An ecommerce platform is a software platform that empowers business merchants to create and manage an online store as well as handle their marketing, sales, and operations.
Most ecommerce platforms mainly focus on providing merchants with everything they need to build and design an online store. They make it possible for small businesses and entrepreneurs to get started with an online shop even if they don’t have the coding abilities to build an ecommerce store for themselves.
There are three main different types of ecommerce platforms:
This type of software can be downloaded for free and adapted as the merchant sees fit—with some coding knowledge necessary.
The term “open source” means that anyone can edit the source code, and therefore there’s no limitation on how the software could be used. But, there’s usually little (or no) customer support as programmers make their own decisions regarding functionality. However, most open-source software boasts a thriving community of users where you can typically post questions and concerns in forums and wait to receive helpful responses from others using the same software.
If you opt to use an open-source ecommerce platform, you’ll also be responsible for sourcing and paying for your own web hosting, web domain, and SSL certificate. All of which incur costs of their own, so be sure to factor that into your decision.
WooCommerce is an example of a popular open-source ecommerce platform.
SaaS (Software as a Service)
This type of ecommerce platform is often an internet browser-operated software that allows users to build an ecommerce website via an intuitive interface designed by software developers. Typically you’ll have to pay to access this kind of ecommerce platform on either a monthly or yearly basis.
SaaS ecommerce platforms are often hosted and provide an easy way for users to register a domain name. Plus, users also benefit from access to a dedicated customer service team to help guide them through any troubleshooting.
Users also get a choice of themes to help kickstart the design of their online shop. From the pre-made store website themes, users can edit and modify various features to complement their brand’s aesthetic. But in comparison to open-source software, customizability is limited. Users can’t alter the source code, and sometimes they’re not even given access to HTML or CSS code.
Examples of hosted SaaS ecommerce platforms include Shopify (Shopify Review), BigCommerce, and Squarespace.
You also have the option of listing products via online marketplaces like Etsy or Amazon.
This is how they work: You, as the merchant, upload and publish your product details (product photos, product titles, product categories, etc.), then users browsing the online market place can either search for what they’re specifically looking for or scroll through the listings looking for inspiration. Your listing is there for them to see along with your competitors.
Online marketplaces are a great option if you’re only selling a few products in a niche market and are still building an audience.
Things to Keep in Mind When Choosing an Ecommerce Platform
To help you determine which ecommerce platform suits the needs of your business, keep in mind the following factors:
- Your budget
- The level of customizability you require
- The number of products you want to sell
- Your average sales rate
- Your plans for expansion
For small businesses or merchants with no coding experience or development and design budget, a hosted SaaS option may be the fastest way to get an online store set up to a good quality standard.
To learn more about hosted ecommerce platforms, check out our Ecommerce Platforms: Choosing The Best Ecommerce Software For Your Business article and for open-source ecommerce platforms, check out our 12 Open-Source Ecommerce Platforms You Should Consider for Your Online Store article.