May 9, 2020 by Ben Chafetz

How to Choose the Best eCommerce Platform

So you’ve decided to go digital with your sales. It’s definitely a must in this day and age, just brick and mortar isn’t cutting it anymore. Maybe you’re just starting out completely and this is your very first storefront of any kind. Well, you’re probably asking yourself, “Ok, so how on Earth do I know which is the best eCommerce platform for me?”

We know the number of options can be pretty overwhelming. Deciding on your platform isn’t just how your site will look, but it will impact so many different aspects of your business:

  • Checkout process
  • Inventory management
  • Account history
  • Billing and Payment Methods
  • Remarketing
  • And so much more

These are all super important, but with so many other things business owners need to consider when going online, we’ve come up with a guide to help you choose from the main options available out there. Obviously, we can’t cover every eCommerce platform available, but we’re going to discuss some of the heavy hitters and compare them against each other.

There are three main considerations and questions you’ll want to ask yourself when deciding which eCommerce platform is best for your business:

  1. What is the primary purpose of the website?
  2. How much customization will you need and how traffic will you expect in the first 3 years?
  3. How much time and money can you invest at launch?

Keeping these in mind, let’s get down to narrowing down your eCommerce options and helping you make a very important decision!

Website Purpose

It might seem an obvious question to ask, but it’s an important one to make sure you have clearly answered in your head. Are you looking to build a purely eCommerce site, where you list inventory and products, have a shopping cart, and users check out? Is your site informative with some services provided on the side?  Having the purpose clearly defined will help you determine what the main focus should be.

Primary Focus: eCommerce

If you have established that your site will be mostly focused on selling products or services, then that will narrow your options to some of the top platforms in eCommerce: Shopify and Magento.

Both of these are names you have probably come across since they’re the backbone of millions and millions of sites, including some big names like Nike, Christian Louboutin, and The Economist. They are very different (we’ll get into this later), but if you’re going for targeted eCommerce, they’re going to be your best bets.

Primary Focus: Content

If you want to provide a lot of useful content, make SEO a priority, and really get that organic traffic up, while selling some services or products on the side, then you’ll likely want to consider WordPress. Historically known as a blogging platform, WordPress has come a long way! When synced up with WooCommerce, you can easily integrate sales into your platform and make sure the content fuses with your eCommerce side of the site beautifully. However, it’s important to remember that WordPress is cheaper to start, but it doesn’t scale or have layer navigation. 

While not optimal for really high traffic and complex sales functions, WordPress is open-source and pretty user-friendly to set up.  If eCommerce is a secondary priority, this is probably going to keep your costs down and your content front and center. While it’s easy to migrate off of, it’s not the best for scaling. 

Scalability

Just as with a brick and mortar, some boutique shops will only need a small space while stores like Costco need huge warehouses with parking lots you get lost in. In eCommerce we refer to this as scalability. Will the platform be able to grow and adapt with your business needs?

When you’re starting off, you may not have a huge amount of traffic. But what will your analytics look like in one or five years? When you invest a lot of time in learning the platform and setting everything up, you want to make sure you will be able to use it as long as possible. 

WooCommerce and Shopify are great out-of-the-box options. They are pretty simple to set up and have the basic features you would expect from eCommerce platforms. They have a selection of templates and add-ons to increase functionality.

The drawback of these two platforms, however, is that they are proprietary. This means the companies own their own code and they’re not open source. The features available through the companies or third-parties are all you have to choose from. What you see is what you get. The control is limited and there’s no way to differentiate yourself. 

If you think your needs will grow over time, traffic will increase to your site, and you’ll need the flexibility to add on new functionalities, you will want to consider Magento. It is open-source, meaning if you need something tailor-made for your own unique business needs, you can do that! It also means you have so much more latitude when it comes to customization. 

Premade templates exist on all the platforms, both free ones and fancier paid ones. But with Magento you have so many more options to customize the look and feel of your site and make it unique. Not only will it feel fresh to your customers, but you will be able to streamline your website flow and user journey to maximize checkouts.

Cost

Obviously how much something will cost is a major consideration when deciding what platform to go with, but it might be a bit more nuanced than you think. It’s not as simple as just comparing which one is cheaper per month.

With Shopify and WooCommerce, you will likely be able to set them up with just your in-house team, albeit this will take some time. You can definitely hire some professional help here and get your operation running quicker. 

Once set up, WooCommerce is technically free— There may be a monthly fee but that’s because you’ll need the domain and hosting, but the basic version of it is totally free. That being said, it’s going to have its limitations. If you want anything beyond the out-of-the-box very basic options, you’re going to have to pay for the extensions. If you end up needing a lot over time as you grow, this can get pretty expensive.

Shopify will host and provide a domain for you, along with charging a monthly fee. They also have a per-transaction fee. It is tier-based, so depending on the level of service you need you may end up paying more or less per month than others. They also charge a transaction fee for external payments like PayPal, so keep in mind as your business grows so will the fees. Shopify is good for businesses that aren’t doing around 1 million in annual revenue. After that, the pricing evens out for both options.

Magento is not one you’ll be able to download and install yourself. This eCommerce platform is super powerful and has so many functions, that out-of-the-box it’s not going to be optimized to your business. You’ll need to bring in a Magento development agency, like 121eCommerce, who can figure out what your business needs are and construct the perfect system for you. 

Magento does not have a monthly charge like Shopify’s SaaS model, rather they charge a flat fee based on a tier.  This way, the cost of the platform scales with your business. However, Magento does have a rapid launch acceleration package making it similar to Shopify. 

How much time and money you’re willing to put in at the beginning will have a huge impact on cost savings down the road. If your business needs happen to outgrow the basic WooCommerce setup you initially had, you will need to upgrade to a more robust system in just a few years. Incurring many of the same costs again, while also having to worry about integration, migration, and keeping everything running smoothly throughout the process.

Make sure you pick a system that will fit your needs long-term, even if it might be costlier at the outset.

So, what’s your choice?

We covered the three main points of consideration when looking to narrow down your options for the best eCommerce platform. It’s all subjective and the decision is going to lie with what your core business is and what your needs are. 

With eCommerce, it’s really important to take the time to really build up a great site, test it thoroughly, and make sure everything flow smoothly. WooCommerce and Shopify are pretty user-friendly and if your business is small with a low start-up budget, you will likely be going with one of these two options. They’re budget and user-friendly while covering most of the standard needs of a budding eCommerce business.

If you have a bit more time and resources to invest at the beginning and want to ensure you have a platform that works from the start and into the long-run, you’ll want to seriously consider Magento.  It’s a powerhouse platform with endless capabilities, ensuring you won’t ever outgrow it. As we mentioned before, you will need to bring on a team of experts, like the great team at 121eCommerce, to get your site setup and your team up to speed.

Having experts who know the ins and out of eCommerce stress-testing and troubleshooting will ensure a smooth customer experience from the start. It’s really hard to win customers as a new online business and really easy to lose them—your competition is just a click away online! You want to do everything you can to give your shoppers the best experience possible and the fewest reasons to leave.

We hope this guide has helped you in your consideration of which eCommerce platform is best for your unique business situation.

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