Choosing an eCommerce platform is one of the most important decisions you’ll make when running an online business. The right platform should be empowering, not encumbering. It should give you the tools you need to run your business and take care of all the messy technical stuff by itself.
You can learn to build an eCommerce store by yourself, or you can use one of the four eCommerce platforms reviewed below
With over 200,000 installations, Magento is among the most popular eCommerce platforms in the world. It is free, open-source, and counts Nike, Warby Parker, and Paul Smith among its clients. As a highly scalable, powerful platform with a huge library of existing extensions, it is particularly suitable for startups and traditional retailers looking to make the jump online.
Free: Free is always good, whether its hugs or eCommerce platforms.
Scalable: The architecture is designed for scalability with in-built support for most payment gateways. Little wonder that Magento is often called the “platform for growth”.
Open-Source: Magento is widely supported by individual as well as corporate users. This means widespread availability of thousands of useful extensions.
SEO: Magento is SEO ready right out of the box. It creates search engine friendly, keyword rich URLs and includes extensions to generate meta data automatically.
Customization: Although you can choose from a huge library of existing extensions, developing your own customizations can be difficult. The Magento code base is very unforgiving and complex – newbies strictly not welcome.
Size: A default Magento installation includes thousands of files and hundreds of database tables. This is mostly unnecessary for small e-tailers who just want a footprint online.
Performance: Magento’s large installation size and scalability-first architecture places significant stress on conventional hosts. You will need a special Magento compliant host to run your website smoothly. This can easily add several hundred dollars in additional costs every year.
Self–Hosted: Magento is a self-hosted solution. This means you’ll have to host it on your own servers. This can be very useful for large businesses, but terribly complicated for small retailers who just want a place on the internet.
Major Users: Nike, Overstock Deals, Warby Parker, Paul Smith, Harper’s Bazaar
Perfect For: Large businesses with thousands of products who want an online footprint and have the resources to create custom stores.
Using Magneto? Learn the basics of setting up an eCommerce website using Magento in this course.
Shopify is a beloved platform among small retailers and startups that want an easy to use, easy to setup eCommerce store.
Hosted: As a hosted solution, setting up Shopify is extremely easy. An experienced user can even get started in minutes. All the technical details of self-hosted solutions (like Magneto) – setting up host, installing software, handling scaling and performance – are taken care of by Shopify itself so you can focus on running your business.
Easy to Use: Using Shopify doesn’t require a degree in Computer Science. It’s easy enough for beginners to start on their own and customize as they go along.
Customer Support: Shopify operates a 24×7 support center that’s well equipped to handle all sorts of queries.
Marketing: Shopify offers a range of in-built marketing features, from one-click landing page creation to blogs and custom SEO.
You can learn more about the basics of starting an eCommerce business in this step-by-step tutorial.
Price: The Shopify Unlimited plan starts at $179/month – a big sum, even with integrated hosting.
Transaction Fees: Shopify charges a transaction fee for the Basic and Professional plans – 2.0% and 1.0% respectively. In low-margin retail businesses, this can eat up the profits very quickly.
Customization: While Shopify does a great job with its add-on library, creating your own custom plugins and extensions can be very tricky.
Migration: If you cancel your Shopify account, your entire store and relevant data is deleted permanently. This lock-in feature can be a big deterrent if you want to move your store elsewhere.
Price: Starting at $29/month
Major Users: HardGraft, SMS Audio
Perfect For: Small businesses that want a simple, easy to use system with strong built-in designs.
Volusion is often hailed as the industry standard for self-hosted eCommerce platforms. First launched in 1999, it has certainly been around long enough to earn that reputation. With a huge customer base and more than a decade’s experience, Volusion is one of the platform choices for your website.
Design: Volusion boasts an extensive collection of pre-built store designs. Not only are they stunning to look at, Volusion’s designs also adhere to the latest web design trends and standards.
Marketing: Transforming a Volusion store into a marketing juggernaut is easy, thanks to features like search engine friendly design, ability to sell daily deals (like Groupon), coupon codes, sell products on Facebook, create email newsletters, etc.
Hosted: Like Shopify, Volusion is a hosted solution. This means you can focus on running your store instead of dealing will the pesky technical details.
Mobile Friendly: The central rule of business success is to be where your customers are. In 2013, this means the mobile phone. Every Volusion store comes with a mobile-friendly website built right in so you can tap every customer, every hit.
Hosting: With a hosted service, your store’s performance is dependent on the vagaries of the service’s servers. Volusion’s servers are notorious for going down periodically, which ultimately affects your business.
Customer Support: While Volusion support is more than competent to handle your business queries, it fails the meet the bar when it comes to technical questions.
Price: Although you can get starter plans for as little as $15/month, you’ll need at least the Gold plan – which costs $125/month – for running any decent sized store.
Price: Starting at $15/month
Major Users: National Geographic UK, Kammok, ShadesDaddy
Perfect For: Small to medium sized businesses who know their way around a web page and want to leverage third party apps.
BigCommerce is one of the more prominent all-in-one eCommerce and shopping cart solution. It is favored by young startups and small retailers that value ease of use, reliability and affordability.
Price: The standard Gold plan starts at just $79.95/month. Small stores with less than 100 products can even start at $24.95/month.
SEO: BigCommerce ticks all the right boxes when it comes to SEO. You get automatic XML sitemap generation, search-friendly URLs and site hierarchy right out of the box. There’s also deep integration with newsletter service, iContact, for creating email marketing campaigns.
Mobile Friendly: The platform was revamped in the last couple of years to favor mobile commerce. You get a free mobile friendly website built right in, meaning you can sell more and lose fewer customers.
Ease of Use: BigCommerce’s strongest feature is its ease of use. You can get started right away with zero prior eCommerce or web design experience.
Designs: Design isn’t one of BigCommerce’s strong suites. While most built-in templates are solid, they do give off a slightly web 2.0 era vibe. Features such as responsive layouts and flat designs are still missing.
Limited Third-Party App Support: Unlike Shopify or Volusion, BigCommerce’s built-in app library is very limited. While BigCommerce’s native features more than make up for this lack, you might run into some problems if you rely heavily on a third party solution.
Customization: BigCommerce is designed for easy setup. This ostensibly means that more complicated features and options have to be hidden away, which makes extensive customizations difficult. Power users will find this especially frustrating.
Price: Starting at $24.95/month
Major Users: TravelKiddy, Hungrz, Supermuse, BrookFarm
Perfect For: Small businesses where ease of use and setup are a priority.
Building and customizing an eCommerce store isn’t easy, but with courses like you can get started in by building an eCommerce store from scratch in no time.
What are your personal favorite eCommerce platforms? We’d love to know! Share them with us in the comments below.