Retail is one of the industries that has been flourishing for decades. With the technological advancements and easier access to the internet, the digital variant of retail, i.e, eCommerce became a popular way of shopping. In 2020, retail e-commerce sales worldwide amounted to $4.28 trillion and are projected to reach $5.4 trillion by 2022 (Source: Statista). However, dabbling in eCommerce is not as simple as setting up a website and listing your products on it. You need to consider the marketing strategy, scalability, transaction security, running costs, and other factors beforehand for a smooth operation. Earlier, businesses had to build their own in-house platform which was laborious and costly along with having severe restrictions. Thankfully, now exist multiple eCommerce platforms that offer a high level of customizations, flexibility, scalability, and dedicated developer community that allows businesses to outsource the headache of setting up their online store.
Choosing the right eCommerce platform could be the first step to having a popular and robust eCommerce store. In this article, we shall look into the multiple eCommerce software and service providers and list out the pros and cons of each.
What is an eCommerce Software?
In a nutshell, an eCommerce software is the centralized console that allows a business to manage its different operations such as running a storefront/website, managing the inventory, monitoring sales & deliveries, running marketing campaigns, and many others. Whether you are a small startup or giant enterprise level business, an eCommerce software offers features that scales as per the needs.
In the modern environment, there exist multiple eCommerce platforms and softwares offering a mix and match of all the different tools a business would require for their daily operations. Since everything being offered may not be what you are looking for, it is important to choose the right eCommerce software after enough research and analysis.
How to choose the right eCommerce Software?
Define The Current Business Needs
Before hitting up Google to find you the right eCommerce Software, it is important to define the business needs clearly. At the bare minimum, the eCommerce platform should support listing products and accepting online payments. Anything above that are the features you wish your software has. Yet, as the number of offered features increase, the cost of the software or the license to use it also increases. So, before jumping the bandwagon, have clarity regarding the following two crucial factors:
The spending power of an online retailer with a handful of products would be different compared to that of an enterprise level seller with products in multiple categories. Hence, the retailer spending on an enterprise level software is an overkill and easy way to close shop quickly. Moreover, when running an eCommerce business, the only cost incurred is not the license cost but also certain hidden charges. In addition to the initial development costs, there are four hidden costs behind an eCommerce platform:
- Maintenance Cost: Whether you opt for a self-hosted eCommerce solution or SaaS platform, you will incur periodic maintenance costs. In case of the self-hosted, the costs will be divided between server operation, hiring a dedicated technical staff, and utilities. In the case of SaaS, you pay a monthly or annual fee and everything is managed by the service provider.
- Upgradation Cost: Online security is an evergoing battle as ill-willed people try to run malicious code to rob websites and their customers, while platforms come up with new patches and updates to cover any loopholes. However, while upgrading, certain features or functionalities may break and require expert help. Moreover, the downtime during upgradation can impact the sales heavily unless you have an alternate server running (which requires operation costs as well).
- New Features/ Improvement Costs: Platforms offer 3rd party feature support that allows certain functionalities that improve the user experience for the customers or store owners. However, since they are 3rd party plugins, the developers charge separately for using their tools.
- Changes to the UI/UX: Change is only constant and so any changes you make to the design or certain UX elements requires the assistance of a developer which is covered when using a self-hosted solution but in case of SaaS, is charged separately.
Most business owners tend to stick to their eCommerce platform when expanding as platform migration is a tedious and expensive affair. However, in dire situations where the goals of the business no longer align with what the platform is offering, you would have to bite the bullet and migrate. Hence, to avoid troubles in the near future, it is important to consider the scalability of your business. With the right ecommerce software, growth is easily in reach. Hence, you should look for an Ecommerce software that regularly invests in and upgrades its platform. This will more likely help you stay ahead of your competition and on top of consumer behavior trends.
Explore the Available Platforms
Out of the innumerable eCommerce platforms, tools, and softwares, there are four that are most popular. Here is a basic rundown of each.
Shopify is one of the most popular and trusted eCommerce platforms. They offer multiple levels of their software based on the current size of the business.
- Shopify Lite – An integration into existing website or social media page
- Shopify Basic – A webstore and blog hosted on Shopify platform with basic eCommerce features
- Shopify Plan – A full fledged eCommerce store with all the features an eCommerce store requires such as customizable website, online store, blog, even an abandoned cart recovery.
- Shopify Advance – A step up over Shopify plan with provision for unlimited product uploads
- Shopify Plus – Enterprise level platform with tools and features needed for smooth operation
Plans start from $29 per month for Shopify Basic and $299 per month for Shopify Advance. In terms of security, you and your customers have 256-bit SSL security on all transactions and cover six PCI (Payment Card Industry) standards. The platform supports integrations with 2500 popular apps and provides in-house analytics tools for easy monitoring. From a complete novice to an expert, Shopify offers a great all-in-one ecommerce solution.
Magento is another popular eCommerce platform that is available in two variants – Magento Open Source and Magento Commerce. Magento Open Source is a free version that can be downloaded, customized, and is self-hosted. Magento Commerce is a subscription-fee and cloud hosted platform. Being a self-hosted platform, Magento offers a high level of customization but might be a rocky road for someone with limited knowledge. Pre-built themes are available in Magento Marketplace but are charged separately and require the assistance of a developer. In terms of security, Magento has a designated Security Center that periodically offers patches & updates. Magento supports thousands of integrations and Business Intelligence Dashboards provides advanced customer reporting in Magento Commerce. Magento Open Source is free to download and use while Magento Commerce charges a hefty sum.
BigCommerce is another SaaS eCommerce platform offering flexible and robust eCommerce solutions to business owners. Depending on your budget, BigCommerce is available in 4 variants:
- Standard – $29.95/Month
- Plus – $79.95/Month
- Pro – $299.95/Month
- Enterprise – Custom Pricing
In either plan, BigCommerce charges zero transaction fees. Initial store set up is cakewalk and comes with 10 free themes. The servers are PCI DSS 3.2 certified and offer DDoS protection. BigCommerce supports most of the common applications and integrations out of the box. The platform’s Ecommerce Analytics and Insights reports offer stats on your store’s performance.
The open-source ecommerce plugin of WordPress, WooCommerce lets you sell your products from your existing WordPress site. Being a plugin of WordPress, the initial installation and store set up is very easy. It supports the themes available on the store and is completely SEO friendly. Being self hosted, the security lies in your hands. The plugin itself is free but the hosting and domain fees run up the operating costs.
Conduct analysis based on Core Factors
You may still be on the fence about shortlisting the right eCommerce software for you. However, things may become clearer when you compare the following core factors offered by each against your current and future requirements.
The more popular a platform is, the more strong the community it will have. It becomes easier to find the right resources and developers and you have a better choice when it comes to the cost of each. Plugins and support for them will be more for a popular platform.
In conjunction with the previous statement, the more API integrations and 3rd party plugins a platform supports, the easier it would be for you to manage your store on your own. Moreover, you can find special plugins that improve the user experience for your visitors.
Since your online store is basically a website, you need to optimize it regularly to be SEO compliant. If changing the page title or description requires you to jump through hoops or take the help of a developer, it is not user friendly. Moreover, sub-par analytics would give you less insights about your visitors and prove counterproductive.
Any eCommerce platform should provide the following features by default.
- Robust catalog – How easy it is to manage your inventory and keep it updated
- Flexible pricing – Any changes to the prices to certain products during a promotion is automatically reflected across the entire store.
- Personalization Engine – To suggest products to the customers based on their past purchases and shopping history
- eCommerce analytics – A business can only flourish if it receives the correct feedback and hence the platform should have their in-house analytics tools or atleast support integration of third party plugins.
- Customer review system – Let the reviews from your customer turn into user generated content to attract more customers and build trust. Moreover, negative feedback can help you learn your shortcomings.
- Multiple payment gateway support – To accept multiple payment options such as PayPal, credit card, and debit card.
From our expertise, for a complete novice, Shopify or WooCommerce are suitable as it offers complete customization and plugin support, while being robust enough to handle scalability. BigCommerce and Magento are better tuned towards businesses with a local presence and budget to hire staff to manage the online store. However, don’t take our word for it. Refer to the above article and compare the offerings of each against your requirements to find the right one.