It’s no secret that sales are booming online. In 2019, ecommerce sales in the U.S. topped $600 billion. Sites like Amazon, Ebay and Etsy accounted for a good chunk of those sales, but traditional brick-and-mortar stores boosted their sales by offering ecommerce solutions as well.
These days, opening up an online storefront is easier than ever. With solutions ranging from do-it-yourself builders to self-hosted, endlessly customizable ecommerce platforms and packages, it can be confusing to settle on the right platform for your business. So, in order to help you make the right choice for your business, we’ll ask a couple of questions so you can get in on the action.
The types of products or services you are offering can be a huge factor in determining which platform suits your business best. Any of these ecommerce solutions can sell single items shipped to a customer’s residence. The same can be said if you are offering digital or virtual products, such as music or ebooks.
Things get more complicated if your offers have multiple options or tiers to them, such as a t-shirt that comes in multiple sizes or colors. Bundled items, coupons, special shipping methods, sales taxes and more are all issues to consider as well.
Generally speaking, the self-hosted platforms like WooCommerce and Magento are able to handle more “complicated” online stores. Between their plugins and their ability to be custom coded by experienced developers, the sky’s the limit when it comes to these selling tools.
The tradeoff, however, is that building and operating those sites can be more expensive than using an “out-of-the-box” builder like Shopify and BigCommerce. But what these builders lack in terms of options and customizability, they make up for in affordability and ease of use.
We’ll be looking at four of the top ecommerce platforms out there right now: Shopify, BigCommerce, WooCommerce and Magento. All of these tools are powerful and well established, with large communities and helpful support staff.
Shopify is an online shop building platform. That means all you have to do is sign up for an account, pick a theme, create some products, and start selling. Shopify hosts your site for you, and has plenty of tools to let you control product options, taxes, coupons and more. It does have a limit to the number of options you can assign to a product, and does not have a built in system for recurring billing or subscriptions. While there is a marketplace for third party add-ons, these can be expensive and may not line up exactly what what you envision for your online store.
Prices range from $29 per month to $299 per month, and they do charge fees on every sale you make.
BigCommerce is the other “big fish” in the world of online shop building platforms. They offer unlimited product options, but also lacks a built-in way to sell recurring subscriptions. They have excellent support and allow for some custom theme development. Their pricing is based on how much you earn in sales, so generally speaking, the more you sell the more expensive your plan may be. Like Shopify, they do charge a fee for each sale.
Prices range from $29.95 per month to $299.95 per month, with custom Enterprise pricing available depending on your needs.
WooCommerce is the number one ecommerce solution for WordPress, one of the world’s most popular self-hosted website frameworks. WordPress is already one of the most powerful tools for creating sites, and WooCommerce lets you harness that power for your own shopping cart. It is endlessly flexible, and if you can’t find a plugin or tool that lets you sell your products exactly the way you want, there is a huge community of experienced developers ready to help you custom code that perfect solution. Best of all, it’s free! WooCommerce makes their money mostly buy selling custom add-ons and plugins that extend their already powerful cart. There are no per-sale fees, and you can link your store to essentially any payment gateway that exists out there.
As a plugin for WordPress, going the WooCommerce route allows you to have great control of the rest of your website too, not just the cart.
The downside to WooCommerce is that it can be a great deal more complicated to setup and maintain, since you are in charge of hosting the site yourself, as well as keeping all of the software up to date. This means keeping any sort of extension licenses up to date, and there can occasionally be some compatibility conflicts between third-party add-ons if you try to cobble too many together.
Much like WooCommerce, Magento falls into the self-hosted category of online shopping carts. It is extremely flexible, and there really are no limits to what and how you sell with this platform. There are open source options available, as well as professional enterprise level solutions. This is the solution to go to if you expect to have a very high volume of sales, and need unlimited customization to go hand in hand with stability. Unlike WooCommerce, Magento IS its own framework — it is not just a plugin, but a full platform for your website, designed to sell from the ground up.
Magento is probably the least “do-it-yourself” of these solutions, but overall, the most powerful.
Examine your products, services, and your short- and long-term business goals. Keep in mind that picking one platform does not mean you are stuck with it for good. It is entirely possible to start with a DIY website builder like Shopify or BigCommerce before realizing you need to grow into a more robust ecommerce solution. At Sage we would be happy to help guide you through the selection process, so feel free to contact us if you need a hand!
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