The Best Mobile Credit Card Readers For iPhone and iPad

If you’re in the market for a mobile card reader and a credit card processing app, there’s no shortage of options. The trick is finding the right option for a given business. One of the big factors that determine which apps are suitable is what kind of smartphone or tablet you have. Fortunately, if you have an iOS device — that is, an iPhone or an iPad — you have plenty of options.

Our Top Picks For iOS-Based Credit Card Readers & Mobile Apps

The first decision when choosing a card reader and mobile processing app is selecting the device itself. For the most part, iOS-compatible mobile apps and readers support iPhones and iPads alike with no major issues. But after you’ve narrowed down the list of apps based on supported devices, you’ve still got several other factors to consider — transaction costs, monthly fees, essential features, whether you want a standalone mobile app or something that supports invoicing and online payments… and that’s just to get the list started! The cost of the card reader and accepted payment methods are just as important as app features when you’re dealing with mobile processing.

So without further ado, here’s a list of our favorite card swipers and mobile apps for iPhones and iPads, as well as why we like them.

App Name Square Shopify Lite Payment Depot Mobile Fattmerchant Mobile

Payment Depot merchant services review

Review

Visit Site

Review

Visit Site

Review

Visit Site

Review

Visit Site

In-Person Transaction Fees

2.75%

2.7%

2.6% + $0.10

Interchange + $0.15

Monthly Fee

$0

$9

$10

$99

Monthly Minimum

$0

$0

$0

$0

Type of Processor

Third-Party

Third-Party

Merchant Account

Merchant Account

Account Stability

Good

Good

Excellent

Excellent

Card Readers

Free magstripe reader (Contactless + Chip Reader $49)

Free Chip & Swipe Reader (retail price $29)

Free Swift B200 reader (chip and swipe)

BBPOS Chipper BT (chip and swipe, $75; swipe, chip and contactless, $100)

Payment Depot (Swipe Simple)

Payment Depot (read our review) offers a subscription-based pricing model for its merchant accounts, with a host of software options for businesses to choose from (including Clover). Standard pricing plans for Payment Depot start at $49/month, with transactions processing at interchange + $0.15. However, if you’re looking for a mobile solution that runs on an iPad or iPhone, Payment Depot offers the Swipe Simple app, and Merchant Maverick readers can get access to special pricing that’s competitive even for low-volume merchants.

With this exclusive plan, you’ll get the Swipe Simple app and payment processing at 2.6% + $0.10 per transaction, with only a $10 monthly account fee. Remember, this is a Merchant Maverick exclusive, so you’ll need to use our link in order to get the special pricing.

Swipe Simple is a very functional credit card processing app. It runs on iPhone and iPad devices, as well as Android hardware. It even comes with a demo mode so you can test out the app before you sign up, which is always nice to see. There’s limited inventory management, but you can track stock counts. There’s even an offline mode. Check out our Payment Depot Mobile/Swipe Simple review for a closer look at the software.

In addition to the app, Payment Depot offers a choice of two readers. The Swift B200, a Bluetooth-enabled reader that supports magstripe and chip card transactions, is available to merchants for free. If you’d like to add contactless payments, you can get the Swift B250 for just $25, which is a fantastic price for an all-in-one card reader.

Shopify Lite

Shopify (read our review) is mostly known for its ecommerce platform, but it has also developed a quite powerful POS app that integrates with its online shopping tools. Shopify POS is included for free in all standard Shopify ecommerce plans, but if you don’t plan to sell online or only need some very basic online sales tools, there’s another option: Shopify Lite (read our review), which lets you create “buy” buttons and run a Facebook store for online sales, as well as giving access to the Shopify POS.

Shopify Lite will run you $9/month and 2.7% per transaction, which is a reasonable cost. The POS app runs on both Android and iOS, but an iPad offers the best user experience and access to the most features. However, keep in mind that the Lite plan is still limited even with an iPad; specifically, there’s no support for a cash drawer, barcode scanner, or receipt printer. That feature is only accessible with the Shopify Basic plan, which costs $29/month and includes a full web store with unlimited products.

Shopify also offers a free Chip & Swipe Reader for its merchants. It retails for $29 normally, which is still a great price for a Bluetooth-enabled chip card reader. We’ve reviewed the Shopify Chip & Swipe reader already, and you can check that out for a closer look.

Square

Square’s mobile point-of-sale app, simply called Square Point of Sale, gets a lot of love, and rightfully so. The app is free to use and you only pay a per-transaction fee of 2.75%. Square’s pricing makes it very attractive for low-volume and startup businesses, and there is an assortment of hardware options available. The Square Point of Sale app supports both iOS and Android devices, but certain features are not universally supported. An iPad gives you access to the vast majority of these features, but the iPhone supports all of the core features and many of the secondary, non-universal features. Check out our in-depth Square POS review for a comprehensive look at the free POS app and its features. For a closer look at the rest of Square’s products, check out our complete Square review.

As far as hardware goes, let’s start with the basics. Square has been offering a free basic magstripe reader for a long time, and it still does. (Note: you can also get the Square reader in some retail stores for $10.) However, the removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack from newer iPhone models has complicated matters somewhat. Square responded by rolling out a Lightning port magstripe reader. When you sign up for your free Square account, you can choose which model of reader you need. Square no longer offers multiple free readers; after the first one, you’ll pay $10 per reader.

However, it’s important to also consider accepting EMV chip cards, especially if you’re doing a consistent volume of business or large transactions. Square’s Contactless + Chip Reader supports both EMV and contactless NFC payments. It includes a separate magstripe reader for swipe transactions.

The Contactless + Chip Reader sells for $49, but Square does offer financing for hardware purchases that cost at least $49 (convenient, isn’t it?). You can also purchase cash drawers, receipt printers, and even tablet stands directly from Square.

Want to know more about Square’s hardware? Check out A Guide to Square Credit Card Readers & POS Bundles for an in-depth look at your options.

Fattmerchant Mobile

Fattmerchant Mobile isn’t an option that I talk about a lot, mostly because it’s best targeted at high-volume businesses. However, until recently, it was an iOS-exclusive, and even now, the iOS platform is more robust than its Android counterpart. Fattmerchant (read our review) offers customers their own merchant accounts, which translates to a high degree of account stability. Its Omni platform, which includes the mobile processing app, invoicing, and a customer database and inventory management, combines many core features in a single platform. Check out our Fattmerchant Mobile review for a more comprehensive look at the app and its features.

Fattmerchant operates on a subscription pricing model, with a monthly fee that starts at $99/month. Mobile and invoice transactions cost interchange fees + $0.15 per transactions — there’s no percentage markup at all. However, if you opt for the mobile credit card carder, you’ll get the card-present rate of interchange fees + $0.08 per transaction. You can simply key in all the transactions if you prefer — just know that you’ll pay higher interchange fees in addition to the $0.15 markup.

Fattmerchant offers a choice of two different card readers, the BBPOS Chipper BT and the BBPOS Chipper X2 BT. The Chipper BT model supports both magstripe and chip card transactions and connects to your device via Bluetooth. It goes for $75. The Chipper X2 adds contactless payment support to the magstripe and chip card readers and also connects via Bluetooth. It goes for $100.

Honorable Mentions

While I have no qualms with saying the four options I’ve presented are the best of the best, there are a couple of other mobile apps and card readers that are good options for iPhone and iPad users. So let’s talk about them!

PayPal Here

PayPal Here integrates with the rest of PayPal’s services so that you can sell online and in person seamlessly, much like Square. While it doesn’t offer quite as many features as Square, it’s still a very functional mobile app. Check out our PayPal Here review for a closer look at all the features.

PayPal Here processes payments at 2.7% per transaction, with keyed entry at 3.5% + $0.15. PayPal no longer offers a free card reader. Instead, you’ll need to shell out $15 to get its magstripe reader. PayPal will also place limits on your account if you opt for the magstripe reader, making it viable mostly for very low-volume businesses. As an alternative, PayPal offers two Bluetooth enabled cardreaders, starting with the Chip and Swipe reader, for $24.99.

If you also want contactless support, PayPal’s Chip and Tap Reader (retail price $59.99; bundle with stand $79.99). However, there’s another option for iPad users who want a more robust software option: Vend (read our review) with a PayPal integration. You’ll get PayPal’s 2.7% rate for payment processing with no monthly fee from PayPal. Of course, you’ll have to choose your Vend plan as well — and get the appropriate hardware. You’ll need the PayPal Chip Card Reader, which goes for $99.

PayPal + Vend POS
Advanced POS software
Easy credit card processing integration
Get Started For $0

SumUp

SumUp (read our review) isn’t quite as complex or feature-laden as some of the other options on this list, but if you just need an iPad or iPhone credit card reader and app, SumUp will get the job done. Payments process at 2.65%, and there’s no monthly fee to use the software. For a better idea of how SumUp stacks up against the competition, I suggest checking out our Square vs SumUp comparison.

SumUp’s cardreader, at $69, is definitely a little expensive, but it’s a beautifully designed piece of hardware. It’s Bluetooth enabled and supports magstripe, chip card, and contactless payments. You can also occasionally catch it on sale for a reduced price. I suggest checking out our SumUp unboxing review for a closer look at the reader.

Which iPhone/iPad Credit Card Swiper Is Right For You?

In payment processing, especially mobile processing, it’s impossible to take a one-size-fits-all approach, so it’s really important that you, the business owner, spend some time figuring out what features you need in a credit card processing app. You should also consider what kind of pricing model works best for your business, and do the math to see what you’d really pay with each option on your short list. And of course, there’s the card swiper, too. While a free magstripe reader might be enticing, you should really consider upgrading to a chip card-capable reader to protect your business.

App Name Square Shopify Lite Payment Depot Mobile Fattmerchant Mobile

Payment Depot merchant services review

Review

Visit Site

Review

Visit Site

Review

Visit Site

Review

Visit Site

In-Person Transaction Fees

2.75%

2.7%

2.6% + $0.10

Interchange + $0.15

Monthly Fee

$0

$9

$10

$99

Monthly Minimum

$0

$0

$0

$0

Type of Processor

Third-Party

Third-Party

Merchant Account

Merchant Account

Account Stability

Good

Good

Excellent

Excellent

Card Readers

Free magstripe reader (Contactless + Chip Reader $49)

Free Chip & Swipe Reader (retail price $29)

Free Swift B200 reader (chip and swipe)

BBPOS Chipper BT (chip and swipe, $75; swipe, chip and contactless, $100)

The takeaway is that there is no shortage of great credit card processing apps for iPhone and iPad users! And you’ll get a great assortment of credit card readers to go with. Don’t forget to check out our companion article, The Best Credit Card Reader Apps to Android.

Thanks for reading! What’s your favorite credit card processing app and mobile card reader for iOS devices?

The post The Best Mobile Credit Card Readers For iPhone and iPad appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Shopify VS Etsy

Shopify VS Etsy

Tie

Pricing

Tie

Tie

Hosting

Tie

✓

Specific Size Of Business

Tie

Hardware & Software Requirements

Tie

Ease Of Use

✓

✓

Features

✓

Web Design

✓

Integrations & Add-Ons

✓

Payment Processing

✓

Customer Service & Technical Support

Tie

User Reviews

Tie

Tie

Security

Tie

Winner

Final Verdict

Review

Visit Site

Compare

If you’ve arrived at our comparison of Shopify and Etsy, I’m guessing you’re an online seller (or an aspiring one) of the “artsy” or “craftsy” variety. Perhaps even “artsy-craftsy.” Whichever identifier you prefer, you’ll be pleased to know that both Shopify and Etsy can help you sell all sorts of unique, handcrafted, and/or vintage items.

I’ll admit that in some respects, it’s a little unfair to compare Shopify and Etsy head-to-head. Shopify is a shopping cart platform/website builder you can use to create and manage your own, standalone ecommerce store. The Shopify brand itself operates almost completely in the background from your shoppers’ point of view. (If you build your store correctly, no one will know that it’s really powered by Shopify.)

By contrast, Etsy is an online marketplace that allows you to set up shop directly alongside other ecommerce vendors, all with a similar artsy and/or craftsy vibe. All the while, Etsy’s involvement in the whole operation is directly front and center for your shoppers.

You could also argue that a direct comparison between Shopify and Etsy is quite fair and appropriate. People often wonder 1) which of the two software platforms provides the best starting place to sell online, 2) under what circumstances it makes sense to use one or the other (or both), and 3) at what point a seller might need to transition from Etsy to Shopify.

Plus, the introduction of Pattern by Etsy a few years ago made the comparison between Shopify and Etsy even more apropos. For a monthly fee, Pattern makes it possible for Etsy sellers to maintain a standalone, inventory-synced site of their own. Sites built with Pattern can even offer additional products and services that don’t meet the handmade/vintage/craft supply restrictions of normal Etsy shops.

Pattern aside, a huge draw of Etsy in its original form is the built-in traffic and existing customer base from which you can directly benefit as a seller. (You don’t get that with a standalone Pattern site.) The downside, of course, is that you must share your customers with similar stores.

So, with Pattern thrown in, can Etsy compete directly with Shopify? Does the magic combination of Etsy and Pattern render Shopify completely unnecessary for some Etsy-type sellers? You can already tell from our chart at the top of this article that we are still fans of Shopify, but we think all sellers should understand precisely how these two services stack up on all the important dimensions. Ultimately, the right fit is up to you.

Shopify’s eCommerce Options

Mobile POS Online Social Media
Mobile App + Free Card Reader Point of Sale Online Store Social Media Selling
Get Started Get Started Get Started Get Started
Low-cost POS for iOS and Android with free hardware All-purpose POS integrated with all sales channels Build a store or integrate with your current website Sell on Facebook and other platforms
Starts at $9/month Starts at $29/month Starts at $29/month Starts at $9/month
Free Trial Free Trial Free Trial Free Trial

Pricing

Winner: Tie

Despite some overlap, there’s no getting around the fact that Shopify and Etsy have very different pricing structures. The differences are significant enough that we can’t call a clear winner for cost.

Here’s a very generalized way to compare the two:

  • Sellers who are just getting started, are very concerned about cash-flow, and simply can’t afford a monthly subscription fee will find an initially cheaper option in Etsy.
  • Once you have a moderate and fairly predictable stream of transactions and need a full website for your store, Shopify starts to become more cost-effective.

That’s the condensed version of our pricing comparison. For the full breakdown, strap in and keep reading!

When comparing these two platforms, you should first wrap your mind around the main categories of fees involved. It will also help to keep the following overarching difference in mind: Shopify’s main charge is a monthly fee for using the service, while the main component of Etsy’s cost is a fixed 5% transaction fee charged on every sale that occurs on the platform.

Here are the different categories of costs you should keep in mind when comparing Shopify and Etsy:

  • Monthly Fee: Subscription fee for using the platform.
  • Listing Fee: Cost of listing a product (or group of products that make up one listing) in your shop.
  • Transaction Fee: Percentage commission per sale charged by Etsy or Shopify itself.
  • Payment Processing Fee: Not the same as a transaction fee! This is a per-sale fee (usually a percentage and a dollar amount) charged by your credit card processor/payment gateway. While this entity is usually a third-party company, it turns out both Etsy and Shopify have an in-house, pre-integrated option that most sellers use (Etsy Payments and Shopify Payments, respectively).
  • Standalone Website: Cost of having your own, hosted website with a customizable theme template.

Let’s take a close look at the numbers, shall we? All prices will be shown in USD.

Shopify Pricing

Shopify plans have a monthly fee, no listing fee, and a variable transaction fee that only comes into play if you do not use Shopify Payments as your credit card processor. Starting at the $29/month level, you get your own store website. This involves choosing a free Shopify template or purchasing a premium template from the Shopify theme store. As you look through Shopify’s five pricing plans, remember that you can completely avoid Shopify’s extra transaction fee if you use Shopify Payments as your credit card processor.

Shopify Lite Plan 

  • Monthly Fee: $9/mo.
  • Transaction Fee:
    • If Using Shopify Payments: None
    • If Using External Gateway: 2.0%
  • Payment Processing Fee (Online)
    • Shopify Payments: 2.9% + $0.30
    • External Gateway: Varies
  • Standalone Website: Unavailable. Sell on an existing website, Facebook, or in-person only.

Basic Shopify Plan

  • Monthly Fee: $29/mo.
  • Transaction Fee:
    • If Using Shopify Payments: None
    • If Using External Gateway: 2.0%
  • Payment Processing Fee (Online):
    • Shopify Payments: 2.9% + $0.30
    • External Gateway: Varies
  • Standalone Website: Included. Templates are $0-$180/ea.

Shopify Plan

  • Monthly Fee: $79/mo.
  • Transaction Fee:
    • If Using Shopify Payments: None
    • If Using External Gateway: 1.0%
  • Payment Processing Fee (Online):
    • Shopify Payments: 2.6% + $0.30
    • External Gateway: Varies
  • Standalone Website: Included. Templates are $0-$180/ea.

Advanced Shopify Plan

  • Monthly fee: $299/mo.
  • Transaction Fee:
    • If Using Shopify Payments: None
    • If Using External Gateway: 0.5%
  • Payment Processing Fee (Online):
    • Shopify Payments: 2.4% + $0.30
    • External Gateway: Varies
  • Standalone Website: Included. Templates are $0-$180/ea.

Shopify Plus: Custom pricing. Reserved for enterprise-level customers.

With each bump in subscription level, Shopify sellers have access to additional features, as well as more staff accounts for their stores. Check out our full Shopify review, or our quick guide to Shopify pricing, for a more complete breakdown of features by plan.

Basic Shopify Advanced

Monthly

$29.00/mo

$79.00/mo.

$299.00/mo.

Yearly

$26.10/mo.

$71.10/mo.

$269.10/mo.

2 Years

$23.20/mo.

$63.20/mo.

$239.20/mo.

3 Years

Same as above

Same as above

Same as above

Etsy Pricing

Etsy has two main plans — Standard and Plus — and a Premium plan that will launch sometime in 2019. Most Etsy sellers use the Standard plan with no monthly fee, whereas the Plus plan is $10/month. Other components of Etsy’s cost include a fixed listing fee, as well as 5% transaction fee on every sale. There is no avoiding this 5% fee, even when you use Etsy Payments as your credit card processor.

Also, keep in mind that your only web presence is your shop page within the Etsy marketplace. If you’d like your own store website separate from (but synced to) your Etsy shop, you can create and maintain a Pattern site for an additional $15/month.

Here are the plans:

Etsy Standard

  • Listing Fee: $0.20/ea.
    • Lasts 4 months
    • Charged when listing is first published or when renewed
  • Transaction Fee: 5.0%
    • Etsy’s commission per sale
    • Also charged on the shipping price
  • Payment Processing Fee w/Etsy Payments: 3% + $0.25
  • Standalone Website: None, or $15/month with Pattern. Pattern site templates are free.

Etsy Plus

  • Monthly Fee: $10/mo.
  • Other Costs Same As Above
  • Additional Features:
    • A monthly budget of credits for listings and Promoted listings ads
    • Access to a discount on a custom web address for your Etsy shop
    • Restock requests for shoppers interested in your items that have sold out
    • Advanced shop customization options
    • Access to discounts on custom packaging and promotional material like boxes, business cards, and signage

Etsy Premium

  • Launching 2019
  • Will include premium customer support and advanced management tools for businesses with employees

One final note about pricing before we sum up this section: if you want a standalone site built on Pattern, you’ll also need to purchase and/or connect a domain name. The annual cost varies, but should be comparable to purchasing a domain for a Shopify store. Of course, if you stick to just selling on Etsy and not on Pattern, you don’t need your own domain URL.

Again, this is one of those comparisons you’ll have to decide the winner of for yourself. You can see that once you have a steady flow of significantly-sized transactions, avoiding that 5% Etsy fee on every sale and ponying up $29/month for Shopify instead (and using Shopify Payments to have the Shopify transaction fee waived) starts to make more sense.

Hosting

Winner: Tie

Shopify and Etsy stores are both fully-hosted solutions based in the cloud. You don’t need to download or install anything to use either. If you create an Etsy-connected website using Pattern, your site’s hosting is covered by your $15/month Pattern subscription. Similarly, Shopify store hosting is covered by the monthly fee.

Specific Size Of Business

Winner: Shopify

Shopify deserves the win in this category for accommodating a much wider range of business sizes. For just $9/month, you can start selling on Facebook with no additional transaction fees (beyond payment processing itself) if you use Shopify Payments. From there, Shopify scales all the way up to enterprise-level merchants. Etsy, on the other hand, is better geared toward small to mid-sized operations and doesn’t scale nearly as well. That said, for those who just want to test the ecommerce waters and dabble in selling a few handmade or vintage products, Etsy is ideal.

Hardware & Software Requirements

Winner: Tie

No special hardware or software is required to open and manage a shop on either platform. You do have the option to add hardware (like card readers) if you wish to sell in-person.

Ease Of Use

Winner: Etsy

Shopify usually earns our top rating for ease of use in the ecommerce software category, and with good reason. In this case, however, I’m awarding Etsy the narrow win. As a marketplace with a uniform structure across all web shops on the platform, the whole Etsy setup process is much less open-ended, so it’s easier to start selling right away. Once you fully dive into the admin dashboard and start manipulating individual features, however, I think the two platforms are equally easy to use.

Let’s peek inside the setup process and backend structure of each system, so you can see what I mean.

Shopify Setup

Shopify offers a two-week free trial of the platform — all you need is an email address. You’re free to test the software to your heart’s content, short of making actual sales.

Shopify Dashboard

Once you’ve started a trial account, you’ll gain immediate access to your store’s admin panel. The Shopify dashboard is quite streamlined, with daily operation menus contained in the left sidebar. There are even a few tips to get started setting up your store in the center area:

Shopify — Add A Product

Listing your first product is typically one of the first tasks inside Shopify, but it doesn’t have to be. Adding a product involves completing a simple interface:

In addition to configuring products and setting up the rest of the backend of your store, you can work on customizing your online storefront at the same time. We’ll have more on this process in the Web Design section.

While Shopify is easy to use, you are ultimately responsible for locating and configuring all the settings (shipping, tax, billing, etc.) to get your store going.

Etsy Setup

The cookie-cutter look of Etsy shops is no accident — it’s achieved through a simple, highly-controlled system behind the scenes. In fact, Etsy guides your hand to such a strong extent that by the time you’re taken through the basic setup process, you already have a store that’s up and running.

Unfortunately, there is no free trial of Etsy. Instead, you must enter a product, your bank account routing number, your credit card info, and other personal/business details before you can even enter the admin dashboard. Coming from the land of ecommerce software where no-credit-card-required free trials abound, I find this system annoying. However, I can’t deny that it is also very effective.

From my personal Etsy account, I’ve used to make Etsy purchases in the past, I simply clicked “Sell on Etsy.” I was then taken through a very detailed setup wizard, all the way from setting my country, to listing my first product, to inputting my billing and payment methods. As you can see from the dots across the top of the wizard interface, it’s a five-step process:

Etsy Dashboard

When you finally make it to the main admin panel (called Store Manager), you’ll find it’s actually fairly similar to Shopify. In my own testing, I could find all the menus and features I was looking for in the left sidebar:

Etsy — Add A Product

The most detailed piece of the store setup wizard is step three: adding products (a.k.a, listings). As I mentioned, you’re forced to list at least one item before you can even complete the Etsy signup process and see your main dashboard. Below is the third screen from the setup wizard. Yep, it’s long. Click it to enlarge, if you dare.

This may seem like a lot of work, and it kind of is. Mercifully, Etsy makes it all extremely straightforward. You just need a touch of patience. As part of this process, you’re actually also setting up a shipping profile that can then be reapplied to other products. And, once you choose the type of product you’re selling, Etsy is very good about predicting the type of attributes and variations you might need for that product. I walked away from the processing thinking, “Wow, Etsy knows its sellers and their products really well.”

Side note: Once you finally make it to your dashboard, you can load additional products with a similar interface:

As soon as I was (finally) done with the initial setup wizard, my shop was online and ready to sell. I received so much guidance steering me directly to the goal that I almost felt like I was tricked into suddenly having an active store. In a good way, I guess!

I’ve focused on getting a store up and running in this section as an illustrative example — there are lots of other components of each platform to consider. As you’ll see in our Feature section below, though, Etsy has fewer features than Shopify overall. This makes it easier to quickly get a handle on the entire software platform’s capabilities and scores Etsy another point for user-friendliness. Still, the ease of going from zero to ready-to-sell is what really puts Etsy on top.

Features

Winner: Shopify

Let’s acknowledge right away that comparing the features of Etsy and Shopify is hardly an apples-to-apples endeavor. One is an online marketplace including multiple sellers, while the other is a platform on which to build a website that you ultimately own. Etsy has a specific target market of crafters, vintage resellers, and the like, while Shopify’s merchant pool is much wider. The feature sets of each platform work really well for sellers within their specific contexts. Once we add Etsy’s Pattern to the mix, the comparison gets a little closer, but it’s still slightly unfair to both systems.

I do think the best “features” of Etsy have already been highlighted — it’s very easy to get started selling, and you’ve already got a built-in traffic base. Beyond these important advantages, there’s not a lot you can do on the back or front end of your Etsy and/or Pattern shop that you can’t do with Shopify. And, if the core Shopify platform doesn’t have a specific tool you’re looking for, I can almost guarantee you’ll find a solution in the immense app store (more on that later).

All in all, I’m giving Shopify the win because I think it’s a more advanced system for ecommerce. Shopify adds several features that Etsy and Pattern are missing, like checkout on your own domain (customers are redirected back to Etsy if they purchase through your Pattern site), manual order creation, a built-in POS system, and bulk product import/export/editing. In addition, many of the features the two platforms share in common are more robust or flexible with Shopify (I’m thinking of their respective discount engines, abandoned cart recovery systems, SEO tools, etc.).

Despite their core differences, Shopify and Etsy/Pattern still have a lot of great things in common. Thus, I’d like to end this section with a list of some features both platforms share:

  • Sell unlimited products
  • Sell physical or digital products
  • Free SSL certificate (with Pattern)
  • Built-in blog (with Pattern)
  • Social media sharing
  • Automatically calculate shipping & tax
  • Purchase/print shipping labels
  • Shipping discounts
  • Inventory & order management
  • Create discounts & coupons
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Guest checkout
  • Analytics & reports
  • SEO tools
  • Mobile store management app

Web Design

Winner: Shopify

Shopify easily wins this category, even after you throw Etsy’s Pattern software into the mix. Shopify’s frontend template options have Pattern’s beat on all counts — the sheer number of options, the variety of styles, and the overall quality of designs. Not to mention that once you’ve chosen a theme, Shopify gives you much more flexibility to perform further customizations. Allow me to illustrate!

Shopify Design

Shopify offers 70 templates, most with 2-4 style variations. Ten themes are free and supported by Shopify developers, while the remaining third-party themes are offered at $140-$180 as one-time purchases.

I think most of the free themes from Shopify outshine Pattern themes, but we’ll get to Pattern in a moment. For now, you should know that Shopify has tools to adjust fonts and colors (via the Theme Editor), and to drag-and-drop page elements up and down your layout (via the “Sections” tool) — all without touching any code. You can also make further adjustments with code if you have those skills, but this is not necessary for the average user.

Here’s a quick screen-grab of Shopify’s visual, non-coding editor:

For more information on how these tools work, check out our full Shopify Review.

Etsy Design

Your Etsy shop comes with just one design template that’s the same as everyone else’s on the marketplace. You already saw the default store layout that popped up when I initially created my store. In the backend admin panel, you can customize your homepage by adding a banner image, your logo, a featured area to highlight products, an About section, and a few other basic elements. Each piece is fixed in place, though — no drag-and-drop tool to be found. Anywhere there is a little “+”, you can add a specific element:

With the $10/month plan, you have a bit more flexibility in your design. For example, you can insert a rotating image carousel in lieu of a fixed banner image across the top. And yet, there’s still no dragging nor dropping allowed.

If you decide to create a standalone website with the Pattern feature (remember, that’s another $15/month), you can choose from 10 possible templates. Pattern will recommend an option for your shop depending on your current Etsy store, but you can easily swap it out later:

Once you’ve chosen a theme, you have the option to customize your colors, fonts, text, and images — but again, all with pre-defined placement: Here’s the interface after I added a logo and header:

You can also add a few select pages to your site, like an About or Contact page. You just have to be okay with your layout being completely fixed for each page. Even if you wanted to try tweaking the template code, it’s just not an option.

Sorry, Etsy. Shopify has some of the best designs and editing tools of all shopping cart platforms on the market, so I’m not surprised that Etsy is completely overshadowed in this area. Pattern is only ideal for the most basic of websites. Fortunately, it does offer a 30-day free trial of a live site (once you’re already signed up for Etsy) if you’d like to test the site builder for yourself.

Integrations & Add-Ons

Winner: Shopify

Etsy and Shopify each offer a collection of free and paid add-ons to integrate with your shop. The big difference is in the quantity. Etsy’s selection of a couple dozen apps just can’t compete with Shopify’s approximately 2500 offerings. If you’re worried about the quality of these Shopify add-ons, you have access to thousands of user reviews in the app store. You’re likely to find anything and everything you need to expand your store beyond the core Shopify platform.

A large selection is certainly great, but with the important caveat that the vastness of it all could end up becoming too overwhelming, costly, and unnecessary for small sellers. I was happy to see that Etsy at least offers a few well-known accounting and tax integrations (e.g., Quickbooks, Wave, TaxJar, TaxCloud) and email marketing apps (e.g. AWeber, or MailChimp if you use Pattern). You’ll need to decide if you will ultimately need the store expansion capability that Shopify provides, or can settle for Etsy’s offerings. If you set up a Pattern store, you’ll definitely want to add a good SEO integration.

Payment Processing

Winner: Shopify

Payment processing is a complicated and nuanced topic, so we’ll just cover some basic comparisons. Your mileage on this verdict in favor of Shopify will vary depending on your location, currencies, risk level, etc.

We’ve already mentioned that Shopify and Etsy both have their own self-branded payment gateways. Do note that Shopify Payments is actually built on Stripe’s infrastructure, while Etsy Payments is largely powered by Adyen, another big payment gateway company.

At any rate, most sellers on either platform end up using these pre-integrated options. Why? Well, even though you have over 100 processor options with Shopify, recall that you’re penalized with a separate transaction fee (usually 2%) if you don’t pick Shopify Payments. Meanwhile, Etsy Payments (formerly Etsy Direct Checkout) is essentially your only credit card processor option with Etsy. The only reason you wouldn’t use Etsy Payments is if it’s not yet available in your location. If you’re not operating from one of the approximately three dozen approved countries, you can only accept PayPal or manual payment methods (like check or money order) that you arrange separately with your buyers.

Etsy Payments allows you to accept credit and debit cards, Etsy gifts cards and credit, PayPal (pre-integrated), a few bank transfer services, Apple Pay, and Google Pay. Shopify Payments offers similar options but adds Amazon Pay and Shopify Pay to the mix. Meanwhile, Etsy Payments does allow you to accept a few more currencies than Shopify Payments (Danish or Norwegian krone, anyone?).

Below is a quick look at the processing fees for Shopify Payments versus Etsy Payments (shown in USD). As you’ll see, Shopify Payments it the better processing deal, especially as you climb the subscription ladder. Of course, you need to factor this into the larger picture of costs we discussed earlier.

Shopify Payments:

  • $9 Lite Plan
    • 2.9% + $0.30 Online (including manual entry)
    • 2.7% In-Person
  • $29 Basic Plan
    • 2.9% + $0.30 Online
    • 2.7%  In-Person
  • $79 Shopify Plan
    • 2.6% + $0.30 Online
    • 2.5% In-Person
  • $299 Advanced Plan
    • 2.4% + $0.30 Online
    • 2.4% In-Person

Etsy Payments:

  • 3% + $0.25 Online
  • In-Person (with Square integration only):
    • 2.75% Swiped/dipped/NFC
    • 3.5% + $0.15 for manually-entered online transactions
    • + $0.20 for any Square product not synced with your Etsy store

An “in-house” payment processor can really streamline this aspect of your business, so it’s nice that both platforms offer one. Neither is a 100% perfect processor for everyone, as you’ll see when we discuss user reviews later. Nevertheless, Shopify Payments comes out ahead because it offers better rates, more payment methods for shoppers, and a native system for in-person transactions. Plus, if Shopify Payments doesn’t work for you, you’ve got plenty of other gateways from which to choose. Not so with Etsy.

Customer Service & Technical Support

Winner: Shopify

This particular contest was closer than I expected. Both platforms offer 24/7 email and phone support, but Shopify adds a third contact channel via 24/7 live chat. That’s really the main reason for Shopify’s win here. I know a lot of online sellers prefer this option over email and phone, since it works like a nice blend of the two. Etsy does offer a callback option when waiting on hold, which is very handy. On the flip side, I’d like to see Etsy’s contact number and ticket system more easily accessed from the help center page — it’s much too buried for my taste at the moment.

While both platforms also offer great self-help resources such as blogs, forums, knowledgebase articles, and videos, the information for Etsy sellers is mixed in with support resources for Etsy shoppers. This can feel a bit cluttered and confusing at times.

I will say that Etsy does go beyond the support of a typical ecommerce platform in a unique and specific way. As a marketplace that gathers lots of merchants together in one place, sellers are automatically part of a built-in community. There’s even an opportunity to join Etsy Teams — groups of sellers in the same location, selling the same types of products, or with other unifying aspects to their stores. Some teams even meet up in real life or organize special events together. While Shopify users can tap into the strong community of developers and merchants offering mutual support in forums, the overall camaraderie can’t compete with Etsy’s community vibe.

You also may have more access to seller protections as part of a marketplace, but this can heavily depend on the specific situation. Etsy aims to look out for its shoppers as well!

User Reviews

Winner: Tie

Because Etsy is a marketplace full of buyers as well as sellers, buyer complaints abound. When something goes wrong with a sale, it’s more accessible and more public for a shopper to point a finger at Etsy than the actual seller, even when the seller was primarily at fault. Shopify mostly operates behind the scenes from a shopper’s point of view, so it’s easier to isolate feedback about the platform that’s specifically from store owners.

For these reasons, Etsy’s reputation on review sites can be skewed quite negatively, so I can’t make a truly fair comparison with Shopify. Nevertheless, I’ve teased out some seller-specific feedback, just so you can get an idea of the common threads that appear.

First, the good. Not surprisingly, Etsy sellers like how easy it is to set up shop. They enjoy access to an existing customer base and the effective site search tools that make it easy for shoppers to find their products. Some users have mentioned their positive experiences with Etsy’s customer service, and the help they’ve received resolving disputes with customers (or even other sellers).

Of course, some Etsy sellers mention bad experiences with customer service, saying the marketplace isn’t taking enough responsibility for regulating seller behavior. I found several complaints that Etsy gets away with being a “neutral” party, shifting blame to its users on either end of transactions. At the very least, people are confused about Etsy’s role.

Other Etsy shop owners contend that the marketplace is too saturated with similar sellers, and that competition is simply too tough to sustain their shops. Still others have issues with payments or chargebacks or claim their shops were suddenly closed without warning. I’ve also seen plenty of sellers lament the increase in Etsy transaction fee from 3.5% to 5% in mid-2018 — that wasn’t so popular.

On the Shopify side, the top accolade is typically its ease of use. Sellers also like the opportunity to add functionality and scale their stores using add-ons from the app store. Shopify’s web design is highly praised, especially among those who appreciate the ability to easily customize their sites without code.

Like with Etsy  — and many other large software companies — Shopify’s customer support receives mixed reviews. Other common Shopify complaints include the added cost of integrations and the extra transaction fees if you can’t use Shopify Payments. Sellers do sometimes have problems with the payment system itself as well — their funds were held, or their Shopify Payments accounts were terminated due to various factors.

If that all sounds a bit scary, understand that a lot of the problems that pop up for Etsy and Shopify are common across the ecommerce world. The good news is that the research you’re doing now will help protect you against some of the more avoidable issues!

Security

Winner: Tie

Etsy and Shopify are both PCI complaint systems, offering site-wide SSL certificates for data encryption. If that all sounded like nonsense and jargon, don’t worry. You should know, however, that part of the reason Pattern websites meet security requirements set out by the data regulatory folks is that your shoppers are directed back over to Etsy checkout pages to complete their transactions. This kind of ruins the illusion that your site was actually your own site, but it does at least help with security. With Shopify, your customers can check out directly on your site with the same level of security in place.

Final Verdict

Winner: Shopify

 

Shopify won this battle handily, coming out ahead in most of our individual comparison categories. And yet, I’ll be the first to admit that the one-sidedness of our comparison does not do the key selling points of Etsy justice. The main advantages to Etsy — the ability to get a shop up and running quickly on a shoestring budget, and built-in access to the traffic of an entire online marketplace — are absolutely huge for beginning sellers. If you’re not ready to go whole-hog into selling online and would prefer to test the waters first, Etsy is definitely the way to start. For first time sellers, it’s akin to setting up your craft booth at an established craft fair, versus plopping your stall on a street corner in the middle of nowhere.

This is all to say that Shopify only really wins if you’re ready to take responsibility for maintaining and drawing traffic to your own website. You’ll need to learn and implement an effective SEO and marketing strategy, for example. This is no small feat for the budding online seller and should not be taken lightly. If done well, however, any customers you obtain are your own, and this is the big reward that accompanies your efforts with Shopify. Your sales and growth will not be limited by super-direct competition with other sellers within a marketplace. You’ll completely sidestep this major downside to Etsy.

When we start talking about actual ecommerce features and web design, Shopify is a more powerful ecommerce tool. Specifically, we’ve seen that Etsy’s Pattern software can’t compete with the standalone storefront-building capabilities of Shopify. For most sellers who are ready to launch their own websites, I’d suggest skipping over Pattern and heading for Shopify. Yes, a Pattern subscription is cheaper than Shopify, but it seems like too much of an intermediate, half-way step that won’t get you fully where you want to go. Besides, there’s no reason you can’t keep your Etsy shop open in the meantime as you grow your Shopify-based store — and, you could ultimately connect an app to sync up your inventory between the two. Etsy could then become one marketing channel of many for your main online store’s top products. Something to consider!

I think if you’ve made it this far, you’re probably ready to at least test the capability of Shopify with a free 14-day trial. Of course, if you’re already an Etsy seller, you can also play around with Pattern’s tools for free before even connecting a domain and going live with your site. Since you’ve got nothing to lose with either platform in that respect, why not set up your own mini-showdown between Pattern and Shopify?

Let us know how it goes in the comments. Happy artsy, craftsy, or artsy-craftsy selling!

Shopify’s eCommerce Options

Mobile POS Online Social Media
Mobile App + Free Card Reader Point of Sale Online Store Social Media Selling
Get Started Get Started Get Started Get Started
Low-cost POS for iOS and Android with free hardware All-purpose POS integrated with all sales channels Build a store or integrate with your current website Sell on Facebook and other platforms
Starts at $9/month Starts at $29/month Starts at $29/month Starts at $9/month
Free Trial Free Trial Free Trial Free Trial

The post Shopify VS Etsy 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

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Specific Size Of Business

Tie

Hardware & Software Requirements

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Ease Of Use

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Tie

Features

Tie

Tie

Web Design

Tie
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Integrations & Add-Ons

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Payment Processing

Customer Service & Technical Support

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Tie

User Reviews

Tie

Security

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Final Verdict

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Review

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Review

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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

Review

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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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12+ Great Squarespace Website Examples for Inspiration

12+ Great Squarespace Website Examples for Inspiration

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

Squarespace is one of the most well-known brands in the website builder industry.

In terms of different types of website builders, Squarespace lives on the end that is all-inclusive and provides everything you need to get started and grow your website. It makes a nicely designed website incredibly accessible for DIY-ers while leaving the heavy-lifting (AKA hosting, functionality, coding) to someone else. It contrasts with solutions where you buy, install, and manage all the “pieces” of your website separately.

Using Squarespace is sort of like leasing and customizing an apartment. You’re in control of decor, cleaning, and everything living-wise – but you leave the construction, plumbing, security, and infrastructure to the property owner. You have some flexibility, but you also give up some control for convenience.

Ecommerce Real Estate Tradeoffs

But before we dive into examples of what Squarespace websites look like in the Internet wild, there is one thing to keep in mind when you’re evaluating a website platform: it’s not just about how the websites look. The functionality matters too. I’ve written a full Squarespace review in addition to comparisons with other popular website builders, WordPress and Shopify.

But in short – 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 Squarespace examples not just to show you how they look, but how Squarespace websites can function so you can be sure you have a website that fits both the style you want and the functionality you need.

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 Squarespace website examples. We’ve pulled these examples based on functionality, design, and usability. Again, Squarespace works incredibly well for DIY-ers who want an easy-to-use website that they can throw up on their own without having to worry about the inner-workings. However, be aware that with this comes trade-offs (i.e. you give up some control, functionality, customization, etc.)

Active Schools

Active Schools squarespace website example

Active Schools’ site is a great example of how simple and clean a Squarespace website can be while still conveying all of the necessary information, showing creativity, and looking professional.  Not all websites need to be a design masterpiece. Instead, this site focuses on what matters: copy that describes what the company is all about, and a icons that educate visitors on their mission. If you’re looking for a basic website where you can throw up some text and basic images/video, this template should serve as a good example of what’s possible.

Beautiful Destinations

Beautiful Destinations

While not all websites need to be visual masterpieces, Squarespace is known for making it easy for DIYers to create beautiful sites. For brands that rely more heavily on visuals (like this travel brand), Squarespace allows you to do some pretty amazing things with design fairly easily (and without having to pay for a professional designer). We pulled this website to show how your site can still be simple but incredibly visual. Check out that video header!

Explore Similar Squarespace Templates!

Wedding Website Example

Wedding websites are a great way to give guests information about the big day, show off your personality, and post updates / pictures / anything else you may want to share with those who are involved with your wedding. Given this website has a shorter lifespan than say, a business website, you’ll want something that’s easy to customize, edit, and manage. Here’s a great example of what you can do with a Squarespace wedding website:

Anya & Deven

Anya & Deven

Anya & Deven’s website is a great example of how a simple theme can be all you need to get the job done — without having to custom-build something complex. Their homepage has all of the crucial information: the date of the wedding, the location, and the link to the RSVP page. The site is polished, implements their style with their pictures and colors, but also makes it so you don’t have to spend money on a custom designed website that you’ll only update for a year or two.

Explore Similar Squarespace Templates!

Photography Website Example

Photography websites are all about the portfolio of work. When looking for a Squarespace website example to serve as inspiration for your photography, pay special attention to the layout options for your work. You want to be sure you’re showing off your photos in a creative way without sacrificing the user experience (AKA fast photo load speed, easy to navigate, high quality images, etc). Here are a few examples of Squarespace photography websites we liked:

Erika El Photography

Erika El Photography

What stands out on Erika’s website is the combination of clear copy + great photos. Her homepage starts with a full image that immediately shows visitors what her work is all about. As you scroll down the site, Erika includes some text about her services paired with a carousel of photos that simultaneously showcases her work. If you’re looking for a way to not just show off your work, but also provide some additional context about your services + approach, this is a great website to use as inspiration.

Julie Harmsen

Julie Harmsen Photography

This Squarespace website takes a different approach, especially on the homepage. The entire front page is dedicated to showcasing Julie’s work. The use of the grid keeps the focus on the photography, and the navigation at the top gives an easy and clear way for visitors to navigate to more information.

Explore Similar Squarespace Templates!

Ecommerce Website Example

Ecommerce websites are all about their products. A good ecommerce website should have high-quality product images, be easy to navigate, and keep the focus on what you have to offer your shoppers! You’ll also want to include strong product descriptions and an easy check out process. Here are a few of our favorite Squarespace ecommerce website examples:

Simple Shape

Simple Shape

A great ecommerce website comes down to a few main things: high quality product photos, easy navigation, and easy check out. This website from Simple Shape checks all of those boxes. What stood out to us especially was how straightforward the homepage is. The shop section is easy to navigate and breaks down the product categories intuitively. The collection page itself is also straightforward and clean:

Shoppers can jump to different product collections with the navigation at the top of the page, or use the main navigation to move to other areas of the site.

Little Clay Land

Little Clay Land

The Little Clay Land is another example of an ecommerce website that checks all of the boxes. The main header image is actually the products themselves, which pair nicely with the primary call to action of “Order Now” (which, on an ecommerce site, is the main action you want visitors to take!).

We also liked how the artist included a behind-the-scenes video further down the homepage with a button to learn more about her and her process.

Little Clay Land Video

For ecommerce companies that want to give visitors an inside look at production, this is a great way to do it!

Explore Similar Squarespace Templates!

Personal & Portfolio Website Examples

Personal and portfolio websites are exactly what they sound like… personal! Whether it’s a resume or portfolio website you use to get booked or a side project you created to pursue a passion, this type of site is all about getting your personal brand online and owning your space on the Internet. A personal website should be easy to edit, manage, and customize. Here are a few examples of Squarespace personal and portfolio websites to use for inspiration:

Darren Booth

Daren Booth

Sometimes, less is more… and that’s exactly what makes illustrator Darren Booth’s website so effective. The clean layout draws your eye right to his illustration, and the simple navigation at the top of the page makes it easy to find exactly what you need on his website. This is a great example of a Squarespace portfolio website that’s a good fit for a DIY-er who needs a place to showcase their work in an easily digestible format.

Susannah Rigg

Susannah Rigg

This Squarespace personal website stands out for a few reasons. First, the homepage. The clear navigation + simple header image (with a strong call to action button!) make it easy for visitors to find exactly what they need.

Next, the portfolio page is a great example of using a card layout with images and text to display your work.

Susannah Rigg Portfolio

If you’re wondering how to structure your personal website in a way that’s intuitive, clear, and polished, this site is a great place to start for inspiration.

Lawyer Website Example

A strong lawyer’s website is all about showcasing your practice areas, giving potential clients the opportunity to contact you, and building social proof. Visitors should be able to know exactly who you are and how you can help them when they land on their site, and should be able to easily navigate to what they’re looking for from your homepage. Here’s an example of a strong Squarespace lawyer website:

The Law Office of Christopher Duby LLC

Have you ever been on a website and been completely overwhelmed with the amount of information? This Squarespace lawyer’s website is an excellent example of providing just enough of the RIGHT information on the homepage, along with clear calls to action. The small about paragraph is a great way to introduce what you’re all about, with the option to either learn more, or contact with the contact information on the side.

Fitness Website Example

A strong fitness website boils down to a few important factors. Visitors should be able to know exactly who you are and what you do when they land on your site, and should be able to easily navigate to what they’re looking for from your homepage. They should also be able to contact you, book a session, or request more details. If you have a physical location, you’ll also want to provide information like hours, location, etc. Here is a str0ng example of a Squarespace fitness website:

Fitness By Design

Fitness By Design

A video is a great way to tell your audience about what you’re all about, and we particularly liked how this Squarespace site used video on the homepage and paired it with an irresistible offer to try their personal training session for free! It’s a unique way to engage potential customers, show them what you do and how you can help them, and give them a clear next step.

Blog Website Examples

A good blog website is all about showcasing your content. Keep in mind that your blog doesn’t need to be something super sophisticated. Your focus should be on good user experience (i.e. straightforward navigation, search functionality, etc.), and a site that allows you to easily and quickly upload new content.

The Style Transplant

The Style Transplant

If a good blog is all about the content, then this example from The Style Transplant is a great place to start for inspiration on how to showcase your content! The homepage is simple, easy to navigate, and clear. We especially liked how visitors could see most recent posts in the Stay Updated section on the homepage.

But a good blog website isn’t just about the homepage… it’s also about what you can do with the posts themselves. This Squarespace blog example uses photos and even a “shop the look” feature on the blog page, which adds two valuable elements to the post content.

The Style Transplant Blog

Next Steps

At the end of the day, choosing your website builder 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 Squarespace fits the design and functionality needs you have for your website, you can explore more Squarespace templates here.

Not sure if Squarespace is a right fit? Explore other Squarespace alternatives here.

The post 12+ Great Squarespace Website Examples for Inspiration appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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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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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

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

The post Find The Best eCommerce Website Builder For Your Business appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Best Credit Card Reader Apps For Android

Android alternative to shopkeep

 

It feels sometimes like Apple dominates the field as far as availability of credit card reader apps. After all, there are plenty of iOS exclusives, but I can count on one hand the number of Android-exclusive POS apps. It hurts my Android-loving heart, in some ways.

In part, the difficulty with Android-based mobile processing apps is how fractured the Android space is — there so many devices, and updates to the OS depend on both the device and the cellular carrier. But good Android-based mPOS apps for credit card processing do exist. You just have to know where to look! Happily, it looks like many companies are starting to understand the importance of accepting Android, and I’ve seen several POS offerings branch into the Android space recently.

Let’s talk about your best options for Android mPOS apps — which ones offer the best experience, the best hardware, and the best pricing!

Best Android-Based Credit Card Processing Apps

To be considered one of the best Android-based mPOS, the mobile app must be available for Android devices and include a mobile credit card reader, rather than a terminal. And obviously, it needs to be a highly-rated solution, too.

Without further ado, here are our favorite recommendations for Android users in need of a credit card processing app!

App Name Square Shopify Lite Payment Depot Mobile Payline Mobile

Payment Depot merchant services review

Payline Data Review Logo

Review

Visit Site

Review

Visit Site

Review

Visit Site

Review

Visit Site

In-Person Transaction Fees

2.75%

2.7%

2.6% + $0.10

Interchange + 0.2% + $0.10

Monthly Fee

$0

$9

$10

$10

Monthly Minimum

$0

$0

$0

$25

Type of Processor

Third-Party

Third-Party

Merchant Account

Merchant Account

Account Stability

Good

Good

Excellent

Excellent

Card Readers

Free magstripe reader (Contactless + Chip Reader $49)

Free Chip & Swipe Reader (retail price $29)

Free Swift B200 reader (chip and swipe)

CardConnect Mobile Device ($49)

Square

Square (read our review) features in a lot of my articles — and honestly, that’s because it’s one of the best options out there, period. As far as features, pricing, and hardware, Square is top of the line in each category. Square’s free mobile POS app, blandly named Square Point of Sale (read our review) has more features than your standard POS app, even if it doesn’t quite reach the abilities of a full-fledged POS system. Plus, Square throws in invoicing, a customer database, and intermediate inventory tools (including item counts) at no additional cost. Payments process at 2.75% for swiped, dipped, or tapped transactions using Square POS and a mobile card reader. Invoices process for 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction, and keyed entry sales for 3.5% + $0.30 per transaction.

Square works on iOS and Android, though it’s worth noting that particular features aren’t always supported by Android tablets or smartphones. For example, you can run a cash drawer session on an Android tablet, but not on a smartphone, and you can’t track sales by employee at all on Android.

Until recently, the best way to get the most Square features on a single device was to use an iPad. However, Square Register (read our review) has changed that.

Register is an Android-based, all-in-one POS platform with a 13.25-inch touchscreen display and a 7-inch customer-facing display with built-in card readers. It runs Square Point of Sale and has many features that aren’t available on Android tablets or smartphones. Payment processing with Square Register is a departure from the standard 2.75% per transaction; instead, merchants will pay 2.5% + $0.10, which means merchants with an average ticket size of $40 or more will see the most savings with this processing rate.

If Register isn’t quite for you, Square still offers plenty of choices for affordable hardware; its Contactless + Chip Card Reader sells for $49 with financing available. You can also purchase additional hardware for Square directly from the company if you’re using Square for a register setup — including Android-compatible tablet stands!

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

Shopify Lite

I honestly feel like more people need to be aware of the fact that Shopify POS is available as a standalone payment processing option for businesses that need a mobile app but maybe don’t want a full-fledged online store. The Shopify Lite plan (read our review) gives you access to the Shopify POS app (available on Android and iOS) as well as a few extra tools. That includes customizable website payment buttons if you have, for example, a WordPress site, as well as a Facebook shop and invoicing.

The Lite Plan goes for a very reasonable $9/month, with payments processing at 2.7% per swiped, dipped, or tapped transaction. Invoiced and keyed transactions process for 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction. Now, admittedly, the Shopify POS app isn’t as full-featured as Square. And the Lite plan doesn’t give you access to all of the features of the POS app, but you do get all the essential, standard mPOS features.

If you want something more resembling a traditional POS setup, with staff PIN access, register shifts, and so on, you’ll need to upgrade to the higher Shopify plan tiers. However, Shopify doesn’t charge any per-device subscriptions, so $79/month for the Shopify standard plan gets you a very powerful ecommerce plan, plus a POS that runs on unlimited devices with quite a few features that bring it on par with traditional POS apps. (Oh, and discounted processing rates, too!)

Finally, you should know that Shopify’s mobile card reader, the Chip & Swipe Reader, retails for $29. However, Shopify does offer a free card reader to new merchants. We’ve previously reviewed the card reader and were very satisfied with it, in terms of design and pricing.

Payment Depot Mobile (Swipe Simple)

Payment Depot has mostly operated as a wholesale merchant account provider, offering a whole range of merchant services, from ecommerce to mobile processing. However, we’re happy to say that Payment Depot is now offering an exclusive mobile processing plan to Merchant Maverick readers, one that’s targeted at even low-volume businesses. You can check out our Payment Depot Mobile review for more information.

Payment Depot’s mobile plan includes access to the Swipe Simple app, made by a company called CardFlight. CardFlight actually licenses its solutions to several providers and so pricing and terms vary according to which company you sign up with. Payment Depot is offering its mobile plan for $10/month, with payments processing at 2.6% + $0.10 per transaction. There are no monthly minimums and no other fees involved. And again, this is a Merchant Maverick exclusive, so you need to use our link in order to sign up for this plan! Also, high-volume businesses can still get access to PD’s standard pricing, which may be more cost effective for them.

The Swipe Simple app is an all-around solid offering, with the essential mobile POS app features, along with a customer database, intermediate inventory (including item counts), and a virtual terminal available for no additional cost. There’s even a free virtual terminal thrown in. While it won’t come close to replacing a full-fledged POS app, mobile businesses that need a reliable app and a stable merchant account will enjoy the flexibility that Payment Depot (and SwipeSimple) offer.

Payment Depot also offers a free chip card-enabled mobile reader, the Swift B200. If you’d like to also accept contactless NFC payments, you can upgrade to the EMV/NFC capable card reader, the Swift B250, for just $25, which is an excellent price for an all-in-one, future proof card reader.

Payline Mobile (CardPointe)

Payline Data Mobile was the first mobile processing solution I reviewed that offered the stability of a merchant account combined with pricing that’s competitive for low-volume businesses.  Obviously, we’ve added Payment Depot to that list as well, but Payline Mobile is also a great option if you need a mobile plan and you want transparent pricing and great customer service.

Payline Mobile’s plan includes access to the CardPointe mobile app, made by CardConnect. The app is pretty solid, with all the essential features you would need to run a mobile business. You can even mark items as tax-exempt in the app, which makes it a great option if you run a wholesale business or even just occasionally sell to business owners with sales tax exemptions.  You also get access to a virtual terminal for no additional cost.

As far as card readers, Payline offers the CardConnect Mobile Device, a magstripe reader that connects via headphone jack. It does have an EMV slot; however, chip card acceptance currently isn’t enabled for the reader, so you’re limited to magstripe only until CardConnect launches EMV support. Payline sells the reader for $49, though you can talk with your Payline sales rep about the pricing if it’s a concern.

Payline Data’s mobile offering is billed under the Payline Start plan, which means you’ll pay a $10/monthly fee and interchange plus pricing with a 0.2% + $0.10 markup. This pricing might not be the most competitive for small-ticket businesses, but if you have an average transaction of $50 or more, you should do well.

The other thing to note with Payline is that the company has a $25 monthly minimum — meaning you need to generate $25/month in processing fees, or Payline will charge you the difference between your processing fees and $25 (so if you process enough to generate $18.28 in fees, Payline will charge you another $6.72 to make up the difference). For most businesses, this works out to be about $1,000/month in credit card volume, but your exact break-even amount depends on your transaction size and average interchange.

I also need to mention that CardConnect is actually a First Data product — and if you prefer, you can get the Clover Go mobile app through Payline for the same contract terms and an additional $6/month fee (passed through by Clover). You can get Clover’s chip-card enabled Bluetooth reader for $120, but again, if you have concerns about the price, talk with your sales rep.

Honorable Mentions

Didn’t find quite what you were looking for? You won’t find a shortage of mobile processing apps here at Merchant Maverick — and a list of just 4 processing options seems a bit limited. So here are the honorable mentions — the solutions that didn’t quite make the top of the list but that I still like for various reasons.

PayPal Here

PayPal is a juggernaut of commerce, and if you want to sell online, accepting PayPal is an easy solution. If you want to accept payments in person, PayPal’s mobile POS app, PayPal Here (read our review), offers a solid range of features, including the ability to send invoices from the app or in the dashboard. PayPal Here is not as robust as Square, and PayPal generally recommends integrating with one of its POS partners if you need more advanced software features. But it’s great for pop-up events, tradeshows, conventions, and mobile businesses.

PayPal processes in-person transactions at 2.7% per swipe, dip, or tap, and invoices at 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction. You can get a chip and magstripe card reader for $24.99, or upgrade to the all-in-one Chip and Tap Reader for $59.99 (a bundled charger set is available for $79.99).

Wondering how PayPal Here compares to Square? Check out our Square vs PayPal article for a direct comparison!

Sumup

If you don’t process credit cards on a regular basis but you need a simple, straightforward option for mobile processing with a great credit card reader, SumUp (read our review) should be at the top of your list. I’ve previously described SumUp as Square’s sophisticated, minimalist European cousin because it delivers all of the essentials with a sleek, simple approach.

Payments process at 2.65% per swiped, tipped, or tapped transaction, which is lower than either Square or PayPal, with no flat fee per transactions. While you’re not going to save boatloads over the alternatives, SumUp does offer the lowest rates with no monthly fee, which is worth mentioning. But what I really like about SumUp is the card reader — which, even two years later, still one of the best designed and packaged card readers I’ve ever had the pleasure to encounter. At $69, it’s not cheap, but I still think it’s better than the Square Contactless + Chip Reader, and the similarly priced PayPal Chip and Tap reader.

Check out my Square vs SumUp comparison for a better look at how SumUp stacks up in terms of features and execution.

Clover Go

I’ve already mentioned Clover Go — it’s the mobile app linked to the Clover suite of POS products, owned by First Data, just like CardConnect. Clover is First Data’s flagship software, and has been for a few years now. If you’re already a Clover user and you want to go mobile with your POS, the Go app is the obvious answer because it’s built to be an extension of the full POS app. However, you can get Clover Go as a standalone product from First Data and many of its resellers. Check out our review of Clover Go for a better look at its features.

Pricing for the Clover Go app, payment processing, and hardware will vary by the reseller you choose. Payline Data is one option — you’ll pay $16/month in fees plus interchange plus 0.2% + $0.10 per transaction, and $120 for the card reader. We generally recommend Dharma Merchant Services for merchants processing more than $10,000/month in cards, and National Processing for businesses of all sizes. In both cases, you’ll pay a $10 monthly fee and interchange plus 0.2% + $0.10 markup per transaction.

Curious how Clover Go stacks up? Check out our Square vs Clover Go comparison!

Which Android Mobile Processing App Is Right For You?

App Name Square Shopify Lite Payment Depot Mobile Payline Mobile

Payment Depot merchant services review

Payline Data Review Logo

Review

Visit Site

Review

Visit Site

Review

Visit Site

Review

Visit Site

In-Person Transaction Fees

2.75%

2.7%

2.6% + $0.10

Interchange + 0.2% + $0.10

Monthly Fee

$0

$9

$10

$10

Monthly Minimum

$0

$0

$0

$25

Type of Processor

Third-Party

Third-Party

Merchant Account

Merchant Account

Account Stability

Good

Good

Excellent

Excellent

Card Readers

Free magstripe reader (Contactless + Chip Reader $49)

Free Chip & Swipe Reader (retail price $29)

Free Swift B200 reader (chip and swipe)

CardConnect Mobile Device ($49)

If you need a mobile POS app that’s compatible with your Android device, or you’re debating between an Android or iOS device, there’s no need to worry. There are plenty of great Android-based credit card reader apps to choose from, with great pricing and great hardware. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which service is right for you — consider the features you get as well as the pricing. Not sure how to do that? Check out my article, Is Square the Cheapest Processor For Your Business? to learn how to figure out for yourself whether a rate quote is actually a good deal.

Still can’t decide? Square offers the best value in terms of features, and the flat-rate pricing works for all businesses, even low-volume and small ticket ones. Plus, there’s no monthly fee!

The post The Best Credit Card Reader Apps For Android appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Best CBD Oil Merchant Account Providers

CBD oil

What are CBD oils? Perhaps you’ve heard of this new class of products, and you’re curious about what they are and what benefits they can offer you. Maybe you’re also interested in opening a business that sells CBD-derived products, and you’d like to know more about the special requirements you’ll need to meet in order to be successful. Well, we’re here to help! Cannabidiol (or CBD) is a substance (or phytocannabinoid, to be more precise) that’s derived from hemp (Cannabis sativa) plants.

Now, you’re probably already aware that marijuana is also derived from Cannabis plants. The major difference between CBD products and marijuana is that the former contain little or no THC or any of the other psychoactive ingredients that marijuana contains. In other words, CBD products won’t get you “high.” Despite this rather obvious distinction, CBD-based products have been illegal under Federal law until very recently. In fact, as of the time of this writing, they’re only legal under certain specific conditions.

Although medical marijuana and, by extension, CBD products are now legal in many US states, most banks and credit card processors have been extremely reluctant to approve CBD oil businesses for merchant accounts, and many such businesses have had their accounts suddenly closed without notice. In this article, we’ll update you on the current (as of January 2019) legal status of CBD products and recommend several merchant account providers that accept businesses selling CBD products.

Legal Issues In The CBD Oil Industry

Until just a few weeks ago, CBD-based products were still listed as Schedule I drugs by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), effectively prohibiting their sale, transportation, or use under Federal law. However, many states (33 as of this writing) have passed medical marijuana laws which legalized the use of marijuana and CBD-based products for medicinal purposes. Several other states have gone even further, legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes and removing all prohibitions against CBD-based products.

The recently-passed 2018 Farm Bill changes all of that. Under this legislation, which was signed into law on December 20, 2018, hemp-based products (defined as containing less than 0.3% THC) are now removed from the Schedule I list of controlled substances. However, you must be a licensed grower and comply with all applicable Federal and state laws to produce and sell your product legally. With so many variations in state laws, it’s well beyond the scope of this article to attempt to cover them all. We recommend that you look into the laws of your state and consult with an attorney or qualified consultant to determine the specific requirements that apply to your business.

Needless to say, selling a product that can potentially still be illegal under Federal law makes it very difficult to get approved for a merchant account. Only a small number of high-risk specialists accept CBD businesses, and in many cases, they’ll require you to obtain an offshore merchant account. Of the small number of providers that do accept CBD merchants, there are only a few that we feel comfortable recommending, and we’ll profile them below. Desperate CBD merchants have tried using PayPal or Square (see our review), but this strategy inevitably involves being dishonest about the nature of your business, and providers won’t hesitate to shut you down if and when they catch you.

Before the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considered it illegal to sell or transport CBD products across state lines. This made it nearly impossible to sell CBD products legally through a website, and many eCommerce-focused high-risk providers were reluctant to accept CBD merchants. The new law eases many of these concerns, so we anticipate that the opportunities for CBD merchants to obtain a merchant account will improve dramatically in the coming year. In the past, we’ve seen reports of banks and credit card processors suddenly deciding to shut down accounts en masse, leaving many CBD merchants in the lurch. This situation should improve considerably with the recent legalization of hemp-based products.

For the time being, we’re going to confine our recommendations to processors that we know already accept CBD merchants and that have a strong reputation for providing fair prices and honest service. As legal limitations on CBD products continue to be rolled back, CBD merchants should find expanded opportunities to get approved for merchant accounts. At the same time, you can still expect to be assigned a high-risk merchant account for now. Until the day arrives when CBD products are fully legalized in all 50 states, we don’t anticipate that low-risk merchant accounts will become available.

What Makes A Good High-Risk Merchant Account Provider?

Finding a good high-risk merchant account provider involves the same criteria as a low-risk provider – it’s just harder to find a provider that offers the right combination of reasonable prices, fair contract terms, and high-quality customer service.

  • Pricing: The bottom line here is that any high-risk merchant account is going to cost significantly more than a comparable low-risk one. Be prepared to have to accept a tiered pricing model (although some established businesses might be able to negotiate a more affordable interchange-plus model). You can also expect to be charged higher monthly and annual fees as well, although the difference in these costs isn’t as much as it is with processing rates. Another additional “expense” that most high-risk merchants have to contend with is a rolling reserve, where your processor withholds a certain percentage of your funds every month until the reserve is met. While you’ll eventually receive all your money, rolling reserves can create serious cash flow problems for a small or newly-established business.
  • Contracts: We really like month-to-month billing arrangements that don’t lock you into a long-term contract or force you to pay an early termination fee (ETF) if you close your account early. Unfortunately, CBD merchants (like any other high-risk merchants) will usually have to accept both a long-term contract (typically for three years) and an ETF. Also, be aware that if you have a long-term contract, it will probably also include an automatic renewal clause that extends your contract, typically for one-year periods at a time. If you don’t keep careful track of when your contract is scheduled to auto-renew, you might find yourself locked in for another year or longer.
  • Hardware: If you plan to sell CBD products out of a retail location, you’ll need either a dedicated countertop credit card terminal or a mobile processing system that uses your smartphone or tablet in conjunction with a mobile card reader. Your terminal should be able to accept both magstripe and EMV payments at a minimum, and we also recommend that you consider getting a terminal with NFC-based capabilities so that you can take payment methods such as Apple Pay and Android Pay. For some specific recommendations, check out our article, The Best Credit Card Machines And Terminals. We also highly recommend that you purchase your terminals outright rather than leasing your equipment. Leasing arrangements lock you into noncancelable long-term contracts, and you’ll wind up paying several times more in leasing fees than what your machine is actually worth.
  • eCommerce Support: Naturally, you’ll want to be able to sell your CBD products to as many customers as possible, and selling via a website allows you to do that. As we’ve noted above, there are still some significant restrictions on selling CBD products across state lines that you’ll want to be aware of before you launch your website. At the same time, the recent legalization of hemp-based products is going to open up eCommerce opportunities that weren’t there just a few months ago. All of our recommended providers can set you up with a high-quality payment gateway that will allow you to process transactions over the internet and significantly expand the reach of your business. As not all states have relaxed their marijuana laws, you’ll want to find a gateway that will automatically filter out customer addresses where CBD products are still illegal.
  • Customer Support: In researching dozens of merchant account providers, we’ve found that high-quality customer service is the true “secret ingredient” that separates the merely average providers from the truly outstanding ones. Customer support issues occur more frequently with CBD and other high-risk merchants, so you’ll want to pay particular attention to a provider’s reputation in this area.

Best Merchant Account Providers For CBD Oil

With the above factors in mind, here’s a brief overview of five of the best merchant account providers in the industry that accept CBD merchants:

Easy Pay Direct

Easy Pay Direct logo

Easy Pay Direct is headquartered in Austin, Texas and has been in business since 2000. The company provides merchant accounts for both low-risk and high-risk businesses, and is one of the few providers to advertise service for CBD merchants. The company’s primary product is their proprietary EPD Gateway. While you’ll have to pay a premium in terms of processing rates and account fees, you’ll be set up with a domestic bank or credit card processor. They’re also one of the very few CBD providers to disclose their rates and fees on their website.

You will probably have to pay a $99 account setup fee to get started. While we normally don’t approve of this kind of fee, it’s appropriate in this case given the more extensive effort required to underwrite a CBD account. Processing rates start at a flat 3.95% + $0.25 per transaction, although lower rates are available if your business meets certain monthly processing volume limits. There’s also a $29.99 monthly account fee, but this appears to include the use of the EPD Gateway. You can also expect a standard contract with a three-year initial term that automatically renews for one-year periods after that. One very positive feature about Easy Pay Direct’s contracts is that they do not have an early termination fee, even for high-risk businesses. While this isn’t quite the same thing as true month-to-month billing, it does make it much easier to close your account without penalty if you have to.

One helpful feature offered by Easy Pay Direct is called load balancing, where a business can divide its incoming funds among multiple merchant accounts. This is particularly helpful for high-risk businesses that often exceed the monthly processing volume limits imposed by the processor underwriting their account. Just be aware that you’ll usually have to pay separate monthly fees for each account, so it might not be cost-effective for some merchants. Also, be aware that you might not need this feature if you opt for an offshore account. Underwriting guidelines in some (but by no means all) foreign countries are more relaxed than they are in the United States, and you might not have a monthly processing limit imposed on your account at all.

Although Easy Pay Direct doesn’t get as much attention as other, better-known processors, it’s a solid choice for merchants selling CBD products. We particularly recommend the company for eCommerce merchants due to the robust feature set of their EPD Gateway.

Pros

  • No early termination fee
  • Load balancing feature allows higher monthly processing limits
  • High-quality proprietary payment gateway

Cons

  • $99 account setup fee
  • Three-year contract with automatic renewal clause

Check out our full review of Easy Pay Direct for more information.

SMB Global

SMB Global logo

SMB Global is a new high-risk provider that was spun off from one of our favorite providers, Payline Data, in 2016. Headquartered in South Jordan, Utah, the company specializes in providing merchant accounts to high-risk and offshore businesses. Using a variety of backend processors, they’re able to approve a merchant account for almost any high-risk business, including those selling CBD oils. They have an excellent reputation for fair prices and top-notch customer service.

As a newly-established business, SMB Global is still a little rough around the edges, lacking a mobile processing system and credit card terminals for retail merchants. At the same time, they offer a full range of services for eCommerce merchants, including a choice between the NMI Gateway and Authorize.Net (see our review).

Because they work with so many banks and processors to get you approved for an account, the company doesn’t offer any specific pricing information. Processing rates, account fees, and contract terms will all vary widely depending on which backend processor is handling your account. While we highly recommend that you request an interchange-plus pricing plan, be prepared to have to accept a tiered plan instead, particularly if you haven’t been in business for very long. Likewise, you can also expect to have a standard three-year contract with an automatic renewal clause and an early termination fee if you close your account early. As a CBD oil merchant, you should be prepared to have a rolling reserve included in your account agreement.

SMB Global requires a minimum processing volume of $50,000 per month for an offshore merchant account, which can present a formidable barrier to a newly-established CBD business. The company will occasionally waive this requirement if your business has a very strong financial history. Offshore accounts support multi-currency processing, allowing you to avoid cross-border fees. They also feature dynamic currency conversion, letting your customers pay in either their local currency or the currency in which you bill them. SMB Global appears to accept CBD merchants only through offshore accounts at this time, although this could change quickly with the recent deregulation of hemp-based products.

Pros

  • Accepts CBD businesses through offshore merchant accounts
  • Reasonable pricing and contract terms
  • Excellent customer service

Cons

  • Requires minimum $50,000 monthly processing volume for offshore account
  • No mobile processing system at this time
  • No information available about credit card terminals or POS systems

For a more detailed look at SMB Global, be sure to check out our full review.

PaymentCloud

PaymentCloud review logo

PaymentCloud is headquartered in Sherman Oaks, California, and has been in business since 2010. The company specializes in placing high-risk businesses (including CBD oil merchants), relying on a network of third-party processors and acquiring banks both in the United States and offshore to get you approved for an account. While they can’t place every merchant for one reason or another, they have a higher success rate than many of their competitors in getting merchants approved for an account. Best of all, they do the extra work required to accept a high-risk account without charging you any application or account setup fees.

Like almost all high-risk specialists, the company doesn’t disclose its processing rates or account fees, so you’ll have to get a quote from their sales team and do a little negotiating to see how their offer stacks up against other providers. For retail merchants, they’ve de-emphasized expensive credit card terminal leases and now offer a “free” EMV-compliant terminal with each account. Note that in this case, “free” means you’re free to use it for as long as you maintain your account, not that you can keep it even if you later close your account or switch providers. Nonetheless, it’s a pretty good deal if you’re a small CBD business owner who only needs one terminal.

PaymentCloud also offers Authorize.Net as their payment gateway, although their system is compatible with other third-party gateways as well. Additionally, they provide a free virtual terminal with each account. While their line-up of products and services isn’t as robust as some other providers, they offer all the essentials you’ll need for a small or medium-sized CBD oil business.

The company doesn’t have a BBB profile, and we’ve found almost no complaints against them on the internet. Feedback from our readers has been overwhelmingly positive – something that’s quite rare in the processing world.

Lastly, PaymentCloud is now recommended by one of our favorite low-risk providers, Dharma Merchant Services (see our review). Dharma recently decided to stop accepting high-risk merchants themselves, and now refers inquiries from businesses in the high-risk category to PaymentCloud. To us, a recommendation from a company as highly respected as Dharma carries a lot of weight, and we give PaymentCloud a strong endorsement as well.

Pros

  • No application or account setup fees
  • “Free” credit card terminal with each retail account
  • Dedicated account manager for customer support

Cons

  • May require offshore account for CBD merchants
  • No online knowledgebase

Be sure to read our full review of PaymentCloud for more details.

eMerchant Broker

eMerchantBroker logo

Los Angeles, California-based eMerchant Broker has been in business since 2011 and is one of the few reputable high-risk merchant account providers that was deliberately marketing to the CBD oil industry before the recent deregulation of hemp products. Although the company has a reputation for charging above-average processing rates and account fees, we’re very impressed with their efforts to educate CBD oil merchants on the ins and outs of high-risk processing. Many CBD merchants are also new to running a business, so the information that eMerchant Broker provides, particularly about chargebacks, is very educational. Even if you don’t sign up with them, we highly recommend that you take a look at the eMerchant Broker website for detailed information about high-risk processing in general, as well as specific issues unique to the CBD oil industry.

eMerchant Broker offers a reasonable lineup of products and services that you’ll need in addition to a high-risk merchant account. Their proprietary eMB Payment Gateway offers an impressive set of features, and they also support Authorize.Net and other popular third-party gateways. The company mainly supports eCommerce and doesn’t appear to offer any credit card terminals or mobile processing systems. They should, however, be able to integrate their processing system with third-party products if you need them.

Don’t expect to save money with eMerchant Broker. They appear to mainly use tiered pricing plans, although interchange-plus pricing might be available to some merchants. The only rate they advertise – 2.99% — represents the lowest available qualified rate. In most cases, your actual rate will be much higher. You can also expect to be saddled with a standard three-year contract with an automatic renewal clause and an early termination fee. Fortunately, they don’t charge application fees, setup fees, or annual fees. Be sure to review your contract thoroughly before signing up, so you’re clear on the assortment of fees you will have to pay.

eMerchant Broker has a good reputation with the BBB and a low complaint volume. Reports from our readers have been mixed, with some praise for their ethical, well-trained sales staff, and some criticism for their customer service department. All in all, eMerchant Broker rates as an above-average high-risk provider, and we’re comfortable recommending them for your CBD oil business.

Pros

  • No application or account setup fees
  • No annual fee
  • Good sales practices

Cons

  • Expensive tiered pricing processing rate plans
  • Long-term contract with early termination fee
  • Some complaints about customer service

For more information about eMerchant Broker, check out our full review.

PayWize

PayWize logo

Another company you should consider in your search for a CBD oil merchant account provider is PayWize. This very small provider is based in Costa Mesa, California and has only been in business since 2017. However, they’re affiliated with Payment Depot (see our review), one of our top choices for low-risk businesses.

At the moment, PayWize offers just a simple, one-page website. However, it does include some significant disclosures that help to set it apart from other high-risk providers. The company markets primarily to medical marijuana dispensaries and CBD oil merchants, so they have more specialized knowledge of the unique issues affecting this industry than many of their competitors.

PayWize offers predictable flat-rate pricing, although they don’t disclose specific rates. Flat-rate pricing is popular among merchants who want to always know in advance how much they’ll pay to process a transaction. At the same time, this pricing model can become very expensive for a large business that has a high monthly processing volume (typically over $5,000 per month). The company also claims not to impose any rolling reserves, which is a real plus for a business that’s just starting up. PayWize offers several credit card terminals and a payment gateway, but discloses very little information about them. Their gateway integrates with a large number of popular online shopping carts, including Shopify, WooCommerce, and many others.

We haven’t produced a full review of PayWize yet, but based on their association with Payment Depot, we’re willing to recommend that you check them out and compare what they have to offer against any quotes from other providers that you obtain.

Pros

  • Predictable flat-rate pricing
  • Appears to offer month-to-month billing
  • Extensive compatibility with third-party online shopping carts

Cons

  • New company with little online feedback from merchants

Final Thoughts

With the very recent deregulation of hemp products by the Federal government, 2019 is shaping up to be a breakout year for the CBD oil industry. Your chances of getting approved for a merchant account have never been better, and it should get even easier as acquiring banks and credit card processors adjust their underwriting guidelines to reflect the diminished risk associated with CBD oils – and cash in on a booming new industry. At the same time, we don’t expect that CBD oils will be treated as a low-risk business any time soon. With products such as diet pills and nutritional supplements still firmly in the high-risk “nutraceutical” category, CBD merchants can expect to have to pay the extra cost of maintaining a high-risk merchant account for the foreseeable future. The only way we see this situation changing is if the Food and Drug Administration ever formally backs up the claims CBD merchants make as to the medicinal value of their products.

In addition to opening the floodgates so more high-risk merchant account providers can accept CBD merchants, the recent deregulation should make it easier to obtain a domestic merchant account rather than having to take on the additional risk and expense of an offshore account. Unless you specifically need to get around monthly processing limits imposed by your provider for a domestic account, we don’t recommend offshore accounts. The added expense and the risk that you might never receive your funds make them a poor choice for most merchants. However, if you do need an offshore account, check out our article The Best Offshore Merchant Account Providers for some recommendations.

Of the five providers we’ve covered in this article, Easy Pay Direct and SMB Global have the best overall reputations for fair pricing and quality service. However, we recommend that you obtain quotes from several providers and compare them closely before deciding which one to sign up with. Also, remember that the CBD oil industry is changing very rapidly now, so there inevitably will be more providers offering merchant accounts to CBD merchants in the coming years than just the ones we’ve profiled here. Finally, if you’re a CBD oil merchant and have had any experience working with the companies listed in this article – or other providers – be sure to tell us about your experience in the Comments section below. Thanks!

The post The Best CBD Oil Merchant Account Providers appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Domain Names, Explained

Domain Names

Domain Names are human-readable words (e.g., amazon.com) that directs Internet browsers to specific files on a specific server.

As an analogy, a domain is like a physical address but on the Internet. Like a physical address, they don’t really do anything on their own, but they are critical to understand when you are building an online project.

That’s the short version. But there’s more to domains & domain registration than the definition. I’ll cover common questions like –

  • What is a Domain Name?
  • What is DNS?
  • What is Domain Privacy?
  • How Domains, DNS & Privacy Work Together
  • How Much Does A Domain Name Cost?
  • Can You Just Buy A Domain Without Hosting?
  • I Bought A Domain, Now What?
  • Popular Domain Name Registrars & Next Steps

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

What is a Domain Name?

The Internet is nothing but a bunch of connected devices with IP Addresses (usually a series of numbers like 192.168.0.1). IP Addresses are not only hard to remember, but they change frequently.

A domain name is a human-readable series of letters that gets matched with an IP Address so that a person operating a browser will find the device (usually a server with files) that they want to find.

In the physical world, the analogy is that Addresses are to Domain Names what Geo Coordinates are to IP Addresses.

Now – you can take this analogy pretty far, and it answers quite a few common questions. For example, like physical addresses,

  • Domain Names are mainly for convenience and memorability. You don’t have to have one…but it makes finding your work *much* easier.
  • Domain Names can have prestige based on neighborhood. Everyone knows 5th Avenue in New York City. But 5th Avenue only has prestige from the businesses that exist there.
  • Domain Names are regulated and structured by a central governing entity.
  • Domain Names are partly determined by country and availability.

Now, the central governing entity in this case is ICANN. They manage the structure of the domain name system while delegating responsibility for individual domain names to registrars.

ICANN has also approved a series of Top Level Domains (TLDs) that are meant to pair with specific devices / websites. Many are country pairs but many are also industry related. Domain Name Registrars literally register and lease your domain name on an annual basis for a fee.

We’ll get to providers & what to look for in a moment.

But what actually connects a domain name to a device / files / website? Well now we are talking about the Domain Name System (DNS).

What is DNS?

The Internet Domain Name System (DNS) is the protocol that translates a domain name request to an actual IP address request.

Every domain name requires you to set name servers. Name Servers do the work of the DNS. These name servers then allow you to define “records” for where each request will go.

You can tell a request for incoming email to look in a folder. You can tell website requests to look in another folder, etc.

Your domain name does not work at all without an attached DNS name server. It simply exists. And a DNS name server does not work with a domain name.

Now, access DNS name server is usually included when you buy a domain name or when you buy hosting (a place to put your website files). But it’s important to know that you don’t have to have your DNS name server in any specific place.

Namecheap DNS Setup

It’s usually simplest to set your name servers with your hosting company (rather than your domain registrar) since they are the ones actually routing your traffic to folders. However, if you are technically adept, many people use a DNS provider like Google, Cloudflare or others separate from their registrar and hosting company.

But the key part here is that no matter where your DNS name server lives, you still have to set it at your registrar. They are the ones who control all your registration data – and your privacy.

So let’s briefly touch on Domain Privacy and the products around that.

What is Domain Privacy?

Domain Privacy is a product that a domain registrar is authorized to sell under certain regulations. Under the ICANN license agreement, you *must* provide correct contact information with your domain name registration. Your contact information is stored in the public WHOIS database.

This requirement is to correct spam, abuse, and technical issues that can arise with domain names & DNS operation.

The side effect of a public WHOIS database is, well, you can probably guess. This is the Internet after all.

Scrapers, spammers, stalkers, and salespeople have a habit of helping themselves to the public contact information and misusing it. Although sometimes you can use it to find the spammers yourself 🙂

Public WHOIS

Domain Privacy is meant to solve that issue. Basically you pay for your registrar to act like a middleman in public. They publish their contact information in place of yours and promise to pass along any important information to you.

Domain Privacy comes at a cost, even though many registrars are starting to bundle it for “free” (i.e., including the base cost in the total cost).

Hover Bundle

Either way, it’s a good idea and a worthwhile upgrade, if only to reduce spam and random phone calls.

How Domains, DNS & Privacy Work Together

Here’s how all this works out in a real life example.

  1. This site’s domain name is shivarweb.com.
  2. The domain name is registered at NameCheap with the DNS name servers pointed to my host, InMotion Hosting.
  3. InMotion’s DNS name servers are set to direct web traffic to a folder on my VPS Hosting server that will deliver my website files (like this page, all of its images and design). They will also deliver any email sent to [email protected] onward to Google, where I receive my email.
  4. My registration information lives at NameCheap, where I have WHOIS Privacy Protection. NameCheap can get in touch with me, but no one else can.

That’s how a domain name, DNS, and WHOIS privacy all work together.

But there are still quite a few questions that come up. Here’s how I answer them.

How Much Does A Domain Name Cost?

A domain costs a flat annual fee depending on several factors including the base cost of the top level domain (TLD), the status of the domain, and your registrars’ business model & markup.

In other words, it depends 🙂

You can expect to pay $10 to $30 per year for an inactive generic top level domain (e.g., a .com, or .org domain that is not currently registered).

If you are buying a country TLD (e.g., .co.uk or .ca or .tv) or premium TLD (e.g., .ninja or .wedding or .movie) then you can expect to pay a base cost plus the registrar’s model & markup.

If you are buying a domain that is currently registered, then you will have to negotiate a private party price or wait to buy it at auction when it expires. Most big registrars either have their own marketplaces or participate in a domain marketplace.

GoDaddy Auctions

The quickest way to see how much a domain name costs is to simply search for it. Most of my readers use NameCheap (for their low annual renewal prices and user experience), so I’ve embedded their search tool below.

Find a domain starting at $0.88

powered by Namecheap

But you can also use the search tool at domain registrars like GoDaddy (cheap upfront) or Hover (focus on support) or even direct at hosting companies who usually offer a free domain (like Bluehost or InMotion).

Now, the big wild card with domain costs are your registrar’s business model and markup. I’ve written many reviews of different registrars. There is no “best” registrar. But there is one (or several) that match your goals.

Every domain registrar is out to make a profit. But they aim to make a profit in different ways. Your job as a consumer is to find one that matches your goals, and remember that if something is too good to be true, then it’s not true. If you get a super cheap domain upfront, then you will pay for it over time. If a company overpromises the world for an expensive domain…you’re probably going to just get an expensive domain.

I’ll cover different providers’ business models below.

Can You Just Buy A Domain Without Hosting?

Yes – you can absolutely buy a domain without buying hosting. In fact, there are a few good reasons to buy a domain without hosting.

  1. Your project is not ready, but you want to claim your domain name now.
  2. You want to redirect your domain name to an existing project (ie., on Facebook, Medium, Amazon, elsewhere).
  3. You want to speculate on a domain name idea. This practice is not as lucrative as in the past, but it is a thing.
  4. You want to protect trademark of phrasing.

There are of course plenty of other good reasons, but that is up to you. The point is that you can buy a domain without hosting. You’ll just need to pay the $10 to $20 per year to keep it registered.

I Bought A Domain, Now What?

Once you’ve bought a domain, there are a few things that you can / should do.

If you are setting up a new website, then you’ll also need hosting / website builder / ecommerce platform depending on what you are building. For diversity sake, I like to get hosting separate from domains. But, if your domain provider has a good deal (or you want convenience) then you can just follow their onboarding).

Once you’ve bought hosting / website builder subscription, then you’ll need to point your DNS to your hosting company / website builder.

Namecheap DNS Setup

After that, all the remaining steps will happen at your hosting company / website builder.

If you are setting up an email setup or other Internet project, then you can set DNS settings with the DNS nameservers that should be bundled with your registration subscription. You can set MX records for email (ie, Google Suite) or @ records to point to a live project.

If you need to redirect visitors to an existing project, then you’ll set the 301 records to the target with UTM parameters for tracking.

If you ware just leaving it alone for a while, then you can place limited advertising or a parking page.

Popular Domain Name Registrars

There are a lot of domain registrars on the Internet. They range from Big Brands like GoDaddy to hip upstarts like Hover to companies that do registration as a complement (like hosting or website builder companies).

They all have tradeoffs. I’ve listed a few of my favorites with a buying guide here. I’ve also reviewed many individually here and compared the two biggest brands here.

But the key to shopping is to ask yourself what you really prefer. Do you want a cheap first year only to pay more on subsequent years? Do you want phone customer support or is chat fine? Do you want an established brand or small upstart? Do you want a simple user experience or lots of complementary products? Do you want a wide TLD selection or no? Do you plan on buying a lot of domains or a single one? Do you want the convenience of buying a domain & hosting from one company or do you want the control of buying them separately?

My domains are hosted at either NameCheap (almost all of my long-term personal domains), GoDaddy (for quick ideas & some clients), or Google Domains (for experiments). But I have clients who use Hover (review) and bundle domains / hosting somewhere like Bluehost or InMotion or Shopify or Wix.

They all work fine in their own way, but you should find the one that fits you.

Next Steps

Domain names are very interesting. In many ways, they are a core ingredient to a successful website. In other ways, they don’t really matter (see thefacebook.com, basecamphq.com and all the other terrible original domains of now big businesses).

But if you have an idea, a project or a need for an online presence, then go grab your domain name and put it to use!

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