How to choose the correct eCommerce platform for your online store
Creating an online store for your business or updating your existing eCommerce platform? It is crucial to consider your business needs – what level of customization you need, the number of products, expected traffic, and budget – to select the right platform for your store.
As we end 2017, there are hundreds of eCommerce platforms that are available to use. Let’s take a look at 3 of the most common platforms used by online stores today – WooCommerce, Shopify, and Magento. ()
WooCommerce is the most common eCommerce platform in the world, powering over 2.2 million WordPress websites. Shopify is a distant 2nd (369,000 websites) but is growing the fastest. Magento, which powers close to 220,000 stores, is commonly found in larger stores.[Source – https://trends.builtwith.com/shop]
If we look at the top 100K Alexa websites, the 3 are represented quite evenly, with WooCommerce (2310), Magento (2361 including the enterprise edition) and Shopify (1568) [Source – https://trends.builtwith.com/shop]. The 3 platform’s popularity has resulted in a flourishing ecosystem around them, making them the platform of choice for most new stores.
Source – https://trends.builtwith.com/shop
Shopify, which powers close to half a million stores around the world and $46 billion in sales, is a SaaS (software as a service) based eCommerce solution which helps you easily set up and run your online store without having to deal with the technicalities.
It is the fastest growing major eCommerce platform and makes setting up an online store a breeze. It is also the oldest of the 3 platforms we’re discussing and has a pretty robust feature set for eCommerce.
- Easy setup – Your store is easy to set up without development or design skills. You also don’t need to deal with finding a hosting provider – Shopify takes care of this for you, providing you with fast hosting that scales as needed.
- Well designed Themes – Shopify outsources themes hosted on its theme store to professional web designers and carefully evaluates all themes submitted for quality and functionality, before listing them on the store. This results in well thought out, good-looking designs that work well.
- Easy to Use – Shopify is extremely easy to use, and it is constantly being updated to make it easier.
- Great Support – Shopify provides 24/7 support by email, live chat or phone (if you’re in North America, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand or Singapore). However, some reviews did claim that Shopify support isn’t the best at answering queries of a technical nature – e.g. if you want to add some custom code.
- Fast – Shopify is a robust platform built on a huge infrastructure and sites built on Shopify tend to load pretty quickly.
- Scaling and Security – It doesn’t matter if you receive 100 visitors or a million, Shopify’s hosting takes care of this for you. Shopify also invests in making improvements in infrastructure, security and much more – this helps business owners concentrate less on the technical details, and focus elsewhere.
- Closed Platform – If you choose to leave Shopify for any other platform, it is not easy to migrate. With the exception of product data (which is easy to export), you will lose other data (pages/blog content) unless you have a Shopify developer migrate it for you.
- High Costs – While basic functionality is $29/month, you need to higher plan if you want functionality like gift cards (available in the $79/month plan) or report builders (available in the $299/month plan). You may also incur some recurring costs if you need advanced functionality through a plugin. Depending on the plugins needed, your monthly recurring costs can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars.
- Transaction Costs – Transaction costs can take a big chunk out of overall sales (if overall sales are $200,000 – you could have transaction costs from $1000-$4000 based on the selected plan. This is not considering payment gateway costs which are added on all platforms.
- Limits to customization – You are limited to customization options the selected theme provides you. If additional customization is needed, you may require developer support, which is costlier than WordPress developers. Also, if your business needs to integrate third parties (which will be needed once sales pick up), such as a custom ERP, order management, shipping, accounts, you will probably be better off choosing an open platform like WooCommerce or Magento.
- Limitations on product variants – Shopify restricts merchants in creating product variants – they permit up to 3 options (such as size, colour, material) for each product, and 100 variants. Granted, this might be enough for most users, but if you have a specific product which needs more than 3 fields, you need to purchase a plugin (costing between $8-$60/month).
- Subscription costs – $29/month to $299/month
- Theme Cost – Free to $180 (one time)
- Transaction costs – 0.5% to 2%. This does not include third-party fees (credit card, PayPal etc.)
- Costs of plugins – as required. Plugins range from free to >$100/month based on your requirements.
WooCommerce is built on top of the immensely popular and versatile WordPress CMS (Content Management System) platform. It works with almost all WordPress themes, which allows for a great difference in the overall look of the website. It’s also free and open source, which means you have control over your website data (including customer, product and content) should you choose to move to a different platform in the future.
WooCommerce does require some degree of technical expertise to set up your store, and you will require a developer to create your store.
- Free, Open Source Platform – This means that you have control over your data, should you choose to migrate to a different platform.
- Greater Customizability – Being open source, WordPress allows you to implement custom features. For example, there may be legacy systems like reward programs or inventory management that need to be integrated, and this is possible in WordPress. Another area where you might want to customize your website is analytics – again, WordPress is pretty versatile and works well with a number of analytics providers.
- Large Community – WordPress powers 29% of the internet, and WooCommerce is the most common route used by a website to implement eCommerce features with over 2 million websites using it. This results in a large community which can help you troubleshoot any issues.
- Availability of Themes and Plugins – There are also a massive number of themes (both free and paid) that help you change the look and feel of your website, and if you do need a custom look that isn’t satisfied by a theme, you have access to the source code to do so. You can also add functionality to the website through a large number of plugins – both free and paid.
- Availability of Developers – WordPress is an extremely popular platform, and has a flourishing ecosystem of developers, plugins, themes that help to moderate development costs should you need any changes done. Shopify and Magento, by contrast, have higher costs of development due to a lesser talent supply, and also due to the intricacy of development.
- Content Marketing – WordPress is one of the best platforms for blogging, which is good if you plan to use content marketing to promote your store.
- Lower Hosting Costs – Unlike Magento, where you need more server resources, and Shopify, where hosting costs are part of the recurring fees you pay, WooCommerce works on WordPress hosting which keeps your hosting costs low when you’re starting out. You can choose to scale up if you’re attracting a lot of traffic – WordPress will still require lower server resources than Magento.
- Easy to Use – After setup, it is pretty easy to understand how to maintain store operations using WooCommerce, while Magento has a steeper learning curve. Ease of daily use is comparable to (if not equal to) Shopify.
- Out of the box features – The feature set is comparable with Shopify but not as robust as Magento. For most eCommerce businesses, this doesn’t matter. However, if you need advanced eCommerce features like multiple stores with the same account, advanced filter and search options, detailed product analytics, product comparison, and cross-selling options, you’ll have to look at third-party plugins or Magento.
- Security – Due to its popularity, WordPress can be a target for security attacks. However, no platform is completely safe, and WooCommerce and WordPress do update their platforms to address security concerns on a regular basis. If you or your developer follow security best practices (regular updates of the platform, plugins, themes, and the use of security plugins), your store should be quite secure.
- Hosting – This is the most definite cost. Shared hosting, which is enough for most stores, should cost between $8-$15 per month depending on requirements. Dedicating hosting, if needed, will increase costs substantially.
- Development costs – WooCommerce stores can cost anywhere from $2250 up, depending on the developer selected and the scope of work.
- Plugins – There are both free and paid plugins offering different functionalities. Depending on what you need, you may need to factor in a one time cost for plugins, along with support fees as required. Yoast WooCommerce SEO, a commonly used plugin, costs $79 with support for 1 year.
- Theme Costs – There are both free and paid themes available. A good premium theme tends to cost between $50-$100.
Magento is a content management system built specifically for eCommerce, with a huge array of features that cater more towards larger eCommerce businesses, and is used by a number of big global brands for their online stores.
It has 2 editions – the free community edition and the Enterprise edition which costs upwards of $22,000 for an annual license.
- Very scalable – Magento is created for eCommerce, and consequently, scales very well to handle tens of thousands of products and large amounts of traffic. It is also more robust in product management and analytics, which helps manage large product catalogues efficiently.
- Secure – As a dedicated eCommerce platform, Magento has better security than WordPress out of the box – this is only true, however, if you install the frequent security patches sent by Magento (these do need the services of a Magento developer to install), or use the Enterprise edition.
- Robust feature set – In terms of advanced eCommerce features, Magento has a more complete feature set out of the box – this includes the ability to create multiple stores with one account (if you wish to localize your store or have different stores for different product lines), advanced filters and search, detailed product analytics, cross-sell or upsell products, product comparison. For a cost, the enterprise edition provides even more advanced features (reporting and analytics for example).
- Customizable – Budget permitting, Magento is highly customizable and possible to integrate with all sorts of legacy systems.
- High hosting requirements – Magento requires far higher system resources than WordPress making it necessary to keep a dedicated server in order for your store to run smoothly. This results in higher costs.
- High development costs and slower development – Magento is a highly complex platform, and as a result, development is slower and more costly on Magento. Setting up a Magento based website can start at $9,000 and quickly move upwards from there.
- Steep learning curve – You’ll find that Magento, with its advanced features, is not as easy to use as WooCommerce and Shopify.
- High ownership costs – The high hosting requirements and development costs result in an overall higher cost of ownership.
- Hosting costs – Managed (shared) hosting can start at about $200/month and go much higher. Dedicated hosting would start at $500/month.
- Development costs – This can start at $9,000 for the most basic setup, and quickly move much higher.
- Plugins/Add-ons – Plugins cost $0 – $500, but the total cost will be higher based on the time involved in integration. As Magento has more moving parts than WordPress, developers will need more time to make sure that the plugins don’t conflict with other functionality.
- License Fee (for enterprise) – Starts at $22,000 and changes based on the store revenue.
|USP||A full-featured managed eCommerce platform for smaller businesses that are OK with limited customization, a subscription cost, and lack of control of their data.||Builds eCommerce into WordPress for businesses that need customization, have a limited budget, and need to own their data. Great if content marketing is important to you.||An eCommerce focused content management system tailored for large businesses with adequate budgets that run a large online store and need advanced marketing/reporting functionality and customized features.|
|Costs||Recurring monthly costs starting from $29. Transaction costs of 2% – 0.5% depending on subscription. If customization is required, development costs can be more than WooCommerce.||Medium upfront development costs (starting $2,250) and some recurring maintenance costs. No transaction costs.||High upfront development costs (starting $9,000). No transaction costs for Community edition. Subscription costs of $22000 upwards (based on store revenue) if you need the Enterprise edition.|
|Hosting||Included in the monthly subscription.||$8-$15/month for shared hosting.||Starts $200/month for managed hosting ($500/month if you need a dedicated server)|
|Customizability||Limited.||Highly flexible.||Highly flexible.|
|Product Variations||Limited to 3 types (e.g. size, colour, material) and 100 variants. Can be extended through plugins.||Unlimited||Unlimited|
|Reports and Analytics||Google Analytics integration possible. Professional reports available with $79/month Shopify premium subscription.||Google Analytics integration possible. Basic analytics and reports available with WooCommerce. Advanced analytics and reports available with plug ins.||Google Analytics integration possible. Basic analytics and reports available. Advanced analytics available with Enterprise Edition.|
|Support||24/7 premium support from Shopify.||Limited support from WooCommerce. Additional support through agencies and developers.||Support from agencies and developers. 24/7 support for the Enterprise edition from Magento.|
|Scalability||Yes. Scales well for products and traffic, but weak for large/complex product catalogues, and integration with 3rd party systems could create issues as the store becomes larger.||Scalable up to an extent as long as adequate resources/budgets are available.||Very scalable, as long as adequate resources/budgets are available.|
|Ownership of data||No||Yes||Yes|
So which platform should I choose?
If you have a small or medium business which is just starting off in eCommerce and need minimal customization, Shopify could be a good choice for you.
As your business grows or if you are an established brand, WooCommerce may suit your needs better as it provides a more robust and flexible platform. It allows you to customize your store as needed, and stay in control of your data.
Choose Magento, for a large online store with advanced marketing and reporting needs, custom functionality, integration with existing systems and thousands of products, customers and transactions.
*Costs are purely indicative. Actual costs depend on the feature set and developer engaged.
Need more information or want to create an online store? We can help. Get in touch to discuss your requirements.