If you run a business selling goods or services and have customers visit your physical world store you should give serious thought to creating and operating an online store alongside the physical one. An online store will enable you to reach many more potential customers (even ones living abroad), make sales with products supplied by shipping, offer your services from afar, the possibilities for growth are truly staggering.
Owners of online stores can focus on sales rather than invest time and money in fostering a physical store. After all, you can make do with a simple warehouse rather than a fancy, well designed, costly to create and maintain physical store. An online store will even allow you to earn commissions from selling other people’s products.
Many times an online store will bear a positive influence on business conducted via its physical counterpart. In fact, most any business stands to profit from creating and managing an online store, building one is a small investment which stands to yield great returns.
Anyone considering creating an online store must first decide whether to use a ready-made platform or to build one from scratch. As a rule of thumb it is always advisable to opt for ready-made platforms, only those with very unique needs may have to develop a system all of their own. Another way to go is to use an open source system such as the popular WordPress Ecommerce plugin – Wocommerce, the Opencart plugin for Joomla sites, building your online store using Magento or Prestastore (both CMSs designed especially for Ecommerce).
This post is intended for those wanting to learn more about online stores, how to create one and the pros and cons of each option.
Closed VS Open Ecommerce Platforms
Very early on in your quest to create an online store you will hear of some which are built using a closed platform and others built on open platforms.
A closed platform online store is one built using a commercial system developed and owned by others. The main advantage of closed platform online stores is simplicity, you can create your store on your own and fairly quickly. There is no need to provide for a domain, hosting, credit card charging (with all data security implications) etc.
The main disadvantage of closed platform online stores is that as owners of such stores you will forever need to pay a monthly user fee to the platform owners and the store will never be altogether yours, if you decide to sever ties with the platform you are using nothing at all will be left of your store and you will need to create a brand new one from scratch.
An open platform online store is one built using an open source CMS used for building websites. The most popular of such platforms are WordPress, Joomla and Magento. Owners of such stores must provide a domain name, adequate storage, backups, services of a web developer and sometimes also graphic design work (if a readymade template is not sufficient). The main advantage of an open platform online store is that it is truly the property of its owners alone, owners of such stores are free to do with them as they like and need not pay monthly dues to anyone.
10 Leading Ecommerce Platforms
1. Shopify – one of the most popular closed platforms for creating and managing online stores. This platform evolved from an online store created over a decade ago for a single snowboard shop.
True to the end of 2016 some 500,000 businesses run Shopify based online stores.
Anyone can easily create an online store using the Shopify platform, no prior web development knowledge is required. Getting to know the Shopify user interface is easily accomplished through trial and error. Shopify offers a 14 day free trial, a basic package (up to 2 staff accounts) costs 29$ a month, the most advanced package (up to 15 staff accounts) costs 299$ a month.
2. WordPress Woocommerce – The WordPress CMS was launched in 2003 as one intended for running blogs and text rich websites. Today many consider it to be the best open code CMS available. Woocommerce is a WordPress plug in developed in order to enable WordPress site owners to create and run online stores. It is important to understand that in order to build a Woocommerce based online store it is necessary first to have a WordPress based website. Building a wordpress website (including use of the Woocommerce plugin) requires knowledge and experience only seasoned WordPress developers have. On the up side, there is no shortage of such professionals.
3. Magento – An open source platform created (in 2007) especially for building and running online stores. It was purchased by Ebay and is considered to be one of the best platforms for creating and managing online stores of any size. Magento offers features such as a buyers’ user interface, recently added items display, comparing options, a super friendly shopping cart, clever product catalogs and much more. Magento, as opposed to WordPress for instance, is intended specifically for Ecommerce, it is a platform which offers great features but is relatively complicated to use. This is why many small business owners opt for woocommerce stores by wordpress. Still, there is no shortage of magento savvy developers and many small and medium size businesses own magento based online stores and so it is certainly an option for businesses of all sizes.
4. BigCommerce – Considered by many as the best closed platform for online stores. You can choose one of three available packages and pay monthly dues accordingly. The most basic online store package cost 30$ a month and the most advanced one 80$ a month.
5. Wix – A popular closed platform for creating all types of websites, online stores among them.
Building a Wix based online store is easy, anyone with a basic knack for learning how to use different interfaces can do it. Wix offers a choice between many readymade templates and several package with different hosting and traffic limits. The most basic Wix Ecommerce package costs only 9$ a month and a VIP package will run you 26$ a month.
6. Volusion – A popular closed platform intended specifically for Ecommerce. This platform offers all features necessary for running a successful online store, it is simple to use, changes to designs are easy to make, a Volusion based store can be used alongside an existing WordPress website. There’s a basic package which costs 15$ and a VIP package for 26$ a month.
7. SquareSpace – A closed platform for building websites including online stores. There are many attractive templates to choose from but creating a SquareSpace based store is a bit complicated and should be left to developers with relevant experience . There are several packages to choose from, the most basic one costs only 8$ a month (making it one of the cheapest Ecommerce packages you can find) but it is rather limited by way of traffic and total number of products the store can hold. The business package costs 24$ a month and allows for creating an unlimited number of pages, uploading any number of products and a bandwidth to support any amount of traffic.
8. 3Dcart – A closed platform intended, as its name suggests, especially for Ecommerce purposes. A 3Dcart based online store is extremely easy to create, owners of such stores enjoy use of many features onto which new ones are regularly added.
The 3Dcart team proclaim that they do not charge any commission on purchases and so store running costs amount to the monthly user fees alone, 20$ a month for the basic package (up to 100 products and 4,000 monthly visitors). The most advanced package will cost you 100$ a month.
9. Big cartel – A popular closed Ecommerce platform on which (true to the end of 2016) almost a million online stores are run (many selling clothing, music, jewelry and accessories). Many artists from around the globe choose Big cartel as their Ecommerce platform, using it to create and run online stores via which they can sell their creations. A basic package, limited to 25 product items costs 10$ a month, the most advanced package, with a 300 product items limit, costs 30$ a month.
10. X-Cart Cloud – A hosted closed platform version of the X-Cart downloadable. Many businesses selling hi-tech goods (such as mobile phones and accessories for instance) choose this platform for creating and running their online store. Advanced features such as “cloud Search” (products appear in search box as they are typed it) are regularly added. A basic, rather limited, package is available for 20$ a month, the most advanced (virtually limitless) package costs 100$ a month.
It is no secret that a successful, well managed online store selling products for which there is a demand can generate substantial profits for its owners. As we have demonstrated there are plenty of open and closed Ecommerce platforms to choose from. It is important to take the time to compare between the different options and pick the one which best suits your needs.