Online Shopping Platforms. If you have outgrown the usual online selling sites and selling tools, you might consider creating an online store of your own. You will need to be able to accept orders and payments from your customers. The easiest way to do this is to simply add a buy-now button from PayPal or similar payment processor, but this isn’t the cheapest option and doesn’t have much functionality; neither does it appear particularly professional.
Serious merchants who wish to grow their online business need a much more flexible and scalable solution; consequently, most choose an online shopping platform that can work with their ecommerce store.
There are considerable differences between the various available online shopping platforms. The two main categories are hosted (or cloud based) and self-hosted platforms. With a hosted platform the provider will host your ecommerce store on their servers, while with a self-hosted platform you will need to integrate the providers’ software, or API, with your website. Both solutions have their pros and cons.
While for some merchants a hosted solution is the easiest and generally the most feature rich, to use them you will have to pay a monthly fee which, although relatively modest, can have an impact on your competitiveness. Self-hosted solutions are much more difficult to set up and manage, they do, however, provide far more flexibility for customization.
You will also need to integrate your platform with a payment service provider. Again there are many options. For most businesses the simplest is to use a hosted payment solution either through a redirect or iframe, which means you don’t access your customers’ credit card details. Alternatively, you may choose self-hosted payment gateway API integration which provides much more flexibility in the way you can use customer data, but this requires you to have full PCI DSS security accreditation.
Here we look at what we consider to be the top ten online shopping platforms. They include both hosted and self-hosted solutions. For each platform we briefly review the more important features and also provide some statistical data on metrics such as the number of merchants who use the particular platform, the number of monthly visitors, and their page rankings.
Shopify is one of the first online shopping platforms. It dates back to 2004 when it started as a bespoke online store selling snowboarding equipment. Today Shopify is a managed platform that can take care of products, inventory, orders and more. It has a user friendly CMS (content management system) and requires very little technical skill to set up and use.
A Shopify API is available for merchants who wish to sell through their own website, including WordPress sites. This allows easy integration with all Shopify resources.
Customer credit and debit card payments can be handled by Shopify’s own payment service provider Spotify Payments powered by Stripe; alternatively there are around 70 third party providers globally.
Additionally, Shopify have just announced that Apple Pay with be available as a payment option later in the year, making life even easier for their massive community.
BigCommerce is a hosted platform that is really easy to use; there is no need for even a single line of code to get your online store up and running. It is a suitable platform for all kinds of business ranging from a small e-store through to a large enterprise, and pricing plans vary accordingly.
Features include a wide range of really useful tools which are included in the price, multi-channel selling including social networks, availability of third party apps, in-build SEO features, and mobile friendly interfaces. A BigCommerce API is available which provides merchants with the ability to upload and download store data. There is also excellent customer service which includes direct help to get your store up and running.
A wide range of payment service providers are available.
3Dcart also boasts an easy to use interface and justifiably claims that their users can get an online store up and running in just minutes. It includes an extensive range of advanced features. It is easy to customize, provides shipping support, includes multichannel shopping including social media, integrated SEO features, and is supported by 200 or more payment service providers.
There is no software to install and there are good customer services to help you get your store up and running quickly. With the 3Dcart API merchants can create extra store functionality and run store queries.
Magneto is available in two versions; a community edition which is free to use and an enterprise version which has more features and customer support. The brand is owned by eBay.
Accounting for around 11% of all e-commerce, it is a popular choice and has many features. It is highly flexible and with it you can create a unique bespoke online store, however it requires a high level of skill and dedicated attention to get the best out of it. Your store can be managed via the Magneto API; this can also be modified to create additional functionality.
If you intend to grow your business, then Magneto is almost infinitely scalable and can be integrated with all of your back office functions.
WooCommerce is an online shopping platform that you can integrate with your WordPress website through the API. It is easy to install and manage and requires only modest resources. It is highly popular and the company claims that it is used by 30% of all online stores, though that does sound like an inflated figure.
Compared to some of the more sophisticated platforms in its basic (free) form it lacks many potentially useful and possibly essential features, though these can be purchased as additional plug-ins. A practical solution for small to medium sized merchants, it integrates with a wide range of payment service providers.
A PHP based open source platform, Zen Chart is a particular favourite amongst developers. However, it really does need a reasonable amount of coding skill to make the best of it, so if you ae looking for a plug and play solution that will get your shop selling in minimal time this might not be the best choice for you.
It is scalable and can handle several thousands of SKUs. It includes a reasonable range of marketing aids such as coupons, gift cards and newsletters, and there is a strong community which has produced, and still is producing, free plug-ins.
osCommerce, derived from open source commerce, began in 2000 and was one of the early PHP SQL based shopping carts. It is used currently by 280,000 merchants, and it is also popular with developers. As it is open source it is entirely free to download and use. There are also many add-ons that extend its functionality considerably. These include payment, shipping, reporting, inventory management and more; over 7,000 are available.
The software includes several templates, but you will almost certainly need to spend some time customizing it to create the kind of store you need. If you require customer support, it is available on a paid for basis through community sponsorship.
OpenCart is an open source shopping cart based on PHP and SQL. Free to download and use, the application is supported by around 6,000 plugins around a third of which are free. The software is easy to set up and there is extensive community support available on the community forum. It is one of the most popular online shopping platforms in its category.
The latest version, OpenCart 2, has met with considerable favorable attention. It includes many new features, improved admin, and improved payment options. There is also an updated API which provides improved integration with third party applications.
PrestaShop is one of the more popular shopping platforms. It is open source and free to download and use. It includes user friendly and powerful administrative abilities. There are 1,500 free templates of which 1,000 are free; there are also many paid for templates available through the community.
Marketing features include vouchers and SEO support. Email marketing and other marketing tool integration is available through paid for plugins. It is also relatively easy to customise templates and create new products; in addition, third party tools can be integrated with your store using the PrestaShop API.
With strong community support along with a helpline, this is an excellent choice for small to medium enterprises.
OXID eSales is a Germany based innovative open source ecommerce platform backed by a community of 12,000 members and developers. Features include multi-channel integration across e-shopping, social media, point of sale and mobile.
The system includes a comprehensive and user friendly CMS and flexible template editing functions. There is an intelligent search function, various safe payment options, shipping management, and marketing support. Additional modules can be created though the OXID API.
Clearly there are many options to choose from, but the last thing you want to do is waste too much time that would be better spent growing your business. Neither do you want to spend money on an online shopping platform when you could get all you require for free.
To a large extent your choice should be governed by the size of your current business and how you see it growing in the future. Providing your customers with the best possible shopping experience is also crucial; certainly your customers should feel at ease when buying from you.
Hopefully the information provided here will help you choose one the mentioned above online shopping platforms that is right for your business.