E-commerce Platforms Show Many Forms

Selling online is a wonderful way for you to connect directly with your customers. Users are empowered to research and make decisions at any time of the day. Your store is open 24/7. If you’re just starting out, however, there isn’t a definitive map on how to get to where you want to be. There are numerous platforms to enable e-commerce for your company, but how do you choose where to invest?

Everyone’s a Winner

If you start perusing the marketing for popular e-commerce platforms, you’ll quickly realize something. They’re all the best. And that’s true – for someone. Deciding which is best for you is tricky because there are so many types of e-commerce platforms. Each type yields strengths but is also saddled with weaknesses. We’ll walk you through the different types so you can begin learning which appeals to you.

Keep It in the cloud

A Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) provider for e-commerce is wonderful solution when you needed a commerce site yesterday. You register for an account and you instantly have a commerce site. You can find a theme you like and update the logo and colors to fit your branding. Just load your products in, configure the checkout, and you’re off and selling. The hosting and software updates are taken care of for you. You save time that can be better spent on running your business.
This is all great assuming you want the exact functionality offered by the platform. Anything beyond what is offered may not be achievable. Some platforms allow third-party apps to provide enhanced functionality, but only in areas specifically allowed by the platform. They also typically offer ways to augment the shopping experience for your customers using APIs – but this forces you to host these customizations on your own server. Somewhat defeating the ideal vision of a SaaS solution.

Popular SaaS platforms include BigCommerce and Shopify.

Bolt It onto What You’ve Got

If you already have a website built with a CMS platform, there may be an e-commerce add-on. Or extension. Or plugin. Or module. Or whatever your platform calls them. This is great because it means preserving the functionality you already enjoy and gaining the new functionality you wanted. And, because you’re already on a platform which supports add-ons, there are likely additional add-ons to further enhanced the e-commerce functionality. If you’re on an open source platform you may also be able to freely modify the functionality to suit your needs.

Depending on the platform you’re starting with, the e-commerce offering may not be particularly strong. The platform isn’t primarily design for e-commerce, so this is understandable. Combining components from different sources may ultimately make your website unstable or slower than expected. You’re also taking on PCI-compliance risk by hosting the solution yourself. This is a good balance, though, between being stuck with the features of SaaS or the responsibilities of your next option.

If you’re on WordPress you should check out WooCommerce.

A Box Full of Commerce

Software solutions exist which are built primarily to be e-commerce platforms. Many are licensed but open source options exist. Popular options also have free or licensable add-ons to enhance the basic functionality. The greatest strength of this options is that it gives you the freedom to customize them as you see fit, but you also have a starting point with works on day 1. You will also get updates and new features as part of ongoing updates.

In this scenario you will need to provide you own hosting and perform your own updates. You also need to actively maintain any customizations you make as the platform changes with time. You also take on PCI liability as the organization hosting the platform.
Magento is the most well-known option in the category but you can also look at OpenCart and PrestaShop.

A Unique Solution

All the previously discussed options make certain assumptions about how e-commerce generally works. There are many organizations who will not fit that mold. It may be that your pricing is too complex, or your products are too varied to categorize. Perhaps your users need an extremely streamlined experience or what you’re selling is ethereal. In these cases, you would look to a custom solution. Building an e-commerce site from the group up gives you exactly what your customers want and can fit any circumstance. It’s also ideal when needing to integrate with software you already have, like your ERP.

Unfortunately, this can come with the most amount of ongoing maintenance, as updates won’t be supplied by a community. It also makes you the most susceptible to security risks and PCI liability.

Lightning Round: Additional Considerations

Scientist mixing chemicalsThere are options which are a blending of the major categories discussed above. SaaS offerings which are add-ons to CMS platforms. You can often build a custom website but leverage the API for a SaaS solution to create some or all of the customer interface. Some choose to split their website to get the best CMS solution and the best e-commerce solution. Many creative solutions exist.

There is also the option of e-commerce channels. Instead of creating your own independent website, you can sell through existing e-commerce websites. You give them the product data they give you orders. Many of the options discussed have functionality to automatically push your product data into external channels – giving you the best of both worlds.

Additional Resources

BuiltWith has a public report which lists popularity of different e-commerce platforms. G2 Crowd also hosts reviews per platform if you want to see how actual users feel.