By: Tore Gustafson

Date: January 11, 2017

Before undertaking the task of selecting an appropriate ecommerce platform for your business it’s important to understand the needs of your business. Once you understand your basic ecommerce platform needs including how you’ll be managing your product catalog, processing payments, calculating shipping and sales taxes costs, marketing, and fulfilling orders, you can start to match your needs against the feature sets of various platforms.

Self-Hosted Versus Provider hosted

The largest distinction between ecommerce platforms is whether you host the ecommerce platform (self-hosted) or if your application will be hosted and maintained by the vendor—this is called SaaS or Software-as-a-Service.

Self-Hosted

Hosting your own ecommerce application means you will have to be a web developer or hire a developer or an agency to help get your store up and running. For a smaller business, hosting your own ecommerce application can be a way to save costs with low cost or free software. For enterprise companies, a self-hosted application might be advantageous to manage your own risk with internal systems or for better integration with internal systems.

Vendor Hosted (SaaS)

Having your ecommerce provider host your ecommerce storefront can be very attractive for someone who is non-technical. A SaaS solution offloads application maintenance and many security concerns to the ecommerce provider and in theory provides for a more seamless path for upgrades. Some of the peace of mind a SaaS solution can offer also comes with the tradeoff that you are typically more constrained in what you can control on your site from look and feel to functionality.

Platforms

There are quite a few different SaaS and self-hosted ecommerce platform options. Many are not worth your time and effort while others are still ironing out their kinks and may be ready for primetime in a few years. Our experience at Subtext has provided us the opportunity to work with a lot of different ecommerce platforms. Here is our high-level breakdown of several of the most common ecommerce platforms to help you in your search for the platform that is best suited for your business goals.

Squarespace

Squarespace has long provided a simple, low-cost solution for basic website needs. Somewhat recently they’ve started adding on ecommerce support as well. This is a great solution for a small business or business with simple ecommerce needs and a small product catalog.

Pros: Inexpensive, simple to use (non-tech friendly), simple CMS and blog tools

Cons: Bare bones functionality, little to no support for add-on functionality, doesn’t combine well with other web services

Good for: DIY entrepreneurs, small companies or simple product catalogs, simple business needs (shipping, etc.)

Alt. solutions: Weebly, Wix, BigCartel

Shopify

This is probably the best SaaS ecommerce platform for a small to medium sized business. It recently added more support for enterprise level businesses. Shopify also has limited functionality, but if you are willing to work with the system this can be a good way to force you to keep it simple. Its app store does offer a variety of add-ons to help with sales promotion.

Pros: Inexpensive, good documentation, lots or resources and add-on functionality, provides point-of-sale service as well for streamlined in-person retail sales.

Cons: Limited ability to customize, developer needed for customization

Good for: Small companies, simple product catalogs, simple fulfillment needs

Alt. Platforms: Magento CE, WooCommerce, BigCommerce, Volusion, BigCartel

WooCommerce

Most CMS platforms offer an ecommerce add-on. If you are using WordPress, the most popular ecommerce add-on, currently, is WooCommerce. WooCommerce is a good system with a lot of traction. The base package is free, but as you compare the costs of other platforms, note every feature set you add likely involves adding on new recurring cost.

Pros: Inexpensive, customizable

Cons: Developer support likely needed

Good for: Business already using WordPress or want a more fully featured CMS solution combined with their ecommerce solution

Alt. Platforms: Magento CE, Shopify, BigCommerce, Volusion, BigCartel

Magento Community Edition

Magento is the closest to a one-size-fits-all solution. It’s has a deep level of functionality and a massive community to support it. It is capable of meeting the needs of businesses of nearly all sizes. It is more costly to implement than Squarespace or Shopify and can be difficult to work with, but it has a robust feature set that makes up for its less-than-intuitive setup. Most businesses that expect to have sizeable sales should keep Magento on their list of potential ecommerce platform solutions.

Pros: Richer feature set, robust add-on support for integrations and enhancements, free base software license

Cons: Cumbersome code requires experienced developers to customize, resource hungry so it will require specialized hosting, self-hosted

Good for: Medium sized businesses, companies that want control over the entire code set

Alt. Platforms: WooCommerce, BigCommerce, Volusion, BigCartel

Salesforce Commerce Cloud

Formerly known as DemandWare, the Salesforce Commerce Cloud is popular enterprise level ecommerce application. Commerce Cloud was built to scale and can be customized for almost any purpose, but has the highest up-front implementation costs and on our last check requires a commission on sales that occur via websites running on its platform.

Pros: Can support most enterprise needs, recent acquisition by Salesforce should eventually lead to tighter integrations with other Salesforce products

Cons: Typically, a revenue sharing model requires certified developers to support

Good for: Enterprise Businesses

Alt Platforms: Hybris (SAP), ATG, Websphere, Magento Enterprise

So, which ecommerce platform is right?

What ecommerce platform is right for you? The short answer is there is no ideal platform. Beyond the highlights of each platform, some other considerations to take into account are how technical you are, who will provide maintenance long-term, and what future needs you might have. Perhaps the most important aspect of selecting your platform is having the right help.

If you are opting for to a SaaS solution always make use of the free demo to discover, firsthand, what services the provider offers and if you will need additional design and development support.

If you are going for a self-service solution make sure you have the right resources in place to augment your own skill set. This might be independent consultants, designers and developers, or a digital agency. Make sure whoever you are working with has a solid understanding of the mechanics of ecommerce and experience with your platform (or the skill set to learn and support it).

Good luck and let us know if we can help!