What is the best eCommerce platform? If you ask 10 different people, you are likely to get 10 different answers! You CAN choose the best platform for your business model, though, and we will show you how.
If you are new to this subject – trying to find the best platform for your online store can be a daunting task. There are literally thousands and thousands of eCommerce related plugins, packages, services and utilities out there. The good news is – there is a fairly small list of proven industry winners. We will help you identify what those are and which ones will be most applicable to your business model.
Do Your Homework: Determine Budget, Scope & Vision
Before we can even begin searching for the best eCommerce platform for your needs, you have to have a clear understand of three things: budget, scope and vision.
First, you need to have a good grasp of your overall budget, as there are products that fit a shoestring budget as well as platforms designed for established businesses taking their operations to the next level.
Next, you need to know the overall planned scope (or size) of your online store. 5 products? 5000 products? More?? This will definitely impact your final decision on a platform. Some successful eCommerce sites only sell a handful of products. Others, move massive quantities of products from equally massive catalogs. What size operation is your venture planned around?
Last, make sure you account for your future plans. I won’t ask where you see yourself in 5 years – as 5 years is an eternity in terms of internet technology – but where do you see your store in the next 12 – 24 months? Do you plan to still be selling the same 4-5 products or do you have big plans for growth?
Are you a Start-Up, Established or Enterprise-class business?
Now that we have looked at the budget, scope and vision of our eCommerce plans – we can begin to look for the best ecommerce platform for OUR business. For the sake of simplicity, we will lump businesses into three categories: Starter, Established and Enterprise, with specific platform recommendations for each.
Starter Store: Hosted eCommerce or Shopping Cart Plugin
[highlighted style=”style2″]Expected Investment: $30-$50 per month + time to manage.[/highlighted]
As a start-up, you are just getting your feet wet. This is most likely a brand new business, or at the very least – a brand new eCommerce venture for a brick and mortar business that is not yet deeply established. For these scenarios, we recommend a couple of options. First – a hosted eCommerce solution such as MagentoGo, Volusion or BigCommerce (to name a few).
Pros: These solutions require no expensive start-up and are typically around $30 per month to get started. You simply sign up, pick a theme, upload a logo and some products and you are off to the races. Another big plus with a hosted solution is you don’t have to worry about yearly SSL certificate fees – the host usually provides that as part of the package.
For those who want to host their own ecommerce site – there are lots of plugins available for popular CMSs such as wordpress, joomla and drupal. Plugins like WooCommerce (wordpress) or EShop (joomla) allow you to simply add shopping cart and purchasing functionality to your existing website. Many times these plugins are free, or very inexpensive. If you are comfortable installing plugins, you can do this yourself. At the very least – you can find a web designer who will help you set up with just a few hours of labor.
Cons: These solutions are inexpensive, and are quick to set up. The downside is future growth and scalability. If you know that your site will grow from 5 products to 500 products in the first year – go ahead and plan for the 500. A little hosted store or wordpress plugin will not provide the security and performance you need for the long run. Also, keep in mind that with a hosted store – YOU DON’T OWN IT. If that company were to go out of business, there goes your data.
Established: Self-hosted store such as Magento CE or Zen Cart
[highlighted style=”style2″]Expected Price Range: $5000 – $25,000 initial cost, with other monthly and yearly expenses.[/highlighted]
As an established business – you have to worry about your brand and your data. Do not trust your operation to a hosted solution that has no upgrade path or that could come back to haunt you later. A self-hosted solution costs a little more to set up, but you have complete control over everything. Magento CE is by far the most popular platform for a self-hosted shop, followed by Zen Cart. There are many others.
Pros: A self-hosted solution is yours – you can move it, disable it, modify it, etc. If you don’t like your host – you can take it somewhere else. Solutions like Magento CE are powerful and very flexible. You will likely have to hire a pro to help you set up a store like this – but in the long run, they can handle huge catalogs and high volumes of traffic.
Cons: A self-hosted solution means you are on your own. You will likely have to hire a company to help you navigate SSL certificates, PCI compliance, online security and data protection. Hosting fees for a store such as this typically start out in the $40 – $50 range and can go up from there. SSL certificates cost a couple hundred bucks a year.
Enterprise: Enterprise-class solution such as Magento Enterprise, WebSphere, Oracle.
[highlighted style=”style2″]Expected Price Range: Safely estimate $50k to $100k as an initial investment. It could go up from there, depending on which platform you choose.[/highlighted]
For this article, I will focus on the SMB/SME segment – the small / medium enterprise. You will find that your typical Fortune 100/500 companies develop their own in-house systems rather than using an out-of-the-box solution. Still, there are solutions out there that deliver enterprise-strength eCommerce performance. For the really big spenders, IBM WebSphere, Ebay Enterprise and Oracle ATG are among some top choices. Keep in mind, these companies have multiple locations globally as well as highly staffed IT and Marketing departments. For those looking for a smaller implementation – companies like Magento Enterprise and Ektron are trending rapidly.
Pros: If your business is in the SMB/SME category – you really should take advantage of enterprise products that offer the security, scalability and performance your customers demand. If you have hundreds or thousands of products, and your daily visits are at least in the tens of thousands – you really should investigate an enterprise solution.
Cons: If you need this level of service – there are really very few cons. The biggest is the cost. Not only does an enterprise solution cost a lot to set up – but maintaining often requires a team of individuals, outsourced if you do not have them internally. Many of these products carry annual licensing fees as well. Additionally – the desired security and performance requires a sophisticated hosting solution – generally comprised of multiple load balanced servers with redundant transactional and data storage servers. Your hosting bill will NOT be $50 per month.. More likely $500 – $1000 per month, if not considerably more.
A word about Magento eCommerce solutions.
We have mentioned several solutions in this article and have tried to keep it as objective as possible. It is important to point out a key benefit of the Magento family of products, however. Most products sit in one of these three categories. Magento has products for each of these categories and upgrade paths to connect the two. If you have big plans for growth in the future – Magento products can really help protect your investment. Start out with a Magento Go hosted store, and then upgrade to a self-hosted Magento CE store when your business demands it. Still growing? You can upgrade fairly easily from Magento CE to Magento Enterprise and enjoy all of the enterprise-class benefits including higher performance, increased marketing and segmentation capabilities, as well as more straight forward PCI compliance. We like Magento a lot, and we don’t hide this. Magento is owned by the Ebay / Paypal corporation – meaning it is well funded and full of features. It’s no wonder Magento enjoys the largest share of the eCommerce market out there.
We hope this article has been helpful – we’d love to hear your comments!