If you sell any type of product or service online, you’re an ecommerce business. Different from the traditional brick and mortar store, your online store has unique needs – like the need for an ecommerce platform. This software application is an essential part of any ecommerce business. Your online business literally can’t function without it!
But just as you’d struggle with picking the perfect piece of real estate to set up your brick and mortar store, trying to determine which ecommerce platform to choose for your online store isn’t always crystal clear. So what is an ecommerce platform and why exactly do you need one?
We put together this simple ecommerce platform comparison to make your decision a whole lot easier. From plain English definitions to a clear chart, you won’t leave this page without knowing the key features of an ecommerce platform, as well as the top 4 software used by industry leaders, and which one is right for your business.
Let’s start this conversation by confirming you’re in the right place at the right time. Before launching or growing your ecommerce business, you might have some hesitation. Do I want to be selling online? Is this where people are buying what I’m selling? Across the board, the answer is yes.
There are many benefits to selling products and services online (like lower overhead costs and more direct opportunities to sell to your target audience). Consumers are also making more purchases online than ever before. According to Statista, a leading provider of market and consumer data, around 1.92 billion people purchased goods or services online in 2019.
Because of consumer behavior, online sales continue to increase each year and there are no signs indicating that this will change anytime soon! Statista also found that worldwide retail sales reached $3.53 trillion (USD) last year in ecommerce alone. Their future forecast? They predict this number will grow to $6.54 trillion (USD) by 2022. (That’s a lot of zeros!)
Good question! What is an ecommerce platform? By definition, an ecommerce platform is a software application that allows businesses to manage their sales and other operations (like SEO marketing and website hosting) in one place. It would be very difficult (if not impossible) for a business to build and manage the tools needed to successfully run an ecommerce business on their own.
Thanks to ecommerce platforms, you don’t have to. Businesses can simply subscribe to an all-in-one platform that does almost all of the heavy lifting for you. These solutions work for businesses of all sizes and are priced accordingly. Whether you are just a teeny, tiny operation dipping your toes in the water for the time or you’ve already made a huge splash in your industry, there’s an ecommerce platform and pricing plan suited for you.
Your business plan and projections can actually serve as a great guide when deciding which ecommerce platform to choose. This is because there are two major factors that will drive your decision: growth and budget.
Growth: Of course you’re hoping for massive success (and we wish you all of the best in your endeavors!), but the truth is you don’t want to pay more than you absolutely have to or subscribe to features you just don’t need. You need the best ecommerce solution for your business, not the best ecommerce solution in existence.
Be very realistic when evaluating your business as it stands today. What does it need to operate successfully at your current volume? Then factor in your projected growth. Where do you plan to be in the next 3-6 months? Can the platform you’re using scale with your projected growth?
Budget: Money is always a factor, so it should be no surprise that it will also impact which ecommerce platform to choose. Your business has allotted a certain amount of its budget for operations and that number needs to be taken into consideration.
There are also fees involved with selling online that will chip away at your profit margins. You’ll want to run the numbers to make sure the price you are charging for your goods or services will still yield profitability once you subtract platform charges and fees.
There are hundreds of ecommerce platforms but they all fall into one of two buckets: SaaS (subscription as a service) or open-source.
SaaS-based ecommerce platforms: These platforms are preferred for their ease of use – almost anyone can set one up (no coding or technical knowledge needed). In exchange for this ready-made solution, you pay a monthly subscription fee. However, easier does mean less customizable and there are limits to what you can do on a SaaS platform.
Open-Source ecommerce platforms: This type gives you more control and allows you to access the source code. Technical experience is recommended with an open-source platform as you’ll be responsible for customizations. Features are limited on a free ecommerce platform so you’ll have to pay for any add-ons but there are no recurring subscription fees like with SaaS.
Now you should have a clear understanding of what your business’ needs are today, where you plan to be in the near future, and your available budget. As you scroll through this list of key features of an ecommerce platform, keep those answers in mind. These features are especially important when determining which is the best ecommerce platform for a small business, since you are probably a solopreneur or part of a smaller team and have limited resources.
Some of us are more tech-savvy than others. If you’re a wizard of the web (or don’t mind hiring one), you may be ready for a more complex platform. But if you have trouble tagging your grandma in a Facebook post, you’ll need a setup that’s easy as 1-2-3 and intuitive templates that allow you to quickly design your storefront.
SEO (or Search Engine Optimization) is key when selling anything online and the top ecommerce platforms know this. If someone is on the hunt for what you sell, you want to make sure they find your website. SEO improves the chances of this happening by directing organic traffic to your website. Since you will be running your sales through an ecommerce platform, you will want to choose one that has awesome SEO capabilities.
Have you ever loaded a website on your phone and it looks totally wonky? This means that the website design is not mobile-friendly. While it might look great on a desktop computer, it is out of alignment or dysfunctional on a mobile device. Since shoppers are making purchases from their phone, you definitely want a platform that is mobile-friendly so that you don’t lose out on these sales.
You will inevitably have questions when it comes to understanding your new platform and operating your business online. Being able to contact and consult with a friendly tech support specialist is a game-changer. Not all companies prioritize customer service, which is why we’ve included it as one of the key features of an ecommerce platform.
To make informed decisions about your business, you will need real-time data that highlights how your online store is performing. Make sure the ecommerce platform you choose pulls analytics that you can use to drive your business forward.
When a buyer arrives at your website, you want them to have a great experience. That means that everything is easy to find, they have no problem clicking from one place to the next, and check out is quick and seamless. That is why navigation is an important feature when making an ecommerce platform comparison.
Shoppers obviously want to feel that their personal information is secure when they make a purchase on your website. This protects them from identity theft, fraud, and a slew of other problems that come along with an insecure website.
Shareability is a huge part of ecommerce today. It’s critical that the platform you choose integrates with other applications, plug-ins, and social media platforms. Otherwise, you’ll have limited reach and capabilities, which can slow growth.
An ecommerce platform comparison would not be complete without weighing the cost. The price will undoubtedly play a role in your decision. You want to stay within budget without sacrificing key features. But be aware that even a free ecommerce platform will cost you. There may not be an upfront fee for creating an account but you’ll likely pay some type of subscription fee, transaction cost, or upcharge for add-ons. Just like there’s no such thing as a free lunch, there’s no such thing as a free ecommerce platform.
There are tons of ecommerce platforms out there but there are four companies that are really leading in this space: Magento, Shopify, BigCommerce, and WooCommerce. The following chart will show you a high-level comparison of the best online commerce platforms and below you’ll find a more detailed comparison that breaks down what makes them unique.
Magento is one of the top ecommerce platforms in the industry and in 2018 it was acquired by Adobe. They offer two options for businesses: Magento Open Source and Magento Commerce. Magento’s open-source ecommerce option is a relatively free ecommerce platform, while Magento Commerce is their full feature version with more bells and whistles – and a subscription fee.
As you see above in our ecommerce platform comparison chart, Magento really only falls short in one category and that’s the ease of setup. If you’re looking for the best ecommerce solution and are working with an experienced team of developers, this is not an issue but trying to set up Magento on your own may cause a few headaches.
To use Shopify, you will pay a monthly fee that varies depending on the size and needs of your business. Because its set up is super straightforward, implementation is a breeze and you could start selling in minutes.
As a downside, some of their features are a bit “cookie-cutter” so you might hit roadblocks if you’re looking for an extremely customizable experience. Otherwise, Shopify is a great all-in-one SaaS platform that can work for a range of businesses.
Another of the best online commerce platforms is BigCommerce. Like Shopify, BigCommerce has a SaaS business model (subscription as a service), so you pay a monthly subscription fee to tap into their tools. It’s more expensive but it does offer a lot of in-house features that reduce the need for additional applications or plug-ins.
Other than the high price tag, BigCommerce is a great option. Businesses with a bigger budget will be pleased with the premium features and bundled offerings available with BigCommerce.
WooCommerce is a popular open-source ecommerce platform because it’s built right on WordPress. That’s great news if you already use WordPress for your website or blog. All you’ll need to do is install the WooCommerce plugin and you’re ready to go. Plus you’ll be pretty familiar with how it works, having spent time on WordPress already.
On the downside, their support experience is not the best and you’ll be responsible for the security of your site since it’s self- hosted. If you’re running your ecommerce business solo, the lack of third-party support might be a deterrent.
After learning what constitutes an ecommerce business and the importance of picking the right platform to serve you, we want to share our personal picks to make your decision even easier. At RaiseTech, we believe that Shopify is the best ecommerce platform for a small business. It has all of the features you could want plus its ease of use and low price point makes it a great option for individuals or small startups.
For higher volume, larger businesses we prefer Magento. With a bigger budget, you can outsource or hire the right person to set up your shop, so the more complex setup won’t be an issue. It also offers incredible ease when scaling your business to the next level.
Still not sure what is the best ecommerce platform? That’s okay, we’re extremely thorough too! If you want to discuss which ecommerce platform to choose for your business, we’re happy to chat. Just fill out our contact form and someone from our team will reach out to schedule a free consultation. RaiseTech is an ecommerce cloud company and we’re here to help with all of your ecommerce development and hosting needs.