When someone is trying to get started in the world of ecommerce, it is critical to choose a platform that will move this process along. SaaS ecommerce platforms have several benefits that will help people trying to get started in this growing industry.
There are myriad qualities—like pricing, customizations, compatible integrations, and ability to scale—that need to be considered when choosing the best ecommerce platform for startups. Let's discuss these points in-depth.
What Is An Ecommerce Platform?
An ecommerce platform is a software application that helps online businesses sell products and services by consolidating the business' website, marketing, sales, and operational functions. Ecommerce platforms generally fall into three main category types.
Self-hosted (Open Source)
Self-hosted ecommerce platforms, also known as Open Source platforms, are beneficial because they are usually free of charge and offer more flexibility in hosting third-party plugins, and design templates.
However, open-source ecommerce platforms enjoy greater flexibility because they require more coding knowledge. As such, you will need to hire a developer if you do not have the skillset to code yourself. You will also need to handle or hire someone to take care of the website maintenance work, find your own web host, implement your own payment gateways, and manage your own website security settings like attending to your SSL certificates.
You also will need to set up your own analytics and metrics dashboard. Self-hosted ecommerce solutions may be more suited for B2B startups.
As the name implies, hosted ecommerce website builders (aka SaaS platforms) include the hosting service. For this reason, hosted platforms are the most popular ecommerce platform choice for beginners with little knowledge of HTML or CSS. Generally, hosted platforms boast website editors that offer an easier-to-use interface geared toward non-technical users. The downside to hosted platforms is that they offer fewer customization options.
Because hosted platforms require less overhead to manage, they also are generally better-suited for B2C, D2C, and small businesses that expect to scale rapidly.
So-called headless or commerce-as-a-Service (CaaS) platforms are a newer but natural development of ecommerce platforms. Headless platforms combine elements of Open Source and hosted platforms. With CaaS platforms, the frontend software is maintained by the business owner. Still, the operational pieces like product data, inventory management, and customer data are securely stored in the cloud by the Headless platform vendor.
This means you still install, develop, and maintain your front-end online store.
How To Choose The Best Ecommerce Platform
There are a few capabilities to keep in mind when choosing the best platform upon which to build your ecommerce store.
First, it's important to understand how mobile-optimization works on the platform you choose. Because content created on a desktop device does not always look its best on mobile devices, you need to understand how your platform will handle mobile browsing. For example, for some Open Source platforms, the mobile responsiveness of your website may depend on the design template that you choose.
Mobile optimization will become less of a worry if you choose a hosted platform.
Ease-of-Use and Management
For resource-constrained teams who cannot hire custom developers or businesses with non-technical staff, the ability to drag and drop within a visual website builder could be really salient. Hosted platforms that also take care of the hosting and security backend development may also be easier to use as well.
For companies that expect to grow and scale quickly, choosing a hosted platform may be beneficial so that team members can focus on growth instead of website maintenance.
Extensions and Apps
Depending on the state of your business' technology stack, native technology integrations may be a critical factor for you. Examples of important integrations to check on are if the platform can integrate with your CMR, social media management tools, or analytics platforms.
Some businesses may prefer the flexibility of a monthly fee versus an annual renewal cost, so they can better manage their cashflow. In this case, startup employees need to understand how the accounting and finance departments would prefer to pay.
Of course, the overall software pricing is vital as well. Although many platforms offer multiple paid plans, including a free plan, always do your due diligence before signing a user contract.
It's also critical to include website design and development costs, hosting, maintenance, and custom application development (if applicable).
Top Open Source Platforms
Here's a list of the top 3 Open Source ecommerce platforms:
WooCommerce is actually a WordPress plugin that accompanies the WordPress CMS (Content Management System), turning your WordPress site into an ecommerce store. As one of the widely used Open Source options, WooCommerce offers flexibility and many expected ecommerce features. However, the individual fees for extra capabilities can quickly add up.
nopCommerce is well-liked for its ability to customize to suit any business need. It also offers powerful marketing and sales tools. Although nopCommerc is entirely free to use, businesses that want to remove the "powered by nopCommerce" tagline on their site will have to pay $250;
4. Magento Open Source Community Edition
Magento Open Source is a popular open source platform lauded for its customization abilities as well. Magento also boasts a power-house of features—more than you will ever need to use. However, these features can make the platform resource-heavy. Magento also requires more development knowledge than other platforms.
Top 3 Hosted Platforms
These are the top 3 hosted ecommerce platforms:
Shopify is by far one of the most well-known hosted ecommerce platforms. It's user-friendly features make it a great choice for small business owners. One of Shopify's most important native features is automated cart recovery, offering automatically triggered notifications when users abandon their shopping carts.
Like Squarespace, Wix is best known for its ability to launch quickly and easily. easy website setup. Wix says it provides business owners creative freedom in their website work.
Volusion is an ecommerce platform that is popular for ecommerce businesses that are just starting out or for hobbyist stores. While it is prevalent, it's worth noting that Volusion filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in July 2020, although its website states it is still operating.
Top Headless Platforms
Here are the top 3 Headless Platforms.
1. Shopify Plus
Shopify Plus' offering is very similar to Shopify except it is geared toward enterprise-level commerce with headless commerce functionality. It boasts dedicated account managers, more API integrations, and exclusive applications compared to regular Shopify.
BigCommerce caters to startups, small businesses, and enterprises alike, with pricing plans that cater to businesses of every size. A neat built-in feature is Search Engine Optimization (SEO) control.
3. Magento Commerce
Magento Commerce is another option suitable for enterprise ecommerce at a lower cost than rival platforms with similar functionality.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are answers to some Frequently Asked Questions on related material that wasn't covered in the article.
Can I sell online for free?
Although it's unlikely that you can set up a successful ecommerce store entirely free of charge, several ecommerce platforms do offer freemium versions of their software. Additionally, for selling on a smaller scale, platforms like eBay, Etsy, or Poshmark may be a better choice for low-cost online selling.
Can I change ecommerce platforms easily?
Migrating ecommerce platforms is typically not easy and should always require thorough consideration and planning. It's also imperative to note that self-hosted platforms will be easier to migrate than hosted platforms. Keep this fact in mind when deciding which platform to use.
Which ecommerce platform has the lowest transaction fees?
As of February 2021, most major ecommerce platforms have a 0% transaction fee. Notable exceptions are Square Online, Weebly, and Constant Contact.
Navigating the world of ecommerce can be difficult for new shop owners, and it can seem like a daunting task to evaluate ecommerce platforms. However, with a little thorough research and meticulous consideration of your business goals, budget, and technical specifications, you'll be prepared to make an informed decision.