These days, if you are in business – you operate an online business. Even if your company website is simply a showcase of services, and payment processing is handled on premises or over the phone, you’ll eventually come to realize that having online payment capabilities is the inevitable “next-step”.
Thankfully, there are many ways to take that step. Startups planning to launch a full eCommerce experience, have various free and paid tools (e.g., PayPal payment gateways, inventory control widgets, and more) at their fingertips.
Here’s a look at the five best, off-the-shelf, eCommerce platforms and plugins that can give an online business owner everything needed to set up an online shop successfully — from pricing and product display to promotion tools and shipping options. My top picks are rated based on price, ease of use, and functionality.
Magento is one of the most widely used eCommerce platforms in the world – “a leading eCommerce platform among Alexa’s top one million sites for the third year in a row,”according to reports. The company boasts 240,000 users worldwide, and that includes some of the most recognizable retail brands in the world. Its massive user base, and the fact that its free and open-source. These factors give it more functionality and interoperability than any other e-commerce solution on this list. This is one of the reasons I implemented it on my own bed and furniture retail site.
But the robustness of this platform comes at a price. Magento is a very hefty platform in terms of price (for enterprise editions) and the free version requires knowledge of coding, CSS and some HTML to come to grips with. There is a long learning curve, however, the end result is a full online retail solution that is infinitely customizable and can accommodate ten customers a day or ten thousand.
WooCommerce powers more than 10% of eCommerce sites, according to internal reports. This is the only “plugin” on the list and deserves a special mention just because of what WooThemes has done with this once humble add-on for its WordPress themes. It is now a really powerful retail solution that is ideal for small businesses.
Its growing popularity is a testament to this fact as WooCommerce explains, “It took us well over a year (Jan 2013) to hit 500,000 downloads, less then six months (June 2013) to hit 1 million and then less than six months (Dec 2013) to hit 2 million. A month later and we are sitting at over 2.2 million.”
This free eCommerce toolkit lets you easily manage inventory, process payments (including PayPal), calculate tax and shipping, as well as a whole array of reporting and marketing tools at your disposal. For those selling low volume goods or intangible products, such as mp3s or downloadable software, this is a perfect way of turning an existing WordPress site into a fully functioning eCommerce solution. However, if you have a large inventory and expect to be processing hundreds of orders a day, WooCommerce can become a little unwieldy.
Shopify is a primary competitor to Magento, although it doesn’t boast anywhere near the user base. However, don’t let that sway your opinion of this e-commerce software. Shopify is as fully functional and capable of handling large retail operations, just like Magento. It offers multiple payment processing solutions and themes created by independent vendors allowing endless customization potions.
While Magento is available for free to most users (not including paid enterprise versions) Shopify starts at $14.99 a month for base installation and there are far fewer “free” plugins available. In fact, most Shopify plugins are highly priced, and this could push this eCommerce solution out of budget for some users.
Squarespace is, like WordPress, better known as a simple CMS solution favored by bloggers and artists to display their work. However, unlike the latter, Squarespace has a complete eCommerce solution built-in, without the need for third-party plugins like WooCommerce. This makes it an attractive solution for online businesses who are already familiar with Squarespace’s easy to use Dashboard environment.
What’s more, Squarespace has all the functionality of a Shopify or a Magento website, though it might not be as versatile and customizable overall. This means you have full inventory management, a seamless checkout experience, a variety of payment methods, stock control, promotions, ability to create multiple product variants and a range of shipping options. However, it does not currently provide sufficient reporting and analysis that comes with other eCommerce packages.
PrestaShop, which boasts 165,000 shops worldwide, is equivalent to Shopify, but offers much less than Magento. However, in terms of having a sea of developers creating apps and themes, PrestaShop rivals Magento in almost every way. Like Magento, PrestaShop is an open source software, written in PHP, utilizing MySQL databases. Also like Magento, you can download the base version for free and installation is a snap.
Why you would want to chose Magento over PrestaShop really comes down to how long you want to spend learning the software and how many extra functions you will require as your store grows. PrestaShop is a lot easier to learn and will suit most purposes, but perhaps not as feature rich (and with as many plugins and themes available) as Magento.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Khurram Aziz is a freelance writer and full-time entrepreneur who spends his days running several internet businesses. Among his ventures is Quiet Night Beds, a retail store which sells beds across the UK. Creating and maintaining these sites has taught him a lot about web development, marketing and business management. Connect with @quietnightbeds on Twitter.