E-Commerce Solutions - Which one is right for you?
In a past article - which you can read about here - we looked at some of the reasons why you may want to create an online store for your business. Customers are much more likely to research products online before heading to stores, or simply shopped online only due to the ease-of-use and accessibility. If you've decided to make an online store the next question is "How do I make it?"
There are many E-Commerce solutions available on the internet, some of them good and some not so good. Let's take a look through five of the most common options for creating an online store right now and see how they compare.
WordPress - despite being traditionally used for media-heavy websites such as online blogs or image galleries - has the capability to be used as an E-Commerce platform. It can do this thanks to a plugin known as WooCommerce (there are technically other E-Commerce plugins on WordPress, but WooCommerce is the most recognisable one), developed for the purpose of turning your WordPress website into an online store capable of selling products.
You might be thinking that this is a great option since WordPress is so well known, has a large community and is easy to set up - but while these things are true to an extent, if you are looking at making a pure online store, you're better off looking elsewhere. The reason for this is due to the fact the WooCommerce is a plugin for WordPress and not included in standard WordPress sites. Some of our previous articles on WordPress have mentioned the fact that plugins can bog down the speed of websites by bringing in duplicated and unnecessary code that can increase load times.
WooCommerce also isn't a complete E-Commerce solution, as there are still plenty of features that many businesses would like to have on their online stores that aren't included in the base version of the plugin. Some of these features come standard with other E-Commerce solutions we will take a look at below, but in order to implement them on WooCommerce they need to be installed via additional plugins that integrate with WooCommerce.
As you can imagine, plugins on top of other plugins can be a nightmare in terms of maintenance - if one plugin receives an update, it can cause conflicts with other plugins that can create massive problems for the whole site and create high development costs in the long-term. Therefore, while it is certainly possible to create an online store with WordPress, there are much better solutions out there that will be more beneficial in the long run.
Magento is an open-source PHP-based E-Commerce platform, immediately making it more appealing than WordPress since it is a platform dedicated solely to making online stores. However, there are still lingering issues that can turn into big problems if not taken care of. The regular patches and security updates that Magento rolls out might sound like a good thing - but these updates will need to be trialled and tested before they are implemented, and that means longer development times and higher costs.
Maintenance is at an all-time high with Magento that almost rivals WordPress - and in some cases exceeds it - and there's also the problem of migration. When new versions of Magento are released, it would make sense to migrate your website over to the newest version. However, this migration process is not simple - a lot of themes, plugins and extensions that are compatible with a specific version of Magento aren't compatible with the newer version, and that means even more development time is needed to implement workarounds or even replatform the entire site. As you can imagine, this also incurs beefy development costs.
Magento seems to simply be at the back of the pack when it comes to E-Commerce sites. There are other alternatives out there that do its job much better, and the needs of today's online stores are getting further and further out of the scope of what Magento can do.
Now we're entering better territory - Shopify is gaining more popularity by the day, and it's easy to see why. Like Magento, E-Commerce is the sole focus of Shopify websites - however, there is nowhere near as many problems as the last two options we have looked at. Shopify is definitely a platform to consider, but let's look at some pros and cons.
Shopify's popularity stems from its customer satisfaction, which could be attributed to it being able to sell across multiple channels. Shopify allows you to connect your store to an Instagram, Facebook and eBay, which can help expand your business' brand and reach out to as many potential customers as possible.
There are also plenty of themes to choose from when creating a Shopify website - although only 10 of them are actually free - and there are plenty of plugins (called Apps on Shopify) available to add extra functionality for your store without bogging it down anywhere near as much as with WooCommerce on WordPress.
The biggest downside when it comes to Shopify is its pricing. Plans range from $29 USD to $299 USD per month - and that doesn't include the other lingering fees. Shopify's own payment gateway omits transaction fees; however, you're slapped with up to 2% in transaction fees for each purchase that uses an external payment provider - a fee that is much higher than any other E-Commerce solution. This might not be a big problem for large stores, but for smaller business and start-ups these costs can be too much.
Out of all of the out-of-the-box E-Commerce solutions in this list, BigCommerce is our most recommended one. It may seem not too dissimilar to Shopify, and that is a fair observation. Like Shopify, BigCommerce can let you sell across Facebook and Instagram and has a great selection of themes available for styling your online store. Where it outclasses Shopify is in its features.
BigCommerce is a powerhouse in the features department - having more built-in features than any other E-Commerce solution on the market. This can be a big selling point for many small businesses, since it means you won't have to go searching for plugins or apps that can potentially cost even more money to implement and test.
Another big plus of BigCommerce is its scalability. Whether you have 5, 500, or 50,000 customers visiting your website in a day, BigCommerce sites can handle the load efficiently and effectively. If you're looking to expand your business' presence online to garner a large customer-base, a scalable website is a big plus - and something worth investing in.
BigCommerce isn't perfect, however - the advanced features are indeed a great thing; but they can sometimes get in the way of the ease-of-use of the website. Despite this, it is a very impressive E-Commerce platform that - with so much available to you from the get-go and not needing anywhere near as many integrations - is the best of the pre-made solutions.
Now we have looked at some of the most used pre-built E-Commerce solutions - but there's still one more option to look at. While the convenience and low upfront costs are a big attractant to the previously mentioned platforms, they all have at least a small handful of kinks to them that make them just shy of perfect - even at their very best. This can be fine enough for some businesses, but if you want an E-Commerce solution that fits every need you have, the best option would be to have a custom website made.
Using the Laravel framework as an example, building an online store from the ground up will allow you to get everything you want included on your site from the get-go. Your specifications don't have to be limited by the mechanisms of a pre-made solution, and that allows for much more creative freedom on the development side.
Of course, having a custom E-Commerce site made will incur higher development costs than any of the other options we've looked at today. A lot of people will look away from the high upfront costs and search for a solution elsewhere, but don't let looks deceive you - these higher costs can end up saving you much more money in the long term due to maintenance being much less frequently required. Updates can be applied much more smoothly, allowing your site to be running better for longer.
Plugins can still be an option with this solution too if you want to add a feature to your site later down the line. Plugins installed on a custom site are able to be integrated in a way that makes incompatibility issues significantly less likely, which means less ongoing development costs after the website is up and running.
So there you have it - four of the most common E-Commerce solutions on the market, plus another one of our own recommendation. There are pros and cons to each of these solutions, and it does come down to preference sometimes. However, we hope we have been able to provide a more in depth look and analysis into the workings of each and how the work - and don't work - for businesses.
If you're interested in getting an online store made for your business, get in touch with us here at AB Web Developers and we can help get it going.