When it comes to starting up a new business, there are so many things seeking your attention. Especially, when it’s an online store, you have to deal with so many puzzles to power your eCommerce business.
I work for an eCommerce service company where we deal with everything that comes in the way of starting an eCommerce business… From website development to search engine marketing.
Categories of eCommerce platforms
It is very important that before putting my reviews, I should explain how different eCommerce platforms are categorized. It will help you to understand that you have millions of choices but all differ in certain aspects.
Basically, there are two main categories with the eCommerce platforms: Hosted and Self-Hosted.
The hosted platforms simply mean that the same eCommerce platform company will host your store. You don’t have to download the software and then install on your web host to start the online store.
The self-hosted platforms would provide you the software file and you have to get your own or third-party host and install the software there to start your online store.
There are also some platforms which provide both the hosted and self-hosted options. The diagram below classifies some popular hosted and self-hosted platforms.
Which type is best?
For start-ups, stability is the most crucial aspect, I would suggest going with the hosted solutions. Here you have dedicated support from the platform company and these hosts hardly go down.
The downside is you have to pay monthly or yearly subscription charges for the hosted solutions. Most of the time, this cost is too high and hardly affordable by small start-ups. However, you might find that this investment gives better ROI, and save a lot of time and money that could have gone in fixing the errors in self-hosted type.
If you have some experience with the eCommerce platforms, or you are already in a touch with developers who can handle the complexities of installation, maintenance, module installation, and configuration, etc. self-hosted platforms would not be a bad choice either.
Here you are exposed to the source code of the platform and you have the access to edit the codes to implement things according to your requirement. So, if you are an advanced user and you are backed by a qualified technical team, self-hosted solutions can be more useful in the long run.
Shopify is one of my favorite platforms that I have worked with. The simple and easily graspable admin panel makes it so easy to manage. Currently, there are more than 325,000 active Shopify shops online.
The biggest con that I noticed with Shopify was the restricted access to customize the checkout page. Though you have some controls, but they are minor as compared to what you actually need. In fact, none of the hosted solutions provide this access.
So, if you are too much concerned about customizing the checkout page according to your wish, hosted solutions are not for you.
The best thing about Shopify is the availability of a large number of add-on apps that can be installed to extend the default functionalities or to add new features to the store. 1500+ to be exact.If you don’t use the Shopify Payment, there will be additional transaction feeson each sale you make
Volusion is simply a cheaper version of Shopify. Can’t say an alternative because there is a lot that you cannot do with Volusion. It is a completely restricted and less customizable platform.
Your whole eCommerce site would be generated on a single template file. Sounds silly? Well, that’s nothing when I say, you cannot even retrieve the basic website information about products, categories, cart content etc. In simple, words you cannot track the website information that you definitely require for tracking the remarketing activities.
The best thing about Volusion is their responsive support, but most of the times you would find it less helpful. Perhaps that’s because most of your technical requirements are not even supported by the platform.
So, if you have a vision of some highly personalized and unique eCommerce store, Volusion would not be a choice for you. In fact, in this case, I would suggest you to directly jump to the self-hosted solutions.
BigCommerce is similar to Shopify and Volusion as it is also a hosted solution. However, I would consider it closer to Volusion than the Shopify. It provides some slightly customizable features, but hardly as customizable as the Shopify.
The best thing about BigCommerce is its highly user-friendly admin panel interface that is too easy to use even by a non-technical person. BigCommerce is often recommended to the one-many-army start-ups who have little to no technical knowledge, and simply don’t have the skills to mess with the code.
So, if you want a fully functional store, but do not want the hassles of integrating plugins, editing codes, then BigCommerce might attract you.
Which one is best for your start-up in hosted category?
Undoubtedly, Shopify would be a recommended solution for all those entrepreneurs with conventional requirements. Based on the budget and requirement you can choose from various plans and with some wise decisions, you can save a lot. With so many add-on apps, you can get the best possible extension of the features within a limited customizable environment.
If your expectations are high, and you have a visionary website design in your mind, you must read the below section. This section is about self-hosted solutions and only these self-hosted platforms can provide what you are looking for.
Magento has been in the eCommerce platform market for ages now. With so many evolution and upgrades, it is probably the most scalable platform in my list. From small to large business start-ups, Magento has the features and functionalities that can fit everywhere.
Currently, with more than 232,999 live Magento stores, it is one of the most popular platforms. However, despite this extreme popularity I would suggest the start-ups not to rush and consider its downsides too.
The biggest downside would the complexity and difficulty to use the platform. The platform is like a giant complex where you take the help of maps to navigate. With so many features and functionalities and complex back-end design, you may find yourself lost in doing some advanced tasks.
With a little training, you may find yourself comfortable with the operations like product management, order management, coupon generations etc. However, you will still have to be in touch with an expert developer to manage the complex technical aspects. In fact, this is a case with every self-hosted solution. You cannot manage a self-hosted solution without a supporting hand from an expert developer.
Another downside would be the slow loading website. You have to do a lot of optimization and caching management to drop the page loading time. Though there are some back office optimizations you can perform to make it fast enough, you still have to depend on your developer to work out the technical aspects.
Despite these downsides, Magento is still a popular platform just because of the kind of scalability it provides. With so many Magento extensions already available to meet even your complex requirements, you can get the unthinkable customizability. You are free to customize the codes and avail the Magento development services to get customized themes and extensions as per your requirement.
The enterprise edition has some benefits like free dedicated support and perfect features for B2B type sites, Community edition would still be my recommendation for the start-ups. The community edition has got loads of features sufficient for your start-up.
WooCommerce is an unique entry in my list. That’s because it’s not an eCommerce platform at all. It is simply a WordPress plugin that converts your WordPress site into an eCommerce site. It also means that you necessarily need WordPress to be installed to use this plugin.
The greatness of this plugin is it offers unlimited customizability. You can do anything with WooCommerce that you can do with the WordPress. You can find endless resources in the form of themes and add-on plugins. For anything that these plugins cannot provide, many quality developers are always waiting to develop custom solutions as per your requirements.
The best thing about using WooCommerce is you get a fully-fledged blogging platform in the form of WordPress. That means content marketing would be very standard, organized and neat with WooCommerce. It’s unlike Magento and other platforms, where you need to install a blogging extension to start a blog on your eCommerce site.
It’s free and Open-Source. Further investments are done in website customization through Themes, Templates, and WordPress Plugins.
PrestaShop is the top most and very popular eCommerce platform in the European nations. Probably because of its origin in Europe, it completely complies with the European trading and eCommerce standards.
Not to forget the kind of response it has got from the entrepreneurs across the globe. Currently, there are more than 218,840 active PrestaShop sites across the world. Gradually it has expanded its reach to every corner of the world.
With both the hosted and self-hosted option, it has a pool of features and functionalities that you require for your dream site. With the user-friendly back-end interface, even the non-coders can easily manage the eCommerce site.
The biggest downside would the limited scalability to handle the large number of SKUs. It works perfectly fine for the small and medium-sized businesses. The problems arise when you think of scaling to the huge number of SKUs. Probably the hosted version is more scalable.
Despite some downsides, PrestaShop is becoming popular day by day. That’s because of the highly active PrestaShop community who is always available with the solutions to all your issues and requirements. The affordable PrestaShop modules, themes, and templates make the customization really easy and accessible by all.
The self-hosted version is free of cost and Open-Source. You would need to invest in modules and themes to survive the competition. The pricing for hosted solution varies according to the host, hosting type, and other flexible plans.
Which one is best for your start-up in the self-hosted category?
I would have chosen Magento to be the best solution under the self-hosted category. However, as a start-up, I might not have the enough dollars in my pocket for development and maintenance.
In this case, WooCommerce could be a better option which provides the best customizations with comparatively lesser investment. And I won’t have to call out for the developer for every minor change. But the downside is its scalability, and ability to compete with the other eCommerce platforms. It’s best for smaller stores but cannot be scaled much if you want to expand in the long run. You might have to switch the platform at that stage.
I find PrestaShop as a perfect solution here. Developing a PrestaShop store is not that expensive as Magento, and you still get a better scalability and performance than the WooCommerce. So, PrestaShop could be a winner here if you want to start a medium sized business with a fully-fledged eCommerce store.
Choosing the best eCommerce platform for your start-up is a dependent phenomenon. It depends on various factors that affect your decision making. So, while selecting a platform for your start-up, always consider these factors and you would not have a problem in the long run:
– What’s your start-up budget?
– What’s the share of budget dedicated to the website development?
– How many products would be there on your site?
– Can you afford the cost of in-housing a developer by your side?
– What’s your plan for future scaling of the business?
– Can you afford the platform-switch after 2 or 3 three years?
– How is the user’s community- active or less interested?
– Do you want stability or customizability?
– Can you do with the traditional features only?
Just ask these questions to yourself, note your reply and tally the requirements. I am certain you will find the one for your own start-up.
This content was first published on www.thebusinesswomanmedia.com