Your products are ready. Your marketing campaign is raring to go. Your customers are excited.
Now all that's left to launch your store is to pick out the right eCommerce platform. It's a decision that has enormous consequences—one that can determine your success or failure.
Can't decide? To help you out, we've gathered the top eCommerce platforms available right now, plus some tips on how to confidently pick the right one for your business.
An eCommerce platform is an online software or suite of applications that allow businesses to sell products or services online. They cover every aspect of managing an online retail business, including managing inventory and taking care of the payment system. Some solutions even extend into other areas such as customer service and marketing.
Using an eCommerce platform makes it extremely fast and easy for you to sell online. In fact, with top sites like Shopify, your operation can be up and running in less than an hour.
eCommerce platforms also take the effort and guesswork out of setting up a website. You don't need coding or design experience, either. You can use templates and plugins to implement beautiful designs and extend the functionality of your eCommerce website with just a few clicks.
Best of all, eCommerce platforms are very cost-efficient. You don't need to hire developers to create a website for you, saving you money. Plus, you can then invest all those savings into your business. It’s a win-win!
The majority of "easy to use" eCommerce platforms will most likely be using the SaaS, or software-as-a-service model. Here, you essentially rent the SaaS provider's platform to host your own eCommerce operation. They're straightforward and involve zero development costs since the SaaS provider handles all the technical aspects for you.
The drawback is that SaaS platforms are less flexible. You can't customize or change every aspect of your eCommerce website, unlike when you develop or host it on your own. For beginners or startups, however, SaaS eCommerce platforms are the best way to go.
• Open Source
Open-source eCommerce platforms are available as a code that you install and implement on your website. You can then customize and configure every aspect to make it fit your retail operation.
An open-source platform gives you the most flexibility and customization potential without starting from scratch. However, they require a high development cost and top-level expertise. You'll need to either hire someone to set this up on your website or learn how to do it on your own.
• Inventory Limit
One of the deciding factors when selecting an eCommerce platform is the number of products it can support. Some platforms, especially smaller ones, will have SKU limits. Suppose you foresee your product catalog increasing soon. In that case, you might want to plan for growth and get an eCommerce solution with unlimited inventory space.
• Digital Marketing Support
Marketing can spell the success or failure of your eCommerce website, so integrating it with your platform is always desirable. Depending on your industry or product, some marketing channels might be preferable over others, so keep this in mind when choosing.
Most businesses, however, will always benefit from social media marketing. The ability to market and even sell on Facebook or Instagram is an excellent feature to consider. Search engine optimization (SEO) and content marketing are also effective strategies for driving more traffic to your website.
• Ability to Scale
If you're planning to grow your eCommerce website, having a platform that can grow with it is essential. See if your eCommerce platform can handle added traffic now and into the foreseeable future. It should also be robust and flexible enough to handle short-term spikes in volume during peak sale seasons such as Black Friday or Cyber Monday.
• Customer Service
There's nothing worse than your eCommerce site crashing. Every minute it's down is revenue lost, so having responsive customer service is critical to running top eCommerce platforms. In-house reps that can fix problems at a moment's notice are the best solution.
No eCommerce platform comparison is complete without mention of Shopify, arguably the industry leader. Since its humble beginnings back in 2004, Shopify now boasts 1 million retailers who use their platform across 175 countries.
The reason why Shopify is one of the best eCommerce sites boils down to one fact: it's incredibly easy to use while staying exceptionally powerful. You can easily set up a basic store in a matter of minutes, then improve and extend its capabilities with third-party extensions and themes. The platform is completely customizable, but anything advanced will require the help of a developer.
Shopify also includes powerful complementary features like detailed analytics, personalization support, and digital marketing tools.
The pricing scheme is reasonable at $29/month for the basic version, which is suitable for most small businesses or startups. They do have a 14-day free trial so you can see how the platform works for you.
The platform is best for small to medium-sized businesses who work with a moderate amount of sales volume. Shopify does have a more expensive Plus version, which is geared for enterprise clients, but it's more complex to use and set up.
Magento is the best eCommerce platform if you like complete control over your website. It's the most powerful eCommerce website out there but also the hardest to use.
As an open-source, Magento itself is free. However, it also means that you have to install and configure it on your website. Thus, the platform's free cost is offset by development time and cost, making Magento costlier in the long run compared to other platforms on this list.
Magento is suitable for businesses that already have existing traffic and demand, and who want to either switch to a more robust platform or take their operations online for the first time.
Adobe acquired Magento in 2018 and now offers Magento Commerce. This is an enterprise-level version of the platform suited for large retailers with thousands of sales transactions.
WooCommerce is an open-source WordPress plugin, so it's the best eCommerce platform for businesses who already have an existing WordPress website. The free cost of the platform, combined with the also relatively low cost of maintaining a WordPress site, makes WooCommerce an excellent option for those on a budget.
However, like any open source option, WooCommerce requires you to set up everything yourself. It has a steep learning curve as well, although not as demanding as Magento. The free download of WooCommerce comes with all the basics you need such as inventory management, product reviews, and SEO support.
The primary rival of Shopify, BigCommerce is another SaaS ecommerce platform that emphasizes ease of use. Compared to Shopify, however, BigCommerce offers more features out of the box.
The performance and customization potential of BigCommerce is enterprise-level, making it one of the best eCommerce websites for businesses with complex inventories and catalogs. The platform also has multi-currency support by default, which is something other players like Shopify surprisingly lack. Thus, it's also one of the best online store platforms if you cater to an international market.
The one major drawback of BigCommerce is that it has a steeper learning curve than Shopify, given its more robust features. The pricing scheme also changes based on sales volume, which can penalize larger businesses.
• Wix eCommerce
Wix is a cloud-based website-building platform that also happens to have pretty decent eCommerce features. Because it's primarily a site builder, business owners have access to an extensive selection of themes and designs when creating their online store.
The Wix service is one of the best eCommerce websites for smaller businesses or startups with minimal budgets. The platform allows these entrepreneurs to set up a beautiful eCommerce website without the assistance of a graphic designer or developer.
However, Wix has simpler features than other eCommerce website platforms, so businesses with more complex product categories might struggle a bit.
Do I need an eCommerce platform to sell online?
Yes. Every method you use to sell an item online is technically a "platform," even if it's just selling through Facebook. However, if you want to sell many products online effectively, you need a robust eCommerce platform.
Is there a free eCommerce platform I can use?
Technically, yes, if you use an open-source solution. However, these are "free" only to the extent that you can get them without paying. To use an open-source platform, you need someone to implement them and host them online – and both involve time and money.
So, in practice, there is no "free" eCommerce platform.
How long does it take to launch an eCommerce website?
This depends entirely on your operation and budget. The fastest way to launch is to use a SaaS platform like Shopify, which allows you to sell online in less than a day.
However, properly launching an eCommerce website is more than just opening the store itself. Inventory, ordering system, marketing, and logistics all play a part, which can take days, weeks, or even months of planning.
Expedition Co. is a website and mobile app design company that can help you with your eCommerce website needs. Part of that process is evaluating your business goals and requirements to pick the right platform for you. Contact us today to get started!