When setting up an offline store we have to find a good location, fill the shelves with products, come up with a good layout, and hire competent staff. Is building an e-commerce business similar in any way?

The common denominator is the purpose, namely sales. In the case of brick-and-mortar stores, clients come directly from the street. Sometimes a good location is enough. But how do we go about building online sales? Where do we start? How do we make sure that our e-store has a shot at success?

Select a platform that matches your needs

Our offer must be presented in the right way. In order to choose the perfect engine for our needs, we must know how we want to display the offer, how many functionalities we want to implement, and what kind of options the store should provide. The choice is usually made between SaaS (software as a service) and open source platforms. The former provide ready-made solutions based on templates and ready-to-use functionalities, and ensure support from the provider, who establishes a monthly subscription. The latter, namely free open source platforms, are engines that we can configure ourselves (or with the help of an external company). We must also buy a domain and a server, and choose a free or paid template. The store is powered by basic functions that can be extended for an additional fee. In this case, there’s no support typical for SaaS platforms. On the other hand, open source platforms are usually associated with large communities that can provide assistance and help us resolve any urgent matter. What’s more, we have complete control over all the files and the server.

Overview of popular e-commerce platforms

There’s no shortage of e-commerce platforms available on the market. We’ve chosen several that will suit any type of e-business. Some are more popular than others, and the right choice depends on the needs and expected scale of operation of a given company.

WooCommerce

WooCommerce-Developer-Logo– It’s a free, WordPress-dedicated plugin. We can use it to set up a full-fledged store on the most popular engine out there – WordPress. However, the free version of this solution is rather limited. Free templates are quite popular; to give them a more individual vibe, we must know our way around CSS. A major issue of the free version is related to payments. The free module only supports PayPal, which means that we could be forced to pay fairly high commissions. The popular PayU requires a fee for the module. Only Tpay provides a free solution for online payments. The shipping methods in the free version are quite limited, too. One of the advantages of this engine is without a doubt the fact that it is based on the WP engine, which provides a variety of SEO options. WordPress ensures solid support for this kind of marketing efforts. Even though it’s an open source solution, we must take into account possible expenditures if we think about further development of our business.

Shopify

shopify-2010-black– It’s been active on the market since 2004 and is constantly evolving. Experts consider it to be the best solution for small and large retailers. Plus, it’s very easy to use. The content management system is similar to that used by WordPress. However, as a SaaS solution, it requires monthly subscription fees. An additional fee comes in the form of a sales commission, amounting to 2% for the smallest subscription, and 0.5% for the biggest one. The store also makes an effort to ensure security of its clients, providing many safety features. While working with affiliate networks, we may be exposed to frauds (i.e. a third party intercepting payment for order). Shopify reduces this risk to a minimum. Another great advantage of this solution is the enormous database of templates, most of which are perfectly designed.

Bigcommerce

Bigcommerce+Review– This platform is shaping up to be Shopify’s greatest competitor. According to Ezra Firestone, the guru of e-commerce, it’s slightly weaker than its competitor, but it’s still a worthy rival. As a SaaS platform, it requires a subscription fee. The smallest subscription is charged with a 1.5% commission. With bigger packages, there’s no commission. Bigcommerce achieves good results when it comes to positioning support. Since the platform doesn’t have a big team of designers and programmers, the template base is relatively small. The cockpit is similar to WordPress, so it shouldn’t take much time to learn the ropes.

I-systems

logo_i-systems_TheStory_1– This Polish platform has established a fairly strong position on the market. It can boast an extensive portfolio of projects implemented for major brands. Though it’s a SaaS platform, its implementations are made individually for each project in terms of design. This dedicated solution adds a unique touch to e-stores from the very beginning of their operation. On the downside, it’s quite expensive. The basic version, which is already a large investment, may prove insufficient for the development of our store. Still, the programmers are able to implement every function and integration.

Prestashop

PrestaShop_logo– An extremely popular open source engine. It is an intuitive e-store that can help us set things rolling very quickly. It’s written in PHP, and the templates are based on Smarty language. Prestashop has hundreds of ready-made functions. Besides, most businesses supporting online sales provide their own functionality that allows us to integrate logistics systems, payments, affiliations, etc. Among the available functions we can find cross-selling, one-page checkout, advanced discounts, CSV import, API integration, and more. The downside to this solution is the lack of continuous support. This is due to the fact that it’s our responsibility to install the engine, and configure the templates and features. However, if necessary, we can hire a specialized company or use an online forum for this purpose.

Magento

magento– eBay is the owner of this platform, and since 2011 it has been extensively developing its engine. One of the greatest assets of the platform is the SEO optimization options. Easy positioning allows us to achieve good traffic from organic search results. When choosing the right platform, we should take into account the fact that Magento is the easiest option when it comes to configuring the layouts and design. The platform also provides great features in terms of product configuration. The presentation of product data sheet is extremely important, and Magento allows us to customize it according to our needs.

Shoplo

shoplo-logo– It is a SaaS solution, so we must choose a subscription package. The support we get depends on the chosen package. An e-store based on this engine is provided with a host of functions, most of which are free of charge. Especially interesting are those features that support marketing-related efforts. With Shoplo, we can easily integrate FreshMail. It can also send mass text messages. What’s more, it automates the communication with the customer through a simple marketing automation system that personalizes the store experience for the user (by displaying products that match the user’s preferences thanks to information collected from cookie files). A certain drawback is the design; although all the templates are responsive, they contain a lot of unused space.

What should we
take into account when choosing the right platform?

The answer is not a simple one. First you must consider a few things. If you want full control and access to the server and files, which you can freely modify, then Prestashop or Magento seem like good choices. If your focus is on community building, writing a large number of articles and distributing them as well as acquiring organic traffic, then WooCommerce will be the best solution. However, if your goal is to quickly build an e-store and focus exclusively on sales, select a SaaS solution with full support, which will allow you to concentrate on the issues that are vital for your business, like marketing or logistics.