A Guide to Choosing the Best e-Commerce Platform

March 20, 2015

After all, e-Commerce accounts for several hundred billions of dollars in revenue each year in North America alone. E-Commerce is a great way to expand your customer base and multiply sales, but one FAQ when taking on a new e-Commerce project has always been: How do we know which platform is right for our business?


Finding the right match will affect everything from user experience to reporting and, ultimately, your bottom line. An e-Commerce store is an investment, so choosing a scalable, flexible and secure platform from Day 1 is important. Make sure not to tread too lightly on the choice you make. Not to worry though, we’re here to help get you started! In order to introduce you to the landscape of e-Commerce platforms, we’ve written a brief breakdown of some of the top platforms available, from the simplest to the most complex. Let’s have a look:


opencart-ecommerce-logoOpenCart

OpenCart is a PHP- and MySQL-based platform that’s basically ready to go right out of the box. Its design is simple and great for businesses that are just starting out in the e-Commerce world. While the open source platform lacks bells and whistles that larger platforms offer, OpenCart’s simplicity and intuitiveness can be invaluable for small business owners and managers. It easily integrates with several popular payment gateways, such as PayPal, 2Checkout, WorldPay, SagePay and more. The price tag is right for small businesses, as use is free and development costs are low. Note that you may need to budget for extensions and add-ons as you expand. OpenCart is also self-hosted rather than subscription-based, so security updates are up to you. In all, OpenCart is certainly more basic than some of your other options, and lacks customer and technical support.


It’s the right platform for you if: you’re launching a new e-Commerce startup with a limited number of products and a small budget, but you either have some technical expertise or have someone on-hand that does.


Stores run on OpenCart: British Red Cross, Cellside


shopify-ecommerce-logoSHOPIFY

Shopify has come to be one of the most progressive, intuitive and aesthetically appealing e-Commerce platforms on the market; It’s also just hit over 150,000 users. The SaaS (Software as a Service) offers several levels of service and functionality that fit an array of business needs. Pricing ranges from a simple starter package of $ 14 per month to unlimited storage, products and bandwidth for $ 179 per month (or higher if you’re Enterprise-level). One pricing benefit is that credit card processing is included in Shopify’s flat monthly cost, making it easier to predict variable costs – it also means you don’t have the headache of setting up PayPal or Stripe. Despite the fact that many large businesses (like Gatorade and Tesla Motors) use its Enterprise version, the software is mainly suited for small-to-medium retail businesses. Another major value-add is Shopify’s in-store Point of Sale system that allows you to accept credit cards in person.


While there are tons of apps and add-ons available to help with day-to-day business needs, they can start to get very costly very quickly. Shopify stores already come hosted which is a big time-saver, and also pretty much guarantees security, however, it also means that the ability to custom-tailor your store is very limited.


It’s the right platform for you if: You’re running a simple small-to-medium sized store, you have little technical knowledge, or if you have a brick-and-mortar store that could benefit from syncing online & offline POS systems.


Stores that run on Shopify: Paragon Fitness, Natalie Waldman Jewelry, Pencil by 53


WOOCOMMERCE

woocommerceBrought to you by the makers of WordPress, WooCommerce is another free platform with the opportunity to install add-ons. Similar to OpenCart, WooCommerce handles all the basics such as customer accounts, local taxes, shipping, reports and more all in one program, and is great for small-to-medium businesses. Not only is it super flexible and customizable from a development standpoint, but it can help get your store up in no time. Especially for those that have experience with managing a WordPress website, WooCommerce will be a walk in the park. As you may have guessed, it can only be installed on WordPress websites, so make sure WordPress is the right CMS for you first.


It’s the right platform for you if: You’re looking to run an e-Commerce store on a small-to-medium budget and have a developer or technical team by your side.


Stores that run on WooCommerce: Copy Hackers, Bright Watches, Gourmet of the Day (Coming soon!)


volusion-ecommerce-logoVOLUSION

Volusion is another e-Commerce platform not to be forgotten. Although they may not have the same household-name status as Shopify, they have been around since 1999. The pricing plans are designed to be flexible enough to help your store expand from a basic e-mom-and-pop of under 100 products to an unlimited quantity of items and the ability to do more. Where Volusion excels is in the areas of marketing add-ons and support. The platform can, for example, help you run email campaigns, issue gift certificates or organize promotional events; The trouble, however, is that many of the crucial features are only available to higher price-tiers. For an added cost, it can become an e-Commerce one-stop-shop, but lower tiers may feel a little excluded. All around, between the simple UI, the multitude of added features, and the integration with all major social networks, this is one of the best options on the market.


It’s the right platform for you if: You’re a growth-oriented company, perhaps already established in the brick-and-mortar world and looking for new revenue streams online. Also consider Volusion if your marketing strategy is heavily social media-oriented.


Stores run on Volusion: All Dog Boots, The Native State Jewelry, Elaine Turner


BIGCOMMERCE

Bigcommerce-ecommerce-logoJust like Shopify and Volusion, Bigcommerce already comes with hosting, so security won’t be a worry for you. One wonderful thing about Bigcommerce is that it comes pre-loaded with useful apps and tools from big names like MailChimp that they know will come in handy for companies in the e-Commerce world. The range of analytics offered to store owners and marketers alike are impressive as well, and with a very intuitive UI, owners can conduct a pulse-check at first glance. As for the technical side of things, Bigcommerce makes it easy to view and maintain code at any time, so it’s fairly easy to keep up without having to constantly call for help. Something else we love about Bigcommerce is that they are in touch with the mobile-first mentality. The company recently release BigCommerce Next, which is not only completely outfitted for m-Commerce, but also does the job of educating users on mobile best practices and how-to’s.


The downside with Bigcommerce is that they tend to have a very sneaky pricing plan, which basically means while the base fee seems reasonable at $ 29.95/month, add-ons and extra features can happen pretty quickly – and don’t forget Bigcommerce does skim a percentage off of all sales.


It’s the right platform for you if: You’re looking to invest in an overall e-Commerce solution with lots of add-ons and digital marketing capabilities, but are less concerned about budget restrictions. If you think mobile will be a major driver for sales, Bigcommerce is definitely a good option.


Stores that run on Bigcommerce: Torie & Howard, 3×1 Clothing, Dinosaur Designs


magento-ecommerce-logo


MAGENTO

Alas, Magento. The mammoth of the e-Commerce world, Magento is by far the most complex platform available. While the company offers a free “Community” version, costs to develop and customize a Magento store are much higher, not to mention the costly server and maintenance requirements. Magento has three levels of service, designed for different-sized businesses. Magento Go is the most ready to go, as the name would suggest, and is priced for small business. Magento Community is free (although you’ll still have to pay for hosting) and is designed for medium-sized businesses. Magento Enterprise is the giant, and it’s not for the faint of heart. Depending on functional requirements, its price tag can be $ 50,000 per year and upwards. That said, Magento Enterprise supports online stores for Samsung, Ford, Nike, and other global brands.


It’s the right platform for you if: If your online business needs are unique, or if your business handles high sales volumes, then Magento may be the right solution. However, don’t wade in alone – make sure you have an experienced tech team who has experience with Magento.


Stores that run on Magento: Christian Louboutin, Ghirardelli Chocolate, Fiji Water


Over the past two decades e-Commerce has revolutionized the world of business, and has enabled small companies to easily and rapidly expand customer bases. Not surprisingly, hundreds of competing platforms have appeared over the years, each vying to provide superior sales tools to the masses. Before investing in a platform for your online storefront, we recommend you consult with a web development specialist to ensure your store is both flexible and scalable for years to come.

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