Not all eCommerce platforms are created equal.
As with everything else in your business, your chosen eCommerce platform needs to fulfill a business need. Will you be managing a large team? How will your eCommerce platform support SEO? Is your business a startup? What are your expectations for your business when it comes to the logistics of tracking sales, shipping, and rating customer satisfaction?
If you’re concerned that you just opened a can of worms by clicking on this article, don’t worry. You’re going to learn a lot from this guide, and the content is not as intimidating as it seems.
Different types of eCommerce platforms
There are three main types of eCommerce platforms to know.
Open-source eCommerce platforms are known for being adaptable, scalable, and truly customizable to fit the needs of your online business. Some businesses prefer open-source because they want unique experiences for shoppers, or they are looking to acquire a ton of data on site visits.
Though open-source eCommerce platforms are free (so you don’t have to worry about licensing fees), they aren’t something you buy off the shelf. You’ll need to hire a developer to create your online store. The difference between open source and software as a service (SaaS) is that with open source, you own the code, and maintenance is your responsibility. SaaS products are less customizable, yes, but put the onus of upkeep and bug fixes on someone else.
nopCommerce is a free, open-source platform built on Microsoft technologies. You can use it to fully customize your store with different payment gateways, shipping features, marketing tools, design, and more.
Software as a Service (SaaS)
Businesses gravitate toward SaaS eCommerce platforms because of their easy accessibility and customization capabilities. You can also get them up and running in no time.
Their user-friendly setup makes it easy for an entire team to troubleshoot and resolve issues in the back-end. You don’t need to know how to code, and the learning curve is generally pretty minimal. Typically, such services have a monthly subscription model, allowing you to choose from a variety of different plans.
Perhaps the best-known example of an eCommerce SaaS platform is Shopify. After creating an account, you can set up your store and start selling online in minutes. No coding, no technical setup. Everything is done for you, in exchange for a monthly fee.
Headless Commerce is kind of like the buffet of eCommerce platforms. It separates your front-end design from your back-end infrastructure so you can engage customers anywhere, including billboards, wearables, smart mirrors, vending machines, and more.
A business can pick and choose exactly what it needs to streamline its production, customer experience, and output. More specifically, businesses choose plug-ins and integrations that are relevant to the organization. The host is responsible for security.
Best eCommerce platforms
There’s an eCommerce platform for all businesses, regardless of size or industry. Below are some different eCommerce platforms to choose from today.
Who it’s for: Shopify is an eCommerce website builder that helps entrepreneurs build their online store. You don’t need tech skills or a huge budget to create your store, making it a fast and affordable way to start selling online.
Why use it: The best hosted eCommerce platform for entrepreneurs, small businesses, hobbyists, and dropshippers, Shopify powers over 1 million businesses and is known for its ease of implementation, prices, design, and marketing tools. You can choose products to dropship through Oberlo, run Facebook ads, launch email marketing campaigns, and create workflows, all using Shopify and its popular apps.
If you want to build a Shopify store, you can choose from over 100 templates with built-in features, plus a ton of apps and integrations like ManyChat to extend your eCommerce capabilities. You can sell products on your website, across multiple marketplaces like Amazon, and on social media sites. Thanks to a comprehensive admin panel, you can access everything from product and inventory management to financial reports and website analytics in one place.
Curious about how to accept customer payments? Shopify Payments makes it easy to integrate with over 100 other payment gateways from around the world, including their native Shop Payments application to offer express checkouts in your store. You can also add plugins from the Shopify App Store to extend your online shops functionality.
If you’re an enterprise seller, check out Shopify Plus, which is geared towards larger businesses. You’ll get dedicated customer support to help build a Shopify custom theme, write code, and get your site up and running. Keep in mind that there is no set monthly price with Shopify Plus; everything is done by quote.
Pricing options: The Basic plan starts at USD $29/month. You can start with a 14-day free trial to see if you like it.
Who it’s for: Squarespace’s eCommerce site builder is another great platform for new store owners. It has a ton of template designs and native ecommerce features to get you started.
Why use it: Squarespace offers beautiful and modern templates to build your online store. If you have zero design skills or experience building websites, you can get started quickly and easily. Once you pick a template, you can customize it with colors, logo, text, and images to match your brand. It’s also incredibly easy to use. Squarespace uses “content blocks” so you can drag and drop different page elements as you please.
Every website is mobile-optimized. Shoppers can access it on any phone or tablet. Plus, you can connect your store with your social media accounts and other tools, like Amazon commerce and Google Analytics, to create a central hub for your business.
Pricing: The Basic Commerce plan starts at USD $26/month. If you want to sell subscriptions or to build custom integrations, you’ll need to sign up for the Advanced Commerce plan, which starts at USD $40/month.
Who it’s for: You’ve probably already heard of Wix, thanks to their prolific ads on YouTube, where an attractive person builds a website in 30 seconds without ever touching code. Did you know Wix can also help you make an online store with Wix eCommerce?
Why use it: Wix uses an intuitive drag-and-drop editor—you don’t have to code anything. Wix also hosts the site. All you have to do is pick your template, customize it with text and images, and publish.
All of Wix’s plans come with a variety of native sales and marketing tools. Overall, Wix eCommerce is a super beginner-friendly eCommerce website builder that helps you design a beautiful storefront, process payments, market your business, and more.
Pricing options: The Business Unlimited plan starts at USD $27/mo. Wix also offers a basic plan for $23/mo, but you miss out on a ton of features like dropshipping, selling on marketplaces, and other features to help scale your business.
Who it’s for: BigCommerce is a reliable enterprise eCommerce platform for big businesses. If you’re selling (or plan to sell) hundreds of products, you may find BigCommerce’s offerings attractive. With other eCommerce store builders, you typically need to pay for add-ons as you grow, but BigCommerce includes all features at no extra charge.
Why use it: BigCommerce has powerful eCommerce features that can help you grow an enterprise-level business. It’s a popular eCommerce platform for tech-savvy folks who want to scale. BigCommerce has more built-in sales tools than competitors and advanced SEO and multi-channel integrations to launch your business into the major leagues.
If you’re not looking for extreme growth or are a complete beginner to eCommerce, BigCommerce is probably not for you.
Pricing options: The Standard Plan starts at $29.95/mo.
Who it’s for: WooCommerce is an open source platform for business owners using WordPress, the world’s most popular content management system. It’s not a standalone website builder; instead, it’s a WordPress plugin you can use to add eCommerce functionality to a website.
Why use it: If you want total control over your shop, from what you sell and design to advanced features and scalability, you’ll want to explore WooCommerce. It’s versatile and works to sell both physical and digital products. You can even run an affiliate marketing business off your WooCommerce store.
To build a WooCommerce store, you can turn to WordPress’s development community and download themes. Then add a variety of plug-ins built for WooCommerce to create an eCommerce store that’s as stunning as it is profitable and affordable.
Pricing options: Free
Who it’s for: 3dcart is for retail startups and quick-growing operations that need a shopping cart favoring mobile customers. Its feature set isn’t as robust as those of Shopify or Wix, but its attractive price point, solid sales reporting, focus on SEO, and mobile responsive themes make it a top eCommerce platform.
Why use it: The 3dcart storefront is simple for shoppers to navigate, from finding products to using the shopping cart and checking out. The admin dashboard displays all transactions in a smart format that makes data easy to track. It integrates with over 100 other payment gateways, including PayPal and Stripe, and has a nice mix of advanced features such as gift cards and product bundles without needing to upgrade.
Pricing options: 15-day free trial. Then plans start at $19/mo.
Tips for choosing an eCommerce platform
Consider what eCommerce software you need
What tools do you need for your eCommerce business? When you’re learning how to build an eCommerce site, map out your destination and how an eCommerce platform can serve as the path. Using an eCommerce platform for your business is like hiring an employee that will perform all your behind-the-scenes tasks effortlessly.
Ecommerce software can assist your business with:
- Personalizing promotions
- Automating sales pricing
- Customization (mobile apps, add ons, etc.)
- Built-in social integration (Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest)
Think about your priorities
Understand your business needs and priorities and be as specific as possible. Saying that your business priority is “customer service” is too vague. Every business should prioritize customer service. Flesh that out a little bit so your goal is something along the lines of “I need an eCommerce platform with a social media integration that allows customers to purchase our product on Facebook.”
Do you see the difference?
“Goals as you go” is the name of the game. Once you have assessed your eCommerce platform needs and priorities, it’s time to start shopping. Begin with the basics. Consider which type of eCommerce platform that your business needs. Then move on to digging deep into the inner workings of each platform.
Ask yourself these question when assessing your platform
Before you jump into a commitment with a provider, it’s important to think back to your initial assessment of your business needs. Do your research to see if the providers you’re considering offer the services that will be vital for your eCommerce business. Here are some helpful questions to consider:
Social Media Integration
- Does it support shopping on Instagram?
- Does it support Pinterest buy buttons?
- Can customers check out on Facebook or are they redirected to the online store?
- Does it help us display Pinterest or other social reviews on our e-Commerce website?
- Does it nudge customers to share a link to social after purchase?
The list of questions for integration on social media apps goes on and on.
- What will the day-to-day management of our product look like in this system?
- Does it allow pre-orders?
- Are reviews built-in on each product page, or are they extra?
- Does the platform have a drag-and-drop website builder or do users need to build it on their own?
- Can shopping categories be sorted and/or filtered?
- How is customer data imported/exported?
A full understanding of your chosen eCommerce platform’s customer care abilities before you commit is vital. You need to make sure that the shop will be accessible to customers and easy for staff to manage.
- Is training provided for your platform users? Does the platform offer product photography tips?
- What resources will be available to our business?
- Will our business be assigned a dedicated customer care representative for our needs?
- Is the customer care team available 24/7?
- Which of your customer care services cost extra?
- What is the typical wait time for customer care calls?
The lists above were inspired and compiled from larger lists over at BigCommerce. Take the lists and share them with your team as you research different platforms.
Create an old-fashioned pros and cons list
Seeing it all written out will help you to make a sound decision for your eCommerce solution. For example, when comparing two platforms like Magento and Shopify, you’ll need to look closely at the costs and benefits. There are sites that will allow you to compare each eCommerce platform side by side.
Bring your entire team in on the discussion
Surround yourself with people with different perspectives. Their insight will be useful for a broader view.
Compare pros and cons to your list of platform requirements
Take the pros and cons list and your team’s feedback and compare it to the list of business needs you made earlier. Some eCommerce platforms won’t make the cut, but that’s okay. You also don’t want an eCommerce website that doesn’t satisfy your business needs.
Choose your top 5
Make it your goal to get your top five eCommerce platforms listed. If you’re really ambitious, choose your top three to speed up the process.
Make the final cut
Now that you have your top contenders, it’s time for the “interview” process. Reach out to those eCommerce platforms that passed the test and ask every single question your team has. A few words of advice for this process:
- Don’t rush through the interview. Take time to ask the questions even if the representative sounds impatient or hurried. This is a huge investment for your business, and it deserves the time it will take to do it right.
- Record the conversation or take notes. If you’re considering multiple platforms you don’t want the information to run together.
- After the interviews, share the information with your wider team and get their input (if appropriate or needed to aid in the decision-making process).
When it comes to choosing the right eCommerce platform for your business, it’s all about doing the research. Not just on the options themselves, but on your needs and how well each option can satisfy them. To sum up this article:
- The three types of eCommerce platforms are Open Source, SaaS, and Headless eCommerce.
- When researching your options, assess the platform’s offering for social media integrations, product limitations, and customer service.
- Once you’ve collected a list of options, you can evaluate your choices by creating an old fashioned pros and cons list, bringing your entire team in on the discussion, and comparing them against your list of needs.