Researching eCommerce Platforms
If you’re planning to launch an eCommerce store, selecting the right eCommerce platform is crucial.
A lot of people have found success selling strictly on Amazon and eBay, but others want to create a real brand and a stand-alone operation. If you are one of these entrepreneurs, you will need to select an eCommerce platform or marketplace for managing your business.
Which platform you choose depends on a number of factors, including:
- Your level of technical skills
- Your need for services such as logistics, payment gateways, and hosting
- Your financial budget
- The type of products you’ll be selling
- How important design and layout are to you
- How much time and energy you want to allocate to your business
For help in preparing to launch your eCommerce business, check out this post – What to do Before Launching a Shopify Store.
There are a lot of different eCommerce platforms out there and they all come with their unique offerings, pros, and cons.
To help you navigate the chaos, I have created the Ultimate List of eCommerce Platforms and Marketplaces and provided a good amount of information on the most popular ones. Additionally, I have added a list of the most popular WYSIWYG website design platforms, just in case that is the route you choose to take.
What is an eCommerce Platform?
An eCommerce platform is a suite of software tools and hosting services that enable entrepreneurs to build and manage an eCommerce store online.
Most eCommerce platforms come with an easy to use management interface, payment solutions, shopping carts, marketing tools, logistics management tools, and customer support tools.
Additional features may include tools for product merchandising, site design, search engine optimization, online marketing, order processing, mobile Commerce, drag-and-drop content builders, style editors, affiliate marketing tools, loyalty rewards programs, and fraud protection tools.
Open Source vs. Hosted Platforms
Most eCommerce platforms are built and hosted by the company that owns them and are sold to customers based on a plan or tier. These tiers offer different features and functionality and are priced to suit the needs of the customer.
Other platforms are open-sourced, meaning they are built by a community of online developers. The software can be downloaded and used by anyone for free. Updates to the software come from the community and are usually easily integrated into the installed code base.
The cost of open source software usually comes in the form of additional services and support.
Each model (hosted and open-source) has its own benefits. Hosted platforms are easier for non-technical entrepreneurs to manage and are often quicker to set up and use. Open source platforms require coding skills but typically offer much more customization and design control.
The Ultimate List of eCommerce Platforms
- Magento (open sourced)
- WooCommerce (open sourced)
- Big Cartel
- OpenCart (open sourced)
- Purchase Commerce
- cs.cart (open sourced)
- Yo!Rent (geared towards the rental market)
- Shopping Cart Elite
- UberCart (open sourced)
- VirtueMart (open sourced)
The Most Popular eCommerce Platforms
Shopify is a Canadian company that offers online retailers a simple, user-friendly eCommerce platform and a suite of tools to build and run an online store. Services include payment collections, marketing, and shipping.
With Shopify, you can create and customize your online store, market and sell in multiple places (e.g., web, mobile, social media, and online marketplaces), manage products, inventory, payments, and shipping, and access thousands of helpful apps (like Mochi) to help you accomplish goals across your business activities.
On their website, Shopify boasts 800,000 merchant managed stores.
Wondering if you are getting all you can out of your Shopify experience? Check out this post to find out – Are You Getting the Most Out of Shopify?
The Pros and Cons of Shopify
- Hosting and SSL: When you sign up for Shopify your store is automatically provided with hosting and a URL SSL certificate (the HTTPS that precedes your URL). This is great because then you don’t have to worry about hosting and security for your store.
- Theme Templates: If you don’t want to spend a lot of time designing your site, Shopify makes your life much easier with their broad list of themes and templates. Simply drop in titles, images, descriptions, and pricing and your’e off to the races.
- Unlimited Product Listings: Shopify allows you to list an unlimited number of products on any of their plans.
- App Listings: Shopify offers over 2,500 apps to help you manage and grow your store. Many of them have free plans just like Mochi.
- Payment Processing: While using the out-of-the-box services of Stripe and PayPal is nice for beginners, some online store owners may want to use a different service. If this is the case for you, be prepared to pay Shopify a 1% fee for each transaction when using another payment provider.
- Shopping Cart: While it is simple to set up and use the Shopify shopping cart, there are additional features which are not out-of-the-box. For example, Shopify’s shopping cart does not allow you to cross-sell add on products or similar products after a customer adds an item to their cart. However, there are apps that do this for a fee.
- URLs: Shopify locks down the URLs on your site and does not allow you to customize very much at all. This can be frustrating when you want to create custom product URLs and manage them from a marketing perspective.
Who is Shopify best for?
Shopify is best for entrepreneurs who are just getting started and for people who don’t have a high level of technical skills – particularly coding skills.
Shopify is also a good platform for Dropshippers, who can use Shopify to both manage their website and connect with suppliers.
With Shopify lite, where you sell your products through Facebook rather than a hosted website, pricing starts as low as $9 per month.
Standard Shopify plans include:
- Basic Shopify – $29/mth
- Shopify – $79/mth
- Advanced Shopify – $299/mth
Shopify also offers Shopify Plus, which is designed for high-volume enterprise stores. Pricing for Shopify Plus is based on the needs of your store and is not listed on the Shopify website.
As of this writing, the home page for BigCommerce says, “Create differentiated commerce experiences on the industry’s most versatile enterprise solution.” The keyword in this statement is “enterprise”.
Still, BigCommerce does offer plans starting as low as $29.95 per month.
BigCommerce states that over 60,000 brands use their platform – including 2,000+ mid-market businesses and 30 Fortune 1000 companies. Well-known users include Assurant, Ben & Jerry’s, Paul Mitchell, Skullcandy, Sony, and Toyota.
The Pros and Cons of BigCommerce
- Pricing: BigCommerce has no transaction fees for their stores, when you use the payment gateways they prefer. Which is amazing! You can also use Braintree by PayPal for a fee.
- Native Functionality: One of the highlights of BigCommerce’s platform is that a lot of functionality comes built-in. This means that you don’t have to download as many apps or plugins, and also means that you don’t have to pay extra fees for them.
- Multi-Channel Integrations: If you own an eCommerce business and want to sell through multiple channels, BigCommerce has you covered. Their integrated solution makes it easy to sell on your website, Amazon, eBay, social media, and in person. And, all of the data syncs on the back end, so you don’t have to manage multiple inventory databases.
- Coding Skills Required: Some platforms offer WYSIWYG style theme editors so that designing your online store does not require highly technical skills. Unfortunately, BigCommerce is not one of these platforms. To really take charge of your store on BigCommerce, you’ll need to have some coding skills.
- Cost of Themes: Along with the limited non-technical theme resources, BigCommerce also charges for the vast majority of its themes. These themes are not overly expensive, just make sure you know the one you really want before you buy it.
- Content Marketing Shortcomings: A great way to bring customers to your site is the use of content marketing strategies, such as blogging. Blogging can be great for drawing potential customers to your site and for enhancing your SEO results. BigCommerce is lacking, when it comes to blogging tools and functionality.
Who is BigCommerce best for?
While BigCommerce does offer a cheap plan, which could be enticing for startups and new stores, the feature set is clearly designed for larger stores. If you own an eCommerce store that is growing rapidly or already at the enterprise level, BigCommerce may be a good fit for you.
BigCommerce has two pricing categories (1) essentials and (2) enterprise. Essentials is geared towards small shops and startups. The enterprise plan is geared towards larger stores.
- Standard – $29.95/mth
- Plus – $79.95/mth
- Pro – $249.95/mth
To get BigCommerce’s enterprise pricing you’ll need to contact their sales department here.
Magento is an eCommerce platform with an open-source ecosystem. The creator of the open-source project was a company named Varien, Inc. eBay invested in Magento in 2019 (acquiring 49% of the company). In 2015 it was sold to Permiria, a private equity firm, which then sold it do Adobe in 2018.
Magento offers two distinct services: (1) Magento Open Source (previously Magento Community Edition) and (2) Magento Commerce, which is available in an on-premises version or a platform-as-a-service version.
As of May 2019 159,158 stores were hosted on Magento.
The Pros and Cons of Magento
- Open Source: Due to the open-source nature of Magento, there is a lot of flexibility and versatility in its functionality. This requires technical skills of course, but if you have the skills then this platform is your oyster.
- Ecosystem: Along with the open-source nature of the platform, Magento has a large ecosystem of developers that can offer services, tools, and solution development.
- API Integrations: Magento now offers what is called “Headless Commerce”, which means that a nearly unlimited variety of web, social, mobile, IoT and in-store digital touchpoints can be used simultaneously. Powerful APIs allow for the main system to communicate with all of these touchpoints in a seamless manner, allowing your online store to spread its roots and reach customers in all sorts of places.
- Open Source: While having an open source-platform is awesome, you’re going to need a lot of coding power to make it work just the way you want it. That’s why Magento is used most often by enterprise-level eCommerce stores that have a large development team to manage the site and functionality.
- Learning Curve: Magento can be very complicated and is not a good fit for someone who wants to stand a store up in the next week or two. It’s going to take a lot of learning or the ability to pay someone who already has the knowledge set required.
- Design: While Magento offers themes or templates for your online store, many people consider them to be out-of-date. If you want an out-of-the-box store design that will wow customers, you’re probably not going to find it on Magento.
Who is Magento best for?
Magento is best for large to enterprise size eCommerce stores. If you have the resources of a large development team and the balance sheet to support an enterprise-grade eCommerce operation, then Magento will provide a level of flexibility that is unmatched.
- Magento CE (Community) – Free!
- Magento EE (Enterprise) – Starts at $22,000 per year.
- Magento EE Cloud – Starts at $2000 per year (includes hosting)
WooCommerce is a customizable, open-source eCommerce platform built on WordPress. It’s a popular option for both eCommerce agencies and eCommerce store owners, who have built their website on WordPress.
The Pros and Cons of WooCommerce
- Customization: Similar to Magento, the open-source nature of WooCommerce means that it is highly customizable, assuming that you have the coding skills to get the job done.
- WordPress Connection: If you are a WordPress user then having WooCommerce as a plugin is a huge bonus. It’s easy to install and can instantly transform your website from a simple blog or portfolio into an eCommerce shop.
- Resources: The volume of people using and working on WooCommerce has led to a robust WooCommerce community online. If you have questions about anything WooCommerce related, you can probably find an answer at WooCommerce.com, on YouTube, or on a blog post somewhere.
- Learning Curve: While the customizability of WooCommerce is a plus, it’s going to take some time for you to gain the skills to customize it on your own. If you don’t have the skills, then you will need to spend some time learning them or pay for someone who already has them.
- Lack of Support: The team at WooCommerce is very clear that they will offer support for real problems or bugs. They won’t offer support for customization or integrations with third-party apps. If you are going to need a good amount of support, you may want to look elsewhere.
Who is WooCommerce best for?
WooCommerce is a good fit for small to large-sized online merchants using WordPress. If you are already using WordPress for your website and decide you’d like to add a store, then WooCommerce should be a great fit for you.
Adding the WooCommerce plugin on WordPress is free. However, there are plenty of other costs that you will need to keep in mind; such as credit card processing fees, hosting fees, and the cost of any additional app or plugin you will need that does not come included in WooCommerce.
Volusoin’s target market is small to medium-sized eCommerce stores. As of this writing, Volusion claims to have 180,000 entrepreneurs using their platform.
The Pros and Cons of Volusion
- Account Specialists: When you’re getting started on any eCommerce platform you will invariably have questions and need a little help. Volusion does a very good job of assisting you as you build out your store. Their account specialist are in-house and know the platform very well.
- Support: If you are a Volusion customer then you have 24/7 access to Volusion’s award-winning support, available via live chat or phone included in your monthly subscription. All-day, every day.
- No Transaction Fees: Pricing on an eCommerce platform can be surprisingly confusing. On top of the monthly fee, you can find yourself paying for a whole host of other fees. Volusion’s pricing is pretty transparent and does not include transaction fees other than credit card processing.
- App Marketplace: While some eCommerce platforms have an overcrowded app marketplace (we’re looking at you Shopify), the Volusion marketplace is surprisingly slim. Before you decide to go with Volusion, take a look at their app listings and make sure they have what you need.
- Security: Security is very important for building trust with online shoppers. Having an SSL certificate in your URL helps consumers know that security is part of your process. While you certainly can have an SSL certification on your Volusion site, it’s gonna cost you extra. This is not an out-of-the-box feature included in their plans.
- Content Marketing: Blogging and other content marketing strategies can be huge for eCommerce stores, but for some reason, Volusion has left this aspect of their site builder off completely. It’s not always necessary to have a blog, and you could try an integration with WordPress or some other blogging site. But the fact that Volusion left this feature off is surprising.
Who is Volusion best for?
Volusion is best for small businesses. This is where they focus and where they excel. If you are launching a brand new eCommerce store and are looking for a Shopify alternative, Volusion might just be the one for you.
Volusion pricing is pretty straightforward and all of their plans offer unlimited products and unlimited storage.
- Personal – $26/mth
- Professional – $71/mth
- Business – $269/mth
- Prime – Custom pricing
Big Cartel is an eCommerce platform with a unique focus. They aspire to specifically support artists and creators. The company states that they are here to help clothing designers, bands, record labels, crafters, and other artists with their own customizable online store.
As of this writing, BuiltWith shows that Big Cartel supports 79,252 online sellers and eCommerce stores.
The Pros and Cons of Big Cartel
- Pricing: If you want cheap, easy-to-understand pricing, then Big Cartel is the platform for you. Pricing is based on the number of products you have, and their lowest-priced tier is only $9.99 per month. Dang!
- Design: Big Cartel is focused on artists, who want to make their online shop pop. For this reason, the pre-designed themes are very modern and attractive. You also have the ability to dive into the source code and customize your site to fit your brand.
- Feature Set: One challenge that Big Cartel has is its lack of features. The main functionality of Big Cartel is their shopping cart and design functionality. Beyond that you’re on your own.
- Product Limits: Some eCommerce platforms will let you list as many products on your store as you can possibly handle. In contrast, Big Cartel’s plans are based on product counts, and thus you are limited to the number of products your plan allows.
- Apps: While Big Cartel does offer some useful apps, the options are very limited. If you are looking for more helpful apps, you’ll need to find them on your own or switch to another eCommerce platform with a larger selection.
Who is Big Cartel best for?
Big Cartel is best for small shops owned by artistic founders – clothing designers, bands, record labels, crafters, and other artists. If you started out on Etsy, but you’ve built a good brand and core of customers, and you’re ready to do your own thing now – Big Cartel is for you.
Big Cartel Pricing
Big Cartels plans are based on the number of products or SKUs that you want to list. The highest limit is 300. This may seem counterintuitive to some, but given their focus on artists, it makes sense that real artists wouldn’t be creating an unlimited number of products. In this way Big Cartel’s pricing aligns its culture, focus, and marketing strategies.
- 25 Products – $9.99/mth
- 100 Products – $19.99/mth
- 300 Products – $29.99/mth
An online marketplace differs from an eCommerce platform both in the way stores are managed and presented and in the fact that shoppers can use the marketplace’s search function to find multiple stores selling similar products. The most well-known examples of marketplaces are Amazon and eBay.
These are great marketplaces for selling some products. However, if you’re selling something unique, artistic, rustic, vintage, or handmade there are some better places to list your wares.
Here are a few of the online marketplaces you may want to check out.
The Ultimate List of Online Marketplaces
The Most Popular Online Marketplaces
It’s home to a universe of special, extraordinary items, from unique handcrafted pieces to vintage treasures. Etsy seems to be the most recognizable or well-known online marketplace, especially for those selling handmade, handcrafted, or vintage items.
The Zibbet website says, “Home to thousands of independent artists, makers, and vintage collectors, since 2009. You can sell on the Zibbet Marketplace as well as many other sales channels, and manage it all within the Zibbet platform.”
Bonanza is an online marketplace that empowers entrepreneurs to build a sustainable business based on repeat customers. In addition to selling on the Bonanza marketplace, you are able to sync your inventory with Amazon, eBay, and Shopify.
WYSIWYG Website Designers
Another option for starting an online store or eCommerce business is to use a what-you-see-is-what-you-get website builder. These types of services are perfect for someone who wants to quickly stand up a website, without the need for coding skills or paying an arm and a leg.
What is WYSIWYG?
WYSIWYG is an acronym that stands for “what you see is what you get”. What that means is that rather than coding a website, you get to use drag and drop tools that display the website how it will appear to your site visitors, as you are building it.
While the main benefit of these WYSIWYG tools is the ability to quickly build an attractive website, many of them also offer eCommerce tools such as payment processing and cart management.
The Ultimate List of WYSIWYG Website Designers
Over to You
Wow, that was a lot of information. Hopefully, this was helpful as you think about the eCommerce platform that is right for your business. Choosing an eCommerce platform is certainly not a one-way door (you can switch later on), but keep in mind the time and energy it’s going to take to do so.
Doing your research before you sign up for the wrong eCommerce platform will save you a ton of time, money, and lost sleep.
While I tried to be exhaustive with this post (probably the most research I’ve had to do since college), there are certainly going to be platforms and solutions that I’ve missed. If you are aware of one, please let me know in the comments below.
Thanks and good luck!