When choosing an eCommerce platform it can be extremely daunting; there are so many options out there. Most of your available choices can be grouped into one of three categories—all of which are mentioned in this blog title. Here I give an overview of each option and list what I consider to be the pros and cons.
Note that you should not listen to anyone who insists that one is “better” than the others. As with most things it’s a case of choosing the right tool for the right job and the person telling you this is no doubt doing so because it suits them and not you.
So, here are the three eCommerce platforms (in no particular order):
All websites are hosted somewhere; by “hosted” in this context I mean someone else hosts it for you. Hosted solutions mean you have no access to the software that runs your shop. This is all taken care of by the vendor. You just create an account and then immediately go in and start adding products. Most hosted solutions offer reasonably flexible templating systems that allow you to control most of the look-and-feel of your shop’s design. Hosted solutions require an ongoing monthly or annual cost.
- Can be up-and-running in a short space of time
- No development required, only templating
- Some providers offer free templates
- You don’t need to worry about security, fixing bugs or any other issues associated with development
- You can’t add features of your own (though some do allow you to develop plugins in a limited fashion)
- Generally higher ongoing costs compared to hosting it yourself
- Limited customisation
- No control over new features or software upgrades
- If you have any non-shop areas to your site (e.g. forum) they will be totally separate to your shop
With “off-the-shelf” you buy a piece of software (some are free, some are not) and install it and host yourself. This route will require more technical expertise but once up-and-running, unlike “hosted” platforms, you have complete control. Since you have access to the platform in its entirety you can generally customise the site to a greater degree. Functionality can be extended to a greater degree, usually through plugins. There will likely be a community of plugin developers and if you want something really niche you can commission your own plugin.
- Similar to “hosted“ but offers more scope for customisation
- Upgrade only when you see fit
- Once you have the software you only pay for your standard web hosting
- There is generally no warranty with the software or you’ll be charged for support
- Having too many plugins may slow your site down or cause it to break on upgrading
- Niche features may still be difficult to implement as the platform wasn’t set up for you
- As with “bespoke”, any non-shop areas will be separate from your shop (there are some exceptions to this but integration with your main website can still be difficult)
Bespoke means written for you. They’re unique and so it’s not possible to give an overview of the features.
- Designed to meet your needs exactly
- No limitations with regards to what features you can add
- If built correctly they are faster and simpler to use than their non-bespoke counterparts
- Can be seamlessly integrated into other areas of your site
- Can be more time-consuming (see note below)
- While easier to use they may not be as rich in features
Some general points:
- When choosing any platform make sure product information and images, etc can be easily exported in case you want to change systems
- Choose something that was made for eCommerce; don’t choose a platform that does something else but has an eCommerce plugin for it (for example, I personally wouldn’t use WordPress for eCommerce when there are so many other options out there more suited to selling online)
- Avoid using pre-made templates; it may save you some time and money but the site won’t be designed for your business
- Bespoke sites do not always mean you spend more time and money; I develop using a framework, for example, and can put bespoke sites together quite quickly
I tend to take a pragmatic approach; I let the client tell me what their requirements are and then find the right tool for the right job.