Ecommerce sales are booming. According to Shopify, sales are expected to reach $4.9 trillion in 2021; a jump of nearly $2.1 trillion when compared to the sales of 2018. Behind all of these ecommerce stores are ecommerce platforms that do the heavy lifting, allowing businesses to manage their website as well as sales. However, the market for ecommerce platforms is a large one and there are lots of factors to consider when choosing the right one for your business.
So what is an ecommerce platform?
An ecommerce platform is a platform that enables everyone to easily create, customise and host functional online stores, create, sell and market products, manage inventory, accept and process payment, offer real time shipping quotes and track shipping, and many more. In return, users pay the platform monthly fees.
So what are the major benefits of using an ecommerce platform?
First of all, ecommerce platforms save you time and let you focus more on the marketing and selling side of the businesses. They let you create, customise, and launch online stores and start selling right away, instead of spending a huge amount of time on coding, designing websites and online stores, and maintaining the web hosting and server.
Ecommerce platforms are also very secure and experience little to no downtime. Plus, you will also be able to provide great customer service to your customers with seamless payment and shipping integration.
Note: in this overview, there are three main types of ecommerce platforms: Open Source, SaaS (Software as a Service) and CaaS (Commerce as a Service) we cover, to give you a taste of each.
Shopify is great for: New and small business owners alike, looking for a solid, powerful eCommerce one-stop-shop. Unlike WooCommerce, Shopify is a standalone eCommerce platform; you don’t need to host your site somewhere else in order to use it. According to Google trends, Shopify stands out as something of an eCommerce darling, outranking other platforms many times over in popularity.
The platform is user-friendly, intuitive, and easy to set up. Pricing is affordable and straightforward ($29/month for new businesses) and includes a number of free features, like unlimited file storage and products, social media integration, and a blog module. But no platform is perfect. Here are the pros and cons of using Shopify.
- Easy to set up (seriously, you can be done in minutes)
- Offers more than 100 high-quality, fashionably sleek themes
- Cheap, straightforward pricing for new businesses ($29/month for the basic option)
- Can try the platform for free for 14 days
- Offers numerous free features, i.e. unlimited file storage, social media integration, unlimited number of products, daily backups, blog module, site stats, product reports and more
- Can use it online and offline
- Allows for various payment options, i.e. PayPal, Stripe, bank deposits and cash on delivery
- Known for its superior customer care, 24/7 access to a customer adviser
- Shopify partners are always accessible
- Only about 20 of their store templates are free. The others can run as high as $180.
- Advanced Shopify option costs $299/month
- If you don’t use Shopify Payment, you get charged an additional transaction fee on each sale
- Shopify, not you, controls your eCommerce store and site’s data
- Uses liquid markup language, meaning system customizations are possible, just for additional costs.
Start your free Shopify store here
WooCommerce is great for: WordPress users in need of a simple eCommerce option WooCommerce is an incredibly popular eCommerce plugin for online store owners around the world — the company claims to power 39 percent of the web’s online stores. The open-source program offers users highly-customizable options for the appearance and functionality of their store. WooCommerce’s primary disadvantage is that it’s not a standalone eCommerce platform, but rather a plugin specifically for WordPress. WooCommerce users will need to use WordPress as their Content Management System in order to configure their online store.
- Free WordPress plugin
- Easy to use if you’re familiar with WordPress
- Able to use basically any WordPress theme you want (thousands to choose from)
- Built-in payments via PayPal and Stripe, while also accepting checks, bank transfers and cash on delivery payments
- Unlimited products and product categories
- Hundreds of plugins available
- No limitations to how you can monitor your store
- You have total control over your data
- Offers various plugins to help your site be better optimized for SEO
- As an open source software, it’s free, but you have to pay third-party sites to actually run your eCommerce store (pay for hosting, SSL certificate and domain)
- The process of setting it up can take a few hours, depending on your web knowledge. You have to get a domain name, sign up for a hosting account, install WordPress and then install a WordPress theme before you can install the WooCommerce plugin
- File storage is limited by your web host
BigCommerce is great for: Businesses in search of quick growth and SEO optimization. BigCommerce claims their merchants grow at a rate of 28%, twice the growth rate of other eCommerce businesses in the industry. That, combined with the fact that BigCommerce works with some big-name companies like Camelbak and Toyota, paint an appealing picture for potential customers. BigCommerce is extremely SEO-friendly, comes with competitive pricing, and offers users unlimited products, staff accounts, and bandwidth. However, unlike other platforms, it doesn’t offer a selection of free themes.
- No hosting, update or maintenance expenses
- Not charged a transaction fee
- Clear dashboard and direction to easily build your site in a few, short minutes
- Offers unlimited products, bandwidth and staff accounts
- Provides a comprehensive list of built-in features, i.e. coupons, newsletters, tax system, customized shipping, analytics and more
- Very SEO-friendly
- Pricing is similar to others, with their standard plan costing $29.95/month
- Receive customer support through phone, email, live chat or the forum
- Lack of free themes compared to other platforms
- Recurring billing isn’t built right into the platform
- Annual limit on sales volume with each plan
Magento is great for: Small business owners and enterprise-level businesses alike. An impressive number of Fortune-500 companies use Magento as their eCommerce platform of choice, in part because it’s impressively responsive and scalable. While users can select from a list of pre-designed, mobile-optimized templates, developers can also create powerful custom themes and easily tweak/add to existing themes. Magneto’s open-source code makes complete customization easy, but don’t get scared away if you’re a small business owner with limited website building experience. Magento stays pretty user-friendly for the non-coders among us, with the added benefit of more customization options as your business grows.
- Seamless user experience
- Open source platform, meaning there’s a lot you can customize
- Offers thousands of apps and extensions, including a free social extension so you can sell on social media
- No charge to download the software
- No transaction fees
- Allows for an unlimited number of products
- Offers more than 100 free themes
- 100% SEO-friendly
- Being an open source platform, it can make customization complex, so you might have to hire a good developer unless you’re really tech-savvy
- Self-hosted so you have to find and pay for a hosting provider and domain name
- Doesn’t offer access to a 24/7 support person, but there are support forms you can check out
5. 3D Cart
3Dcart is great for: Smaller businesses and beginners interested in mobile/social selling 3Dcart is an easy-to-use, all-in-one eCommerce platform. While it comes with pretty good customization options for more experienced developers, it’s interface doesn’t leave the beginner’s behind: There are introduction wizards and tutorial videos built directly into the platform. It is more user-friendly than other customization-focused platforms like Magneto and LemonStand. Unlike some others, 3Dcart comes with built-in mobile selling so you can sell through social sites and connect your store to sites like eBay, Shopzilla, and Amazon.
- 80+ free templates, many of which are well designed, plus many more paid templates
- Intuitive, beginner-friendly user interface
- Even the entry-level account quite features rich
- Robust customer support
- All plans offer unlimited products, bandwidth, and storage; With no transaction fees
- Powerful and secure shopping cart
- While the site can be customized, it is less customizable than some competitors and you’ll need a developer’s help.
- Many features are not available unless you upgrade to the higher plans
- POS system only works with limited devices
Summary: Knowing what your shop’s goals are, what you need and what you can live without, and using our helpful pro-con list, you can decide which ecommerce platform is the best fit for your business. And how much money you are willing to invest upfront.