Battle of the Top eCommerce Platforms
There are so many choices when it comes to eCommerce! Which platform is the best? If you Google them, they would all have you thinking they are the best. But, they can't all be the best, and they aren't. They each have their strengths and their weaknesses. In this post we'd like to break down what we like and dislike about each of them to help you make a better educated decision about which one to pick before making a choice. We have been working with all of these platforms for many years now.
They are broken down below in no particular order:
What is WooCommerce and why would someone choose it?
WooCommerce is an add-on for the extremely popular WordPress platform. Don't be fooled that is only an add-on! It is an extremely powerful, robust, and well thought out addition to WordPress. We've used it for many of our clients to help them sell online and it is working quite well. Many shops on the Internet are powered by WooCommerce. It has amazing built-in functionality as well as the ability to customize it any way you like. It also has a bustling community of developers improving it and creating plugins to extend it's capabilities even further.
- WooCommerce is open source software, there is no entry fee for choosing to use it and it gets regular updates for free as well.
- Extremely customizable with free and paid plugins.
- Built-in analytics for tracking data such as sales
- Very secure due to regular updates.
- Easy to change content, prices, images, categories, and more.
- Supports simple and variable products out-of-the-box. An example of a variable product would be a T-Shirt that sells in multiple colors.
- WooCommerce stores can be easily made into mobile friendly stores.
- There are vast amounts of themes to choose from, or you can make your own theme from scratch. This puts you in full control of the design of your website.
- It's familiar to anyone that's been using WordPress already.
- Due to it's popularity, it has large community support.
- It comes with PayPal, but can be extended to support all the major credit card processors and even a ton of less common payment processors.
- You own your data and are in complete control of what you do with it.
- It has a very nice WYSIWYG editor.
- Built-in user management system for customers to sign up, sign in, and sign out.
We will probably revisit this list of Pros. It's hard to think of them all because there are just so many! We really love working with WooCommerce. It is always a delight.
- The base software is free, but extending it's functionality to get the desired end result you need can become costly when you start adding necessary plugins. (However, this is true of all platforms)
- WooCommerce isn't always the easiest platform to use if you have no programming or design skills. It helps to have some experience with WordPress and programming.
- It is self-hosted. You have to find your own web hosting. This could also be considered a pro to some though.
- Security and maintenance is the eCommerce store owner's responsibility.
What is Shopify and why would someone choose it?
Shopify is a great platform. The whole goal behind it is to help someone get their eCommerce store up, online, and generating sales as quickly as possible. They have great support and seem like they genuinely are interested in helping their users get up and online making sales with a store they are proud of.
- 24/7 phone support.
- No need to worry about hosting. Just pay your bill and they take care of the hosting.
- No need to worry about software updates. As long as you're paying your bill, they will make sure the website and security is all up-to-date.
- No need to worry about payment processing and payment processors. They have built-in tools to make checkout smooth and simple.
- There is an extensive plugin library. In the case of Shopify, they call them Apps instead of plugins. Some apps are free, some are not.
- Lots of built-in sales and other analytic tools to monitor activity.
- Comes with an easy-to-use interface built with their customers in mind.
- Plenty of free and paid themes to get started quickly.
- Supports simple and variable products such as T-Shirts with multiple sizes or colors.
- Built-in import and export tools for most of your data.
- There is a code editor to manipulate your theme how you like.
- You are not in control of your data. If you quit paying, you run the risk of losing all your data.
- Since you are not hosting the platform yourself, there are many things that are not accessible. While you can extend the functionality of your store a lot, there are times you are simply told something is not possible. No matter how good of a programmer you are, there are things they will never let you have access to edit.
- The built-in checkout process leaves your website temporarily unless you are willing to pay more (sometimes a lot more) to keep them on your site through the checkout process.
- The shipping rules can be suffocating at times. There are ways to pay to extend their functionality, but even those can be tricky to get working right if you have complicated shipping rules.
- The WYSIWYG editor is small (in comparison to the WooCommerce editor, for example) and can make it hard to add or edit content.
- User management works different than most platforms and seems to confuse some visitors and our clients at first. Although, after you get used to it, it's not too bad.
- The code editor is good but not great. You will most likely need to read a lot of documentation to understand the Shopify system before diving in the source code, even if you're an experienced programmer.
- There is no WooCommerce phone support.
The bottom line is that Shopify is great. But, if you're a programmer that is used to being able to make your website look like or do anything you want then you will probably feel frustrated and suffocated by their ecosystem.
What is BigCommerce and why would someone choose it?
BigCommerce is nearly the same story as Shopify. Or you could say that Shopify is nearly the same story as BigCommerce.
- 24/7 phone support, but in our experience it hasn't been as good as Shopify. But, it's there nonetheless.
- As long as you're paying your bill, you don't need to worry about hosting.
- You don't need to worry about software updates or security either as long as you're paying your bill.
- Payment processors are built-in so you can start selling products right away without having to do much to configure it.
- BigCommerce also comes with an App marketplace with free and paid Apps that can extend the functionality of your store.
- There are many free and paid themes to help you get started selling on your store quickly.
- The BigCommerce back-end for their customers to manage their store, content, products, and etc. doesn't seem as polished as Shopify or WooCommerce. Instead it feels more like a bunch of plugins that they found on the internet and mashed together into one platform.
- I know we sound like we're being nit picky here, but the default font for the content editor is super small! Why is it so small?
- Again, like Shopify, you are not in control of your data. If you quit paying, you run the risk of losing your data.
- Since you're not hosting the platform yourself, there are many things that are restricted from editing. If you call and ask to be able to edit them, you will be told no.
- To extend the checkout process or use a different credit card processor you will most likely need to pay for a costly third-party App.
- To extend the shipping functionality you will also most likely need to pay for a costly third-party App.
- Modifying the source code for your websites theme can be frustrating through their web based code editor. You will most likely need to read a lot of documentation before you start modifying the source code, even if you're an experienced programmer already.
Similarly again to Shopify, it is a great system. But, where it lacks is complete flexibility to do what you like with your store. For many, this is fine, but for stores that are a bit more in depth or complicated, they may wish they hadn't invested so much time and money into a platform that has so many restrictions.
What is Magento and why would someone choose it?
Many people enjoy Magento and swear by it. But, those are also people that weren't involved in the setup process. Magento is one of the craziest platforms we've ever had to work with. It is massive and takes a powerful server to run, it plays by it's own rules, and once you're too deep into it you will have a very hard time getting out of it.
- From what I've heard, it's very good at running stores with lots and lots of products (although, the same could be said of all the platforms listed on this page).
- Has a lot of community support.
- Has many plugins to extend it's functionality.
- Very complicated to get up and running.
- Very complicated to import and export data properly.
- If anything breaks, it is very hard to fix. It is also very hard to find people that are good with Magento to fix it. When you do find someone that is able to fix it, they will most likely charge a lot of money to help.
- Magento is very hard on a server. You have to pay for a very good server to ensure your page keeps loading and loading fast.
- Just like every platform with plugins or Apps, it has them and some of them can be very costly.
- Security and maintenance is up to you.
We can't in good faith recommend Magento for any reason. It is the most finicky and particular eCommerce platform that, in our opinion, provides no extra value in the end for having chosen it.
What is Zen Cart and why would someone choose it?
Zen Cart is a simple eCommerce platform. But, it's starting to show it's age. It's been around for a long time. This is both a good and a bad thing. It's had a lot of time to figure itself out and it does what it does well. But, typically sites that use it look dated because of being on a dated platform. They continue to work to keep it updated, but we wonder here how much longer they are going to keep at it.
- Not too terribly challenging to install and configure.
- Has great community support.
- There are lots of plugins to extend the functionality of your store.
- You are in complete control of your data. You own your data.
- While there are many free and paid themes available, you are also in complete control of how the website looks and functions. Modifying the theme is relatively straight forward (compared to something like Magento) and you can use any code editor that you prefer to do so.
- It's getting old, and it shows.
- There is no phone support.
- The back-end is not as pleasing to look at as some of the others. The content editors aren't as robust as some of the others either.
- Web hosting is your responsibility.
- Without reading lots of documentation first, modifying your theme and extending it's functionality might not be the easiest task for everyone.
- Security and maintenance are your responsibility.
The bottom line with Zen Cart is that it's a fine platform... but there's really no advantage to choosing it over something like WooCommerce, which is newer and polished a lot more than Zen Cart.
So, which one is the winner?
Our two favorites are WooCommerce and Shopify. As programmers, we tend to like WooCommerce more. But, for clients we will often suggest they go with Shopify based on their specific needs if it looks like a fit. For more complicated stores, we definitely recommend WooCommerce, especially if they are having us build the site for them. There is very rarely any chance of you asking us for your store to do something unique and us telling you, "no."