How to choose Best eCommerce Platform? Step-by-Step Guide

Magento vs Square vs PrestaShop? If you are wondering what is the best ecommerce platform, we've got a handy overview for you (which we hope you'll find helpful.)

If anything, the story of best eCommerce platforms is downright hilarious. From day one, users of the Internet were in the midst of existential quest to find a way to squeeze some money out of it. It was a brave new world brimming with opportunities. Digital extension of marketplaces seemed to be a natural fit and thus the great industry of eCommerce was born.

As years went by eCommerce websites became the centerpiece of the Internet, the most dynamic and flexible industry of them all. One just needs to take a look at how eBay looked at launch to understand how far things had progressed since.

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Today, online stores go far beyond just listing some products. They offer an experience. At the moment, there is a significant number of different eCommerce platforms ready to handle any kind of marketplace without a fuss. One can shape his marketplace in any conceivable way with a little help from a wide variety of plugins.

However, things are not as simple as they seem. One can’t just take any eCommerce platform is best and strike gold. It takes a fair share of strategic thinking and planning in order to make it click. Also, due to a variety of options, a slight feeling of being lost might occur. There is an “any way you want” and even more and more and more” situation and it is definitely way too much to handle.

Market share of leading ecommerce software platforms and technologies worldwide in 2017

[Source: Statista]

Why the choice of Best eCommerce Platform matters?

eCommerce is one of those industries where each element of business operation matters and even one wrong choice can potentially derail the entire marketplace to sheer oblivion.

The platform is the backbone of the marketplace. It is what makes its heart beating, it is what makes its wheels rolling.  The choice of the platform is one of the first big steps you take during the development of the project and it defines a lot of things. Right eCommerce Solution works magic if done right.

In a grand scheme of things, platform defines what can be done in the marketplace - feature-wise and service-wise. In order to make it reach its full potential - it must be well-adjusted to the business requirements. Otherwise, there is a chance, your toolset will be inadequate for reaching your goals.

What are the choice criteria?

Basically, any eCommerce platform is comprised of a pack of specific website features. All of them perform a certain set of tasks and together they constitute a powerful base of operations. Here are some of the most basic features:

  • Listing of the products;
  • Syncing of the product inventory;
  • Placing the products into a shopping cart;
  • Placing an order with the products in the shopping cart;
  • Collecting payment for the order;
  • Providing store owner with order information;
  • Filling reports on operations;

Also, you can add to the mix such things as marketing tools, design features, security framework and so on. All this constitutes a full spectrum of tools that allows not only to manage eCommerce marketplace but also make it engaging and attractive to the target audience.

One of the biggest challenges that come upon consideration of eCommerce platform comes not from the variety of options but from understanding the needs of the project. There is no universal solution - each eCommerce website platform got its own pros and cons. Because of that, it is critical to know exact business requirements of your project. Otherwise, you might end up missing some important features while having something you don’t really need.

In essence, it all starts with three questions:

  • What is your budget?
  • What types of products are you going to sell?
  • What features store needs to reach its maximum potential?

After figuring out the answers to these questions you can start considering options.

Here’s what you need to know about the platform:

  • What are the prices? How are prices structured? How much costs the full package price? What are the fees?
  • What features are present in the bundle? Is it adequate to your business requirements? Which additional features are present? Are there any marketing tools?
  • Is it easy to use?
  • Is there any support? Is it really capable of solving problems fast?
  • How well it performs? Is it capable of maintaining large workload without experiencing troubles?
  • Is there a room for functional expansion? Is it capable of integration of third-party applications?

Also, don’t forget checking out customer reviews. While it is not exactly a credible source for consideration, reviews often show how a certain platform is perceived amongst its user base.

eCommerce Platform Comparison

Magento ecommerce platform

Magento Platform

If there is one eCommerce platform that offers perfectly balanced service, then it is probably Magento. There is a reason why Magento is considered a go-to option when it comes to developing a marketplace - it is simple to implement, easy to use, flexible enough to adjust to business requirements, compatible with the majority of services and most importantly reasonably priced.

The module pool of Magento is probably one of the deepest rivaling Shopify. It allows composing the stack that will perfectly fit into your business operation both in terms of effectiveness and cost. Magento community is very active on that front - you can always find a plugin that will perfectly fit into the fold of requirements.

The comparison with Shopify does not end there. Magento is dead set on supplanting the big guy in the upcoming fight of the century “Magento vs Shopify”.

Another big advantage is a variety of options. If you are running the small-scale operation - you can apply basic Community Version with barebones functions and if you are going big time - there is Enterprise Edition with support, page cache, improved indexing and more.

Enterprise edition is a particularly interesting beast because it provides enough firepower to take over the world. It includes:

  • configurable products (and various other product types),
  • visual merchandiser (manual, automatic, and dynamic merchandising),
  • customer loyalty options (customer segmentation, rewards, private sales)
  • Marketing toolset

The downside is in the price tag. While the amount of possibilities Magento opens up is truly staggering it comes with a price. Magento Enterprise editions cost $22k annually which can be rather biting for the growing companies.

Website: magento.com

Shopify Ecommerce Platform

Shopify

Shopify is probably the most popular eCommerce platform out there. Launched in 2006, it was positioned as an alternative to clumsy and overly complicated eCommerce website platforms of old. Shopify presented a streamlined easy-to-use platform that served as a blueprint for other platforms to come. Basically, Shopify’s selling point was “you don’t need cunning technical and design skills to make the well-made online store”. And it clicked with a target audience.

It is easy to see why Shopify is so popular - it is really that good. You only need to push a couple of buttons to start a Shopify store. You can set up a store within a span of an hour without even a notion of being perplexed.

Probably the biggest advantage of Shopify over the rest is the scope is the flexibility of customization. You can shape your marketplace in any conceivable way based on a wide variety of templates and settings. Shopify provides full CMS with a full spectrum of tools to manage ins and outs of the marketplace.

  • accepts the majority of credit cards
  • Level 1 PCI compliance and 256-bit SSL encryption for security,
  • 24/7 support via phone, messaging or email.
  • unlimited hosting for the stores,
  • in-depth analytics of how visitors are using the store,
  • marketing and SEO optimization tools,
  • a discount and coupon engine, gift cards

One of the recent additions to the features was created due to the General Data Protection Regulation (which came into force on May 25, 2018.) Shopify now has a privacy policy generator that is GDPR-compliant. Hurray for data protection. (Read more about Shopify and GDPR here.)

The downside of all this is the money. Shopify fees are relatively high but it is totally worth it considering the scope of available features.

Website: shopify.com

BigCommerce solution

BigCommerce

BigCommerce is an eCommerce website platform with an ambition to take things to the next level. And it sure does. Launched in 2009, it is not just a platform to manage your marketplace - it helps to keep the marketplace in line with the rest of the business operation via the diverse set of reporting features.

Just like Shopify it allows customizing marketplace to a minuscule detail with a little help of easily adjustable templates. BigCommerce features full CMS that expands the scope of management from merely a store to an entire website. BigCommerce API is nice and easy and neatly fits any website architecture without disrupting anything.

  • support via phone, instant chat, and email,
  • detailed and flexible product management,
  • optimized search engine rankings,
  • Payments can be accepted via 40+ pre-integrated gateways
  • shipping details can be customized
  • automated order processing,
  • flexible tax rules
  • multiple currencies.

Website: bigcommerce.com

Volution ecommerce

Volusion

This one is a heavy hitter. Volusion is one of the biggest eCommerce platforms out there, rivaling Shopify and BigCommerce. It is a juggernaut of eCommerce software and there is a reason why it is so. Volusion is immersive. There are so many features, you can as well go to the moon with its help. Customization options are far and wide and there are enough plugins to satisfy every possible need of presenting the product.

One of the biggest advantages of Volusion is its extremely user-friendly attitude. Volusion support is probably one of the gentlest out there. While other platforms provide guides and how-to to a certain degree - Volusion goes deep and offers everything you need to know in order to run an eCommerce Marketplace.

  • Customer support via email, phone and instant messaging.
  • Customer support includes onboarding services
  • Integrated marketing features

The downside of all this goodness is the price which can be really biting for up and coming companies. Volusion is not the platform you start your store with but it is definitely a platform your store can grow into over time.

Website: volusion.com

WooCommerce for WordPress

WooCommerce for WordPress

The main difference of WooCommerce from the rest of the reviewed platforms is that it is open source and thus free to transform and modify it in every conceivable way. Unlike Shopify where you have a certain set of features - WooCommerce is flexible enough to develop your own solution and neatly integrate it into the platform. It is almost like a bizarre reflection of Magento. There is even a discussion aptly titled “Magento vs WooCommerce”.

That is what makes WooCommerce special - if you need a custom-designed platform for your marketplace - it is probably the best choice.

Essentially, Woocommerce is a Wordpress plugin, it provides a wide arsenal of tools to construct a store straight out of dreams. The library of plugins is deep enough to cover any cause and there are more than enough tools to make your own if you ever need one. The downside of it is that it requires significant understanding of the technical side of things.

However, the biggest advantage of WooCommerce is that you have absolute control over your data. Unlike Shopify which redirects from your domain during the checkout process, WooCommerce leaves it all in-house which is an important thing for security reasons.

Website: woocommerce.com

OpenCart ecommerce solutions

OpenCart

OpenCart is a relatively small-scale platform that offers a reasonable alternative to the “big boys” i.e. Shopify and Magento. It provides the very same basic set of features and also loads and loads of community-based third-party plugins for any cause. In many ways, OpenCart is good eCommerce shopping cart software for medium-sized niche marketplace with the reasonable turnaround.

The upside of OpenCart is that it is lean and undemanding on the hardware side. No matter how intense things can get - it will stay scalable. The other big advantage is the clear architecture that enables various tweaks and modifications.

The biggest disadvantage of OpenCart is that it is not flexible enough to make every element of the marketplace fit like a glove. While there are many plugins available - most of them double each other. Another strike against OpenCart is that there are not so many tools that allow you get an insight into a big picture of the marketplace. You can get the basic stats and reports but nothing really deep. That will require additional services.

  • accepts the majority of credit cards
  • support via discussion boards and email

Website: opencart.com

Prestashop ecommerce

PrestaShop

If you are looking for a flexible platform capable of drastic transformations - then PrestaShop is definitely a viable option. From the programmer’s point of view, it is one of the most more clear-cut and flexible platforms out there. It is easy to maintain from in and out.

On the plugin side of things, there are enough options for the unsophisticated medium-scale store.  However, it is far from a variety available on Shopify or Magento. The biggest advantage of PrestaShop is efficiency - it goes low on server side even when the things go hot. Also, built-in page indexation system is extremely helpful in SEO optimization.

The downside is scalability, if the workload is too high, PrestaShop can start dragging and gagging. Another big strike against is the number of bugs in some of the plugins. While things are clean in the basic, some of the additional plugins are just atrociously broken.

Website: prestashop.com

Quick.Cart solution

Quick.Cart

If you need down and dirty eCommerce website platform with nothing but the essential elements - Quick.Cart is the go-to option. It is easy to setup and even easier to maintain and there are enough customization tools to construct heavy-hitting niche marketplace.

The biggest advantage of Quick.Cart is in its flexibility. You can bend it in whatever way you need and it won't fall apart.

Also Quick.Cart is really SEO-friendly. HTML is clean as a whistle, titles are easy to define, meta descriptions and links are easy to adjust.

The downside is that in order to reach its maximum potential Quick.Cart requires significant technical skills. There are a lot of tweaking to do before it starts rolling smoothly.

Website: opensolution.org/quickcart

Squarespace

Squarespace & Weebly

Squarespace is primarily known for its site-building services. However, there are some basic eCommerce features amongst the features they offer. It is absolutely adequate for maintaining some barebones low-level store but not much else.

On the upside, it is easy to use and it requires minimal technical skills to get it rolling. Also, Squarespace eCommerce pricing is quite affordable. The downside is lack of the majority of tools you need to properly maintain and promote a marketplace. There are no marketing tools, customization is minimal and reporting is sketchy.

The same can be said about Weebly. Just like Squarespace, Weebly is not exactly an eCommerce platform, it simply provides some features that allow performing basic eCommerce operations. And just like Squarespace, it is absolutely adequate for setting up a very basic store without ambitions of steady growth and expansion.

Website: squarespace.com / weebly.com

Etsy marketplace solution

Etsy & Other Marketplaces

Here is something out of left field. When it comes to considering eCommerce website platform - Etsy is never in the running. And there is no real need for that. It is not really an option if you want to make the full-on marketplace.

However, it is definitely an option if you are going for something ultra-niche, such as selling art objects, handmade stuff and related goods. If that is the case - then Etsy is a perfect solution. Launched in 2005, Etsy is perfect for selling creative goods, art, hand-made objects and related goods.

The downside is lack of proper customization - while you can tweak the surfaces your store will always be a homogenous part of Etsy environment.

  • Well-designed seller profiles and store items
  • accepts the majority of credit cards
  • support via phone, instant chat, and email,
  • a discount and coupon engine, gift cards

Website: etsy.com

In Conclusion

It is impossible to stress the importance of making the right choice of an eCommerce platform. I guess it is fair to say that it is matter of life and death when it comes to securing bright future of your digital marketplace.

And rightfully so - eCommerce platforms define the future of the marketplace. The results of making the right choice are obvious - growth and expansion of your marketplace.

Finding the right fit is a challenge but with a little help of this guide, you will have an understanding what kind of eCommerce platform might be a better fit for your project.

We develop retail and marketplace products.

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Volodymyr Bilyk

Content Manager