It takes a lot of work to have an online shop. You have to process payments, deal with customers and manage inventory. However, the first obstacle to be dealt with is choosing which platform to use. If you choose the best ecommerce platform, managing inventory and processing payments should be much easier.
In this article we will analyze the features you should look at to find the best ecommerce platform. We will also see the best options, which include:
And since time is money, let's get straight to the point.
What features to look for in an ecommerce platform?
E-commerce is an excellent way to earn money online. It refers to online shops and the fact of selling products or services on the Internet. It does not matter if you sell subscriptions, physical products or even virtual items, as everything falls within the scope of ecommerce.
Any ecommerce platform worth mentioning should include inventory management options, allow payment processing and provide sales reports. However, that is only the basics when it comes to ecommerce. Here are some other features to consider when looking for the best ecommerce platform:
- The ability to configure product categories. If you sell more than one type of item, you need to keep things organized.
- Product page customization options. You should be able to create unique pages for each product that contain complete information and look great.
- Promotion and discount functionality. Customers love promotions and they are a great way to make extra sales.
- Support for multiple payment processors. Many people like to use their preferred payment processors, so offering multiple options is a great idea.
- Analytical information. The more you know about your customers, the more you can optimise your shop to increase conversions.
Nowadays it is easier than ever to create an online shop, but that does not mean that all ecommerce platforms are the same. For example, the best ecommerce platform for startups may not be ideal for a one-person business.
With this in mind, it is important that you investigate what is the best ecommerce platform, which is what we will see below.
The 9 best eCommerce platforms, compared
We have a lot of ground to cover here. There are many options, each with its pros and cons. In this section, we will help you choose the best ecommerce platform for your unique needs. Finally, remember that these are all self hosting ecommerce platforms, so you will also need to find a hosting provider.
You may know what Shopify is and how it works, or at least it will ring a bell, but what you may not be so sure of is its history. And that is why we are here 😉
What is Shopify: the origin story
This CMS was founded a few years ago, specifically in 2004 by Tobias Lütke, Daniel Weinand and Scott Lago after an attempt to open an online shop for snowboarding called Snowdevil. And we say "attempt" because in the first instance they were not able to find any e-commerce product that covered the needs their shop demanded.
Maybe it would be easier to build their own software - said and done! Luke, a computer programmer, built his own online product sales software to get Snowdevil's online shop up and running after a couple of months of development.
Shopify was founded in 2004 but the platform was launched two years later in 2006.
In June 2009, Shopify launched a platform API and the App Store. From then on, growth was unstoppable.
In 2007 it was a finalist in the CNET Webware Awards and expanded its workforce from 40 people in 2010 to 140 in 2102 and then further expanded to 300 in 2013. In 2020, it reached 5,000 employees in 17 offices in 12 countries. More than one million vendors already use Shopify worldwide.
Shop, the latest evolution of Shopify
In April 2020, Shopify announced the launch of Shop, a new app that functions as a marketplace. With Shop, users can still track their shipments, but also browse a recommended product feed, learn about new brands and make purchases directly from the app.
Shops can integrate the Shop Pay payment system that allows consumers to pay with just one click. This allows them to improve the customer experience and reach new potential customers. Under the "Shops" tab, consumers can find a customised shopping feed, which displays product selections, special offers and new products to discover. This feed is fed by consumers' purchase history and the brands they follow in Shop.
Shop also shows whether the online shop is physically close to the user, and whether it offers an in-store order picking option. This way customers can find local businesses if they prefer not to wait for the parcel service.
But... how does Shopify work?
Shopify is a CMS for eCommerce that allows you to design your online shop to your liking without the need for any programming knowledge, it's that simple. You can make your own online shop in a few minutes with total ease. The interface it presents is very flexible and the process of building the shop is very intuitive and effective without losing time in navigation. It is a CMS that will make your management tasks easier from the beginning.
The only thing you will need is to access their website and add an email to start creating your online shop. Then cover all the data you are asked to provide (this step is very simple), choose a payment plan and finally a template you are going to use. There are more than 100 so you will have plenty to choose from. Both free and paid and also ordered by business sectors (fashion, art, technology, etc).
If you also have some basic knowledge of HTML and CSS, you will have the option to customize the design of the template you choose, but this is already the next level.
How much does Shopify cost?
- Basic Plan (29 usd/month, about 26 euros per month). The simplest plan to create unlimited products and categories, with 2 accounts for employees.
- Shopify plan (79 usd/month, about 72 euros per month), which reaches 5 accounts and includes the possibility of creating performance reports.
- Advanced plan (299 usd, or around 273 euros in total) for large businesses, with the possibility of up to 15 employees accessing their control panel.
Please note that in addition to these prices, you will have to add the fee (between 2.4% and 1.8%, depending on the plan you have chosen) for each payment you receive by credit card in the case of using Shopify Pay, Shopify's native payment processor.
And what are its advantages?
- Simplicity in the creation and management of your online shop. It will be very easy for you to create, customize and prepare your online shop to start selling in a short time, and you can also design a blog to promote your shop with it.
- Hosting is included so you don't have to worry about the speed of loading your shop.
- Good customer service. Support through forums, email or even chat. It also has Shopify Academy, a platform with free courses to help you manage your business.
- Customer statistics (for higher payment plans), which will help you to guide your sales strategy.
- Payment facilities, as they have more than 70 international payment currencies that allow you to sell locally and in other countries.
- You can even sell without having the product itself as it integrates with Dropshipping sites with apps such as Ordoro or Inventory Source.
- Automatic tax system, so you don't have to worry about anything since Shopify automatically takes care of state and country taxes from the location.
- Unlimited products that can be varied according to characteristics, with the possibility of importing or exporting the products with csv files or one of the apps for importers/exporters in the shop.
- Accept and manage orders in seconds, as you will receive an email or mobile notifications every time you receive a new sale. Customers like the immediacy of the service.
And the disadvantages
- It is not open source. Oops. So if you choose this platform, you will have to pay to access their plans.
- You will not have great options for modification in the "Check Out" processes and they could be considered "limited".
- It has a cost that you have to face every month.
- Finally, bear in mind that there are some features such as paid subscriptions which, if you want to have them, you will have to pay a commission for using them.
And now that you know the advantages of Shopify and how easy it is to use, are you going to use it to create your online shop?
Unlike the rest of the options we will see, WooCommerce is not an independent ecommerce platform. It is a plugin that runs on WordPress, the world's most popular content management system (CMS).
WooCommerce does a fantastic job of adding ecommerce functionality to the platform. It is one of our favorite ecommerce options because the WordPress desktop is intuitive enough for beginners to quickly understand. Add to that extensive, easy-to-use ecommerce functionality and you have a winner in your hands.
WooCommerce can handle all the basics, from publishing items for sale to processing payments. In addition, you can increase the functionality of the plugin through dedicated extensions, of which there are hundreds available. For example, there are options to integrate almost all available payment processors and other types of platforms.
👍 Use the WordPress CMS to launch your online shop.
👍 Customize your shop using dedicated WooCommerce extensions and themes.
👍 Get support from the huge WordPress user community.
👎 Adding advanced features usually requires multiple extensions.
If you want to create a simple online shop, it is hard to beat the ease of use of WooCommerce. However, growing the platform to scale may require several extensions.
The PrestaShop home page.
Unlike WooCommerce, PrestaShop is a dedicated ecommerce platform. Its goal is to allow you to set up a beautiful online shop as quickly as possible, and it does.
Besides being easy to use, PrestaShop includes an amazing amount of features. It includes powerful product management functionality, multiple payment options, customizable payment pages and more. It even lets you record your taxes.
In addition to its built-in features, you can also extend the platform through plugins and themes. However, in our experience, the platform includes virtually everything you need by default. It even includes analytics and customer support without the need for additional modules.
👍 Advanced product management configuration.
👍 Multiple payment processing options.
👍 Customise your payment experience.
👍 Use analytics to gain insight into your customers' behaviour.
👍 Handle support queries directly on the platform.
👍 Monitor your product taxes.
👎 There is a learning curve, although not very long, to understand the many features.
As you may have noticed, we are big fans of PrestaShop. We would go so far as to say that it is the best ecommerce platform for beginners if you do not use WordPress. However, they provide two very different experiences, so it's worth trying them out to see which one you prefer.
Magento is another name you often hear when people talk about finding the best ecommerce platform. Unlike our previous options, Magento is primarily aimed at larger scale businesses.
When it comes to flexibility, Magento has a big advantage over the competition in the field of ecomemrce. It is a powerful platform that allows you to create small and large online shops. However, you need to have some experience in web development if you want to use it.
The platform is not the easiest to use. However, it makes up for it with its many functions. For example, it is designed with SEO in mind, it is highly secure and it also allows you to use themes and plugins.
👍 Incredibly scalable ecommerce platform, perfect for large online shops.
👍 Created with SEO and security in mind.
👍 Supports multiple currencies and tax rates.
👍 Integrates with almost any payment processor you want.
👎 The platform has a steep learning curve.
👎 It can be difficult to use if you do not have experience in web development.
In our opinion, Magento is the best ecommerce platform for startups. It offers a lot of flexibility, all the ecommerce features you need, and is ideal for companies that have in-house developers. However, it is not a good option for beginners or if you want to set up a simple shop.
With more than 60,000 active shops throughout the continent, Tiendanube is considered the leading e-commerce platform in Latin America. Its technology is ideal for small, medium and large brands looking to increase their income through internet sales.
Among the functionalities offered, the more than 30 options of customizable templates, the stability of the platform and the integration with other online sales channels, such as Instagram Shopping and Facebook Shops, stand out.
The creation of the shop requires only 5 steps: registration, choice of design, uploading of the first product, configuration of payment methods and configuration of delivery methods.
👍 The assembly of the shop does not require prior technical knowledge, so it is not necessary to hire a programmer or designer to create the ecommerce.
👍 The design of your Administrator is very intuitive and easy to understand.
👍 The platform offers the possibility of selling online both physical and digital products (ebooks, podcasts and downloads in general).
👍 It offers integration with the main means of payment and shipping in the region, as well as customisable options for both cases.
👎 Most of the integrations through applications offered by Tiendanube are not free.
If what you want is to create a professional online shop, Tiendanube is an excellent option. It has payment plans that adapt to all types of business and is very easy to use compared to other platforms.
The best way to describe OpenCart is to say that it is between WooCommerce and PrestaShop in terms of power. It offers many more ecommerce functions than the first, but is a little behind the second.
Where OpenCart shines is in the board experience. It is intuitive, modern looking and provides all the information you need to keep track of your shop's performance at a glance.
In addition, customising your OpenCart shop is easy thanks to the platform's modular system. It's not as intuitive as modern page creators, but it's pretty easy to understand even if you've never created an online shop before.
Very easy to use compared to other platforms like PrestaShop and Magento.
👍 Built-in SEO functions.
👍 Supports extensions and themes.
👎 Does not offer as many built-in functions as other platforms.
👎 Many OpenCart themes look a bit outdated.
OpenCart is an excellent choice if you are looking for a platform that is easy to use and that simplifies the page creation process. It may not have as many features as other ecommerce platforms, but it is more than enough for a small business to thrive.
AbanteCart is a little known ecommerce platform that offers many excellent features. It is not the most striking option when it comes to interfaces, but it is very easy to understand for absolute beginners.
One of our favourite aspects of AbanteCart is how easy it is to add new products to the shop using its panel. It is a two-step process that only takes a few minutes, and the platform provides useful tips to help you at every step.
This open source platform also supports themes and extensions. Their collections are not particularly large, but they offer decent options, even if the platform could benefit from more modern themes.
👍 Set up an online shop quickly thanks to an intuitive dashboard.
👍 Add new products in a matter of minutes.
👍 Built-in SEO functionality.
👍 Supports plugins and themes.
👎 The AbanteCart community is quite small.
👎 The number of themes and plugins is a bit limited.
If you are looking for an easy to use ecommerce platform, AbanteCart is an excellent option. Despite its lack of variety when it comes to themes, there are some decent options to choose from, which would not look out of place in a modern online shop.
osCommerce shares many similarities with other ecommerce platforms we have reviewed so far. It is easy to set up and no experience with ecommerce platforms is required to set up your first shop.
The first time you start osCommerce, you will notice that its panel looks a little outdated. Despite that, it contains a lot of standard and advanced functionalities, more or less at the same level as AbanteCart.
osCommerce also has the clear advantage of having a very active community, with thousands of extensions and free themes. This gives you an advantage when it comes to customising your shop.
👍 Setting up an online shop with osCommerce is very simple.
👍 The platform has thousands of free extensions and themes.
👍 There is a huge community of users ready to help in case you find any mistakes.
👎 The platform does not allow for growth on a scale as good as we would like, so it is not a good option for large shops.
👎 The board looks a bit outdated.
In our experience, osCommerce works great for small businesses. However, it begins to decline in performance when you have an extensive product catalogue. In some cases, this may be due to poor web hosting performance, but it seems to be a common theme in the platform.
Leaving that aside, osCommerce is one of the best ecommerce platforms if you're looking to set up a small online shop.
CubeCart proves that appearances can be deceiving. The first time you log in on the platform board, it looks quite simple. However, you have many options to work with.
The platform offers all the functions needed to operate a successful ecommerce shop, from product management to sales tracking. However, it doesn't stop there; you can use CubeCart to send basic email campaigns to your customers, which is a fantastic way to get more sales.
It's little details like these that make the CubeCart such a great platform. Another outstanding example is the basic image editing tools you can use from the administration panel. It's not a Photoshop or anything like it, but cropping and resizing images can help you improve your product pages.
CubeCart also supports plugins and themes. There aren't that many options available, but the platform is good enough for small and medium sized shops.
👍 Easy to use platform with many additional features.
👍 Mail newsletters to your customers.
👍 Edit your images from the administration screen.
👍 Get access to extensions to customize your shop.
👎 The selection of extensions is not a big deal.
In the end we end up pleasantly surprised with CubeCart. This ecommerce platform offers many quality features that other similar programs do not. However, since it does not provide so many extensions, we recommend it mainly for small businesses.
These days, creating an online shop is much easier than ever. The best ecommerce platforms will allow you to have a functional online shop in a matter of hours. In our opinion, WooCommerce is the best ecommerce platform for small businesses, but there are many other options according to your needs. Be sure to review the other options analyzed to find the best ecommerce platform for you.