10 Best eCommerce Platforms for UK Merchants 2018: The Definitive Comparison

10 Best eCommerce Platforms for UK Merchants 2018: The Definitive Comparison

Last updated: 25/07/2018

If you run an online store, you need some sort of system to actually showcase your products/services and handle online payments. That system is called an eCommerce platform and includes everything from simple drag-and-drop website editors like Wix to enterprise-level eCommerce juggernauts like Magento.

With so many platforms on the market, it can be difficult to know which one is right for your business.

That’s why I’ve collected the most popular eCommerce platforms and put them to the test in this definitive comparison.

I’ll start with an in-depth review of each platform then summarise the results in a comparison table at the end. As always, if you think I’ve missed anything or you disagree with my opinion, leave a comment and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

 


 

Wix Review

Wix

Wix markets itself as a super user-friendly website builder. Just drag and drop the elements until everything looks right and Wix will handle the rest. Thanks to its completely free tier and great backend system, Wix has grown to become the most popular hosted solution in the UK.

(A hosted solution is one where the provider hosts the website and you pay a subscription to use it.)

At the moment, there’s close to 100,000 websites using Wix in the UK!

With Wix, you get a bunch of pre-built eCommerce templates and every element is customisable. Just select a template and start tweaking. The site builder, in general, works incredibly well and strikes a nice balance between functionality and ease of use.

To accept online payments, Wix requires an external payment gateway. How much you’re charged to process payments will depend solely on the payment gateway you select and the deal you strike with the provider.

 

Positives

  • Completely free tier
  • Good range of pre-built templates
  • Powerful drag-and-drop editor
  • Designed so everyone can use it

Negatives

  • Not as technical as other platforms
  • Lacks some SEO functionality
  • Migration to other platforms is difficult

 

Shopify Review

Shopify

Shopify is the second most popular hosted solution in the UK behind Wix.

Shopify launched in 2004 in Canada and (after a first few quiet years) exploded in popularity around 2011 or 2012. Right now, there are around 43,000 online businesses using Shopify in the UK.

It’s not surprising why its grown so fast either.

There’s a bunch of attractive and effective website themes. The backend interface is super intuitive. The integrated payments are handy if a bit expensive. And Shopify’s offline POS products mean you can effectively integrate your offline and online service.

The main drawback to Shopify is the price. Both the upfront subscription costs and ongoing costs are significantly higher than other platforms, making Shopify a less attractive option for businesses operating at scale or with low profit margins.

 

Positives

  • Fantastic website themes
  • Intuitive backend system
  • Impressive customer-facing functionality
  • Easy integrated payments

Negatives

  • One of the more expensive platforms
  • Integrated payments are expensive
  • Migration to other platforms is difficult

 

BigCommerce Review

BigCommerce

BigCommerce is a big player in the US eCommerce market with around 74,000 sites live right now. While smaller in the UK (4,600 sites), BigCommerce is gaining traction and squaring up to more established players like Shopify and Wix.

BigCommerce comes in four tiers — Standard, Plus, Pro and Enterprise — to support varying levels of business. All four options are hosted platforms with each tier adding a bit more functionality.

Like Shopify, BigCommerce comes with an integrated payment system. However, unlike Shopify, it doesn’t charge you payment processing fees. Instead, it absorbs the fee and charges you 0% until you hit an upper threshold. The threshold is $50,000, $150,000 and $400,000 for the Standard, Plus and Pro tiers, respectively. The Enterprise pricing is all negotiated on an account-by-account basis.

 

Positives

  • No transaction fees
  • Unlimited products
  • Impressive functionality from apps
  • Enterprise tier available

Negatives

  • Most themes cost extra
  • Mixed online reviews
  • Unreliable support
  • Tiers based on turnover

 

Squarespace Review

Squarespace

If you’ve listened to any podcast in the past few years, you’ve probably heard of Squarespace. Squarespace was founded by Anthony Casalena who developed the platform on his own between 2003 and 2007.

After 2007, Casalena began hiring staff and there are now 674 people working on the platform.

In the grand scheme of things, Squarespace is still quite a small player with just 781 websites in the UK using the platform. That’s not to say it’s a bad platform, though. Squarespace is an excellent website builder and the eCommerce shop builder is an excellent recent addition.

There are two tiers on offer — Basic and Advanced — with the more expensive tier adding in a handful of additional features like intelligent discounts, gift cards and order APIs.

The core functionality is all very good. There’s a bunch of great templates, the customisation options are impressive, its analytics are helpful and it’s all available for a very reasonable subscription price.

The biggest drawback to Squarespace is its payments. At the moment, Squarespace only works with Stripe and PayPal, neither of which are particularly cheap. If you want to find and use your own payment gateway, you’re out of luck.

 

Positives

  • Nice pre-designed templates
  • Customisation options are impressive
  • Monthly fee is relatively low
  • No transaction fees

Negatives

  • Limited to Stripe and PayPal
  • Functionality is limited

 

WooCommerce Review

WooCommerce

WooCommerce is the first self-hosted platform on the list, meaning you’ll have to buy hosting and manage the website yourself. (Or have someone else do it for you.) Also, unlike the other options so far, WooCommerce isn’t a stand-alone product as it requires a WordPress installation to work.

As you might have guessed, WooCommerce is a bit more complicated than a hosted platform and is designed for more complex online businesses.

With about 6,000 WooCommerce websites in the UK, the platform has a big presence in the mid-range market.

While WooCommerce is technically free, you’ll have to pay for your own hosting and (unless you find a free one) a theme. Also while a lot of plugins are free, some of the better ones are paid. Finally, unless you have some technical knowledge, you will require a developer to make structural changes to the site.

Since WooCommerce is based on WordPress, the community is huge and there are tens of thousands of free and paid themes out there. And if you want to tweak or change anything, it’s usually pretty easy to find a freelance developer or development agency.

 

Positives

  • Huge range of templates
  • Good access to developers
  • It’s free and open source

Negatives

  • No support from WooCommerce
  • More complicated than hosted options
  • Usually requires a developer

 

Zen Cart Review

Zen Cart

Zen Cart is the third most popular open source platform in the UK after WordPress (WooCommerce) and Magento. And while its popularity peaked in 2014, it’s still used by approximately 25,000 sites in the UK and 380,000 websites worldwide.

As an open source piece of software, Zen Cart is free to download and use. However, like WooCommerce, you will need to arrange things like hosting, themes, payment gateways and so on.

While there are themes available, most now look quite dated, especially next to newer themes for WordPress. The backend is also starting to look its age with a complicated navigation and structure. If you’re not familiar with complex eCommerce systems, ZenCart can be tough to get your head around.

 

Positives

  • Free to download and use
  • Powerful eCommerce functionality

Negatives

  • Old fashioned themes
  • Complicated backend

 

Big Cartel Review

Big Cartel

Big Cartel is one of a new breed of platforms targeting independent artists and makers. If you’re running a huge eCommerce operation with 5,000 SKUs, this isn’t the right platform for you. However, if you’re a one-man or one-woman band and need a simple, lightweight online shop, look no further.

With Big Cartel, you get access to a bunch of pre-made themes and can customise almost everything.

 

Positives

  • Very easy to use
  • Designed for independents and small businesses
  • Free plan available
  • Quick to set up

Negatives

  • Limited to Stripe and PayPal
  • Not as many themes as other platforms
  • Not designed for scale

 

Magento Review

Magento

Magento is the other big player alongside WooCommerce in the self-hosted space. And whereas WooCommerce is a plugin for WordPress, Magento is a stand-alone all-eCommerce platform.

If you’re operating a large eCommerce business, Magento should be the first platform you consider.

The beauty of Magento is that it’s an enterprise-level eCommerce platform that’s available to all businesses. It’s capable of supporting huge 50,000-SKU operations without breaking a sweat, which is something you can’t say for most of the other platforms on this list.

Magento’s complexity does, admittedly, make it a little tricky to set up and use so I don’t recommend it for businesses unless they really need the power.

Magento requires an external payment gateway so your payment processing fees will depend on what payment gateway you go for and the deal you strike with the provider.

(There’s also offers a hosted version of the site called Magento Commerce. This gives you all the functionality of Magento without the hassle of hosting. However, it is fairly expensive and not a great choice for the majority of businesses.)

 

Positives

  • Enterprise-level functionality
  • Free and open source
  • Good industry support
  • Lots of pre-made templates

Negatives

  • Complicated to set up and use
  • Hosted version is very expensive
  • Extra fees like hosting and payment gateways

 

PrestaShop Review

PrestaShop

PrestaShop is a self-hosted eCommerce platform that competes at the level of WooCommerce. However, unlike WooCommerce it’s a stand-alone product and is designed from the ground up as an eCommerce platform.

Like WooCommerce and Magento, you download the open source software and upload it to your own hosting. You’ll also need to arrange your own payment gateway to accept payments.

Since it’s used by far fewer businesses (just 8,500 in the UK and 340,000 worldwide), third-party support is patchy. Yes, there are themes and developers out there but it’s nowhere near as common as WooCommerce.

 

Positives

  • Easy to use
  • Free and open source
  • Some good themes and plugins

Negatives

  • Mixed reviews
  • Not as much third-party support as WooCommerce

 

Etsy Review

Etsy

Etsy is a little different to other platforms on this list. While other platforms allow you to make your own discrete site, Etsy’s shops are all grouped together in a huge global marketplace. Think eBay or Amazon marketplace.

As far as shop customizability goes, Etsy isn’t the best. You really list your products and Etsy displays them in its own structure.

But that’s not really the point in Etsy. The point is that you add your products to their marketplace and get access to tens of millions of buyers. Other platforms simply can’t compete with that.

 

Positives

  • Access to a huge marketplace
  • Attractive shop design

Negatives

  • Listing fees eat into profits
  • High payment processing fees
  • HIgh transaction fees
  • Tight restrictions on sellers

 


 

How much does each platform cost?

Platform Monthly Cost Payment System Payment Processing Costs
Shopify Logo $29 to $299 Shopify Payments (or external payment gateway) Basic: 2.2% + 20p

Core: 1.9% + 20p

Advanced: 1.6% + 20p

Wix Logo £11 to £16 External payment gateway Varied
BigCommerce Logo $29.95 to $249.95 Integrated Standard: 0% (up to $50k)

Plus: 0% (up to $150k)

Pro: 0% (up to $400k)

Squarespace Logo £20 to £30 Integrated Basic: 0%

Advanced: 0%

WooCommerce Logo Free External payment gateway Varied
Zen Cart Logo Free External payment gateway Varied
Big Cartel Logo Free to $29.99 External payment gateway Varied
Magento Logo Free External payment gateway Varied
PrestaShop Logo Free External payment gateway Varied
Etsy Logo Free 4 % + £0.20 payment processing fee + 3.5% transaction fee 4 % + £0.20 payment processing fee + 3.5% transaction fee
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