using your own subscription logic. Square also has digital wallet support so you can add Apple Pay, Google Pay, or MasterPass for faster checkout. Here’s more information directly from Square if you opt to embed the payment form:

Square Payment Form provides secure, hosted components for payment data like card number and CVV, while enabling you to make it your own. It’s designed to help buyers enter their card data accurately and quickly. Card data is collected securely and tokenized, never hitting your servers, so you don’t have to worry about PCI compliance.

Pre-Built Workflow:

When you integrate Square Checkout, you can save a card on file safely, and you won’t need as much developer knowledge. This solution is a pre-built workflow that includes digital wallet support, and it’s all hosted on Square’s servers. You won’t have as much wiggle room in regards to customization, but it’s still going to give you a fast, streamlined checkout experience. Square provides a technical reference guide to assist you in building what you need, including setting up recurring billing.

Choose An Integration:

If you want a simpler solution that doesn’t require coding or technical expertise, a plug-in may be just the ticket for you to get up and running quickly. Of all the options available within the Square Dashboard, Chargify jumps out because it seems to offer everything a subscription service would need. According to Chargify:

Chargify bills your customer’s credit card on whatever schedule you define. In addition to processing one-time and recurring transactions, Chargify can handle free trial periods, one-time fees, promotions, refunds, email receipts, and even dunning (reminders for failed credit card payments) management.

Chargify plans start at $99 a month, but you can work your way up the scale when it comes to additional options. In general, Square plug-in selections abound, so you can shop to find the most promising solution for your business right from your Square Dashboard under Apps. Here’s a screenshot of a few options listed:

Square Integration Plug Ins

No matter which solution you decide on, you can rest assured that the burden of PCI compliance and security with payment processing sits on Square’s shoulders, not your own. And the free support you get from Square’s team if there is a chargeback issue also gives some much-needed peace of mind as well.

To find out more and shop eCommerce solutions, head to Square’s website and select eCommerce under the section, Software services to grow your business. If you want to learn more before signing up, read our post, The Best eCommerce Integrations That Work With Square Payments. And if you want to find out more about Square as an eCommerce solution in general, check out our Square Online Store and eCommerce Review.

How To Set Up Square Recurring Invoices

When you’re ready to set up a recurring invoice for your customer, Square makes it easy. You can create an invoice through your Square POS app or from the Square Dashboard. You can then set up the scheduling frequency of your recurring invoice, though you will need your customer to approve their card on file.

Whether you send a one-time or recurring invoice, enable Allow Customer to Save Card on File so your customer can approve. Then you’ll be all set for repeat billing.

Note: If you need to manually save a card on file from your Virtual Terminal at your computer, you’ll need to print out the approval form so your customer can sign it first.

Here’s a screenshot of what the setup looks like for recurring invoices within the Square Dashboard.

Square Recurring Invoice

With Square Invoices, you can also request a deposit, either due immediately or within a specific time-frame. So for you business owners that charge a sign-up or other set-up fee, you can seamlessly add in a deposit request and cover all the bases.

Getting Paid with Square Invoices

When your customer makes a payment, credit card payments update automatically in their invoice. Your customer follows the Pay Now prompt to enter their details and can also approve saving the card on file.

Did your customer send a check or pay you by cash? You can also record payment manually when you open up the invoice. If your customer wants to pay over the phone, you can process the amount on your computer through the Square Virtual Terminal located within the Square Dashboard. And finally, you can process in-person payments and apply them directly to the invoice by swiping, dipping, or tapping your customer’s card to your connected Square Reader. Just make sure you go into Invoices and apply the payment to the existing customer invoice.

Square Invoices (read our review) also makes it easy to track when your customer saw your invoice and any activity within the account. You can quickly send a message to follow up or edit the invoice any time from your Square Dashboard.

How To Use Square Installments For Invoices

Another solution that may boost sales is offering payment plans through Square Installments. Square Installments for Invoices finances the cost for your customer, so there’s no need for you to invoice repeatedly; instead, you are paid upfront and in full by Square. Square Installments is currently only available to select businesses, however. You’ll need to apply, and if you are approved, the Installments option automatically appears as a payment option on your invoices and Square POS.

When your customer chooses Installments (either via their invoice or your Square POS), they’ll apply directly with Square Capital at the time of the sale. If they are approved, the balance is reflected in your account. Also note that after the sale, Square Capital takes on the liability of the charge, so you won’t deal with collecting or processing payments. In fact, Square instructs any merchant to direct all questions or issues your customer may have with their installment payments to Square Installments directly. Find out more about it on our post, How Does Customer Financing Through Square Installment Work?

How Much Do Recurring Payments Cost With Square?

What is cheaper than Square?

Below is a breakdown of Square’s payment processing per transaction. When you crunch the numbers, keep in mind that you are getting an all-in-one solution as far as payment security with PCI compliance and chargeback support. Square doesn’t charge monthly service fees either, so what you see is what you get as far as costs go.

  • Invoice paid with card by customer: 2.9% + $0.30
  • Invoice paid with card on file: 3.5% + $0.15
  • eCommerce processing: 2.9% + $0.30
  • Square Installments for Invoices: 2.9% of the purchase price + $0.30
  • Square Installments at your Point of sale: 3.5% of the purchase price + $0.15
  • Square online payment API and SKIs: Free for developers to use + eCommerce processing fee
  • Plug-in apps integrated with Square: Price varies with each software provider

Should You Use Square’s Recurring Payments Tools?

Setting up recurring payments for your customers takes a little bit more forethought and prep than a one-off charge. However, Square makes recurring invoices accessible by offering a range of solutions for both eCommerce and brick-and-mortar shops.

As far as third-party processors and eCommerce go, Square offers similar solutions as its peers. In other words, you’ll likely need the help of a developer with any option you choose, including PayPal or Stripe — unless you opt for a plug-in app. That being said, Square enables you to get eCommerce up and running safely — whether that is through a pre-built workflow, easy integration with a plug-in app, or API developer tools. (If you do have the developer expertise and a bit more wiggle-room in your budget, it’s worth mentioning that Stripe affords greater freedom to customize the whole process, add advanced reporting features, and a lot more. But you can’t be shy with code!)

Still curious about Square? Why not give them a try and see for yourself? There is no fee to sign up and no binding contract required, so setting up an account may be the next step for you. You can also head over to our Square Review and read how it compares to the other solutions out there.

The post How to Use Square for Recurring Payments And Invoices appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Use Square To Accept Credit Cards In Person

Square has carved out quite a spot for itself in the world of payment processing. When it comes to accessibility, there are few rivals. With no credit checks, sign-up fees, monthly fees, or cancellation fees, and a very transparent pricing model, it’s no wonder why Square remains the go-to option for business owners who want a no-hassle choice.

In fact, it’s so easy to get started, that you can usually start taking payments immediately after setting up your Square account! That being said, it helps to get a bit familiar with the process before ringing up your first customer — and there is more than one way to do it. If you are interested in weighing your options, this post is for you.

We are mainly going to focus on taking payments with physical cards in this post, so if you have an eCommerce shop, you may want to check out our Square Online Store and eCommerce Review. If, however, you want to know how to ring up your sale and get some important details to help you choose the best options, keep reading.

To start us off, here is a short list of the ways you could accept payment with Square:

  • Your device + Square Point-of-sale (POS) app +  Square card reader
  • Keying in credit card information in the Square POS app
  • Square POS hardware (e.g., Square Register)
  • Accessing the Square Virtual Terminal from your laptop

Below, we are going to start by explaining how to accept payments with the Square Reader. After going through some different scenarios, we’ll also explore Square’s POS hardware for those of you with a physical storefront. By the end of this post, you should feel confident navigating your options and finding the best solution (or solutions) for your business processing needs.

But first, a note on Square’s payment security.

Square & Payment Security

Right out of the gate, we need to take a quick minute to cover payment security. It’s that important. Regardless of how you accept a payment — whether that is keying in a card,  swiping with a magstripe reader, a dip or tap, etc. — Square provides secure and PCI compliant payment transactions. That is to say, Square is fully compliant with the latest Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS). And that also means you won’t have to pay additional PCI fees or hire a team to manage ongoing compliance, either.

This out-of-the-box payment security is just one reason Square is such a powerhouse for the millions of small business owner who trust it.

Let’s take a look at the Square reader options next.

How To Use A Square Reader For Mobile Payments

We’ll start with the obvious: the Square reader. Assuming you have already downloaded the Square app, it’s effortless to accept payment with your reader.

  • Step One: Open the app on your device. You will already be at the screen you need to make a charge. No fumbling required!

Taking a Payment with Square

  • Step Two: If you have entered inventory into your Items list, find the item and click what you need. The total will automatically update.
  • Step Three: Tap the Charge button when you’re ready.
  • Step Four: Swipe or insert the card, or tap your connected reader. You can also manually enter the card number (keyed entry) if necessary.
  • Step Five: Your customer will sign their name and the sale is complete!

Don’t have a connection? Suffering from a spotty connection? Square’s offline mode helps you avoid losing the sale. Your customer’s data is securely saved in the app and the transaction will process when you connect your device to the internet again (WiFi or cellular connection). You must reconnect within 72 hours, though, or the transaction will cancel.

It’s really that easy. To see how Square stacks up next to other mobile credit card processors, check out our Mobile Credit Card Processing Comparison table.

Square Transaction Fees & Mobile Reader Costs

As stated at the start of the post, Square offers very transparent pricing. If you use Square Point of Sale on a smartphone or tablet with a mobile card reader, you’ll pay the standard processing fee of 2.75% per swipe, dip, or tap. And keep in mind that no matter what type of card your customer hands you, Square charges the same fee per transaction. If for some reason you need to key-in the credit number, you will pay 3.5% + 15 cents for manually-entered transactions. We will revisit the types of card-not-present transactions later in the post.

Let’s talk a little more about the Square Reader, because you do have some choices that go beyond the free magstripe device. The good news is that Square readers work with nearly all Android or iOS devices running the latest updates. If you’re in doubt, Square offers a compatibility tool so you can look up your device and see for yourself.

After signing up for a new Square account, you can choose which free Square reader you would like — and they’ll ship it directly to you for free. Depending on your device needs, you can choose between the lightning adapter for iOS or the standard 3.5mm headphone jack reader. The other option you have is to shell out $49 for the Contactless + Chip reader.

The free magstripe card reader is great for getting started, but I recommend considering the upgraded Contactless + Chip Reader for improved payment security in processing. (It also offers your customers more ways to pay you.)

Square Reader

Square also sells a small charging dock so you can keep your contactless reader fully charged through the day. If you opt for the contactless reader, you can also purchase a specially designed Otterbox case from Square. You can slide the contactless reader on the back of the case if you’re on the go. Unfortunately for Android users, the case only fits an iPhone 7 or 7 plus, but I have a hunch there will be more options for this one when the demand grows.

Can You Use A Square Reader With Multiple Devices?

You may be wondering about the possibility of sharing a reader between different devices — or maybe even switching readers. Good news! You can do either of those things! If you have more than one device, decide to upgrade a device (or reader for that matter), need to swap a device, or hand your Square reader to a different team member for them to plug into their phone, you can do so without an issue.

That’s because your account is anchored to your Square POS app, not to a specific reader. When you or your team member signs into the Square POS app, transactions go into the system automatically. You can use the same reader across different accounts, too. So if you have two businesses, or you have more than one Square POS app (like Square Retail or Square Restaurants), the reader works interchangeably with those as well.

Keep in mind that when you choose your reader, you may limit your usage. For example, you can only use the lightning reader with iOS, but the standard 3.5mm headphone jack reader is compatible with multiple devices. Of course, you can always purchase more readers to suit your needs and keep up with a growing team. As long as they are signed into your Square account, all sales will be synced to your account.

How To Use Square’s Countertop POS Systems

Square Register

If you are considering how you can use Square’s countertop POS systems to make business flow, here are your options:

Square Stand for Contactless and Chip:

When you use the Square Stand with the free Square Point of Sale (POS), you will need to bring along your own compatible iPad (most recent model) or purchase an iPad to go into your stand. The magstripe reader is built-in if you must swipe, but we recommend utilizing the Square Reader for contactless and chip payment for the latest payment security protections. The Square Stand also comes with a dock to keep the contactless reader charged and stable.

When it comes time to ring up an order, you’ll complete the sale just as you would through your mobile device, as the free Square POS app is still the engine that’s running the whole thing. The Square Stand for Contactless and Chip makes a great choice if you are looking for a more prominent, bonafide countertop POS option. It has a simplistic design with minimal cords and offers more screen real estate to find inventory and add to your sale.  

Square Stand for Contactless and Chip

With the Square Stand, you can run your Square POS app or the premium options created just for retail and restaurants. Find out why these might be a better option for you (and see the fee differences) by visiting our Square for Retail or Square for Restaurants reviews.

Square Terminal: 

The Square Terminal is a great all-in-one choice if you want a little more portability than the Square Stand offers. You can swipe, dip, or tap credit and debit cards, and it even has a receipt printer built right in. Terminal runs the free Square POS app, so it’s easy when it comes to ringing up a sale. You can also access features such as your customer directory, reports, and inventory tools.

If you are running Square for Restaurants, you won’t have access to all of the bells and whistles, but Square Terminal does have limited compatibility with the Restaurants POS. For example, you can pull up an open ticket and settle payments right at the table — complete with a receipt! When all is said and done, The Square Terminal can hold its own as an excellent countertop solution, but it’s also lightweight enough to use as a mobile solution. And because Square POS has an offline mode built right in, you don’t have to worry about losing connection. Transaction data is all saved safely with Square and ready to process when your device is back online.

Square Register:

They built the Square Register with both your and your customer’s ease of use in mind. There’s one 13.25-inch screen for you, and one for 7-inch display customers, complete with magstripe, chip card, and contactless payment processing built in! Square Register runs Square POS and supports Square Loyalty and other software add-ons. The Square Register also supports the back-end features of the premium Square for Retail software, such as the advanced reporting and inventory features, but can’t run the POS app itself. 

Not sure what you need? Check out A Guide To Square Credit Card Readers And POS Bundles to compare and explore your options. Below, we’ll break down the cost of the hardware we just talked about, and discuss the transaction fees associated with each.

Square POS Hardware Costs & Transaction Fees

As always, Square pricing is very straightforward. Below we’ve listed prices for the hardware and what it will cost you to process payments.

  • Square Stand for Contactless and Chip:  The cost for this one is $199.00. If you want to add an iPad, you can do so for $329.00. Note that the stand is only compatible with an iPad (2017, 2018), iPad Pro 9.7”, or iPad Air (1, 2). You’ll pay a flat 2.75% per swipe, dip or tap transaction at the Square Stand so long as you are running the free Square POS. Square For Restaurants and Square for Retail process at different rates — 2.6% + $0.10 for Restaurants and 2.5% + $0.10 for Retail.
  • Square Terminal: To get your business a Square Terminal, you’ll pay $399.00, shipping included. You can also opt to add on 20 rolls of terminal print paper for another $20.00. Your payment processing fee is 2.6% + 10¢ per swiped magstripe cards, swiped or inserted chip cards, and contactless payments.
  • Square Register: Square Register costs $999.00 to purchase it outright. Shipping is free, and it arrives in seven business days or less. It’s ready to start processing payments right out of the box, so there’s no fuss when it comes to launch time. Contactless payments, swiped or inserted chip cards, and swiped magstripe cards processed through cost 2.5% + 10¢ fee.

If you add on specialized software, such as Square for Restaurants or Square for Retail, you will have an additional monthly charge (both starting at $60/mo). Both of these premium POS systems are geared towards specialized businesses and include features such as advanced reporting (for retail), and table mapping (for restaurants).  

How To Accept Card-Not-Present Payments with Square POS  

Small Business Owner Using Square Customer Service

There may be some situations when you need to take a payment from your customer, and you can’t swipe, dip, or tap the card. Maybe you don’t have your reader with you, or you want to take an order over the phone. Whether the card is physically present or not, if you manually enter in the card information, it’s considered a card-not-present transaction.

In the next section, we will lay out the payment processing costs for such transactions. But first, let’s discover the ways you can process a card with Square if you don’t have your reader (or the card) in hand.

Virtual Terminal

If you log into the Square Dashboard from your computer, you can key in manual payments from your Virtual Terminal (not to be confused with the Square Terminal hardware). You won’t need additional hardware to complete the transaction. You simply go into the terminal and enter the amount, credit card information, and even add a note to describe the sale. Then you hit “Charge,” completing the transaction. You can also take “Card on File” payments from the Virtual Terminal (more on that below). If you have a Chromebook or Apple laptop, you can connect a basic magstripe reader to swipe transactions. In that case, you’ll pay the standard swipe rate instead of the keyed entry rate.

Card-on-File Transactions

Whenever you ring up a sale, you can also opt to save your customer’s card number on file for future use. After that, you always have the option of selecting “card on file” to complete the sale. However, keep in mind that whenever you ring a card-on-file transaction later and don’t swipe, dip, or tap, you have entered into “card-not-present” territory and slightly higher processing rates apply. 

Security Concerns with Card On File 

The Square app only reveals the last four digits of your customer’s credit card on file and does not save CVV card data to remain PCI compliant. Any time you make a transaction with Card on File, Square automatically sends a receipt to the customer so they have a record of the transaction, to help minimize the risk of unauthorized charges.

You should never save your customer’s card data unless it is stored with PCI-compliant software (such as Square). Businesses that store customers’ payment data improperly put everyone in danger of a breach, and the company can be liable for the breach, should it occur. Small businesses are targeted by fraudsters looking for unsecured data, and it is a lot more common than you may think. If you save the card on file through Square POS or Virtual Terminal, keep in mind that Square also requires you to obtain written consent to store the card on files — the site provides a form you print off and store somewhere secure. Also, your customer can revoke their consent to keep their card on file with you at any time.

Manually Keying-In Credit Card Information

In addition to the Virtual Terminal included with Square, you can always opt to enter credit card information manually with the Square POS app. Because there is a higher chance of fraud when you don’t capture the electronic data, it’s going to cost you a bit more to process. However, sometimes it is necessary to take these types of payments. Use your discretion with these types of transactions, and swipe, dip, or tap the card if at all possible to reduce your fees (and your chargeback risk). However, if a card is particularly worn down, the card reader is just misbehaving, or you don’t have your Square reader handy, it’s good to know you have a backup option to accept payments. 

Invoices

If you are looking for yet another workaround when it comes to processing payments, don’t have your reader handy, and you don’t want to key in the amount, you always have an option to send an invoice. Your customer will get the invoice via an email right away. From there, they can open their email and follow the prompts to enter in their credit card information from their own device. This is especially good for higher-value transactions where keying in the card number might send up a red flag. 

Check out our Square Invoices review for a more in-depth look at Square’s free software, but for now, what you need to know is that you can link your inventory to invoices, allow customers to send tips, take down payments, and even enable installment payments.

Square Keyed-Entry Transaction Fees

As we covered above, there are several scenarios in which you may want or need to key in your customer’s credit card information and more than one way to do it. Here’s how much it’s going to cost you to process these types of payments:

  • Keyed Entry Payments (Square POS Or Virtual Terminal): 3.5% + 15¢
  • Card-On-File: 3.5% + 15¢
  • Invoicing: 2.9% + 30¢

Is Square’s Credit Card Processing Right For You?

Square offers several solutions for businesses at every stage. That means that if you’re a one-person shop now, you don’t really have to worry about finding a new solution when you grow because Square offers so many scaleable hardware options. When it comes to taking payment at your storefront or on the go, there are many ways to go about it. And with a transparent pricing model, there are no surprises on the back end. Because Square offers an all-in-one solution with payment processing and PCI compliant security built right in, you don’t need to worry about jumping through hoops to keep up with the latest global payment security regulations.

So is Square right for you? Sometimes the best way to find out is to see for yourself! Consdier setting up a Square account and playing around with the possibilities. It’s free to set up a Square account, and there are zero commitments or contracts required.

If you are still weighing all of your options when it comes to processing, check out this Mobile Credit Card Processing Comparison table for a quick side-by-side view of some top-rated companies.

Reader eCommerce Retail Food Service
Free App & Reader Square eCommerce Square for Retail Square for Restaurants
Get Started Get Started Get Started Get Started
Free, general-purpose POS software and reader for iOS and Android Easy integration with popular platforms plus API for customization Specialized software for more complex retail stores Specialized software for full-service restaurants
$0/month $0/month $60/month $60/month
Always Free Always Free Free Trial Free Trial

The post How To Use Square To Accept Credit Cards In Person appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Set Up A Free Square Account

Thinking about using Square to process payments for your business? Whether you are a solopreneur or a busy boss running multiple locations, you can quickly set up an account with Square with little to no fuss. Square offers several time-saving benefits for the small business owner looking to start processing payments, including no credit checks, a free magstripe reader to get you started, and a free Square POS app which enables you to start taking credit card payments right away. Not only that, but the Square dashboard offers analytics reporting, inventory management, alerts, and (with optional add-on software) even the ability to plan email marketing campaigns!

With all of these conveniences and freebies, you can expect slightly higher transaction fees than you’d get with a traditional merchant account. However, as a third-party processor, Square offers a very transparent pricing plan that starts at 2.75% per swipe dip or tap, and 3.5% + 15 cents for keyed-in transactions. You won’t be surprised with hidden fees or contracts, and you can enjoy the same processing rate for all major credit cards. Square also offers payment dispute assistance, chargeback protection, and secure, PCI compliant software — all included.

If your interest in Square is piqued, but you need a little more information before getting started, then you’ve landed on the right post! Below, we’ll take you step-by-step through the process of signing up for a new Square account. As you will see, setting up your Square account is relatively straightforward. And the best part? It’s completely free and requires no commitment on your part whatsoever.

What Do You Need To Get Started?

Before we get started, here is the main information you’ll need to set up your Square account:

  • Email address
  • Last four digits of your Social Security number (to confirm your name)
  • Home address
  • Shipping address
  • Legal name
  • Phone number
  • Bank account number to set up your direct deposit schedule

You don’t need:

  • Bank statements
  • Proof of revenue
  • Your full social security number
  • Tax documents
  • A credit check

We are going to get pretty detailed in this tutorial, but rest assured, the application itself takes less than ten minutes. Follow along with the guide below to discover how to set up and make the most of your new Square account!

How To Create A Free Square Account

First, visit Square’s sign-up page and hit the “Sign Up With Square” button.

Sign up with Square

 

The first step asks for your email address and prompts you to create a password and choose your country. You also must agree to Square’s terms, privacy policy and e-sign consent policy. We strongly suggest that as with any contract, you take the time to click on, read, and understand the details before agreeing to them.

 

Square set up account

 

The next screen is straightforward and asks if you are an individual or represent a larger business, charity, or religious organization. Enter in your business name or another title that you would like to appear on your receipts. I’m typing in “Blue Heron Content” as my business name.

Create an individual square account for business

 

Now we are getting closer to the meat — Square wants to know where you plan on processing payments. In this example, I don’t want to limit myself, so I am choosing all of the possibilities!

 

Square processes payments mobile online and square invoices

It’s important to mention that even if you don’t plan to use some of these options right away, you can still access them later at any time.

Next, Square asks what else they can help you manage. I am also going to select all of the options again to get a better idea of what Square may suggest right off the bat. I don’t personally need employee tracking for my business, but let’s see what it can do!

Now it’s time to make decisions. Because I selected that I was interested in restaurant-related products, I am offered a free 30-day trial of Square for Restaurants, one of Square’s premium iPad POS apps. (Check out our full review of Square for Restaurants for a more detailed look at pricing and features.) If you are a restaurant owner, check out some of the perks Square lists below. For this particular tutorial, though, we are going to stick with the free POS system.

Square Point of Sale and Square for Restaurants

 

Now that I have selected Square Point of Sale as my preferred POS app, I’ve made it to the “Let’s talk about you” page. This is the place to plug in the rest of your information. Note that Square is not going to perform a credit check on you or your business, they just need the last four digits of your social security number or ITIN, your legal name, street address, and phone number. They use this information to verify your identity.

I’ve finished filling in this form, so I am going to hit “continue” and see what’s next on our journey.

 

Square setup form

 

Choose A Magstripe Reader

Great news! By the time you arrive at the next screen below (3-5 seconds, give or take), Square will have successfully verified your identity. Now it’s time to select a credit card reader to accept in-person payments. For my part, while the Contactless + Chip Reader looks very enticing at $49, I am going to accept the free reader for now.

Square Reader

 

Now there’s another choice to make. Square would like to know if I would like the 3.5mm magstripe reader that is compatible with the traditional headphone jack, or the Lightning connector version for iOS devices. I’m choosing the reader that plugs into a conventional audio jack. You’ll obviously choose the option that works best for your business setup.

Compatibility Note: Square’s magstripe and chip card readers and the Square Point of Sale (POS app) are compatible with most Apple iOS and Android devices running the latest software updates. After this tutorial, check out our Square POS Review for more about system requirements, integrations, and a lot more details about Square POS.

Free Square Reader

After selecting the type of magstripe reader that fits your needs, Square will give you the options to find a retailer close to you and pick up the reader or have it mailed. Personally, I’m opting for Square to send me the reader in the mail. After entering my shipping details, I am one step closer to getting my own Square reader. Oh, and shipping is free, too! Just note that it could take up to 10 days for yours to arrive. 

Order A Square Reader

After entering my information and clicking continue, the setup process is officially complete! That was very easy. Square has already sent me an email letting me know when to expect my reader and another to confirm my email address.

It’s time to head to the new dashboard to set up the backend. 

How To Set Up Your Square Dashboard

Right away, you can see that the dashboard has a clean layout and is pretty straightforward. Since this is the first time I am visiting this new dashboard, Square is offering up these green bubbles as a setup guide. Let’s explore the dashboard and start setting up inventory, customizing the layout, and checking out the reporting features.

Square Dashboard setup

 

Compatibility Note: You’ll be able to access the full Square dashboard from any web browser, but the Square Dashboard app is only compatible with iPhones at this time. You can still take payments on any compatible iOS and Android device with the Square POS app, however.

Add Items & Build Your Inventory

From your home screen, you will see the teal Items button (pictured in the screenshot above). The place to add inventory is under Items>Item Library. To the right on the screenshot below, note the blue button that says “Create an Item”:

Adding an Item in Square Inventory

Here is what the “Create an Item” screen looks like in the Square Dashboard before adding a product:

Create an Item Screen in Square Dashboard

I went ahead and uploaded a product image and filled out my first item below. I can add the amount of stock I have, a price, and set up low-stock alerts for myself here, too! Square will even let me color-code items if I prefer to group categories by colors. 

It’s also possible to create variant items if you sell the same product in different colors and/or sizes. Plus, for cafes and restaurants, there’s a “modifier” option. Say, for example, that you want to offer coconut, soy, and almond milk alternatives for customers in your coffee shop. You can do that, and even set an upcharge fee for these items using the modifier feature. There’s also an option to specify at which locations an item is available if you have more than one shop. 

Add an Item in Square Inventory

Create & Manage Locations

You can create multiple locations from within your Square Dashboard by going to “Accounts and Settings” and then to “Business” and selecting “Locations.” Square will even let you specify a mix of physical locations with a set address and mobile locations without one.

Square’s location management features can help you manage inventory and gather data from multiple stores — and it is totally free:

  • Linked locations and deposit options
  • Per-location item libraries
  • Device management for security
  • Reporting tools to compare/contrast sales or other data

Square also offers advanced tracking and reporting tools for individual employees across your locations. More on those features and cost in the Employee Management section.

Manage Sales Tax Settings

You will find Square’s sales tax settings nestled under the Items menu in your dashboard.

When you create a tax at your Square Dashboard, the tax will automatically sync to every device in your account, and you can specify which taxes apply to which locations. You can even build the tax into the price of the item if you prefer, rather than adding the tax to the price afterward. Square also lets you modify tax settings from within the mobile POS app as well, which is useful when you need to make changes on the fly.

In addition to multiple tax rates, you can create conditional tax rules, which are preset conditions in which a tax won’t be applied — whether you need that to apply to one item or the entire order. This is especially helpful for restaurants that handle online orders.

Now, let’s head back to the home screen and customize our dashboard layout, and then check out the reporting features!

Customize Your Dashboard Layout

Customizing the layout of your Square Dashboard is super easy. First, you can get rid of anything you know you won’t need right off the bat by scrolling through and unchecking anything in the drop-down menu (pictured on the right-hand side of the screenshot below). Don’t worry about making the wrong decision, because you can reset the whole thing or click to re-check one box.

Square Dashboard Customize

The other way to easily adjust your view is by dragging and dropping the tiles to configure them exactly how you want them. For my store, I switched tiles to move the feedback tile up from the last row. This drag-and-drop feature makes it easy to get the information you prioritize first, and then scroll to other options whenever needed.

Moving Square Tiles in Dashboard

As you can see, it’s simple to move things around, and if you change your mind, just as easy to change it back.

Review Square’s Reporting Features

The extensive, user-friendly and (mostly) free reporting features are what make Square a fantastic, no-fuss choice for any small business. As you can see in the screenshot below, there is a long list of possible reports. Every business has unique needs, and Square does a good job of supporting a wide range of small businesses with various options and features.

Square reports

All of the sales reports, such as Sales Summary, Sales Trends, Items Sales, and Modifier Sales, are free. Custom Reports is another handy and entirely free reporting tool that can help you combine and compare your reporting data. Custom Reports allows you to aggregate reports with multiple filtering options. This feature makes it easy work to create a report that breaks the data down for a single location, or you can pick and choose certain pieces of data and compare them across different locations. For instance, you could create one report that compares Gross Sales and Returns for a particular device and/or location. 

To find out even more about what Square’s dashboard can offer you in terms of reporting features, check out our post Why We Like Square’s Online Dashboard and Analytics App.

If you are looking for even more robust reporting and tracking across multiple locations for your employees, it may be worth it to you to learn more about the Employee Management tools, featured below.

Manage Your Employees 

Within the Dashboard, you’ll find the Employee section, which is the foundation for Square’s Employee Management feature set. Adding a new employee into your dashboard is easy — and adding in separate email logins for Square POS is entirely free. However, if you want advanced reporting on timekeeping, individual employee sales, and sales vs. labor costs, you need to subscribe to Employee Management, which will cost you $5 per employee. 

Square Employee Reporting Tool

Here, I have chosen to select the free “Mobile Staff” option to show you that you can invite employees using the email address that they will then use to log into the Square app. You can also enable or disable permissions for accepting payments in Offline Mode and set or remove Issue Refunds permissions.

It’s important to note that employees assigned to mobile staff can only access their own sales data in the Square POS app. 

Square Employee Permissions Mobile Staff Free

If you want something a bit more substantial in terms of employee reporting, Square offers that, too.  To track individual employee sales through the day, keep better performance accountability across multiple locations, and closely monitor administrative permissions, the $5/mo per employee cost for the advanced Employee Management feature seems like a pretty fair deal. You also get timekeeping, so your employees can clock into their shifts through the Square POS app. 

If you want to get started with Employee Management, there are a few ways to do it: Head to Employee Sales or Labor vs. Sales under Reports and start adding employees. It’s free to try for 30 days!

Employee Management Sales Reporting

 

How To Set Up Square Deposits & Funding

When it’s time to get all of that revenue into your bank account, Square has several options for getting your money, all found under Deposits.

Square Instant Deposit and Deposit Schedule Tutorial

Square will automatically deposit your funds on the next business day. You can also change your ‘close of day’ to adjust for your time zone or business hours if you would like. The close of day determines when Square cuts off payment deposits for the next business day. If you need your money even faster, Square offers Instant Deposits that transfer your current Sales Balance immediately — whether it’s a business day or a weekend. This faster service will cost you 1% of the transfer amount. You can even use Scheduled Deposits to get your money deposited at each day’s close of business. 

Find out all the details about the instant deposit feature, and more about how Square’s deposit options work in general, by checking out our post, How Does Square’s Instant Deposit Work?

To set up your deposit schedule or choose an instant transfer, you’ll need to link your debit card (in addition to your bank account). However, you have yet another option for disbursement. You can request your very own Square Card, a personalized business debit card that holds your Square balance.

Square Card Small Business

You can use your card anywhere MasterCard is accepted. If you’d like to order one, you’ll find “Square Card” tucked right under the Deposits tab. To be clear, you can request a Square Card and also choose to have funds deposited into your bank account.

Explore More Square Software Options

Square offers a myriad of specialized software options to make business more productive. Here are some of your options:

  • Customer Engagement: Square’s customer engagement tools include a customer database, feedback management, and CRM software. The database and feedback tools are free, but the CRM starts at $15 month. The image above is a sample CRM campaign I could send to my lapsed customer list. Email campaigns are easy to customize and segment for those reachable-by-email customers.
  • Loyalty Program: This tool starts at $25/month. Read our Square Loyalty Program Review for an in-depth analysis.
  • Advanced Employee Management: As outlined in a previous section, pay $5/month per employee for advanced reporting and employee management tools.
  • Payroll: Square Employee and Contractor payroll starts at $29/month plus $5/employee. Contractor-Only Payroll is just $5/month per contractor.
  • eCommerce: Square offers free space and setup for an online store, and you can integrate with major shopping carts. Read our Square Online Store and eCommerce Review.
  • Invoicing: Invoices are always free to send, pay 2.9% + 30 cents per invoice when your customer pays with credit or debit online. For more on the pros and cons, pricing, and an in-depth look at invoicing with Square, check out our Square Invoices Review.

Choose Another Square Point of Sale App

While the free Square POS app will likely fit the bill for many small businesses, Square has developed more specialized tools for retail, restaurants, and appointment-based businesses.

Square For Retail:

This POS system works with an iPad and has a redesigned interface and usability geared for retail businesses that have substantial inventory. Instead of scrolling to an item in your inventory, an item is easily searchable by name. The barcode scanning and printing features make keeping up with inventory a bit easier, too. Check out our Square Retail Review for more on price, pros and cons, and all a lot more details.

Square for Restaurants:

If you are familiar with Square’s POS system, you may be surprised to see how different Square for Restaurants really is. And it has to be. Sit-down restaurants usually require more specialized tools to cover their everyday business needs, and this POS delivers — from table mapping, menu creation, table management, and reporting tools — there are a lot of specialized features here. Check out our full Square for Restaurants review to find out if this is the right choice for your restaurant.

Square Appointments:

If your business relies on creating and maintaining appointments for just yourself or an entire team, Square Appointments might be just what you need. Note that this POS option is an iOS exclusive. It’s free for individual users, and pricing starts at $50 a month beyond that. Check out our in-depth Square Appointments Review, including functionality, customization, and features.

Choose Hardware Options

Square has expanded to offer so much more than the free magstripe credit card reader. As I mentioned earlier, Square offers a Contactless + Chip reader that lets you accept chip card and contactless payments for $49, which is a smart move to improve payment security.  

If you need something more robust in terms of hardware, however, you can probably find what you need. Square offers countertop POS systems with customer-friendly displays, and if you want to toe the line between countertop vs. mobile, Square also offers a fully portable credit card terminal with a built-in receipt printer.

Square’s countertop POS devices include:

  • Square Stand: This hardware option is a tablet stand with a built-in card reader (along with contactless and chip reader) with an affordable price tag, minimal cords, and a swivel stand.
  • Square Terminal: A more portable option, Square Terminal accepts magstripe, chip card, and contactless transactions. It’s sleek design, built-in receipt printer, and generous display size make it a nice, versatile option.
  • Square Register: Need something more robust? The Square Register offers a 13.25-inch display to run your Square Point of Sale, and on the opposite side, you have a 7-inch customer display ready for magstripe, chip card, and contactless transactions.

For an in-depth look at each of the POS options or to take a gander at all the Square POS kits and bundles, head over to A Guide To Square Credit Card Readers And POS Bundles.

Where To Go Next With Square?

When you consider that Square is a secure, PCI compliant option with a transparent pricing plan and offers lots of bells and whistles, it truly is an excellent solution for any small business. I like that it’s so easy to set up an account with Square, and that they don’t ask for much in terms of personal information. When it is time to get set up or find reports, the dashboard is intuitive and easy to navigate. I also love that Square offers affordable hardware and software when it comes time to scale the business.

Not quite ready to make a decision? Check out our Square Review or head over to Square and set up your own account to see for yourself.

Already have an account? Square support provides great resources to help answer your questions as you navigate your options.

Have questions, comments? Leave us your thoughts below! (Just make sure you check our comment guidelines, first!)

The post How To Set Up A Free Square Account appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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WooCommerce VS Shopify

WooCommerce VS Shopify

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Pricing

Tie

Cloud-Based Or Locally-Installed

Tie

Tie

Specific Size Of Business

Tie

Hardware & Software Requirements

✓

Ease Of Use

✓

Tie

Features

Tie

Tie

Web Design

Tie
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Integrations & Add-Ons

✓

Payment Processing

Customer Service & Technical Support

✓

Tie

User Reviews

Tie

Security

✓

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Final Verdict

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Review

Visit Site

Review

Visit Site

WooCommerce and Shopify are both wildly popular software systems that can help you build a thriving online store. Behind-the-scenes, however, the two platforms work quite differently from one another. Before we jump into comparing these juggernauts of the ecommerce software realm, let’s quickly get oriented on the basics of each.

At its core, Shopify (read our review) is a SaaS (software as a service) online shopping cart platform. Starting at just $9/month, you can upload products to an online catalog and sell them on Facebook, or post them on an existing website of your own via embeddable “buy” buttons. You can even sell your products in-person with the Shopify POS app. Then, beginning at $29/month, Shopify facilitates the creation and hosting of a fully-fledged ecommerce website.

By contrast, WooCommerce (read our review), is a free and open-source ecommerce shopping cart plugin that was created specifically for installation inside the WordPress dashboard. The WooCommerce plugin turns a WordPress website or blog into an ecommerce storefront. In other words, WooCommerce has no actual website-building capabilities of its own — WordPress handles that part.

To understand WooCommerce and how it works, you need a little familiarity with WordPress itself. To put it simply, WordPress is a website builder/CMS (content management system) that exists in two forms: WordPress.org and WordPress.com. WordPress.org is the self-hosted version, whereas WordPress.com uses the same basic software as WordPress.org, but provides web hosting for your site as part of its services. Either WordPress version can actually be combined with WooCommerce, but each setup has different implications for cost, site maintenance, etc.

For the purposes of our Shopify versus WooCommerce comparison, we’ll focus on combining WooCommerce with WordPress.org, the self-hosted option. Most ecommerce sellers are attracted to WooCommerce because they already use WordPress.org for their websites, and/or they like the WooCommerce plugin’s “free” price tag in conjunction with WordPress.org. While the WooCommerce plugin itself is always free, you can only add plugins to the dot-com version of WordPress if you’re on the $25/month WordPress.com subscription.

Now that you know the basics, we’ll break down the two platforms into their various components — usability, features, comprehensive cost, and more. It’s basically the same old compare-and-contrast essay we were all forced to write in middle school. The stakes are a bit higher with this particular essay, however. By the time we’re done, you’ll hopefully have a good sense of which ecommerce platform (if either) is best for your online business.

Pricing

Winner: WooCommerce

You might be tempted to think WooCommerce immediately takes this category without contest. After all, both the WooCommerce plugin and the WordPress.org software download are free, whereas Shopify automatically involves a monthly subscription. In reality, you need to invest in a few services (e.g., web hosting) to get a WooCommerce + WordPress.org ecommerce store off the ground. The bottom line is, WooCommerce may be a bit cheaper at the outset, but it’s not 100% free. Just wanted to clear that up first!

Before we run a more detailed cost comparison of the two platforms, here’s a quick look at why WooCommerce wins this category:

  • You can launch an online storefront up for well under $29/month, which is the starting price for a full online store with Shopify.
  • All WooCommerce features are included with the free plugin. You don’t automatically need to jump to higher subscription levels for additional features or staff accounts (you just may need some add-ons as time goes on). In other words, you pay only for exactly what you need.
  • Neither WordPress nor WooCommerce charge any additional transaction fees per sale, beyond those charged by your credit card processor. Shopify only waives its extra transaction fees (that start at 2%) if you use Shopify Payments as your credit card processor, and not everyone is eligible for Shopify Payments.

WooCommerce is the budget option of the two, but only if you have the skills to run your own website and don’t need to hire extra help for web development, site maintenance, security, backups, etc. If you do need lots of extra help, you could still end up paying more with WooCommerce + WordPress in the long run. Fair warning.

That’s the summary explanation. Now, here’s a more detailed pricing breakdown if you’re interested:

Shopify Pricing

  • Monthly Subscription Fee: $9 (no standalone storefront), $29, $79 or $299/month.
  • Domain: Unless you want your store URLs to end in “myshopify.com” (and you probably don’t), you’ll need to purchase or connect a custom domain. Domains from Shopify start at $11/year, or there are lots of third-party options.
  • Web Hosting: Included
  • SSL/TLS Certificate: Included
  • Additional Transaction Fees: 0.5%-2.0% depending on your Shopify subscription — unless you use the in-house payment processor (Shopify Payments), in which case these extra fees are waived. Note: these transaction fees are on top of regular credit card processing fees you must pay per sale with any processor.
  • Additional Cost: Primarily add-ons from the marketplace, and perhaps a one-time purchase of a premium theme.

WooCommerce + WordPress.org Pricing

  • Monthly Subscription Fee: None if you set up a free WordPress.org site. The WooCommerce plugin itself is always free.
  • Domain: Varies, but can start at less than a dollar per month from third-parties.
  • Web Hosting: Rock-bottom hosting can cost as low as around $3/month, but most people end up paying at least $10 per month, depending on the size and traffic levels of their stores.
  • SSL/TLS Certificate: Often included with your hosting or domain provider, but may need to be purchased separately. Basic certificates cost just a few dollars per month.
  • Additional Transaction Fees: None. Neither WooCommerce or WordPress charge a commission per sale.
  • Additional Cost: Add-ons, themes, and any web development and ongoing site maintenance if you’re not taking care of all that yourself.

Sample WooCommerce + WordPress.org hosting

Cloud-Based Or Locally-Installed

Winner: Tie

As we’ve mentioned, a major difference between Shopify and WooCommerce is that your Shopify subscription includes web hosting. No downloads or installations are required. To use WooCommerce, however, you first must download the WordPress.org software and install it on a web hosting server. Then, you add the WooCommerce plugin to that setup. Some web hosts do offer preloaded WordPress + WooCommerce packages or “one-click” installations.

Is the Shopify or WooCommerce method better? This one really comes down to personal preference and ability. The self-hosted setup of WooCommerce requires more hands-on involvement and skill from the user, but you may be just fine with that.

Specific Size Of Business

Winner: Tie

Both WooCommerce and Shopify are scalable, working for small to enterprise-level businesses.

Shopify has predetermined subscription brackets. While none of these put hard limits on your revenue, number of products, bandwidth, or storage, the implication is that you’ll increase your subscription as your store grows. The exception is the jump to Shopify Plus, which is required if your revenue reaches over $1 million per year. These plans cost a couple thousand a month to start, but it can be worth the investment in return for a service that’s tailored specifically for enterprise-level merchants.

You will also need to change your Shopify subscription as you add more staff accounts to your store. For example, the $29/month plan accommodates two admin seats in addition to the owner’s account, while the $299/month plan gives you 15 spots.

WooCommerce also has the potential to grow with your store, but the system is much more fluid. You have 100% flexibility to expand your operation (and perhaps employ more help with your site) in a piecemeal fashion, exactly when and how you see fit. As your site traffic increases, for example, you’ll want to adjust your hosting service accordingly to accommodate more bandwidth.

Hardware & Software Requirements

Winner: Shopify

As a fully-hosted, SaaS platform, Shopify takes care of nearly all technology requirements on your behalf. All you really need is an internet connection and an up-to-date web browser.

With WooCommerce and WordPress.org, most of the hardware and software requirements are functions of your hosting environment. Your server needs to support specific versions of PHP and MYSQL, for example. You’re responsible for staying on top of the evolving requirements for both WooCommerce and WordPress.org when you set up a WooCommerce store. This includes installing updates of both the Worpress.org and WooCommerce software as they are released. Plugins are available to help automate some of these steps for you, but you’re still ultimately responsible for finding and updating those plugins!

Because dealing with hardware and software issues with WooCommerce is more nuanced and requires more vigilance from the user than Shopify’s arrangement, we award Shopify the win.

Ease Of Use

Winner: Shopify

It’s hard to beat Shopify in terms of user-friendliness. Even compared with other all-in-one SaaS platforms designed with the complete ecommerce novice in mind, Shopify usually comes out on top. Open-source software like WooCommerce, on the other hand, is not generally known for its ease of use. You’re trading some degree of ease and simplicity for increased flexibility and customization.

It should be noted, however, that WooCommerce actually isn’t all that bad when it comes to ease of use, especially compared with most open-source solutions. For starters, many folks are already somewhat familiar with WordPress, which gives them a head start in navigating WooCommerce. (Keep in mind that the reverse will apply if you’re not already familiar with WordPress — you’ll be learning two systems at once.)  Once you get everything installed and up and running, day-to-day operations and manipulation of features are all pretty straightforward with WooCommerce.

Still, as we’ve already touched on, it can be quite overwhelming to stay on top of updates, extension compatibility, security issues, and the various tertiary systems underpinning your WooCommerce store. The cliché I’ve often read about WooCommerce is true — you have to be willing to get your hands dirty. Shopify is a much more plug-and-play, hands-free system.

WooCommerce offers to install some additional free plugins (like Jetpack and WooCommerce Services) from the get-go that help bring the system more in line with a fully-hosted solution like Shopify, but you still end up with a sort of cobbled-together setup that is more difficult to manage than an all-inclusive platform.

Have a look at our full Shopify and WooCommerce reviews if you’d like more information on the topic of ease-of-use, but I’ve included just a quick peek at the dashboards of each platform, as well as what it’s like to add a product.

Shopify Dashboard:

After signing up for a free 14-day trial, you’re taken to a clean and easy-to-navigate dashboard, with all your major functions in the left menu, and a few tips to get started in the center:

Shopify — Add A Product:

Shopify has a super-simple product interface. All fields are completed simply by scrolling down the page.

WooCommerce Dashboard:

Below I’ve shown a WordPress dashboard with WooCommerce already installed. If you look closely at the left menu, you’ll see that WooCommerce is just one item of many. I haven’t even expanded its own menu yet, nor the “Products” menu right below. In the center of the dashboard, I’m faced with additional suggested configurations and plugin choices. Do I need them all? Should I set them up now? Just “Dismiss?” It’s certainly all doable, but I find it bit cluttered and overwhelming to get started. Plus, this is all after I completed the setup wizard.

WooCommerce — Add A Product:

Once you scroll past the plugin suggestions, adding a product is quite straightforward with WooCommerce. If you’ve ever used WordPress, it’s a lot like creating a blog post. You’ll just need to configure ecommerce settings like price and inventory levels.

Another aspect to consider is that you won’t be able to test WooCommerce (like you can test Shopify with its free trial) unless you have a host and server already set up to install WordPress.org. Ease of use is always a bit subjective, and it’s hard to get a good feel for usability without testing the software yourself.

Features

Winner: Tie

Although one is software-as-a-service and the other is open-source, both Shopify and WooCommerce actually take a similar approach to features. The basic components to get a store launched and managed on a day-to-day basis are included with the software, but you’re expected to add a few extensions and integrations to either platform in order to tailor your store to your exact specifications.

With Shopify, this occasionally even means bumping up your subscription level, whereas with WooCommerce, features are always expanded through separate add-ons. WooCommerce has also been known to test new features by treating them as extensions first, and then eventually incorporating the features into the core offering once all the kinks are worked out by users. It’s really a community effort with Woo.

However you slice it, a common complaint about both platforms is that extra plugins can cause extra cost and extra headaches. Each system is kept as simple (yet functional) as can be from the outset, so that new users are not immediately overwhelmed by all that’s ultimately possible with these powerful software programs.

Let’s do a couple of quick sample feature comparisons. WooCommerce lets you add unlimited product variations, sell digital products, and incorporate product reviews without separate extensions, while Shopify requires (free) add-ons for each of these functions. Meanwhile, Shopify already includes abandoned cart recovery, invoice creation, and pre-integrated shipping software (Shopify Shipping). You’ll need extensions for these features in WooCommerce.

I’m tempted to give Shopify the win because I feel it comes with a slightly more well-rounded ecommerce feature set out-of-the-box without any plugins. And yet I also don’t want to overlook the enormous capability that comes with an entire WordPress.org ecosystem at your fingertips, nor dismiss the potential to customize each feature to your liking in an open-source environment. There are just too many factors at play to declare a clear winner here. The best advice I can give is to check for the features you need, as well as how they are obtained with each platform.

Web Design

Winner: Tie

I know this makes our compare-and-contrast essay less exciting, but it’s difficult to call a winner in this category as well. Each platform has advantages and disadvantages, and your own perception of what actually qualifies as an advantage or disadvantage will differ depending on your situation.

Below is a quick summary of each system’s approach to the design and customization of your storefront, along with some screenshots to help illustrate.

Shopify Overview:

  • 67 total templates, most with 2-4 style variations
  • 10 templates are free and supported by Shopify developers
  • Remaining third-party themes cost $140-$180
  • Built-in theme editor with drag-and-drop capability
  • Additional customization available with HTML, CSS, and Shopify’s own theme coding language (Liquid)

Shopify Theme Marketplace:

Shopify Theme Editor:

The Shopify theme editor consists of two elements: “Theme Settings” (for changing fonts, colors, etc.) and “Sections” (for dragging and dropping widget blocks up and down your pages).

WooCommerce Overview:

  • Access to thousands of free and commercial/supported WordPress.org themes (over 900 show up when filtering for “ecommerce” in the marketplace)
  • WooCommerce recommends its free “Storefront” theme for foolproof compatibility and web ticket support
  • 14 Storefront “child” themes available (two free, premium are $39 each)
  • Theme editor allows color changes and placement of widgets (but without drag-and-drop)
  • Storefront expansion bundle ($69) allows further customization without coding
  • Theme modification also possible with HTML and CSS (no proprietary coding language involved)
  • Add a free plugin (such as Elementor) for drag-and-drop design editing of WordPress.org pages without code
  • WordPress.org’s new Gutenberg editor provides additional non-coding customization for your overall WordPress site

WooCommerce Storefront Themes:

WooCommerce Theme Editor:

Below, I’ve shown the portion of the built-in theme editor where you can choose widget blocks for various spots within your pages.

So, how do WooCommerce and Shopify stack up when it comes to web design? Does Shopify win for having a drag-and-drop theme editor and font tweaking built-in, or does it lose for making you learn a proprietary coding language if you want to do further template customizations? The new Gutenberg block editor for WordPress enhances your theme editing capabilities without code, and lets you easily place WooCommerce products wherever you’d like within your larger WordPress site — so that’s another factor to consider going forward. It’s issues like these that make this category a toss-up depending on your point of view.

Integrations & Add-Ons

Winner: WooCommerce

Even though I’ve already spoiled the winner of this category, we need to highlight the fact that Shopify also has an amazing app marketplace with around 2500 integrations at your disposal. With Shopify, you have the opportunity to connect with many of the most popular third-party software platforms associated with ecommerce (think shipping, marketing, accounting, and the like). Thousands of developers have invested in creations for the Shopify extension ecosystem. In most ecommerce software battles, Shopify easily wins this category.

All that said, open-source systems like WooCommerce + WordPress.org typically offer more integration possibilities than even the most well-connected SaaS platforms. The whole point of an open-source platform is for users at large to jump head-on into the codebase to customize and build connections. In the open-source world, WordPress has a particularly enormous and active community of developers extending the platform. As a WooCommerce user, not only do you benefit from hundreds of WooCommerce-specific extensions, but also from the over 50,000 plugins available in the WordPress.org marketplace. Even Shopify can’t fully compete.

Some argue that because many WooCommerce integrations are one-time installations, it works out cheaper in the long run, or point out that more WooCommerce plugins are free. In truth, integrations can add to your monthly cost with either Shopify or WooCommerce — especially if your integrations are to third-party software platforms with their own monthly subscription fees (and not just one-off feature installs). Be cognizant of the potential for ballooning add-on costs with either system.

Payment Processing

Winner: WooCommerce

The complete freedom WooCommerce offers to choose a payment processor and associated pricing model that best suits your particular store’s needs is the reason we award the open-source plugin the win in this category.

While Shopify technically offers more pre-built payment integrations than WooCommerce in its respective marketplace, you are actually penalized with an extra 0.5% to 2.0% Shopify commission on every sale if you don’t select the in-house Shopify Payments option. This percentage — 2% for most merchants starting out — is applied on top of the fees charged by your payment gateway itself. Trust me, that extra 2% adds up fast.

Shopify Payments has its own advantages and disadvantages, but for starters, some merchants don’t even qualify to use this processor in the first place. While Shopify Payments definitely works well when it works, a lot of merchants end up stuck in no-man’s land when it comes to payment processing with Shopify. Caught between an extra fee and a hard place, as it were. (Insert your own, better metaphor here.)

While you may need to pay a one-time fee to integrate your favorite processor with WooCommerce (Stripe and PayPal come as free, built-in options), you can ultimately select an option that fits perfectly with your risk level, sales volume, and transaction size. You can also select for any customer support and feature requirements you may have for your payments system.

Customer Service & Technical Support

Winner: Shopify                                  

Both WooCommerce and WordPress have produced a plethora of self-help resources and documentation. Moreover, both boast thriving communities of developers and merchants working with the software who readily share problem-solving advice via forums. This is all very good and helpful.

WooCommerce can’t compete with Shopify when it comes to personalized support, however. A “help desk” is offered with WooCommerce from which you can submit a web ticket for specific purchased items, but a personal response is not always guaranteed.

Meanwhile, along with great self-help resources and community forums of its own, Shopify offers 24/7 phone, email, and chat avenues for contacting live representatives in real time. This is part of the all-inclusive nature of the Shopify platform, and part of the reason you pay that monthly subscription fee.

Now, this is not to say you couldn’t potentially receive personalized assistance from your hosting provider if your site goes down, for example. The quality and availability of this sort of third-party tech support will vary widely by company, though. Not to mention, things can get complicated very quickly regarding exactly who holds responsibility for whatever’s gone horribly wrong with your online store in the middle of the night. Once again, our point is that neither WooCommerce nor WordPress.org has a team of service reps standing by waiting for your distress call. You’re largely on your own.

User Reviews

Winner: Tie

Shopify and WooCommerce each have devoted followings of satisfied users, and both platforms tend to score very highly on user review websites. Shopify merchants love the user-friendliness of a powerful SaaS platform where most things are taken care of for you, while WooCommerce devotees appreciate that most things are not taken care of for you — it gives these users the flexibility and control they desire.

Of course, neither ecommerce platform is perfect. Here are a few of the complaints that arise most often:

Shopify

  • Extra transaction fees when not using Shopify Payments
  • Costly add-ons
  • Poor customer support
  • Frustration with Shopify Payments

WooCommerce

  • Costly add-ons
  • Lack of personal customer support
  • Steep learning curve
  • Technical difficulties (i.e., extensions, themes, updates, etc.)

I’m still calling this one a draw. One platform does not dramatically outshine the other when it comes to real user feedback.

Security

Winner: Shopify

Shopify wins this category because all Shopify stores are automatically PCI compliant out-of-the-box and come with a built-in SSL certificate. With WooCommerce, your store’s security falls more directly upon your own shoulders. You’re ultimately responsible for choosing a secure and PCI-compliant web host and payment gateway, obtaining an SSL certificate, performing Woodpress.org and WooCommerce plugin updates, and staying on top of the latest security patches. As WooCommerce reminds you in its own documentation, “a given WooCommerce site is overall exactly as secure as the WordPress installation itself.”

There’s no doubt that a WooCommerce store can be just as secure in as a Shopify store, as long as all the right pieces are in place and carefully managed. There’s just a higher chance for site security to go (horribly) awry due to mismanagement or innocent mistakes.

Final Verdict

Winner: Shopify

 

This was a tight race, folks. Shopify and WooCommerce have both earned their popularity in the ecommerce world, even if for different reasons and for different segments of online sellers. Based on our experience, as well as our sense of the needs of our Merchant Maverick readership overall, we’re still more likely to recommend Shopify over WooCommerce.

The majority of online sellers will have an easier time with Shopify right out-of-the-box. Shopify is much more “foolproof” and all-inclusive than WooCommerce, with technical aspects like installation, hosting, updates, and security all handled on your behalf. This allows you to expand your focus beyond just building and maintaining your store, even as an absolute web-beginner. The opportunity for 24/7 personalized customer support with Shopify is also a huge factor in our verdict.

All Shopify gushing aside, we firmly maintain that this SaaS platform is not a magic bullet solution for all online merchants, and WooCommerce may be just the alternative you seek. As an open-source software plugin combined with WordPress.org’s vast ecosystem, WooCommerce offers a degree of ownership, control, and flexibility that isn’t possible with Shopify. It’s the perfect platform for the technically-inclined among us who have the time and skill to tinker with code, updates, and integrations to customize their stores at a finely-tuned pace. The freedom to select your own web host, as well as a payment processor that works best for your specific country and risk level without financial penalty (hello, Shopify’s extra transaction fees) is also a big draw for a lot of business owners using WooCommerce. The power truly is in your hands if you go this route.

As the old adage goes, however: with great power comes great responsibility. If you choose an open-source platform like WooCommerce, you should definitely heed this nugget of graphic novel-based wisdom.

Have you worked with Shopify or WooCommerce? Let us know if the comments — particularly if you have experience with both!

The post WooCommerce VS Shopify appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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11+ Great Shopify Website Examples for Inspiration

Shopify Examples

So you’re considering using Shopify as your online store builder, and you’re looking for Shopify website examples for inspiration and confirmation that you’re making the right choice.

Shopify is one of the biggest names in the ecommerce website builder space. It’s part of a group of turn-key ecommerce (aka “hosted ecommerce”) solutions that provide everything you need to set up and start selling your product(s) to the world, as opposed to you putting all the pieces together yourself.

See Shopify’s Current Plans & Pricing

It’s sort of like hiring a general contractor to build your house, over being the contractor and hiring subcontractors yourself. You’re still in control, but you let the general contractor use their expertise to make the project happen.

Shopify is known for its straightforward user experience, which is great for DIY-ers. All you need to do is pick a Shopify plan that fits your budget and feature needs, point your domain to your store, choose a design/template (you can edit a free one using their drag and drop builder or build one yourself / use a designer), add your content and products, then start selling!

Before we dive into examples of what Shopify websites look like in the wild, there are two things to keep in mind when you’re evaluating a website platform.

First, it’s not just about how the websites look. The functionality matters too.

Think of it like buying a car. You have a make / model in mind, and you’re probably looking to see them drive by on the road to see how they actually look. However, you also care about how they operate. Does it accelerate well? Does it have the hauling capabilities you need? How is the gas mileage?

Looking at a website platform should be done in the same way. We collected the following Shopify examples not just to show you how they look, but how Shopify websites can function so you can be sure you have a website that fits both the style you want and the functionality you need.

Second, it’s not just about how a platform’s website’s look by default. It’s also about how far you can extend a piece of software via plugins, extensions or apps.

Think about it like your phone. Sure, your iOS or Android is great by default. But their “killer app” is the fact that they can have 3rd party apps to do things that iOS or Android alone could never do.

Shopify is similar. They have a a theming language that allows any 3rd party to develop & sell pre-built designs. We collected a few that are purchased themes, and some that are native to Shopify.

Either way – that possibility is something to keep in mind with all these designs. Explore Shopify’s theme options here. Here’s a few Shoipify website examples including examples from general ecommerce, t-shirt stores, dropshipping, and jewelry.

Disclosure – I receive customer referral fees from companies mentioned on this website. All data & opinions are based on my professional judgement as a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

General Website Examples

Let’s start with a general round up of solid Shopify website examples. We’ve pulled these examples based on functionality, design, and usability. Again, Shopify can be fairly straightforward to use — they have everything you need to get your shop up and running, minus your products and ecommerce marketing strategy. However, be aware that with this comes trade-offs (i.e. you give up some control, functionality, customization, etc.)

Inherit Clothing

Inherit Clothing

Inherit Clothing’s site is a great example of how built out a “standard” Shopify website can be. Pay special attention to how organized the information on the site is — from the top bar, which for special announcements (like sales, promotions, etc), to the navigation, which is broken down by product category. It’s incredibly easy for a shopper to find exactly what they’re looking for when hitting the homepage, which is one of the hallmarks of a great ecommerce site.

Rocky Mountain Bikes

Rocky Mountain Bikes

On the opposite side of the spectrum is this Shopify website example, which shows what a custom designed Shopify site looks like. Rocky Mountain Bikes isn’t using a theme for their website design, but has created an entirely custom look and feel instead. We especially liked their product page, which goes into extreme detail on bike specs, functionality, and even shows how the bike operates by including a video. If you’re looking to create something entirely unique for your store and need advanced product page functionality, this site is a great place to start for inspiration.

Explore Similar Shopify Templates!

T-Shirt

Online t-shirt shops are all the rage, and Shopify is an incredibly popular platform for these stores. Like any apparel website, you’ll want to make sure your t-shirt site includes high quality product photos, shipping and return information, and an easy checkout process. You’ll also want to be sure your website platform fits your needs in terms of order processing functionality, payment integrations, etc. Here are a few Shopify t-shirt website examples to use for inspiration:

Bird Fur Tees

bird fur

The first thing that stood out to us on this t-shirt website is the homepage. As soon as you get to the front page, you know immediately what the shop is and what their products look like. Bird Fur’s tagline (t-shirts for people) immediately tells visitors what the company is selling and the image carousel underneath is a great way to show the shirts “in the wild” vs. just standard product photos that only show the shirt.

Speaking of product photos, notice how Bird Fur uses bright, high-quality images to showcase their products. The grid pattern below the homepage are colorful, clear, and also gives visitors a way to shop directly from the homepage. Remember that an ecommerce homepage should be easy to navigate and give visitors a clear path to what they’re looking for. By featuring popular products on the homepage of your t-shirt site, you’re giving shoppers an immediate opportunity to browse and add to their cart.

Another feature to call out is this site’s “These are cool too..” section, which shows related products that visitors may like.

Bird fur related products

Showcasing additional products is a great way  to keep shoppers browsing for related items they may not have considered before!

Explore Similar Shopify Templates!

Parks Project

Parks Project

Parks Project initially  started as a t-shirt company and then expanded into other apparel categories. We pulled this Shopify example to show how t-shirt companies with a larger mission (i.e. to save national parks) can utilize their shop to bring awareness to their cause.

At the time of writing this article, Parks Project is using their homepage for a special announcement regarding the government shutdown and how it’s affecting national parks. The How to Help button takes you to a page that tells you more about Parks Project mission and how you can help.

Underneath this section is a “Favorites” category, where Parks Project showcases their most popular products. This is a great way to promote products across different categories, and a format to keep in mind if you’re planning on expanding your t-shirt shop one day.

Parks Project Favorites product organization

Rock City Outfitters

Rock City Outfitters

This Shopify t-shirt website example is all about displaying the most crucial information upfront. Check out the 15% off discount functionality Rock City Outfitters use. A coupon is a great way to capture shopper’s email addresses. It also gives you a way to follow up with them with promotions (without having to spend thousands on advertising!).

The search functionality in the top right is also a great way to provide a solid user experience. Let’s say a visitor is familiar with your shirt shop and wants to find a product immediately. Having a search bar helps them get to their destination quickly, without having to navigate through product pages.

Lastly, Rocky Mountain Outfitters is a great example of a t-shirt website that uses a bold and loud design without being overwhelming. Remember that a “clean” design doesn’t have to mean boring. It just means that your visitors can easily find what they’re looking for and that your information is clear.

Explore Similar Shopify Templates!

Jewelry

Shopify is also a popular choice for jewelry websites and online boutiques. Just like t-shirt shops, a jewelry website should focus on strong product images and descriptions, easy navigation, and a simple checkout process. You’ll also want to be sure you include information like shipping and return policies and jewelry care. Here are a few examples of Shopify jewelry websites for inspiration:

Shore Projects

Shore Projects

If you’re needing to feature customization on your site, this jewelry website example from Shore Projects is a great place to start for some inspiration. Shore Projects allows for custom watch faces and bands. It has functionality on the site that shows you how the different combinations look. We especially liked the different product shot angles, which change which every band / watch face combination.

Explore Similar Shopify Templates!

MVMT

MVMT watches

If you plan on using Instagram in your marketing strategy, this Shopify jewelry website features a neat integration that could come in handy: Shop Our Instagram. It features photos from MVMT’s Instagram profile and gives users the option to shop the look from the photos. When you click on a photo, it triggers a pop-up product page for the product featured in the photo with product specs, an add to cart button, and the option to see the original post on Instagram and/or Facebook.

Biko

Binko

Not all websites needs to be design masterpieces. Biko is a great example of a clean, organized Shopify jewelry website that is well designed without being overly complicated. In fact, the minimalist design keeps the shopper focused on the product photos, simple navigation, and ultimate goal: checkout!

Explore Similar Shopify Templates!

Dropshipping

Not only is Shopify a popular website builder option for ecommerce business, but it’s also particularly popular among dropshippers (a retailer who sells inventory they don’t own until they have the order). Shopify has an API that allows dropshippers to sync with their AliExpress account (or other 3rd party managers like Oberlo), which provide products for dropshippers. Here are a few Shopify dropshipping website examples for inspiration:

TrendyGoods

TrendyGoods

This website is a great example of a dropshipping Shopify site that doesn’t have a specific product category, but sells a variety of viral goods and niches down with platform popularity (Facebook). Notice how TrendyGoods organizes their product categories at the top of the page with icons and shows Facebook views underneath each product. It’s a unique way to organize products that are unrelated without making it messy.

Explore Similar Shopify Templates!

TurninGear

Turning Gear

On the opposite side of the spectrum is Turning Gear, a dropshipper who specializes in fishing equipment. Notice how their products are organized by product category: reels, lines, lures, etc. We also liked the bottom banner underneath the header image that shows shipping information, customer service info, and their location. This Shopify website also uses product pop-ups, which show the most recent products purchased to spur urgency.

Chakra Collective

Chakra Collective

Here’s another Shopify dropshipping website example, Chakra Collective. What stood out to us about this site was the uniformity of the theme. It actually looks like a traditional fashion line, rather than a dropshipping website. If you’re looking to create a consistent brand with your dropshipping business (like a niche fashion businesses), this website is a great place to start for inspiration.

Explore Similar Shopify Templates!

Next Steps

At the end of the day, choosing the best ecommerce website platform goes far beyond design. Why? Because all web pages are made of HTML & CSS with a few scripts thrown in. This means that any website template can exist on any good web platform.

What YOU want to focus on is the design elements and functionality that are available on the platform you’re choosing.

If you feel like Shopify fits the design and functionality needs you have for your ecommerce website, you can explore Shopify plans here.

Not sure if Shopify is a right fit? Read my Shopify review and explore other Shopify alternatives here.

The post 11+ Great Shopify Website Examples for Inspiration appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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How to Start And Fund An Online Boutique

For many aspiring entrepreneurs, opening a boutique seems like a dream. After all, how many people can say they’re making the world a little more stylish all while bringing in an income? In the past, boutique owners faced lots of challenges, such as finding retail space and acquiring necessary business licenses, but the internet has made opening a boutique easier than ever.

Of course, it still takes hard work and a little know-how to successfully set up, fund, and operate an online boutique. Whether you’ve delved into the world of online business before or you’re new to entrepreneurship, this post is for you. We’ll break down the critical steps to setting up an online boutique, explore how to secure funding for your new business, and give other tips for running your online store. Let’s dive in!

Decide What To Sell

In order for your online boutique to be a success, you have to make sales. Obviously. However, before you can start bringing in money, you need to first decide exactly what your boutique will sell. In other words, you need to find your niche.

It may be tempting to go overboard and carry a little something for everyone. However, especially in the early stages of starting an online boutique, it’s wise to start small and hone in on one particular area. If your focus is on designer clothes, plan to carry only women’s clothing or only children’s clothing. Or maybe you want your boutique to feature custom jewelry and accessories. In that case, don’t muddy the waters with random sweaters and leggings.

Once you’ve got a broad overview of the customers you want to attract, it’s time to narrow down your niche further. For instance, do you want to carry affordable yet trendy styles for the 13-18 crowd, or would you rather sell high-end, classic pieces for professional women? Remember, you want to start small. If your boutique becomes a success and you see a demand for other products, add them. For now, though, take the time to find out what’s a hit … and what’s a miss.

Deciding what to sell will not only help you determine what inventory to keep on hand and what products to promote, but it will also help you determine your branding strategy, from the colors you use on your website to the design of your logo.

Create A Business Plan

Whether you operate a traditional retail store or an online boutique, there’s one thing all businesses need: a good business plan. Think of a business plan as a map of your business, outlining your goals and the steps you’ll take to reach those goals. A solid business plan is critical for new businesses seeking financing from investors or traditional lenders like banks and credit unions.

Your business plan should include information such as:

  • Executive Summary
  • Company Description
  • Market Overview
  • Sales & Marketing Strategy
  • Operating Plan
  • Organization & Management Team
  • Financials

Source Inventory

With your niche selected and your business plan in place, you’re getting closer to opening your boutique. However, before you launch your website and begin to make sales, you have to find and purchase inventory that will be used to stock your online store.

There are a few ways to source inventory. One of the most common ways to source your inventory is by using a wholesaler. Through a wholesaler, you can purchase items in bulk at a reduced rate. Typically, the more you purchase, the more you save. Wholesale suppliers can easily be found in the U.S. and overseas with a quick online search.

Keeping your niche in mind, search online and create a list of possible wholesalers to use for your business. Keep an eye on available items, pricing, minimum order requirements, and shipping costs to determine which wholesaler will be the best partner for your business.

One of the biggest benefits of purchasing from a wholesaler is that you will have more control over shipping your products to customers. You’ll be able to control how products are shipped, as well as the packaging that your customers receive. This offers a better opportunity for branding your business.

However, purchasing your inventory through a wholesaler also has its drawbacks. This option may be more expensive based on minimum purchasing requirements. Packaging and shipping your own items could add on to your expenses. You may also incur additional overhead costs for the storage of your inventory.

If you don’t want to work with a wholesaler, dropshipping is another option to consider for your boutique. With dropshipping, a third-party supplier fulfills the orders of your customers. Your customer places an order, the order is manually or automatically sent to your supplier, and the supplier is responsible for packing and shipping the order to your customer.

There are a few drawbacks associated with dropshipping. The supplier or manufacturer handles packaging and shipping, so you won’t be able to personalize the packaging and branding of your shipped orders. You may also encounter some issues with inventory. If you house your own inventory, you’ll be able to better account for what’s in stock. A miscommunication with your dropshipping supplier could result in canceled orders or backorders, which could lead to unsatisfied customers.

Also, you have to consider that if something goes wrong, you are ultimately the face of your brand and you will be liable. If the wrong item is sent or there’s another issue with an order, this reflects poorly on you, even if it’s the supplier’s fault.

No matter what route you take, it’s important to properly vet any supplier you’re using for your boutique. Request samples to check out the quality of products, find out if you’ll have a dedicated contact to reach when there is a problem, and work with reputable businesses with a history of success in their industry.

Register Your Business

Before you start peddling boutique items, you’ll need to register your business. For an online boutique, the process isn’t too difficult.

Choose Your Business Structure

When you start your business, you’ll need to select your business structure. For an online boutique, your best options are to operate as a sole proprietorship or limited liability company (LLC). An individual can operate as a sole proprietorship without having to file paperwork. However, it’s often wise to take a few extra steps to set up an LLC, which will protect you in most cases from being held liable for your business’ debt. You may also opt to operate as a corporation, which may be a good idea if you plan to bring on outside investors.

File State Paperwork

To form an LLC or corporation, you’ll file paperwork with the state. For most business owners, this will be the state where you live and the business is formed. You’ll not only file documents within this state but also pay a filing fee, which varies by state.

Take Care Of Finances

Before you start making money, you have to obtain a federal tax ID number from the Internal Revenue Service. If you’re a sole proprietor or single-member LLC, you can use your Social Security Number.

If you don’t have one already, you also need to open a business bank account to keep your business finances separate from your personal finances.

Meet Sales Tax & Licensing Requirements

As an online seller, you’ll have to collect and pay sales tax for transactions that occur within your state. You can learn more about the requirements in your area by calling your state tax department.

You should also consult with city or county authorities to find out about business license requirements in your area.

Choose An eCommerce Platform

To boost your odds of running a successful online boutique, it’s important to choose the right ecommerce platform. Your shopping cart software serves as a storefront for your customers while also providing you with the backend tools you need to keep your business operating smoothly.

Most entrepreneurs opt for a Software as a Service, or SaaS, platform. The benefits of a SaaS platform is that you don’t have to download, host, or install anything on your own server. Instead, you pay a monthly subscription fee that covers hosting and software updates.

There are multiple platforms to choose from, and you can narrow down your choices by considering what factors are most important to you, such as pricing, add-ons and features, ease of use, and design options.

Unsure of which ecommerce platform is right for you? Take a look at our picks for the best ecommerce platforms for your small business.

Shopify BigCommerce 3dcart Ecwid Wix

3dcart

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Monthly Cost

$9 – $299

$29.95 – $249.95

$19 – $229

Free – $99

$25 – $40

Core Features

Great

Excellent

Excellent

Good

Good

App Store

Very Large

Large

Moderate

Moderate

Small/Moderate

Ease Of Use

Very Easy

Easy

Moderate

Very Easy

Easy

Web Design

Great

Good

Good

OK

Excellent

Customer Support

Great

Great

Good

Good

Good

Build Your Website

What do you think when you walk into a brick-and-mortar store that’s cluttered and disorganized? Does it make you want to spend hours shopping there, or do you immediately run for the door? The same principle applies to your online boutique. No customer wants to browse a website that’s a complete mess.

The good news is you don’t have to be an experienced web designer to get a professional-looking website. There are plenty of great website builders available online.  You can even set up your store in just minutes with your ecommerce software.

Platforms like Shopify have tools that make it easy for anyone to build their online store, even if they have no design experience. With SaaS platforms, you can take advantage of features including drag-and-drop interfaces, mobile optimization, color and font customization, and your choice of store theme.

When building your website, keep in mind your branding and your audience. You want your website to reflect the type of items you sell in your boutique. If you cater to the professional male, a pink floral theme will completely miss the mark.

You want to make sure your website is user-friendly. Categorize your products so they’re easy to find. Add in high-quality photos of your products and detailed descriptions. In a brick-and-mortar store, customers are able to touch, try on, and inspect items before they purchase. With online shopping, customers have to rely on photos and descriptions to ensure they’re making the right purchase. Make sure your customers know exactly what they’re purchasing to keep customer satisfaction high.

Another important step in creating your website is selecting the right domain name. There are a few key points to remember here. First, you want to make sure your company name is front and center. You also want to keep your domain name as short as possible. Avoid adding numbers and hyphens. Keep it simple to make it easier for customers to find you.

When setting up your website, you’ll also need to determine how you’ll ship your orders. Will you offer only domestic shipping, or will you ship internationally? Do you plan to offer a flat rate, or will you charge by weight? Will customers be able to choose from several shipping options (such as next day), or will you offer just one option?

You also need to set up your payment processor. This allows your customers to pay for the products in their shopping carts. Many ecommerce platforms come equipped with tools for shipping and payments, including shipping calculators, built-in payment processors, and dropship integration.

Finally, make sure that your contact info is prominently featured on your website. If your customers have questions about your products or have a problem with an order, they need a way to get in touch with your business. Include your business phone number, email address, and links to your online boutique’s social media websites. You may even consider adding additional features such as a live chat option as your business grows.

Before you go live with your boutique website, test it out. Make sure all links are working and there are no broken images. Hire a proofreader (or take on the job yourself) to make sure there are no typos in your copy or product descriptions. Take the time to make sure your website looks professional and is easy to navigate. Now, it’s time to go live and unveil your boutique to the world!

Secure Funding

Starting an online boutique is more cost-effective than opening a brick-and-mortar store, but it doesn’t come without its costs. Sure, you don’t have to lease commercial space or purchase a point-of-sale system, but your business will have startup and operational costs.

Unfortunately, as a new online business, you’re going to run into some obstacles when it comes to loans and other financial products. Traditional financing routes like bank loans will be unavailable to you because of time in business and annual revenue requirements. This doesn’t mean you’re stuck funding everything out-of-pocket, though. Read on to learn more about the funding options for your online business.

Personal Savings

While you don’t have to pay for your startup costs out-of-pocket, you certainly can by tapping your personal savings. By going this route, you don’t have to worry about paying interest to a lender or being stuck on a repayment schedule. You also don’t risk going into default if you don’t pay back the loan. Using your personal savings isn’t without its risks, though. If your business fails, you’ve lost your savings.

Friends & Family

Pitch your online boutique to a friend or family member with money to invest in a new business. Just because you know this person, however, doesn’t mean that you should just casually ask for money. Instead, prepare your pitch and have your business plan ready. If you decide to move forward with a loan, make sure to have a contract with all details in writing. All parties need to agree to all terms of the contract before signing.

What stands out about this option is that you are able to work out the borrowing amount and repayment terms that work best for you. And, of course, it goes without saying that you treat your friend or family member as you would any other lender by following the terms of the contract and repaying your loan.

ROBS

If you don’t want to go the traditional loan route and want to bypass paying interest or making monthly payments, consider a Rollover for Business Startups plan, also known as a ROBS. If you have a qualifying retirement account, you could leverage these funds to finance your startup expenses.

Taking out your retirement savings early could result in financial penalties, but a ROBS offers a way to avoid paying these penalties. A ROBS can help you get the funding you need in just four easy steps:

  • Create a new C-corporation
  • Create a qualified retirement plan
  • Roll over the retirement funds into the new C-corp plan
  • Access your funds by purchasing stock in the corporation

Using a ROBS to fund your business is legal if done correctly. This is why business owners who choose this type of financing hire a ROBS provider to ensure everything is done by the book. With a ROBS provider, you typically have to pay a setup fee, as well as a monthly maintenance fee.

Be aware: You won’t have to repay a lender or worry about interest charges, but if your business is unsuccessful, you do risk losing your retirement savings. Think carefully before moving forward with this option.

Recommended Option: Benetrends

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Benetrends is a ROBS pioneer, launching its innovative Rainmaker Plan in 1983. With this plan, you can cash in on your retirement plan to get the funding you need for your online boutique.

To qualify for a ROBS Rainmaker plan, you must have an eligible retirement account with at least $50,000. Most accounts qualify. However, Roth IRAs, 457 plans for non-governmental agencies, and distribution of death benefits from an IRA other than to the spouse do not qualify. There are no time in business, annual revenue, or credit score requirements.

Because this isn’t a loan, there are no interest rates or repayment terms. However, to set up a ROBS Rainmaker plan, a setup fee of $4,995 is required. You’ll also pay a monthly maintenance fee of $130, which covers audit protection, compliance, and other features.

Personal Loans

If you have at least a fair credit score, you may qualify for a personal loan that can be used to cover business expenses. Because this is a personal loan — not a business loan — you won’t have to worry about your business credit score, time in business, and annual revenue requirements. Instead, approval will be based on your personal income, credit score, and credit history.

Recommended Option: Lending Club Personal Loans

lending club logo

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Through Lending Club, you can borrow $1,000 to $40,000 with repayment terms of 3 or 5 years. Interest rates start at 5.32% and go up to 30.99% based on your personal credit profile. An origination fee of 1% to 6% of the total borrowing amount is deducted from your loan. No collateral is required to receive a Lending Club personal loan.

To qualify for a Lending Club personal loan, you must:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Have a solid debt-to-income ratio
  • Have a credit history of at least 3 years
  • Have a credit score of 600 or above

You can receive funds as quickly as 3 days after applying. However, there may be delays if additional documentation or information is required during the application process.

Lines Of Credit

As you get your online boutique off the ground, you’ll encounter recurring expenses — think web hosting, SaaS subscriptions, and inventory. While your incoming cash flow should cover these expenses, it’s not uncommon to come up a little short. When this happens, having a flexible line of credit in place will give you a financial boost when you need it.

How does a line of credit work? It’s simple. A lender provides you with a set credit limit, similar to a credit card. When you need additional cash, you can make draws from this credit limit. When you initiate a draw, the money is deducted from your available funds and transferred to your business bank account. With many lenders, you can receive funds as quickly as the next business day. You’ll repay the loan each week or month, along with interest and/or fees. As you repay the loan, funds will become available to use again.

A line of credit is a good thing to have because you can initiate draws as needed. If an emergency expense pops up or you have a sudden influx of orders that deplete your inventory, you’ll have on-demand access to the cash you need for your business.

Recommended Option: Fundbox

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Through Fundbox, you can receive a line of credit up to $100,000. Repayment terms are 12 weeks or 24 weeks. Fees start at 4.66% of the draw amount. You only pay for the funds that you use, and remaining fees are waived when you pay your balance off early.

It’s easy to qualify for a Fundbox line of credit. All you need to be approved is:

  • A business checking account
  • Business bank statements from the last 3 months
  • At least $50,000 in annual revenue

You can be approved just minutes after filling out Funbox’s application, and you can initiate draws immediately once approved.

Purchase Financing

If you need extra time to pay your vendors, consider applying for purchase financing. With purchase financing, you can get the money you need to purchase inventory, equipment, or other business necessities immediately while breaking the total amount into smaller, flexible payments.

With this type of financing, the lender sends a payment directly to your vendor. You’ll then repay the lender the balance — plus any fees and/or interest — on a weekly or monthly repayment schedule. You won’t have to pay the total amount upfront, and paying over a longer period of time may be more financially feasible for your new business.

Recommended Option: Behalf

behalf logo

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Through Behalf, you can pay your eligible vendors between $300 and $50,000. You will have up to 6 months to repay your loan, and you can make payments on a weekly or monthly basis. Monthly fees start at 1% and are based on your creditworthiness. There are no hidden fees, no maintenance fees, and no costs to apply.

To qualify for financing through Behalf, there are no time in business or annual revenue requirements. Although the lender does not have minimum personal credit score requirements, credit history is taken into account and a hard pull will be performed to determine your eligibility.

Vendor Financing

If you make sales on a platform like Shopify or PayPal, you may qualify for vendor financing. With vendor financing, the performance of your business is the most important qualifying factor. Often, there are very low or no personal credit score requirements, so this may be a good option if you don’t have a solid credit history.

With vendor financing, you’ll receive a lump sum of money based on the performance of your business. In exchange for receiving the loan right away, you’ll agree to give the lender a portion of your future sales until the loan plus fees and/or interest is repaid.

The only drawback to this option is that you must be making sales in order to qualify. If you need financing for startup costs and haven’t yet made any sales, you’ll need to explore one of the other options discussed in this article.

PayPal Working Capital

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If you accept PayPal payments, you may qualify for PayPal Working Capital. Through PayPal Working Capital, you can receive a loan of up to 35% of your annual PayPal sales. Repayments are based on a percentage of your future sales. Repayments are made daily when you have sales. If you don’t have sales, a payment will not be made.

However, you must pay a minimum of 5% or 10% of your loan amount every 90 days to remain in good standing.
You’ll pay just one fixed fee for receiving your loan. Your fee is determined by:

  • Amount of your loan
  • Repayment percentage
  • PayPal sales history of your business

PayPal Working Capital does not perform a credit check, and you can pay your loan off early with no prepayment penalties. You must be a PayPal seller to qualify for this loan program.

Recommended Option: Shopify Capital

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Shopify users may qualify for the Shopify Capital program. Through Shopify Capital, you can receive a merchant cash advance (MCA).

Shopify Capital is available by invitation only to qualified Shopify users. Once you receive an invitation, you’ll be able to view your funding options. You can receive up to $500,000 through this loan program based on the performance of your business. Once you select the amount you’d like to borrow, you’ll receive the loan, which is repaid through a fixed percentage of your daily sales until the loan plus fees are repaid.

There are no minimum credit score, annual revenue, or time in business requirements, but you must receive an offer from Shopify in order to apply.

Business & Personal Credit Cards

A business credit card is a flexible financing option if you want access to financing without having to wait for a lender’s approval. Once you’re approved, you’ll receive a credit card with a set credit limit. You can then use your credit card anywhere it’s accepted to purchase inventory, software, or pay for other business expenses.

Once you’ve used your credit card, you’ll repay the borrowed portion of the funds, plus interest, on a monthly basis. As you pay down your balance, it will once again become available to use again. Some credit cards come with 0% introductory rates, bonus offers for new cardholders, and rewards programs, which can provide you with cash and other benefits just for using your card.

When applying for a business credit card, you’ll need to include information about your online boutique, including your business name, federal tax ID number, and annual revenue. If you’re just getting started or don’t yet have your business set up, you can apply for a personal credit card. With a personal credit card, you’ll sign up under your name using your own income — no business name or annual revenue required.

Recommended Option: Chase Ink Business Cash

Chase Ink Business Cash



Apply Now

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.49% – 21.49%, Variable

If you have excellent credit, Chase Ink Business Cash is a card you should consider. With Chase Ink Business Cash, you’ll receive 5% cash back for the first $25,000 spent on internet, cable, and phone services and office supply purchases each year. You’ll receive 2% cash back for the first $25,000 spent at gas stations and restaurants each year. You’ll also receive 1% cash back on all other purchases.

Chase Ink Business Cash has no annual fee and an introductory APR of 0% for the first 12 months. After the introductory period, the card has a variable APR of 15.24% to 21.24%.

Final Thoughts

With careful planning, strategic financing, and a little hard work, you can start and operate your own online boutique. Take the time to learn about local regulations, build your brand and website, and curate a collection of high-quality products, and you’ll soon be on the road to becoming a successful entrepreneur.

If you want to learn more about starting an online store, download our free ebook, The Beginner’s Guide to Starting an Online Store. Then, when you’re ready to scale your business, take some helpful tips from The Advanced Guide to Growing Your Online Store.

The post How to Start And Fund An Online Boutique appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Find The Best eCommerce Website Builder For Your Business

When opening an online store, one of your most important tasks is finding the right website builder. In truth, selecting the proper software fit for your needs can make or break your whole operation. It goes without saying (but we’ll say it anyway, because it’s our job) that a small online shop offering its own home-based inventory has different software requirements than a large network of websites offering thousands of products sourced from all over the world.

To assist in your search, we’ve rounded up the top ecommerce software contenders. Two of our recommendations (Wix and Squarespace) began as traditional website builders for business or personal use, but have since added ecommerce capability. The others are ecommerce shopping carts at their core but have also made advanced online storefront-building capacity a major feature of the service. These include Shopify, BigCommerce, and 3dcart.

Shopify BigCommerce 3dcart Wix Squarespace

3dcart

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Monthly Cost

$9 – $299

$29.95 – $249.95

$19 – $229

$25 – $40

$26 – $46

eCom Features

Excellent

Excellent

Excellent

Good

Good

Ease Of Use

Very Easy

Easy

Moderate

Very Easy

Easy

Web Design

Great

Good

Good

Excellent

Excellent

Customer Support

Great

Great

Good

Good

Good

In recommending these particular sitebuilders, we should note that our focus is on the DIY end of the website-building spectrum. If, on the other hand, you are confident in your coding skills (or can hire a dedicated developer) and prefer the infinite flexibility of an open-source platform for frontend design and content creation, you might try a CMS like WordPress to use in conjunction with a shopping cart plugin, such as WooCommerce or Ecwid.

However, if you’re looking for an all-in-one, fully-hosted, and simpler-all-around system for online store-building, you’ve come to the right place. The great news for you is that the online storefront creation and editing capabilities of the all-inclusive platforms we’ll highlight in this roundup have only improved over time.

How To Choose An eCommerce Website Builder

If you haven’t shopped for an ecommerce platform before, the first step is to become oriented with this type of software so you know what you’ll be examining in the first place. Fortunately, each sitebuilder we’ll cover here offers some sort of free trial, so you’ll have the opportunity for hands-on experience with the software before making a final selection.

Here are the main things you should consider when choosing ecommerce software:

Cost

  • Monthly Subscription: Most DIY sitebuilders these days are SaaS (Software as a Service), so check for the monthly cost of each plan level, which features are included at each price point, and any plan limits such as number of products you can list, revenue caps, etc.
  • Per Sale Commission: Some ecommerce sitebuilders charge a percentage commission per sale under certain circumstances, so investigate if and when this extra fee might apply to your store.
  • Add-On Features: Many features may only come as add-ons from an app marketplace. While some add-ons are free, other apps you may want to integrate with your store (like shipping, marketing, or accounting software) are fully-fledged SaaS platforms with their own monthly subscriptions.
  • Payment Processing: You’ll need to connect an online payment gateway to your store — usually a third-party processor like Stripe or PayPal — to accept payments from customers, so check out the available options that work with the platform in your country, and the processing rates charged.
  • Design Template: Some website templates come free with the software, but premium themes typically have a one-time purchase cost.
  • Web Development: While most ecommerce sitebuilders are DIY when it comes to getting things up and running, you may still decide to hire a developer or designer to fine-tune your site at some point.

Website Design

  • Template/Theme Options: Browse the theme marketplace and get a feel for several templates you could see yourself using.
  • Customization Options: Go beyond admiring templates and work with a few yourself. In particular, explore the storefront editing tools that come with the software. Look to see if and how you can move elements within page layouts — there are varying degrees of flexibility in this area.

Features

  • Admin Features: Look at the options for configuring storewide settings such as shipping methods, currencies, languages, tax calculation, and sales channels. Also, consider the ways in which you’ll be able to manipulate the specifications for individual products (pricing, SEO data, discounts, product variants/attributes, etc).
  • Storefront Features: This includes how products are displayed, organized, and marketed to customers on your site, as well as all aspects of the checkout experience.
  • Quantity VS Quality: Just because a certain feature exists, doesn’t mean it’s very robust or will work well for your needs. Similarly, you don’t want to get bogged down with (nor pay for) a bunch of features you don’t need.
  • Fit: Do the available features cater well to your business type, size, location, etc?
  • Scalability: Online stores grow in different ways, so it helps to anticipate how your operation will most likely expand over time. Growth dimensions, like number of products and their variations, number of staff accounts, file storage, revenue, marketing needs, and traffic levels, are often handled differently by different platforms.

Ease Of Use

  • Onboarding & Store Setup: All the software apps we cover in this article falls under a larger umbrella of “easy to get started,” but pay attention in your free trials to exactly how self-explanatory each step is, and to any additional guiding resources that are available.
  • Dashboard Navigation & Feature Manipulation: Check your level of comfort with both finding and manipulating features like inventory and order management, discount creation, etc.
  • Simplicity VS Flexibility: User-friendliness is a good thing, but make sure that the tools you need aren’t so basic that they can’t accomplish precisely what you want them to.
  • Coding Skill Requirements:  In most cases, the basics of admin and storefront customization will be covered without coding, but advanced customization can require advanced knowledge. Do your best to push the limits of non-coding customizability during your trial.
  • Tech Support: Know what resources you’ll have if you get stuck or if something goes wrong with your site. Since online stores operate 24/7, you’ll probably want at least one support channel (email/web tickets, live chat, or phone) that’s open 24 hours.

Between your own testing experiences, perusing the software’s website, reading reviews (like ours!), and interacting with customer service to answer any lingering questions, you should have a very good handle on how a particular sitebuilder will work for your online store before coughing up a single cent in subscription fees.

Now, let’s take a look at some software! We can’t cover absolutely everything we’ve discussed above (check out our full reviews of the software for more info), but we’ll hit some key points to help guide your choice.

1. Shopify

Pricing & Payment Processing

While there is a $9/month Lite plan with Shopify, you’ll need to sign up for the Basic plan ($29/month) or higher to build a full ecommerce website using the software. As you continue upward in plan level, you’ll see a few added features and the option to increase your number of staff admin accounts. Here are the subscription options:

  • Shopify Lite: $9/mo. Embeddable cart, but no standalone store website.
  • Basic Shopify: $29/mo.
  • Shopify: $79/mo.
  • Advanced Shopify: 299/mo.
  • Shopify Plus: Custom pricing. Reserved for enterprise-level customers.

You have over 100 gateway possibilities for accepting payments from your customers with Shopify, but note that if you don’t use the in-house option — Shopify Payments, powered by Stripe — you will be charged an extra Shopify commission per sale of up to 2% on top of the card processing fee from your payment gateway. On the flip side, if you do use Shopify Payments, you’ll receive a processing discount (i.e., pay less than the going rate for Stripe on its own) on the Shopify and Advanced Shopify plans.

We’ve put together a complete breakdown of Shopify Payments, and I’d definitely recommend reading that before you sign up for Shopify. For now, just remember that you’ll face an extra transaction fee from Shopify if you don’t use Shopify Payments.

Shopify also has one of the most extensive app stores you’ll find among SaaS ecommerce platforms. This can be a great resource for your store, but be careful to take the added cost of the apps you might need under consideration as you evaluate pricing.

Ease Of Use

Shopify users appreciate how easy it is to jump right in and start selling with the software. Once you open your free 14-day trial, your dashboard guides you toward a few steps to begin setting up your store:

Our tests of both admin navigation and individual feature manipulation have demonstrated that everything is easy to find and use. If you do run into problems, Shopify offers phone, email, and live chat support 24/7 at all subscription levels — a rare support trifecta amongst ecommerce website builders. The company has also curated an impressive library of self-help articles, videos, and even full online courses. All in all, Shopify earns an A+ for user-friendliness.

Web Design & Editing

Theme Options:

Choose from 10 free themes (made by Shopify) or 60 paid themes for $140-$180, most with multiple style variations. Even the free themes are good quality, and I’m always struck by the pleasant experience of shopping in the theme store. When a shopping cart platform is good at showcasing its own products, this gives me confidence in its ability to serve the needs of ecommerce sellers who are trying to accomplish this exact same task with their own products.

Editing Tools: 

To move elements around on your site’s pages, you’ll have access to a drag-and-drop tool called “Sections.” It’s not as flexible as the visual editors from traditional sitebuilders like Wix and Squarespace, which allow more freedom of placement, but you can at least add, subtract, and change the order of elements. You can also change fonts and colors under “Theme Settings.”

If you wish to further customize your theme, you’ll need to learn Shopify’s own templating language called Liquid. This open-source language is written in Ruby and is the backbone of Shopify templates. Of course, you may not need to further code your Shopify theme at all — we just always like to include the heads up in case.

Features

While Shopify has a strong, highly-capable core feature set, advanced features often come as add-ons (even free ones) to keep the base platform streamlined and easy to use. Here are some of the Shopify features we like:

Admin

  • Unlimited products, bandwidth, and storage on all plans
  • Built-in shipping software (Shopify Shipping)
  • Manual order creation (virtual terminal)
  • Shopify POS & other POS integrations
  • Extensive order fulfillment & dropshipping integrations
  • Extensive sales channel & marketplace integrations (eBay, Etsy, Amazon, Google Shopping, etc.)
  • Mobile store management via Shopify App

Storefront & Checkout

  • Checkout on your domain
  • Real-time shipping calculations
  • Automatic tax calculation
  • Coupons, discounts & gift cards
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Expedited checkout with Shopify Pay

Along with the features we’ve highlighted above, check individual templates for special storefront features such as parallax scrolling, customer testimonials, social media feeds, and more.

Best Fit

From an overall software quality standpoint, it’s hard to go wrong with Shopify. This platform remains our default recommendation for the typical online seller who wants to quickly launch an attractive and functional store, but who also hopes for a scalable solution that easily accommodates growth in product listings and store revenue. As far as shopping cart software goes, it’s also one of the easiest platforms to use.

Shopify not-so-subtly guides you toward using Shopify Payments as your processor by rewarding you with reduced processing fees if you do and punishing you with an extra commission per sale if you don’t. If you’re not in one of the 10 locales currently supported by Shopify Payments or don’t qualify to use the processor for another reason (such as risk level or type of products sold), you should probably take a closer look at some of the competing ecommerce platforms as well.

2. BigCommerce

Pricing & Payment Processing

Each bump in subscription level with BigCommerce gives you added features, but also implements annual revenue caps. Meanwhile, BigCommerce never charges an additional commission per sale, regardless of which payment processor you choose. You’ll have around 60 payment gateway options, one of which is Braintree (a division of PayPal), which gives access to discounted processing rates as you move up the BigCommerce subscription ladder.

Here are the plans, all of which allow you to create a full ecommerce storefront:

  • Standard: $29.95/month (sell up to $50K/yr.)
  • Plus: $79.95/month (sell up to $150K/yr.)
  • Pro: $249.95/month (sell up to $400K/yr.)
    • add $150/mo. for every additional $200K/yr. in sales, up to $3M
  • Enterprise: Custom pricing

BigCommerce also offers an app store with hundreds of connections to ecommerce-related software and feature plugins. While this platform attempts to include a few more native features than Shopify, you should still be aware of the cost of additional integrations purchased through the app marketplace.

Ease Of Use

BigCommerce offers a 15-day free trial (probably just to one-up Shopify by a day). The admin dashboard you’ll encounter upon signup is arranged in a standard ecommerce fashion — navigational menu on the left, tips to get started on the right:

I would qualify BigCommerce’s backend as quite intuitive to use, although you might find it slightly more complex and detailed than Shopify’s interface. Part of this comes down to personal preference and experience, though. If you happen to run into a snag, BigCommerce offers 24/7 phone, email, and live chat support at all plan levels, as well as good documentation and community forums.

Web Design & Editing

Theme Options:

With over 120 themes (and multiple style variations per theme) available at the BigCommerce theme marketplace, you’re bound to find a good match for your store. Seven of the themes are free, and the rest range from $145 to $235 each.

Editing Tools:

Theme editing with BigCommerce is more restricted than with Shopify. The visual editor (now called Store Design) lacks a drag-and-drop component, for example. In other words, you should carefully choose a template you really like, because you are stuck with its basic format. Alternatively, you can add a page builder app from the marketplace with drag-and-drop capability, but just be careful to factor in the added cost. You can also make customizations with HTML and CSS if you’re skilled in these areas.

Features

As always, check which features are included with each subscription level (and which come as apps), but take a look at a few of BigCommerce’s standout features:

Admin

  • Unlimited products, storage, & bandwidth
  • Unlimited staff accounts
  • Sell digital and service-based products without adding an app
  • Support for numerous product variations
  • Manual order creation & editing (virtual terminal)
  • Square POS integration
  • Marketplace integrations (Amazon, eBay, etc)
  • Shipping label printing (USPS) and discounts
  • Complimentary Avalara AvaTax account
  • Customer segmentation with loyalty program capability
  • Multiple SSL certificate options (shared, dedicated, custom)

Storefront & Checkout

  • Single-page checkout
  • Real-time shipping quotes
  • Product ratings & reviews
  • Coupons, discounts, & gift certificates
  • Faceted/filtered product search
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Public & private wish lists
  • Recently viewed products
  • Akamai Image Manager & Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)  for mobile-friendliness
  • Integrate consumer financing options at checkout

Best Fit

BigCommerce strikes a good balance between ease-of-use and powerful out-of-the-box functionality, which we think a lot of online sellers will appreciate. Individual feature quality is also quite robust. Like Shopify, BigCommerce works for a wide variety or catalog sizes and scales well. However, if you have a nuanced catalog with a lot of product variations or custom fields, and like being really hands-on with your product SEO, you might be drawn to BigCommerce.

BigCommerce is also a great option to consider if you want or need the freedom to choose a payment processor without the “threat” of extra transaction fees if you don’t select an in-house option. If you’ve already looked at Shopify but need more flexibility when it comes to payments, definitely check out BigCommerce as an alternative.

3. 3dcart

3dcart

Pricing & Payment Processing

3dcart shares pricing structure components with both BigCommerce and Shopify. Like BigCommerce, 3dcart subscription packages have revenue caps. Another similarity is that 3dcart never charges its own fee per sale (and over 160 compatible payment gateways are available, some with discounted processing rates at higher subscription levels).

Like Shopify, you get more staff accounts at each 3dcart level. And, like both Shopify and BigCommerce, each step in plan offers a few additional features.

Do also note that the Startup plan with 3dcart has an item limit of 100 products. Here’s a quick pricing summary:

  • Startup: $19/month (sell up to $50K/yr and list 100 products.)
  • Basic: $29/month (sell up to $100K/yr.)
  • Plus: $79/month (sell up to $200K/yr.)
  • Pro: $229/month (sell up to $400K/yr.)
  • Enterprise: Custom

For building a complete online storefront with the software, 3dcart comes in at a lower starting price than both BigCommerce and Shopify (at just $19/month). You’ll also note that the 3dcart $29 plan accommodates twice the annual store revenue of the $29.95 plan on BigCommerce. For these reasons, 3dcart is often considered a less expensive choice.

3dcart boasts a lot of built-in features, but watch out for the ongoing monthly cost of software integrations for shipping, accounting, and other services available in the 3dcart app store.

Ease Of Use

3dcart also comes with a free 15-day trial (and if you think everyone’s just copying each other on this, 3dcart has been around the longest!). The dashboard functions just like those of the other two ecommerce platforms we’ve discussed so far, but some advanced features are built-in modules you must find and turn on to use.

While 3dcart is easy to use, it is definitely more complex and layered than Shopify or BigCommerce. You may find, however, that you appreciate the flexibility and advanced capability of 3dcart’s features. Tech support is available 24/7 via phone, live chat, and email, but note that you must be on the $29/month plan to access phone support. The community forums are also helpful, and the knowledgebase provides step-by-step articles on most of the important features.

Web Design & Editing

Theme Options:

3dcart offers just shy of 50 themes in its marketplace, and close to half are free. The rest are $150-$200.

Editing Tools: 

If you want to customize your theme, you can make color, content, and some typography changes in the visual editor, but more significant changes require tweaking HTML and CSS. In other words, there is no drag-and-drop capability. My overall hunch is that 3dcart expects most users to eventually tinker with the code if they really want to hone their designs.

Features

Below is just a sampling of 3dcart’s features — be sure to check the website for the full breakdown by plan:

Admin

  • Unlimited product options/variants
  • Inventory & order management
  • Dynamic, unlimited product categories
  • Return management
  • Manual order creation & editing (virtual terminal)
  • Advanced SEO tools
  • Create/print shipping labels from multiple carriers
  • Multichannel selling
  • Email marketing & drip campaigns
  • Unlimited email hosting
  • Built-in CRM
  • Built-in iPad POS software (or integrate with Square POS)
  • Built-in B2B selling features

Storefront & Checkout

  • Single-page checkout
  • Real-time shipping calculations
  • Gift certificates (on all plans)
  • Wide variety of discount/coupon types
  • Daily & group pricing deals
  • Make-an-offer pricing
  • Offer financing options
  • Wish lists & gift registries
  • Reviews & product Q&A
  • Waiting list & pre-orders
  • Gift wrap
  • Loyalty program & rewards points
  • Abandoned cart recovery

Best Fit

In some ways, we’ve been climbing up the ladder of built-in complexity as we’ve progressed through this software roundup so far. The tradeoff between simplicity and flexibility starts to lean more noticeably toward the flexibility side when we arrive at 3dcart. I think it’s safe to say that 3dcart works well for users who are perhaps not coding experts, but still fancy themselves on the generally tech-savvy end of the spectrum. While still easy to use in the grand scheme of things, this platform requires a bit of initiative on the part of the user to take full advantage of what it has to offer.

Starting at just $19/month, 3dcart is also a cost-effective option for sellers on a tight budget who still require workhorse-style ecommerce software underpinning their websites (versus a traditional website builder with added ecommerce capability). Speaking of budgets, 3dcart is also a great option for sellers who may feel Shopify’s software is a good fit, but are stuck with an extra transaction fee because they can’t use Shopify Payments. With well over 100 options at 3dcart, you’re bound to find a compatible processor that suits your needs.

4. Wix

Pricing & Payment Processing

To create an ecommerce website with Wix, you’ll need to sign up for one of the “Business” plans designed for online sellers. As is common with traditional website building software, Wix advertises a monthly price for plans when paid annually, rather than a true month-to-month price. We like to focus on with the month-to-month price, so you can better compare between platforms:

  • Business Basic: $25/month (20GB storage)
  • Business Unlimited: $30/month (35GB storage)
  • Business VIP: $40/month (50GB storage)

If you decide to pay annually, the above prices drop to $20, $30, and $35, respectively. (To be fair, all the platforms in the article offer some type of discount for paying annually — it’s all a matter of advertising strategy). The package levels are defined by file storage, customer support, and whether or not email marketing campaigns are included. 

Wix never charges an extra commission per sale, regardless of which of the close to 20 gateway options you select for accepting payments.

As we’ve mentioned with the other software platforms we’ve discussed so far, you may want to add some apps to expand what your site can do. Wix apps often have both free and premium versions, so just confirm which type will work for your store so you can accurately calculate your true monthly costs.

Ease Of Use

You can dive right in and start testing Wix for free as long as you’d like — you just can’t start accepting payments through your store until you sign up for a paid plan. At that point, you have 14 days to cancel and receive a full refund on your subscription fee if you change your mind.

There are two ways to get a site started with Wix. You either let Wix ADI (Artificial Design Intelligence) create a website for you by asking you a series of detailed questions about your business, or you select a pre-made template and go from there. Either way, the ecommerce portion of your site is built on the Wix Stores app, which seamlessly integrates into the rest of your dashboard:

The backend ecommerce features of Wix are very easy to use, if sometimes not quite as powerful or flexible overall as the features of the other shopping cart software we’ve discussed so far. Wix actually takes user-friendliness to a whole new level by incorporating several visually-engaging interfaces that carefully hold your hand through important processes such as setting up email campaigns, creating discounts, configuring SEO for your site, and more. On a personal note, I really enjoy using Wix for this reason.

If you still need extra help, phone support is available Monday-Friday from 5AM-5PM PT on all plans, or you can submit an email ticket 24/7. Online self-help resources are good quality, but not as extensive in the ecommerce department as those you’d find for a platform like Shopify.

Web Design & Editing

Theme Options:

Approximately 80 templates offered by Wix are built upon the Wix Stores app, but it’s easy to add the app to any of the 500 or so templates offered. Happily, all templates are included free with a Business subscription to Wix. And, as you might expect from a platform that specializes in frontend design, your options are very elegant and modern.

Editing Tools:

While you can’t switch templates midstream with Wix, you have loads of flexibility in customizing what you’ve chosen. The drag-and-drop capability of Sections in Shopify pales in comparison to the “place anything anywhere” possibilities with Wix. Use the gridlines as a guide to ensure your site is mobile-friendly, and away you go:

If, on the other hand, you decide to have your base website constructed for you using Wix ADI, you’ll have access to a theme editor that’s more in line with Shopify’s drag-and-drop system:

I think one common path to design customization with Wix is to have Wix ADI create a base site to begin with, and then shift over to the more flexible Wix Editor for fine-tuning. You just can’t go back to Wix ADI and its simpler editor once you’ve made the switch.

Features

Once again, we’re just including a sampling of key features here. Most of those listed below are available on all three Wix Business plans:

Admin

  • Unlimited products & bandwidth
  • Sell physical, digital and service-based goods
  • Up to 6 options and 300 variants per product
  • Inventory & order management
  • Send & manage invoices
  • SEO tools
  • Track traffic with Google Analytics
  • Personalized email address that matches your domain/brand
  • 20 email marketing campaigns (100,000 total emails/mo) included in subscription
  • Customizable, automated email & chat responses
  • Mobile app for store management
  • Integrate with Square POS
  • Free stock photo library

Storefront & Checkout

  • Checkout on your own domain
  • Offer discounts & coupons
  • Customizable product sorting & filtering
  • Customer login/member area
  • Multilingual storefronts
  • Multifunctional sites (including bookings, event management, restaurants, etc)
  • Live chat with customers
  • Advanced frontend design features

Best Fit

We love Wix as a solution for stores with aesthetically-nuanced products. as well as for brands that highly prioritize visual quality and uniqueness overall. Those who feel boxed in by the somewhat limited design customization options of ecommerce platforms like Shopify will appreciate the freedom to fine-tune everything about the look and feel of their online storefronts, as well as their communication and marketing materials — all without touching a line of code. And, for those who want a visually-unique site with minimum effort, Wix ADI can hold your hand every step of the way.

If you are thinking of scaling to offer a very large number of products, or wish to significantly expand your shipping and fulfillment needs over time, Wix probably isn’t your best choice. Meanwhile, we think a lot of multifunctional businesses (like hotels, restaurants, photographers, artists, musicians, bloggers, etc.) who also want to sell a few products online will love the seamless integration of a native ecommerce app into their dashboards.

5. Squarespace

squarespace

Pricing & Payment Processing

Similar to Wix, Squarespace leads with pricing figures that assume you’ll pay for a complete year at a time. Adjusted for true-month-to-month costs, here are the Squarespace plans with fully-integrated ecommerce functionality:

  • Business: $26/month
  • Commerce Basic: $30/month
  • Commerce Advanced: $46/month

There’s a pretty big jump in the number of features between the Business and Commerce Basic plan, and a smaller jump in available features to Commerce Advanced. Another difference between the Business Plan and the two Commerce plans is that the Business plan comes with a 3% Squarespace commission per sale. If you’re serious about creating an ecommerce website with Squarespace, it will likely be worth it to have a Commerce package for the additional ecommerce-specific features and the elimination of the extra transaction fee. Meanwhile, you only get two payment gateway options with Squarespace (Stripe and PayPal), which will also charge their own transaction fees.

Squarespace doesn’t have an app store — any third-party integrations come already connected to your store. However, when activating one of these connections, you should be aware that some of them do have premium versions with ongoing monthly costs. ShipStation and MailChimp are two good examples.

Ease Of Use

Squarespace offers a 14-day free trial. If your trial expires before you upgrade and you haven’t made up your mind yet, you can simply create another trial site under the same registration email.

Before you reach the dashboard, you’ll need to select a template (but you can change it later). You’ll see a few ecommerce-geared options first if you enter “to sell” something as your site’s purpose. Unlike any of the ecommerce sitebuilders we’ve discussed so far, your admin dashboard incorporates a frontend preview on the right:

I find it a little difficult to start adding products with Squarespace — you have to create a separate product page first, and the software doesn’t do a great job explaining this. Once you conquer this initial hurdle, however, the overall learning curve for ecommerce functions is relatively small.

I also like all the direct links to applicable support articles within the dashboard that guide you directly to the right knowledgebase article if you become stuck. Squarespace email support responds 24/7 and is quite effective, but the tradeoff is that there’s no phone support offered. Meanwhile, live chat is available Monday-Friday 4AM-8PM Eastern time.

Web Design & Editing

Theme Options:

Squarespace offers approximately 90 themes grouped into 21 families. Since you’ll eventually be adding some sort of product page no matter what, any of them can be used for ecommerce, even though some are specifically suggested for online stores.

As far as traditional website builders go, the sheer variety of templates is low, but the quality is high. We’re looking at a carefully-curated selection of polished, classy, streamlined designs offered by Squarespace:

Editing Tools:

Squarespace lands somewhere in between Wix and Shopify when it comes to the amount of freedom you have to drag-and-drop page elements. You can add and arrange large sections up and down each page, insert various types of “content blocks” (including spacers and lines), and adjust the alignment of pieces within those blocks to a certain extent. Fonts and colors are also adjustable, but often exist as site-wide style settings in order to maintain a unified look.

In summary: Squarespace offers more no-code design flexibility than Shopify and less than Wix. However, if you’re comfortable adding CSS to your site, there’s an easy CSS editor available.

Features

Below are some Squarespace features that caught my eye. A handful of these features (i.e., abandoned cart recovery, gift cards, and subscription payments) are only available on the Commerce Advanced plan. Always check the full and most complete breakdown by plan on the company website!

Admin

  • Unlimited products, bandwidth, and storage
  • Sell physical, digital, and service-based products out-of-the-box
  • Unlimited staff contributors on all ecommerce plans
  • G Suite integration (full year free)
  • Shipping & accounting integrations
  • Inventory & order management
  • Set store manager permissions
  • Mobile app for store management
  • Logo creation software
  • Commerce analytics & reports
  • Advanced image/photo management & editing

Storefront & Checkout

  • Checkout on your domain
  • Customizable checkout forms
  • Promotional banners & pop-ups
  • Offer gift cards
  • Offer subscriptions to products & services
  • Accept donations
  • Offer coupon codes and discounts
  • Real-time shipping rates from multiple carriers
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Guest checkout & customer accounts
  • Express checkout for single-product stores

Best Fit

The target audience for Squarespace amongst ecommerce website owners overlaps significantly with Wix’s demographic. Both sitebuilders are great for smaller product catalogs with visual interest, but Squarespace is nice if you specifically want a posh, classy, or even minimalist vibe for your store. This sitebuilder is also great for those who enjoy the freedom to easily tweak a design but don’t feel hemmed in by a bit of built-in structure for ensuring a consistent style overall.

As far as standard ecommerce features go, it’s a tough call between Wix and Squarespace. The two platforms take a slightly different approach, so you’ll have to decide which features are a priority to you. For example, if you want an abandoned cart recovery tool and the ability to connect with popular third-party apps like accounting and shipping/fulfillment software, Squarespace will suit you better. I’d recommend skipping over the Business plan and going straight for one of the Commerce plans if you’re at all serious about selling.

Quick Pricing Comparison

Before I share my final thoughts on choosing the best ecommerce website builder for your store, here’s a quick rundown of the monthly subscription costs for each of the platforms we’ve discussed:

Pricing Levels Differences Btwn. Levels

Shopify

Lite: $9/mo.

Basic: $29/mo.

Shopify: $79/mo.

Advanced $299/mo.

Plus: Custom

  • Available features
  • Number of staff accounts
  • Shopify’s commission per sale

BigCommerce

Standard: $29.95/mo.

Plus: $79.95/mo.

Pro: 249.95/mo.

Enterprise: Custom

  • Available features
  • Annual store revenue

3dcart

Startup: $19/mo.

Basic: $29/mo.

Plus: $79/mo.

Pro: $229/mo.

Enterprise: Custom

  • Available features
  • Annual store revenue
  • Number of products
  • Number of staff accounts

Wix

Business Basic: $25/mo.

Business Unlimited: $30/mo.

Business VIP: $40/mo.

  • Storage
  • Customer service
  • Available features

Squarespace

Business: $26/mo.

Commerce Basic: $30/mo.

Commerce Advanced: $46/mo.

  • Available features
  • Squarespace’s commission per sale

Remember that traditional website builders like Wix and Squarespace typically lead with “when paid annually” pricing, so we’ve adjusted the figures to reflect the cost if you pay month-to-month. All five services offer some sort of discount if you pay for at least a year upfront.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve made it this far, I hope you’re excited about test-driving one or more of these ecommerce website builders. My guess is that you’ll probably figure out if you’re in the Shopify/BigCommerce/3dcart or the Wix/Squarespace camp first, but there’s no reason you can’t check out both types of software.

That said, anyone planning to scale their product and sales numbers dramatically over time should probably stick with one of the three ecommerce workhorse platforms. There’s a reason sitebuilders like Wix and Squarespace cap their ecommerce plan subscriptions at under $50/month, while platforms like 3dcart, BigCommerce, and Shopify can charge upwards of $200 per month for their best ecommerce packages. You’re usually paying for a larger quantity and better quality of features that help you manage the complicated logistics of selling online.

It’s a safe bet, in this case, to use pricing as a general guideline for the ability to shore up and scale your backend functions as your store grows by various dimensions. Still, Wix and Squarespace would not be included here at all if they weren’t both excellent options for smaller stores.

The thing that’s hard to nail down in a summary article like this is the quality and usefulness of the features you’ll need for your store. By listing a few highlights for each sitebuilder, we’re just giving you a flavor of the software. While we can confidently say that all the platforms in this article cover the “basics” of running an online store, that assurance is no substitute for your own experience. If you’re still stuck or confused after your research and testing, turn to the platform’s customer service and sales support for clarification. You need a good excuse to put those support systems to work before signing up anyway, so go for it!

Happy software testing!

Shopify BigCommerce 3dcart Wix Squarespace

3dcart

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Monthly Cost

$9 – $299

$29.95 – $249.95

$19 – $229

$25 – $40

$26 – $46

eCom Features

Excellent

Excellent

Excellent

Good

Good

Ease Of Use

Very Easy

Easy

Moderate

Very Easy

Easy

Web Design

Great

Good

Good

Excellent

Excellent

Customer Support

Great

Great

Good

Good

Good

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