Taking your business to the next level and breaking into the online market is an exciting prospect for any retailer. Finding the best way to get it up and running however can be a daunting task. There is a smorgasbord of platforms out there to help you launch your store, each with their own benefits. So how do you decide which is the right ecommerce platform for you?
Whether you are a small business or a multi-million dollar enterprise, choosing depends on knowing what you want.
This article will help to get you familiar with some of the big names, and a taste of what to look at when considering them.
Why the platform you choose matters…
Deciding on the correct platform for your online store can mean the difference between success and failure.
If you already have a website and just want to add a shopping cart, or if you are starting from scratch with no web experience at all, your choices will reflect the number of sales you make.
You may have big plans to expand your business quickly, build a strong brand and sell your products across the globe. You may want creative control over the design of your store and customisable features. Or perhaps you would rather it was all taken care of on your behalf?
Each platform has a catalogue of benefits that could meet your needs. Here are some things to think about when you start shopping.
Types of eCommerce platforms
There are three main types of ecommerce platforms: open source, SaaS (software as a service) and headless commerce.
If you’re not tech savvy, then don’t be put off. In simple terms open-source ecommerce platforms are usually self-hosted websites. This means that you can customize your store to meet your needs. SaaS websites are hosted and designed by website builders who offer packages of services and features.
It’s possible to take elements of both hosted and self-hosted platforms and combine them if that’s what works best for you. This is referred to as CaaS (Content as a Service). Headless commerce is a form of CaaS, where a hosted shopping cart is plugged into a self-hosted website.
There are also online marketplaces available such as Amazon and eBay which we will also take a look at…
A giant among giants
The goliath of online shopping, Amazon receives 4.43 billion visits per month and with 50% of the US ecommerce market, is the largest of all selling websites. There are 2.5 million third party retailers occupying the marketplace, selling their products.
As well as exposing you to a staggering amount of customers Amazon can also take care of your inventory storage, packing and shipping. The Amazon Business facility allows for retailers to separate business prices from consumer prices and have a multi-user account with permissions to control how and what they buy. Sales data reporting tools and a variety of purchasing options are also appealing features.
Visibility or competition?
Amazon can be a good starting point for an online retailer however it will also be your biggest competitor when it comes to search engine optimization. There’s also the other millions of sellers using the platform and maintaining a strong brand identity can be difficult. Most retailers pay a fee between of 8 and 15 percent of items sold but this can be higher depending on the product.
No introduction needed
eBay is recognised as a predominantly C2C or B2C online shopping site. However, eBay Business Supply also gives benefits through three eBay portals: Business and Industrial, Wholesale Deals, and SAP Ariba (eBay’s e-procurement system).
Get going quickly with eBay
With 180 million buyers and the infrastructure already set up, you can focus on marketing your product. You can build your own storefront to strengthen your brand’s presentation. Unlike Amazon, shipping costs and return guidelines are decided by the seller. Fees based on what you sell means there’s no monthly subscription costs.
Watch out for ‘No Sale’ costs
eBay charges an insertion fee for each category in which you are selling an item. If you want to sell an item in two categories, then you will have to pay twice. If you don’t sell your product, this money will be lost.
Poland’s top online marketplace
Poland’s top online marketplace offers products from a variety of categories, from health and beauty to electronics. Allegro has developed from being a hobbyists’ auction site to a competitive ecommerce platform trading in most European countries.
Tap into Polish market potential
Allegro’s market has been steadily growing over the last decade and the platform believe that there is significant ecommerce potential for global businesses to penetrate in Poland. Buyers are attracted by the detailed information cards which allow easy product comparison.
Be prepared for logistical legwork
Although PayU, the brand’s own payment system means you don’t need a local bank account, Allegro only accepts Polish Zloty which will need to be converted into your required currency. It’s also advised that you get a local warehouse for stock and offer free shipping for best results.
Shopify is a subscription-based SaaS ecommerce platform provider. It’s one of the largest fully integrated ecommerce services with over 1 million stores. Shopify also has a point-of-sale app and hardware in order to also sell offline.
Start-ups with big ideas
Shopify’s affordable costs and attractive, user-friendly interface make it a popular choice for starter stores. Sophisticated marketing tools and an in-house app store mean it can offer creative solutions for business expansion. Shopify has its own secure servers and support facilities are available 24-7.
Add-ons at a cost
Shopify offers a free trial period, but after that you have to pay. The more advanced features come as add-ons, for which there is a price. In comparison with self-hosting stores it can become more costly. There is also a monthly subscription and transaction fees for any payments that are not made through Shopify Payments.
Shopify’s enterprise-level ecommerce platform offers the same dashboard as Shopify, but with extra features for increased scalability. Additional functionality supports high volume sales and there is more ability for control and customisation.
Black Friday’s a breeze
Shopify Plus has guaranteed server uptime that provides reliability and speed when sales create high traffic demand. Access to Shopify’s open-source language; Liquid, allows you to customise the selling process. Users have the capacity to automate inventory management, customer notifications, promotions, and order reviews.
Not easy for beginners
You will need to be able to do more than ‘drag and drop’ to get the most out of the features that will elevate your business. The $2000 monthly subscription can also be off-putting, however this price does stay constant. Also something to consider is as with all hosted platforms, if you wish to leave and set up elsewhere you may not be able to take all your data with you.
This WordPress plug-in is one of the most popular ecommerce platforms globally. WooCommerce is free, open-source software that can be used to transform your website into an online store.
Creative control with WordPress
With your website already up and running, WooCommerce is a quick setup at low cost. Data belongs to you and through the content managing system you have control over backend options like cart functions and accounting software. There’s the ability to be creative with your brand using the wide-ranging themes and extensions.
If you don’t already have a website, you’ll need to set up a domain name and find a hosting service and build your WordPress site. The extensive plug-in library increases scalability but can also be pricey with options ranging from an annual fee of $39 to $249/year. Too many plug-ins can also slow down performance.
Along with Shopify and WooCommerce, Magento is one of the big players in the world of ecommerce platforms. From the small-business orientated Magento Open Source, to the more enterprising Magento Commerce, hundreds of thousands of retailers have chosen this platform to launch their online stores.
Flexibility for big business
Catering for global businesses with annual profits reaching $50million, Magento Commerce offers third party integration, allowing flexible management of multiple stores, languages, locations and currencies. A broad range of scalability functions and strong SEO tools are also a big plus.
The cost of growth
Magento does offer a core free open-source facility, however for the market-leading B2B suite, an annual license fee starts at $15,000. Additional costs to hire developers, tech support and third-party applications mean this is an option for those prepared to invest.
PrestaShop is free, downloadable open-source software which allows you to either self-host your online store or set up in the cloud. Its robust store interface and low costs have made it popular with retailers and there are 1.25 lakh stores world-wide.
Shop around for third party freebies
Once you have paid for hosting, costs can accumulate for themes and extensions but there are free third-party options available. You don’t need to be a technical wizard to run an online store on this platform. It’s easy to customise, budget friendly and can be translated into over 40 languages.
Not good for larger businesses
If you’re looking to set up more than a standard online store then you’ll be better off looking elsewhere. PrestaShop‘s designs and functions work well for low budget or start-up businesses but may lack the professional and scalable qualities for anything more than this.
This open SaaS platform provider is one of the more established eCommerce solutions worldwide. There is a choice of plans catering for retailers with sales of up to $100 million and it’s the chosen platform for the online stores of many well-known brands.
Making the most of multichannel ecommerce
BigCommerce not only offers businesses the option of selling in other marketplaces like eBay and Amazon, you can also sell on social media and there’s a point of sale option as well. The platform offers a huge range of built-in features in comparison with other platforms and is marketed toward brands looking to extend their sales beyond six figures.
Success at a price
If you find your sales successfully growing, your fees will also rise. Different plans have specified sales limits, and if these are exceeded, you are upgraded automatically. If your margins are tight then this is something to be aware of.
Weebly expanded from a ‘drag and drop’ website builder to an ecommerce platform when it was purchased by payments processing company Square in 2018. Now equipped with a fully integrated shopping cart and secure checkout it contends with other platform providers servicing smaller businesses.
If’re looking to create a simple online store with basic website knowledge, then Weebly’s eCommerce builder can provide you with the starting blocks. The Pro plan will provide the basic features including inventory management and product displays and search.
Too basic for big business
There are many advanced features that you will miss if you want to sell on a larger scale, such as drop shipping integration and multi-channel integration. This is also not the best ecommerce platform if you have a big product catalogue. Costs include a monthly subscription fee and transaction fees of 3% on all sales.
Aiming to appeal to both experts and beginners Wix is a simple website builder with an online store facility. Wix eCommerce has combined attractive designs with comprehensive built-in sales tools for small businesses looking to build a strong brand.
Value for money
Wix offers a quick set up process and simple interface including a backend that’s very user friendly. There’s plenty of functionality available in the app store and with no sales fees it is an all-round cost-effective option for building your first store with scope to scale up.
Not enough scope for enterprise
Wix is not really the best option for very large online stores. The site’s navigation only offers one sub-level under your homepage. If you need expandable product menus, this will be too flat.
Squarespace is a design-focused SaaS platform provider developed to provide the creative community with an online selling facility. The platform offers a lightweight shopping cart for sellers with low SKU volumes.
Sleek templates for stylish stores
If your priority is attractive design, then look no further than Squarespace. It’s the perfect platform on which to exhibit beautiful products and provides a smooth user experience. There is also a high-quality inventory system and excellent analytical tools.
Selling globally is tricky
Squarespace doesn’t currently offer a multi-currency selling function. Automatic Tax calculations are also not available outside the US. and there are limited payments options through Stripe and PayPal only.
Opencart is an open- source ecommerce platform provider which is free to download and install. Your website will be created exclusively for selling your products. The platform can be hosted on any server that meets the system requirements.
Free add-ons and community support
There are extension packages available but with a bit of exploring in the marketplace you can find many free plug-ins and add-ons. A number of extensions have been developed by the open-source community. It’s also fast and can handle the sales capacity of larger online stores.
H3: Fast but lightweight
This is a lightweight solution that may not provide enough functionality for your needs. Opencart has around 20% of the features found in more developed platforms. Beware of downloading extensions and themes from the online community that are not secure.
Be prepared for your ecommerce revolution!
At the end of the day, the ecommerce platforms we’ve looked at each have pros and cons when it comes to meeting your business criteria. Budget, technical knowledge, features, scalability, security and customer support are all important factors to think about when you are weighing things up.
Make sure you do your homework and get ready to transform your business into an online success!