When I had to build my first ecommerce website my natural inclination was to find an add-on for Wordpress since it was the platform my client’s existing website was built on. After searching around, it seemed like WooCommerce was the most viable option available so I installed it and I soon discovered that a platform built for blogging is insufficient for the complex needs of an online ecommerce store.
If your needs are minimal and you’re selling a few digital products that doesn’t require complex shipping calculations or tax variables, Wordpress and some thrid party plugin may be sufficient. However, if you are running a brick and mortar store with physical goods, you need a platform that was made for ecommerce. The amount of variables to consider are far too large for a simple plugin to encompass.
In this article, I am going to compare the ecommerce platforms that I explored before settling on OpenCart (which I eventually became a developer for).
Disclaimer: This comparison is going to be mostly anecdotal and based on my experience of installing and running sites for the following platforms which were based on the needs of a small to mid-size business. Prices have changed since I first explored the platforms and the prices displayed are accurate based on the time of writing.
Magento seems to be the most recognized ecommerce platform. Being one of the first entrants into the opensource ecommerce scene, they seem to attract quite a bit of attention on that fact alone and I really don’t understand what all the hoopla is about.
I committed the same mistake when I began exploring ecommerce options and after many years of toying with the platform, I never really did anything with it.
Magento has a Community Version that is free. It has limitations that are in place for you to eventually move to one of their paid versions. The UI is less than intuitive and the codebase is so long that when you make an attempt to optimize the store to function based on your specific needs, you’ll find that the time you spend customizing the store will end up costing something similar to the Enterprise version.
Magento Enterprise can run you tens of thousands of dollars. I haven’t tried it, but I hear it runs some solid sites.
Magento Go is an option that has been developed recently by its new owners, ebay, and it is a SaaS solution. Plans are split up between $0, $15, $25, $65 & $125 per month depending on the number of products you plan to sell and storage/bandwidth. There is no transaction fee. I found Magento Go to be extremely slow and customer support was extremely unresponsive. Needless to say, I will never recommend Magento Go to anyone.
Shopify is a hosted solution and it seems to be getting a lot of attention these days. I really enjoyed the UI and I found the site to be very fast.
Prices range from $29 - $179 per month depending on the number of products and storage space you require. They do take a percentage of your transactions but the range can be similar to the amounts that most merchant services companies will charge you anyway (unless you have a good deal with a merchant services company already).
The only negative comment I have for Shopify is that the importing of products was cumbersome. I had to upload thousands (eventually millions) of products and Shopify just wasn’t up to the task.
Americart is virtually unknown and the only reason I explored this option is because one of our data sources who managed our vendors had a deal with Americart to create an API for their products.
Americart is also a hosted solution and the monthly rate is $23 but not much more information is provided. Documentation is extremely shotty and the simple lack of information makes me weary of using any software. You can call them, and you’ll find that customer service isn’t very helpful and lacks a lot of tehnical knowledge about the platform.
You may have seen a commercial for this platform recently. Volusion has been spending a ton of money of marketing online and on broadcast television.
I think marketing is fine, but the rate at which Volusion has been trying to sell makes me wonder how good the actual product is. I even had endless calls from sales reps on my cell phone trying to get me to sign up.
After taking the platform for a spin, I found that it lacked quite a bit in terms of available features and quite frankly I was turned off by their sales process.
Prices range from $15 - $195 per month. There are no transaction fees.
Opencart is a free and OpenSource platform, meaning - all of the code is free. Now that requires you to know a little bit about servers but you really don’t need to know much programming to get started.
Opencart makes it’s money by taking a percentage of sales that developers like me make by selling extensions that add functionality to the default store.
The prices are extremely affordable for extensions, usually under the $25 range. But the best part about it is you only pay once and you get the code for life! That means you can customize it all you want. Plus there are tons of free extensions that will get your store running like a champ.
There’s a strong developer community and quite frankly the rates that a lot of the developers charge are incredibly low. Especially for the quality of work that you get.
From a programmers point of view, the platform is extremely well organized in an MVCL structure that really helps to organize the codebase and it makes customizations much more manageable.
If you want to sell your products online and you can’t make up your mind with all of the options that are available, you can’t go wrong with Opencart.
If you want a hosted solution, why not create a relationship with a freelance web developer to manage and host your site for you for the same amount you would be paying one of the SaaS giants? You’ll get much better customer service, and you won’t be limited in making the store perfectly tailored to your needs.
If you liked this article, have any questions or disagree with my comparison, write a comment or send me an email.