An ecommerce platform is the foundation of an online business – and it goes without saying that without one, it would be impossible to succeed with selling online.
Whether you’re just starting in ecommerce or looking to replatform, the decision is never easy. Each platform and vendor offers a unique set of features and capabilities that can either make running an online business easier or add unecessary headaches for your ecommerce team.
Types of Ecommerce Platforms
To start, here’s a brief overview of the three main ecommerce platforms and how they operate:
Open source platforms
In an open source platform, source code is released under a license in which the copyright holder grants a user the rights to use, modify and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose. With no upfront license costs, this platform is popular among companies with heavy IT and development resources as it grants them more control of their ecommerce environment.
Headless ecommerce platforms
In a headless ecommerce platform, the frontend of the platform (aka the “head”) has been de-coupled from the backend. This results in platform storing, managing and delivering content without a front-end delivery layer. Headless commerce platforms are typically used by enterprise-level retailers with large IT teams and systems as they allow the freedom to create custom functionalities with little limitation.
SaaS ecommerce platforms
SaaS ecommerce platforms are cloud-based systems that a user can access through any type of web browser. Typically sold on a subscription basis, the software runs on the SaaS provider’s hosted servers and isn’t maintained by the user themselves.
Ecommerce Platform Usage: Top 11 Most Used Vendors
Curious to know how many live websites are hosted on major ecommerce platforms? We’ve rounded up the top most used platforms and the number of active websites on each one (a compilation of BuiltWidth data as of March 2021):
Decision Factors When Choosing an Ecommerce Platform
- The number of products in your catalog: The more products you sell, the more you’ll need a platform that supports higher sku limits.
- Target audience: The types of consumers you’re aiming to attract has an impact on the kind of experiences your platform can offer. For example, if you’re an online retailer with a large social media presence, it makes sense to look for a platform that offers built-in integrations with social networks like Instagram and Facebook. This way, you can create fluid shoppiing experience that doesn’t force the customer to jump between platforms to make a purchase.
- Customer service: Once you’re up and running with an ecommerce platform, you’re bound to run into a hiccup that needs external assistance to solve. When searching for a platform, keep in mind that some offer more 1:1, personalized customer support while others require you to jump through a few hoops to get someone on the phone.
- Budget: Investing in a quality ecommerce platform doesn’t always mean spending the most money. There are plenty of platforms that offer all-in-one support and features that meet your every business need but carry a heftier price tag. At the same time, you opting for a more cost effective option might mean that you’re missing out on necessary features that you’ll eventually purchase as an add-on. To make the best decision for your business, consider the type of functionalities you need based on your growth needs and how much you’d need to invest to get what you need.
- Scalability: If youre an ecommerce retailer with plans to expand to other markets, introduce new products or simply increase traffic, you’ll need to know if/how your platform is able to support your growth goals. You wouldn’t want to run into a situation where traffic and demand suddenly increases tenfold and have to deal with a crashing website.
How Much Does it Cost to Maintain an Ecommerce Platform?
While some ecommerce platforms offer an all-in-one package including a wide variety of features (like the ones we listed below), other platforms will require the user to spend more money to implement add-on capabilities in order to achieve what they want.
Costs associated with maintaining an ecommerce platform
- Additional licenses for product features, servers etc
- Regular website maintenance
- Upgrading to new features or improving current ones
- UX enhancements
- Site customization/custom app creations
- In-house resources to keep the website running smoothly
- Site security
- Monthly hosting