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Find The Best eCommerce Website Builder UK

Updated: Mar 9

In this guide, I am going to run you through the pros and cons of the best eCommerce website builders for building an online store and give you an overview of the capabilities of each eCommerce website builder platform.


However, before I do that, let's bring the Noobs up to speed by explaining the differences between open-source software and cloud-based website builder software.


eCommerce Website Builder Platforms Explained
eCommerce Website Builder Platforms Explained

Open Source vs Cloud-Based Website Builder Software


Magento, Oscommerce, Zencart, OpenCart and other similar eCommerce platforms are all open source products freely available to use, as in "free to distribute" and publicly accessible. The source files for each product are made widely available, usually but not always, under the GNU General Public License terms.

Open source projects, products, or initiatives embrace and celebrate principles of open exchange, collaborative participation, rapid prototyping, transparency, meritocracy, and community-oriented development. https://opensource.com

Open-source software makes source code available to those who wish to view that code and modify or alter it for their purposes. Its polar opposite is "proprietary software", which is only legally accessible by the author or creator. Microsoft products are prominent proprietary software examples, as are all the cloud-based website builder software I cover in this guide.


GIMP is an excellent open-source replacement for Adobe Photoshop for basic photo editing. Open Office or LibreOffice are direct open-source replacements for Microsoft Office. Many other brilliant programs like Shotcut Video Editor, VLC Media Player, Filezilla FTP, and Livezilla Live Chat are made freely available under the GNU GPL license.


Open Source eCommerce Platforms


Prestashop: Over 250,000 eCommerce stores use PrestaShop for online shops, and it is one of the easier to use open source projects. It is straightforward to install. It also offers a hosted version so that you don't have to get involved with installation routines and server configuration.

Perhaps the biggest drawback is the lack of front-end customisation which means purchasing a third party template to get your site the way you want it.

Opencart: Another simple eCommerce online store builder solution, but this one has more going for plugins, add-ons and community support.

Opencart is a good choice for someone working on a tight budget, but once you need to start adding more functionality, you rely on the third-party plugin market. They have an excellent showcase of developed sites.

Zencart: Extensive product management tools and excellent control over inventory, but you'll struggle to make this look nice without a lot of developer help. Zencart Showcase

Spree Commerce: If I were a CEO with a deadline to meet and a small but workable budget, then Spree would be my choice in this category. With the help of a couple of developers, you'll be able to build something with a "Wow" factor in short order.

The problem with many open source eCommerce platforms is that they run on dated code. Spree is based on Ruby on Rails, so you use the latest technology for your online store. Spree Showcase

X Cart: Has been in development since 2001 and has over 38,000 stores worldwide. The entry-level software is free for newcomers, but there is a $ 495-lifetime license fee if you want to have a theme to go with it. All of the advanced features to sell online are on the paid-for plan. X Cart Showcase

Cubecart: Completely free and fully featured, this would be my choice in this category if I was going to make a new online store by myself without any help.



Advanced Open Source eCommerce


Because of its flexibility, Magento is the frontrunner in open source design and is the tool of choice for most higher-end website design agencies. Magento makes beautiful websites but expect to pay £5k - £10k in development costs.

osCommerce: Has been around since time began. It is arguably a better choice for someone with coding skills over Magento because it is a more manageable system for one person. However it is clunky, bloated and difficult to configure with endless options. You could spend a year getting this online store to work correctly.


Platform Specific Open Source eCommerce Software


Woocommerce for WordPress: If you've built a great blog and want to add some eCommerce functionality, Woocommerce is an excellent choice for your WordPress installation.


VirtueMart for Joomla - Free open source eCommerce solution for Joomla.


RokQuickcart for Joomla - Simple and easy to set up eCommerce for Joomla


Drupal Commerce for Drupal


Ubercart for Drupal


A Note About Joomla, WordPress or Drupal eCommerce Integration

Adding third-party online store solutions to an open-source CMS (content management system) like Joomla or WordPress requires significant work to integrate the plug-in or add-on seamlessly with the original template. The result will be many hours making everything look uniform.

Partnering Joomla with Virtuemart or WordPress with Woocommerce will require extensive CSS surgery.

Using a CMS as your eCommerce platform is the last resort because you are getting the worst of all worlds - plug-ins that are not as good as dedicated eCommerce software and lack themes or design. There is also the possibility of poor coding introducing security issues to your website.

Cloud-based website builder alternatives are far superior in every way.

If you have a lot of time invested in your content, it will not be practical to move everything into a cloud-based eCommerce website builder. You will spend most of the following year fixing all those 301 redirects for search engines!

An alternative to using a third-party plug-in is to host your online store on a subdomain like shop.webuildstores.co.uk. It is not the perfect solution, but it is perhaps, the most pragmatic.


Should You Choose Open Source Or A Cloud-Based eCommerce Solution?

The reason to choose open-source software over cloud-based website builder software is flexibility and more customisation options.

The reason to choose a cloud-based website builder is the low setup cost and ease of use.

But Tony, You Said Open-Source Software Was Free?

Open-source software is free, as in free to distribute. However, server configuration, system setup, maintenance and development costs for open-source software must be paid for unless you can do it yourself.

Magento, for example, has a vast array of configuration options. With its resource-intensive server usage, Magento is more suited to large-scale deployment managed by several skilled Magento developers rather than individuals building their first website.

Digital agencies typically handle Magento installations because of their complex nature and the need for both server and programming expertise. Also, open-source software is at the risk of being compromised if you do not keep abreast of updates and patching protocols which add to the overall maintenance cost.

Independently hosted software platforms also have security problems, but part of your monthly subscription fee includes updates and cloud-based solutions like Shopify monitor the hosting ecosystem around the clock to watch for security breaches.

Many people who had built Magento or other open-source eCommerce stores in the days before cloud-based shopping carts became mainstream and user-friendly can find that the software they are using is outdated.

If that is you, consider using a tool like cart2cart to migrate your online store to one of the more advanced cloud-based eCommerce website builders. You will save a fortune in hosting and maintenance costs.


Open-Source v Cloud-Based Website Builder Summary


If you need many methods for displaying products and services in an online store, complex shipping rules, multi-language, multi-currency, an almost never-ending list of extensions and plug-ins and complete control over your design, then open-source eCommerce software would be your choice.


There is no doubt that Magento eCommerce online stores look better in the main than their cloud-based counterparts (in my opinion). Still, the considerable capital investment can make it a prohibitive option for small stores.


With minimal upfront costs and a low ongoing monthly hosting and support fee, cloud-based eCommerce is the way forward for anyone who wants to build a small to a medium-sized eCommerce store.


Even those with loftier ambitions can be supported by "enterprise plans" that offer advanced features such as "Shopify Plus".


Unless you have sophisticated design requirements, most eCommerce websites can be built quickly from the software in the list below.

 




The Best UK eCommerce Website Builders


Now that I've explained the use of different software platforms, here are the best UK eCommerce website builders, in my opinion, that you can use to get your new business up and running quickly.


Each website builder has strengths and weaknesses depending on the type of website you want to build so this isn't a strict numerical order list.


1. EKM


Best Website Builder For UK Customer Support



The EKM eCommerce platform is a shining example of British eCommerce done right, including a robust payment system, excellent customer service, and a great website interface for potential customers.


Providing a dedicated account manager is a game-changer for EKM. It's not just the beefed-up customer support that is so impressive either.

The new range of responsive templates are awe-inspiring and will get you off to a flying start. The new Evolution mode will make site improvement suggestions for you, and there is also an EKM test store function to play about with new ideas in a sandbox without affecting the live site if you so wish.





If your goal is to get your online store up and running quickly with the minimum of fuss and without developer help or support, then the EKM platform does the job admirably.

There are enough customisation options available to help you make something that looks great and stands out from the crowd. And you can do it without developer knowledge, as long as you can use a Word Processor and have basic computer skills you can build a thriving online business using this product.

EKM Have Unrivalled Customer Support

​When you are setting up an online business for the first time, then it doesn't matter what eCommerce platform you use as long as it works and when it doesn't you get support when you need it. And it's this last point that has convinced me to recommend the EKM store above all other options for UK users who want to start a new eCommerce business. The decision to assign a dedicated account manager to each new account means that you will always have support for your site from someone who knows and understands what you are trying to achieve. There are over 80 eCommerce specialists on the EKM team supporting a user base of some 80,000+ businesses since they started in 2002. As well as UK telephone and email support, you'll also gain access to a community forum where you'll be able to ask questions and chew the fat with other users, which can be an invaluable source of information This level of support is something you won't find anywhere else at this price point.




 


2. Wix


Best Website Builder For Specialist eCommerce Stores


Wix.com is a cloud-based online website builder that lets you create beautiful, professional and functional websites without knowing a line of code.

The companies growth has been remarkable. From its small beginnings in 2006, Wix passed 1 million users in 2009, passed 50 million users in 2014 and 190 million in 2019. As of September 2021, they have 210 million registered users, with 4.5 million fully paid-up subscribers.

The Wix website platform uses a drag and drop interface, so you don't need to know any code at all, and you can make relatively complex designs – background videos and different background sections are just the tip of the iceberg of what you can create with Wix.

If you want to get creative and delve into the code, you can. Velo is to Wix as Liquid is to Shopify, so if creating custom events or applications is within your remit, you do have access to programming code in Wix.




How Easy Is Wix To Use?

The Wix editor uses a browser-based drag and drop interface, so there is no software to install. You add new pages, folders and sub-pages to your website within the Wix editor. Click on the element you want to change – text, images, videos etc. – and drag it to where you want it to be on the page. If you're going to add an effect or alter the properties of the element you've chosen, then a panel will open up on the right-hand side of the screen with all the relevant settings. Wix is incredibly easy to use, and if you are familiar with any standard software interface, you'll quickly get to grips with the Wix editor.





 


3. Shopify


Best Website Builder For Many Products (SKU's)


Shopify is a Canadian e-commerce company headquartered in Ottawa, Ontario, offering a suite of eCommerce services for small to medium-sized businesses, although larger corporations can also easily run their operations on the Shopify Plus platform.

Shopify merchants can sell online using the web, mobile, social media, brick-and-mortar locations, and pop-up shops. Shopify also allows businesses to manage their inventory, finances, customers, shipping, and analytics all from one platform.


One of the main reasons people love Shopify is that it is so user-friendly. Even if you have no prior experience with website building or eCommerce, you will be able to create a beautiful shop on Shopify. The platform is highly intuitive and easy to navigate.




Shopify is a popular choice for businesses selling products through brick-and-mortar locations and online, as it provides a seamless way to manage inventory and customers in one place. ​You can also add Point Of Sale (POS) terminals to aid with your stock control.

Additionally, many entrepreneurs who are just starting choose Shopify because it offers a low barrier to entry and has scalable plans so that you can easily upgrade as your business grows.

Although Shopify uses its own "Liquid" programming language, it's not too dissimilar to HTML and CSS, so if you're familiar with coding, you can easily change your shop's design and functionality. Liquid is a template language created by Shopify and written in Ruby Rails and is used in all Shopify themes.

Shopify is a good choice for businesses of all sizes and industries who want an easy-to-use platform with plenty of features and integrations.​





 


4. BigCommerce


Best Website Builder For Large Online Stores


Dozens of companies in the Fortune 500 and Internet Retailer 1000 use BigCommerce to power their sites so you can rest assured that it scales up and you won't outgrow it. Some of the store designs look fantastic as well so you know you are going to be able to design something that looks superb.


There is a Theme store and an App store with hundreds of useful add-ons, and so if the functionality isn't quite what you wanted out of the box, there is probably an add-on that will provide it.


BigCommerce has a support team that is available 24/7 via email, live-chat and telephone (UK 0808-189-1224 ) useful if you are building a store for the first time and trying to hold down a day-job at the same time.


There is a community forum available so you can chat to fellow BigCommerce users and also a “BigCommerce University” which walks you through the basics of setting up a website and adding products all the way through to launching your store. Very useful if you are just starting out.

Both Shopify and BigCommerce do a magnificent job of providing the information you need to get selling as fast as possible and help develop your store.




BigCommerce is a good choice for someone who wants to build an eCommerce website. Plenty of help and advice is on hand in the form of tutorials, and the BigCommerce University is a useful resource.


The App store makes finding and developing useful add-ons a breeze, and there is a vast array of bolt-ons available to help you make the customer satisfaction journey a positive one.

Some of the developed stores in the showcase look stunning, and it's clear that you can produce an eCommerce website using this platform that can compete with anything else that you might like to compare it with.


24/7 Technical support and having all of the hosting worries taken out of your hands are big positives and mean you'll get started selling far quicker than someone who chooses a custom shopping solution.





 

Choosing The Best eCommerce Website Builder For You


The balancing act for an eCommerce website builder is to combine ease of use with many features.

The more features you add to your eCommerce store, the harder it is to maintain, which is why many of the best solutions offer a range of plugins from which you can choose rather than building them in as standard and utterly confusing you.

Designing a website builder software interface that is easy to use and intuitive takes much research and requires extensive user feedback. Many eCommerce website builders claim to be "the best solution", but there is no best solution, just as there is no best car.

A Ferrari would be great to commute to work in, but for taking the family on an extended camping holiday, it would sadly come up short. The fun factor would disappear when you try to get your tent in the boot. You could always buy a trailer for your Ferrari, although I do not think I have ever seen one with a tow bar!

The first item on your "to-do" list for your online business should be to write a website project management document. If that sounds daunting, then let me assure you it is not. One page will suffice, with a list of all the high-level features you expect the software to be able to handle.

Always go for a more straightforward solution and start making money rather than start to build something overly complicated that turns into a costly time and money pit.

Proving that the idea will work first before investing thousands of pounds in website design and SEO tools is what a cloud-based website builder is good at doing.

The new REST API features that Shopify and BigCommerce are developing mean that website building and integration with third-party tools are becoming more accessible than ever. Alliances with other Saas platforms like Kashflow mean that you get "best of breed" solutions every time and not an underwritten, lightweight afterthought.

Saas (Software as a service) solutions can take advantage of the latest hosting technology without worrying about backup solutions and bandwidth. By distributing the data load across multiple CDNs (content delivery networks), you get blazingly fast speed for your website.

Choosing something that looks like a good fit only to find out a year later that your company evolved into something completely different (a common occurrence) is not the problem you think it might be.