How to Choose an Ecommerce Platform for your New Online Store

which ecommerce platform to choose

There is certainly no shortage of options when it comes to choosing an Ecommerce platform for your new online store.  At Ecommerce Rules, our goal is to help you sift through the great number of Ecommerce solutions you might find via search engine, by narrowing the focus to four of the most commonly selected options and providing excellent information which will help you to either select one of these four Ecommerce platforms, or to have the ability to analyze other options in similar fashion and, ultimately, make the right choice.

Here is a breakdown of the most commonly used ecommerce platforms, the pros and cons, and who is best suited to use these platforms.

Considerations for the Busy Entrepreneur

You’ve got a product in mind, and you’re ready to build a site around the product line and begin reaping the benefits. Great! When you are looking at your options, here are some of the main considerations that you need to analyze before arriving at a final solution for your shop.

Price: It goes without saying, right? You need to have an understanding of the number of products you’re going to sell, and the amount of cloud space you will need for images, video, etc. Most, if not all, Ecommerce platforms are priced with these criteria in mind.

Ease of Setup: Unless you’re working on a product line that isn’t ready to be unleashed to the online shopping world just yet, the speed and ease of installation of your new platform, or content management system (CMS), is going to be of great interest to you. Next to price, this might be the most important consideration for the entrepreneur who is ready to make that money starting NOW.

Features: Do you want to accept more than just the American dollar? What kind of security do you want/need? Would you like your site to save abandoned cart information? What kind of payment options would you like to offer your customers. Remember that you are crafting a customer experience and that you want features which not only offer that pleasant atmosphere, but help you to increase your conversion rate!

Marketing and Branding: You wouldn’t want a platform that didn’t come armed with packages to help you with search engine optimization (SEO), email marketing integration, social media integration, etc. – would you?

Technical Support: It’s not likely that you’re a web programmer, nor is it likely that you are already an expert in your chosen Ecommerce platform. You are going to have questions! A provider with strong technical support is probably more important that one might initially imagine.

Scalability: Chances are that you will start with a limited number of products (or SKU’s), and that your company might start small. Eventually, you may wish to sell more products, expand into other sectors of your market, and grow your business into a large corporation. The ability to scale your Ecommerce site with the size of your offerings and your organization is a huge consideration!

Scoping the Most Commonly Utilized Ecommerce Platforms

Here’s the skinny; the “what you need to know,” about each of the most popular ecommerce platforms. Note that when we refer to “self-hosted,” we mean that the software company hosts the site, not the store owner.

BigCommerce

big commerce

According to their website, BigCommerce is now the choice of over 32,000 store owners in 25 different industries, with nearly $1.4 Billion in sales. This is a template-based, self-hosted solution that could have your store up in a matter of hours (or days). Several reviews of the site point to excellent search engine optimization (SEO) features and easy integration with MailChimp, eBay, PayPal, Google and Facebook. The price point is right in the middle of Volusion and Shopify (which are all generally below the price of a Magento CMS), starting at $24.95 per month (without any transaction fees). As a bonus, you’ll receive some complimentary advertising on Google AdWords when you sign up, and BigCommerce offers a free 15 day trial period.

Standard features include nearly 100 different layout templates, drag and drop ease of use, the ability to see a live demo of your site before you go live, automatically created product photo galleries, automated email marketing, comprehensive mobile support (for iOS, Android, etc.), robust default SEO capabilities and the ability to accept multiple currencies (i.e. you can scale to a global audience). Starting at the $79.95 per month package, your site will track abandoned carts, which helps conversion rates immensely. Building your site is not as intuitive as Shopify or Volusion, but there is an easy-to-follow instruction manual and tech-support is fantastic. If you want unlimited SKU’s and website space, the most expensive option is $299.95 per month.

On a scale of good, great or best, BigCommerce ranks as follows when it comes to your primary concerns:

  • Price:     Great
  • Ease of Setup:     Great
  • Features:     Great/Best
  • Marketing and Branding:    Best
  • Tech Support:     Great
  • Scalability:     Great/Best

Who should use it:  The entrepreneur seeking to sell their products to a global market.

Shopify

shopify

Shopify is to Ecommerce, as WordPress is to Blogging. Another template-based, self-hosted solution, Shopify is one of the most recognized and recommended Ecommerce platforms of its type.  The ease of use, elegant template designs, SEO optimization, and “plugin” style options gives the user plenty of control, while again allowing a storefront to be up and running within hours or days. With this solution, you get a shopping cart to which many online shoppers are already accustomed. Coupled with excellent security features that, that familiar feel allows  you to design an extremely comfortable customer experience.

Shopify sites start at $24.95, with a 2% transaction fee on all purchases (1GB site and 100 SKU’s included). At entry level, Shopify may be more expensive than BigCommerce and Volusion (when you include the 2% transaction fees), but there is a sweet unlimited package with no transaction fees which will cost you $179 per month.  Designs/layouts are a bit more basic than Volusion and Magento, but on par with BigCommerce. Standard features include automated backups, payment options of Paypal, Google Checkout and major credit cards, the easiest setup in the bunch (a 7 step tutorial and you’re ready) and cloud-based functionality, which means there are no SSL certificates to fret over. There are more designs that are frankly more elegant than those you will see on BigCommerce and Volusion, which not only allows you more customization options, but also ensures that you can design that familiar customer experience without having to sacrifice the uniqueness of your brand.

On a scale of good, great or best, Shopify ranks as follows when it comes to your primary concerns:

  • Price:     Great
  • Ease of Setup:     Best
  • Features:     Great
  • Marketing and Branding:     Great
  • Tech Support:    Best
  • Scalability:     Great

Who should use it:  The entrepreneur seeking to get his or her store up and running today, crafting a customer experience that is comforting to the consumer, who has no doubt shopped on many Shopify sites in the past.

Volusion

volusion

A windows-based piece of software, Volusion is another self-hosted, template-based solution.  Think Shopify, without transaction fees, and with more elegant design, one-page checkout screens, vZoom image re-sizing  inventory tracking, affiliate program tracking, and a lower price tag! Layouts come optimized for mobile-users by default, SSL and payment processing are handled for you, and the emphasis on elegant presentation yields greater conversion rates. It’s all true. Volusion may be the best bang for your buck, especially considering the starting price of $19 per month with 1GB of space and 100 SKU’s! The Unlimited package is only $149 per month, but the sweet spot is the Gold Package, which allows the store owner 15GB of space and up to 5,000 SKU’s! I don’t imagine you’ll be selling more than 5,000 products right off the bat, will you? Think you have enough photos and video of your product to fill 15GB? Probably not. There are not really any negatives to which the critic can point, other than (after an easy initial setup) a bit of time researching and tuning the right plugins may be required in order to really hone in on the experience you wish to craft for your ideal consumer.

On a scale of good, great or best, Volusion ranks as follows when it comes to your primary concerns:

  • Price:     Best
  • Ease of Setup:     Best
  • Features:     Great
  • Marketing and Branding:     Great
  • Tech Support:     Best
  • Scalability:     Great

Who should use it:  The entrepreneur seeking to get his or her store up and running in the next day or two, desires more features and stronger graphic design than Shopify, wishes to pay the minimum for their out-of-the box Ecommerce platform and has designs on expanding their product catalog in the coming years.

Magento

magento

Newcomers and amateur programmers beware! Magento offers two powerful solutions for your Ecommerce site: Enterprise, and  Community. The Enterprise package, at least for today, is not within the scope of our consideration (unless you already gross more than $1-Million in sales and have a scaled company at this point). The Community package, however, would certainly be suitable for an online store of just about any size. The learning curve for implementation is steep, even for experienced programmers, and the price is determined by the engineering time required for implementation and many of the responsibilities are up to you (such as website hosting). The Community package is an open-source platform, which is intriguing and lends itself to a highly scalable and customized solution. There are basic templates that could be up and running within hours or days, but when you buy a sports car, you don’t get the basic engine and trim – do you? No, you spend money to make “take the restrictor plates off the Red Dragon to give her some more juice.” You desire to craft the fastest road machine possible; customized to your liking (or your customer’s liking). 

For the lifestyle-design fanatic (anyone read Tim Ferriss?), or the entrepreneur who wants to offer a well-crafted customer experience without expending too much time, money, or energy – Magento and other open-source solutions (such as Pretashop) are probably best explored when your company is reeling in the big-bucks, if at all.

On a scale of good, great or best, Magento ranks as follows when it comes to your primary concerns:

  • Price:     Good
  • Ease of Setup:     Good
  • Features:     Best
  • Marketing and Branding:     Great/Best (depending on your design agency’s capabilities!)
  • Tech Support:     Great (if you go Enterprise, then Best)
  • Scalability:     Best

Who should us it:  The entrepreneur who has a programming past, or a work-trade deal worked out with an experienced open source, Magento programmer – who can show you past projects and discuss the ROI realized by the shop owner. If you seek the ultimate customized solution, can wait a few months to get the site built, designed, and fully functional  and you plan to have sales near $1-Million per year from the get-go, then Magento is perfect for you.

The Bottom Line

Take a deep breath. That was a lot of information! Trust me when I tell you that, if you are doing your homework (like reading this blog), and if you have an excellent product line and a solid business model, you will be successful. Do not let the number of choices out there overwhelm that strong spirit and passion which you currently possess. By selecting from one of the sites above, applying some of the selection criteria we have provided in this post, or by choosing a platform discussed below in the comments section (or anywhere else for that matter) – so long as you know the basic model of the Ecommerce platforms you are considering for deployment, you can apply the same logic and analysis above, and arrive at the right solution for you. 

Questions and Comments

We are here for you. The excellent input and the questions you pose in the comments section help to shape the content of this site, so that we can provide the most value for you, the loyal reader. If you have an inquiry or comment which you would prefer to keep between us, please reach out to us in the comments section.

Here are the questions we have for you. What questions do you have for us?

If you’re an entrepreneur that has operated an Ecommerce site in the past (or maybe you’re running one now), are there platforms outside of the four we have discussed which you would recommend?

Published by

JunLoayza

Jun Loayza is the President of Ecommerce Rules. In his entrepreneurial experience, Jun has sold 2 internet companies, raised over $1,000,000 in Angel funding, and lead social media technology campaigns for Sephora, Whole Foods Market, Levi's, LG, and Activision. Find Jun on Google or Twitter

5 thoughts on “How to Choose an Ecommerce Platform for your New Online Store”

  1. Loads of information for the Ecommerce beginners. You got some nice screen shots in there as well!

  2. To answer the question above, I believe Shopify dominates its market. Jun, what do you think sets them apart from Volusion, BigCommerce, and other competitors?

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