The best eCommerce platforms
Three in every ten pounds spent in the UK is spent online and international sales push that figure even higher. Unsurprisingly, since the pandemic the number of e\Commerce businesses has shot up 50%. If you’re one of those companies yet to take your business to the next level by establishing an online store, it can be daunting deciding which eCommerce platform best fits your needs.
We’ll provide a brief overview of the platforms regarded as the leading providers for businesses of any size. It is a broad brush stroke look at their attributes, but hopefully it will point you towards making an informed start on your selection process.
Product data is key
Even the best ecommerce platform won’t help if you haven’t sorted out your product information management. Many businesses suffer from having various versions of the same product data scattered through the organisation. Furthermore, they limit their potential by manually processing their product data, which means:
- Slower time to market
- Inevitable human errors
- Key staff spending too much time manually processing, amending, and enriching product data
- The resulting reduction in revenue
A PIM platform is a tool which solves all of the above for eCommerce businesses. The gains in efficiency, speed, agility, and competitiveness will free your teams to concentrate on real strategic business aims like scaling your business, increasing your product offer, and getting new launches to market quickly and efficiently.
That said, let’s look at a couple of key questions concerning choice of eCommerce platform:
How much will I need to spend?
Your business plan is ready, and your budget limit obviously plays a key role. But false economies are dangerous – “It’s the cheapest, so it’ll do for us” does more harm than good, given that the range of add-ons and functionalities has a direct relationship to price. What appears like a reasonable SaaS subscription may work out more expensive when you factor in what you need to spend on extensions.
Do I need to know about web design?
The easiest option is a non-expert-user-friendly site builder (of which there are many), instead of needing coding experience, leading to an overly complicated process. Another alternative is to get an account manager to help you with your store. Some platform providers offer this support service to help you set up your site to understand and benefit fully from its potential.
What should I look for initially?
Selling online has become so cost-effective, efficient, and popular that there are plenty of big-name players in the ecommerce world equipped to provide a decent store. Use the overviews below to help you evaluate the state of the market and assess which works best for your specific business type and its needs.
The kinds of elements you should be looking for in any publicity blurb are (among others);
- Free trial to build a mock-up and test the waters
- Broad range of ready-made themes and templates
- Marketplace offering add-ons, extensions, and plugins
- Integrated payment options
- Ability to alter the initial design of the site
- real-time statistics on stock, sales, etc.
- tips and tools for applying SEO
- order and inventory management
- marketing and promotional tools
- Mobile-optimised for management on the go
- Payment options including third parties like PayPal
Even the best eCommerce platform can’t guarantee that the product information you are providing to attract customers is accurate, up to date, trustworthy, relevant, or engaging. Using a PIM solution will offer you far more guarantees of using your eCommerce platform with greatest effect when it comes to revenues and growth.
Download our free PIM Buyers Guide
The five best eCommerce platforms
Our choice of the five best eCommerce platforms is based on research from multiple sources and information from our small and medium-sized business clients. It isn’t intended to be an exhaustive review of each, but rather a taster of what each platform can offer.
Shopify is the biggest brand worldwide for ecommerce. They are proactive when revising and updating their packages and they offer a user experience team to help you by giving feedback and suggestions on set-up.
- Straightforward to set up and design
- Marketplace for integrating a range of plugins to enhance and expand functionalities: promotional tools, analytics, and payment plug-ins.
- In-depth analytics to assist in making good business decisions based on your past performance.
- Knowledge base: as the most widely used ecommerce platform, you can find a lot of resources to help you with queries, problems or even inspiration: business use cases, FAQs, dos and don’ts and user comments.
- Support – Not necessarily a negative, but be aware that, as with any ‘giant’ provider, Shopify has multitudes of clients, so you might not get the personalised attentiveness as you would from smaller providers.
- The price/quality relationship is regarded as good – for what you pay on various plans, it’s easy to set up, has a good range of plugins and extremely useful analytics features.
User-friendly, with a straightforward management interface. With BigCommerce, you are able to extend your business into different areas and manage it all from their multi-storefront. BigCommerce focuses primarily on enterprise businesses, but they do have an ‘essentials’ section aimed at other businesses requiring more of the basics
- User-friendly – Like Shopify, BigCommerce’s user interface is straightforward so you can navigate and get what you need done easily and fast.
- Integrates with WordPress. If you are used to working in the WordPress ecosystem, you can easily add the backend of the platform to an existing WordPress site.
- It offers integration marketplaces such as like Amazon and eBay
- BigCommerce doesn’t offer much mobile Support so bear in mind that it won’t be straightforward to manage the store on the go.
- Focus on Enterprise: BigCommerce focuses more on trying to grow existing enterprise brands on their ‘enterprise package.’
As well as being considered one of the best eCommerce platforms, Wix is also one of the oldest SaaS programs for site-building. Its no-coding framework has made it a reference point in web development. It is only relatively recently that it rolled out its Wix eCommerce option. It can ‘tutor’ inexperienced users with its seven-step guide to setting up attractive and stylish platforms to draw in and retain customers.
- There are 500+ templates, so no lack of options for any type of business.
- Extremely easy ‘drag and drop’ customisation from a well-signalled menu – AI-driven design functions are good for non-expert website builders
- Free Image editor – edit your images in the same software as your online shop to avoid losing files and having to do exports.
- The consensus seems to be that support could be better, due to the sheer volume of Wix users
The package of Basic features is relatively small, so be prepared to pay extra for extensions and pug-ins (although, remember, the basic Wix platform is priced very cheaply compared to many others) – important to bear in mind as your product range grows and your ambitions expand.
In 2018, Square, a large payment processor, bought the highly rated website builder, Weebly. The result is a relatively new entrant to the world of ecommerce store building. However, its profile is impressive
- A user-friendly dashboard to track sales, customer journeys, and to recover abandoned carts
- Integrated marketing features covering a range of features, from email marketing to paid ads
- Decent price/quality relationship for various plans
- No need for technical knowledge to set up retailing on Square Online, but not much scope for customisation
- You’ll have to use the Square payment gateway to avoid larger transaction fees
- There’s a certain learning curve when first familiarising yourself with the platform
- Square online offers customer support by phone, live chat, and email, but will first direct you to its Square Online knowledge centre.
Square covers all the bases well and the consensus is that it’s probably best for low-volume sellers rather than those planning to scale significantly.
Magento is one of the most widely used eCommerce stores by larger companies. It is open source, free to download and highly flexible. It offers a suitably wide range of features.
If you have grand ambitions, Magento is one of the most scalable tools on the market and has a highly knowledgeable user community. What caveat to all this is that, as a site to set up and maintain, it demands developer skills, as well as significant investment.
If you have access to developer skills (and a budget!) It offers tremendous opportunities through its features.
- themes and template designs are easily adjustable
- Extensive backend user interface with plenty of features available
- Good feature set, capable of extending and customising
- Eminently scalable for companies growing rapidly
- Global user community
- Several integration options for payment gateways
…but note that
- Customer support is limited (outside of the premium-priced enterprise package)
- Hosting, security, and backups are largely your responsibility
- certain integrated features are absent, so you will need developer support
These five eCommerce platforms are not ranked in any particular order – there are far too many variables to say ‘XXX’ is definitely the best. But this taster should give you an idea of the kind of provider you’re looking for and the kind of features you should be looking at as a baseline.
Don’t lose out on product data quality. If you haven’t got a solid grip on your product information management, you are wasting money on your eCommerce platform. Transform your product information management challenges into business benefits with our PIM strategy and platform selection services, so you can fuel revenue growth, free up your teams for creative initiatives, and reduce costs and risk.