Choose the Right Ecommerce Platform

How to Choose the Right Ecommerce Platform for Your Business

Last Updated on 17th Apr, 2024

Choosing the right ecommerce platform for your business is one of the most crucial decisions you’ll make when starting an online store. The ecommerce platform you select will impact the features available to you, how easy your store is to manage on a daily basis, your ability to scale your business over time, and ultimately, your potential for success. The platform forms the foundation of your online operations, so investing time upfront to evaluate your options and identify the solution that best fits your needs is hugely important.

With the right ecommerce platform in place that aligns with your business goals and capabilities, you’ll be set up for both short-term and long-term success. But choosing the wrong platform can hamper your operations, growth and revenues. That’s why it’s so vital to choose the best ecommerce platform for your specific business when embarking on selling online.

  • Define Your Ecommerce Goals and Requirements
  • Consider Your Technical Expertise
  • Compare the Leading Ecommerce Platform Options
  • Compare Pricing of Platform Options
  • Optimize Decision-making with Free Trials
  • Evaluate SEO Capabilities
  • Review Security Protections
  • Consider Support and Documentation Resources
  • Read User Reviews Critically
  • Think Long-Term About Scalability Needs

1. Define Your Ecommerce Goals and Requirements

The first step is to clearly define your ecommerce goals and identify the specific features you’ll need to achieve them. Consider the following:

  • What are your overall business goals? Do you want to establish an online presence, or are you planning for rapid growth and scaling? Defining broader goals will steer your platform choice.
  • Will you sell physical products, digital downloads, or services? Specific platforms are better suited to each type of product.
  • What sales volume do you expect? This will determine if you need a platform that can quickly scale.
  • Do you need built-in support for subscriptions or recurring billing?
  • What types of payment methods do you need to offer? Look for a platform supporting your required payment gateways.
  • Do you plan to sell on markets like Amazon or eBay? If so, consider integrations.
  • Will you have special shipping needs like calculated real-time rates? Make sure prospective platforms can support this.
  • Do you need advanced features like automated tax calculations?
  • How important is marketing functionality like coupons or email marketing?

Carefully considering requirements will give you criteria to evaluate potential ecommerce platforms against later in the selection process. Prioritize must-have features over nice-to-haves.

2. Consider Your Technical Expertise

Ecommerce platforms range from simple, low-maintenance options like Shopify to open-source platforms like Magento that require significant technical expertise. Think about available resources and capabilities when choosing a solution:

  • Low technical expertise: If you aren’t able to handle software coding and development yourself, it’s wise to avoid open-source platforms that require significant IT resources for setup and management. Opt for an intuitive SaaS (software-as-a-service) ecommerce platform instead.
  • Medium technical expertise: Those with website development experience may want more control and customization capability. Self-hosted open-source platforms like WooCommerce allow you to customize your store while leveraging existing WordPress skills.
  • High technical expertise: Developers and companies with specialized IT resources may benefit from highly customizable platforms like Magento, which enable tailored ecommerce solutions. However, be aware of the higher level of effort and cost associated.

Be realistic about your available expertise before choosing an ecommerce platform. A solution requiring advanced skills you lack could be frustrating rather than empowering.

3. Compare the Leading Ecommerce Platform Options

Now that you have an idea of your ecommerce needs and technical capabilities, it’s time to look at specific platforms. We’ll overview some of the leading options along with the pros and cons:

Shopify

  • Overview: SaaS ecommerce platform with everything integrated. Offers ease of use, fast setup, and abundant app integrations.
  • Pros: It is very easy to use even without technical skills. The extensive app store expands features. It scales with your business growth. It has superb support resources.
  • The cons are that monthly fees may add up, and there is limited control over customization and design versus open-source options. Transaction fees apply unless using Shopify Payments.

WooCommerce

  • Overview: Open-source, WordPress-based ecommerce plugin. Gives you flexibility and control over store design.
  • Pros: Free, open-source platform. Customizable using WordPress skills and integrates with WordPress features/themes. Very scalable.
  • Cons: It requires setting up WordPress and web hosting. You need development skills for heavy customization. You’re responsible for security and maintenance.

BigCommerce

  • Overview: SaaS ecommerce platform targeting medium-large businesses. Emphasis on built-in features, scalability, and security.
  • Pros: It is an all-in-one platform with extensive built-in functionality. It offers robust support for growing businesses and is very customizable without coding skills.
  • Cons: More expensive than Shopify as business scales. Transaction fees apply unless using supported payment gateways.

Magento Open Source

  • Overview: Downloadable open-source ecommerce platform focused on flexibility and customizability.
  • Pros: Highly customizable features for tailored user experiences. Scales to support enterprise-level business. Strong community resources.
  • Cons: Very complex to work with. It requires substantial technical resources for setup, management, and customization.

Square Online Store

  • Overview: Simple ecommerce solution integrated with Square’s payment processing and point-of-sale features.
  • Pros: It’s easy to set up if you already use Square. It syncs online and in-person sales. It also seamlessly integrates payments.
  • Cons: Minimal features and design flexibility. Not ideal for more complex ecommerce needs.

This overview covers some of the major platforms, but there are many additional ecommerce solutions for more specific use cases. Do your research to generate a shortlist of options that best align with your requirements and capabilities.

Step 4: Compare Pricing of Platform Options

Cost is often a significant factor when selecting an ecommerce platform. Consider both upfront and ongoing costs in your decision-making process.

  • Upfront costs: With SaaS platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce, you can get started with no upfront investment. Open-source platforms like WooCommerce and Magento require web hosting and development work initially.
  • Ongoing costs: SaaS options like Shopify involve monthly subscription fees based on plan level and add-ons. Transaction fees may also apply. With open-source platforms, you’ll pay web hosting fees and developer costs for ongoing management and customization.
  • Payment processing rates: All platforms integrate with payment gateways like Stripe and PayPal. However, the rates charged per transaction can vary greatly across providers.

To determine the actual cost of ownership, add up all recurring monthly and transactional fees. Some platforms offer discounts for annual subscriptions. Also, factor in potential savings if you can leverage existing resources like web hosting. Project costs over the next 1-3 years to arrive at total cost estimates.

While open-source platforms like WooCommerce and Magento have no software fees, the development costs involved are commonly higher over time compared to a SaaS model. To get an accurate picture, make sure to model costs beyond just platform fees. Understanding the full pricing model will prevent surprises down the road.

5. Optimize Decision-making with Free Trials

The best way to determine if a platform matches your needs is actually to try it out. Leading options like Shopify and BigCommerce offer free trials that enable you to create a test store and evaluate the solution firsthand.

When signing up for a free trial, come prepared with criteria and use cases to test in order to optimize the trial period:

  • Review core store management functions like creating product pages, categories, and shipping rates. Is the backend intuitive?
  • Assess how easy it is to customize the store design and layout. How much control do you have?
  • Look at marketing tools like coupons and email campaigns. Will they integrate with your CRM?
  • Test out integrations like shipping carriers or accounting software you plan to use. Try payment gateways.
  • Evaluate capabilities related to your specific product types, like subscriptions or bookings.
  • Assess mobile friendliness and speed tests using Google Page Speed Insights and Web. dev
  • Contact platform support teams with questions to evaluate responsiveness.

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6. Evaluate SEO Capabilities

SEO is crucial for ecommerce success, driving organic traffic from search engines to your online store. When comparing platforms, carefully assess SEO-related capabilities:

  • Site architecture: Clean, semantic URL structures, ability to leverage title/header tags, and XML sitemaps help with SEO rankings.
  • Speed optimization: Page caching features, image optimization, and built-in CDNs impact site speed. Faster sites rank higher in search.
  • Metadata controls: Optimized meta descriptions, schema markup for products/reviews, and other metadata impact SEO. See what’s customizable.
  • Integrations: SEO plugins, sitemap generators, Google Analytics integration, and other SEO marketing tools should be supported.
  • Customization: Control over HTML and JavaScript code on product/category pages is valid for adding snippets.
  • Search indexing: See if pages initially require extra work to get indexed by search engines.
  • Reporting: Analytics into search traffic sources, rankings, and other data guides your optimization strategy.

Ideally, the platform you choose will either handle SEO best practices by default or provide flexibility to customize and optimize SEO yourself.

7. Review Security Protections

Security is vital when running an online business. Analyze what protections prospective ecommerce platforms offer:

  • Uptime/redundancy: Look for systems designed for maximum uptime through server redundancy. Historical uptime rates should be available.
  • SSL encryption: The site should use HTTPS by default for all pages, not just checkout. Data should also be encrypted at rest.
  • Vulnerability auditing: Platforms should continuously scan for threats, as well as 3rd party audits and penetration testing.
  • Regular updates: Software updates and security patches should be frequently rolled out to stay ahead of exploits.
  • Backups: Automated backups across servers/data centers prevent data loss in disasters.
  • User access controls: Password policies, 2FA support, role-based permissions, and other measures restrict unauthorized access.
  • PCI compliance: If the platform stores payment information, it should be PCI compliant and assist merchants with achieving compliance.

Understanding security practices built into the platform provides peace of mind that both your business systems and customer data are protected.

8. Consider Support and Documentation Resources

Running an ecommerce business comes with challenges. You need a platform with solid user support and helpful documentation to be successful in the long term. Compare available resources:

  • Knowledge base: Searchable support center with technical articles, how-to guides, and troubleshooting steps.
  • Forums: Active community forums for asking questions and browsing existing discussions.
  • Direct support: Email, chat, and phone support channels for real-time assistance. Check response times.
  • Onboarding: Useful onboarding resources like setup wizards, video tutorials, and training courses.
  • Developer docs: Thorough technical documentation for programmers integrating with the APIs and hooks.
  • Blog/webinars: Regular content, tips, and training around ecommerce best practices and platform features.
  • User reviews Feedback on support experiences from current users around the web.

Vital service and documentation help you maximize success with your chosen platform. Customer reviews can provide insight into real-world support beyond marketing claims.

9. Feature UGC In Your Packaging

Even product packaging presents opportunities to boost UGC sales. Consider adding elements like:

  • Consider the source: Reviews on a vendor’s website tend to skew more positively. Third-party sites like TrustRadius or G2Crowd may offer more balanced Feedback.
  • Note the number of reviewers: A platform with 500 reviews will give you a more representative viewpoint than one with only ten reviews. Look at the sample size.
  • Watch for red flags: Consistent complaints about bugs, lack of support, or hidden fees are ominous signs. But also…
  • Don’t overweight outliers. A single nasty review among a sea of positives may reflect unique circumstances. Instead, look for themes.
  • Match use cases: If reviewers aren’t describing your specific needs and business size, take their Feedback with a grain of salt.
  • Consider recent history: Reviews older than a couple of years may no longer reflect the current state of the product after updates.

Online reviews provide valuable insights into a platform’s real-world use. However, you need to review strategically to derive actual value from your decision-making process.

10. Think Long-Term About Scalability Needs

While it’s wise to choose an ecommerce platform that aligns with your current business needs, you also want a solution that will scale with your growth over 1-3 years. As you evaluate options, consider long-term scalability:

  • Growing SKU count: Make sure the platform can quickly handle your expanding product catalog over time.
  • Increasing sales: Look for a solution that can scale transaction processing power and bandwidth needs as sales grow.
  • Seasonal peaks: For businesses prone to spikes during holidays or events, opt for highly scalable cloud infrastructure.
  • Global expansion: If you eventually sell overseas, ensure the platform can handle the required languages, currencies, and taxes.
  • Adding sales channels: Select a solution that integrates well with additional sales channels like online marketplaces.
  • Emerging technologies: You can future-proof by choosing a platform that can support advances like AR/VR and voice commerce.

Avoid platforms likely to restrict your business growth. Well-established solutions like Shopify and Magento offer robust scalability. Think ahead when making your choice.

Essential Steps on How to Choose the Right Ecommerce Platform

Selecting the right ecommerce platform is critical in building a successful online business. Follow these steps to identify the ideal solution for your needs:

  • Outline your ecommerce goals and specific feature requirements
  • Consider available technical resources and expertise
  • Research leading SaaS and open-source platforms like Shopify and WooCommerce
  • Compare pricing models, including fees, transaction costs, and payment processing
  • Sign up for free trials to actually test out top contenders
  • Evaluate SEO, security protections, and scalability capabilities
  • Review support resources and user feedback before deciding
  • Consider long-term business growth needs as well as current requirements

Taking the time to run through this structured selection process will help you identify the ideal ecommerce platform for your online store—both now and in the future. The platform choice you make sets the foundation for your business’s customer experience and operational efficiency. Invest the effort upfront to ensure you choose the ecommerce solution that aligns with your goals and sets you up for long-term success.

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