For anyone who is planning to start a new ecommerce business in 2018, it's important to first understand how digital commerce has evolved in past 2-3 years and where it is heading. Beyond mobile and social, we've seen just about every aspect of ecommerce evolve. Let's have a look at the major highlights that will shape and influence ecommerce now and in the future.
- With increasing amounts of data, artificial intelligence (specifically, machine learning) has entered the larger world of ecommerce. It has not yet reached a saturation point but the big players like Amazon led the way forcing anyone who would like to compete to follow suit. Two features in particular -- reorder and subscription services -- are meant to offer personalized shopping experiences based on your past shopping preferences.
- The level of customization has increased dramatically, thanks to all the technological advancements that we saw in the wake of improved user experience (such as AI, AR, VR) in past few years. Whether it's integrating a chat system or prompting call-to-action buttons, all improvements focus on offering the best possible user experience. According to Toshi Mogi, Frog's Assistant Vice President of Strategy and Innovation, "The customization trend will only increase in 2018").
- Consumers are finding digital wallets attractive. Therefore, online stores too, are adding this new payment option to their websites. According to Finder.com, "An estimated 106.6 million American adults are swapping traditional methods of banking and purchasing for something more tech-forward: a digital wallet." It's a sign for upcoming startups to invest in payment features that customers already expect.
- Mobile users have increased, but their conversion rates are still low ... or are they? Smartinsights found that "...although mobile (phone and tablet) accounted for 59% of all sessions by device on e-commerce sites, these mobile browsers made up just 38% of revenue." And then later concluded that, "Mobile users are on the site to consider purchasing and make up their minds as to what products they want. As a result, they are extremely important and should never be ignored. The fact they then go to desktop to make the purchase does not mean you can neglect the mobile experience." (See related article, Here's Why Mobile Payments Are The Future Of Commerce).
- Since the role of analytics is crucial in improving conversion rates, a built-in analytics system is essential for every ecommerce website. If you can't collect relevant data, you can't learn about the customer behavior, which is at the heart of all conversions. Simply put, a focus on analytics is important to run an ecommerce business successfully.
With these developments in mind, I have assembled a list of top seven ecommerce platforms that can help you get started in 2018. Before we begin, let's acknowledge that amid this cutthroat competition, only the right combination of business model and ecommerce platform will survive because your traction in the ecommerce world depends a lot on the kind of technology you are equipped with. You have to choose a platform that can meet your own distinct feature requirements as appropriately and as uniquely as your individual business model. Whether you want to launch a conventional ecommerce store, or a multi-vendor marketplace, this list will save you some of the hard grunt work. Ultimately, however, only you can determine which platform is best for you.
A Canadian-based ecommerce solution, Shopify has been helping online businesses across the globe with a sharp focus on the trending social commerce and mobile shopping. Founded in 2004, Shopify has always kept up with the pace of evolving ecommerce trends and technologies, having broken ground on powerful additions such as social shopping whereby your customers never leave their social media platform in order to buy from you.
- Abandoned cart recovery.
- The plethora of themes, plugins, and extensions.
- For $9, you can integrate Shopify directly with your FB account and make it an ecommerce store.
- Mobile-friendly shopping cart, seller mobile apps and many other mobile-based features available.
- Round the clock technical support via live chat, phone as well as tutorials, along with their powerful Shopify community forum.
Even with all the advantages of Shopify mentioned above, there are some downsides with the platform. The most prominent downside is the additional transaction fee you'll be liable to pay if you don't use Shopify Payment. Moreover, plenty of useful and practical extensions require additional investment. Perhaps most challenging is "Liquid," Shopify's own coding language, which requires ecommerce store owners to pay an incremental price for customization.
Beginner level ecommerce entrepreneurs who need a conventional ecommerce solution can benefit from Shopify. It is easy to use and can help you launch your ecommerce business quickly. Based on your requirements and your budget, you can choose from Shopify packages that range from $29 to $299 per month.
Released in March 2008, Magento is an open source ecommerce website platform. Its reliability and scalability has made it one of the most popular ecommerce platforms available today. Many prominent names such as Burger King, Huawei, Pepe Jeans and Liverpool F.C. have their websites built on Magento.
- Open source and unlimited customization options.
- Usability and Manageability.
- More than 9000 plugins and extensions to make room for scalability.
- Free social media extensions.
- Extensive resource library for demos, new plugins, store management and everything around ecommerce stores.
Using Magento is not for everyone, especially if the store owner is not a programmer, or doesn't have a team of programmers working on his or her team. And then there's the price tag; the basic version is free, but getting an enterprise version means you'll need to shell out at least $20,000/year. If you don't have programmers on staff, be prepared to invest in third-party programming costs as well.
For Enterprise level online stores with a huge volume of products, Magento is the right choice. Not recommended for SMBs due to its complex store setup, cost and highly technical management requirements.
Specially designed for startups and SMBs, YoKart is a turnkey and features rich ecommerce marketplace solution to build multi-vendor stores such as Amazon, eBay, and Etsy. While many other ecommerce platforms do offer a multi-vendor version, YoKart specializes in this particular field. YoKart, with its latest upgrade (YoKart V8) now packs an even bigger punch. It's multilingual and multi-currency features allow store owners to expand their reach on a global level. And then there is the plethora of payment gateways, in-built analytics tool, rewards and discount coupon management features.
- A readymade multi-vendor marketplace solution.
- The marketplace owner gets the source code of the website (not the framework) along with a lifetime license.
- Mobile-friendly platform and dedicated apps for Android and Apple devices.
- All price packages offer same features (apart from the Startup Package).
- Video tutorials, detailed manuals, and FAQs for store owners and merchants.
- 12-month free technical support.
- Multilingual and multi-currency.
- Inbuilt product catalog system.
YoKart has a couple of downsides, though. Given the robust structure, customizing YoKart will require a developer with extensive knowledge of PHP. Also, it's not open source like Magento. The Startup and GoQuick Packages offer default themes. And, unlike Magento, YoKart is primarily focused on SMB, which means the needed features are already available in standard packages; for large scale enterprises, customization would be a must do.
SMBs can use YoKart to its full potential. The startup package is the most affordable at $250 and offers hosted solution for one year license. This is a pragmatic method to test the viability of your business model. Once you are sure of your business, you can easily upgrade to higher versions; GoQuick, GoCustom Lite, and GoCustom.
Since its inception, BigCommerce has more than 55,000 online stores to its credit and is lauded as one of the most prominent ecommerce software providers. From famous companies such as Martha Stewart & Toyota to many SMEs, BigCommerce has helped businesses of all sizes launch their online storefronts. For ecommerce storeowners who lack basic coding skills, the vast list of BigCommerce's built-in features come in really handy.
- The massive number of built-in features including (but not limited to) newsletters, coupons, shipping, tax, and analytics.
- No transaction fee.
- Responsive themes (paid as well as free) and consistent user experience on desktop as well as mobile.
- Easy store integration with Facebook, eBay, Google shopping and many comparison sites.
- Easy setup wizard, tutorial videos, detailed guides with visual illustrations and demos.
For those who wish to start a multi-vendor store such as one on Amazon may find BigCommerce lacking some of the available support other ecommerce platforms provide with more integrated marketplace models. Another concern with BigCommerce may be the lack of free themes. With only 7 free themes, BigCommerce lags behind other ecommerce platforms, given the fact that most of them offer more than 20 free themes. But that doesn't change the fact that you get a multitude of premium themes and plenty of customization options to give your store a unique identity.
BigCommerce is an ideal solution for ecommerce entrepreneurs who want a full-fledged store without the hassles of coding, integrating plugins and other technical hurdles. If you can make do with the lack of free themes, or want to spend on a premium theme, BigCommerce is the go to ecommerce platform solution.
VTEX is a Brazilian cloud based Ecommerce Platform provider with a gross merchandise value of $1.8 billion in 2016. Their customer base includes local business chains of some of the major players in the world, including Wal-Mart, Whirlpool, Coca-Cola, Sony, Disney, L'Oreal, Lego, Staples and many more.
One remarkable factor that differentiates VTEX from the rest of the eCommerce line-ups is its Password Free Checkout. This particular feature is believed to have boosted organic traffic by 30%, a 28% increase in revenues and a whopping 54% rise in conversion rates.
Although the company claims cloud based ecommerce technology implements 68% faster than conventional setups yet there's one important downside to VTex for store owners who wish to maintain control of their own storefronts: It's based on the SaaS model, and thus, you'll never have complete ownership of your ecommerce store or its source code.
Businesses with an annual turnover of a million dollars (or above) along with a significant number of monthly transactions can benefit from VTEX and its significant increase in conversion rates. However, VTEX can be expensive for SMBs because of higher fees.
A free WordPress plugin, WooCommerce is a name that needs no introduction in the world of ecommerce. It comes along with a secure payment gateway and a shopping cart that both work really well. Open source and easy to use for WordPress aficionados, WooCommerce needs an additional plugin to start a multi-vendor ecommerce store.
- Easy to manage admin panel.
- Unlimited product categories.
- Extensive range of plugins and extensions of all sorts.
- Secure payment gateway.
- Good shopping cart.
Installing WooCommerce is free, but integrating the shopping cart completely with the system requires additional investment. Moreover, if you don't know WordPress, you won't know how to use WooCommerce. But the biggest problem with WooCommerce is its lack of scalability; as your business grows and you get more sellers, products and customers on your database, WooCommerce starts slowing down.
WooCommerce is a viable option if you want to stick to WordPress websites and don't anticipate having a large, high-volume store.
Tictail is more like a DIY marketplace where more focus is put on custom design, community integration, easy usability and overall ecommerce attractiveness. Fashion designers and retailers can set up their virtual store within a matter of few minutes.
- Tictail doesn't require any kind of technical knowledge for setting your marketplace.
- Upgrading to Tictail Plus allows you to have your custom website that you can personalize with your own designs.
- Tictail Plus enables you to create your own domain name (URL), and thus reaping SEO benefits.
Lack of payment processors can be troublesome at times, especially when other ecommerce platforms offer plenty of payment options. The global marketplace entitles Tictail to take a commission. However, the custom shop (which comes at a reasonable price on a yearly basis) frees you from paying anything additional to Tictail for each sale happening there.
If you are planning to go global but are not sure whether your business model will succeed or not, Tictail is a great platform to take a test run. However, it is not designed for large enterprise businesses.
An ecommerce platform is not a "one size fits all" solution that will work for everyone. All the ecommerce platforms discussed in this article are built for different kinds of business requirements. The pros and cons outlined are not about what's wrong with them. The curated list is designed to help you make a calculated decision and choose a platform that serves your needs best.
Different business models and scale of operations call for different ecommerce platforms. Choose wisely, and watch your business grow. Good luck!