The challenge? Finding the best platform for your e-commerce store in a sea of website builders. To help you weigh the pros, cons, and other e-commerce platform variables, I’ve compared five leading platforms.
We compare 5 major ecommerce platforms, including Shopify, Magento, WooCommerce, BigCommerce, and Wix.
What You’ll Learn:
What Should You Look for in an Ecommerce Platform?
The platforms on this list each cater to a different set of needs. Factors like size, business objectives, resources, and budget all come into play. To narrow your options, work through the following questions–how you answer them will help you define what an ideal e-commerce platform looks like for you.
- Alignment with goals. Why are you setting up this store? To monetize your content site? Upgrade an existing online store? Digitize your brick-and-mortar? Start a drop-shipping business?
- What do you sell? Digital subscriptions? Consumer products?
- How much do you sell? How many items are in your catalog? How many orders do you process? How much revenue is coming in?
- What’s your budget? E-commerce platforms range from free to thousands of dollars a month, based on features, hosting, and customizations. Additionally, some plans are all-inclusive, while others require you to find a hosting solution or come with hidden fees.
- Customer engagement. How you can control how your customers interact with your business.
Common Ecommerce Platform Features
While every platform offers a different set of features, here are some common capabilities that you’ll want to look into before committing to a platform.
- Hosting solutions
- Uptime stats.
- Catalog Management.
- Promotions & Discounts.
- Editing Tools.
- Mobile Optimization.
- Supported Integrations & Plugins.
- Social Media.
- Marketing Tools.
- Social Media Integration.
- Unlimited API call volumes.
- Themes and Templates.
- Dedicated App Store.
- PCI Compliance.
Types of Ecommerce Platforms
- SaaS platforms. (Software-as-a-Service) SaaS platforms are cloud-based subscription that offers all users the same experience and technology for a monthly rate. SaaS platforms are the most accessible type of e-commerce platform as costs include things like hosting, maintenance, upgrades, and security. While this is generally seen as a positive, brands with development capabilities might feel constrained by a lack of customization options.
- Headless platforms. Headless platforms are part of what’s known as CaaS e-commerce (commerce-as-a-service) which allows users to plug e-commerce features into a CMS platform like WordPress. The benefit here is, websites can piece together an e-commerce platform from different components via API, creating a seamless experience for shoppers. This gives brands more control while providing the advantages of a SaaS platform.
- Self-hosted e-commerce platforms. Self-hosted e-commerce platforms offer a custom build, but come with hosting responsibilities, installations, and in some cases, manual software updates.
- Open-source platforms. Open-source platforms allow the same flexibility you’ll find in a self-hosted platform, though they don’t require a license and may offer hosting and security features. You can build on existing code from other community members, and make customizations however you see fit.
- Cloud platforms. While SaaS platforms are cloud-hosted, cloud platforms don’t necessarily provide a service. Some self-hosted and open-source platforms like Magento and Salesforce commerce now offer the option for off-site hosting through third-party providers such as Amazon Web Services. Unlike SaaS platforms like Shopify, organizations are responsible for feature releases, updates, and scaling their storage solution as they grow.
Best Ecommerce Platforms Compared
Shopify vs. Magento
Magento and Shopify are designed for two distinct customer types. With Shopify, you have an accessible solution that allows anyone to build an online store. Users pay a monthly fee and Shopify handles hosting, security, and updates.
Magento is open-source and while free to use, turning the framework into a functional store requires some serious development skills–meaning brands need to either have an in-house team or outsource development–both of which require significant resources.
Shopify vs. WooCommerce
Both offer extensive documentation and an active community of users, allowing plenty of reference materials to its users. Additionally, both platforms allow users to customize their feature stack by offering support for a dizzying array of integrations.
WooCommerce is open-source, which means that anyone can add extensions to the platform’s library. You’ll see a lot of familiar icons such as Square, PayPal, MailChimp, and Amazon, as well as some unbranded third-party offerings, which aren’t vetted by the platform.
In terms of security, Shopify sites come with SSL certification, whereas WooCommerce sites include SSL support, but require users to obtain a license on their own.
Shopify vs. BigCommerce
Both Shopify and BigCommerce are both excellent platforms that offer a comprehensive set of features, including:
- Multichannel Support. Integrates with social media channels allowing users to sell through Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.
- Abandoned Cart Recovery. Automatically send emails to customers who left without checking out.
- Inventory Management System. Allows users to track inventory levels, add and update products, and automatically keep store availability up-to-date so customers don’t run into issues when placing an order.
- SSL certificate. SSL, or Secure Sockets Layer, certifies that its safe to submit payments through your store.
Like Shopify, BigCommerce allows users to build a site from any of the platform’s customizable templates.
Unlike Shopify, they also give users the option to customize their site with HTML and CSS–addressing one of the major complaints people have with some of the more “user-friendly” platforms.
Another key difference is, BigCommerce comes with a more robust set of built-in features, whereas Shopify keeps things simple out-of-the-box and allows users to pick and choose their own features from the platform’s app store.
BigCommerce also has an app store, though it’s a lot smaller than Shopify’s–though according to the website, the idea is, they already give you everything you need so you don’t have to use apps.
Shopify works great for brands that use social media to drive traffic to your store. Facebook Ads or Instagram marketing – this is the best choice.
Shopify’s SEO capabilities do have somewhat of a bad reputation.
For large stores with huge catalogs, BigCommerce is a better bet. While Shopify offers a few features like 1-click purchasing and upsells that you won’t find in BigCommerce, it doesn’t quite offer the same level of performance.
Shopify vs. Wix
At a glance, you might think that Shopify and Wix offer the same basic features. Both are affordable website builders that cater to people with little-to-no website experience.
The main difference is, Shopify was designed specifically for e-commerce, whereas Wix is just a website builder that supports some e-commerce features.
While Shopify outperforms Wix by a long shot, the simple website builder offers a few bright spots. The first is the Wix Artificial Design Intelligence (ADI) tool–which simplifies the set-up process beyond drag-and-drop editing.
While most users will want more customization, the ADI asks you a series of questions (what type of website is it, what colors do you want to use, etc.) and turns it into a website. From there, all you’ll need to do is add your copy, photos, and product details.
They’ve also made it super easy to sell digital products, offering a built-in functionality for customers to download products, and the ability to send automated emails to deliver the purchase.
I could see this being useful for freelancers and other creators that want to sell digital goods like subscriptions or online resources.
Unfortunately, its lack of marketing tools means you’ll need to piece together your analytics stack from other sources, which might cost smaller organizations more in the long run.
Bottom line: Shopify’s monthly costs are only marginally higher, but you’ll get better design much more functionality–more features, reporting tools, and integrations.
Magento vs. WooCommerce
As mentioned in the table, WooCommerce is a plug-in that allows WordPress users to embed e-commerce functionality into the backend of their website.
The main benefit here is, users can continue using the platform as usual, uploading and managing e-commerce operations the same way they manage content.
Magento is a more advanced platform designed for medium to large operations with the resources to work with a developer. Both platforms are open source and allow users to upload unlimited products and allow for much more customization than you’ll get with Shopify or Wix.
Magento vs. BigCommerce
Where BigCommerce is an out-of-the-box SaaS platform, Magento is an open-source “platform-as-a-service” or PaaS provider, which means anyone can modify the code to create a customized online store.
BigCommerce offers SEO tools, product reviews, marketing features, and templates that make things easy on non-developers.
BigCommerce vs. WooCommerce
BigCommerce and WooCommerce are both compatible with WordPress, enabling users to turn their existing content management system into a functioning store.
However, the main difference between the two is the scope.
As mentioned, BigCommerce is for, well, bigger stores with thousands of SKUs, integrations, and high order volumes, while WooCommerce, despite its ability to host unlimited products, is better suited for smaller operations. Traffic increases, integrations, and large catalogs can slow WooCommerce sites down.
In the end, each of these platforms offers a different set of benefits designed to accommodate different user groups. Key takeaways:
- BigCommerce does a great job balancing ease-of-use with sophisticated tools and features like social media selling, though it’s likely too overpowered for a small brand looking to sell a handful of products.
- For brands that aren’t sure where they’re headed, my pick would be Shopify. The platform caters to brands of all shapes and sizes, and brands can upgrade their plan as needed.
- I wouldn’t recommend using Wix or WooCommerce in most cases. The exception here is if you’re a blogger/podcaster/freelancer and want to sell digital assets to monetize your content. In which case, WooCommerce is the better bet. Wix lacks security, integrations, and reporting to deliver much value to users.
- Magento is a solid choice, but only for brands with a dedicated developer/IT team. You’ll need development skills to design your site and you’ll be responsible for finding a hosting solution and keeping your site secure.