Ready to launch your online business? All you need to do is build your online shop and you should be good to go, right?
Well, yes and no. In 2019, it’s never been easier to launch an e-commerce website. There are plenty of good options out there, some even allowing you to set up shop within hours.
Before you pay Google a visit and lose yourself into the plethora of ecommerce platforms out there, we suggest you take some time to reflect. What are your specific needs, goals, and resources? In this article, we list out the best options depending on the stage you’re at with your business.
Stage a) Starting out
If you’re just starting out, you’ll need a simple online store that looks good, runs reliably and doesn’t require a lot of time or money to set up. The best way to achieve this is to use a website builder with e-commerce options like Wix, Squarespace or WordPress’ WooCommerce.
What these platforms have in common is that they were originally designed to make it easy for anyone to build their own website and upload their content online. Over time, these platforms added e-commerce features.
Wix Stores is easy to use, with an intuitive drag and drop editor and over 500 design templates for online stores—72 of which are free. It is known to have very good customer support, offering help to build your e-store. On the downside, Wix Stores lacks more sophisticated e-commerce features like drop shipping, ratings and reviews, and subscriptions.. Its SEO performance is rated as ‘subpar’ in a test by EcommerceCEO. The platform considers SEO tools on Wix to be “good, but not great.” Also, once you’ve published your online shop, you cannot change the site’s template.
Similarly, Squarespace offers a convenient way to set up your online shop. Its drag and drop editor is not as user-friendly, but still easy enough to use. The platform specializes in sleek designs, which makes it a good option if you want your product to look really good. It also boasts solid SEO tools. However, Squarespace only offers limited payment options (Stripe and PayPal) and no app store for more features and integrations. Also, for both Wix Stores and Squarespace you will need to subscribe to one of their payment plans.
WooCommerce is a free WordPress plugin and the most popular e-commerce platform, powering more than a fifth of all online stores in 2019. This can be attributed to the fact that WordPress is the most popular CMS on the internet. Setting up your online shop with WooCommerce is very easy if you’re familiar with WordPress. There are plenty of free plugins to extend functionalities: you can, for instance, integrate more payment methods, use email marketing, or allow 1-click upsells. Then again, all these extra plugins can slow down your website. WooCommerce’s biggest problem is scalability.
Stage b) Maintaining and growing a small to medium-sized business
Say you already have a business running and can afford to spend money on your online shop. You may want to explore more advanced features like the aforementioned drop shipping, or abandoned cart recovery. In our opinion, Shopify and BigCommerce are your two best options.
In the last few years, Shopify has quickly made a name for itself. It’s very easy to set up, offers well designed themes, and comes with a lot of advanced e-commerce features. These include drop shipping, Facebook Ads, Instagram marketing, and marketplaces like Amazon. Customer support is top-notch. One drawback is SEO, where Shopify does not rate well. Also, costs can add up easily, as you will have to pay for many of the extensions. Another thing is that your shop won’t run as fast if you offer a large range of products. You can think of your Shopify store more as a boutique than a superstore.
BigCommerce shares many of Shopify’s qualities. It is easy to set up, but also allows more advanced users to tweak its code. The platform excels at store management, and offers multichannel selling (Amazon, eBay, etc.), beautiful themes, and various APIs. This makes BigCommerce very flexible and customizable. SEO performs well, too. However, BigCommerce provides only seven free templates, and can get expensive if you have a lot of stuff to sell.
Stage c) Running a large enterprise
Now, let’s suppose your company is an established brand selling high volumes of goods, and has solid resources for web development at its disposal. In this case, you may want to have a look at Magento, which we like to call the ‘WordPress of e-commerce platforms.’
Magento is a powerful open-source software, currently used by global enterprises like Cisco or Nike. You will need one or many developers to set up your online store. The shop system is highly customizable, while offering lots of features and options. There’s a big community of developers behind Magento that can offer support, or work for you on the store for a fee. The platform’s Community Edition is free, while the Enterprise Edition quite expensive, with tens of thousands of dollars spent on licensing fees.
Magento has a lot to offer for bigger companies and large enterprises, but also requires a lot of resources: you’ll need an important development budget, as well as good storage space on your server.
Questions to ask yourself
As you can see, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Platforms differ widely in terms of ease of use, scalability, flexibility, and pricing. Here are the questions you should ask yourself in order to make an informed decision.
Do you actually need an e-commerce shop, or could you just sell your product on online marketplaces? What’s the size of your business, and how fast will it grow? Which features do you absolutely need, and which ones can you live without? And, lastly: what’s your budget?
Good luck! And if you need any help picking the best e-commerce platform, you can always ask us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org :)