What are eCommerce Platforms?
eCommerce software allows merchants to display a product catalog and conduct transactions online. Most eCommerce transactions are B2C (business-to-consumer). Some also support more complex B2B (business-to-business) transactions with contract negotiation features, for example.
There are two general types of eCommerce platforms: hosted and self-hosted open source:
- Hosted eCommerce solutions, which are cloud-based and billed monthly, tend to be more stable and user-friendly.
- Self-hosted eCommerce solutions are more advanced, customizable, and free.
eCommerce websites, usually referred to as online storefronts, allow shoppers to browse through the merchant's product catalog and purchase products online.
Hosted eCommerce platforms include a set of pre-made templates and themes for storefront design. The best eCommerce software for your online business depends on your use cases. There are many different aspects of an online storefront that different eCommerce products may focus on:
- Managing larger inventories
- Displaying multiple versions (e.g., colors and sizes) of the same item
- Managing multiple stores
- Representing digital versus physical products
Scalability is also a major consideration when evaluating product catalog options and features.
Online Shopping Cart
An online shopping cart allows eCommerce website visitors to accumulate a list of products in a virtual "shopping cart" before checkout. In addition to accumulating the list, shopping cart software also calculates the total cost, including shipping and taxes.
Some platforms offer other shopping cart-related features, like abandoned cart tools. These save unfinished orders and/or email customers to remind them that there are still items in their cart. Abandoned cart functionality often costs extra or is available only with higher-tier packages.
Another additional functionality some eCommerce products include is the ability to suggest products for customers to view. This is typically based on individual customer’s shopping behavior along with information about what products other customers have been viewing and buying.
Online Payment System
Some solutions include in-house payment processing. Others integrate to a third party payment gateway. Vendors that offer in-house payment processing often charge a transaction fee. Since payment systems need to handle sensitive customer information, most eCommerce platforms have standard security measures in place.
eCommerce Platforms Features & Capabilities
- Online storefront
- Product catalog
- Online shopping cart
- Online payment system or integration with a payment gateway
- Order fulfillment and shipping management
- Merchant interface/dashboard
- eCommerce marketing tools
- eCommerce business management
- Customer behavior analytics and reporting
- Integrations (e.g. CRM, ERP, email marketing, payment gateway, etc)
eCommerce Platforms Comparison
There are a few key things buyers should consider to help them more easily compare eCommerce products:
1. Technical expertise required: Will the person or team managing your eCommerce website have technical/coding knowledge? Some eCommerce platforms are especially user-friendly for individuals with little to no coding experience, while others offer advanced customization that can be achieved through coding. Consider whether you’ll have access to a developer or other administrator with coding experience to help customize your eCommerce platform. If not, platforms that include a wide range of eCommerce website themes, or a WYSIWYG editor, may be a better for your business.
2. Open source vs. paid software: Are you looking for a free eCommerce platform to start out with, or a more advanced software that has all the bells and whistles? Especially if you or your team have experience with web design, an open source platform can be a great way to start building your online store. Popular open source platforms include Magento Open Source, Drupal, and Joomla. On the other hand, if you’re looking for an eCommerce platform that comes with access to customer support and a wide variety of pre-built website themes and templates, a paid platform will likely be a better bet.
3. B2B vs. B2C (or both): Do you sell to primarily a B2B or B2C market? Or both? There are a few main differences between B2B and B2C selling that, in part, determine what your eCommerce platform needs to have. For example, eCommerce businesses selling primarily to other businesses will need the ability to segment customer groups and to set up customizable pricing and configuration options. Some must-have features for B2C companies include built-in store themes, abandoned cart recovery, and compatibility with multiple payment gateways. Some ecommerce platforms are better designed for B2B, or B2C.
Monthly subscriptions for hosted products vary widely depending on features and scalability. Monthly charges range from zero to over $1,000 at the very high end.
It’s a good idea to clearly understand requirements and to choose an ecommerce platform based on current and anticipated needs, rather than just focusing on cost. In the long-term, picking the ecommerce platform that is the best for your eCommerce business's needs will present cost savings that may not be immediately apparent in the startup phase.
The following eCommerce platforms offer award-winning customer relationships, feature sets, and value for price. Learn more about our Best Of Awards methodology here.