The best eCommerce framework?

The best eCommerce framework?

Introduction

Trying to decide on the eCommerce framework that best fits the needs of your business is certainly not straightforward.  There's are a large number of options available, each presenting themselves as 'the' solution you're looking for.  In reality, each option has it's own pro's and con's, and there's likely to be a single option that feels like it's the best fit for what you need to achieve with your business.

Here I'm going to run through some of the more popular eCommerce options you're likely to be considering and rank various criteria for each from 1-5 with 1 being something the framework does poorly, and 5 being something it does well.

I'm going to give you a quick summary of each, and then talk about and score:

  • Customisation possibilities
  • How feature-rich it is out of the box
  • The learning curve to managing your store
  • Upfront costs
  • Ongoing costs
  • Scalability
  • Community support

There's primarily 2 different sorts of eCommerce solutions, SaaS (which is software as a service), and hosted. A SaaS solution is one where the framework is completely hosted and maintained by the company that provides it, and you essentially 'rent' a store for an ongoing, often sales based cost.  A hosted solution is one where you download and install the software yourself.  There's no ongoing costs to use it, but there may be a licensing cost if the software isn't free.

There's typically fewer technical requirements and a lower initial cost with a SaaS solution, but ongoing costs can be high and will increase with sales.  There'll also be reduced customisation options because you don't have access to the codebase.  A hosted solution will have higher initial costs, but lower ongoing costs and customisation options will far exceed a SaaS solution because you have full access to the codebase to customise as you want.

So those are some general differences around SaaS vs hosted solutions to bear in mind as I look at each framework.

The options

I'll be looking at all of the eCommerce frameworks we support at Developer Connection today, so that's Magento, Shopify, WooCommerce, BigCommerce, Shopware and OpenCart.  I'll briefly introduce each and then look at the criteria already mentioned and give a rating.


Magento

A hosted solution, Magento is possibly thought of as the most popular eCommerce option at the moment, probably because it's been around for so long but also because it's recognised as being highly versatile, but it is also often considered to be on the more expensive side.  The paid edition (Adobe Commerce) has hefty license fees and is aimed at larger businesses, but there's also a hugely popular free edition (Magento Open Source) with a very large supporting community, and this version can easily scale to enterprise level.

Customisation possibilities - 5

Magento is the most customisable framework out there - there are countless extensions available with new ones being developed all the time.  It's a highly capable PHP framework in it's own right with well documented and defined development practices giving endless customisation possibilities.

Feature rich - 5

A very full set of features are available out of the box giving extensive eCommerce opportunities without any customisation being needed.

Learning curve - 2

Greater levels of customisation and more features does mean higher complexity so there is a definite learning curve to Magento.  First logging into admin gives a plethora of available options which can seem daunting at first, but after some initial learning it is largely intuitive.  It's also possible per login to reduce the number of options shown which you can use to restrict access to just the areas of interest for each user.

Upfront costs - 2

It's often considered an expensive platform, and depending on the level of customisation needed it can be - but it can also have low starting costs if you use Open Source edition and only need out of the box functionality.  The license cost for Commerce however is high, and so more suited to larger businesses, but it does come with considerable additional functionality including both B2C and B2B tranactions.

Ongoing costs - 3

These are are basically inline with what you want to spend because there aren't any ongoing SaaS related costs being a hosted option.  However development can cost more due to the complexity of the framework and so the need for a more expert developer compared to other options.

Scalability - 5

A highly scalable solution, and with an upgrade path from free to paid editions, a Magento store can scale as much as you want it to.

Community support - 5

There's a massive, very active community, who regularly make contributions to the framework that are then included in new releases.  With multiple active forums aswell, there's a rarely a time when asking a question doesn't get an answer.

27/35


Shopify

A SaaS product with different monthly costs according to which Shopify version you use, which also defines the features available.  No access to the codebase makes for limited customisation options, but there is a large community and lots of extensions.

Customisation possibilities - 2

There are many thousands of extensions available for Shopify, but you can't affect core functionality of the store.  This means that customisation is more limited to the basic things like frontend theme, and checkout payment options.

Feature rich - 2

A relatively basic feature set out of the box, with heavy dependency on apps to add additional functionality.  It does include all the basic eCommerce features you would expect, but not much beyond that.

Learning curve - 4

It's straightforward to get up and running with a Shopify store using the clear and simple admin panel that isn't overloaded with options.

Upfront costs - 4

Upfront costs are relatively low here but you will probably need to spend more on additional extensions to get the functionality you need.  Often these extensions are not free.

Ongoing costs - 1

There's a monthly cost to using Shopify and this continues for as long as you want to use the framework.  On top of this, many extensions have ongoing costs which can easily amount to thousands of pounds annually.  You also pay transaction fees meaning the advertised monthly subscription cost is far from all you have to pay.

Scalability - 4

Shopify is pretty scalable, but just how scalable does depend on the underlying architecture running the store, and so depends on your subscription package.  As you have no control over the server the store is running on you are largely at the mercy of Shopify to determine how well your store actually performs under pressure, but they will certainly aim to provide the best performance.

Community support - 5

A large and active community means that you should be able to get answers to questions you might have quickly.  It also means that extensions are plentiful and new extension releases are regular.

22/35


WooCommerce

WooCommerce is a hugely popular option, and this is probably down to the low startup costs, the simplcity of the software, and the ease with which extensions can be installed and managed from the backend.  Fundamentally however, it's remained largely unchanged for many years primarily because the same is true for the underlying WordPress, and this does mean that it's fallen behind in following modern coding principles and best practices.

Customisation possibilities - 2

There's a great many extensions available for WooCommerce, but out of the box functionality is limited to just the basics so you'll certainly need extensions - some are free, some are paid.  As the underlying framework is quite basic, and developer resources are also basic, there's no real way to guarantee the quality of extensions you might want to install, and also whether or not they'll conflict with others you've already installed.  Additionally, there's no best practice on how to override core behaviour and this means that you could compromise the upgrade path of the software just by customising it.

Feature rich - 1

The most basic offering here, out of the box functionality is very limited, and really only suitable for the most standard of stores.

Learning curve - 5

Because of it's simplicity WooCommerce is very easy to learn, so it won't take you any time to get up and running once installed.

Upfront costs - 4

Initial upfront costs are minimal because WordPress and WooCommerce are both free products, but you should consider the real possibility of needing paid extensions to get the store to where you need it to be.

Ongoing costs - 5

Once up and running, there are no real ongoing costs with a WooCommerce store making the running costs for your eCommerce offering minimal.

Scalability - 1

This is not really a solution that's designed to scale to larger stores.  It's probably not going to handle larger numbers of products very well, and you'll find it hard to complete all the processes you're likely to need to run against your store data as your business grows.

Community support - 5

WooCommerce has a large and active community with many people developing and releasing extensions all the time.  There's also plenty of activity on forums.

23/35


BigCommerce

A SaaS solution which is in many ways similar to Shopify, but it does offer more functionality out of the box.

Customisation possibilities - 2

Large numbers of extensions are available for free and to buy, but as it's a SaaS product, you can't change core functionality, just add additional functionality offered by extensions.  Like Shopify, customisation is limited to basic areas like the theme and checkout payment methods.

Feature rich - 3

BigCommerce comes with a decent feature set out of the box and doesn't rely too heavily on extensions to give the functionality you need.  New functionality is also given by moving up through the packages as your stores turnover increases.

Learning curve - 4

A straightforward admin panel makes a BigCommerce store easy to get up and running with.

Upfront costs - 5

Upfront costs are pretty minimal with a BigCommerce store, with all the basic functionality you are likely to need being included.

Ongoing costs - 1

Much like Shopify, with BigCommerce the advertised monthly cost is far from all you will have to pay.  You're very likely to have ongoing extension costs on top of that, along with transaction fees which could add significantly to your running costs.

Scalability - 4

BigCommerce offers good scalability, which is dependant on the underlying architecure provided to run your store on.  As your store scales up, so does your subscription cost along with getting access to more enterprise level features.  You are however at the mercy of BigCommerce as to how well your store actually performs.

Community support - 3

A decent online community, but perhaps less active than others, meaning you might not always get a response to a question when you'd like to.

22/35


Shopware

This is an open source, hosted solution which is much more popular in other parts of Europe than it is in the UK.  Many consider it to be the most direct competitor to Magento, and it has a flexible, modern codebase, and a vibrant, active community.

Customisation possibilities - 4

There's a large number of extensions available, and endless customisation opportunities with custom extension development making this a highly versatile solution you can tailor to your exact requirements.

Feature rich - 3

While it doesn't offer everything you could possibly need out of the box, it has a solid feature set which includes everything most store owners would need, including B2B functionality.

Learning curve - 4

Shopware has a simple, intuitive admin panel making it quick and easy to get up to speed, and get your store live and selling.  Many configuration options also get preset to sensible defaults meaning little configuration is needed.

Upfront costs - 3

While out of the box functionality covers much of what you might need, you should count on some development work being needed to get up and running in the form you want.  But as the framework is not as complex as something like Magento to develop, any work you do need should be reasonably priced.

Ongoing costs - 4

This is probably not a solution that it is designed to be as heavily modified as something like Magento can be, but this does mean that ongoing costs are likely to be lower as development will be less complex and time consuming, and therefore cheaper.

Scalability - 5

Shopware has a solid, modern code base that follows best practices, and well defined development processes to extend and customise core behavour.  This makes for a stable base to this eCommerce solution that scales well to larger stores.

Community support - 5

While Shopware may not be so well known in the UK just yet, the framework is highly popular in other parts of Europe, with an active, regularly contributing community, alongside a proactive attitude from Shopware in supporting community growth.

28/35


OpenCart

A very popular completely free, hosted eCommerce framework.  OpenCart has a large install base, and operates more stores that you might think, however development is not nearly as active as other frameworks with typically only two to three releases each year.

Customisation possibilities - 3

There are lots of extensions available for OpenCart to add new functionality, but the framework itself is fairly simplistic compared with modern PHP frameworks and the structure it uses has long since been left behind by other PHP frameworks which give greater flexbility and cleaner, more structured code.  It's still possible however to create custom extensions giving relatively good customisation possibilities, but customising out of the box functionality is limited to only certain areas.

Feature rich - 3

OpenCart has a good but not extensive eCommerce feature set with much of what you would expect out of the box being present, but missing features that many store owners would feel are important, for instance being able to print an invoice.

Learning curve - 4

With a simple admin panel and few options to learn, your store should be up and running quickly.

Upfront costs - 5

Being completely open source, getting up and running with OpenCart should incur minimal intial costs.  While you may need additional extensions to get your store to the right place, there are many free ones, and even the paid ones have a typically very low cost of between 20 and 30 dollars.

Ongoing costs - 5

For the same reason that upfront costs are low, ongoing costs are also low.

Scalability - 3

OpenCart doesn't scale very well, and with a simplistic codebase, relying on this solution to support an enterprise level offering is likely to create functionality and stability issues as product, order and customer count increases.

Community support - 1

While there are lots of people using OpenCart, on the support side there isn't much activity on forums, so if you do have a question for the commuity, don't expect a response any time soon.

24/35


Conclusion

In conclusion, I'm not going to declare any single option the ultimate winner, but hopefuilly this brief look at these eCommerce frameworks will give you some useful information and help you to pick the right one for your business.  Developers of all of these frameworks list with us here are Developer Connection so come and find that developer or team you're looking for at developerconnection.co.uk.