What’s the best eCommerce platform for creating your online store?

eCommerce
An icon of a shopping cart: a metaphor for eCommerce platforms.

In our last post, we looked at a five-step process for having a brilliant eCommerce business idea. In the next post in our how to start an eCommerce business series, we show you how to turn that idea into reality. Here are our tips on choosing the best eCommerce platform for creating your online store.

At James and James, we integrate with nearly 20 different eCommerce platforms, to help online retailers fulfil their orders. With all this experience, clients – particularly those who are just starting out – often ask us what the best eCommerce platform is when creating an online store.

The truth is, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. The best eCommerce platform for you will depend on factors such as your business goals, your technical skills and the size of your ambitions.

In this post, we’ll talk you through some of the questions to ask when creating an online store, and highlight the pros and cons of the four eCommerce platforms that are most popular with our clients:

  1. Amazon Marketplace
  2. WooCommerce
  3. Shopify
  4. Magento

Question 1. Do you want to build a brand or make a fast buck?

Amazon Marketplace: the best eCommerce platform if you want to sell generic products without much effort.
Amazon Marketplace: the best eCommerce platform if you want to sell generic products without much effort.

If you’re creating an online store simply to sell products and make money, then using a marketplace as your eCommerce platform will be the best option.

There are plenty out there – from Etsy for handmade goods, to Not on the High Street for quirky gifts, to eBay for pretty much everything. But the largest by far is Amazon Marketplace – third-party sellers are thought to be responsible for over 50% of the 12 million items listed on the site.

The pros of Amazon Marketplace

✓ You don’t need your own website to start selling
✓ You can reach millions of new customers everyday without marketing
✓ The growth of Prime means Amazon is now often the first place people shop

The cons of Amazon Marketplace

✗ Your products will be listed with similar ones from competitors
✗ You’ll need to “win the buy box” to start making sales
✗ Subscription fees are low (£25 per month), but transaction fees add up

Is it right for you?

You should choose Amazon Marketplace if you want to sell generic products without much effort.

But if you want to build a brand, creating an online store will be a better option than Amazon and other marketplaces. There are plenty of eCommerce platforms to help you do this.

Here’s the next question to consider when choosing one…

Question 2. Are you familiar with WordPress?

The WooCommerce home screen on a laptop

30% of the web now runs on the WordPress content management system (CMS), so chances are you’ve already used it – whether for a personal blog or a business website. Maybe you want to add an online store to your existing WordPress site?

In this case, WooCommerce will be the best eCommerce platform to choose. It’s a plug-in built by Automattic, the people behind WordPress.com, and uses the same, familiar interface as the CMS.

The pros of WooCommerce

✓ It’s quick and easy to integrate with a WordPress site
✓ It’s free to install (although there are transaction fees to consider)
✓ There’s an ecosystem of free themes and plug-ins, to help you customise your site

The cons of WooCommerce

✗ You’ll need to host WooCommerce yourself – that means buying a domain name and hosting package
✗ There’s no technical support, so you’ll have to look through blogs and forums for help – or hire a developer

Is it right for you?

You should choose WooCommerce if you’re familiar with WordPress and have the technical skills to create an online store.

But if you’re looking for something simpler, think about the next question…

Question 3. How tech savvy are you?

Shopify: the best eCommerce platform if you want to get set up quickly and easily, without any technical skills.
Shopify: the best eCommerce platform if you want to get set up quickly and easily, without any technical skills.

If you want the benefits of having your own online store, without the technical hassle of setting up and running it, Shopify will be the best option.

Shopify was founded in 2006 by a team of developers who were dissatisfied with the other eCommerce platforms available at the time. Its ease of use means that it now underpins over 600,000 online stores worldwide.

The pros of Shopify

✓ Shopify takes care of domain name registration and hosting
✓ The website editor and online advice make it easy to use
✓ There’s an ecosystem of themes and apps, to help you customise your site

The cons of Shopify

✗ It’s expensive – from $29 to $299 per month, plus transaction, theme and app fees
✗ Becoming locked into the ecosystem can make it harder to migrate to different platforms later on

Is it right for you?

You should choose Shopify if you want to get set up quickly and easily, without any technical skills.

But if you’re already an established business, you’ll probably want an eCommerce platform designed for scale…

Question 4. How large is your business (or your ambition)?

Magento: the best eCommerce platform if you’re an established retailer with a large product range and customer base.
Magento: the best eCommerce platform if you’re an established retailer with a large product range and customer base.

The final eCommerce platform on our list is Magento. Probably the most powerful and flexible option around, it’s the best choice if you want to run a large business with thousands of SKUs and orders per month – it’s already used by retailers such as Kurt Geiger and Graze.

Magento comes in two flavours – a free, open source one, which you’ll need to host yourself, and a paid-for, enterprise one, which Magento hosts for you.

The pros of Magento

✓ It’s designed for larger stores, making it near infinitely scalable
✓ Because it’s open source, many developers are familiar with Magento
✓ There’s a huge ecosystem of themes and extensions to customise your site

The cons of Magento

✗ Both flavours are expensive – one requires developer support and hosting, the other involves high fees from Magento
✗ The cost and time involved in setting it up will probably outweigh the benefits for all but the largest retailers

Is it right for you?

You should choose Magento if you’re an established retailer with a large product range and customer base.

Now you know how to choose the best eCommerce platform, the next step is to get traffic to your online store and make your first sale. That’s the subject of our next post. Read it now, or browse more posts from the how to start an eCommerce business series.

Icon made by Puppets from www.flaticon.com is licensed by CC 3.0 BY.