eCommerce platforms have started sprouting everywhere, trying to gain the lion’s share of this lucrative market. Checking them one-by-one will steal too much time better spent improving your business. This article will serve as your launchpad in choosing which eCommerce platform can help you plant your flag online.
What to Look for in an eCommerce Platform
Just like in your decisions to start a business, you need to spend time selecting the best eCommerce platform you can afford. Here are some major considerations you should think about when selecting an eCommerce platform.
What kind of business do you run? Do you already have an existing business and want to heighten its visibility online? Are you starting a new business and want to take advantage of the increased reach your business could get when using an eCommerce platform? Do the services offered by the platform align with your business? These considerations will help you gauge what to look for in an ideal eCommerce platform.
The first thing that the customer will notice is whether they can easily look for products on your online store! If they find it difficult to look for items they want, or find it hard to place an order, or the website doesn’t look good on mobile phones, then your online shop may fail.
Your selected platform should make it easy for customers to purchase your product.
This includes easily browsing for items available, easily accessing useful details about the product, and easily placing an order and paying for it. This sounds like a tall order, but this is possible –– after all, eCommerce is taking in lots of money every day!
The user-friendliness of an eCommerce platform should not only concern the customer, but also you as a seller. The controls that you are given to customize the website should also be easily accessible to the point that you don’t have to watch a Youtube tutorial just to know how! You also want to exert control over the aesthetics of your websites, since you could convert more prospective customers to paying customers if the website is enticing them enough to place an order or two.
Running a business means taking a risk –– and hoping it will pay off in the end! The free stuff on the Internet is not always the best, and sometimes, you have to go for services which are a little more pricier.
You have to choose the platform that will give you the best bang for the buck.
How do you envision your business in the future? Do you want it to eventually conquer the market? Then, the platform should be able to accommodate growth without asking you to do much more than you can reasonably handle. Or, is your business quite niche and only sees a few customers a month? The platform then should not be unnecessarily complex to use.
To assess the scalability of the platform, some of the things you have to check are limitations to the number of products you can offer, the volume of sales per month or per year, and the staff accounts that are allowed to manage the online shop and handle customer support.
An ideal eCommerce platform should allow you to see the data analytics that you need to make important business decisions.
These do not only include the numbers such as revenue and costs but also customer feedback, which can be gauged by including customer feedback forms in the online store. Using this information allows businesses to personalize their offers to both regular and prospective customers.
What if some glitch in the site made it impossible for the customers to place their orders online? The best platforms know that every second lost to technical problems means dollars lost in revenue, so your platform should also offer good and quick customer support.
Popular eCommerce Platforms
According to Oberlo, the eCommerce market in the United States is dominated by WooCommerce Checkout and Shopify. While they are both eCommerce platforms, they have slightly different target customers. WooCommerce Checkout is an add-on to WordPress while Shopify is a standalone platform.
We’ll discuss standalone platforms and add-on platforms separately here, and compare the features of their starter plans.
Standalone eCommerce platforms
If you do not have an online presence yet, here are some of the most popular standalone eCommerce platforms. At the end of this section, you can check a table comparing the services offered by these platforms in their starter plans.
According to Shopify, it already hosts a million merchants worldwide. This makes Shopify the largest eCommerce platform. Shopify offers the Basic Shopify plan rated at $29.00 per month, and has additional features in its Shopify plan rated at $79.00 per month and in its Advanced Shopify plan rated at $299.00 per month. For large businesses, Shopify offers a Shopify Plus plan, but its rate depends on the features availed. Shopify also offers a 14-day free trial to let you check its features before deciding on a plan. You can read more about its pricing here.
Ecwid claims to host more than 200,000 merchants in its platform. Ecwid offers a Free plan for small businesses that want to start small online with only a few products to offer, including an online store, social media advertising, and gift cards. Ecwid’s paid plans begin at $15.00 per month for the Venture plan, $35.00 for the Business plan, and $99.00 for the Unlimited plan. You can compare the prices here.
According to BigCommerce, more than 60,000 merchants are using its platform. While its homepage directs you to a page about BigCommerce Enterprise, the premium plan tailored for large brands, BigCommerce offers the so-called BigCommerce Essentials plans for small businesses. The Standard plan starts at $29.95 per month, the Plus plan is rated at $79.95 per month, and the Pro plan is marked at $299.95 per month. Note, however, that they have limits on the online sales per year, calculated on a 12-month basis. Learn more here: BigCommerce Pricing FAQs
Comparison of Standalone eCommerce Platforms (Basic Paid Plans)
If you are already using WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace to run your website, you might prefer using their add-ons for establishing an online store for your website. Here are some of the popular add-ons for each of those web hosting platforms.
If you already use WordPress to run your website, then the WooCommerce platform is a free platform that you can use to add an online store. It gives the business a lot of flexibility in presenting its products, such as creating lists for best-selling and top-rated products. If the basic features are not enough, they also offer free and paid plug-ins to improve the online store. You can read more here.
Wix Stores is an app by Wix that you can use to add an online store to a Wix-hosted website. It comes with the features that are offered by standalone eCommerce platforms –– product pages, shopping carts, sales channels, order processing, secure payment processing, and discount coupons. Read more here!
Squarespace eCommerce looks more like a standalone service than an add-on, because Squarespace is mainly a website-hosting platform that includes an eCommerce package in its offerings. Because of that, Squarespace eCommerce offers the business more flexibility; they even include a website package for businesses that offer services, complete with a booking system. You can read more here.
If you already run a website hosted by the likes of WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace, you should check their add-ons library for eCommerce platforms you can attach to your existing website! Often these eCommerce add-ons include most of the features the standalone platforms contain, such as multiple sales channels, analytics, and more.
If you are just starting your business online, you should consider Shopify. Both its online store and its control panel are user-friendly, can easily scale up alongside growth, offer analytics for business decision-making, and provide 24/7 customer support. Thus, every dollar you pay for monthly fees is worth it! Remember, there is a reason more than a million merchants are using their platform today.
There are more eCommerce platforms not included in our discussion, such as 3dcart, Volusion, Magento, and BigCartel. Some of the platforms are specifically targeted towards niche businesses, so you should spend time checking them one-by-one and comparing the services offered, keeping in mind the following questions, as discussed above:
Do the services offered by the platform align with your business?
Can the customers easily look for products, check them out and pay for them, or even keep them in a cart and check them out when they can pay for it?
Are the pricing packages offered by the platform reasonable compared to the amount of sales it can bring?
Does the platform allow you to scale-up to handle the increase in the volume of sales with minimum disruption to your business?
Does the platform allow you to conduct data analytics to help you gain customer insights, thus improving your products and services?
Is the platform easy-to-contact and very helpful when problems start appearing in the online store?
These 6 questions boil down to a simple conclusion:
Ultimately, the best eCommerce platform is the one that best fulfills your business needs.