As the saying goes, ''You can't build a great building on a weak foundation.'' This isn’t only true, but applies to pretty much anything – including ecommerce.
Whether you’re starting a new ecommerce business, thinking of switching to a new platform, or shifting your physical store online, you need the correct foundation to drive success. But getting the foundations right means using the best ecommerce platform to build and manage your online store.
To find that option, you need to know how the ecommerce platforms work, what they offer, and compare the pros and cons of the most popular providers available.
So in this article we’ll explain exactly that, helping you understand which platform is best for your business to help you drive growth, make doing business simple, and scale with ease.
What is an ecommerce platform?
An ecommerce platform is a software application that enables a business to sell products and services online. It will allow you to list items for sale, provide a space for your shoppers to browse goods, and help them check out when they’re ready to pay.
Of course, the right foundations for your business won’t necessarily be the simplest, and nowadays, ecommerce platforms offer a range of features and products that can help you track, ship, market, and sell as effectively as possible.
Types of ecommerce platforms
All ecommerce platforms help you run an online shop to sell products and services, but not all platforms work in the same way. Instead, there are a few different types, and they work slightly differently.
The three most common types of ecommerce platforms are:
– Software as a service (SaaS)
– Open source
– Headless commerce
Which type of platform you choose will likely be influenced by how much tech expertise you have to build and run your online store. We’ll explain the options further below.
SaaS ecommerce platforms
SaaS ecommerce platforms generally offer the most straightforward and cheapest way for you to build an online store. By paying for a subscription (and sometimes a sign-up fee), you get access to an out-of-the-box solution to create a shop and start to sell.
SaaS platforms are provided on a cloud basis and are usually paid for on a monthly, annually, or on-demand basis.
The biggest benefits of using a SaaS ecommerce platform are:
– Cost: Using these platforms is managed on a subscription basis, with a fee based on the size of your business. This can be a cost-effective way to launch and scale your business.
– Easy to maintain: Another reason SaaS platforms are so handy is that the platforms themselves will usually take care of the maintenance that comes with running an online store, including security, web hosting, and software updates.
– Simple to scale: The best SaaS ecommerce platforms allow you to quickly try out or add new pre-built features that can improve workflows or drive sales. They also allow you to scale your business with ease.
– Integrations: SaaS platforms generally offer easy-to-use integrations with other tech tools your business might need, such as enterprise resource planning systems or payment service providers (PSPs) like Mollie.
Since SaaS solutions enable a quick and easy shop setup without needing too much tech expertise, small- and medium-sized companies (SMEs) often use them.
A SaaS ecommerce platform has many benefits – but doesn’t suit every business. One of the main disadvantages of using them can be their inflexible nature. Unlike some of the other types we’ll cover below, SaaS platforms can be challenging to customise to your exact needs, especially if you’re dealing with complex business processes or want to make unique changes to your site.
With a SaaS platform, you’re also more likely to get locked into using a specific provider. If you have spent a long time building your business using a particular platform, you might rely on its features and benefits or lack the resources to migrate to another provider.
Open source ecommerce platforms
An open source ecommerce platform will give you full access to their source code, meaning that you can customise your site to your exact needs. You usually own the code or pay a licence fee for using it. This can be a great way to create an online store that offers everything you (and your customers) need.
The biggest benefits of using an open source ecommerce platform are:
– Flexibility: Though not always simple to build and maintain, open source platforms allow almost limitless possibilities to create your online store. If you have the right resources, using one can be a great way to create a unique store that delivers exceptional customer experiences and helps you sell as much as possible.
– Integrations: As your site grows, you will need integrations with other tech tools to help improve and refine what you do, whether that’s with a PSP, customer relationship management software or other platforms. As you have the code, you can generally integrate any tech you need with an open source platform.
– SEO: Search engines like sites that offer unique, valuable content. By allowing you to create a bespoke store, open source platforms also help you stand out from others who might be using similar templates or themes to build their sites. This can help you more easily rise to the top of ranking pages for your product or service, something that can be vital to selling more and attracting as many visitors as possible.
The disadvantage of an open source ecommerce platform is that you will likely need a lot of technical expertise to build and maintain your ecommerce site. Unlike SaaS ecommerce platforms, you will be responsible for running and maintaining your store, including dealing with security, web hosting, and updates. That means you can end up paying high costs without proper planning.
Headless ecommerce platforms
A headless ecommerce platform works by separating the front end of your ecommerce store – or the customer-facing parts of your website – from the back-end systems that run your business’s commercial and operational functions.
Traditionally, the front-end of an online store connects directly to the back-end, so any changes you make in one would immediately affect the other. With headless platforms, the front-end is usually designed through a custom-built website or content management system (CMS). The back-end consists of many systems that are responsible for different commerce functions, such as shipping, pricing, and security.
These separate functions speak to each other through application programming interfaces (APIs), which send out API calls to initiate different actions, such as making a payment or sending an automated email to a customer after a purchase.
The biggest benefits of using a headless ecommerce platform are:
– Flexibility: Headless ecommerce platforms offer a fantastic amount of flexibility in how you build and run your online store. By decoupling the front end of your site, you can develop it to your exact specifications. That means you can have more options to edit every part of your operations, helping to create a unique design, improve the customer journey, and even customise your team’s admin functions.
– Faster and cheaper development: As each part of a headless ecommerce platform is separate, developers can customise individual components of the infrastructure without making changes to others, improving efficiency and reducing costs.
– Speed: With headless, building a site and keeping up with market trends and consumer expectations can be done quickly. And using APIs also means that your site speed will be quicker, increasing conversions, improving your search engine ranking, and enabling you to deliver exceptional customer experiences.
– Integrations: Due to how they work, adding new functions through integrations with other platforms should be simple. This means you have more flexibility to use new tech to improve or refine your business processes.
One disadvantage of using a headless ecommerce platform is that you will need to build the front end of your online store (or the customer-facing presentation layer). Though that means you can customise it to your needs, this process can be time-consuming and expensive.
Maintaining your online store, including creating content and adding new integrations and processes, will also likely need to be done by someone with development experience. This can lead to ongoing costs you might not pay when using another platform type, such as a SaaS solution.
Finding the best ecommerce solution – how to choose
So, now you know the different types of platforms and what they offer when building your online store. But, how do you choose an ecommerce platform that will perfectly complement your business goals (and drive success)? To find the best platform for your ecommerce website, you need to think about several things, including:
Your business’s size
Some ecommerce platforms can only handle a certain amount of products, transaction volume, or amount of visitors to your site. Also, think about how your company will develop: if you have plans to grow quickly, you need to know the platform can scale with your business.
Cost is one of the most important factors when setting up and running an online store. Think about what resources you have and how much capital you have to invest in setup and maintenance. If you have teams of developers at your disposal, using an open source or headless platform might be best. Alternatively, a SaaS platform can help you build a site quickly and easily, but the costs can increase as you grow your business.
Make sure to plan what features and functionalities you will need and research the costs for setting and maintaining your site initially and into the future.
Ease of use
Similarly to when you’re budgeting, you need to understand your capabilities in building and maintaining your online store. If you’re just starting out and don’t have a team to help, you might need an ecommerce platform that can make the process as simple as possible – providing a simple website builder, basic ecommerce features, and free themes.
To develop a more advanced online store, you will likely need technical expertise, whether an internal team or a developer or agency who can help you build your store.
Options for customisation
Do you have specific ideas about the design and functionality of your online shop? Then some ecommerce platforms – especially SaaS systems – could be too restrictive. Open source and headless solutions, where you can customise the code, give you more freedom but generally require some programming knowledge to use.
It’s vital to think about what you need to offer your customers to make them happy, how you will attract and delight visitors to your store, and the tech you’re using behind the scenes to make doing business effortless. Whether you want to use email marketing, social media tools, or real-time analytics to improve what you do, it’s good to understand what features a platform can offer before deciding which you use.
Also, remember to consider how easy it will be to add new features and functions to your ecommerce site as it grows. SaaS platforms usually offer a range of out-of-the-box features but often don’t allow for much flexibility in what you can add. Open source and headless platforms provide more flexibility but need developer expertise to implement new features.
When choosing an ecommerce platform, it’s good to think about the markets you will sell into. You might need a platform that can offer your customers’ preferred languages and currencies. It’s also vital that your provider helps you comply with all the legal requirements of the countries you operate in. In fact, research found that 40% of consumers won’t make a purchase from websites that don’t display their language.
Making sure your website visitors are happy and giving them the confidence to buy is one of the most important aspects of running an ecommerce business. That means that you must ensure you can offer your customers preferred payment methods and a checkout experience optimised for conversion. After all, data shows that an optimised checkout can increase conversion by 35% But to do that, you’ll likely want to partner with a PSP.
The best full-service payment gateway will effortlessly integrate with your chosen ecommerce platform, providing reliable, secure payment processing and advanced payment features that can help you drive sales.
Here at Mollie, we partner with and offer integrations for all of the biggest ecommerce platforms with no lock-in contract and transparent transaction fees.
It’s essential to offer the required security level to build trust with your website visitors and avoid fines for not complying with the requisite regulations. That’s why the best ecommerce platform should help you to comply with the latest security standards, including providing measures like SSL certificates and two-factor authentication (or being transparent about when you need to organise this yourself).
Compare the best ecommerce platforms
So, you’ve got all the information you need on the types of platforms and what you need to consider when choosing one. But, what do the top ecommerce platforms offer and which is right for your business? Here we’ll compare some of the most popular providers to see which is best for you.
The top 6 ecommerce platforms
BigCommerce offers the benefits of a SaaS platform – including web hosting, pre-built themes and faster setup times – and the flexibility of an open source platform.
It can serve both smaller and large businesses well, allowing users to design their store or do so using BigCommerce’s teams of designers. BigCommerce users can create custom integrations and functionalities using an open API when needed.
BigCommerce also offers a range of out-of-the-box tools and benefits to drive your business’s success, including abandoned cart recovery, marketing features, and world-class support. It offers an advanced product search engine (good for SEO), makes selling internationally simple, and can quickly help you sell on social media channels and third-party marketplaces.
BigCommerce is also adding headless commerce capabilities, so you can also use just one account to operate multiple stores and make changes to your front-end without disrupting the back-end functions.
Discover Mollie’s integration with BigCommerce.
WooCommerce is a free open source ecommerce plugin that you can use to transform your WordPress site into an online store.
WooCommerce can be a good option for smaller businesses with WordPress development capabilities. It also offers excellent flexibility, with many different feature plugins and themes to create your store in the way you want. It also provides robust SEO features, opportunities for multi-channel selling, and allows your customers to browse products and track orders easily.
One thing to consider when choosing a platform is WooCommerce’s ability to scale with your business, as it’s not always suited to very large businesses. It’s also worth noting that some of the best plugins for WooCommerce can be expensive, and that users must arrange their web hosting and ensure their ecommerce sites are PCI compliant.
Discover Mollie’s integration with WooCommerce.
PrestaShop is a free open source ecommerce platform used by hundreds of thousands of businesses.
PrestaShop offers a multitude of customisable themes so you can create your ecommerce site to look how you want. It provides an extensive range of plugins that can help you manage products, track orders, and easily communicate with your customers. PrestaShop also makes it easy to create content, and it is a good choice when you’re operating in different markets as it supports multiple languages and currencies.
PrestaShop is a good choice for small- and medium-sized businesses but might suit larger companies. It doesn’t offer its own customer support teams, though there is a large community that helps users overcome problems. It does offer many plugins, but they can be expensive.
Discover Mollie’s integration with PrestaShop.
Lightspeed offers a cloud-based ecommerce platform that is great for small- and medium-sized businesses.
Lightspeed’s ecommerce platform is user-friendly, offering an intuitive design and plenty of options to build and customise your store how you want. Users also get access to a suite of tools that can simplify doing business, including pre-set themes, streamlined returns, marketing capabilities, and support for multiple languages and currencies.
Lightspeed can be costly compared with other providers. After starting out providing point-of-sale (POS) solutions, some business owners see it as a better choice for omnichannel selling.
Discover Mollie’s integration with Lightspeed.
Wix is a drag-and-drop website builder and ecommerce platform that is great for entrepreneurs and small businesses.
Wix is an easy-to-use solution that anyone can use to build a simple ecommerce store. It offers customisable templates to design your store, web hosting, and a version of your ecommerce site optimised for selling via mobile devices. You can also track orders, implement multi-channel selling, and access abandoned cart recovery features using Wix.
Though Wix makes building a website simple, it isn’t necessarily the best option for quickly growing or large businesses that want to create a more advanced site. It lacks some features that other platforms offer, such as inventory management tools, and the basic business plan only offers 20GB of storage space. You must upgrade to a business plan to use Wix’s ecommerce features.
Discover Mollie’s integration with Wix.
Shopware is a highly customisable open source ecommerce platform that offers something for all businesses.
Shopware offers great flexibility in choosing from different cloud-hosted and self-hosted plans depending on your needs. As it is open source, you can customise your store the way you want, though Shopware also offers tools to simplify building your site, including hundreds of templates.
It helps you simplify and automate business processes, has an intuitive design, and offers advanced marketing and SEO capabilities. There’s also an active community of users and developers who help others by sharing best practices and troubleshooting insights.
Shopware offers excellent flexibility, but this does come with higher costs than some other platforms. For this reason, Shopware can be a sensible choice for businesses that plan to scale quickly. It’s also most active in Germany (though growing in other European countries), which could be a concern for some business owners. Some of the plugins and advanced features for Shopware can be expensive and it doesn’t offer the range that other platforms can provide.
Discover Mollie’s integration with Shopware.
The perfect payments solution for your ecommerce platform
So, by now you should have everything you need to choose the right ecommerce platform for your business. That means you’re well on your way to setting the right foundations for success. But, another important decision you need to make is choosing the best payment partner to help you drive sales and delight your customers.
At Mollie, we provide an effortless payments solution to more than 130,000 businesses. Our full-service platform comes with leading and local payment methods, a seamless checkout designed to increase conversions, and advanced payment features. We also offer a range of other benefits, including an easy-to-use dashboard and app that can help you improve what you do and manage payments as simply as possible.
More importantly, we offer easy-to-use, effortlessly installed payment integrations with all leading ecommerce platforms, including all of the providers we’ve covered above. With Mollie, you only pay for successful transactions, get transparent pricing, and there are no hidden fees or lock-in contracts.
All individual ecommerce platform data was from enlyft.com, which uses advanced algorithms to calculate market share, industries, etc.