It’s become significantly easier to build an online store these days, thanks to the plethora of e-commerce platforms to do it with.
But just because there are many popular options available, does that make all of them equally good choices?
In truth, you need to be willing to look beyond the price tag of the platform. Each ecommerce site builder is unique in its own way, and it’s those differences that can make or break your ability to design a high-converting ecommerce site.
Choosing an eCommerce platform: 3 make-or-break factors
Arguably, each of the leading ecommerce platforms should help you build a store that sells:
However, upon closer inspection, you’ll notice that these platforms offer a diverse experience from one another. And since the choice of site-building tool is often a personal one, you’ll want to zero in on the three main factors that can affect your ability to build a site the way you want to.
Every site builder solution can be broken down into one of two hosting types:
- Self-hosted, which means you have to procure a hosting plan from a third-party provider. This can take time, as there are hundreds of viable options, not to mention plan types – there are over 2700 different options for WordPress hosting services alone. The costs vary a lot, too, depending on what you’re looking for.
- Hosted, which means you’ll build your ecommerce site directly on the ecommerce platform’s servers. There’s nothing to think about or manage; it’s all built into the plan for you.
Typically, self-hosted e-commerce software is significantly cheaper than hosted e
Take Shopify, which is a hosted ecommerce platform:
Then, compare it to Bluehost pricing for a WooCommerce website:
Here’s the problem: WooCommerce hosting from a company like Bluehost only provides the basic server infrastructure to rest your store on. If you haven’t considered what the time spent managing your hosting plan will cost, think about it now.
With Shopify, all of that is taken care of for you. Shopify is basically saying: “Hey, it doesn’t matter how large your site gets or how quickly it happens. We will manage security, speed and uptime so you don’t have to.” With cheaper WooCommerce hosting plans, you’re responsible for all of it — and that time and the resources you use to manage your hosting can add up.
If you expect to build a store on a grander scale, compare the price of managed WooCommerce hosting against Shopify instead. Managed hosting is comparable to what Shopify does.
Here’s an example from Liquid Web:
That’s why you should always compare apples to apples when it comes to hosting an e-commerce site. That’s not to say that an e-commerce hosting plan like the one from Bluehost is a bad choice; it’s just a better option for smaller and newer e-commerce sites — which is something to think about if your budget is a key decision-making factor.
2. Themes & templates
There isn’t too much of a mystery about what makes for a good looking website in 2019. That’s why you shouldn’t waste your time building the bare bones of your ecommerce store from scratch.
In essence, you want an ecommerce platform that will make easy work of building a website while giving you the freedom to focus your creative energies on the design and content. With well-designed and coded themes, you can instead spend time personalizing your store’s design and adding features that will make you more sales.
While most ecommerce platforms use similar page builders these days (i.e. drag-and-drop block builders), it’s the themes and templates provides on top of those that set the ecommerce platforms apart from one another.
Consider the following questions:
- How many design themes or templates are available?
- Are they only available to skin an entire store? Whole pages? Or smaller sections and widgets?
- Do you have to pay for access to more modern, responsive, and professional-looking designs?
- How much customization can you do to themes or are they pretty much set in stone?
WooCommerce is a standout when it comes to design. Although WooCommerce has its own store full of themes:
Users also have access to the tens of thousands of WordPress themes from the free WordPress repository, premium marketplaces like ThemeForest, as well as through third-party providers like Elegant Themes.
What’s more, WooCommerce users have options for how they build and customize stores. They can use the default Gutenberg editor for WordPress or they can use a page builder plugin. Really, this is the most flexible way to design as you can pick the combination of design tools that work best for you or for the situation.
On the other hand, because WooCommerce plugins and extensions are authored by a diverse community of developers, not all of them work with each other, and many can cause conflicts with themes, so you may encounter needs for extended debugging processes.
BigCommerce is another standout in this area, only it doesn’t require users to find the right page builder tool for them — it just gives it to them right away.
In addition, BigCommerce themes are responsive, cleanly designed, and cover a wide range of industries, from Electronics to Sports. And if you feel like you want to customize every inch of your ecommerce store, BigCommerce doesn’t put limits on what you can do.
Other ecommerce platforms provide a limited number of themes to choose from or limit how much customization is allowed. For some of you, that may be ideal as it means less to think about so you can hit the ground running. For others, it may not be enough.
3. eCommerce feature integration
Finally, you have to think about the elements on your site that directly relate to the conversion process. For instance:
- Checkout forms
- Shipping and tax calculations
- Customer service
- Payment gateway integration
- CRM or email marketing integration
- Social media buttons
- And so on
You need to outfit your ecommerce site with the essentials to ensure your visitors have a great shopping experience. That might seem like it would be a no-brainer. After all, each of these platforms provides a robust set of add-ons and integrations to help you do just that.
However, be mindful of what happens to your website every time you add a new piece of software (plugin) to it or when a new feature (extension) connects through an API. Page loading speeds are incredibly important to online shoppers, so you don’t want to use an e
For instance, while a platform like Magento has thousands of extensions that cover seemingly everything you would need to sell online, you want as many of the essential features baked into the platform as possible.
With an ecommerce platform like BigCommerce, you can build a full-featured ecommerce store right away — and without having to expend too much of your bandwidth and resources on more extensions (though those are available as well).
Plus, you don’t have to worry about feeling bullied into using a certain set of plugins to get the job done. For example, Shopify charges an additional fee to anyone that uses a payment gateway extension other than its own.
BigCommerce doesn’t do that. It gives you all the tools you need to sell and lets you make up your own mind where you get them from. This is one of the main reasons why BigCommerce is the clear winner for, businesses wanting to scale up quickly.
Which is the best eCommerce platform for you?
Truth be told, the leading e-commerce platforms are leaders for a reason. They all work incredibly well and have helped thousands, if not millions, of people, publish stores to the web.
Just be careful about which ecommerce platform you choose. You’re not likely to find a bad apple from the ones mentioned above, but you may find that one is ill-fitted to your needs and either slows down your process or costs you more money than you had planned for. However, by considering the key decision-making factors above, you should be able to find a clear choice among the bunch.