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Which e-commerce platform is right for my business?

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When it comes time to assess which e-commerce platform is right for your business, there are a few key questions to ask before looking at the options available.

Are you currently using systems that can be utilised?

If you’re currently setup and running a successful website or content management system (CMS) then it’s worth investigating if your existing technology can be extended to take advantage of e-commerce opportunities.

Will you have resource capabilities?

Are you flying solo or will you have access to development capabilities/resources as part of your team? You will need to feel comfortable operating the system you choose and if you have access to development resources make sure they are suited to the chosen platform.

How many products do you need to sell?

A practical overview of how many SKU’s your store is likely to be listing can help determine which shopping cart software is going to a better fit for your business.

How complex will the product sets be?

Some shopping cart systems do a better job of customising complex product listings than others. Researching this complexity and the need for customisation before choosing your shopping cart is paramount.

What is your budget for the project?

Budget is a relevant metric when choosing which shopping cart will be right for your business. If your budget is small an automated shopping cart system may be the wisest choice for your business. If your budget is larger you can engineer a shopping cart system that is customised to your business needs.

Retail stores

If you are also operating retail stores and want to integrate your shopping cart into your existing point of sale or warehouse system, then your choice might be made a little easier as systems might not have the support you require.

Here’s a quick look at a couple of the common shopping cart systems you will likely come across in Australia and the types of businesses they’re typically suited to.

Platforms

Magento

Founded in 2007 and acquired in 2011 by eBay for approximately $180 million, Magento is widely regarded as a leading enterprise level e-commerce platform.

Although Magento is largely enterprise level software (annual licence fee for support), they do offer an Open Source community version (free) that thousands of retailers successfully deploy commercially. The main difference between the two versions being a lack of official support for the product within the Magento user community.

Magento hosts a large marketplace of paid modules helping to enable rapid development of highly customised applications, however there is currently a large demand on developer resources in Australia meaning the costs to implement and customise Magento stores can be considerable.

  • SUITS: Medium to large business
  • PROS: Support available to enterprise clients. Lots of modules to customise the platform to your business needs.
  • CONS: Resource hungry – requires advanced hosting techniques to scale which can prove costly on enterprise packages.
  • COSTS: Free community version. Enterprise version starts at $15,500 per year. Developers in Australia are in short supply and can be costly.
  • SITES: Nike, Converse, The Enabler

Drupal Commerce

Drupal Commerce was developed by ‘The Commerce Guys’ and gained momentum upon raising $5 million in Series A funding in 2012. This saw many Drupal developers move away from the previously popular Drupal UberCart product including core developers switching teams.

Drupal Commerce is true Open Source (free) and a common option for the budget conscious retailer as the main costs are development hours. Drupal Commerce takes a slightly different approach to e-commerce. During install, most shopping carts load every feature which developers then proceed to turn off as per business requirements. Drupal Commerce only includes ‘add to cart’ functionality and backend order management – leaving developers to install a selection of modules (hundreds of free modules available) to build a tailored business system which helps keep things lean.

The downside for medium to larger businesses taking an approach with this system is there is no enterprise level package. Companies such as Acquia and The Commerce Guys themselves are trying to change this but the reality is if your business needs an enterprise level approach to e-commerce this could probably get the job done but might not gain management approval.

  • SUITS: Startup to medium business
  • PROS: Hundreds of free modules and a large supportive developer community to help with your project.
  • CONS: No enterprise level offering.
  • COSTS: Free to download. Drupal developers in good supply at reasonable rates.
  • SITES: Cartier, Open Sesame, Kenzo

WooCommerce

Another of the Open Source extensions WooCommerce is a free plugin this time for WordPress. It’s been downloaded over three million times and powers over 250,000 e-commerce stores around the web including some bigger names such as Harley Davidson and New Balance.

In the past WordPress would have been overlooked as a stable e-commerce platform but WooCommerce is gaining solid territory. It’s really hitting a sweet spot with people who have already devoted a lot of time and energy into getting their business online (in WordPress) and now just want to extend it to gather some sales.

WordPress has a thriving developer community and lots of modules to extend the functionality. Similarly to Drupal Commerce there are advantages in having a fully fledged CMS alongside the shopping cart but the major downside is that once the business grows beyond a certain point there is not going to be an enterprise path to follow.

  • SUITS: Startup to medium business.
  • PROS: Hundreds of free modules and a large supportive developer community to help with your project.
  • CONS: No enterprise level support.
  • COSTS: Free to download. WordPress developers in plentiful supply at various rates depending on experience.
  • SITES: New Balance, Harley Davidson, Zanerobe

Shopify

Shopify have come along way in the e-commerce stakes starting with a single online store back in 2006 going on to raise $122 million in funding between 2010 and 2013. They are now a powerhouse hosted service provider which now drives more than 100,000 business from their core engine.

With a sales model focussed on startups and smaller businesses looking to get started with e-commerce the Shopify platform allows business owners with limited technical resources and knowledge to create stores and upload products for sale.

  • SUITS:Startup to small business.
  • PROS:Quick and easy to get started. Can take a D.I.Y approach without technical knowledge or development resources.
  • CONS:Can be limitations once your store expands. You are constrained to the platform. Some POS options not available in Australia.
  • COSTS:$29.00 per month (Starter) up to $179.00 per month (Unlimited)
  • SITES:Bellroy, Apartment, Black Milk

Bigcommerce

Bigcommerce launched in 2009 with offices in the US and Sydney. They gained traction quickly and ended up raising $75 million in two rounds before the end of 2013 to become one of the largest players in the e-commerce space.

They take a similar approach to the market as Shopify but have a local advantage here in Australia. Bigcommerce also have an enterprise level offering to retain their customers that grow in size as they’ve realised many businesses will start out on this type of platform but eventually want to migrate over to something a bit more flexible.

  • SUITS: Startup to small business.
  • PROS: Quick and easy to get started. Can take a D.I.Y approach without technical knowledge or development resources.
  • CONS: Can be limitations once your store expands.
  • COSTS: $34.95 per month (basic) up to $199.95 per month (Pro). Bigcommerce also offer an enterprise version for $999.00 per month in attempt to keep customers that grow and need to scale.
  • SITES: Bicycles Online, Style Addiction, Ojay

When choosing a shopping cart it’s not always as simple as what’s the most popular or what’s the cheapest. It’s a matter of exploring the different options and seeing what’s the best fit for your business. If you’re still out of your depth after doing your own research it’s best to consult with an e-commerce build partner – there are plenty of agencies and consultants specialising in both big and small builds. It’s best to shop around and ask lots of questions to help get you on the right track.

Ben is an e-commerce consultant with a career spanning across roles in technology, creative strategy and business management, including: marketing, public relations, digital production, project management, web development and systems administration.

This story first appeared on StartupSmart.

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