How to Choose Best E-commerce Solution for Small Business?
In 2016 US online stores will generate over $ 327 billion in revenues. Although building an e-commerce website is a great move for a small business, it is the choice of shopping cart software that can make or break your project. What e-commerce platform or extension should you opt for? Read on to find out!
E-commerce platforms for small business
Shopify is an open-source e-commerce platform developed by Scott Lake, Tobias Lütke and Daniel Weinand in 2006. Three years later Shopify released an API platform, enabling developers to build plugins and extensions for Shopify-powered websites and distribute them through Shopify App Store. Since 2010 Shopify store owners can manage their websites via an iOS app. The company went on to launch an iPad-based point-of-sale (POS) system and Shopify Payments – a service that allows businessmen to process transactions without third-party software like Stripe and PayPal. The platform is currently used by over 300 thousand online stores, and its gross merchandise volume is estimated at $ 20 billion.
Sounds impressive, right?
What are the benefits of using Shopify for your business?
- Thanks to Shopify’s turn-key nature, you can set up an online store in half an hour (provided you’re happy with the available extensions and design themes; for additional customization, you still need to hire a web developer);
- It’s a hosted solution, so you don’t have to worry about buying a domain name, rolling out security updates and troubleshooting technology;
- There are 12 free and 42 paid mobile-ready design templates (plus variations) available on the theme store. Back in 2013 the company acquired Jet Cooper, a Toronto-based design studio; it’s no wonder their layouts look great and highly professional!
- Shopify offers over 1 thousand free and paid extensions, including third-party payment services, live chat plugins and marketing automation tools. The extensions are easy to integrate and work well with each other (no plugin conflict);
- With Shopify, you can bulk-upload product descriptions from Excel, eBay or Magento, add images (no re-sizing required), track orders and manage inventory from one and the same admin console;
- Depending on your pricing plan, you can create multiple administration accounts for your staff, generate comprehensive reports and reach customers who leave your website in the middle of an online transaction via email;
- The platform is hosted on a Level 1 PCI DSS compliant server. All pricing plans offer 128-bit Free SSL certificate;
- When it comes to search engine optimization, Shopify is considered the second-best e-commerce platform for a small, medium-sized or large business;
- If you cannot achieve the desired website functionality using the existing plugins, you can always address a reliable vendor to write custom extensions;
- Consider building an e-commerce website for a small business? You can create a Shopify online store and use it for free for 14 days just to test the waters!
- Shopify is targeted at businessmen with little to no website development & administration experience. If you address a software vendor to create custom plugins for your store, you won’t have any trouble managing your website on your own once the job is complete.
And that’s where Shopify falls short:
- Price. You can run an e-commerce website for $ 29 (Basic Shopify), $ 79 (Shopify) or $ 299 (Advanced Shopify) per month. The vendors behind most helpful extensions (like Social Login, Shopify to eBay and Product Discount) charge monthly fees, too. Unless you use Shopify Payments, the company charges 0.5-2% off every credit card transaction. Thus, building and operating a full-featured Shopify online store for a small business might be expensive in the long run;
- Customization. Shopify plugins use Liquid – a Ruby-based template language created solely for the platform (you need to find a developer who’s familiar with the technology). Also, Shopify extensions and design themes are updated on a regular basis – and you’ll have to restore your HTML/CSS customization after every upgrade (it might be easier to write custom plugins instead).
Despite its obvious downsides, the platform is used by several large companies including GitHub, Tesla Motors and General Electric.
PrestaShop (launched in 2007) has evolved from a student project. The free open-source solution uses the same tech stack as WordPress (PHP, MySQL). PrestaShop currently powers 9% online stores and 0.5% of all existing websites.
You should consider PrestaShop for several reasons:
- The platform is 100% free. Instead of charging service and transaction fees, the company makes money through partnerships with e-commerce industry leaders (including PayPal and Google) and distribution of templates and extensions via PrestaShop Addons;
- Unlike Shopify, the platform is available as a hosted (PrestaShop Cloud) or self-hosted (PrestaShop Download) e-commerce solution. Provided you address a reliable vendor, you can opt for the hosted version and build a high-performance website from scratch;
- Using the Cart2Cart shopping cart migration service which supports Magento, Ecwid, Zen Cart and Big Commerce, you can port your entire catalog from an existing website;
- PrestaShop offers excellent documentation and a variety of training courses for e-commerce newcomers;
- There’s a plethora of great PrestaShop extensions to boost the functionality of your website, including third-party payment solutions (PayPal, Stripe, Money transfer payment, etc.), slideshow and blog modules, social media widgets and excellent delivery plugins.
However, the platform has several drawbacks:
- The prices for PrestaShop’s most useful extensions (Gift Card, SEO expert) start from $ 100;
- Unless you hire an experienced developer, your website might be vulnerable to SQL injections. No, there are no unfixed bugs in latest PrestaShop versions. However, the way the code is written makes it difficult to determine all possible attack scenarios;
- PrestaShop is meant for small and medium-sized businesses. If you want to scale your store at a certain point, the platform’s script architecture may hinder further website development.
PrestaShop powers several popular websites, including The Fab Shoes, Vision Glasses and Planet Sushi.
Convert your website into an online store: e-commerce extensions for small business
A couple of weeks ago we gave you 6 reasons to build a website with WordPress – and here comes another one.
With WP eCommerce, you can easily turn your WordPress blog or corporate website into an online store.
- WP eCommerce is downloaded and activated like any other WordPress plugin;
- You can customize it with HTML and CSS;
- The plugin can be integrated with multiple (36+ thousands) WP extensions (make sure to address an experienced vendor to avoid plugin conflict);
- WP eCommerce supports popular payment services including Stripe, PayPal and FedEX;
- The WordPress community offers a plethora of marketing and SEO automation tools to help you sell more;
- Every problem that might occur during the website development/customization process has already been solved and well-documented. Thus, your vendor will put up a fully functional online store a lot sooner (and save your money).
Although some developers think plugin conflict, possible security issues and server overload might prevent you from building a scalable online store with WP, we assure you that there’s no such thing as a bad platform or extension. It’s developers who mess with the code. If you address a reliable software development company, your WordPress store will by no means concede to a Shopify website. What’s more, you will have full control over UX, catalogs and customer data.
Here’s what makes Ecwid awesome:
- Flexible pricing. Ecwid offers 4 pricing plans, charging $ 0-99 per month. If you opt for the free plan, you can add up to 10 products and see how it goes (you can’t use SEO plugins though). There are no storage limitations for paid customers. They can also manage their catalogs via dedicated iOS/Android mobile apps;
- Point-of-sale functionality. If you specialize in both online and brick and mortar sales, you can turn your smartphone into a portable payment terminal using the Ecwid connected credit card reader;
- Easy setup and customization. A developer can register an Ecwid account, copy the integration HTML code and add it to your website (or use the Ecwid plugin if your current site is powered by Drupal, WordPress or Joomla). Just like with Shopify and PrestaShop, you enhance the functionality of your store through third-party extensions (available on the Ecwid App Market) or custom plugins. The company does not charge transaction fees.
However, there’s a fly in the ointment: Ecwid App Market offers only 65 extensions (compared to 1200 apps for Shopify), so you’ll have to address a skilled developer to write missing plugins from scratch.
What is the best e-commerce solution for your small business?
The answer depends on several factors, including the number of products in your catalog, the CMS that powers your existing website (if you have one!) and the goals you set for the near future. If you run a small company, focus on social media and have no plans to extend your product line, go for Ecwid. PrestaShop is an easy option for small companies that do not want to share their revenues with Shopify. Choosing Shopify is a no-brainer for entrepreneurs who don’t want to bother about protecting customer data and rolling out security updates. If you already have a WordPress website, you should install WP eCommerce or integrate it with Magento.
It’s up to you to decide; however, we strongly recommend that you consult with an experienced vendor and weigh several options.