Updated in June, 2017
With the global & Indian ecommerce market growing at a rapid pace, we are seeing a lot of new trends. When starting out a new ecommerce venture, there are a lot of elements that need to be figured out – right from the ecommerce platform (which this post explains in detail), payment gateway to integrate with your ecommerce site, product photography, social media strategy, customer acquisition, customer retention, search engine optimisation & a whole lot more. There are a whole lot of specialists out there who can help you with each of these elements or you could take a digital marketing course or buy a book on digital marketing to familiarize yourself.
The first step when starting out is the ecommerce platform and the number of such platforms and content management systems available has grown over the years. In such a scenario, figuring out which platform to use when you’re looking to build your online store can be a fairly confusing task – especially if you aren’t from a technical/ecommerce background. This post intends to make your research work easier by helping you choose the platform best suited for your needs.
Managed e-commerce platforms vs. Content Management Systems (CMS)
There are two options available for building an ecommerce website – one can either use managed (hosted) ecommerce platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce or open-source Content Management Systems (CMS) like Magento.
As the name indicates, a hosted ecommerce platform is hosted on a server that you will not have access to, while CMS-based websites are self-hosted on server space (such as Bluehost) you will have to purchase. Which option to choose will depend a lot on your specific needs as well as your level of technical involvement. Below is a list of benefits of both which could help you make a choice between the two based on your business’ current requirements:
Benefits of using Hosted ecommerce platforms
- Lower development and maintenance – There is no coding expertise required, thereby eliminating the need for a development team. Also, the hosting is shared, which lowers the server costs.
- Better technical support – Most online store creators have a strong tech-support team to assist users with any issues that may arise.
- Less complex to work with – The back-end for most of these platforms is user-friendly and is built for ease of use keeping in mind users with limited technical knowledge.
Benefits of using a CMS
- Better functionality – Multitude of plugins, add-ons and themes available for content management systems allow the addition of advanced functionalities that would not be possible in the case of self-hosted platforms.
- Better customizability – Content management systems allow the freedom of adding/modifying features as well as building a customized design unique to one’s brand. They also allow for constant improvements and enhancements to the user experience on the site, which plays a major role in today’s highly competitive ecommerce space.
- Can support large stores and sophisticated websites – Content Management Systems, being self-hosted do not have a limit to the number of products or categories allowed, so they can handle much larger stores as well as sophisticated websites.
The server can also be an important aspect of how your ecommerce site is built and we usually use the Linux based servers being provided by Bluehost or Amazon Web Services. We usually refrain from using Windows based servers.
You could use this flowchart below (Click on the flowchart to enlarge) to help you arrive at a decision on whether you should go ahead with a hosted ecommerce platform or with a CMS, based on your requirements:
Once you’ve made your choice on going ahead with either of the two platforms, here is a list of the 5 best options you could explore in each niche:
5 Best Content Management Systems
If you’ve decided that a CMS is what will suit your needs best, then below are the 5 best ecommerce CMS available in the market at the moment. The most important factors which will come into consideration when zeroing in on the CMS would be the availability of extensions, availability of support, functionality, customizability and the cost of development and maintenance. All of them are open source and have free community versions and paid enterprise versions.
With nearly 21% of the world’s top 100,000 ecommerce sites built on the Magento platform*, it is by far the most popular and one of the best ecommerce CMS’ being used today. Its biggest advantages are the large number of plugins and extensions available which allow the addition of any new functionality, the ease of availability of experienced developers as well as a lower overall development and maintenance cost.
- Robust platform with a high level of functionality and customizability
- Large number of marketplace extensions available
- Highly active community for assistance with tutorials and troubleshooting options
- More SEO-friendly as compared to most other platforms
- It is highly-scalable – no need would arise to upgrade to another platform while scaling up in future
- Easy Integration with emailing platforms such as Mailchimp so that you can stay in touch with your customers
- It requires sufficient server space to operate efficiently at high speeds. Smaller servers may cause speed and other related issues
- Might be too complex for businesses that are too small
WooCommerce is a WordPress plugin used for building ecommerce websites on the WordPress platform. A large number of WordPress themes have the WooCommerce functionality built-in. The plugin provides almost all the features that are available in the other open-sources CMS’ listed here. WooCommerce might work out more user-friendly and cost-effective for smaller businesses as well as for those familiar with WordPress.
- Easy setup – WordPress requires very little time to get familiar
- Runs on Wordpess – so does not have powerful servers requirements
- Good number of lower-priced add-ons and themes available
- Huge WordPress support community
- Easy Integration with emailing platforms such as Mailchimp so that you can stay in touch with your customers
- Might not work for mid and large size businesses or for businesses looking to scale up soon
osCommerce is a fairly popular platform as well, with about 11% of the top 100,000 sites built on open source technologies using osCommerce. Being one of the earliest open-source platforms available, it has a huge support base and a very active forum, though some users find that updates to the platform have not kept up with the times.
- Easy installation and an easy-to-use interface
- Active forum with a large support base
- Large number of plugins and add-ons allowing the addition of most functionalities
- Some users find that the software updates and designs have not kept up with times and remain slightly outdated
Top 100,000 ecommerce websites using Open Source technologies – Source – Builtwith.com
Drupal is the second most-used open source website content management system after WordPress and Drupal commerce is the plugin for ecommerce sites built on this platform. Its seamless integration with Drupal makes creating a blog or forum much more convenient than most other ecommerce content management systems.
- Seamless integration with the Drupal CMS framework gives it an edge over other platforms when it comes to blog integration and content marketing
- Allows for easy implementation of SEO strategy
- The support community/forum is not as large or active as Magento or osCommerce.
Opencart is another open source CMS for ecommerce. Though it has one of the easiest to use backends, its support systems are not as comprehensive as compared to the other platforms listed.
- Easy to use back-end
- Feature rich with large number of plug-ins
- CSS can be edited from within the admin
- Some users report difficulty in installation of some themes
- Support documentation is not comprehensive enough
Magento vs Woocommerce vs Drupal Commerce vs Opencart vs osCommerce
5 Best hosted ecommerce platforms
If you’ve decided that an online store creator would better suit your business, then below are the 5 best platforms available for you to choose from. Two of these – Zepo and Kartrocket have been chosen with the Indian market in mind, as being mostly domestic players, they might have a better understanding and feel of the local market.
Shopify is one of the first names that comes to mind when one thinks of an online commerce platform. With 74,418 sites using Shopify*, it is one of the most popular as well.
- Large number of add-ons as well as beautiful and professional templates to choose from for a beautiful storefront
- 24/7 customer support – Can be reached by phone, online live chat or email.
- SEO Compliant
- May work out slightly more expensive as compared to other platforms
- The back-end UX is slightly complex to understand in the beginning
Pricing**: Starter – $14/month, Basic – $29/month, Professional- $79/month, Unlimited – $179/month.
Bigcommerce is another popular platform, with 17% of the top 100,000 sites using hosted ecommerce solutions; and 51,977 sites overall*, being built on Bigcommerce.
- A large knowledge base – The Bigcommerce university provides extensive help resources
- Easy-to-use interface
- Some users claim that customer support is a little unreliable at times
Pricing**: Silver – $29.95/month, Gold – $79.95/month, Platinum – $199.95/month
Volusion also has nearly as big a share of the top 100,000 sites using hosted ecommerce solutions – nearly 17%*; with over 90% of its market share is in the United States
- Wide variety of features
- Personalized service from account specialists
- Easy to use interface
- Volution stores use a mobile site as against a responsive design
- Add-on store is not as large as Shopify or BigCommerce
- No Blog setup available
Pricing**: Mini – $15/month, Gold – $35/month, Platinum – $75/month, Pro – $135/month
Mumbai-based Zepo supports more than 1200 ecommerce stores at the moment and has also raised an undisclosed amount of funding in December 2014 to drive its expansion plans.
- Local brand – local support as well as a better understanding and feel of local market
- An easy interface, especially for newbies
- Hosted on Rackspace servers – so you can expect a better speed as compared to most platforms.
- Limited Images per product on the lower priced plans
Pricing**: Basic – Rs. 949/month, Starter – Rs. 1899/month, Pro – Rs. 2849/month, Unlimited – Rs. 4749/month
Delhi-based KartRocket has powered over 1900 stores via its platform and snapped up close to $2 million investment in January 2015 to fund its expansion as well as develop innovative and India-focused product solutions
- Good choice of storefront templates
- Usability – Clean backend interface
- Local brand – better understanding and feel of local market
- Comparatively new player in the market as compared to the others above
Pricing**: Studio – Free (5% Transaction fee), Starter – Rs. 1500/month, Pro – Rs. 3000/month, Unlimited – Rs. 7000/month
Top 100000 websites using Hosted Solution technologies – Builtwith.com
Every platform and CMS has its plus and minus points and choosing the right one depends on your business model and requirements. If you are going in for a hosted platform, Shopify or Zepo (if you prefer a local player) might be the best options, while if you are looking for a Content Mangement System, then Magento would most definitely work best. This, however, is based on our experince and we would love to hear what your experience says.
As a last word, switching platforms or content management systems after a store is up and running is not really a straightforward process and can truly be a nightmare. So, make sure you take a prudent and informed decision with a good amount of foresight.
If you’re a retailer looking to get onto the ecommerce bandwagon, please feel free to contact us and we would be glad to assist you.
Once you’ve zeroed in on the right platform for your ecommerce business and need to decide on the best payments solution you could use, you can check out our blog on the top payment gateways for ecommerce websites.
*Statistics from builtwith.com
** All price data is from the respective websites as on 12th January, 2015