Are you looking to pick the best ecommerce platform for your company's needs?
We've got your back! Whether you're starting to build an online channel for your brand or planning a makeover of an existing e-store, you can use this guide to make an informed decision about the software you will build your project upon.
It's not always easy to choose the best ecommerce system. You might easily get overwhelmed when comparing features and transaction fees of different available platforms. This challenge is even more complicated when you plan to build an ecommerce store with custom functionalities or embrace a new business model, e.g., marketplace.
At the same time, however, choosing the right ecommerce platform can be fantastic for your business. It will be easier to build your store and to maintain it, plus you'll soon see the return on your investment.
As a web & mobile development company specializing in ecommerce solutions, our clients often ask: "what are the best ecommerce platforms?". As you may imagine, there's not a single correct answer. Choosing an optimal commerce platform for your brand will depend on multiple factors, some less obvious than others. In this blog post, we'll outline the most important considerations you should take into account when picking the best ecommerce platform for your business. Let's start by explaining what types of platforms are available on the market.
Saas ecommerce platforms vs. open source platforms - which are better for you?
As you start scouring the market searching for ecommerce platforms, you'll soon notice that there are two main groups of tools:
- SaaS platforms (e.g., Shopify, BigCommerce) - you purchase a software license in a subscription model. The platform itself is developed and hosted by the software provider. As you can imagine, using such an ecommerce platform, your online store can be up and running quickly. It's a good option for businesses that want to build a simple ecommerce or beginners who wish to have an out-of-the-box solution. When assessing SaaS systems, you will likely pay attention to your future store's different payment options, visual themes, and mobile-friendliness.
- Open source platforms (e.g., Magento, Sylius) - when it comes to the open source platforms, the very code of your ecommerce can be altered by you, and you can deploy the software right on your server. It means that you have more control and flexibility when it comes to your online shop—you can hire ecommerce developers to add basically any functionalities you want to have in your store. By definition, open source software is developed in a collaborative and public way, but most providers also offer a paid version of their software. The enterprise license usually gives you access to more features and technical customer support.
It needs to be said that SaaS ecommerce platforms also allow for some customization on your end. However, you need to build around an existing product, for instance, by integrating third-party apps or installing add ons. With open source (also known as "on-premise") ecommerce platforms, you can edit the source code of the product directly.
Which one to choose then, open source or SaaS? We recommend that if your ecommerce is small and fairly standard, it might make sense to go with a SaaS commerce platform. However, if you're building a custom ecommerce website, you will benefit more from an open source solution.
You might be thinking: how do I know if I'm building a custom ecommerce and not a standard store? After all, it's not always immediately clear from the business owner's perspective. We've compiled a list of indicators that your future store will need an open source ecommerce platform—let's go through them one by one.
When to opt for an open source ecommerce platform?
If any of the following statements describe the situation you're in, it may be a sign that your ecommerce site should be built with open source software:
- You don't employ a typical ecommerce business model, where you simply sell your own products. Instead, you want to build, e.g., a marketplace or a subscription-based store.
- The products in your store will be complex. For instance, they will have configurable parameters or customization options.
- Your company has great business ambitions. A small project may be quickly built using a SaaS commerce platform, but if you plan to add custom features down the road, it's better to take them into consideration now.
- The visual layout of the store should be unconventional.
- You want to integrate the ecommerce website with your corporate portal or other systems.
- You need a headless ecommerce. This is the case, for example, when you want the frontend of your store to be served via a PWA.
- You want to build a B2B ecommerce, which should account for customer-specific pricing or complex procurement processes.
By now, you should have a good idea of whether your project is a custom one or not. Depending on that, you can decide if you need a SaaS or an open source platform for your store. If you decide to go with a SaaS solution, it's time to research different options available online and see which one will allow you to build your ecommerce out of the box.
However, if you need to pick from different open source ecommerce platforms, the selection process will likely be more complex. How to approach it? The next section of this blog post should help you make an informed decision about which commerce platform to choose.
How to evaluate open source ecommerce platforms?
If there's a single piece of advice you should take away from this blog post, it's this: when choosing the best ecommerce platform, you should go beyond the list of features. Say you pick a platform because you know your team can easily build certain store elements on top of it. Great, but what if it turns out that this software is very expensive to develop in the long run or that it's very difficult to find specialists to join your IT team? When you try to choose an ecommerce platform, you need to think long-term. Take the total cost of ownership into consideration and consult with experienced ecommerce developers. After all, you're making a crucial decision for your business.
Now, it may sound a bit overwhelming, which is why we've broken down different criteria you should keep in mind into categories. Go through our pointers, and finding the right technology for your online business will be much more comfortable, we promise.
Choosing the technology for your online store: where to begin?
Before you start evaluating popular ecommerce platforms, take a moment to consider your company's needs. It is often the case when trying to decide on new software that different stakeholders have different priorities. For instance, IT specialists may want to opt for a system that provides great security. On the other hand, business teams will mostly look at whether a given platform can match their clients' needs. All of these perspectives are important, and it's worthwhile to gather requirements from different people involved in the ecommerce development process.
Set a clear business goal your company wants to achieve with the new online store, list technical and functional requirements, and identify people on your team who will be responsible for making the final decision as to which platform to go with. These preparations will help you tremendously down the road. Now, let's discuss different criteria you should consider when choosing among open source platforms.
The developer behind the platform
Even though your instinct might be to focus on the ecommerce platform itself, it's very beneficial to do a little research into its developer as well. Who is building the platform? Do they offer dedicated customer support services? What's the roadmap for a given platform? Does it align with your vision for your online store?
Sylius, one of the open source ecommerce systems we work with, offers consulting and training services for businesses trying to build a new ecommerce store. Their architects will work with your team to share product know-how and advise on best practices of building with Sylius. Such a service could save a lot of time for your team and, ultimately, allow them to build a better product.
Building on top of the platform
It may be the case that your particular store can be built much quicker with one platform than with another. It will depend on the features you want to implement now, as well as the broad vision for the future of your store. The same goes for server administration costs—some platforms are much more expensive to maintain and develop than others.
Granted, these insights are not always within your reach. We suggest that you discuss these matters with your technology partner or the software vendor you hired for this project. Experienced commerce developers can definitely tell you which platform will be the best investment in your case.
Growing your ecommerce team
We've started to notice that more and more companies want to have an in-house tech team to maintain their store. If that's also your ambition, you should keep that in mind when choosing a commerce platform. Is it easy to hire programmers that can maintain and develop your store? Will you have resources to train and onboard them? Very often, it boils down to the technology a given platform is built with. Languages like PHP or Python are popular among software developers, so you should be able to find appropriate candidates for your team. Sylius is a good example here. This platform is based on Symfony, one of the most popular PHP frameworks. Programmers familiar with Symfony will find it easy to join your project without extensive training.
The platform and its ecosystem
Finally, we're getting to the ecommerce platform itself. You already know that you should research the underlying technology, as it will determine the ease of development and hiring experienced developers. On top of that, you should find out whether a given platform has been built as a monolith or with a modular approach. The latter might be beneficial for your store, as modular platforms enable you to plug in other apps with ease.
You might also want to inquire about the culture of software development your platform's developer follows. Why would that be relevant? First of all, a platform that's been built in line with test-driven development might be more reliable and stable. Ideally, the platform should match your team's approach to programming. Otherwise, there might be difficulties along the way. For instance, an agile team won't be as effective as possible if the platform they're working on is not testable. Check whether there's a publicly available roadmap for a given e-commerce platform. After all, you don't want to be surprised by significant unexpected product updates.
One more thing you should determine is whether a given platform has a strong community behind it. The best open source ecommerce platforms, like Magento or Sylius, have thriving communities of passionate developers and contributors. It's great news for you, as you can leverage such a community to solve technical issues, find potential employees, and exchange experiences with your peers. In our view, a strong community is a promising sign of a robust and reliable ecommerce platform.
The best ecommerce platforms: our recommendations
As we mentioned at the top of this blog post, it may be the case that one of the popular saas platforms like Shopify or Big Cartel will be enough for your business. As long as you're building a small, simple shop, you should be fine with an out-of-the-box solution.
However, if you're planning on building a custom ecommerce store, you're likely better off using an open source platform as the basis of your shop. The biggest benefit of choosing open source systems is that your team will be able to edit the very core of the product and tailor it to your needs.
As Macopedia, we've been recommending the following platforms to our clients:
- Magento. With 250k stores built with Magento available online, it's easily one of the top open source platforms. It has a lot of possibilities and a huge community behind it. In our experience, it's a great system for large and mid-sized ecommerces that are more-less standard in terms of features.
- Sylius. Sylius is our platform of choice for large non-standard ecommerces. The reason for that is that Sylius is very flexible when it comes to building custom shopping experiences for your products and services, plus it's easy to integrate it with other tools in your business ecosystem. Sylius is also the only ecommerce platform fully covered with automatic tests in line with behavior-driven development (BDD) and test-driven development (TDD).
We understand that choosing the right commerce platform can be a huge benefit for your online business. Since this is usually a long-term decision, you should carefully analyze different options and, ideally, consult with experienced ecommerce developers. We hope that thanks to our guide, you're much closer to picking the best ecommerce platform for your business.