How to Choose the Best Ecommerce Platform for your Online Store
So you’ve decided to open an online store. Maybe you’ve had a retail location for a while and you’re ready to capture your slice of the $29 trillion global ecommerce market. Or maybe you’re launching a business entirely from scratch.
Regardless of your motivation, figuring out the right ecommerce platform can be a significant challenge. Choosing the wrong platform can lead to wasted resources, lost sales, and massive headaches either at the outset or down the road as your product line expands.
Luckily, there are many ecommerce platforms out there to suit your needs. A few of the major players include:
- Shopify – one of the leading ecommerce platforms for online stores and retail point-of-sale systems. Shopify offers services including payments, marketing, shipping, and customer engagement tools. Shopify has more than 800,000 businesses with more than $100 billion in sales since its inception in 2006.
- WooCommerce – a customizable, open-source plugin that serves as an ecommerce platform for WordPress sites.
- Magento – the ecommerce platform offered through Adobe Experience Cloud, offering an integrated approach to marketing, customer service, and sales.
- BigCommerce – a cloud-based ecommerce platform offering a variety of templates and customizations for selling products online.
Which one is best for you? In order to determine what features to look for in the best platform for ecommerce websites, here are some key points to explore.
Consider the total price for launch and maintenance
Different ecommerce platforms and plans offer a variety of prices. Pricing is based on a variety of factors including customization options, templates, hosting fees, and more. While in some cases a free or low-cost option could work for you, it’s often better to make an investment upfront to ensure that you get everything you need.
In general, free ecommerce platforms can be pretty bare-bones unless you opt for costly add-ons for customization, domain names, or hosting. Many of these options also don’t include robust technical support, and you would need to know how to code or hire a developer to get the site up and running. Most other platforms will have a monthly fee, often with different plans offered for basic, intermediate, or advanced services. Here’s how our four platforms stack up:
- Shopify offers three tiers of pricing: Basic Shopify ($29/month), Shopify ($79/month), and Advanced Shopify ($299/month).
- Shopify includes hosting fees (more on that later).
- ShopifyPlus (enterprise) pricing is also available for large businesses.
- Shopify offers a 14-day free trial.
- WooCommerce is a free plugin for WordPress, rather than its own independent platform.
- It does not include hosting and domain fees.
- Magento Open Source is a free platform. It does not include hosting and domain fees.
- Magento Commerce, an enterprise solution, has varied pricing based on factors like hosting options and business size.
- Pricing plans for BigCommerce start at $29.95 per month for standard, $79.95 per month for Plus, and $249.95 for Pro.
- Custom pricing is available for the Enterprise plan
- BigCommerce offers a 15-day free trial
Brainstorm the customization options you will need
While an out-of-the-box solution might be a good starting point for your business, it’s likely that you will want to make other changes based on your brand, your products, and the user experience you want to create.
For example, you will probably want the ability to change fonts, images, and colors that align with your branding. You may also need to add options for product selection (such as sizes, preferred colors, and quantity). Here’s how our four platforms compare:
- Shopify offers 60 ready-to-go, customizable themes. A few of the themes are free, but most require a fee.
- You can add new pages to the site, or change the color palette and imagery to fit your brand.
- You can also add, move, remove and resize individual page elements, such as the menu and page title.
- WooCommerce offers a variety of free and paid templates.
- Customization options are limited without paying for additional plugins or developments.
- Magento Open Source and Magento Commerce offer several themes, both free and paid.
- You also have the option to create your own theme from scratch, if you have coding knowledge or hire a developer.
- BigCommerce offers a few free themes and 50+ paid themes.
- You can use the Store Design tool for customizing the site.
Take inventory of how much control you will need over the site interface, as well as how much developer support you will need to design and launch a customized site.
Review the list of the integrations that are available
While your e-commerce platform will have a lot of its own functionality, you will also need to integrate third-party software and plugins to further customize based on your needs. For example, you may wish to include accounting plugins for sales, or email marketing plugins to send abandoned cart notifications and order confirmations.
Similarly, if you also have a brick-and-mortar location, you will want to use the same inventory software in your online store and need to integrate that as well. Consider what platforms you are already using and how you can seamlessly integrate them into your new site.
Ecommerce platforms might offer integrations with third-party software like QuickBooks and HubSpot, as well as payment gateways, live chatbots, and more. Make a list of what you need, and then seek the best ecommerce platform that can accommodate you. For the four platforms:
- Shopify offers more than 2,000 free and paid apps, including integrations for marketing email campaigns, social media feeds, and order tracking functionality.
- WooCommerce offers more than 200 free and paid extensions for store management, marketing, payments, shipping, subscriptions, and more.
- Since WooCommerce is open-source, developers can also add custom-built plugins to the store.
- Magento offers more than 3,000 free and paid extensions, such as payment integration apps, custom discount coupons, email marketing campaigns, social media, and integrations for banner ads.
- BigCommerce has more than 600 free and paid integrations, including accounting, order management, CRM, marketing, payments, shipping, security, and more.
Choose between cloud vs. on-premise solutions
Another major decision is if a cloud-based solution or on-premise solution is best for your business. On-premise ecommerce platforms are installed on a company's hardware systems and managed by an in-house IT department. Upfront costs for on-premise solutions can be higher due to the need for additional infrastructure, software licenses, and staff salaries. On-premise solutions may also incur costs related to hardware maintenance, data storage, security, compliance, and software upgrades.
By contrast, cloud-based ecommerce platforms fall under the category of “software as a service,” in which a vendor hosts and manages the software in the Internet cloud. The vendor is responsible for the IT infrastructure, data security, and software upgrades. For cloud-based solutions, set-up costs are usually lower and pricing is based on a subscription. Some ecommerce retailers consider cloud-based solutions easier to scale since it is easier to upgrade software and adapt to new types of data.
- Shopify is cloud-based and can be accessed through any web browser
- WooCommerce is a plugin that can be hosted on the cloud or on-premise, based on how the WordPress site is hosted.
- Magento Commerce is offered as an on-premise solution or a cloud solution. Magento Open Source is non-hosted, so you can choose how to host it.
- BigCommerce is cloud-based.
Think about SEO friendliness
Research from Hubspot shows that 75% of customers only read the first page of Google results. That’s why SEO is especially important for your online store. Many ecommerce platforms offer SEO-optimized templates, which give your business a great starting point for appearing higher in search results. The best platform for ecommerce websites should also offer the ability to add meta descriptions, tagging, and a custom URL.
- Shopify supports SEO best practices like customizable headers, titles, and meta tags.
- Shopify also offers a plethora of SEO-related apps, like SEO doctor, to scan your website and find new optimizations.
- As a WordPress plugin, WooCommerce has access to WordPress’ powerful SEO capabilities, such as editing metadata.
- Magento offers robust SEO capabilities, including the ability to edit the page titles and descriptions, the ability to add alt text to images, and more than 250 SEO apps to choose from.
- BigCommerce offers SEO solutions such as fully customizable URLs and customizable metadata.
Keep security features in mind
Customers will need to feel confident in your site’s security features in order to be comfortable enough submitting credit card information for purchases. Robust security features can ensure that customers do not lose money or have their financial information stolen by cyber criminals. Strong security can also protect your company from being liable for customers’ financial losses or incurring fines for negligence. We recommend using a platform that is PCI compliant and ensures that credit card data is encrypted using 256-bit SSL certificates.
- Shopify online stores include an SSL certificate with 256-bit encryption.
- Shopify’s compliance adheres to all six PCI standard categories: maintain a secure network, protect cardholder data, maintain a vulnerability management program, implement strong access control measures, regularly monitor and test networks, and maintain an information security policy.
- Since WooCommerce is a plugin, SSL certificates and PCI compliance can be obtained as part of the overall website and payment gateways, but are not inherently included in WooCommerce.
- SSL certificates can be installed in Magento platforms.
- Magento uses an encryption key with 256-bit protection to secure sensitive data like passwords and credit card information.
- Magento Commerce is PCI Level 1 compliant. Magento Open Source is not.
Understand your options for technical support
Having your website up and running at all times is essential to generating sales. This means that your ecommerce platform must have strong customer support so you can have any website issues resolved quickly. Some open-source ecommerce platforms only have crowd forums where you can ask other users for input on how to fix an issue. Usually, it is best to go with an ecommerce platform that offers 24/7 customer support.
- Shopify features 24/7 technical support for all plans, as well as a help center, support forum, and video tutorials.
- Since WooCommerce is a plugin, there is no technical support by phone.
- To receive technical assistance, you must submit ticket requests through WooCommerce or use the open-source forum for finding answers to questions.
- Magento offers a knowledge base and robust community forum, rather than 24/7 tech support from dedicated staff.
- Like Shopify, BigCommerce offers 24/7 technical support for all plans, a help center, support forum, and video tutorials.
Prioritize the platform’s responsiveness
In 2017, 34.5% of online purchases in the U.S. were completed on a mobile device. This means that your ecommerce platform should be intuitive for customers who are shopping on a desktop, smartphone, or tablet. Your ecommerce platform’s responsiveness enables the interface to adapt to different sized screens and browsers. Test the ecommerce platform’s responsiveness so that no matter which device your customer uses, they should be able to successfully complete a purchase.
- All Shopify themes are mobile-optimized.
- Themes also feature a “product zoom,” enabling customers to view each item in more detail.
- Since WooCommerce is a WordPress plugin, it can be mobile-friendly but also may not be depending on the WordPress theme. When building the site, you will need to choose a theme that is noted as having “Responsive Layout.”
- Both Magento Open Source and Magento Commerce offer themes that are fully mobile responsive.
- The Magento Blank and Luma themes use the mobile-first approach for responsive design.
- Not all themes are responsive on mobile devices, so you’ll have to choose carefully during setup.
- A few themes, such as the entry theme Storefront, are built to be fully responsive on mobile devices.
Choose a platform with strong analytics capabilities
Getting constant feedback and adapting accordingly is the best way to maximize your sales potential. Your ecommerce site should be able to analyze transactions, user behavior, proportion of abandoned carts, and popularity of different product categories and individual pages. You should also connect your ecommerce site to Google Analytics and set up ecommerce tracking. Here’s what’s on offer for the big four platforms:
- Shopify's analytics dashboard offers a holistic view of your online store. Depending on your plan, you can view financial reports, behavior reports, marketing reports, sales reports, and more.
- The Analytics Buddy app for Shopify also enables you to integrate data from your Google Analytics profile and view it from your Shopify dashboard.
- WooCommerce reports give an overview of sales, orders, refunds, and top products.
- WooCommerce also offers an extension to integrate with Google Analytics, which can be configured for ecommerce tracking.
- Magento can integrate with Business Intelligence Essentials or Business Intelligence Pro, which syncs up data from Magento and other software dashboards to create an all-in-one ecommerce reporting solution. Pricing for this feature varies.
- Magento can also integrate with Google Analytics.
- BigCommerce includes Ecommerce Analytics reports are part of your pricing plan. Visualize data related to customers, sales, products, promotions, and more.
- For an additional fee, Premium Ecommerce Insights reports are available for you to track Average Order Value (AOV), take a deep dive into big spenders, and better understand your best-selling products.
Think about the scalability of the platform
It’s likely that your goal as a business owner is to grow your business over time. As you acquire more customers, expand your offerings, and adapt to new industry trends, your online store will need to pivot accordingly. You don’t want your ecommerce platform to shut down due to too much online traffic, or not be able to handle new features and plugins.
As a result, you should choose a platform based not only on what you need today, but what you might also need tomorrow. Take all of the above factors into consideration when thinking about your ecommerce platform’s flexibility to scale up or down based on your business fluctuations over time.
Ultimately, the best ecommerce platform will depend on your customer base, budget, product options, and level of technical knowledge. Looking to launch an ecommerce site or update your existing platform? Contact Pacific54 today to learn about some options that work best for you.