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What are the top e-commerce platforms in 2020?

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Written By Sam Tu

Web Designer and Digital Marketing Expert

@IKM Strategy

If you’ve been following our blog content then you must already know how much e-commerce has been on the rise. If you’re a retail business, you should look to implement e-commerce functionality into your website and start selling online. If you have already decided to move your business online and you are looking for e-commerce platform options, then you’ve come to the right place. I am about to break down my personal top 3 e-commerce solutions that I’ve used this year and their positives and negatives. 

What are the top e-commerce platforms in 2020?

I hope to give you all some balanced opinions about each of these platforms. Just a disclaimer, that I will be writing this article from the perspective of a small business.

Here is my list starting from my most recommended

  1. WooCommerce with WordPress
  2. Shopify
  3. Big Commerce

Below is a quick outline of the prices associated with each of the platforms. These prices are for the most basic option. Cost of domain names is excluded.

WooCommerce

  • Package Price: Free
  • Web Hosting Cost: Starting at $5 AUD per month
  • Transaction Costs:
    • Paypal -> 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction
    • Stripe -> 1.75% + $0.30 Per tranasction (Locally)
    • Stripe -> 2.9% + $0.30 Per transaction (International)

Shopify

  • Package fee: $29 USD or ~$40 AUD per month
  • Web Hosting Cost: None.
  • Transaction Costs:
    • 1.75% + $0.30 per transaction (Locally)
    • 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction (Scales depending on which package you get) (International)

BigCommerce

  • Package fee: $29.95 USD or ~$41 AUD per month
  • Web Hosting Cost: None.
  • Transaction Costs:
    • None for small customers.

1. WooCommerce with WordPress

I build a majority of my client’s E-commerce websites with WooCommerce. I love it because of how easy it is to use and the flexibility that comes with it. Note: I am not talking about using WordPress through wordpress.com, but rather getting a web hosting server and installing WordPress on it for free.

The advantage over others:

  • A tremendous amount of flexibility that is provided
  • An overwhelming number of documentation and resources available online to help you through your tech issues
  • No direct costs from using the platform as both WooCommerce and WordPress are free, but you will have to pay for web hosting.

Disadvantage

  • The setup time will be longer than the other options
  • Direct support from the plugin maker is poor. Unlike Shopify or Squarespace, customer service is definitely more restricted.

My remarks:

While WooCommerce is my favourite option, I acknowledge that Shopify provides better customer service. You will need a bit of technical knowledge to get WooCommerce going, but don’t worry, I will have a full range of tutorial videos and write-ups on how to set up WooCommerce for your business. Generally, it’s the most cost-effective option if you’re selling locally. It is unmatched in cost and customisability. 

It offers the flexibility for you to set up an online restaurant ordering system, a ticketing system, a subscription system, whatever you need you will find an extension or plugin for a cost. My tutorials will also reveal places you can purchase 3rd party plugins at a fraction of the cost to achieve the functions you need for your E-commerce website.

Themes:

Themes are a must-have. I recommend starting with a free theme to reduce the setup cost and time. I recommend starting with Astra and using Elementor as the free site builder to build and design your website. Astra offers a great variety of minimalistic themes. They are also known for providing themes that are completely speed optimised. OceanWP is also a good alternative to consider, they have an extensive collection of themes in their library as well. However, the performance of OceanWP themes is not as good as Astra. I find it at times clunky and slow.

The Negatives:

Since it is a low-cost option, some elements will be neglected. In this case, the customer support from the plugin maker is very slow and almost non-existent. However, if you want to do something or need help with anything relating to WooCommerce, there are tens of thousands of gurus on youtube publishing how-to videos to get you going. If all fails, feel free to contact us for some help. Also, WooCommerce has published an extensive amount of online guides to help you troubleshoot and fix basic problems.

Overall, I would give WooCommerce a 9/10 with its most attractive point being flexibility and its downfall being customer service. 

2.Shopify

In recent years, Shopify has soared in popularity because of the dropshipping era. I won’t go into detail of what dropshipping is, but essentially, it’s a supply chain management technique where the owner of the dropshipping store is effectively the middle man in the transaction. Their customers place an order on their website and they order the product from a supplier somewhere else in the world and get it sent straight to the customer, hence keeping no stock on hand. Let’s take a look at what Shopify has to offer.

The advantages:

  • The easiest to set up out of all the options available
  • A++ Customer Service
  • A respectable amount of themes available for free
  • Extremely Secure and Reliable

The disadvantages:

  • Costly to operate.
  • Limited ability to customise themes if you have no coding skills
  • No Email hosting
  • It is not a content management system.
    • If you want to post a blog or build a brand around content, it becomes harder to do on Shopify.

My remarks:

As a developer who has built several stores on Shopify, I can say that they’ve done extremely well on marketing their services. Cost aside, they do offer superior customer service to any of the other e-commerce platforms there are. If you know nothing about coding and you just want an online store that works regardless of the cost, Shopify is your go-to option. It’s very hard to change the design of the elements in the Shopify themes because there is no true page builder integrated into it. The page builder that comes with Shopify allows you to change the text and structure of the page but won’t allow you to move individual elements around with a section. So if the text block is on the left side, in most cases, you will be stuck with it on the right side. To counter this, they do offer a tremendous amount of free themes, so you will be able to find something you like and deploy it straight out of the box. 

Why do I say it’s costly?

It’s not going to be an issue for you if you sell over $10,000 of goods. But, if you’re a small store who isn’t putting through more than 5 orders a day, then you will struggle on this platform in terms of cost. The most basic plan they offer is $29 USD per month and their highest tier is $299 per month. Also, they take a commission or extra payment for processing of 2.9% + 30c per purchase. Besides, if you want to implement other payment systems it will cost an extra 2% per purchase. These small costs will add up, but it’s the price to pay for convenience. 

Themes

I would say it has one of the greatest diversity of themes available for an e-commerce platform. If you’re not looking to customise every detail of the theme then you will not be disappointed by Shopify. There are free themes but the paid themes are tremendously better in terms of functionality and design. The most popular theme I’ve used is Debutify, with 100s of others available. You will also notice the general design of these themes are very userfriendly, Shopify pay their theme developers a lot of money to keep the themes updated and smooth. So you won’t run into many technical issues or bugs, but if you do, all you have to do is call customer support and someone will sort it out for you. (24×7)

The negatives

I had a lot of trouble customising themes for my clients on Shopify. There are coding requirements if you want to turn the basic themes into something that extends beyond its capabilities. When you use it, you would definitely see what I mean by the limitations of customisation. I won’t talk too much about the cost because I’ve covered it above, but overall, I would say it’s the safest option out of my top 3. In order to achieve extra functionality, you will need to purchase apps through the Shopify app store and some apps can be quite costly.

Overall, I give Shopify an 8.5/10 in the context of a small business owner.

3. Big Commerce

Like Shopify, it is a hosted e-commerce solution which means you won’t need to find your own web hosting server. Big Commerce has been around since 2009 and was founded by two Australians. In terms of performance when compared to Shopify, it is commonly marketed as a cheaper alternative to Shopify but also more robust in terms of the system.

The most interesting feature of BigCommerce is that it can pull items from your existing WordPress WooCommerce store, which gives you an easy way to move from self-hosted solution to a 3rd party hosted solution for E-commerce.

Advantages:

  • They offer affordable pricing for small business customers, and they charge no transaction fee
  • The visual site builder offers a huge assortment of customisation options.
  • Multiple Sales channel. This advantage is fairly unique as it allows you to sell through different websites at the same time. Eg. eBay, Amazon and Google shopping.

Disadvantages

  • Once you start the scale, the account fees also become more expensive. You’ll need to pay $199 per month + $80 per month for every 1,000 order you get
  • The Premium themes are really expensive, they range start from $170 USD or around $240 AUD.
  • Clunky theme editor. While having many functions, the learning curve is steep at the start and not as intuitive as Shopify or Elementor.

Overall Remarks.

I would only suggest Big Commerce for advanced users because all the tools and functionality that it is packed with requires a lot of experience to know how they work properly and how to use them to benefit your business. For someone starting out online, I would suggest WooCommerce or Shopify over this solution. Whilst it is a cheap option in terms of package prices and no transaction fees, the themes themselves cost more than the Shopify themes as well as the scaling account fees once your business becomes more successful online. Overall, I give this platform an 8/10.

Conclusion

I would recommend WooCommerce and Shopify as the two main E-commerce platforms to use if you’re new to E-commerce. Both platforms have a tremendous amount of resources online to teach you how to set them both up. If you lack technical expertise, I would suggest start off with Shopify because it is ready to go out of the box. If you don’t have a lot of starting capital to get your online shopping platform going, I would suggest you using WooCommerce with WordPress, it is simply the most cost-efficient option. 

My recommendations are purely situational and would depend on what stage and funding your business has. If you want more tailored advice, please feel free to contact us. 

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