Picking your best eCommerce platform
The title of this blog post is pretty deliberate - picking your best eCommerce platform. Previously we've taken a look at some popular eCommerce platform options and though I did give each one a score, I concluded by saying that I wasn't going to declare any one platform the overall winner. In today's post we talk about the breadth of possibility presented by eCommerce, and discuss key business considerations in helping you pick the best eCommerce platform for you.
All eCommerce platforms have a place in the market, and which one is the best for you and your particular store depends on what you need to achieve in your business. It's likely you'll conclude one fits your business needs better than the other options, but the platfom you choose might not be the best fit for someone else and their business. So here you'll fnd an objective look at some key considerations, whether you're starting a new store, or thinking about moving to a new platform.
eCommerce, or Electronic Commerce has a much longer history than you might think, and dates back as far as 1910. In the past we've actually covered the history of eCommerce in a full 4 part series so if you're interest in that, you can find the full series here. So if eCommerce started more than 100 years ago, and that was well before the internet we invented, it can't just be internet based then right? eCommerce is defined as:
"maintaining relationships and conducting business transactions that include selling information, services, and goods by means of computer telecommunications networks" - britannica.com
Basically any business conducted over some kind of computer based network. The term eCommerce was coined by Dr. Robert Jacobson in the 80's, but restictions on the commercial use of the internet were only lifted in 1991, so even upon it's invention the term wasn't in relation to internet based sales. However today it's really only considered in relation to internet sales, and indeed if you search for the office for national statistics page of eCommerce sales, the page you end on is titled 'internet sales as a percentage of total retail sales'.
In modern society, eCommerce has evolved into a highly popular, but also highly competitive, purely internet-based sales method, with a near unending selection of stores selling virtually anything imaginable. With over a quarter of total retail sales now being internet based, and this percentage growing year on year, having an effective eCommerce store to drive more sales is an essential component to any modern business, and represents a level of opportunity that could never have been imagined even just 20 years ago.
Even with a business that only sells to a geographically local market, the ease and convenience of shopping online, and the more recent addition of delivery methods like click & collect, means you need an incredibly solid business case to not have an eCommerce store today.
Best eCommerce platform
Today, every business can find a wide selection of highly capable, established and time proven eCommerce platforms with a host of built in functionality, and a huge range of new functionality available through extensions. For some more detailed reviews and our take on a range of platforms, take a look at our blog post, but it's good to consider a few different things:
- Customisation possibilities
- Out-of-the-box functionality
- The learning curve
- Upfront costs
- Ongoing costs
- Community support
We cover all of these points in our blog on "The best eCommerce framework" but they're important points to consider in the context of where your business is right now, plus where you see your business being in 5 or even 10 year's time.
Another factor you need to consider is what level of functionality your store is going to need. The consideration here is how much of this functionality is going to sit inside your eCommerce framework, and how much of it is going to sit with an external service and just integrate with your store. For more detail around this have a look at our blog post on "Using external services in eCommerce" but it essentially boils down to how tied down to your eCommerce platform do you want to be.
If you feel like the future of your business could see a requirement to re-platform from your existing eCommerce solution to a new one, then you're likely going to want as much functionality as is practical to sit outside of your eCommerce platform and instead be offered by an external service that then integrates with your store. The end goal of this approach is to make your eCommerce platform less of a key single component in your overall strategy, instead having it as a fairly decoupled element in a range of software packages you're using. This makes re-platforming any single component, inluding your eCommerce framework, a much easier task.
On the other hand, if you don't feel like there's a real possibility of wanting to re-platform your current eCommerce solution, then you might want the majority, or even all business functionality to sit inside your eCommerce framework - and the sheer range of extensions available for many platforms makes this a very realistic option. This is less flexible, but does mean you have everything in one central location making the different elements of your eCommerce strategy far less segregated and so far more convenient to manage.
It's really convenience vs flexibility, with no set in stone 'right' answer, though I myself slightly come down on the side of flexibility.
Magento, WooCommerce, Shopware, Opencart
I've grouped Magento, WooCommerce, Shopware and Opencart because you get full access to the codebase rather than them being SaaS (again see our previous blog post for more on this). Not being SaaS based means you can add more highly customised functionality to your store, but often at the cost of increased complexity in terms of development. So these plaforms more sit on the 'convenience' side of the debate, but can still can easily be used for 'flexibility' as extension selection and options for integration with external services are near endless.
Shopify and BigCommerce are both SaaS based, so while extension options still count in the thousands, you'll never have the level of flexibility of a platform where you have full access to the codebase. SaaS in eCommerce platforms definitely has a place in the market - it's convenient, quicker to get up and running, you largely don't have to worry about applying things like security patches and if functionality matches what you need, you could be onto a winner. But the downsides are that you lose significantly with customisation opportunities, and there'll always be an ongoing cost, which will scale up as sales increase.
Convenience and flexibility?
When Adobe started talking about SaaS services in relation to the future of Magento, it set alarm bells ringing, and many people, including me, are still concerned for the future of Magento with it having established itself as easily the most flexible and extensible eCommerce platform in the market. They've certainly sparked debate in recent months, but perhaps they're trying to achieve a platform that gives both convenience and flexibility. A solution that offers solid out of the box functionality, but with built in integration to popular third party eCommerce services that can be managed from within Magento's own admin. If so, then perhaps they're onto a real winner after all with a kind of hybrid approach - but it could end up being very budget dependant.
The answer to the question 'which is the best eCommerce platform' is very simple - it depends. Every business has different needs and every eCommerce framework caters to slightly different requirements. So when trying to answer that question yourself, weight up all the relevant information before you make your final decision, considering as best you can current, and possible future business requirements. How much of a factor is cost? What external services do I use or need to use in the future? What flexibility do I need? Where can I find a good developer?
When you've decided on the best platform for your business and it comes to actually building your store, check us out at Developer Connection. Our UK service instantly connects you with quality, qualified and relevant developers for many different eCommerce frameworks. It's free, there's no commission, and no hidden costs.