Starting an eCommerce business sounds like it should be easy, but users quickly get stuck on which eCommerce platform is the best choice for their business.
Around 75% of the world’s eCommerce stores are based on just five eCommerce platforms, the most widely used being Magento, WooCommerce, Shopify, BigCommerce, and PrestaShop. In addition to those, you’ve the question of whether you go hosted, or self-hosted, not forgetting which payment gateway you should choose and even where to host your eCommerce platform.
Given the multitude of options, which eCommerce platform is the best choice for your business?
Which eCommerce Platform is the Best Choice
Let’s start with narrowing the options to create an eCommerce shortlist. Remember that you need to consider where your business will be in 2-5 years, not just for launch:
- How many different products do you expect to list on your store?
- Will you need the eCommerce platform to integrate with other systems you use for processing, shipping and accounting?
- Are the products simple – a book or a DVD is easy, but what about clothes which come in different sizes or colours? How about products which can be ordered by length?
- Do you have a heap of data which you need to import from an existing system, and will your choice of eCommerce platform support the importing of that data?
- How portable is your data once you’ve chosen the eCommerce platform – if you need to move later on, how easy or tough is that going to be?
- How strong are your technical skills? Some platforms could be implemented yourself with some skills, whereas others will need services from an experienced specialist to both implement and support.
- How many orders do you expect to process per month and what do you expect the annual eCommerce turnover to be?
- What budget do you expect to spend building an eCommerce store, migrating or populating data and on hosting, maintenance and support?
Knowing the answers to those questions before you start comparing different eCommerce platforms will help make your journey more productive, help you avoid wasting time investigating the wrong platforms, talking to the wrong providers and worse still, ending up with an eCommerce platform that doesn’t support your needs.
eCommerce Platform Comparison
We checked out a few of the primary eCommerce platform candidates to compare the offerings and find out what eCommerce platform is the best choice for each business situation.
Starting with what many may argue is the market leader, Magento has been around for many years and has a huge developer community. In terms of customisation and scalable performance, Magento is among the best your search for an eCommerce platform is likely to reveal.
We caught up with Adam King, co-founder and Magento guru at Bournemouth-based Media Lounge, where a team of 15 have been working with the Magento platform for 8 years since it was launched. They’ve designed, programmed and supported over 160 Magento eCommerce websites to date. They’re fully Magento certified and also run their own eCommerce store so truly practise what they preach!
Why Did You Chose Magento?
We adopted Magento when it first came out 8 years ago as it seemed to have thought more about the scalability of eCommerce and the future growth of businesses more than any other platform. It’s also programmed in the most common programming language PHP.
Why is Magento the Right Choice for eCommerce?
Magento has the largest community of developers who add value to the platform daily with additional services, functionality and tutorials. If you want to extend your store’s standard functionality then chances are it’s already been built, so with the installation of a plugin or extension this functionality is yours at a fraction of the cost of custom development and deployed to your live site in a matter of days.
There are no limits to product or transaction numbers and you are not restricted to the features and framework of some of the pay-monthly platforms. It’s fully scalable as your business grows and always updates with the latest software and security so in the future you’ll still have the latest software version with the latest features and not need to re-platform.
What is a Typical Magento Project Budget?
I think it’s worth remembering you’re not just buying a product, you’re also buying a service. At Media Lounge, we tend to get two types of enquiry, those who focus solely on cost and others who focus on agency value and experience…. guess who we see getting the best results. It is important to remember, Magento CE is FREE so as you can imagine the level of quality and service ranges massively from agency to agency.
Magento is a serious retailers’ platform and there are more suitable platforms for smaller businesses and budgets. With Magento being so configurable to the retailers’ requirements, it’s almost impossible to generalise with a cost. Perhaps it’s better looking at it from the retailer’s perspective; is your turnover currently, or does it aim to be in the near future, over £1 million per annum? If so, then you should be considering Magento.
Who Shouldn’t Be Using Magento?
Magento isn’t for the boutique sellers, people looking to try eCommerce, entering an uncharted sector with no experience, small inventories, or price sensitive retailers. For these type micro businesses there’s Zoey Commerce or WooCommerce, all at a fraction of the cost or on pay monthly plans. Yes, there are limitations but to get a new business off the ground you have to look at what’s affordable and prove your business model. We’ve been there and if we were in the same position again we would prove our MVP on these platforms first before considering Magento.
Magento Example Sites
Shopify has achieved fantastic growth over the last few years now with over 243,000 merchants and is a hosted platform – everything you’ll need to run your store is included in a subscription fee, from the licence to use the platform to hosting and processing your transactions.
Shopify were kind enough to spare us a representative for this post:
Why Choose Shopify?
With Shopify, a merchant can sell on their online store, in a brick-and-mortar location, on social media through Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter, at craft shows and pop-up shops and many more channels.
Shopify’s software is very simple to set up, which means that customers with little or no IT skill can set up a store in a short amount of time. For design, Shopify has a great selection of over 100 themes that are beautifully designed, responsive and can easily be customised to fit any brand. Shopify also has an app store with more than 1,200 apps to fit any merchant’s needs from email marketing, accounting to Social Media.
For support, Shopify offers 24/7 customer support through their Gurus, who can be reached via email/live chat and phone.
Shopify can support any level of business and transactions, from a mom and pop shop to a high volume, high traffic and high sales customer through their enterprise plan Shopify Plus. The integral part of Shopify is that any merchant can grow on it as it’s scalable and reliable.
How Much Does Shopify Cost?
A Shopify plan starts at $9/month – more Shopify pricing options are here. High volume and high traffic merchants can go with Shopify Plus which is the company’s enterprise offering.
What is Shopify Not Good For?
We believe that there is no reason why anyone would ever need to use an alternative platform.
Shopify Example Sites
WooCommerce is a plugin/extension for popular CMS (Content Management System) WordPress and has a significant share of the market. It too is supported by a burgeoning community of developers and designers, some good and some, well, sadly not so good.
We were lucky enough to catch up with one of the good ones, Dave Green, a senior developer at Make Do – a design and development agency that has been building for the web since the 90’s.
Dave wears three hats: Front-end, WordPress and WooCommerce! He’s been working with WooCommerce for just over three years and loves finding new ways to deliver great eCommerce experiences for clients and their customers alike.
Why Do You Love WooCommerce?
The ease of set-up, my existing familiarity developing for the WordPress platform and the quality of free and commercial plugins available.
What Makes WooCommerce a Great Choice for eCommerce?
If you’re an SME, or any business with no more than a few hundred products to sell, WooCommerce is the best solution, in my opinion. It’s highly configurable, extensible and secure out of the box in addition to being a breeze to use. Of course, now that WooThemes has been acquired by Auttomatic, you have the same team that are behind WordPress driving the development of WooCommerce.
What Sort of Budget Would a WooCommerce Store Need?
Typically I’ve worked on projects that have ranged between £2k and £15k, naturally including some other elements such as design, branding etc. I think 2-5k is typically enough to get a decent-looking WooCommerce store off the ground. The beauty of it is that if your budget won’t stretch particularly far, you can get up and running for just a few hundred pounds with a couple of commercial plugins to enhance your store or support your preferred payment gateway.
When is WooCommerce The Wrong Choice?
If you’re doing large scale eCommerce, say over 500 products, or where you need an extreme level of control over the visibility of certain elements in your site templates, I would seriously look at Magento. Managing a site is a much steeper learning curve and not as straight forward as WooCommerce, but it is both feature rich and immensely powerful.
WooCommerce Example Sites
Sadly, our awesome WooCommerce work is subject to NDA, so we can’t share.
Create.net is a hosted website solution that gives users the power to design and run their own website and online shop with ease. Since 2001, Create.net has helped thousands of people make their online debut in style.
We caught up with Rebecca Kimber, CEO of Create.net to find out more about the eCommerce platform.
Why Did You Build Create.net?
We started the Create platform for building your own eCommerce store and website in 1999 and launched in 2001. There was a need for a simple content management system which allowed the website owner to update their website content and this developed further into the tools to choose your own design and sell products through a store. As time has gone on, the platform has moved rapidly and now hosts a whole host of eCommerce features.
What Makes Create.net a Great Choice for eCommerce?
The Create platform is ready-to-use as soon as a customer logs in. They can choose to use a provided design, code one themselves or use a web designer to do so for them with the Web Designer’s Kit.
No integration with payment gateways is necessary, this is all done – simply enter the payment gateway details to connect an account and start taking payments through the shop. We also provide our own gateway – Create Payments – which can be used on a pay as you go basis for 2.4% of transactions.
All the features are available in the account and we keep things up-to-date behind the scenes, regularly developing new features for customers to take advantage of – keeping websites fresh. There is a knowledgeable Create community and every customer has their own Customer Account Manager on hand to help should they have a query.
How Much is Create.net?
There are a number of packages designed to suit the needs of different users, from just a website to a large eCommerce store. Packages range from £5 per month to £36 per month (when paid annually) making it affordable to bring your business online. More detailed information about Create.net pricing and what’s included in each is available on our site.
When Isn’t Create.net the Right Choice?
Create.net is a great platform for setting up an eCommerce store or website quickly. If you’re looking for heavy customisation or have very specific development requirements, you might want to look at something self-hosted or developed just for you.
Create.net Example Sites
With over 250,000 eCommerce stores running on Prestashop, it should be on your shortlist. Prestashop veteran, of five years, and Product Manager, Quentin Audrain explains why Prestashop is his preference for eCommerce stores.
Why Should Businesses Choose Prestashop?
PrestaShop is definitely my preference! Not only because I’m working there, but also because the software combines a lot of good stuff. I really like the fact that you can start small and grow with it day to day by using new features or adding new ones. I especially like the international sales opportunities available with the store extension to sell in more countries.
The back-office is really intuitive and you can always count on the huge Prestashop Community (close to 1 million members) to give you a hand if needed.
I think the success of PrestaShop and why a lot of people still continue to choose it, is because of 3 things:
- Prestashop is completely free, without any monthly or transactional fee.
- It’s deeply customisable – as an open-source project with more than 600 features, you can still personalise it as much as you want and your imagination is the limit.
- Thirdly, it has a large ecosystem and Community, allowing it to be easily integrated with thousands of services around the world.
How Much is a Typical Prestashop Implementation?
With PrestaShop, budgets can vary a lot as it’s easy to tailor it to your needs. Here are a few possible options in terms of budget (note that during its journey, a store could go through all these steps).
1. Nothing, $0 PrestaShop can be used out of the box.
2. Between $300-1,500 you can buy a custom template and a few modules allowing you to personalise and localise your eCommerce store.
3. From $1,500 to $15,000 you can get a personalised store with your very own design and some unique features tailored to your needs.
4. Starting at $15,000, you have the store you want and start thinking about automating a lot of tasks/work by integrating with 3rd party solutions with specific needs (logistic, supply, marketing…)
When Would You Not Recommend Prestashop?
PrestaShop is deeply customisable but also has its own favourite world. For example, it’s harder to make a “store” that would allow you to book hotels or to build a complete marketplace with it – there are other, better solutions for that type of requirement.
Prestashop Example Sites
For some insight into why to choose BigCommerce we pulled on the experience of Danny Gibbons. Working for BigCommerce, Danny is deeply involved with building out the BigCommerce Affiliate Program, amongst other things.
Why choose BigCommerce over other eCommerce Platforms?
BigCommerce is the best eCommerce platform for fast growing and established brands, helping them sell more. Merchants on BigCommerce grow 28% year over year, nearly 2x the industry average.
BigCommerce equips growing and established brands with the most effective platform for creating beautiful stores, generating demand, and scaling their businesses. BigCommerce does this by providing a SaaS platform that’s both extensible and flexible, has native features built for conversion, adds exponential value through an extensive technology and design partner network. It is supported by world-class services and technical support, all for the lowest total cost of ownership.
How much does BigCommerce Cost?
There are a number of plans to choose from so we can best suit the requirements of your store. There is also a free trial available to make sure you have made the right choice. The pricing structure is as follows:
Standard – 29.95/mo (A full-featured online store)
Pro – 79.95/mo (Optimized conversion & customer group management)
Plus – 199.95/mo (High-volume security & analytics)
Enterprise – Call 1-855-884-6731 for pricing tailored to your business; the ultimate cloud
What is BigCommerce NOT good for?
Standard, NON eCommerce websites. Event registration and ticket selling/distribution.
BigCommerce Example Sites
Which eCommerce Platform You Should Choose
Clearly, there are many more eCommerce platforms that aren’t featured in this post – there are hundreds! From those that are included, it’s obvious that there are many routes to getting your store online for a small start up cost or investing considerably more in a more scalable, customisable eCommerce platform. There is no “best” eCommerce platform on the market – as with most business decisions, it’s important that you consider carefully what you need both now and in the future and decide which is the best eCommerce platform for your requirements.
eCommerce Related Resources
Best eCommerce Marketing Strategies – lots of eCommerce strategy tips