eCommerce Platforms - Top 7 for Small Business and Beyond
December 13, 2018
The right eCommerce platform can boost your business and your bottom line–but how do you decide which one is right for you?
While most businesses, large and small, care about user-friendliness, functionality, design, and affordability, every business is different when it comes to the features they require in an eCommerce platform.
Looking for the right commerce solution for your new or expanding business? You need to know what questions to ask to make an informed decision. That’s why we are weighing up the pros and cons of the world’s top eCommerce platforms to help find the best fit for you.
Why Use an eCommerce Platform?
If you’re looking to start an online store or expand your existing business, you need a way to manage your website, your sales, and your business operations.
An eCommerce platform is a software that allows you to customize your site and manage everything all in one place. Not only is it a platform to showcase your products and process transactions, but you can track sales, publish content, optimize for search engines, view analytics and much more.
With eCommerce platforms you can:
- Manage your products all in one place
- Run promotions and special offers
- Personalize your sales and services
- Manage your prices
- Gain insight into the customer experience
- Access analytics to inform your business or marketing strategy
The right eCommerce platform will allow you to take your business online and manage it your way. That’s why it’s important to choose an eCommerce solution that has the customization and features you need.
How to Choose an eCommerce Platform
Choosing the right eCommerce platform for your business goes far beyond the type of platform or the hosting. In fact, there are several leading platform providers to choose from. That’s why it’s important to discuss the pros and cons of each before you make your decision.
Whether you already have a platform in mind or are just starting your search, there are a few questions to keep in mind.
Important Questions to Ask
Before selecting, it’s best to assess both the current structure and status of your business and your long-term goals. While one platform may serve you well now, you need to think in terms of scalability, agility, affordability, and longevity.
Below are some of the questions you should ask yourself or the platform provider before choosing an eCommerce platform.
- Have you outlined your immediate and long-term business goals?
- Is the platform adaptable enough to accommodate market changes or growth in your business?
- Does the platform allow you to manage multiple sites if you were to expand to additional sales channels?
- How does the platform allow you to manage a customer’s experience before, during, and after the sale?
- Does the platform provide you with tools and analytics that allow you to formulate a data-driven business strategy?
- Will the platform allow you to expand internationally?
- How will your platform integrate with your existing systems to ensure that the customer experience is not interrupted?
- Have you considered not only the licensing cost but also the cost of ownership, and the return on your investment?
While some of these questions may not seem to apply to your business now, they could in the future. Choosing the right platform from the get-go could help prevent setbacks, downtime, or added costs.
If you can’t find the answers to these questions on the platform’s website, reach out to their support or sales team directly. Their answers to these questions could make a difference in you choosing one platform over another.
Which eCommerce Platform is the Best? – Comparisons
We have created a list of eCommerce platforms from the best providers on the market. With so many options available, choosing the right platform may seem like a daunting task, but it also means that you’re likely to find the perfect solution for your online store.
Considering the questions above, look through the costs and benefits of the various platforms to inform your decision.
The top eCommerce sites in this list are:
See the full list of eCommerce platform comparisons below.
Shopify is one of the most well-known SaaS eCommerce platform providers and is utilized by hundreds of thousands of users. However, that doesn’t mean it will be the best solution for your business. For instance, the platform is most popular among starter sites and businesses with SKU counts under 100. If those don’t apply to you, you may be in need of a commerce solution that’s more robust.
Here are some of the benefits and drawbacks of using Shopify.
Shopify is considered user-friendly. After signing up with your email address, set up is quick and straightforward. You can create your site, launch products, add pricing, and start selling right away. The quick learning curve makes it a favorite of novice eCommerce practitioners. With features including title tags and meta descriptions for SEO, built-in mobile friendliness, and 24/7 support, there’s not much more that a non-experienced eCommerce business owner needs.
With all the benefits that Shopify provides to new small business owners, there are some major limitations when it comes to customization and scalability. For one, after the base fee, the themes, plugins, tools, and additional features can get quite expensive. These will be required as your business grows, so you will need to factor these costs into overall expenses. Add on Shopify’s transaction fees and things can get complicated, and expensive, fast.
Since Shopify is a SaaS platform, there are also limitations in terms of coding capabilities and customization. This makes changing your site to fit your long-term business goals difficult.
BigCommerce is a SaaS platform provider, and a growing CaaS platform provider.
The main pros of BigCommerce include its low cost of ownership for business owners and its flexible APIs. The affordability and potential for customization make BigCommerce popular with mid-market businesses and enterprises. Since BigCommerce also offers small business plans, it’s considered to be neck-and-neck with Shopify in terms of accessibility for those who are new to eCommerce. BigCommerce includes access to a wide range of tools and features, including SEO tools, promotions and discounts, flexible shipping, the ability to process returns, and integration with Amazon, eBay, and more.
BigCommerce only offers seven free templates and the premium templates can be expensive and are still limited in terms of customization. Unlike other platform providers, it has no native POS features and has a sales limit. While transaction fees are lower than some of the other platform providers, the more features you need–such as customer segmentation or abandoned cart data–the more expensive things will be. And things can get expensive, fast!
BigCommerce has a higher learning curve depending on the plan that you get. If you are taking the DIY route, this is something to consider.
The Magento eCommerce platform is one of the most scalable solutions on the market. If your long-term business plan includes expansion to new markets, managing several sites, and full integration between your existing systems and your online store, then Magento may be the best fit for you.
Magento is an open source platform that comes with a wide range of features that most other platforms don’t have, including easy expansion to multiple locations, sites, and currencies. From small businesses to large enterprises, Magento helps future-thinking business owners grow online through scalability, adaptability, and spot-on analytics.
“Magento is a modern cloud eCommerce platform with an open-source ecosystem.
Flexible for B2C, B2B, and B2B2C, Magento extends beyond the shopping cart for every shoppable experience, including email, mobile, in-store, shipping, and marketplaces.”
You can process recurring payments, add discounts, set up member subscriptions, optimize your eCommerce website site for search engines, and offer support to customers online.
Due to the wide range of features and potential for additional integrations and customization, Magento may not be as accessible for novice eCommerce practitioners. To create an eCommerce site that works seamlessly with your existing business model–and is set up for future growth–consider hiring a professional to develop your site.
Volusion is also an extremely user-friendly option, as they leave the selling to you while they handle the technical stuff on their end. This platform is a good option if you want your online store to be ‘hands-off,’ without the high costs of full-on site set-up, integration, and management.
It’s user-friendly with no transaction fees. Volusion offers a wide range of affordable templates (11 for free) for you to use. You can also run your store via their mobile app on your phone.
Planning for future business growth can be difficult because Volusion’s pricing depends on bandwidth, i.e. the amount of traffic you get to your site. The more popular your site gets, the more you have to pay. Their default bandwidth is relatively low, so if you are planning on generating traffic through SEO, social, or paid ads, you should keep these limits in mind.
You also have to pay extra for SSL–something most eCommerce platforms provide for free. Having SSL is essential for site security, user experience, and SEO. And speaking of SEO, Volusion offers no blogging capabilities, making content marketing and attracting links difficult.
WooCommerce is a great option if you are looking to add an eCommerce store to your website via a plugin. Unlike Volusion, this allows you to publish blog posts and implement more robust SEO.
WooCommerce is a very flexible platform when it comes to customization. You can add a variety of features to your existing WordPress site to make it operate as an online store.
WooCommerce is most often used by bloggers and starter stores looking to expand into eCommerce.
Like most open source platforms, development costs can add up as your business grows. There are limitations in terms of scalability without slowing down your website. You will need web development expertise (or to hire a professional) to keep up with growth. WooCommerce is also a Wordpress plugin. In order for it to run you are limited to using the WordPress platform.
Squarespace is a drag and drop website builder known for its stunning visual appeal and user-friendliness. Recently, Squarespace has started putting more energy into eCommerce and allowing customers to sell products and services online.
Squarespace is super beginner-friendly, affordable, and visually appealing. The look and feel of Squarespace make their stores great for selling products that require high-quality images and creative branding.
Squarespace eCommerce features are still rather elementary. If you’re looking to turn a blog into an online store, or take your existing business online for the first time, this is a good place to start. For scalability, access to robust features, customization, and integration with third-party tools, you should consider one of the open source eCommerce platforms.
Prestashop is an open source, cloud-hosted eCommerce platform provider that offers both free and premium plans. It’s a favorite of eCommerce site owners outside of English-speaking countries.
Prestashop is easy to install and set up, which allows you to start selling products online fast. It’s open source so it allows for some customization. Site ownership is free, and there are no transaction fees.
Scalability is limited, so Prestashop may not be the option for you if you plan on expanding your business later. It also lacks a multi-store feature, which is, again, something to consider if you foresee future growth. Prestashop has no official customer support team. If you encounter technical issues, you’re on your own! You can always refer to their FAQ page or hire a developer to troubleshoot issues, but lack of support is a big downside compared to other platform providers.
Choosing the Best eCommerce Platform for Your Business
Making the right platform decision for your business is critical to your success, as it not only determines the costs of running your site but the potential for future growth. Most business owners want to grow their businesses by adding new products, expanding to different markets, creating new stores, or generating a higher volume of traffic. If that’s in the cards for you, it’s worth considering a platform provider that will adapt and evolve with you.
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