At first glance, all ecommerce platforms look similar. They allow you to build a store, manage products, integrate payment gateway, offer built-in marketing features etc. but the difference lies in the sophistication of each feature. And the scalability it needs.
This guide is designed to assist you in finding the right eCommerce platform for your business and help you make an informed decision.
But before that, I want to touch upon the basics of what an ecommerce platform is, different types of ecommerce platforms and why picking the right ecommerce platform is so very important.
Then I will go about listing all the factors you need to weigh in to make an educated decision about your ecommerce platform purchase.
I have also listed 7 Best Ecommerce Platforms with their pros and cons to help you skip all the tedious research work.
So, if you are looking to make a decision on an ecommerce platform this article is all you need.
WHAT IS AN ECOMMERCE PLATFORM?
An ecommerce platform is a software application that allows business to build an online store and manage its operations. It helps businesses with a lot of business functions like-
- Building a Store
- Product Management
- Inventory Management
- Accounting & Taxations
- Mobile Commerce
Types Of Ecommerce Platforms
On the basis of licensing models or investment method to buy the platform, ecommerce platforms can be categorized into –
- Hosted Ecommerce Solutions – Hosted e-commerce solutions are where the entire suite needed to run an online store is hosted on a third-party server. This is typically a software which sits on the provider’s server while an e-commerce entrepreneur can run their online business without a need for any technical intervention from her side. Examples of hosted e-commerce solutions are Bigcommerce, Shopify, and Volusion.
- Open Source ECommerce – Self-hosted e-commerce solutions are where the entire software sits and runs on web servers as chosen by the merchant. Here the merchant or the developer has to install, run and maintain the website all by himself. Examples of self-hosted e-commerce solutions: Magento, Open Cart, and WooCommerce
- On-premise ECommerce – This kind of platforms require you to initially pay a one-time license fee. You also need to pay for other activities like installation, data migration, and maintenance etc. are some of the popular examples of on-premise ecommerce platforms. On-Premise eCommerce platforms are high end in its functionality and capability. These are more apt for enterprise-based ecommerce stores. Examples of On-Premise eCommerce platforms: Hybris, IBM WebSphere, Demandware
Importance Of Choosing The Right Ecommerce Platform?
Readymade Solution – eCommerce platforms are strategic growth enablers. They help you in building an online store and manage its operations from one place. The only alternative to an ecommerce platform is building an online store from scratch. This would require technology skills, resources, time and of course a lot of money running into thousands of dollars.
Cheaper than starting from scratch – Whereas ecommerce platforms are software applications that allow you to rapidly build an online store and kickstart your business. Depending on the platform and plan you choose, you will also get access to a lot of other features to run your business smoothly. And, most importantly you can buy these platforms on a monthly basis, therefore helping you save on upfront investments.
Wrong decisions might bite you – Also if you pick an ecommerce platform which doesn’t fit your business needs you will need to put extra time and effort to shift between platforms. There is a risk of hampered user experience and site downtime. This means loss if customers and revenue. Also, the time spent learning to handle an ecommerce platform might get wasted.
10 Factors To Weigh In Before You Pick An Ecommerce Platform
Most entrepreneurs look at different platforms, read about it online and make a choice. This I believe is not the right way. Shopping for a platform without going deep into your requirements is a gamble.
Finding the right ecommerce platform for your business is a process. And exploring different platforms comes at the end.
A better approach is to weigh in all the factors I am going to mention in this post and see how your business matches up to it.
eCommerce is a journey, not an endpoint. Your business will cross different stages on this journey. Each stage will have its own unique requirements. Both business and technical. Will you change your platform at every stage? That’s not a great idea. So you need to pick a platform that can serve your needs for long. A platform that gives you the flexibility to adapt to changing needs of your business. Look for a platform that not only caters to new businesses but also big businesses. Avoid platforms that lock your scalability to grow.
Budget is a huge consideration in business. It is more when you are just starting out and are on a tight budget. The market offers a wide range of ecommerce platforms and plans covering different budget sizes. A quick glance suggests the pricing for platforms ranges between $29 to over $3000 per month.
But the cost of the plan is directly proportional to the set of features it offers. And that’s why it is important to check various platforms so that you get the features you need in your platform and within your budget.
While selecting a platform, also have an eye on the hidden costs like transaction fees, costs of integrating plugins and extensions etc., to ensure that your budget doesn’t go awry.
3. SITE DESIGN
Ease of building a store is a key consideration while choosing a platform.
- Can you build the store on your own on the platform?
- Does it require coding skills to customize elements?
- Do you have the programming experience to design the store?
Answers to these questions can impact your budget and time to go live.
Here’s how. Let’s say you have no coding skills and you select a platform wherein your to require coding skills to customize your store or to add new features to it. You would need to hire resources to get it done. This will cost you as software developers don’t come cheap. Second, it will also take a lot of time.
So if you have no or limited coding and programming skills then pick a platform that offers-
- Simple drag and drop interface to build a store
- Offers good customer support to reach out when required
- Talks in your language
It is better to choose a platform that allows you to kickstart your business quickly. Even if it means starting with a basic store. Getting customers to visit your store and business will take time. So start ASAP. Later on, when your business starts doing well, you can work on the design of your store and make it awesome.
4. BUSINESS MODEL
What are you selling? How are you selling? All these must factor in while selecting your ecommerce platform. Here’s how-
- What are you selling– A physical product or a digital product. Some platforms are excellent for selling physical products whereas others offer good features to sell digital downloads. Also selling physical products is a little complex than digital downloads. You need ease of product management, inventory tracking, and management, shipping choices, taxation etc.
- How are you selling- Do you want to sell on your website? Do you want to promote your products on social media? Are you an Amazon, eBay affiliate? Or simply want to adopt dropshipping as a business model? Some platforms will enable social media selling effectively while some are good with dropshipping business.
5. CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
The customer has changed. He is more informed, more tech-savvy and wants his retailers to be up with time. He is also highly impatient. And wants the best of experience. Until and unless you’re selling something very unique, unavailable at other stores, you would be competing with other retailers on experience, prices and fast shipping. So experience is important and a winning factor.
To provide a delightful customer experience, you need a platform that offers-
- Good in-store experience: Gone are the days when a simple website will do. You need a user-friendly website wherein your customers can quickly find the desired products and buy it. Your website needs to load faster.
- Personalization: It is a key factor in customer experience. Your customer expects you to know him better. Understand his needs and help him realize his goals. So you need the ability to personalize the experiences by collecting data and tools like location tracking, contextual offers etc., to help him buy products easily.
- Omnichannel experience: Your customer is effortlessly switching between a computer, mobile, and laptop while shopping. So you need to be present on all devices to win him. According to comScore, mobile commerce growth is growing at 53% year-over-year. That’s big.
Pick a platform that offers built-in features or integration with apps to help you offer a good experience to your customers.
6. PAYMENT METHODS
A few weeks back, I was shopping for a mobile charger. I googled for it and found a mobile charger at a good price. The site wanted me to create an account before purchase which I did. I gave in all the required details on shipping. I was very close to finishing the checkout before I found out that the website doesn’t accept Diner credit cards.
Such experiences reduce the conversion rate of your online store. Your online store shouldn’t limit payment options for your customer.
Your online store should accept popular payment methods so that your customers can easily make a purchase. For that, your ecommerce platform should allow multiple popular payment integrations like PayPal, Stripe, Apple Pay and Google Wallet or payment gateways which are trusted by your target audience.
Marketing is a critical part of your business. Once your store is ready, you need to promote your website to get customers and business from them. Marketing doesn’t end there. You would need capabilities to reward loyal customers, build a relationship by regularly engaging with them.
Some major marketing features you need for your platform are:
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
- Social Media Integration
- Integration with third-party platforms like Google Analytics, Google Adwords, Price Comparison
- Discount cards and coupons
- Custom gift card
- Abandoned cart saver
Unlike in a physical store, you cannot see your customers in an online store. You might not even know who visited your store. But this doesn’t mean that there are no ways of knowing your customers. Analytics help you know more about your customers. How many people visit your stores daily? Which country and city. From mobile or a desktop. How many made a purchase? How many left the cart abandoned?
Data is power in digital commerce. The more data you get, the better insights you gain and then can sharpen your strategy. So the ecommerce platform you select must enable integration with website analytics tools. Also, it provides a good dashboard to instantly give you a birds-eye-view of your business.
It would be excellent if the platform offers good apps for data collection and analytics to further power your business.
9. THIRD PARTY INTEGRATION
While all platforms promise to be the all-in-one ecommerce platform you cannot completely run your business on an ecommerce platform. More so as your business grows and you need more sophisticated features. It might happen that the feature may be available on your platform but is not sophisticated enough to meet your needs. That’s where third-party integration comes up. Most platforms allow your store to integrate with-
- CRM tools
- Accounting packages
- Analytics tools
- Ad platforms
- Email Automation platforms
- Mobile apps
So it is important to know in advance your requirements and then select a platform which allows you to scale your online store functionality with the power of apps and integrations.
10. CUSTOMER SUPPORT
The quality of customer support is often ignored but an important consideration. You are buying a platform for long-term and you would need assistance from customer support frequently. More so in the early stages. The level and quality of customer support varies depending on the platform and plan you choose. You must know-
- Open source platform doesn’t have customer support. They have forums and communities where you can get help from developers and experts in the technology.
- Enterprise plans in SaaS platforms, on the other hand, offer you dedicated account manager to help you but depends on the plan you pick. Lower end plans don’t always have dedicated customer support.
- Some platforms only offer customer support via email and chat while some offer support only during business hours.
So check out the customer support level and quality offered by a platform before making your choice.
Here Is Our Pick Of The Best Ecommerce Platforms
Now that you know all the factors needed to pick the right ecommerce platform for your business it is time to walk through the best ecommerce platforms currently available in the market. To make your job easier, I have shortlisted 7 good ecommerce platforms from my experience. I have also added pros and cons on each platform to know what you can expect from them.
Here are the next steps to take –
- Visit the website of each platform I mentioned below and go through all the features.
- Read detailed reviews on each platform.
- Shortlist 2-3 platforms that you think best meets your needs.
- Take a free-trial of each platform, play around with its features and check yourself.
- Pick the one that best fits your needs.
Founded in 2006, Shopify has become one of the most popular ecommerce platforms in the world. It currently powers over 500,000 active stores creating over $46 billion in sales.
I have myself used Shopify many times for businesses across categories and it is really impressive.
Shopify offers 5 plans:
- Shopify Lite: Priced at $9 per month, this plan allows you to sell on Facebook and chat with your customers on Messenger. Add products to any existing website or blog, and accept credit card payments.
- Basic Shopify: From building an online store from scratch to adding some good features, you have all the basics of starting a new business. The plan is priced at $29 per month.
- Shopify: Priced at $70 per month this plan offers everything you need for a growing business like abandoned cart recovery, advanced reports, online gift cards etc.
- Advanced Shopify: Packed with advanced features, this plan is ideal for scaling your business. The costs for this plan is $299 per month.
- Shopify Plus: An enterprise plan targeted towards big brands. The plan offers advanced features like unlimited bandwidth, good customization capabilities, and stronger security.
You can create a beautiful store. Manage products and inventories easily. Enable popular payment methods including Amazon Pay and Bitcoin. Create a blog. Power your store with additional features using over 2000 apps. There’s very little you cannot do with Shopify.
Shopify Platform Pros and Cons
|Powers 500,000 stores and generates $40bn in sales.||Shopify charges a 0.5% – 2% transaction fee for customers who don’t use Shopify payments|
|Plans starts from as low as $9. The 5 different plans covers the need of all businesses starting from bloggers, sole proprietors to big brands.||Most of the reports are available on expensive plans|
|Offers various payment methods including Credit Cards, PayPal, Apple Pay, Amazon Pay and BitCoin.||You can only send 1 reminder email for abandoned cart recovery. You need to download apps for more sophisticated recovery process.|
|Good collection of theme library with 10 free and 51 paid themes.||You need to take care of image aspect ratio while uploading images. It doesn’t automatically crop images.|
|Shopify Retail POS ($49) to sell not just online but in physical locations like events, tradeshows etc.||Menu creation is little different and needs some learning.|
|In-built blogging engine|
|App Store with around 2000 apps brings extra features and functionalities|
|Dropshipping apps with exclusive partnership with Oberlo|
|VAT MOSS (VAT Mini One Stop Shop) compliant|
|24/7 support by email, live chat or phone|
Shopify is ideal for businesses of all sizes- from bloggers, social media sellers to big brands. The feature set and pricing of the plans is at par with other leading ecommerce platforms. The platform has a few limitations, which I have pointed out in the pros and cons above, but nothing which cannot be worked around. I give Shopify 9.5/10.
Founded in 2009, BigCommerce has quickly climbed the charts to become a leading eCommerce platform. The company claims to generate over $8 billion in merchant sales and has been recognized as a fastest growing company by Forbes and Inc.
The platform is loaded with high features and functionality to offer a good user experience. In my opinion, it is one of the most intuitive and user-friendly platform.
Another platform that lets you do everything essential to create and run an ecommerce business. You can create a store. Add products and its many variants. Manage inventories. Market your store. Recover abandoned carts. And so on.
BigCommerce offers 4 plans:
- Standard: Costs $29.95 per month. The plans offer good themes to build a store. POS support, integration with Amazon, eBay and Google Shopping, gift cards, single page checkout etc.
- Plus: In addition to features available in ‘Standard’ plan, you get an additional feature like abandoned cart recovery, customer groups and segmentation to reward loyal shoppers. This plan comes at $79.95 per month.
- Pro: Priced at $249.95, the plan offers a comprehensive set of features needed to scale and grow your business. You get advanced features like Google customer reviews, product filtering to help shoppers quickly find products and custom SSL.
- Enterprise: This a highly customizable plan meant for big businesses who want unlimited bandwidth, robust security, and high scalability.
BigCommerce Platform Pros & Cons
|User-friendly platform with an intuitive interface.||Annual sales threshold for each plan. If you exceed that, you will need to upgrade to next higher plan.|
|Easy to build and manage store without any coding knowledge.||No mobile app for store management.|
|No transaction fees (other platforms charge between 1 to 3%)||Manual VAT MOSS process|
|Built-in product review functionality.||Entry level plan is expensive (but offers a lot more features than competitors)|
|Robust abandoned cart recovery features|
|Flexibility to include a lot of different product variants.|
|Over 40 pre-integrated payment gateways serving 100+ countries and over 250 local payment methods|
|Dropshipping support with 6 businesses|
|No compulsion to use a proprietary POS system; you can connect to the POS software of Square, Shopkeep, Springboard and Hike.|
|450+ apps on app store|
|Strong analytics and reporting|
Bigcommerce offers a robust ecommerce platform that’s up there with leading names in the marketplace. The platform caters to the needs of all retailers with its list of features. Though the sales threshold for each plan is negative but, it covers it with the best abandoned cart recovery functionality in the competition. It’s 9/10 for BigCommerce.
Founded in 1999, Volusion is one of the leading ecommerce store builders in the market. As per the company, over 30,000 merchants actively use its platforms building $26 billion in sales.
Volusion offers 4 plans-
- Mini- $15/mo
- Plus- $35/mo
- Pro- &75
- Premium- $135
All plans have the following features included-
- Free, Responsive Themes
- Powerful Site Editing Tools
- Drag and Drop Tools
- Add Products in a Flash
- Securely Accept Payments
- Easily Manage Inventory
- Built-in SEO Tools
- Social Media Integrations
- Powerful Reporting
- 24/7 Expert Support
- Helpful Resources
- In-House Services
But the plans differ from each other in offerings. So depending on the plan you choose, you will get additional features like-
Volusion Pros and Cons
|Low cost plans||Bandwidth restriction on plans|
|Powerful Product and Inventory Management||Limited design themes|
|Good payment options||Coding skills required to customize themes|
|POS support||SQL understanding required to create custom reports|
|Mobile app for store management||Additional costs on SSL certification, PCI and Termination|
|CRM integration||No in-built blogging engine|
|Email marketing support|
|App store with 66 apps|
|Solid Knowledge base support to help you at every step of store building and management|
Volusion is meant for merchants who want a multitude of features at low cost. While it has a range of good features like powerful inventory management, CRM integration, email marketing etc., but limitations like bandwidth restriction, additional fees for SSL and no inbuilt blog engine makes it locked down. And you need coding skills to use some of its features. Volusion gets 8/10.
4. Magento Commerce
With over 25% of market share, Marketo leads the in eCommerce platform space. It’s an all-in-one platform that seriously packs a massive punch. So why does Magento comes so low on my list? The only reason is that it’s not for all ecommerce retailers. The platform is geared towards enterprises and big brands. Some of the leading names like Huawei, Pepe Jeans, Burger King, & Liverpool F.C. etc use Magento for their online stores. It’s not for small retailers.
Although Magento offers a free, entry-level plan, you probably won’t be able to do a lot with it. The Magento Commerce Starter plan begins at $1,988 per month. Then there’s a heavyweight ‘Magento Commerce Pro’ priced at $3,399 per month. It offers five business intelligence (BI)dashboards, 75 BI reports three servers as well as a dedicated technical account manager.
Magento Pros and Cons
|Open source platform which is highly customizable||Least intuitive interface and takes a lot of time to set up.|
|1000s of plugins and extensions to power your business||Plans are way expensive than other platforms.|
|Magento Business Intelligence Essentials giving you full visibility into your data with 75 reports and 5 dashboards available out of the box||Requires tech support to run the complex system which means additional costs.|
|Customer Segmentation, Targeted Promotions & Merchandising||Less nimble than other platforms.|
|Dynamically target customers to present up-sells, cross-sells, and related products based on their|
specific product selections.
|Create invitations and events for limited time sales to select|
customers and allow customer-initiated invitations.
|Improve sales and marketing with advanced attribute management|
|24×7 monitoring and email support for the core application and the cloud infrastructure|
Magento is perfect for big brands with a large volume of products and sales. It has features and scalability to match enterprise-level business. The costs and complexity of the system make it a big no-no for small retailers. It gets 10/10 but only for enterprise customers.
If you are looking for an all-in-one ecommerce platform which is easy-to-use then 3dcart comes as a good choice.
The pricing of 3dcart plans is at par with leading platforms like Shopify, BigCommerce etc. There are 4 plans:
- Startup: Priced at $19 per month, this plan offers all features of a basic plan like building a store, blog, built-in SEO tools, gift certificates etc. But there is a restriction of 500 products and sales of $10,000 per year.
- Basic: This plan offers all the features of the startup plan sans any restriction on products, bandwidth and sales threshold. It is priced at $29 per month.
- Plus: This plan offers many advanced features like CRM, store credits, abandoned cart saver, email marketing newsletters and product comparison etc. It is priced at $79 per month.
- Pro: Priced at $229 per month, this plan offers many features like autoresponder campaigns, automation rules, loyalty programs etc., suited for small and medium scale businesses.
- Enterprise: This plan is geared towards businesses selling over $400,000 per year. You get unlimited staff accounts, a dedicated technical manager and high customization required by big brands.
3dcart pros and cons
|Intuitive and user-friendly interface||Free templates are ordinary in design|
|Unlimited bandwidth except in startup plans||SEO capabilities are weaker when compared to competition|
|No transaction fees||Tough to find some features from the admin dashboard|
|Good abandoned cart saver|
|Over 100 conversion optimized templates|
|Over 160 payment options|
|Good App Store|
|POS module at no extra cost|
|Built-in marketing tools|
3dcart is a decent ecommerce platform that many retailers will enjoy using because of its feature-richness and ease of use. It competes with leading ecommerce platforms in the market and packs a punch in some features. I give it 9.5/10.
If you’re an existing store on a WordPress site or you’re a WordPress fan and wish to build your ecommerce store on it then WooCommerce comes across as a good solution. However, WooCommerce is not exactly an ecommerce platform in the strictest sense. It’s a free, open source plugin that works expressly with WP sites.
Founded in 2008, with 34,914,750 downloads, WooCommerce powers over 28% of all online stores.
Features that you would normally get in leading platforms like Shopify, BigCommerce, and Volusion etc., are available or can be integrated with the Woocommerce plugin as extensions. While WooCommerce is free to download but you have to pay for getting extensions. In addition to that, there will be the cost associated with setting up a WordPress website, hosting it and getting other functionality.
WooCommerce allows you to build a beautiful store, sell physical and digital products at ease, manage orders and customers and offers good marketing features. With the help of extensions and other WordPress plugins, you can do everything which you could do on any other platform.
WooCommerce Pros and Cons
|Free to download, highly user-friendly||Works expressly with WordPress sites|
|A large extension store to add features to your store||Lacks advanced marketing features available in other platforms|
|Setup requires no programming skills||Building a store with all features can be expensive|
|Good product management and inventory features|
|Easy to sell products like subscriptions and appointments|
|Built-in payment processing from leading providers|
|Built-in marketing functions like SEO, social media integrations, analytics, and coupons|
WooCommerce is good. It’s highly customizable. You have a range of extensions to add power to your store. And can build a store as good as you do with any other platform. But there is limitation in adding sophisticated features. So it is best suited for small retailers. And those who already have a store built on WordPress site. Collecting different pieces to build a store can be a little overwhelming to startups. I give it 8/10 with a strong recommendation for retailers with existing WordPress site.
In the ecommerce space, we’re seeing a growing trend of individuals particularly makers, musicians and artists opening up their online stores to sell their creations. The products can be paintings, songs, artifacts, designs etc. For such creative businesses, there is an excellent ecommerce solution in Big Cartel.
Founded 2005, Big Cartel sets itself apart from the competition by specifically targeting artists. The platform has been designed user-friendly and a lot of emphases has been laid on making it easy for an individual with no or little technical knowledge to build a store and run it.
Big Cartel offers 4 plans, one free and three paid. The free plan offers basic features to run a store. You can only list 5 products in this plan. But you get good features like beautiful themes, store tab for Facebook and apps etc.
The price for paid plans range between $9.99 to %29.99 per month. The features on paid plans are same with only difference being in the number of products you can list in your store.
Big Cartel Pros and Cons
|Easy and quick to setup||Limitation in product listing in each plan. You can only list up to 300 products on the platform.|
|Low cost with a free basic plan||Lacks sophisticated marketing features|
|Free online store templates|
|Decent inventory tracking and management|
|Store tab for Facebook|
Big cartel is excellent for creative individuals who want to build an online store and sell their creations. The features are limited but that’s understandable that most of the stores would create niche markets and would have basic requirements. The facility to sell products through Facebook is impressive as a lot of creative artists are building the audience and getting business through social media. I give it 9/10 with an express recommendation to artists.
There are many ecommerce platforms in the marketplace. I have picked the 7 best ecommerce platforms based on my experience and the varied needs of businesses and entrepreneurs. I have also offered honest pros and cons of each platform to help you make an informed decision.
Choose a couple of platforms from the list below. Sign Up for their free trial. Know in detail about the features. If you feel stuck drop-in a comment below this blog post and I will see how I can help you.
|Platform||Free Trial Access|