Best E-commerce Platforms for Small Retailers

Best E-commerce Platforms for Small Retailers

It's a tough choice, but the right e-commerce platform could revolutionize your business

By David Kiriakidis

For any small business selling its products online, choosing the right e-commerce platform is vital. It can mean the difference between sleepless nights and retiring early, sizing down and scaling up, or whether your business gets off the ground at all. It’s especially important in the build-up to Christmas, with the rise in online sales. But in a market that seems incredibly saturated, it can be difficult to pick out the perfect platform for you.

Why is it important?

The Christmas shopping period in the UK has been nothing short of monumental in terms of online shopping. More buyers took to the internet to find gifts last year; a report by WorldPay revealed that e-commerce sales were up 74% from 2013, and Retail Week reported that in 2014/15, 79% of shoppers went online to research gifts on their desktops.

So with buyers becoming more tech-savvy, it's now more important than ever to make sure they have the best buying experience possible, that they stay on your e-commerce platform, and they make their purchase from your shop.

We've had a look around and picked what we think are the most appealing, shopper-friendly platforms, and explain why they could be great for your business too.

Shopify

Shopify’s market share is growing rapidly along with it’s devoted customer base. It’s easy to see why. It’s incredibly easy to use and well designed, so it’s great for new business owners. It’s also packed with features that will make running most e-commerce sites a doddle. Shopify’s main draw for me though is in its extensive theme library, its POS functionality and its ability to sell directly through Facebook.

Shopify’s pricing structure is clear and simple, with plans starting from as little as $9 per month.

Magento

It's difficult to know where to begin when explaining how different Magento is to Shopify. Where the latter focuses on ease of use and themes, Magento’s strengths lie in its huge amount of features, including, but not limited to:

It has a phenomenal amount of functionality, but it comes at a price. Magento is the most-used e-commerce platform (accounting for nearly 20% of all e-commerce stores) and provides tailored packages depending on your business. If you’re a fledgling e-commerce store, Magento probably won’t suit your budget, but if you're looking for a platform that will handle everything you throw at it, this is the one for you.

BigCommerce

If you’re looking for a happy medium between the usability of Shopify and feature-tastic Magento, then BigCommerce is a safe bet. It doesn’t have the extensive features of Magento, but it’s easy to use, has a great user interface, and it doesn't pinch at the purse strings.

It focuses well on improving the visibility of your products, ensuring they're easy to find on Google with proven SEO tactics, and does a great job of improving on-site conversions. A feature I particularly like is the one-page checkout function, which according to BigCommerce, improves conversion rates by around 21%. If you want a high level of control and customization over your store, Shopify is still the best bet. However, if you just want to get your products online and selling, BigCommerce is a definite contender for your precious pounds.

PrestaShop

Powering over 165,000 online stores across the world, PrestaShop throws a bit of a spanner in the works, so to speak. It’s open-source and completely free. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for, but for anyone running a small online store, PrestaShop is definitely worth your attention.

Sure, it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of Magento. It hasn’t got the admittedly gorgeous UI of Shopify. And it won’t revolutionize your on-site conversions and marketing like BigCommerce might. However, for no cost at all, you’re getting a pretty powerful piece of software. It has a focus on real-time statistical analysis that is pure eye candy for any inner data geek, and a huge online community of users, which could really help in the first few weeks of opening your shop.

So where should I spend my money?

All 4 platforms offer very different things, but let's summarize...

If you’re looking to put together a fantastic-looking online store, with handy features at your fingertips, Shopify is a great bet. If you’re on a tight budget and looking to get maximum exposure for your products, BigCommerce could change the way you do business.

If you’re just starting out and want a solid, middle-of-the-road platform to launch your e-commerce shop, PrestaShop is great for anyone with a super-strict budget. But if you’re growing your business and want to rest safe in the knowledge that your platform can handle that, Magento is our pick.

Really though, it’s down to you. Understanding where your business is at and what it needs now and in the future in terms of functionality is crucial to making the right decision.

There are, of course, a wide variety of platforms that we haven’t mentioned here: for instance, WooCommerce works great for those with websites built using WordPress, and Volusion is awesome for those who are comfortable editing with HTML and CSS.

One thing is for sure though – it’s never been easier for any aspiring entrepreneur to get started selling their products online.