If you’re thinking about selling products online, one of the most important decisions you have to make is which eCommerce platform is right for your business.
There are many different options out there, and the best solution for one business may not necessarily be a good choice for your business.
It’s critical to select an eCommerce platform that will give you the features and functionality you need to build a successful online store and support your business growth.
Choosing an unreliable or inefficient platform for the way you operate your business can lead to lost sales, frustrated customers, and ultimately a failure to reach your full potential as an online retailer.
You must consider several factors when selecting an eCommerce platform. These include:
- The cost of the platform
- The features and functionality you need
- How easy it is to use, both for the customer and at the backend
- What payment types are supported, and how much you’ll pay in transaction fees
- How well the platform integrates with your existing website and other business systems
- The level of customer support offered by the platform provider
To help you make the best decision for your business, we’ve put together this guide on choosing an eCommerce platform. We’ll cover all of the key factors you need to consider, and we’ll also provide some recommendations on which platform might be right for you.
What is an eCommerce Platform?
The eCommerce platform is the backbone of any online store. It’s the software that enables you to set up and run your shop, add products, process payments, manage shipping, and more.
In other words, it’s the technology that makes selling online possible.
In the early days of eCommerce, organizations had to build their own platforms from scratch. Unfortunately, this was a costly and time-consuming process, and it was often beyond the reach of small businesses.
Nowadays, there are many different eCommerce platforms available, and most of them are very affordable. You can even find some that are free to use.
This has made starting an online store much easier and more accessible for businesses of all sizes.
What Should You Look For in an eCommerce Platform?
Before comparing different platforms, you first need to evaluate your needs.
However, if you’re just getting started with selling online, you might not be sure what those needs are. In this case, it’s best to start thinking about your business goals and objectives and formulate a plan for how you’re going to meet those goals.
For example, you might set a target for monthly revenue in terms of online product sales. Or, you might want to increase the average order value from your existing customer base.
You should also think about what type of products you’re going to sell. Are they going to be digital products or physical goods?
Do you need a platform that can support multiple languages and currencies? Do you want to be able to accept PayPal payments or certain credit cards?
Are you planning on selling in multiple countries or just in your home country?
All of these factors will influence the type of platform you need.
Similarly, if you’re already selling online but are not happy with your current platform, it’s essential to think about what isn’t working well for you. This will help you avoid making the same mistakes again when you switch to a new platform.
Another critical consideration is ensuring that your chosen platform integrates well with your existing website. For example, if you have an existing website built on WordPress, you’ll need to find an eCommerce platform that integrates with WordPress.
Likewise, if you use a specific type of accounting software or customer relationship management (CRM) system, you’ll need to ensure that the platform you choose can integrate with those systems.
Finally, you need to think about the level of customer support offered by the platform provider. This is especially important if you’re not very technically savvy or if you don’t have a dedicated in-house IT team.
Free platforms are an excellent choice for startups and small businesses on a tight budget, but, in general, they offer less customer support than paid platforms.
So, if you’re not confident in your ability to troubleshoot technical issues, it might be worth paying a bit more for a platform that offers excellent customer support.
Types of eCommerce Platforms
When you start looking at different platforms for selling online, you’ll quickly realize that there are two main options:
SaaS eCommerce Platforms
Saas (software as a service) solutions are platforms that the provider hosts and manages. You pay a monthly fee to use the platform, and the provider takes care of all the technical aspects, such as hosting, security, and updates.
Another significant advantage of using a hosted service is that you don’t need to worry about the scalability of your platform. If your business grows quickly and you start getting a lot of traffic, the provider will simply upgrade your account to a more powerful server.
Shopify and BigCommerce are two of the most popular hosted eCommerce platforms.
Self-Hosted eCommerce Platforms
These are platforms that you install and manage yourself. You’ll need to set up your hosting account and handle all the technical aspects yourself.
Some self-hosted platforms are free to use, while others charge a license fee.
Open-source platforms are a subset of self-hosted platforms. Open-source software is free to download, use, and adapt as you wish.
Many of the most popular self-hosted eCommerce platforms are also open-source, including WooCommerce and Magento. However, you may have to pay for additional plugins or modules to get the full range of features you need.
Other Important Considerations for Choosing a Platform
Now you should understand the different types of eCommerce platforms available and have a general idea of what features you need. So let’s take a more detailed look at some of the other important factors you should consider when choosing a platform:
Flexible Product Catalog
This is an often-overlooked aspect of choosing an eCommerce solution, but it’s something that could really make or break your business.
When you upload your products to your online store, you want to make sure that you’re including all relevant product details and that these are easily searchable and filterable by your customers.
For example, if you sell clothing, you’ll want to make sure that you can easily store information about sizes, colors, and materials when you update your product inventory.
Most platforms do have some flexibility in how you structure your product catalog, but if it’s a real headache to upload and manage your products, it could be a sign that you’re using the wrong platform.
Integration is also essential if you have an existing inventory management system or POS system.
You’ll need to make sure that the platform you choose can connect with these systems so that you can automatically update your product catalog and inventory levels.
Multiple Pricing and Shipping Options
Another important consideration is the pricing and shipping options available on the platform.
For example, if you want to offer a 20% discount on all products in a particular category, there should be an easy way to do this without manually updating all the prices.
Support for product bundles and subscription-based products is also crucial if you plan on selling these types of items.
As for shipping, you need to make sure that the platform can easily calculate shipping costs based on weight, location, and other factors.
The next thing you need to consider is the payment gateway.
This is the service that processes your customers’ credit card payments.
Most platforms come with a few different options, but it’s important to ensure that the platform you choose supports the payment gateway you want to use.
If you’re not sure which gateway to use, we’ve got a blog post comparing two of the most popular options and how to choose the right payment gateway for your business.
SEO or search engine optimization is how you make sure that your store appears at the top of the search results when people are looking for products like yours. Here is a complete SEO guide on how to rank on Google.
Many business owners put a lot of thought into choosing SEO-friendly platforms for their blog or website but don’t give the same consideration to their eCommerce platform.
However, it’s just as important to choose a platform that will help your products rank high in the search results.
Personalization is one of the main reasons that Amazon is one of the most successful eCommerce businesses in the world.
They’re able to provide their customers with a truly personalized shopping experience by recommending products that they might be interested in based on their previous purchases and browsing history.
If you want to be able to offer a similar level of personalization to your customers, you need to make sure that the platform you choose has this capability.
Analytics and Reporting
The analytics and reporting capabilities of the platform you choose are factors that you shouldn’t overlook.
You need to be able to track things like how many visitors you’re getting, what products are being viewed and added to carts, what the average order value is, and which marketing campaigns are generating the most traffic.
This information will help you make decisions about things like which products to promote and what kind of discounts or promotions to offer.
It will also help you troubleshoot any issues you’re having with your store.
Reviews and Social Proof
The last thing to consider is making sure the platform you choose has some sort of in-built reviews system and an easy way for customers to share their purchases and favorite products on social media.
This is important because reviews and social proof are among the main factors that influence a customer’s decision to buy from a particular store.
If you can make it easy for your customers to leave reviews and share products on social media, you’ll be able to grow your business much more quickly.
The Best eCommerce Platforms to Consider
So there’s certainly a lot to think about when choosing an eCommerce platform for your business.
But don’t worry; we’ve done the hard work for you and put together a list of what we think are the best eCommerce solutions on the market today.
If you already have a website running on WordPress, WooCommerce is definitely one of the first platforms you should consider.
WooCommerce is a free plugin that turns your WordPress website into a fully functioning eCommerce store. You can install it on your site from the WordPress Plugin Directory, or choose a WooCommerce hosting plan where WooCommerce comes preinstalled with your WordPress website.
It’s highly customizable and has a wide range of features, making it one of the most popular platforms among small businesses. In fact, almost a quarter of online stores worldwide run on WooCommerce.
One of the main advantages of using such a popular platform is that there’s a huge community of developers and designers who are constantly creating new themes, plugins, and extensions for WooCommerce stores.
This means that you can pretty much find a solution for anything you need, and if you can’t, someone will be able to create one for you. There’s also plenty of free support available in the form of online tutorials, videos, and forums.
- Price: Free, with paid extensions available
- Customization and flexibility: Highly customizable, with thousands of themes and plugins available
- Ease of use: Fairly easy to set up for those familiar with WordPress, but does require more technical knowledge than fully hosted platforms
- Help & support: Free documentation and community support
Shopify is a paid, hosted platform designed specifically for eCommerce businesses.
It’s one of the easiest platforms to use and is perfect for small businesses that are just starting out.
Shopify also has a wide range of features, and you can extend its functionality by installing an official or third-party app.
These apps are one of the main reasons why Shopify has such a high customer satisfaction rating. With the advanced integration and marketing capabilities provided with some of these extensions, it’s easier to increase your conversion rate, sell more products, and grow your business.
Shopify is also the platform of choice for many dropshippers, as it’s easy to import products from suppliers like AliExpress.
- Price: From $29 a month
- Customization and flexibility: Shopify comes with a theme editor to make basic customizations to your online store. You can also buy themes from Shopify’s theme store and use Shopify apps to add more features and functionality.
- Ease of use: One of the easiest platforms to use. Perfect for beginners with no technical knowledge
- Help & support: 24/7 expert support is available by phone, email, and live chat. They also have a huge knowledge base with video tutorials and written articles.
OpenCart is another free, open-source platform that’s a popular choice for small businesses. However, unlike WooCommerce, OpenCart is platform-independent, so it can be used with non-WordPress websites.
It’s easy to use and has a wide range of features, making it a flexible option for businesses on a tight budget. Like other platforms, you can extend the functionality of OpenCart by installing extensions and themes.
In terms of support, OpenCart provides a free library of user guides and video tutorials, as well as an active forum. Dedicated support is also available for enterprises for a monthly fee.
- Customization and flexibility: Highly customizable and flexible, with many themes and extensions available.
- Ease of use: Easy to use for those with some technical knowledge. Does require more time to set up than fully hosted platforms.
- Help & support: Free online documentation, video tutorials, and community forums are available. Email support is available during office hours, and dedicated premium support is available from $99 a month.
BigCommerce is a paid platform that’s been designed specifically for businesses that are looking to scale quickly. It’s used by some of the biggest brands globally, such as Toyota, Sony, and Ben & Jerry’s.
One of the main advantages of BigCommerce is its scalability; it can handle large volumes of traffic and transactions without any issues.
It’s also extremely customizable and has a wide range of features, making it a great choice for businesses that need a lot of control over their store.
However, it’s more expensive than other platforms, and it can be over-complex for smaller businesses with a lower volume of sales.
- Price: From $29.95 a month
- Customization and flexibility: Fully customizable with a wide range of features. Perfect for businesses that need a lot of control over their store.
- Ease of use: Compared to other hosted platforms like Shopify, BigCommerce can be more complex. It’s aimed at businesses with the resources to invest in learning how to use the platform properly.
- Help & support: 24/ Seven expert support is available by phone, email, and live chat. They also have an extensive knowledge base with video courses, learning guides, and community forums.
Magento is another popular eCommerce platform that’s used by both small businesses and large enterprises. Adobe acquired Magento in 2018 and rebranded the enterprise version of the platform to “Adobe Commerce” in 2021
One of the main advantages of Magento is that it’s highly scalable so that it can grow with your business.
It also has a lot of features and is very customizable, but it can be quite complex to use, so it might not be the best option for a beginner.
- Price: Magento Open Source is free
- Customization and flexibility: Highly customizable and flexible. There are thousands of free and premium extensions available.
- Ease of use: Not the easiest platform to use, especially for beginners. It can be quite complex and time-consuming to set up.
- Help & support: Free online documentation and community-powered forums are available.
The Best ECommerce Solution for Your Business
So which platform should you pick? The answer is that it depends on your specific business requirements.
If you’ve already got a WordPress site, WooCommerce is free to get started, and it’s incredibly user-friendly. Even if you’re completely new to the world of website building, WordPress is very easy to get to grips with, and there are plenty of hosts that will take care of registering your domain and installing WordPress for you. This is also the most cost-effective option as you’ll only need to pay for hosting, which starts at just a few dollars a month.
If you don’t want to set up a hosting account and prefer to get started with an online store that’s all set up for you and ready to go, Shopify is a popular option. But keep in mind that customizations are more limited, you’ll be paying a significantly higher monthly fee, and your costs will increase as your business grows.
WooCommerce and Shopify are the two most common platform choices for businesses new to eCommerce. However, you might find that one of the alternatives has features that better suit your business.
The important thing is to take the time to assess your needs and try out a few platforms before making your final decision.
Jessica serves as the Director of Operations for Pressable and is dedicated to creating the best managed WordPress hosting experience possible. She's been using WordPress since 2008 and has been serving in WordPress-focused roles since 2010. When she's not working, you can find her spending time with her family, serving in her community, watching hilarious dog videos online, or brewing a pitcher of iced tea.