When it comes to choosing the right eCommerce platform for your business there should be less focus on finding the “best” platform, but instead, focus on finding the right fit. Every business model is different so we should expect the same from eCommerce platforms. We often advise our clients to spend some time examining not only their own products, but their sales, shipping, and marketing process as well. Taking some extra time to look down the road will help ensure you find the best eCommerce platform for your website that you won’t grow out of too quickly.
Add-Ons Explained – All of these platforms comes with a certain set of features and capabilities baked in to the core platform. When a platform does not have the functionality you are looking for there are various types of add-ons you can integrate with your platform to extend what it can do. Add-ons can be free, paid month to month, or licensed yearly directly from the add-on developer. Each platform may have a different name for these add-ons (i.e. shopify uses the term app), in this article we use the words interchangeably but they essentially all do the same thing.
As a digital agency we have researched and utilized many eCommerce platforms trying to find the best option out there, as you may have guessed we couldn't find one perfect solution that works for everyone, instead we found a few platforms that gave us a solid set of features and functionality that fit our clients individual needs. Our shortlist consists of Shopify, BigCommerce, and WooCommerce.
Together these three platforms cover the needs of a wide range of business types. Some other common platforms like Squarespace didn't make our list due to the lack of rich eCommerce features as well as limited options in payment processing and lack of integration which meant our clients would not be able to scale as easily as they could with other platforms.
Each platform we mention below is a solid choice for any online business. They all have major brands such as Toyota, Martha Stewart, Weber Grills, and Nestle using them so you can feel confident knowing they are tested. Security is another feature baked into many of these services as well as all the core features for selling online, this includes credit card processing and shipping options. Some features may be handled more elegantly on some platform over others, but in essence, they all come with the flexibility to grow. Below we go over each platforms strengths as well as some things to be aware of.
Shopify has a great advantage with how easy it is to start selling online. They have all the bases covered: with a fast cart, simple credit card processing, automated transaction emails, and a clean dashboard to help you keep on top of your business. It also has a large community of well developed and rigorously tested Apps (add-ons) which help give Shopify an edge when it comes to plug and play upgrades and overall it is a very established reputable, and one of the most utilized eCommerce platform. When choosing an eCommerce platform for our clients we like to start here because it has the best options for most online shops & small businesses.
Large App Store Business rely on multiple services to help run and grow their business. Dedicated newsletter platforms, advanced shipping tools, loyalty programs, and much more. Shopify has a large developer community that has made over 2,000 apps available on their site. These apps allow you to integrate with other platforms and add features that don't come out of the box.
No Traffic or Sales Limits There is a great advantage when going with Shopify as they don’t price based on store size and traffic. This means you can have as many products as you want and there are no sales caps (compared to those found on BigCommerce). There is unlimited bandwidth across all their accounts so you can feel safe knowing you won’t be charged or throttled for a sudden spike in traffic.
Smart Collections Editing in bulk is necessary for many large shops. Shopify has a great approach that lets you automatically build collections based on dynamic data. You can generate these based on current items on stock, custom tags that you set, even weight. As items data changes they get shifted in and out of collections for you. This may seem small at first but in practice, it turns out to be quite handy when it comes to organizing a large product set.
If you find yourself integrating a ton of Shopify apps to get the functionality you need, then you will have more developers to depend on when it comes to support. A single Shopify issue may translate to one support call to Shopify and 5 calls to all the app developers that you integrate into your shop. A second thing to note is your POS system. Shopify is the only platform on this list that has its own native POS system with a basic feature set. While there is an advantage to using Shopify POS you may be looking for a more robust system. Platforms like BigCommerce and WooCommerce don't offer their own POS but instead integrate with other leaders in the POS industry such a Square and Shopkeep. This however really depends on your needs as a store owner, if a pop-up shop is all you need then Shopify will work great, if your business needs a dedicated POS then you would benefit from choosing a platform that integrates with third-party systems.
Best for businesses that want a little more out of the box and do not want to deal with having to manage too many add-ons. BigCommerce is similar to Shopify when it comes to ease of use. There are some advantages when it comes to customizing products. There are also some B2B features that help make this platform geared more towards larger businesses. The Features we list below are geared more towards those that sell B2B
Built-in customer groups for B2B Customers can be easily and seamlessly segmented into B2B and wholesale groups, allowing you to give custom pricing and products for each segment.
B2B Payments When selling direct to business there are often other steps and forms of payments needed. BigCommerce offers purchase orders, quotes, including card-on-file transactions, credit limits, and net payment terms.
Highly Customizable Shipping Rates When shipping B2B you find yourself needing custom shipping options. BigCommerce has partnered with Shipping HQ, allowing them to offer custom options such as multiple points of origin, LTL, or freight.
BigCommerce has sales caps on all their tiered plans which means you may need to upgrade if plans as you begin to increase sales. Once you reach the cap on your select plan you will be asked to upgrade to the next tier. While some business may be fine with paying more for the increase in sales, some may prefer Shopify with their unlimited bandwidth and no sales caps on their tiered plans.
Control and ownership is king here. WooCommerce is an open source platform built on WordPress. This means you would have full control over your site which allows even greater flexibility when compared to Shopify and BigCommerce. With content being so important, having your shop built on WordPress gives you the most powerful content management system on the web.
Sell Anything With its great flexibility, there are more options to what you can sell online. You are not limited to physical goods, you can also sell digital goods or subscription services. For example, If you plan to have an online school selling course material, then this is possible on WooCommerce.
Full control over every page With other platforms, there are usually some limitations or areas you can't really modify. They give you a limited set of fields and options that can be added to each product or page and you must get creative with what's available. With WooCommerce you get full control over every page and section of your site. Building becomes more about what you need and less of what can be done.
Best for blogging a blog can dramatically increase your search engine ranking by allowing you to post good relevant content for your customers. WooCommerce has the advantage of being built on the most popular blogging system available. While other platforms have blog support they are basic when compared to WooCommerces (WordPress) feature set.
Grow your site not just your cart eCommerce is just a part of your site, with WooCommerce you not only get access to WooCommerce apps but the entire WordPress plugin library. With 50,000+ plugins available, there are few things your site can’t accomplish.
If you plan to do a good amount of customization then this will mean an increase in management to keep everything running smoothly. There is also the need to make sure you are hosting the site on a host that can handle all the traffic coming to your site. Security is one more thing to manage when choosing to go the WooCommerce. These issues can be mitigated by partnering with a solid WordPress hosting platform.
There are also the niche markets that have specialized restrictions and needs such as wineries, breweries, and the spirit industry. We have clients that have specialized POS systems geared towards the wine industry, these systems have special features such as wine club management that require a special eCommerce platform to integrate. For these specialty industries, choosing one of the above platforms won’t always work so we help them explore other options.
Another type of customer is enterprise level clients. You may not know it at first but both Shopify and BigCommerce offer enterprise versions of their platform. The features offered are more tailored to each client’s needs. For companies that find Shopify or BigCommerce to be the wrong fit, companies will build a more custom shop on Magento, or build their own application to fit their exact needs. This type of business tends to require a full-time development team on staff to ensure the shop stays up and running.