It’s never been easier for small business owners to open an online store. Over the last couple of decades, dozens, if not hundreds, of platforms have been created to make building an online shop quick, easy, and as painless as possible. If you have always dreamed of creating an online shopping experience for your customers, now’s the time to actualize your vision and increase your company’s income.
There are several different methods for selling products online, but that is, perhaps, the topic of a different article. For now, I’ll be exporing the best ecommerce platforms that you can use with your existing website and web hosting platforms.
What to Look For
In order to open your own online ecommerce store, you will need to have a (preferably) great domain name and hosting account to host your ecommerce site. While it would help you to have a professional web developer handle the installation and initial configuration, it is easy enough to do yourself – if you take it slow and follow the directions supplied by the platform developers carefully.
Many of the top ecommerce platforms recommend a web hosting plan that is more powerful than a basic account provides. This isn’t just a ploy to get you to pay more per month; it could be a way to save you heartache and headache if your online store gets lots of customers. Read the hosting requirements carefully, so your cart doesn’t slow down as soon as you have a couple of visitors. Also, use a hosting service that will allow you to scale up your package quickly if you find you have more traffic than your current hosting package can accommodate. Using a cloud hosting provider is a good choice to give you the ability to handle more traffic as your online business grows.
Some of the ecommerce platforms mentioned in this article run as an add-ons to other website platforms. In order to run these, you first have to install the base platform, and then install the ecommerce platform as an addition. Three of the most common website platforms that are required to be installed before using a shopping card addition are WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal. Whenever a shopping cart requires one of these three systems in order to function, it will be noted in the description.
When looking for an ecommerce shopping cart platform, it is important to evaluate the features and functionality of different systems. Most, if not all carts, come with marketing tools, invoicing, inventory, and payment gateway connections as some of their main features. Some are geared towards international sales, while others have features and extensions that are tailored for specific industries. Look into each shopping cart system to ensure that it provides the complete list of requirements you need in order to make your online store successful. Often, it takes a while to set up all of your products in a store including images, descriptions, and options. That’s why people are hesitant to switch systems once they get started.
One of the other important decisions you need to make before opening up an online shop is whether or not it will allow you to include multiple vendors, each with their own shop, or if you are going to sell all of the products and services under a single storefront. If you’re only looking to sell your own items, most shopping carts provide this functionality, also known as the Amazon model of an online marketplace. If you intend to allow many different vendors to open and sell their own items in their own shops while you manage the entire site, look for an ecommerce solution that allows multiple independently operated marketplaces.
Open Source vs. Commercial
Several of the ecommerce platforms mentioned below are entirely free to download and use. Some of them have functional limits, and if you decide to upgrade your store to include greater functionality, you will be required to pay a license fee. Some platforms are entirely commercial, where you need to pay a license in order to download the platform.
There are advantages and disadvantages to using both open source and commercial ecommerce platforms. Open source platforms have limited personal help, but because they are free to download, it is easier for individuals to get started selling online. Commercial online store platforms have the advantage of direct help from the development company but require up-front costs that not everyone is willing to pay, especially if the store isn’t meant to be a primary source of income.
The ecommerce platforms mentioned in this article are all open source, or, at the very least, begin as open source and allow you to purchase a license in order to access premium functions.
Open Source Ecommerce Platforms
Open source ecommerce platforms are freely available to download and install. They are called open source because the source code of the platform is viewable by anyone. Look through the installation instructions for each online ecommerce shop that looks like it might suit your needs and determine whether the installation instructions are easy to follow or that you might need technical assistance from a more experienced developer. If the directions seem easy, then it’s likely that configuring and maintaining your online store will also be easy. If the directions to install the online store are confusing, keep looking at other possibilities.
WooCommerce is the most popular ecommerce platform for starting your store quickly. It relies on the popular WordPress webite platform. WooCommerce is installed as a plugin in conjunction with WordPress. There are dozens of themes that are designed to be used with a WooCommerce-enabled WordPress site, as well as many plugins that add functionality that doesn’t come standard with WooCommerce. All for free.
The one specific disadvantage is that WordPress+WooCommerce requires a more powerful hosting account, due to the fact that it requires more RAM and CPU power than most basic hosting packages provide. Consider using a cloud hosting account rather than a shared hosting account.
Another ecommerce plugin for WordPress to consider is Jigoshop. It boasts better performance than Woocommerce, with optimization for the latest version of PHP, and extensions that allow you to configure payment gateways as well as utilities for running your shop easily.
Jigoshop has the ability to allow you to install translations for your shop into any language using the familiar WordPress interface.
Once considered the best shopping cart platform available, osCommerce is freely available for download and use. With over 8,800 add-ins, you can configure your installation with a high degree of customization. OsCommerce is written in PHP. The software isn’t updated regularly, with the last major release in 2014. The new 3.0 version is still in development.
One of the first spinoffs, or forks, of osCommerce, is ZenCart. It supports numerous languages and currencies and has a template system that osCommerce lacks. ZenCart is written in PHP. It is actively maintained, with the latest release date in December 2018.
ZenCart uses integrations with several of the most popular payment gateway services, so you can choose the merchant service you prefer.
If you aren’t quite set up to start selling online, you might consider providing a catalog of products before people can make purchases. VirtueMart provides this functionality. It runs on top of the Joomla content management system, which means you’ll need to install Joomla, then VirtueCart in order to run your online store.
VirtueMart claims over 500 different features to make configuring and maintaining your online store easy. From native language and currency selection to customer communications and coupon codes, VirtuMart is a comprehensive solution from the Joomla platform.
One of the most popular ecommerce software platforms, OpenCart has been available to the general public since 1998. There are dozens of free and commercial extensions and themes available to enhance the core platform. One of the most noticeable features is the integration with fraud detection services, so you can be reassured that you won’t be the victim of fraudulent purchases.
In addition to free support from the OpenCart community, you can opt to purchase technical support directly from OpenCart. Some store owners feel that having this option provides a high level of peace of mind and security in case they get into a situation that they need help with.
This top online ecommerce platform is written in a relatively new programming language, Ruby. It has several supported extensions, and hundreds of integrations by the Spree Commerce community. It provides a method for allowing developers to improve both the functionality and templates with a rich programming interface that can access all levels of the Spree Commerce code.
Spree Commerce is responding to the needs of its community by providing solutions for stores that want to offer international sales, is multi-vendor ready out of the box, and even B2B solutions with different types of buyers.
If you are familiar and comfortable with the Joomla content management system, take a look at paGO Commerce to set up your online ecommerce presence. It has a number of tools and utilities built in for developers and marketers. paGO Commerce boasts around-the-clock paid technical support, easy-to-learn interface, globalized currency conversion, multiple languages, and more. As with other platform-dependent systems, paGO Commerce requires Joomla to be installed.
Now in version 6, CubeCart is a free-open source shopping cart that maintains an aggressive and current update cycle, making it one of the most up-to-date ecommerce platforms available. Built with a system to extend functionality, allowing online ecommerce merchants to provide both physical and digital products for purchase. CubeCart can integrate with a number of online payment vendors, including PayPal, Skrill, WorldPay, and Barclaycard.
Open Source (to start) Platforms
The following platforms are free to download and install, but they limit your store in some way, either the number of products you can offer, theme options, support services, and so on. These are generally a good option for people who can get their store started by themselves, but down the road may have to rely on professional support services from the shopping cart vendor.
Magento was the first ecommerce platform to challenge osCommerce as the premiere open source system. Developed in 2008, Magento has matured into a fully-customizable ecommerce platform, with a plugin architecture and a robust set of features that enhance the user experience. Magento was acquired by Adobe in June, 2018. They have pledged to keep Magento as open source software but are ending support for Magento 1 Open Source in 2020. Magento Commerce is a cloud-based solution. As with other multi-tiered ecommerce platforms, the paid version has a richer set of features. The current version is Magento 2.3.0, released in November 2018.
With hundreds of built-in features, themes and modules that can extend functionality, PrestaShop is great for people who want to start more than a simple online shop. One of the most outstanding features of this platform is that you can configure it to integrate with your eBay account, an option that most other open source platforms don’t offer. PrestaShop was started in 2007 and is available in 60 different languages.
One of the biggest advantages to using a commercial platform is that you don’t have to worry about setting up or maintaining your site; all you need to do is start entering products. Hosting is included in the price, so you don’t need to figure in a separate cost for monthly hosting fees.
The BigCommerce online store is feature-rich, with solutions for selling on Amazon and Facebook, as well as having a traditional online storefront, B2B tiered sales, and even a point of sale system for use in a traditional brick-and-mortar store. BigCommerce is free for the first 14 days, after which you must select a service plan that suits your needs.
Another final platform that you may consider exploring is Shopify. It is also free for 14 days, after which you must choose a monthly plan. Shopify is great for helping entrepreneurs sell both on their website and on social media, so if you’re looking for cross-platform support, Shopify could be a solid option.
There are many choices available to the online ecommerce entrepreneur. As with any big business decision, take the time and do your research into the various options available to you. Choose the platform that makes the most sense for your business plan and get started selling online today.