05.10.2016

E-commerce Platforms – which one is right for you ?

When making a decision about which e-commerce platform is right for you, there are several options to choose from including cloud-based platforms, self-hosted platforms, or a custom system.

When making a decision about which e-commerce platform is right for you, there are several options to choose from including cloud-based platforms, self-hosted platforms, or a custom system.  Self-hosted solutions and custom systems involve your own hosting infrastructure, whereas with cloud-based e-commerce you outsource this to the platform provider. Which is right for you?

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Cloud-based options

Cloud-based platforms offer a simple entry point into the e-commerce market. They are great for start-ups and new businesses as they allow the customer to create a working shop quickly and simply. Most cloud-based solutions allow you to choose between a range of themes and functionalities to provide the best solutions for your business. The software updates are done automatically for you and the service provider will ensure the site is secure and available.

Cloud based options usually charge a monthly fee and some will also charge a transaction fee. Though the basic fees are very competitive, additional features cost more and the overall costs can quickly increase.

Although a variety of themes are available, there is limited control over the look and functionality of your shop. You are locked into the platform and export options may be limited. Overall, someone else has control of your shop.

However, for the small business with straightforward needs they may provide the ideal solution.

There are several cloud-based e-commerce platforms available the most popular of which are Shopify and BigCommerce.


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Shopify

Shopify is a simple, flexible platform that allows you to create a professional standard shop with the minimum of outlay.

Shopify offers a wide range of beautiful templates and you can choose from free or premium themes across different industries including: health and beauty, clothing and fashion, sports and recreation, and, art and photography. The high quality themes help you quickly create a professional and credible storefront.

Shopify offers a range of tools to create additional functionality within your store. The tools include everything from accounting to inventory management, social media to shipping. The tools are fully integrated into Shopify meaning you don’t have to deal with different systems.

Shopify also offers 24/7 email, phone and live chat support.

On the negative side, for shops that require extra custom features, the cost of the platform can become expensive. Additionally, some more specific features can be incompatible with the system.


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BigCommerce

BigCommerce is another cloud-based platform that offers you a simple set-up with a comprehensive range of tools available. BigCommerce provides the tools most businesses will need as part of their monthly package including: unlimited product variations, promotional campaigns, handling returns and coupons, and shipping and tax configurations.

BigCommerce integrates with other channels easily to help grow sales. It can be integrated with eBay, Google shopping and product comparison sites as well as with Facebook.

BigCommerce provides a range of additional tools such as accounting, analytics and email marketing for when you are ready to scale your store to the next level.


Self-hosted platforms

With a self-hosted platform you retain full control of your shop. The shop can be designed with your specific business needs in mind and a skilled developer will be able to add functionality according to your requirements. Depending on the amount of traffic, a self-hosted platform may be the cheaper option in the long run.

However, you are responsible for keeping your shop updated and fixing any issues that arise. The custom development may also require a higher initial outlay than cloud-based solutions. If you choose the self-hosted options it is wise to ensure you have a reliable and secure web-host and that you have access to supportive web professionals who understand the needs of your business and can respond to any problems in a timely manner.

There are many self-hosted options available but three of the most popular are WooCommerce, PrestaShop and Magento.


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WooCommerce

WooCommerce is a free WordPress e-commerce plugin. For those customers who use WordPress this can be a great solution. WooCommerce offers a range of features and the platform allows for extensive customization.

WooCommerce is a highly professional platform that helps you to control all aspects of your online business including: order tracking, viewing open orders, updating delivery statuses, applying discount codes and setting up taxes. There is also a range of customer engagement tools available.

WooCommerce has the benefit of being familiar to anyone with a knowledge of WordPress. As WooCommerce is open source and not too technical, it is relatively straightforward to use.

WooCommerce works very well for small to medium businesses, though it may not be the ideal solution for the largest shops or those with complex requirements.


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PrestaShop

PrestaShop is a free, open source, e-commerce solution with thousands of customizable themes and modules. There are no monthly fees or transaction fees. The basic package comprises many great features including catalogue management, search engine optimization, international shipping, multiple language options and payments in multiple currencies. PrestaShop works well for medium to large sized businesses.

Though PrestaShop is free, you may have to pay for additional modules. Additionally PrestaShop requires quite a lot of technological expertise to get it functioning at its best.


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Magento

Magento is built to be a flexible and scalable e-commerce solution. The free version has plenty of features, including the ability to manage multiple storefronts, multiple languages and multiple currencies. It is also mobile and SEO friendly. Magento is fully customizable and able to handle the largest e-commerce sites.

The community version is free, however the Enterprise and Premium Enterprise versions have a monthly cost. This is another fairly technical platform and you will need to find good developers with excellent technical knowledge to get the most from this platform.


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Making the right choice for your business

  • What features do you get for the money?
  • The cost of additional features?
  • How does the platform allow for changes of catalogue and prices?
  • Can the platform deal with currency, tax, language and other elements of international commerce?
  • Can the platform deal with currency, tax, language and other elements of international commerce?
  • How does the platform allow for changes of catalogue and prices?
  • What volume of traffic and transactions are possible?
  • How will the platform work with your back-end systems?
  • Can the platform handle B2B sales?
  • How does the platform deal with scaling up?
  • What level of developmental support will be required to set up my shop?

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, if you’re new to selling online and want an effective out of the box solution, cloud-based options like Shopify, WooCommerce and Magento are great options. For established retailers with unique requirements for functionality, a self-hosted platform is necessary. This will allow for the specific features your business needs, and will allow a level of flexibility that on off the shelf package cannot provide.