Once an optional extra, ecommerce is for many businesses now the default. As online shopping and purchasing becomes ever more widespread – and increasingly trusted by customers – companies are increasingly expected to offer direct access to the products and services via online payment gateways.
In order to implement such a solution, web designers must choose a platform – in other words, the code and functionality that will manage, accept and ensure the security of payments for the products a business is offering online. This is an important choice when building an ecommerce site, and worth unpacking.
The good news is that there are several excellent platforms to choose from – and it’s even possible to build a custom system that is expressly designed for a specific site. Each will have particular features that commend it – and, of course, specific weaknesses that might dissuade a designer from employing it in one scenario or another.
For example, there’s Magento, a powerful software package that is issued in a free open-source edition and a paid-for Enterprise version. Flexible and versatile, Magento can be self-hosted – installed on servers a business owns itself – or run from a ‘cloud’ supplied by Magento.
Using Magento offers access to a huge community of developers that is constantly adding new features and trouble-shooting problems; it boasts a huge number of features and is uniquely scalable – it’s great for small business and large ones alike. It can manage orders and shipping, promote specific products to browsers, and will handle a catalogue of any size or complexity.
That might make it sound like a no-brainer – why investigate the other options? A comparison with WooCommerce helps explain why: Magento can sometimes get a little too complex. WooCommerce is built especially for WordPress sites, and that specificity helps simplify and render easier its implementation in those kinds of site.
WooCommerce’s simplicity means it is cheaper than Magento, too – and easier to maintain over time. It presents a lower learning curve, and is particularly good for businesses offering digital products – ebooks, for example, or audio. Because it’s a lighter piece of software, it’s also often more cost-effective to host.
That said, the simplicity of WooCommerce gives it a less potential for scalability and handling complex product catalogs. So perhaps what you really need is a custom platform: one that can fuse the best bits of both packages?
Certainly if a business requires lots of customisability in a catalog, a particular industry has specific demands or there’s a need to integrate with pre-existing software, custom ecommerce platform is very appealing. The problem, however, is that custom builds can be more expensive and time-consuming – so if you’re in a rush, or on a budget, coding from scratch can be daunting.
In other words, a business will opt for the ecommerce platform that is right for them: smaller ones with simple product catalogues may choose WooCommerce to get going quickly; larger ones looking for volume could opt for Magento; businesses with particular demands on their ecommerce activity often go for a custom build.
Our advice? Think carefully about your ecommerce offering – and only then jump one way or the other. That’s how to choose the best ecommerce platform for your business!