Are you thinking of starting an online business, or migrating your existing online store to a new platform? If so, choosing the right e-commerce platform for your business is one of the most important decisions you will make as a business owner.
Thankfully, there is a huge variety of choice when it comes to e-commerce platforms, so much so that it can make differentiating one from the other a difficult task. While all online shops will provide the base level functionality of allowing you to showcase and sell products online, many others provide additional layers of functionality, which may or may not be required for your business.
To help you cut through the noise and identify the right platform for your business, we’ve compared the major e-commerce platforms, exploring the key features and pros and cons of each platform to help you make an informed decision.
What Makes a Good E-commerce Platform?
While there are a great many e-commerce solutions on the market, there are few ‘one-size-fits-all’ options. The most popular ecommerce platforms each has their own strengths and weaknesses, and are usually designed for different types and sizes of online business.
Depending on the size, nature and industry of your business, there are a few key elements that you will want to look for in a good e-commerce platform. These include:
- The ability to customise your storefront
- Easily process payments on-site or through a third party
- Ease of use when it comes to tracking and shipping
- Seamless checkouts
The Best E-Commerce Platforms Compared
Perhaps the most well known of all e-commerce stores, Shopify has remained relevant as new technology and evolving shopping habits have changed the e-commerce landscape. In terms of innovation, Shopify is a major player, with the introduction of social shopping, allowing customers to buy from your store within their social platforms such as Facebook, a major plus.
Shopify is a user-friendly platform, and its low cost starter plan makes it a great option for smaller stores or businesses who are just starting out online. Social commerce integration and an emphasis on providing a mobile-friendly experience are also big selling points.
While Shopify is a great e-commerce platform, there are a couple of negative points. In particular, the transaction fees for non Shopify Payments may be a potential barrier for some businesses. Also, while the starter plans are reasonably priced, the Enterprise plans are much more expensive, and may provide less value for money depending on your business needs.
Magento is an open-source e-commerce platform, offering a high degree of flexibility and third party integration. Generally considered to be a reliable platform, Magento is also highly scalable.
As an open-source platform, Magento provides virtually unlimited customisation options. With over 9,000 plugins and extensions available, there is also great scope to scale up and to grow your business within the platform. Magento also works with multiple languages and currencies, and there are no transaction fees on the small business plan.
As for cons, Magento is perhaps not the most user-friendly platform to manage, and may not be the best choice for businesses without a developer on their books. As with Shopify, Magento also gets very expensive if you move beyond the free plan, with the Enterprise-level plan coming in at upwards of £20,000.
BigCommerce is generally one of the most popular platforms for small-to-medium sized businesses, and offers as a host of additional features and support on top of the base-level e-commerce functionality.
BigCommerce offers users lots of great built-in features, such as newsletters, SEO tools, analytics features and tax. Unlike a platform such as Shopify, there are no transaction fees. Integration is also seamless with major online channels such as Facebook, eBay and Google Shopping.
The downsides of BigCommerce are that there are only seven free themes, far fewer than similar platforms. BigCommerce is also generally one of the more expensive platforms, and is probably not the best choice for smaller businesses. The learning curve can be steeper than other platforms as some of the built-in features, while powerful, can be complex to set up.
WooCommerce is slightly different from other options in this article in that it is a plugin rather than a fully fledged e-commerce platform. Nevertheless, WooCommerce is hugely popular, and is a great option for businesses with a WordPress website.
The biggest selling point of WooCommerce is that the add-on itself is completely free, making it a great option for small or independent businesses. WooCommerce is also high customisable, and integrates seamlessly with many third party platforms and payment gateways. There is also great support available from the large and active WordPress community.
While WooCommerce itself is free, not all of the extensions are. Some of these can be quite expensive, and extensions are necessary for shops with large product catalogues. The major downside, of course, is that WooCommerce is only compatible with WordPress websites, so will not be a viable option for businesses hosted on other CMS platforms.
Established in 2001, 3DCart has been operating as an e-commerce platform longer than Shopify and BigCommerce, yet is not as widely known or used. This is because 3DCart is not a beginner friendly platform, and is aimed at businesses who require a higher degree of control and customisation over their e-commerce site than some of the more well known providers can offer.
One of the stronger points of 3DCart is its shipping feature, which provides advanced shipping solutions without the need for an API. 3DCart also provides multilingual customer support and advanced levels of customisation, providing you have the level of technical knowledge to take advantage of it.
Some of the disadvantages of 3DCart include the lack of CDN which can result in website downtime during high traffic periods. The learning curve is also generally quite steep on 3DCart, and is not a platform suited to businesses with low levels of technical support.
Ultimately, the right e-commerce platform for you will be determined by your needs as a business. For many small to medium e-commerce businesses, the platforms covered in this article should provide you with a great foundation to grow your business online. For businesses who require a higher level of functionality than the major platforms provide, then the best step would be to consider a bespoke e-commerce platform, built to the specifications of your business. While the short term build cost for a bespoke e-commerce software can be high, they are generally more cost-effective to run, meaning you can expect to recoup your outlay in the medium-long term.
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