What Makes A Great eCommerce Platform?
It’s all about having the freedom to sell what you want, where you want, and how you want. And for brands setting-up shop in the online space, we've identified the key must-haves when choosing an eCommerce platform:
Because first impressions count. And the ability to produce a well-presented, modern store – that serves on all devices – is essential. And with the tools and themes offered, there should be enough customization to allow the platform to showcase your existing brand.
Because it can't break down mid-sale. Your platform has to reliably deal with all transactions – for both digital and physical goods – and integrate seamlessness with various payment processors from all around the world.
Because you're not there 24/7. Your platform should support the management of orders, shipping goods, tracking inventory – handling the complete back-end operations of running a store, without you needing to resort to mounting spreadsheets.
Because it's more than your store, it's your digital hub. It has to easily integrate with all the other facets of your business – providing apps and plugins that allow you to automate tasks like shopping cart product suggestions, adding customers to an email list, or selling through social media.
Because you want to see returns. It needs to be the most efficient platform for your brand, for the budget you can afford. As some platforms may promise the world (and more), they may not offer the elements you need.
And from a site technical-level (where we do most of our work), these are the other non-negotiables:
Because time is money. When a user clicks Buy Now, it needs to happen then and there. And sorry, if your page doesn’t load fast, they'll click away to a competitor and won't return.
Because it has to take the heat. Can your site perform at peak condition through a Black Friday and Cyber Monday onslaught? Customers expect it to. And they won’t be happy if your site crashes mid-purchase.
Because nobody wants their credit card details going rogue. Your site security means protection against hackers. PCI compliance and site-wide HTTPS are all essential steps to ensuring strict eCommerce security.
Remember, choosing an eCommerce platform is a lot like signing a lease, you're making a solid investment in the life of your business – an online home you’re building to last.
Which eCommerce Platform Should I Choose?
This is a common question we’re asked to advise on daily. And we figure eCommerce platforms work best if you use them to build a complete online store – rather than to simply add payment processing like a Frankenstein to your existing website.
It's much more practical (and simple) to manage operations from a single dashboard, ensuring you've got everything you need, all in one place.
At the end of the day, an eCommerce set-up should be seen as an evolution of your brand – shifting your day-to-day trading to form part of that extension – not simply just adding another revenue arm. Without investing the time and infrastructure to establish it properly, it’s pointless to expect a high-end return.
Here's our little rundown of the leading eCommerce platforms for Australian brands – alongside our in-house pick of the bunch.
What is Shopify?
Back in 2006, young German programmer Tobi Lütke wanted to start selling snowboards online. Dissatisfied with any of the online platforms available, he boldly created his own eCommerce solution.
Fast-forward 15 years – Lütke has sold more than a few snowboards. Shopify has now become a leading eCommerce provider with more than a million merchants using it. It’s an all-in-one eCommerce solution that enables users to build an online store, manage products, and handle payments using one singular hosted service.
Some 10,000 Australian retailers are already boasting the benefits of this platform, including major players like JB Hifi, Culture Kings and Frank Body.
- Extremely user-friendly and quick to get up and running
- Excellent checkout experience with ‘abandoned cart’ recovery
- Ability to sell across multiple social channels, as well as in-store
- Designed for easiest data migration
- Well-stocked library of secure third-party apps
- PCI compliant, guaranteed uptime, automated scaling and security updates
- Customisation of a theme generally requires professional assistance
- The management and input of content can be challenging
- Switching template involves website reformatting
- Shopify Lite USD $9 / month
- Shopify Basic USD $29 / month
- Shopify Standard USD $79 / month
- Shopify Advanced USD $299 / month
What is Woocommerce?
A staggering 39.5% of websites across the internet are powered by WordPress. And WooCommerce is the open-source eCommerce plugin that can transform an existing WordPress site into an online store.
WooCommerce provides total freedom in modifying and customising anything and everything. You can add unlimited products, images, galleries, users – and take unlimited orders.
While you can install WooCommerce on your server for free, making it ideal for budget-conscious brands, there'll be additional hosting and security costs, domain registration charges and inherent development expenses to consider.
- Flexible customisation capabilities
- Simple integration with an existing WordPress website
- A large community of users, developers and ready-made plugins
- Basic functionality is not built specifically for eCommerce
- Costs can easily mount as platform bundled with hosting or any other software
- Issues around speed and security
- $0* for the platform itself
*Though it's not uncommon for self-hosted and supported WooCommerce solutions to cost a couple hundred to several thousand dollars per month.
What is BigCommerce?
Living up to its name, BigCommerce is a leading eCommerce platform providing advanced scalability for online stores. It has more built-in sales tools than any of its competitors and combines these features with great SEO and multi-channel integration. It's been designed specifically to help boost large and fast-growing businesses into the big leagues.
BigCommerce is also the only platform on the market which lets you sell physical, digital, and service-based products without having to use an additional app.
With an immense store of features, BigCommerce is by no means designed as a quick-fix store or easy set-up. Though if you have just a few products to sell – there's a whole lot of back-end power and capability you'd likely be over-spending on.
- In-built features makes it a fitting platform for scaling your online store
- Sell across multiple channels like Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest
- Strong SEO capabilities
- Challenging editing interface for constant updating
- No mobile app functionality
- BigCommerce Standard $29.95 / month
- BigCommerce Plus $79.95 / month
- BigCommerce Pro $249.95 / month
- BigCommerce Enterprise-level Solutions, up to $900+ / month
What is Magento?
Released in 2008 (and more recently acquired by Adobe), Magento is one of the leading open-source platforms, powering some 20% of websites in the eCommerce space. Namely used by larger online retailers like Nespresso and Samsung, it manages over $100 billion in gross merchandise volume per year.
As an eCommerce platform, it boasts ample functionality and features. That being said, it’s a somewhat advanced piece of software engineering – making it almost impossible to use it if you don’t have web development skills (or don’t employ anyone who does).
Magento works in either of two ways:
- It’s available as a free download – meaning you can download it from the official website and install it on your own server to host and manage.
- It’s available as a hosted service – meaning you don’t have to install anything yourself, but you’re locked-in to pay a steep monthly subscription.
- Open-source platform
- No license fees
- Large developer community and extension marketplace
- Prone to buggy performance and complicated to fix
- Relatively expensive to run, maintain and scale
- No Q&A and limited support amongst the developer community for any extensions sold in third-party marketplaces
- Magento Community (the version you install) is free.
- Magento Enterprise (the version set up by Magento for you) is a whole lot more expensive. The company doesn't openly list prices on the website. For a quote, you first have to fill out a contact form telling them about your business. Reported fees range from $15,000 to even $50,000 per year.
Our eCommerce Platform Tip: Shopify
As web developers, we put these heavyweights of eCommerce head-to-head daily. Having worked across every known platform, from the inside out, it's become clear to our clients that Shopify provides the best value-for-money, convenient apps and the greatest digital marketing capabilities of any platform.
And for brands seeking uncomplicated processes and on-hand 24/7 premium support – the Shopify platform provides the smoothest client experience at the expense of a fixed monthly subscription. Hosting, security and domain management are all-inclusive in that fee – taking the stress out of needing to establish any off-site servers.
With the release of Shopify Plus, we’ve also seen larger enterprises flocking to partner with this dynamic platform. It’s been custom-built for some of the biggest retailers in the world, to seamlessly integrate between online and in store selling – definitely leading the frontier in large-scale eCommerce solutions.
Wrapping Up On eCommerce
It’s natural to feel overwhelmed by the amount of choice in electing an e-commerce platform, though it is best to do your research or engage a team of specialists that can help.
Establishing and running your eCommerce store is a considerable undertaking, and starting on the wrong foot could potentially harm your growth and operations right from the outset.