As the world moved online, Ecommerce was one of the first activities that gained rapid speed. So here is a trivia question for you:
Question: When and Which was the world’s first ecommerce website?
Answer: In 1971, during one of the earliest forms of the internet, the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) arranged a transaction between students of Stanford and MIT. This is believed to be the first act of ecommerce. It was almost two decades before Tim Berners-Lee wrote the first web browser.
So, after so many decades that have passed by, you would assume that the ecommerce platforms are pretty structured and atleast the choice now should be straightforward. Not exactly! The choice is even more difficult now with literally dozens of competing platforms – all offering different features.
The above data is sample for all the sites on the internet. In the context of ecommerce, where you might be aiming for scaling up your site someday, it is also beneficial to look at how the platforms are spread when you consider only the top sites. That chart is as below.
And before we start doing a deeper dive into the choice of ecommerce platforms, here is a chart that shows the search trends for major providers.
In almost all cases the best option will be to do a low cost trial of the platform before you commit fully. Still, to get a feel of what each has to offer, here are the top ecommerce platforms:
1) WooCommerce (link): WooCommerce is growing and with what speed! As an intro, WooCommerce was originally developed as a simple plugin to convert the WordPress CMS platform into an ecommerce one.
And just as we were publishing this article, Automattic (the company behind WordPress) acquired WooThemes (the company behind WooCommerce). This is excellent news for all who have invested in WooCommerce since the plugin will now grow even faster. And for WordPress fans, this means that WordPress itself will now be competing with players such as Shopify.
WordPress itself is the world’s most popular open source content management system and has been growing extremely rapidly. Apart from being easy to setup, WordPress also has a huge community ecosystem that develops and open sources various plugins that extend the core functionality into different directions.
WooCommerce started as such a plugin, and then developed its own ecosystem of plugins that extend the functionality of the ecommerce suite. From shipping, inventory to payment gateways – there is nothing that you might need and is not available already.
As you might have noted from the top graph – when we look at the entirety of the internet, WooCommerce is by far the most popular ecommerce platform accounting for almost a quarter of all ecommerce sites.
- WordPress is free and so is WooCommerce – you can build and extend them as you want
- Most popular hosts offer a 1-click install for WordPress, from where it is again a matter of clicks to get WooCommerce running.
- Excellent quality of free and premium WooCommerce themes & plugins are available which can make your site look professional in a matter of minutes. From coupons to promotions – anything can be done.
- WooCommerce is easily integrated with all major payment gateways from Paypal to Stripe. If your payment gateway is local, even then chances are that you will find an existing plugin.
- WooCommerce is easily integrated with major inventory management and Point of Sales systems.
- There are a large number of managed hosting providers who can take care of hosting, security, backups for you or you can set up your own infrastructure.
- WordPress/ WooCommerce is simple enough to be setup and managed by anyone who has never coded before.
- Huge community around the platform – very easy to find developers and also at a low cost.
- SEO optimized – true to the WordPress nature, WooCommerce sites are already SEO optimized with little tweaks here and there.
- There is an often quoted doubt that WooCommerce is good for small/medium sites that have at max a few hundred products but not good enough if you want to scale to much a large store. This is true to some extent and examples of huge sites that are running on WooCommerce are hard to find, but then again – when you reach that scale you should be able to hire a dedicated team that can either optimise your existing platform or migrate to a new one.
- WordPress has had a few security issues in past and the use of dozens of plugins means that you have to extra cautious. It is not a ‘set up and forget’ kind of platform.
2. Magento (link): Magento is very popular and the first choice of businesses that are looking for an industrial grade strength platform. As you will note from the second graph, Magento takes the lead when we only consider the top 10k sites. This is not surprising since where WooCommerce was built to convert a blogging platform into an ecommerce one, Magento was built from ground up to be a complete ecommerce platform. Examples of huge sites using this platform are not hard to find.
- Magento community edition is open source and free to build & extend. There are other available editions such as enterprise and professional.
- Most popular hosts offer a 1-click install for Magento.
- Excellent quality of free and premium Magento themes & plugins are available which can make your site look professional in a matter of minutes.
- Having been built just for ecommerce, Magento has enough core features right out of the box for you to run your store without the need of extensions.
- Huge community around the platform – very easy to find help.
- Can be scaled up without any problem – you would likely not need to switch platforms if you build it right.
- Lots of sites use Magento at scale, so you can find experts and answers to problems that could come.
- Magento is also SEO optimised.
- Magento is not for beginners. You should be an experienced coder or have the budget to bring someone experienced, else you would be running into problems soon. Magento has a steep learning curve, you cannot treat it like WordPress and figure it out just by watching tutorial videos.
- Magento has some specific hosting and infrastructure demands – if not setup correctly, you might find it slow right from the beginning. Thereby, you would also find that the infrastructure demands are costly.
- While Magento developers are not hard to find, in most cases good Magento developers will be relatively costly.
3. Shopify (link): Totally different from the above two, Shopify is a complete hosted ecommerce solution. It is basically a SaaS where you only need to open an account, choose a monthly/ yearly subscription and upload your products. Rest all is taken care of by the platform.
- Peace of mind. You don’t have to worry about hosting, security or backup. Everything is done for you and you have a support team on standby.
- Themes and templates are available for you to customize your store. Since the themes are pre-approved, you don’t have to worry if there would be some compatibility problem somewhere (this problem is common in WooCommerce & Magento themes). The themes are also 1-click installed.
- Shopify is an extremely reliable platform – you don’t have to worry about your site being slow or going down.
- A very strong API makes add-ons feasible.
- Shopify is a complete solution with point of sales integrated (extra cost) and also selling on Facebook is inbuilt.
- Various extensions are available to increase the functionality of your site.
- Shopify uses a Ruby based language called Liquid which is open source. You can find developers if you need to change something.
- The support team needs to be mentioned again – it is 24/7 and extremely capable. Probably one of the best teams you could hope for, to run your store.
- Products can be easily imported or exported.
- SEO optimised.
- Mobile optimised and mobile commerce enabled.
- Since it is a hosted solution, there is a subscription fee. The fee ranges from $29/pm to $179/pm. This cost is in line with what you would pay if you would use other platforms. Where Shopify proves much more costly is in its model of selling all plugins/extensions on a per month fee. This adds up pretty soon even for basic functionality.
- The ecosystem is pretty much closed – so what you get from the support team is balanced by what you lose from not being part of a huge open source community.
- The number of themes is limited so you might find that many shopify stores look similar or you may not find a design to your liking.
- Development and finding developers is costly.
- While Shopify is getting popular, you will still find it hard to see huge stores operating on this platform – most are smaller startups.
- You are at someone else’s mercy – policies may change, unexpected may happen!
4. BigCommerce (link): Similar to Shopify, BigCommerce is a complete hosted solution. You only have to create an account with them and everything else will either come right out of the box or will be easily integrated. The pricing starts at the same level as Shopify ($29) and ranges to $79 and then to enterprise quotes. In features and pricing, BigCommerce is an excellent solution however it suffers from a differentiation problem. Most target customers will do a quick search of BigCommerce Vs Shopify and find out that 90% of features are same – in such cases the better known brand wins, and these days it is often Shopify.
- A complete hosted solution, offers you peace of mind in matters related to hosting, backup and security.
- In terms of features that come out of the box, BigCommerce is second to none. From core features like payments gateways, product variations, tax & inventory to add ons such as social selling on Facebook – everything is right there. Specific features such as side by side comparison of products, wishlists, recommendations are inbuilt.
- Themes and add-ons are easily available to further extend your store. You don’t have to search anywhere else, since everything is right on the platform.
- There used to be some worries on BigCommerce support but they have ramped up quite a bit and offer a 24/7 support system.
- BigCommerce shines in the marketing and analytics department – coupons, sales, newsletters and tracking are easy and intuitive. Even advanced features such as abandoned cart recovery are available.
- Products can be easily imported or exported.
- SEO optimised.
- Mobile optimised and mobile commerce enabled.
- While most features are inbuilt & many other apps free, those which are not are on the model of per month subscription. These add up pretty quickly if you are a smaller startup looking to cut costs.
- Themes are limited. This is also one of the main differentiation points between Shopify and BigCommerce – comparatively, theme designs here look less trendy and less frequently updated.
- Closed ecosystem means that you lose out on the community and experts are harder to find.
- Examples of larger stores operating on this platform are also harder to find.
- Again, you are at the mercy of a third party – unexpected may happen.
5. Volusion (link): Another popular choice in the hosted category is Volusion. Offering many of the same features as others, the pricing starts at $15 and goes up $135. That makes it one of the cheapest ones to get started with.
- Volusion is one of the oldest players in this game. They are strong, stable and experienced to give you a secure platform.
- Cheaper to get started if you just want to test the waters.
- All features that you would expect from a complete e-commerce solution are present. From basic to advanced product management, marketing and analytics, payment processing and inventory management.
- There is a pretty extensive theme store. Though the prices are a bit crazy (going upto $895), in our opinion the designs were more varied and better looking than even shopify.
- A 24/7 support team.
- Whether they be true or false, bad reviews come out when you search for Volusion. You could assume that being the oldest player in the game, these problems were part of an ecosystem that was maturing and the problems would have mostly gone – but simply on social brand signals, this is a negative in our mind.
- Volusion charges on bandwidth quotas. The problem here is not that it is a different pricing model, it is that the pricing becomes unpredictable for a business owner.
- The biggest problem Volusion has is that they do not have a built in blogging system. They specifically ask you to use a 3rd party system like WordPress. In an era where content marketing is one of the most crucial tools a business has, this is not a small issue.
- Rest of the problems of a closed ecosystem and 3rd party service are similar to others.
6. Prestashop (Link): Rounding up the list with another open source ecommerce system, Prestashop is another popular option that is used worldwide. Built on PHP like WordPress, Prestashop was intended to be an ecommerce solution right from the start which gives it an inherent advantage.
- Free, open source and extendable as you want.
- Built from ground up to be an ecommerce solution, Prestashop comes with a lot of features inbuilt – integration with payment gateways, shipping carriers, product and shipping variations, product & inventory management are available, as are Coupons, discounts, email marketing etc. Advanced features such as return and multi-store management are also present.
- A sufficiently large ecosystem means that themes and extensions are not hard to find. There is an official marketplace as well (link).
- A number of hosts will offer a 1-click install for Prestashop.
- SEO optimised.
- The admin interface is more slickly designed and is easy to use.
- Doubts on scalability. With most large players using Magento or their own solution – this doubt on whether the platform will be able to scale is often portrayed.
- Using an open source system means that you would have to optimise the infrastructure yourself (or pick a specialised host) else the site performance will suffer.
- The modules for Prestashop tend to be on the expensive side when compared to WooCommerce.
While almost all of the above platforms are extremely popular in India as well, in the last few years many hosted solutions have come up that focus on India. The list of top ecommerce platforms in India is as below:
1. Zepo (link): Founded in 2011 by Nitin Purswani, Zepo raised funding from People Group CEO Anupam Mittal and One97 Mobility Fund in Dec 2014. The site is a pure Do-it-yourself ecommerce store builder completely optimised for Indian market. The pricing starts from INR 949 per month and goes up to INR 4749 per month. Zepo provides an array of features to make sure that the selling experience is complete and has about 1200 shops online.
- Over 100 free templates to create your online store fast with all required features for product & store management.
- Arrangements with PayU, CCAvenue, Paypal, EBS, Direcpay to get a payment gateway for free. Ability to use Cash on Delivery method as well.
- Integration with delivery providers like FedEx, Gati and Blue Dart.
- Integrated marketing services for coupons, discounts, newsletters and gift vouchers.
- Feature to sell directly on Facebook page.
- Integration with all major marketplaces such Flipkart, Snapdeal, Amazon, PayTM, ebay, Homeshop18
2. Kartrocket (link): Founded by Saahil Goel, Gautam Kapoor and Vishesh Khurana, Delhi based Kartrocket had raised an angel round in 2013 from 500 startups, 5 ideas and Jatin Aneja. In 2014, they raised $2Million Series A from Nirvana Venture Advisors, Beenos and 500startups. One of the very few platforms that offer a free plan, Kartrocket’s pricing starts from 0 and goes upto INR 7000 per month. The other differentiating factor is that Kartrocket is heavily mobile focused – and if you have been following the recent ecommerce trends that might become a crucial decision point for customers.
- Over 50 design templates that are mobile optimised.
- Mobile ready admin interface and storefronts.
- Integration with ebay and Amazon. Your store can also give product feeds to Junglee, Shopzilla, Google Products and Bing Products.
- Free payment gateway. Options for Cash on delivery and EMI arrangements.
- Shipping arrangements with FedEx, Bluedart, First flight and added services such as SMS notifications.
- Comes with a pretty exhaustive app store to extend the functionality.
3. Buildabazaar (link): Backed by Infibeam, this is one of the earliest ecommerce platforms in India and counts more than 30,000 stores as its customers. The pricing starts from INR 1000 per month and goes up to INR 5000 per month. While the end goal is the same, this platform is more into enterprise mode than others. For example, rather than offering themes and templates, Buildabazaar gives on-page customisation tools to design your storefront. Card payments are accepted and the amount transferred to your bank account bimonthly after deducting charges. Similarly, there are arrangements with various delivery providers.
Buildabazaar vs kartrocket or zepo seems to be similar to comparing Volusion vs shopify, they are solving similar problems but offering varying levels of flexibility in choosing your options.
4. Martjack (link): Founded by Abhay Deshpande, Martjack was recently rumoured to have been acquired by Capillary Technologies (not confirmed/ finalised). Martjack positions itself as an enterprise class multichannel ecommerce platform and lists companies such as Walmart & HUL who use its platform. That it is targeting (only?) enterprises can be further seen by the amount of information given on the pricing page – pretty much nothing! You would need to contact them to get further information.
5. Storehippo (link): A mobile first ecommerce platform, Storehippo has a pricing that starts from INR 800 per month and goes to INR 5000 per month.
- Themes available to demo and choose
- Seamless mobile applications across iOS and Android that offer features such as push notifications.
- Free payment gateway and options for cash on delivery.
- Tie up with various logistics providers.
- Marketplace integration and Facebook store.
[As a sidenote, Storehippo is one of the few (only?) ecommerce platforms that is using the MEAN stack (Mongo, Express, Angular, Node) as its technology base – this is likely not relevant to most customers, but it is interesting how this will perform as the company scales up. Mongo has had its fair share of critics and Angular is completely changing its Version 2. Interesting times!]