[toc]You want to get your store online. But, the array of potential software to run your online business can be dizzying. You look around, but it’s hard to discern what systems are the best eCommerce platforms on the market today. Do you want to go with a hosted solution? Do you want something open source? Heck, what do those terms even really mean!
When you’re trying to separate the best eCommerce platforms from the rest of the pack, it’s important to keep a few things in mind. How involved do you want to be with the process? How comfortable are you getting into the code? Is hiring an experienced developer to customize an open source online shopping platform to the needs of your business a better choice than going with a hosted solution? Do you even want to pay a recurring fee when you could just host your own internet storefront?
Who are the big names to look for among the best ecommerce platforms available? Let’s take a look at five of the most widely recognized ecommerce solutions in the world in 2013. All of these platforms are Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliant, so there’s no need to worry about how your bank will react. Likewise, all five platforms have a proven track record for secure operation on thousands of sites over many years. The only question is which of the best eCommerce platforms suits your needs.
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Shopify is the biggest name among the hosted online shopping platforms. Shopify offers a 14-day free trial. Their most popular option requires you to pay $59 per month to list up to 2,500 products. Premium templates will cost extra, usually between $100 and $200, depending on exactly what you need. Marketing options are also available through Shopify. Shopify handles more than 70 different payment gateways. They offer social media integration and email marketing. The system is backed by a content delivery network (CDN) that provides an extra boost when your site gets bogged down during busy periods.
The biggest plus in Shopify’s favor is that it is simple to use and does not require a developer to assist you in configuring your store. The biggest negative against Shopify is that you will not be able to customize the website anywhere close to as well as you can with an open source solution. What you surrender in terms of independence you will recover in added support and security. On the downside, it becomes more expensive to host an increasingly larger store.
Of the best ecommerce platforms within the open source world, the undisputed king is Magento. Magento is owned 100% by eBay, but is free to use. The platform was developed Varien, a company that had previously developed the osCommerce open source shop system. Over 150,000 websites worldwide utilize Magento as their ecommerce solution.
The big upside to all open source platforms is that you have no limits on how you expand them. However many products you wish to add is up to you. Modifying the appearance of the website is easy. Even changing the functionality of the website isn’t that hard with the right expertise to aid you. All you have to do is pay for web hosting.
Like many other open source platforms, Magento runs on PHP and MySQL, usually on an Apache web server. This is similar to what the blogging platform WordPress employs. Many web hosting companies offer easy Magento setups, so there is no need for folks who are allergic to programming code to steer away from Magento. But, if you aren’t going to hire a developer to assist you, you need to make sure that your hosting solution offers an easy-to-configure option for Magento.
The big upside to Magento is customization. Like all open source PHP code, Magento is designed so you can modify anything you want. With the right developer, nothing in Magento is impossible to customize. There is a robust ecosystem of available templates and plug-ins available, so you can quickly add features and modify the appearance of your website to suit the needs of your business.
The downside to any open source solution is that if things get buggy, you are going to need some assistance. There are many developers available who can help you. Likewise, most hosting companies do offer some level of technical support for Magento. But, it is important that you plan ahead and make sure that you are not taking on more than you can handle. And if you are, you need to have the email of a reliable developer on hand. Or you need to make sure you selected a web host who is willing to assist you.
Open Cart is another PHP-based option available among the best ecommerce platforms. Open Cart has a reputation for being able to handle a number of currencies and postage systems well. On the downside, it is generally considered more complex than Magento. Therefore, you will need to either brush up on your PHP or find a qualified developer who can assist in configuring your Open Cart install.
Open Cart also offers a wide array of report options. It is known to have excellent search engine optimization (SEO), allowing your site to be easily indexed by Google and Bing so visitors can find you in the big search engines. Open Cart is also respected for how well it handles a wide range of tax calculators.
As with Magento, the upside is customization. The downside is support. You will need a web host that is comfortable with the platform or else you will need to seek out an ace developer to troubleshoot problems when they occur.
BigCommerce is a hosted solution, similar to Shopify. Like Shopify, it utilizes a CDN to ensure your shop can handle big rushes that might otherwise knock your shop off-line. BigCommerce includes integration with eBay and with Google Shopping. It also offers mobile commerce solutions, obviously a growing demand with mobile point-of-sale (POS) transactions expected to top $5 billion dollars by 2018. Especially nice is a cart saver that stores customers’ carts after they have abandoned a purchase.
BigCommerce offers a 15-day free trial — one whole day more than Shopify! Plans are a bit pricey, starting at $24.95 per month to host just 100 products. BigCommerce does offer a $149.95 per month plan to host unlimited products. BigCommerce also offers a number of free templates without trying to upsell any premium templates, unlike Shopify.
osCommerce is the granddaddy of them all among the best ecommerce platforms in open source. More than 200,000 shops worldwide run osCommerce. It employs open source PHP code, just like Magento and Open Cart. Even better, osComemrce has more than 10 years of open source community support backing it. osCommerce is a 100% free solution. A number of free and premium templates are available online, so you can quickly customize your store to suit your needs.
Because osCommerce has survived so many years, there are a number of top quality web developers available who can assist you with osCommerce. Like Magento, osCommerce is an available option with many major web hosting companies.
Things to think about
Even the best eCommerce platforms are going to present challenges. The question is not if, but when. Beyond that, a lot of how you tackle those challenges begins with planning before you ever deploy your web store. There are good reasons to employ a hosted platform, such as Shopify or BigCommerce. There are valid reasons to employ an open source platform, such as Magento, Open Cart or osCommerce.
Those decisions boil down to how involved you want to be in customizing your website. If you need a lot of customization and unique features, you’re going to want to run your store on an open source platform. Likewise, you are going to need to hire a developer to assist you at least on those occasions where a problem exceeds your grasp. If customization means nothing to you and you’re comfortable with the higher operating costs involved, a hosted platform may be better for your business.
Also, it is important to ask questions, no matter which direction you opt to go. You will want to talk to your bank about payment processing. More importantly, you should ask your bank about PCI compliance. Each bank will use a different company to verify the PCI compliance of their customers’ websites. And don’t assume a hosted solution is better for PCI compliance. If your bank decides your host isn’t up to its standards, the odds the hosting company is going to fix the problem just to suit you are low. In many cases, achieving compliance may be easier if you have an open source system and a competent developer who can work with the company doing your bank’s PCI audit.
Similarly, you need to look into security requirements. Does your hosting solution require you to purchase an SSL certificate? An SSL certificate is a mechanism that provides secure encryption of all credit card transactions through your website. If you use an open source solution, it is all but guaranteed you will need to purchase an SSL certificate and have it installed by a competent developer.
Deploying the best eCommerce platforms requires planning. It is important to consider what your long-term needs are going to be. Do you need extra customization? Do you want to work with a developer at all? Are you comfortable with the costs of a hosted solution? Plan ahead. Deploying the best eCommerce solution for your business depends on it. For an affordable solution you will be interested to read my post about 6 best eCommerce WordPress plugins
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