How to Choose the Perfect Platform for Your E-Commerce Store (the First Time Around)
As a busy professional (or so I’d like to think), the tyranny of choice plagues me more than I care to admit. I’m often faced with several solutions to a single problem, each one with its own pros and cons.
Big decisions — like what platform you should choose for your e-commerce store—can consume a lot of your time and energy. Luckily, with the right knowledge, it is possible to make the choice that’s best for your company.
is among worldwide, and for good reason. The Shopify platform was built and designed for online entrepreneurs by e-comm entrepreneurs. With this platform, you’ll have access to seemingly countless apps, plugins, integrations and other personalization features that can help your website stand out from the competition and, more importantly, optimize it for conversions.
This platform continues to surprise me year over year by its improvements (recently, this year at Shopify Unite—their annual conference—they rolled out a new 3D visual graphic and AR product experience as well as increased storefront customization capabilities on their backend content management system). These are all positives for end users, entrepreneurs, and e-commerce enthusiasts looking to improve their shopping experiences and get things done with minimal friction.
Additionally, on other platforms, you may spend hours writing code and programming for different functionalities. With Shopify, you may have to hire a developer for specific business needs or functionalities but you can just as easily work from a template to get your store up and running in no time.
Of course, all these benefits come at a cost. Shopify charges about $29 monthly for a standard plan—but it is a small price to pay for the value they deliver. Part of building on Shopify means access to their ecosystem of thousands of applications—some that increase conversions through customer engagement, cart abandonment recovery, and product upsells at checkout (shout-out to my friends over at Carthook). The strength of their content management system and application ecosystem makes managing and growing an online business as easy as is currently possible (from my knowledge).
To offer all the features that online stores need, Magento can seem somewhat complex to the untrained eye. If you are unwilling to learn a computer language or hire a programmer, Magento might not be the platform for you.
Entrepreneurs who are willing to put in the extra time will fall in love with Magento’s out-of-the-box and add-on features. However, I will say that Magento is better suited for well-established retail stores or merchants with a need for complex and more customizable experiences. Naturally, this comes at a higher cost and maintenance fee. For these reasons, I’d probably recommend Magento for only specific stores that fit the criteria. Even still, I am finding myself migrating more and more stores pre-established on Magento to Shopify just for its ease of use and the growing strength of the Shopify ecosystem.
Another large benefit of Magento is its enhanced security; due to its complexity and special-purpose build, the platform is one of the most secure available. In terms of drawbacks, again, if you’re not a programmer, willing to hire a programmer or going to learn some programming, Magento isn’t the logical choice for you.
Many first-time business owners are drawn to this website builder because there’s no set monthly subscription fee. WooCommerce is a free plugin that allows WordPress websites (which account for 25% of the web) to become online stores.
That being said, you will likely have to pay for some of the features you’re going to need to have a successful online store. Fortunately, desired plugins are often readily available and well-coded. Still, it’s advisable to know HTML and CSS if you use this platform. Because it is free, its user interface isn’t as optimized as other platforms.
A major drawback to WooCommerce is that the WordPress backend isn’t as organized as Magento or Shopify because it isn’t specifically designed for high-volume revenue generating e-commerce stores. For these reasons, I normally add WooCommerce onto sites that are not specifically meant for e-commerce—meaning that isn’t their main driver of revenue. For instance, we recently built a beautiful storefront for a pre-launch, posh LA restaurant Violet (the restaurant opens this Fall). The main CTA of the website is to book a table—the main driver of revenue. The restaurant proprietors also wanted us to build a custom cooking class reservation feature—for aspirational or curious cooks who wanted to stay after hours for impromptu cooking classes with celebrity chef Dana Slatkin. Here, we integrated a WooCommerce plugin for the Wordpress built site to enable a checkout feature, and voilà, we have online checkout functionality and a perfect use-case for WooCommerce.
If you are searching for an aesthetically pleasing website, might be the platform for you. It’s easy to use and makes picking design layouts simple. There are over 100 flexible templates — for desktop and mobile devices — that you can adapt for your needs.
Without knowing a single computer language, it’s possible to create a stunning website on Squarespace. Also, if anything goes wrong, Squarespace is known for timely and professional customer service. It costs $26 or $40 monthly to have a Squarespace online store.
One drawback of Squarespace is that it doesn’t have an app store and therefore, I can’t even consider it in the same domain as Shopify or Magento. Although you can still add apps to your site, they are not as integrated as on Shopify; main point here is that Squarespace wasn't intentionally built for e-commerce.
Sites like Etsy, eBay and Amazon can boost your sales, but they shouldn’t be your only e-commerce platform. Sure, they will help your products get views, but will they ensure loyal customers? Are they worth the high fees?
An online marketplace can supplement your revenue and product sales, but it can’t be the be-all or end-all. You don’t have to discount established online retailers, but they shouldn't represent your only product marketplace (at least in my opinion). Of course, there are high-revenue retailers that only distribute via marketplaces—and do so with great success. If you can make this work, then more power to you.
What Do I Use?
When it comes to my e-commerce businesses, I trust Shopify and Magento. I’ve worked with other sites, and I keep coming back to the two aforementioned platforms. I defer to and rely on (and recommend) Shopify for about 99% of e-commerce businesses I see come across my desk. However, Magento is a platform specifically designed for high-volume, customizable storefronts and when used for the right use-case is the perfect choice.
Still, the platforms I use might not be the right ones for your business. Based on the information above, you should be able to make a timely and educated choice for your company’s e-commerce platform.