Starting an online store sounds like it should be easy, but users quickly get stuck on which eCommerce platform is the best choice for them.
Around 75% of the world’s eCommerce sites are built using just five different platforms: Magento, WooCommerce, Shopify, BigCommerce and PrestaShop. In addition to those, and the many other platforms, 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 site.
Given the multitude of options, which eCommerce platform is the best choice for your business?
How to choose an eCommerce platform
Let’s start with narrowing the options to create a shortlist. Remember that you need to consider where your business will be in 2-5 years, not just for launch, so ask yourself:
- 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 that you need to import from an existing system? 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 before you start comparing different eCommerce platforms will help make your journey more productive. You won’t waste time and end up with an eCommerce platform that doesn’t support your needs.
eCommerce platform comparison
We’ve checked out a few of the primary candidates to compare the offerings and find out which eCommerce platform is the best choice for different situations.
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 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 as it seemed to have thought more about the scalability of eCommerce and the future growth of businesses than any other platform. It’s also programmed in the most common programming language, PHP.
Why is Magento the right choice for eCommerce?
It 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. With the installation of a plugin or extension it can be 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.
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’s important to remember that 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 with no experience, small inventories, or price-sensitive retailers. For these there’s Zoey Commerce or WooCommerce, both 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 with over 1 million brands using it, including Pepsi. It’s a hosted platform, so everything you need to run your store is included in a subscription fee, from the licence to use the platform to hosting and processing your transactions. It has all the hallmarks of being one of the best choices of eCommerce platforms.
Shopify was 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. There’s also an app called Shop that has been released in the US, and it’s expected to come to the UK. Its primary aim is to allow customers to find new local businesses and interact with their favourite brands.
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 accounting to email marketing and social media.
There is also 24/7 customer support given by Shopify’s 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.
Before committing to this platform, be sure to check out this in-depth Shopify review.
How much does Shopify cost?
A Shopify plan starts at $29/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 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 ’90s.
Dave wears three hats: front end, WordPress and WooCommerce. He’s been working with WooCommerce for years and loves finding new ways to deliver great eCommerce experiences for clients and their customers.
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 Automatic, you have the same team that is 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 £2,000 and £15,000, naturally including some other elements such as design and branding. I think that range 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 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 straightforward 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.
With over 300,000 eCommerce stores running on PrestaShop, it should be on your shortlist. PrestaShop veteran and Product Manager Quentin Audrain explains why the platform 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, which has over 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 three 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
- 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).
- Nothing, $0 PrestaShop can be used out of the box
- For $300 to $1,500 you can buy a custom template and a few modules allowing you to personalise and localise your eCommerce store
- 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
- Starting at $15,000, you have the store you want and start thinking about automating a lot of tasks/work by integrating with third-party solutions with specific needs like logistics, supply and 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 BigCommerce could be the best choice for your eCommerce platform, we pulled on the experience of Danny Gibbons. Working for BigCommerce, Danny is deeply involved with building out the BigCommerce Affiliate Program, among 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. Our merchants grow 28% year over year, nearly twice the industry average.
BigCommerce equips growing and established brands with the most effective platform for creating beautiful stores, generating demand and scaling their businesses. We do this by providing a SaaS platform that’s both extensible and flexible, and it has native features built for conversion. It also 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/month (a full-featured online store)
- Plus: $79.95/month (optimised conversion and customer group management)
- Pro: $299.95/month (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
Squarespace is definitely one of the most well-known eCommerce platforms. Its drag-and-drop website builder is intuitive, and it’s not just used by sellers – bloggers, podcasters and photographers all want a piece of the action, too. In fact, millions of websites have been launched on the platform since its founding in 2003.
Why choose Squarespace?
Everything you want to do with a website, you can do on Squarespace. It’s an all-in-one content management system that handles creation, content hosting, eCommerce, analytics and more.
Not only that, but your account gives you access to over 40 million images from Getty Images as well as Amazon Associate support, a wide range of accepted currencies, an express checkout mode for your customers and the ability for your customers to create accounts for faster checkout.
How much does Squarespace cost?
There are four different pricing plans for Squarespace, each with additional benefits.
- Personal is £10 a month and comes with a free custom domain, unlimited bandwidth and storage, 24/7 customer support, extensions and more
- Business is £15 a month and comes with $100 of AdWords credits, advanced analytics, unlimited products and gift cards
- Basic Commerce is £20 a month and comes with 0% transaction fees, eCommerce analytics and products on Instagram
- Advanced Commerce is £30 a month and comes with advanced discounts and shipping, abandoned cart recovery and commerce APIs
Squarespace also offers Squarespace Select, a premium solution for businesses that need tailored, hands-on support. This service comes with a dedicated account manager, prioritised technical support, design and SEO assistance and more.
What is Squarespace not good for?
If you don’t have much experience with designing and creating websites, Squarespace is a steep learning curve; it’s definitely not for beginners. But as far as eCommerce goes, the platform has been used for businesses large and small.
Squarespace example sites
With over 180 million users worldwide, Wix has been helping businesses build websites since 2006. Its intuitive builder is constantly updated with new tools and features, and some of them are tailor-made for eCommerce. For instance, June 2020 saw the roll out of Wix’s own native payment system.
Why choose Wix?
There’s a reason so many eCommerce websites use Wix. It’s free at point of use and good for beginners as no technological know-how is needed. There is also a wide range of templates, so there’s bound to be something to suit your style.
Special features you can use on a Wix website include:
- A hotel booking system
- An advanced blog manager
- Built-in email marketing
- An app market with hundreds of apps to enhance your offering
How much does Wix cost?
While Wix is free at point of use – including hosting, hundreds of themes and unlimited pages – there are premium plans for those looking to take their site further.
For business and eCommerce, you’re looking at:
- £13/month for Business Basic. You’ll get sales and analytics reports, and a free domain for a year
- £16/month for Business Unlimited. This includes ten video hours, pro eCommerce features and 35GB of storage
- £22/month for Business VIP. This package gives you VIP support, priority response and 50GB of storage
What is Wix not good for?
While the positives are great, Wix does have its downsides. For instance, if you outgrow the platform, you can’t take your content elsewhere – Wix has ownership. You also won’t be able to add Google Analytics tracking until you upgrade to a premium plan.
Google doesn’t always take kindly to Wix sites, either. Their slow page speed pushes them further down the rankings, while the limited SEO tools mean you’re not that high up to begin with.
Wix example sites
So which eCommerce platform should you choose?
There are hundreds of platforms you could use for your eCommerce store, but the best choice for you is the one that suits your needs. You need to consider exactly what you need and how much you’re willing to pay. Remember to think about the future – you want your platform to be scalable for when your brand takes off!
Is there a particular platform you like to use? Let us know in the comments or tweets us @TeamTillison. You can also get in touch with any questions or problems you may have regarding eCommerce platforms – we’ve got years of experience and our specialists are ready to help.