How to choose the best eCommerce platform for your retail business
Online businesses and shopping have grown exponentially over the last decade. But despite the industry's growth, a survey in 2019 showed that 59% of Australian companies believed they did not need an online presence.
Since the dawn of the virus that shall not be named, we’ve seen this belief turned on its head, as businesses scrambled to establish an online footprint. And while many industries and organisations have suffered, eCommerce has proven to be the lifeline that businesses have used to survive.
Companies with online storefronts have reaped the benefits, while those without have had to play catch-up, frantically attempting to connect with consumers. Many businesses have found the strategic shift to eCommerce platforms to be a challenging transition. However, the brands that have fared best have taken advantage of this opportunity to maximise their returns through alternate sales channels.
But if you’re wondering, “which eCommerce platform should I use?”, you’re not alone. Choosing the right eCommerce platform can be a daunting task. There’s a lot to consider. That’s why we’ve prepared this handy guide. We’ve compared the top eCommerce options on the market to help you find the best fit for your business.
What to consider when choosing an eCommerce platform
Getting your store online is important, but it shouldn’t be rushed. Selecting and setting up an eCommerce platform can be difficult, and once set up, adjusting to the eCommerce platform takes time. You can't just flip a switch and go straight in with no glitches or roadblocks. It's a learning process.
But while it might take some time to get it right, understanding important success factors before diving into the world of eCommerce is fundamental.
Here are the top factors to consider when choosing an eCommerce platform:
When looking for an eCommerce platform, the first factor you should consider is the pricing. A second consideration then becomes the platform's fit within your budget. Whether you're a new small business or an established brick-and-mortar company going online, you need to know where you spend every dollar.
Almost every platform charges a monthly subscription fee, depending on whether the site is self-hosted or hosted. You’ll also need to factor in upfront development fees. While some open source platforms are free to use, they’ll typically cost you far more in initial setup than out-of-the-box platforms that are easier to use but charge a subscription fee.
2. Ongoing maintenance
Another point where pricing is concerned is the ongoing maintenance factor. Consider that every update you make to your site will require time and resources.
For instance, you'll need a skilled developer to make changes on Magento. Whereas Shopify is built with the merchant in mind - once the site has been built, merchants are able to easily make changes themselves.
3. SEO capability
The ability for your store to rank well in search results is important. Good SEO drives higher volumes of traffic towards your store, provides quality leads, and guides your business towards profitability.
If SEO is important to your brand (and it should be), then you’ll likely need an eCommerce platform that is well-built from a technical perspective (think fast page load times and a good user experience) and can host blogs and other high-value content.
4. Mobile compatibility
Mobile devices account for almost 60% of all the traffic on the internet, so it’s important that your store allows visitors to quickly and easily browse your website and make purchases on their mobile devices.
Your eCommerce platform must have an easy-to-use user interface that allows for seamless navigation, product selection, and checkout. Nothing will turn potential customers away faster than a clunky mobile site.
No one wants to submit their credit card information to a suspicious website, which is why security is becoming one of the consumer's primary concerns.
While most software nowadays comes with relatively strong security measures as a standard, your eCommerce platform must support HTTPS/SSL for a safe and secure checkout. It's also critical to check if the eCommerce platform you're using is Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliant, to improve security.
6. Synchronisations or automation
When evaluating eCommerce platforms, you should also check their interfaces and plugins.
Consider what tools you'll need or currently use for your business while looking at the different platforms. Here are some of the most common sorts of plugins to look out for:
- Email marketing solutions that help you stay in touch with your customer
- Specific accounting plugins for managing sales, inventory, taxes, revenue, and profit.
- Loyalty platforms that allows you to reward your customers for engaging with your brand and using your products
The best web platforms for eCommerce, compared
To help you make the right decision for your business, we’ve evaluated 4 of the best eCommerce platforms on the market, weighing up performance statistics, features, and the overall financial value of the different systems.
We've also included key pros and cons for each platform so you can make the best decision for your brand.
Full disclosure: we’re a Shopify partner and Shopify implementation expert. But that doesn’t change the fact that if you’re looking for a robust eCommerce platform to use as your one-stop shop for listing, marketing, selling, and interacting with your target audience, Shopify is your solution.
Shopify is a stand-alone eCommerce platform that does not require you to host your site elsewhere. It is a cloud-based software that runs on a monthly subscription model and allows small business owners access to an admin panel to enter business data, add items, and process orders. The software is simple to use and has a short learning curve, so you can quickly have your online store up and running.
- Shopify has a high level of customisability, offering a whopping 160 contemporary themes. You can use these templates and a range of editing tools to personalise the theme to match your brand.
- Shopify also offers more than 6000 apps, making it even easier to extend the functionality of your site.
- Shopify’s POS makes it easy to establish an omnichannel strategy, and sell seamlessly both online and instore.
- You can try the platform for free for the first 14 days, after which time, Shopify offers a range of reasonable monthly packages that are best suited for small or medium sized businesses.
- Shopify also allows for various payment methods, including PayPal, Stripe, bank deposits, and cash on delivery, providing flexibility for customers.
- Shopify offers a series of free features: social media compatibility, unlimited file storage, daily backups, a blog module, site metrics, product reports, and more. These features are generally only available as add-ons on other eCommerce systems.
- Shopify places a high value on customer service. They are accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and their reaction time is quick, ensuring that your company is never in limbo. You may contact them via phone, email, or online chat. If that doesn’t work, there are several community forums, extensive documentation in the Shopify Help Centre, and a selection of advanced Shopify University tutorials available on the internet.
- Shopify charges an extra transaction fee on each sale if you do not adopt their native payment gateway, Shopify Payments. This amount can accumulate substantially in the long run. On the other hand, using Shopify Payments keeps things simple and guarantees security for buyer and seller.
- About 20 to 25 themes are free, while the others can cost up to $180, increasing your initial setup costs.
- You’ll need the assistance of a professional to optimise your store's SEO, user interface and page load speed performance.
2. Shopify Plus
While Shopify's design is best suited to small to medium-sized businesses, Shopify Plus is a better choice for eCommerce at an enterprise level, especially if you have a larger business that’s likely to have a higher online sales volume and a broader product listing.
Shopify Plus promises a versatile, quick-to-launch, and scalable platform that can provide larger companies with the foundation they need to grow bigger and quicker.
- While the masses flood your website everyday, reliability is the cornerstone of smooth business operations. Shopify Plus excels in this space and is extremely trustworthy, guaranteeing 99.99% uptime.
- Shopify Plus gives your business endless opportunities and capacity to grow your website without fear of technological bottlenecks, thanks to limitless bandwidth and sales capabilities, as well as near-perfect uptime.
- Shopify Plus has monthly ongoing subscription fees that are reasonable compared to high volume packages offered by competing eCommerce platforms. From between $299 and $2,000 per month, this is a pretty big jump from the Shopify Advanced tier.
- Shopify Plus provides unrivalled customer service. You can choose to have a dedicated Launch Manager from the start to look after your account from development through to deployment, as well as a professional Merchant Success Manager that can assist you in growing your business.There is also 24/7 Shopify Plus support services available.
- Access to Shop Pay and Shopify Markets, making it easy for you to sell internationally from the single store
- Publishing is not Shopify's primary area of expertise. Although you can create an information-rich website, brands hoping for a feature-rich content management system may find Shopify Plus lacking. Shopify Plus is designed for eCommerce, which you might find jarring, especially if you’re switching from WordPress or WebFlow. While there are ways to get around this, it will require adding an integration to a CMS like Contentful
- While frontend flexibility is limitless, any integration on the backend must work with Shopify’s API.
- Backing up and transferring your store to another company is quite simple if it’s self-hosted. Since Shopify Plus is a hosted platform, you do not have access to the FTP or database, which may be a drawback for some.
BigCommerce estimates that it has helped merchants grow an average of 28% per year, double the rate of other eCommerce platforms.
BigCommerce is SEO-friendly, has affordable pricing, and allows customers to have an infinite number of products, staff accounts, and bandwidth. However, unlike other platforms, it doesn’t provide a library of free themes.
- A simple dashboard and instructions will let you construct your site in a matter of minutes.
- BigCommerce has a comprehensive set of built-in features such as discounts, newsletters, a tax system, customisable shipping, analytics, and more.
- Unlike Shopify, businesses are not charged a transaction fee on any method of payment they use.
- Unlike Shopify, BigCommerce has no free themes available for customisation, making the set-up costs high.
- The built-in annual limit on sales volume can affect your firm's potential to grow. The upper cap on sales volume implies higher volume stores have to pay much more in set-up and maintenance costs.
- Website loading speeds can be inconsistent, impacting the user experience
WooCommerce is a popular eCommerce plugin designed for WordPress. You can add the plugin to any Wordpress website to implement eCommerce functions like secure payments and shipping options.
As an open-source software, WooCommerce offers complete customisation and control, and is a free plugin when you’re already subscribed to WordPress.
Because of WordPress’s complexity, WooCommerce may not feel as intuitive and user-friendly as other options at first, especially if you haven’t had much previous experience with WordPress. However, it’s power lies in how customisable it is, meaning it’s easy to scale as your business grows. It’s suitable for small, medium, and large businesses.
- WooCommerce is easy to configure on WordPress. The lack of a technical set up makes it simple enough that anyone can do it.
- WooCommerce is a free plugin for WordPress. There’s no charge for it because it’s included in your WordPress subscription.
- It gives you complete control and customisation, allowing you to get very specific in your settings and set up to help you maximise your efficiency.
- It has inbuilt SEO functions, allowing you to rank higher on Google and drive more customers to your eCommerce store.
- WooCommerce’s order management section on the dashboard makes managing all of your new and existing orders simple and efficient.
- WooCommerce is not as intuitive as other eCommerce platforms. There is a bit of a learning curve for new users.
- While the plugin itself is free, many businesses will need to purchase additional apps, themes and hosting to get the most out of it. A lot of the paid extensions are basic requirements for any eCommerce store, so costs can start to add up quite quickly, especially if you want to customise your store.
- Having complete control also means you must manage things like security and maintenance, which for new users can be quite a technical challenge.
- Paid extensions don’t have free trial periods, which means you can’t test how the apps will work on your store before purchase.
Magento is the eCommerce platform of choice for many Fortune 500 companies due to its outstanding responsiveness and scalability.
Magneto's open-source code allows for extensive customisation, which is great if you have the capability to take advantage of it. Users can choose from a selection of pre-designed, mobile-optimised templates, while developers can create powerful custom themes and tweak or add to the available themes.
On the flip side, if your business doesn’t have web development capability, you may find Magento a little too complex for your needs.
- Magneto was built with SEO in mind, making optimising product pages and descriptions as straightforward a process as possible. It also creates SEO-friendly URLs and meta descriptions, so you don't have to.
- Everything generated with Magento is unique, starting from the design of your site to the way you can arrange your product categories and features. However, this means nearly everything needs to be written from scratch.
- Magento also includes product and inventory management capabilities, making it simple to organise and integrate your website.
- The Magento community edition is completely free. However, if you want to expand your business, you most likely need to use the Enterprise version, which has an additional yearly subscription fee priced relatively high.
- The customisation for the stores on Magento takes much longer.
- You will most likely need the help of a professional to set it up from scratch.
All businesses have different needs when it comes to choosing the right eCommerce platform. We know it’s a big decision to make, and we’ve only just scratched the surface of all the things you should consider when making this all-important choice.
If you need support finding the right solution for your business, get in touch with our eCommerce experts. Through a process of business immersion, discovery and workshopping, we can help you find an eCommerce technology that best aligns with the needs of your business.
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