Due to increasing competition and the growing demands of customers for ultra-convenience, ecommerce companies continue to innovate and deliver increasingly powerful features of their platforms. There are a few things to keep in mind to find the best ecommerce platform for your needs.

In May 2016, Google disclosed that mobile has surpassed desktop in product searches. That fact put mobile commerce front and center of every ecommerce company and drove the focus of the mobile shopping experience. Simply put, if you're not starting with a "mobile first" approach to your shopping experience, you are putting yourself at a competitive disadvantage from the start.

Social commerce was another trend that bloomed throughout the year. According to one study, social media influences buying decision of about 74% online shoppers. Plus, 60% of retailers who implemented social commerce said they gained new customers from different social networks. Social commerce delivers the ultimate in convenience by allowing customers to purchase directly from their preferred social media channels rather than having to exit to a separate shopping cart. This simplicity of integration will continue to grow and dominate in 2017.

Bottom line: While search engine optimization and great user experience design are important, today's ecommerce platforms aim to capitalize upon mobile & social commerce trends.

In addition, the growing simplicity of these platforms are allowing new entrants with non-technical backgrounds. Keeping these trends and changing requirements of the modern ecommerce business in mind, I have identified the 5 best ecommerce platforms that are likely to serve a range of entrepreneurs (from individuals to established merchants) most effectively in 2017.

1. Shopify

Shopify hosts over 325,000 active online shops and with its focus on social commerce and mobile shopping, the platform continues to evolve to meet the growing requirements of online stores.

The Benefits of Shopify are:

  • Over 100 store templates (themes) to choose from

  • 1500+ apps (plugins/extensions) to extend the store's functionality

  • Ability to connect your online store with your Facebook page and sell directly on Facebook

  • Built in mobile-friendly shopping cart and seller mobile apps (and Shopify provides a platform to connect store owners with app developers for the development of their store's app)

  • 24/7 support via live chat, phone and tutorials as well as the Shopify community forum

Despite these advantages, there are some important downsides with the platform. First, if you don't use Shopify Payment, there will be an additional transaction fee on every sale. Plus, many of the extensions for additional functionality aren't free, so, running your store on Shopify might cost a little more than you expected. Lastly, Shopify has its own coding language called 'Liquid', so any customization in the system comes at an additional expense.

When is Shopify a good choice?

For beginners with conventional requirements, Shopify remains the ideal ecommerce solution. Based on your budget requirements, you can choose different packages which range from $29 to $299/month. But if you have unique features and functionalities in mind for your store, it might be better to look elsewhere.

 

2. BigCommerce

Launched in 2009, BigCommerce currently hosts over 55,000 online stores and is among the leading ecommerce software providers. From big names like Martha Stewart & Toyota to SMEs, the platform ideally caters to stores of all sizes. And considering the comprehensive list of built in features it offers, BigCommerce is often considered the best option for those who have little to no technical knowledge, or simply don't have time to mess with the code.

For an even more in depth view, see my interview with Brent Bellm, CEO of BigCommerce:

The Benefits of BigCommerce are:

  • Extensive built in features including newsletters, coupons, shipping, tax, analytics, and more

  • Unlike Shopify, BigCommerce charges no transaction fee

  • All free and paid themes are responsive and offer a smooth mobile experience

  • Integrate your store with Facebook, eBay, Google shopping and a range of comparison sites

  • Powerful support with extremely helpful setup wizard, educational videos, and extensive guides with visual representations

One concern with BigCommerce is the lack of free themes. Currently it offers only 7 free themes, while most of their immediate competitors offer more than 20 free themes. However, the platform has a comprehensive list of premium themes, and it also allows customization of these themes if you want to give your store an entirely unique look and feel.

When should you go with BigCommerce?

If you want a full-fledged store, but don't want the hassles of integrating plug-ins, editing HTML/CSS or other code, then BigCommerce is definitely the go-to ecommerce platform for you. If you are willing to compromise a bit on themes, then BigCommerce is a strong alternative to Shopify at roughly the same pricing (BigCommerce's plans are between $29 and $199/month) without the incremental transaction fees.

3. Magento

With almost one-fourth of the market share, Magento is often considered the market leader among ecommerce platforms. For its reliability and scalability, many popular brands use Magento as the underlying technology for their online stores, including Burger King, Huawei, Pepe Jeans & Liverpool F.C. This platform is considered the best ecommerce platform for enterprise level online stores.

For an even more in-depth view, see my interview with Mark Lavelle, CEO of Magento.

The Benefits of Magento are:

  • Good user experience: easy to use and manage

  • Open source platform and therefore open to all sorts of customization

  • 9000+ plugins/extensions to scale your business

  • Free extensions that enable social commerce so you can sell on social media platforms

  • Extensive resource library for store management, growth, demos, and online community of store owners as well as plugin developers you can tap for help

One of the critical factors associated with Magento is the pricing of its versions. The basic Community version is free, while the advanced Enterprise version costs a minimum $20,000/year. Needless to say, the Community version is no match for the Enterprise version, which offers many built in high-end features such as customer segmentation, a support module, 24/7 support and a much more.

Additionally, the flexible, open source nature of the platform also makes it quite complex, so you need very competent developers for customization. So even with the Community version -considering hosting, SSL, extensions, customization, etc. - it will likely cost you significant time and money to get your ecommerce store exactly as you want it.

When is Magento the ideal solution?

Magento is considered the right ecommerce platform for enterprise-level merchants with a large volume of products. Given the complexity of store setup and management with Magento, the platform is not recommended for beginners.

4. YoKart

With its feature richness and smart pricing models, YoKart is built with a specific focus on helping startups build ecommerce ecosystem easily. Think of it as the one-stop solution for launching multi-vendor stores like eBay and Etsy. Although many other ecommerce platforms also provide their multi-vendor version, YoKart does this seamlessly.

The Benefits of YoKart are:

  • A ready-to-launch multi-vendor marketplace solution

  • Other than the framework, you own the source code and can customize the portal to your requirements

    • YoKart is built on an encrypted framework. Which means that customization would require knowledge of that framework. In general, an experienced PHP developer would quickly understand the framework and how to modify it as needed.

  • Mobile-friendly platform and a dedicated Android app for marketplaces

  • Same features across all pricing packages (briefed below)

  • Comprehensive manuals for store owners and merchants, video tutorials, FAQs, and 12-month free support for store management

Being a relatively new entrant in the industry, there are no third-party extensions currently available for YoKart. But the system offers built in analytics tool, over a dozen supported payment gateways, rewards and discount coupon management features. A big drawback, however, is its lack of social commerce capabilities, meaning that that it currently lacks the features to allow merchants to sell on Facebook and other social media platforms.

When is YoKart the right ecommerce platform?

For multi-vendor stores such as eBay and Etsy, YoKart is a great choice. Its startup package is a hosted solution with one-year license, which costs $250 and allows startups to verify their business model. The advanced version is self-hosted, customizable, costs $999 (one time), and is intended for companies who have a sound business model. Switching from a startup to an advanced package is also quite easy.

5. Big Cartel

With the slogan 'We believe in the artist', Big Cartel targets artists & other small-scale home-based businesses run by individuals. The platform claims to have helped over a million artists in selling their creations online since it launched in 2005. This extremely simple to use hosted system is often regarded as the best ticket for artists and other creative people to enter the ecommerce arena.

The Benefits of Big Cartel are:

  • Extremely simple to setup a store and manage it

  • Facebook shop access

  • Aesthetically sound themes

  • WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) code editor to customize your theme including HTML, CSS & JavaScript

  • Comprehensive Help Center (detailed guides & FAQs), useful video tutorials, support via email, and Big Cartel's Facebook & Twitter accounts

The simplicity of Big Cartel also results in limited functionality, which is definitely a downside for those who want to do more than just sell products. Big Cartel's theme library is limited to 12 themes, out of which only 2 are responsive (meaning optimized for mobile devices). There are limited add-ons; however, store owners can get access to 500+ apps via Zapier integration.

These challenges are due to the fact that Big Cartel targets a very specific segment, so, some of them can be overlooked. Currently, it only offers social commerce for Facebook. Given its target audience (artists & creative individuals), it will likely include other social networks in the future (or at least it should).

When Big Cartel is the right ecommerce solution?

As stated previously, this platform is ideal for individual artists and creative people (not for typical retailers). With its simplistic stores and economical pricing ($0 to $29.99/month), Big Cartel allows artists to sell things online easily with a good-looking website, thereby allowing artist to focus on creating things instead of managing their online store.

The growing dominance of mobile and social media shows no sign of slowing down. Using social and mobile platforms as vehicles to reach new customers and drive more sales is a critical aspect to any ecommerce platform in 2017 and beyond.

While searching for an ecommerce solution, be sure to check whether the platform will allow you to capitalize on these trends and that the selected ecommerce platform aligns with the projected needs and goals of your business.