An eCommerce platform is arguably the most important aspect of the online retail experience. While any given website might refer to it as a shopping cart, a basket, or even a bag, no eCommerce website can succeed – or even function – without some kind of checkout solution.
It can be difficult, expensive and even outright impossible for many businesses to effectively implement these solutions in-house. This presents a problem that such organizations need to overcome in order to do business at even a basic level.
Fortunately, there are many effective and affordable eCommerce solutions available to retailers today. Of these, Shopify, Magento, and WooCommerce are among the most popular, the easiest to use, and the easiest to implement.
Each of these platforms has its own strengths and weaknesses, so you need to work out which is the right fit for your business, your products, and your customers.
It is difficult to pin down what people want from their online shopping experience, because people are a diverse bunch. Since no two businesses (even direct competitors) have identical customer profiles, this means that no two businesses are catering to identical groups of people.
While insights are available, it is impossible to say conclusively that customers want x, y, or z from their online shopping experience.
However, data from a range of sources (such as Soasta, The Wharton School, Upstream Commerce, and CIO), suggests that customers are primarily looking for these key features:
Obviously, several of these points are not truly affected by your choice of eCommerce solution. However, it is worth keeping these factors in mind when you make any eCommerce design decisions. You should consider speed, ease of use and responsive capability when deciding which eCommerce solution is right for you.
“Shopify is the clear winner in terms of what people are searching and how many people are showing interest.”
Shopify offers a range of advantages, including automatic taxes, shipping rates and support for multiple languages. Using Shopify also allows you to offer free shipping, and accept a range of major credit cards, including:
Shopify also helps you avoid shopping cart abandonment by providing built-in support for abandoned checkout recovery. Shopify will automatically send out emails to customers who add products to their carts without buying them, saving you time and potentially avoiding loss of business.
However, there is more to finding the right eCommerce solution than simply choosing the most popular one. There are a wide range of factors that must be considered, and while there are compelling reasons to use Shopify, there are some things you should be aware of.
Fees can add up – especially if you use add-ons
As Jeremy Wong at Website Builder Expert points out, the main downsides of Shopify are that while the basic plans are affordable, their transaction fees and other charges can add up and become expensive, and all that customization can be difficult for the uninitiated.
Shopify charges as much as 2% on each transaction, depending on your plan. Additionally, fees are charged on credit card transactions, for extra apps you may need to integrate into your online store, and for various other ‘non-standard’ features beyond the regular monthly fee of $14-$179 that you pay upfront.
Similarly, while Shopify is attractive out of the box and can be customized with a number of attractive themes, making changes to the code can be difficult. This is largely because Shopify uses its own coding language, Liquid, rather than something more widely known or open source.
Ideal for smaller businesses
For many users however, the positives of Shopify will outweigh the negatives. Shopify is ideal for smaller businesses and new start-ups, as well as existing retail companies who are taking their first steps into the world of eCommerce.
Endless potential for customization
Out of the box, Magento can provide you with an attractive and effective shopping and checkout solution. The main strength that Magento brings to the table, when we compare it with rivals such as Shopify, is that it is almost endlessly customizable.. This is particularly useful for stores that sell unusual or unique products, which might need to be broken down into categories other sites might not use.
This strength, however, also points us to Magento’s main weakness – it is harder for inexperienced users to successfully implement it.
Requires some technical know-how
Again, the cost of this is in terms of usability. Magento has a much steeper learning curve than the other solutions we are looking at, and users often find that they need at least some knowledge of coding languages in order to make the most of it.
Magento’s open source nature, however, can sometimes turn this weakness into strength. On their own website, Magento boasts that “with Magento, you get more than 150,000 innovators at your disposal”. Because changes and customizations other users make are often shared online, you can copy and implement them yourself, for free.
Still, this requires at least a minimal knowledge of coding, a basic familiarity with the interface and an investment of time is also necessary. Searching for the right solution from Magento’s “army of innovators” is not always quick and easy.
Lots of possibilities for payment
Magento allows users to offer their customers a wide range of payment options by integrating with existing solutions like Authorize.net and PayPal. As Catalin Zorzini at eCommerce Platforms explains:
“Magento provides one-click payments, guest checkouts and shipping to other addresses, if needed. You can even set up a ‘bill me later’ program to help out your customers and finance the purchases.”
Like Shopify, Magneto offers a range of plans and pricing. The Magento Community Edition, for example, is completely free to use. Although this version has fewer features than the paid variants, it is still highly customizable. It can also be used to implement a fully functional eCommerce and checkout experience with a minimal cost.
Best suited for companies with technical expertise
Adelina Tuca at CodeinWP suggests that Magento is best suited to “big companies and enterprises”. However, we would argue that it is not so much the size of the business that determines whether Magento is right for you. Rather, it is the level of technical knowledge available to you.
Magento is the least user-friendly of the eCommerce solutions we looked. Setting up the shopping cart itself is still relatively simple. However, running the online store as a whole requires at least a basic level of technical understanding, as well as the time investment to research and experiment with customizations.
Therefore, Magento is best suited to companies who have (or are willing to hire) expert web development staff.
Designed for WordPress
Unlike the other eCommerce solutions we’ve looked at, WooCommerce is designed and developed specifically to add eCommerce capabilities to an existing WordPress website. Given the popularity and ease-of-use of the WordPress platform, for many businesses WooCommerce can easily be added to your existing webpage.
WooCommerce is a completely free plugin for WordPress, rather than a standalone CMS like Magento. This makes it simple for you to add an online store and checkout facility to your existing site.
Because of this, WooCommerce is a fantastic way for a small business to transform their existing website into an eCommerce platform. While other eCommerce solutions such as Shopify can be added to an existing site, it is much, much easier to do with WooCommerce, so long as your new or existing website is built on WordPress.
Simple and easy integration
Unlike Shopify, WooCommerce integrates with the existing theme of your WordPress site. This means that there are no fancy built-in themes on offer (except for those offered by WordPress, naturally).
On the other hand, this means that your eCommerce platform will fit almost seamlessly into any site you already have up and running.
Dependent on WordPress
Obviously, the major downside to all of this is that if you don’t already have a WordPress site, you’ll need to set one up. Therefore it might be easier, cheaper, and less time consuming not to use WooCommerce.
The cost of hosting can add up
Another downside is that WordPress does not offer free hosting, so you will need to have that taken care of a before you can implement your WooCommerce eCommerce solution, though it can be done relatively quickly and easily.
The one other significant downside to WooCommerce is that it doesn’t provide all of the extra functionality that the other eCommerce solutions have to offer. It has fewer “out of the box” tools and capabilities than Shopify, and lacks the endless customizability of Magento.
Perfect for companies that use WordPress
WooCommerce is ideal for any company that already has a WordPress website. It is also a great fit for companies whose tech experts are familiar with WordPress. This means that WooCommerce is best suited to smaller organizations and new start-ups.
Each of the major eCommerce solutions have their own strengths and weaknesses. While they are all useful, none of them is an easy “one size fits all” answer that will work for every business.
Which solution is right for your business depends on the shape and size of your organization, as well as the existing web architecture you have in place. Once you've chosen the best solution, then it's a matter of finding the right tools for your eCommerce inventory management.