How to choose the right e-commerce platform

Image: Mohamed Hassan

Right from the outset of your e-commerce business’ journey, it’s vital that you’ve got a system in place that will align with your business needs and goals. During this phase, you’re in a good position to start considering the specifics of building your e-commerce store. Luckily, there are a ton of e-commerce platforms available out there, which can make this process easier for you. We’re going to discuss what an e-commerce platform is, and compare some e-commerce platform providers.

What is an e-commerce platform?

An e-commerce platform is a kind of software that makes it easier for business to create, launch and update an online store. These platforms include many tools that simplify day-to-day processes, and many of them do not require expert knowledge. 

At present, there are many different software providers available, all of which offer a different set of features that assist in helping business owners set up a comprehensive e-commerce store. 

Before choosing an e-commerce platform to work with, you should set up a list of your business needs, including relevant channels and marketplaces, compulsory tools and features that you absolutely can’t leave out, support for business scaling and growth and available budget.

Now that you know what your business requirements are, you’ll be able to consider which platform might work best for you!

1.Shopify

Shopify is one of the most popular e-commerce platforms for a reason, and we’ve even written a guide about how to set up your Shopify store.One of the main reasons for its global popularity is that it is relatively simple to set up.

Knowledge Required: None, with contactable Shopify experts should you need help.

Features:

  • An extensive Shopify App Store, which includes popular apps and integrations that can simplify your business operations. Shopify’s free apps include everything from accounting and invoicing to email marketing, inventory management and customer service.
  • Shopify has its own payment platform in select countries.
  • Well-designed user interface, allowing businesses to launch quickly

We think the base Shopify package  is great for smaller businesses, as Shopfiy can have limited product options. Prices can range from $29 – $299 per month. However, one advantage of Shopify is that there are many different plans available to suit individual business needs. 

For bigger businesses, Shopify has launched Shopify Plus, which includes more advanced features including a dedicated account manager and more detailed customization options than the base version. Take note that Shopify Plus comes at a high price point that is quoted on an individual basis on their website.

There’s also Shopify Lite on the other side of the spectrum, which allows Facebook selling, customer support and supports integration with an existing website for only $9 per month.

2.Magento

Magento is an open-source software that can be downloaded on to private servers. It has a great analytics module, and integrates some additional features from other platforms as part of their core offering.

Knowledge Required: Some PHP knowledge is needed; you’ll have to change things manually as it’s a self-hosted option. The advantage to this is that you’ll have more control over your website. You might need to spend more time optimizing the website and attending to security procedures, as there is nothing built-in to do this for you.

However, Magento has also released a cloud based version that is similar to a website like WordPress. We recommend the base version of Magento if you’re interested in learning how to manage your entire e-commerce building process, as this might be a great solution for you that will allow you to host independently. 

Features

  • More creative freedom due to its open-source nature
  • Strong support for multilingual websites
  • Strong community available for support, troubleshooting and new ideas
  • An extensive list of extensions and plug-ins are available to support business growth and operations

You should decide which version of Magento works best for you. One of the biggest advantages to using the open-sourced version of Magento is that it’s one of the first free e-commerce platforms available. However, you’ll also incur hosting costs.

The cloud-based version of Magento is aimed at enterprises, and as such, is pricey as it costs $18,000 per year for licensing.

3.PrestaShop

Another burgeoning open-source platform, PrestaShop has cloud hosting capabilities, on par with some of other platforms out there. It’s currently in use by over 300,000 e-commerce business owners globally.

Knowledge required: Some. As with some of the other platforms that we’ve mentioned, you’ll need your own server to host PrestaShop. PrestaShop is based on the Symfony framework and includes tons of extra features that you can manually add to your website.

Knowledge required: Some, especially if you need to install PrestaShop on your existing website. There’s an option to select a package with Ionos, which includes installation and hosting together, which makes it a bit easier to get started. Like with Shopify, PrestaShop has listed agencies and experts that are available for consultation if you find yourself getting stuck at any point with its service. With that said, PrestaShop boasts itself on is flexibility and accessibility for developers, meaning that it can easily be molded to suit your business objectives.

Features:

  • Support for over 75 languages 
  • Official PrestaShop Marketplace boasts Immense customization for its users, with over 600 features and literally thousands of themes to choose from, many of which are free
  • There’s a training program available to quickly get you up to speed on how to operate PrestaShop
  • Integration with existing platforms, such as MailChimp and Google Ads
  • Easily scalable and accessible for developer upgrades

4. OpenCart

OpenCart is a popular e-commerce platform that is open source and therefore, available to download and install on a private server, with support for multiple currencies.

Knowledge Required: Some. OpenCart works for a self-hosted website, which means that you’ll need to install it on your own existing site. Like Magento, OpenCart has a cloud version available that is easier to navigate.

Features:

  • Comprehensive dashboard screen allows you to easily set up your online store
  • Highly customizable, with access to a large number of themes and payment portals
  • Dedicated community and support for troubleshooting
  • Option to set up unlimited products and product categories very quickly
  • Free SSL certificate with purchase

The limitations of OpenCart include limited native marketing functionality, difficulty in scaling rapidly and the usual workload that one would face when taking care of a website, including security and maintenance.

OpenCart is available for free, but some themes may cost up to $100. You’ll still need to host your own website, which is not included in this cost. OpenCart’s cloud version is very reasonable, and ranges from $30-$200 per month, depending on the chosen plan. 

5.WooCommerce

WooCommerce isn’t technically a standalone service, as it was developed as a plugin for WordPress. Simply speaking, it allows you to turn your WordPress site into an e-commerce store and is one of the most popular WordPress e-commerce resources at present.

Knowledge Required: You’ll need some WordPress knowledge, as you’ll have to install and activate the WooCommerce plugin for your existing site. While WooCommerce is user-friendly, some WordPress themes may be more tricky to navigate for a new user.

Features: 

  • Easy set-up, which can be done in one day
  • Integrates with existing site themes, and does not require any design changes in order to work properly
  • Comprehensive set-up guide is available after it’s installed, allowing you to capture important store information
  • Support multiple payment methods
  • Access to new themes that have integrated WooCommerce into the design, if you haven’t got an existing theme set up yet
  • Many free extensions are available for WooCommerce, allowing for assistance with subscriptions, tax, payment and shipping

You should use WooCommerce if you’re looking for a way to start using WordPress as an e-commerce channel. You might already have a website or blog up and running on WordPress, so it would be quite simple to install.

The advantage of WooCommerce is that it’s free and open source, with no licensing required. Some of the extensions available for WooCommerce might incur additional costs.

Conclusion

The takeaway is that it’s worth examining exactly what you want from a platform in order to see which option best aligns with these same business goals. 

Certain platforms such as the aforementioned Shopify and similar drag-and-drop platforms may require only a small amount of technical knowledge. These are great for businesses to get their e-commerce ventures started. However, this does come with other limitations, including higher subscription prices and limited design options. 

Other e-commerce platforms, such as Magento, OpenCart, PrestaShop and WooCommerce require some detailed technical knowledge to get started, and might be difficult for those who are just starting out, but offer greater creativity and freedom at a relatively low price point. There are generally more customization options to choose from when selecting an open source e-commerce platform, and you’ll have greater control over which add-ons you want.

Remember that you can always consult a professional that can assist you in all stages of your e-commerce journey, such as ShoppingFeeder. ShoppingFeeder simplifies the process for e-commerce store owners to advertise and sell on 3rd party channels.

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