eCommerce Platform Selection: Comparing Options
Selecting an eCommerce Platform
The world of eCommerce is constantly evolving and with the last year of shutdowns and quarantines, we’ve seen more growth than ever before. Retail e-commerce sales in the fourth quarter of 2020 (seasonally adjusted) were $206.7B, down 1.2% from third quarter 2020, but up 32.1% from fourth quarter 2019. With all this expansion, it can be hard to know which platform is the right fit for your business. We’ll be discussing some of the leading services in the eCommerce industry today and how they may be able to help your business get online and increase sales!
Shopify has been actively innovating their platform, especially over the past year and a half, and have been introducing new offerings to disrupt the eCommerce market. They are pushing the envelope with recent releases as seen at their Shopify Re-Unite conference in 2020 and the Shopify Unite 2021 conference this past month. Focusing their efforts in 2020 on tools that would enable businesses to get online quickly and effectively with features like Shopify Capital, the Express Theme, Tipping, Local Delivery, and the Shopify Fulfillment Network. These features provide businesses of all shapes and sizes the ability to navigate the uncertain times that COVID-19 brought upon the world. As the pandemic has gotten more under control during 2021, Shopify has returned their efforts to larger platform features to improve the developer experience like Online Store 2.0 (aka ‘Sections Everywhere’), GitHub integration, and Shopify CLI. This is just the tip of the iceberg for what Shopify has been up to lately.
With all these new features, developing a Shopify site now is better than ever for both the developer and the merchant. Choosing Shopify as your platform means you get all the benefits of a SaaS product and will have access to 24/7 support from Shopify themselves. With Shopify taking care of all the core updates and the app developers handling the extension updates, you get to let go of the regular maintenance woes that other platforms require. Instead, you get to focus your attention on marketing your product and converting sales.
Shopify is designed to get you online quickly, but they are also very capable of delivering an enterprise level platform of features and support. Shopify claims to be able to host well over 100,000 products with some stores going upwards of one million and more. While the stores can handle the massive catalogs on Shopify’s servers, we have found their platform and feature set to handle the small to medium catalogs best and able to handle the large catalogs better on Shopify Plus.
While this all sounds like Shopify is shaping up to be the perfect, no-brainer choice of platform, there are still a few drawbacks. Shopify’s checkout experience is rather locked down outside of a few minor visual customizations which means if you want that extra checkbox for some legal agreements or a call to action for some up-sells, you’re out of luck. The only option for fully customizing the checkout experience is to sign up for Shopify Plus which starts around $2,000/month as the base service fee. Another pain point for some merchants is the lack of control of your data. Since Shopify’s SaaS model requires all merchants to use their hosting and database, it means they hold the keys to your data. Using Shopify’s APIs will enable developers to access any data you want, but the master records will still live within Shopify. One last pain point that commonly comes up is the pricing model. The monthly fees for not only the base service plan but also all your apps mean that the cost of your platform will be ongoing. As mentioned above, this also means you’re not worrying about regular updates, but there is also no end in sight for your monthly bills.
WooCommerce is the leading WordPress eCommerce plugin that brings the power of selling products to the industry-leading CMS. This dynamic duo is the leading feature of WooCommerce. Being able to leverage one of the largest developer communities and plugin libraries on the market means that extending your store can be fast and cost-friendly. This also allows the WooCommerce team to focus on the features that matter to eCommerce and leave all the other content management tools to the WordPress core team. In contrast to Shopify, WordPress can be a self-hosted solution. This means that you get all the flexibility that you need from owning your database to adding custom directories or technologies to meet your development needs over time.
WooCommerce claims it is capable of handling upwards of 100,000+ product catalogs. As they say, “the sky is the limit!” For any catalogs of this size, it does require a focus on optimization and a very high-quality hosting service. In our experience, WooCommerce excels in the small to mid-range catalog size and is best used for sites that have a lot of content management needs so you can take advantage of WordPress core.
While flexibility and extensibility are important qualities for any platform, they also come with some issues. With WooCommerce being a plugin instead of its own core platform, it means there are going to be regular security updates to stay on top of. They are also forced to follow the direction of the WordPress core platform and perform any of the updates that come with that. For sites that follow out-of-the-box functionality, updates should go smoothly, but there is always the risk of an update breaking your site or causing issues with checkout. For any site with eCommerce, an active and secure checkout should be the number one priority. But when an update goes awry, it will typically require a developer to intervene and bring things back to thier original state. The risk of an update going poorly can sometimes lead merchants to skip updates and maintain the status quo, but this is the last thing you want to do. Many updates from core and plugins are security updates, and since WordPress is the most popular platform on the internet powering roughly one-third of all websites it makes it a target for any hackers looking to steal your data or take down your site.
Adobe Commerce, previously known as Magento, is another popular eCommerce solution for larger catalogs. Adobe acquired Magento in 2018 and has been reshaping its spot in the eCommerce landscape. Magento 1 and 2 were open-source platforms that were more commonly self-hosted solutions, but a year after the acquisition, Adobe released “Adobe Commerce Cloud.” This offering allowed Adobe Commerce to better integrate with the other Adobe platforms like Adobe Analytics and Adobe Experience Manager. This also came along with some great new features like the Page Builder which addressed a large pain point of the original Magento platforms of basic content publishing. Other popular features include a B2B feature suite, PWA Studio, and Global Expansion.
Adobe Commerce focuses on large to extra-large catalogs. While smaller catalogs will certainly still work with the platform, there are other solutions that will be more cost-effective like Shopify and WooCommerce for those catalog sizes. With built-in caching and robust indexing capabilities, the platform is truly built to handle the bigger catalog stores. Adobe Commerce also offers multi-store functionality to allow you to sell specific segments of your catalog on specific storefronts, but manage from a single admin.
With great power comes great responsibility, and that couldn’t be more true when it comes to Adobe Commerce. The tools that enable you to handle the large catalogs can also complicate some simple tasks. Similar to both Shopify and WooCommerce, you will also have access to a developer network of plugins to help extend your store quickly. These plugins are more commonly a one-time cost but will require updates. This means that both WooCommerce and Adobe Commerce will likely require regular security updates from developers to keep your platform secure and running smoothly. As noted above, the updates introduce risk over time. If you have plugins installed from multiple vendors you may run into unexpected conflicts that could turn an exciting feature release on your site quickly into an outage, leaving your development team scrambling to resolve the issues and bring your checkout back online. The other element that great power brings is great cost. If you’re using Adobe Commerce it’s highly recommended to use the cloud solution so everything is configured correctly, but the cloud offering is a steep cost, priced annually based on your revenue. Along with the license fee comes development cost. Creating custom solutions for Adobe Commerce is time-intensive work and while there are a network of developers out there, they do not come cheap. Working on enterprise level software assumes you are making enough revenue so you’ll have the capacity to re-invest in your platform and continue to grow.
When it comes to choosing a platform you have plenty of options these days, but that has become the new issue. Knowing which platform to choose is truly a case-by-case basis depending on a multitude of factors including catalog size, budget, and integration needs amongst many others. Knowing which factors are most important to your business needs can help you make the right decisions for your store today and in the future.