A guide to the top ecommerce platforms for small (and large) businesses

Written by Jon on 21st January 2016

So you’re starting your own ecommerce business or you’re already on the market but looking for a new platform? There are a huge range of ecommerce solutions available to you, each with their own benefits, and it can be difficult to trawl through all of the options and technical jargon to make the decision best suited to you and your business.

Luckily for you, we’ve first hand experience of using all of the platforms listed below so we’ve put together a guide on which platform you should use based on your experience and business needs. Note that there are many many others, but I think the ones below will cover most requirements.


Hosted vs Self Hosted

The first thing you need to decide is whether you’re wanting a hosted or self hosted site.

Hosted sites are generally easier to setup and require little or no coding skills.

Self Hosted sites require varying levels of technical knowledge to setup and offer a greater degree of customisation.

Which route you decide will depend on a number of factors:

  • You (or your partner’s) technical experience/competence
  • Budget: can you afford a web agency?
  • Timeframe: a hosted solution can be setup in a couple of days
  • Project requirements: do you need a hosted custom solution?

If you have an idea of the answers to the questions above, the below solutions might guide you in the right direction.


logo_0008_shopify-bagShopify (from $9 a month plus transaction fees)

Shopify powers over 150,000 websites (and growing!), and offers a wide range of features and functionality to get you online quickly with minimum effort.

Shopify takes care of all your basic requirements with full tech support and PCI compliant payment solutions, so this removes any technical worry and allows you to focus on running your business.

Shopify has built a great relationship with developers and has a wide range of add ons and features that can be added with ease using your admin panel.

If you are considering Shopify, it is well worth a 10 minute browse on what else can be built into your business, you can check out the app store here.

Shopify also has a couple of extra services including a mobile app so you can manage your store wherever you are, and also a POS application. This is great if you also have a physical store; you can manage your orders and transactions from one central location, great for inventory management!

Accompanied with a wide range of themes, you can customise your website with little or no coding knowledge and have a professional ecommerce website set up in days.

logo_0045_BigCommerceBig Commerce (from $29.95 per month, no transaction fee)

A popular choice for all levels of business from startup to enterprise level sales volumes, Big Commerce has you covered.

A similar feature offering to that of Shopify but without the transaction charge for each order; this could be important depending on your sales volume.

Big Commerce integrates with a wide range third party services and has a fully loaded app marketing place, allowing you to add more advanced functionality and features to your website as you grow.

With a wide range of themes to make your website look professional you can be up and running in days.

3dcart (from $19 per month, no transaction fees)

Another popular solution that can be compared to Shopify and Bigcommerce is 3dcart.

3dcart’s all-in-one software has everything you need to build your online store. Pre-optimized website for search engines, including built-in advanced marketing tools, like newsletters, abandoned cart saver and loyalty program. Plus a powerful administration interface for managing products, orders and customers in bulk.

Unlike Shopify with Shopify Payments, or Bigcommerce with Braintree, 3dcart integrates with over 160 payment solutions, so you have countless payment options for your online store.

With 3dcart you can count on a predictable monthly cost, no transaction fees, unlimited products and unlimited bandwidth.

Other hosted solutions (that we haven’t used – yet)

Big Cartel
Square Space
Lemon Stand

Let us know what you think if you’ve used any of the above!

Self Hosted

logo_0003_x-home-5-woocommerce-logoWoo Commerce – free

A free extension that plugs into your WordPress website transforming it into a fully loaded ecommerce solution.

This is a great solution for your ecommerce business and offers a wide range of functionality and reporting straight out of the box. There are a wide range of themes to get you started although some knowledge of HTML and CSS is an advantage to ensure your website looks as good as possible.

Woo Commerce has a great range of paid extensions that are easily installed onto your website and you can find them here.

Some notable extensions for your Woo Commerce store include the booking and reservation plugin and the subscription extension; the ability to be able to offer subscriptions to your customers is a great way to increase your customer lifetime value!

You will need to host the website yourself and also be responsible for the security, maintenance and updates to your website, including SSL certificate.

A great option if you are just getting started and want complete control and flexibility.

logo_0018_magento-logoMagento – free (Community Edition)

A powerful open source ecommerce solution that can be customised to your exact requirements while also offering the option of uploading a template and start selling in a relatively short space of time.

You can start selling with Magento out of the box, but as you start to grow you will start to find yourself looking for more functionality; this is easily addressed with the ever growing Magento marketplace.

Magento can be resource heavy and require a greater level of experience to set your website up and also maintain it efficiently –  particularly as it gets busier!  As with most popular open source software, there is a good community and support is provided in a range of forums.  Note, Magento themselves do not provide customer support for the Community Version.

You will need to arrange hosting and there are a number of companies that specialise in Magento hosting. This is always an added benefit as they will be able to provide a higher level of support.

Overall Magento Community Edition is a robust platform that can be tailored to your businesses requirements, but will require a level of technical support and suitable budget to allow for this.

P.S.  Magento 2 is now out and while the marketplace is limited at time of writing, it is growing (and quickly!)

Other self hosted solutions (that we haven’t used – yet)

Presta Shop
Open Cart
OS Commerce
Zen Cart
Spree Commerce
Magento Enterprise

Have you used any of the platforms we’ve discussed? Come across a new platform? I always like to hear about new platforms and your experiences, so drop me a comment below!