WordPress or Squarespace? Shopify or Magento? With hundreds of ecommerce platforms to choose from for running your online store, selecting the right one can be a daunting task.
Related: 20 Crucial WordPress Plugins
But it's a very important one. In fact, the ecommerce platform you pick for your business is as important as the location of a physical store: The wrong platform can hinder sales, alienate customers and turn simple sales tasks like calculating shipping fees into a logistical nightmare.
While most platforms offer similar functionality, small differences in ease of use and other options -- like provisions for coupons/discount codes, themes, and templates; and even payment getaway options -- can make a big difference for the customer's overall experience.
Starting to feel overwhelmed by the options? Don’t worry: I’ve broken down the pros/cons for four of the most popular choices below:
If you already have a WordPress website and are looking to build out ecommerce functionality, click straight over to the WooCommerce plugin. This fantastic free plugin integrates seamlessly with WordPress, giving you endless flexibility, flexible shipping (including free, flat-rate or drop shipping) and extensive payment options. WooCommerce gives you complete control over every single aspect of your store, from stock levels to taxes. Most importantly, your sales data always belongs to you, not a third party. Need a little assistance with next steps? Check out SelfStartr’s “WordPress eCommerce: The Definitive Guide” to get the ball rolling on your site.
Shopify is a hosted ecommerce solution that does more than just offer customers their very own online store. The platform also provides full integration with social media for instant purchases, including buyable Pinterest pins, the Twitter “buy now” button and the Facebook shop, as well as iPad point-of-sale capabilities. Perhaps the biggest benefit of Shopify is its stellar customer support team, saving you countless hours of potential website sales headaches. For small business owners who want to focus on expanding their online presence rather than worrying about site maintenance and technical difficulties, Shopify is a smart choice.
This popular ecommerce platform powers more Internet Retailer Top 1000 merchants than any other platform or provider. Magento Commerce offers an “Enterprise Edition” for customizable desktop, mobile and tablet sites; optional commerce order management; and specialized solutions for the fashion industry and small businesses. Since Magento’s code is open source, the platform also provides users with unrestricted freedom for site customization, although you’ll need to be comfortable with HTML/CSS coding. As a bonus to businesses with international sales, Magento offers multilingual support. However, some users complain about slow site performance speeds and a not-so-friendly back-end interface. Magento can have a steep learning curve, so if you're serious about this ecommerce solution, consider bringing in a Magento expert to kickstart your site.
For folks who are new to the ecommerce world, Squarespace hits the sweet spot. It offers just enough customization capabilities to make your storefront your own, without overwhelming you with too many options. Squarespace earns bonus points for its award-winning templates and shop-able lookbooks. Squarespace’s ecommerce functionality is fully baked into its platform; just insert a product block into your website to get started. If your mission is to build a website (that also happens to sell products), then Squarespace is an obvious choice; its templates are excellent, its CMS is intuitive and the photo editing/display tools are first-class. If your primary mission is an online store, however, you may find Squarespace a bit limiting. At the time of this publication, Squarespace works only with one payment gateway, Stripe, and not with PayPal, which may be a deal-breaker.
Which ecommerce platform is best?
The "best" ecommerce platform is the one that’s right for your needs. First, you’ll need to decide if you want a hosted solution (like Shopify) or self-hosted one (like WordPress). Next, consider the amount of control and flexibility you want over your site. For maximum customization, stick with WordPress and the WooCommerce plugin.
If you’re looking for robust social media sales functionality, in addition to an online storefront, Shopify is a smart choice. Are you worried about serving mobile customers? Be sure the platform you choose offers responsive design for smartphones and tablets, the way Magento does. Finally, if your primary goal is a beautiful web presence, and product sales are secondary (and PayPal integration doesn’t matter), then Squarespace is your best bet.
Bottom line: Your job is not to manage your shop software -- it's to sell your products. The last thing you want is a complex or challenging platform that gets in the way of your ability to make sales just because you wanted to save a few bucks. Whether you’re opening your first ecommerce store or considering an upgrade, take the time to carefully compare your options before making a selection.