Choosing the right eCommerce platform is one of the most important business decisions you can make. It’s just as important decision you make when shopping for a house, a car or a business location. “You have to look at what you are shopping for, what you want, what you need and what the trade-offs are among all your choices” says Nate Shivar from ShivarWeb.
There are hundreds of eCommerce platforms to choose from. However, they can broadly be placed into three categories:
- eCommerce platforms that you develop yourself;
- Subscription platforms; and
- Open source platforms.
Develop your own eCommerce platform
This is not for the fainthearted!
Developing your own eCommerce platform is only an option if you are a website developer or if you get a developer to do the job for you. The big advantage of developing your own eCommerce platform is that you can do it exactly as you want it to be. A real disadvantage is that you’ll spend more time developing your website than selling your products.
Also, you can’t use the themes and apps of third party developers. It’s expensive if you don’t develop the platform yourself and too many tests runs are needed to get it right. And, if your business starts to grow big, then you may experience scale problems with your custom developed platform.
Developing your own ecommerce platform is more for web developers than want to do some online retailing.
When you decide to use subscription platforms you are actually ‘renting’ an eCommerce platform. Shopify is an example of a subscription platform. The great advantage here is that you don’t need to design your website yourself. That’s good news for non-tech savvy retailers! In addition, Shopify can help you with technical or operation issues. Another advantage with Shopify is that you can start your business right away. Just add your products and start selling…
“If you are looking for a simple e-commerce website that won’t require much housekeeping, but still has a classy design and great customer service, go with Shopify”, suggests Jason Parks CEO of The Media Captain in the Entrepreneur. Indeed, Jason mentions that using subscription platforms such as Shopify requires minimal technical capabilities. Moreover, he recommends Shopify for the theme store, plugins and built-in tutorials. And lastly, says Jason, “Shopify is all-inclusive when it comes to an eCommerce platform, meaning you can get all you want in a ‘one-stop shop’.”
Some disadvantages of Shopify. Shopify is not free says Manthan Bhavsar from Metizsoft Solutions. For example, there’s a 1 – 2 % commission fee when you use a third party payment gateway. Even more, Shopify does not allow you to change the coding of your website, so you are totally dependent on them for updates or upgrades of the platform.
Open source platforms
Here you are more in control of your eCommerce website.
This is only for those who feel truly adventurous, and are willing to take on a challenge. However, Zorzini from ECommerce Platforms cautions that although open source platforms are completely free, they are coming at a cost. You still must learn how to set them up and how to design the themes. Moreover, you need to decide which plugins will enhance your newly built store the best.
WooCommerce is a free WordPress plugin that adds eCommerce functionality to your WordPress website so you can have an online store. WordPress is probably the easiest and most powerful blogging and website content management system (or CMS) in existence today (iThemes). As a result, WooCommerce is a popular open source eCommerce platform, especially for small businesses.
You need to pay nothing more than you hosting fees to use Woocommerce. Furthermore is it supported by a huge online community of developers and experts and therefore the glitches and bugs are quickly sorted out. It’s simple to use and have lots of plugins and themes to choose from. To add and change products with Woocommerce is however not so straight forward.
Joe Robisin wrote in Practical Ecommerce when to use and when to avoid Woocommerce:
When to use Woocommerce
- Your website is primarily a blog. If you have an established site or if you have a new one that is blogging-centric, don’t change it just to sell a few products. In that case, adding on a WordPress ecommerce plugin is a good solution.
- Limited product catalogue. While a Woocommerce can carry several thousands of products, it generally performs not as well as dedicated eCommerce platforms with the big numbers.
- Simple products. If your products have limited variations and no customization options, then a Woocommerce will function well. Examples of products requiring no customization might be small electronics or home goods that come in only one style and color.
- You are familiar with WordPress and need a quick store. If any of the above requirements apply – your site is primarily a blog, you have a limited product range, and your products are simple — then adding a WordPress eCommerce plugin is a good way to quickly get your store live.
When to avoid Woocommerce
- You don’t have a reliable developer. If you’re an eCommerce owner and you don’t have your own developer and you’re not a developer, it will be difficult to keep your Woocommerce store running long-term.
- Complex products. Creating complex and variable products takes significant customization. For many WordPress ecommerce plugins, you’ll need to add in additional third-party plugins to get what you want.
- You don’t want to manually update WordPress and the plugin. In addition to keeping the WordPress core updated, you’ll also need to update the eCommerce system that you are using with WordPress.
- No time to test the upgrades. If you’re not a developer or don’t want to pay for a developer’s time when your website’s backend needs updated, Woocommerce might not be the best choice.
All platforms have costs associated with them. Which means, if you’re coming out the gate with a new business or product, make sure you can support the cost of an eCommerce platform before you spend the money.
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Woocomerce vs Shopify