A lot of brick and mortar businesses are just now beginning to take the internet seriously as a source of revenue. For a while mom and pop stores completely ignored it… then it became a necessary source of advertising as computers and mobile devices became the norm. Now the next phase in evolution – small businesses directly selling their products to customers and shipping worldwide.
From a business management perspective this sounds like a nightmare – it’s hard enough to manage books for US based transactions, let alone have to convert currencies, calculate shipping and all the additional fees, etc. Small businesses should have no fear though – the e-commerce market was built around convenience and it delivers on that promise.
There are several “out of box” e-commerce platforms for businesses looking to take their products online to a national or international audience. There are also advantages and disadvantages to each of these platforms and they are each built with a different type of business in mind. With that we are going to cover 3 of the bigger e-commerce platforms and what we’ve experienced with each. Their strengths and weaknesses, who they are the best fit for, etc.
1 – Magento Community Edition
PROS: Magento CE is probably one of the most widely used e-commerce platforms available, it’s definitely the one most of our e-commerce clients are using. It’s very cost effective (the platform itself is free) and incredibly powerful. If you have a host and a domain it can be easily installed with little to no extra cost. It comes with a built in shopping cart and newsletter / mailing list functionality, a product and order management interface, etc. A piece of software like this is an incredible asset for a company with little to no overhead looking to take their business online.
CONS: Maintaining a Magento CE website requires sysadmin, development and web design skills. If you don’t know a designer / developer or have a team of your own be prepared to pay for these services. Typical costs are $90+ per hour and up for experts who aren’t based in Bangladesh. That’s not to say there isn’t value in outsourcing development costs to 3rd world countries – but at the end of the day expect to get what you pay for. Companies who have a budget of less than $20,000 – $30,000 for their website or a catalog of less than 1 to 200 products probably shouldn’t jump into a Magento CE website. While cheap and easy to set-up Magento CE is extremely difficult to maintain and customize unless you have an in house team to manage the process for you.
2 – Shopify
PROS: Shopify makes the process of managing an e-commerce business relatively simple. It has a user friendly interface that is easy to learn and navigate. It is also scalable buy buying larger packages at a monthly cost. We have seen in our experience that doing complex tasks like on-site SEO are also possible on Shopify’s platform. The 24/7 support that they offer is also incredible and can be a lifesaver in certain situations. “Whoops I accidentally deleted an entire category worth of my catalog” – Shopify support to the rescue.
CONS: While Shopify is user friendly and very customizable it also has it’s limitations. For one, it’s very difficult to move your site or change URL’s once you have set it up. For a lot of people this isn’t a big deal. Another factor is that with Shopify you have to pay monthly fees. All that user friendly customization and support comes at a cost. But to some people the cost is worth the security of having that aspect of your business handled for you. They also have different levels that are scalable – so if you have a larger product catalog you can pay a larger monthly fee for more product bandwidth and features for large scale product management.
3 – WordPress – WooCommerce
PROS: First and foremost, your site is built on WordPress and I can’t say enough good things about WordPress – but I’ll save that for another article. WordPress sites are highly customizable and portable. This means it will be very easy to move your site to a new server or change domain names should you need to rebrand. WordPress’ backend UI (user interface) also makes it very easy for the layman to create content, post new products, adjust pricing, categorization, etc. A website built on the WordPress platform is very easy to manage and use for the average person. WooCommerce is a plug-in for WordPress that gives the platform e-commerce functionality. Scalability as far as breadth of catalog and products is only really limited by your server abilities. With WordPress / WooCommerce you get the best of both the Magento and Shopify worlds. WordPress / WooCommerce sites are cheap to build and relatively easy to maintain and come with a litany of built in shopping cart and product management features.
CONS: For massive stores with thousands and thousands of products there’s just no beating a solution like Magento. It’s designed for scale of this nature. WooCommerce can handle a lot but because of the nature of how it operates once you get to a certain point it becomes a difficult load to manage. Because WooCommerce and WordPress are such widely used platforms there is also a risk of getting lost in the forest of identically themed stores.
There are also a wide variety of e-commerce platforms such as Volusion and BigCommerce we did not cover here that are incredible as well. Overall you just need to examine your needs and make sure you don’t just go with whatever platform has the lowest up front cost. With Magento the upfront costs are minimal but long term maintenance and customization costs can add up quickly. With WordPress it’s easy to maintain but if your store begins to grow it can be difficult to scale quickly. Don’t jump into a long term commitment like this without making sure you have listed out all your needs and found the perfect platform to meet those needs.