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#TechTuesday: Which ecommerce platform is best for your online shop?

#TechTuesday: Which ecommerce platform is best for your online shop?
Enterprise Nation
Enterprise Nation
Enterprise Nation
 

Posted: Tue 9th Jul 2013

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As we know from our March Small Business Survey, some 55 per cent of start-ups and growing enterprises sell via their website. Choosing the ecommerce platform that's best for your business is an essential strategic decision. But how do you know which is best?

Rahul Mistry, a writer for virtual private server providers Heart Internet takes a look at the pros and cons of four of the leading ecommerce platforms. Do you know which eCommerce app is right for you? asks Rahul. Choose wisely and you'll get a reliable and flexible platform that you can easily manage and scale up as your business grows. Choose poorly and you get stuck with a system that creates more unnecessary work and headaches and, worst of all, fewer sales if the site doesn't perform properly. A great ecommerce platform will help you manage your catalogue of products and update prices without hassle, as well as provide you with all the tools you need to integrate payment options and make the purchasing process as simple as possible. The good news is that you have loads of options to choose from, including both open source and paid ecommerce software. Your final choice really depends on your needs and preferences. How technical are you? Do you need to be able to customise everything? If you don't have the skills, can you afford to hire a developer? Do you want to edit the code and add more functionality or are you ok working with pre-built features? Here's a quick comparison of the four most popular apps for ecommerce sites - Magento, osCommerce, OpenCart and WooCommerce. This short guide will walk you through the key considerations for your online shop.

1. Magento

Ecommerce platforms |Magento logo

Magento is a powerful CMS (content management system) for large ecommerce sites available in two versions: the Community (open source) and the Enterprise (paid for) version. This platform is one of the more complex choices on the market so it's not the solution for a beginner with no technical skills. Magento is known for its practical reporting features, complex discounting and voucher code functionality, and easy integration with other systems (such as accounting and stock control). In other words, it comes with just about everything a serious ecommerce site needs.

The Good

Makes it easy to get your store up and running - If you're just getting started with Magento, the 'Start My Store Wizard" will walk you through site design, products, payments, shipping and more, thus covering all of the bases any serious store owner would insist on. So, if you're feeling lost or overwhelmed, this is a good place to start.

User-friendly dashboard - The Magento dashboard has a clean, user-friendly layout, thus making it easy to access everything in your store.

Hassle-free product management - Magento provides great tools to manage your products, including sorting, filtering and searching for items in your store. In addition, you can also add a 'low stock' RSS feed to your store so you know when a specific product needs to be restocked.

Comprehensive documentation - If you want to learn how to get started building your store, how to add products, change themes or even do a keyword search, you can take advantage of Magento's knowledge base. You'll have access to loads of useful articles, step-by-step guides and other resources that will make it easier for you to build and manage a powerful store.

The Bad

Few themes available - Compared to the other ecommerce software solutions available, Magento has a rather small collection of free themes to choose from, so if you're indecisive or have a small budget, you might want to consider going with different software.

Steep learning curve - Magento is a complex ecommerce system with a steep learning curve so it's definitely not the solution for the enthusiastic amateur. It requires time commitment and you may struggle with it in the beginning but once you get to grips with it, you'll realise just how powerful it is.

2. osCommerce

Ecommerce platforms | osCommerce logo

osCommerce is a popular open source ecommerce platform that has been around since 2000. One of the earliest PHP-based free shopping cart apps, it provides multiple payment gateways and allows you to set shipping and tax rules, as well as sell both downloadable and shippable items.

The Good

Huge community of developers - Because it's been around for a while, there are many sites using it and thousands of developers have helped build its online storefront. Plus, the well-established osCommerce community is extremely helpful when it comes to software installation, usage and customisation.

Easy checkout - osCommerce allows you to let your customers create accounts for easier checkout. This helps them track their orders and see a history of their purchases.

Great variety of modules - Although the osCommerce team hardly ever performs crucial improvements and changes to the software, the community of developers is constantly building and providing plenty of modules that can help enhance the look and functionality of your site.

The Bad

Not search engine friendly out of the box - One of the biggest issues that osCommerce users have reported is the difficulty to properly optimise URLs to make them search engine friendly. Unless you're familiar with SEO and PHP code, you might be forced to waste hours of your time trying to figure out how to change the default extremely long URLs to shorter, SEO-friendly ones.

Limited modern templates - osCommerce's gallery of templates hasn't been updated recently so you may have trouble applying them to newer versions of the software. If you're looking to use a responsive design for your web store, you might want to try a different ecommerce solution.

Extended functionality - Although osCommerce is a free open source ecommerce software, it's lacking a lot of features compared to other solutions such as Magento. Depending on your requirements, this may mean you need to spend money on add-ons or hire a developer for custom code.

3. OpenCart

Ecommerce platforms | OpenCart logo

OpenCart is another open source ecommerce software solution that allows you to open an eshop supporting multiple languages and currencies. While it doesn't come with much choice out of the box, there are plenty of free and paid-for themes available for download, payment gateways and shipping methods.

The Good

Easy to install - OpenCart is lightweight, and easy to download and install thanks to the fact it is much more compact than alternatives such as Magento, which require handling tens of thousands of files.

Clean and logically laid out admin panel -OpenCart's administration dashboard makes it easy to manage everything in your online store, even if you don't have too much experience with admin panels.

Includes guest checkout - This is a fantastic feature as it allows users to buy products from your online shop without having to sign up for an account. Fast and easy!

Plenty of helpful documentation - OpenCart comes with free support and software updates (that you'll need to install yourself) and you can find plenty of useful resources to help you out in case you get lost.

The Bad

Too much manual intervention - One of the most common complaints about OpenCart is the constant need for manual intervention when configuring the system. Want to add a new module? You have to upload it to your FTP client, log in to your store admin back-end, install and activate it and then proceed with the configuration of the new module.

4. WooCommerce

Ecommerce platforms | WooCommerce

WooCommerce was created by WooThemes and it's one of the best ecommerce plug-ins for WordPress. With just a few clicks, you can transform your WordPress CMS admin panel into a full-blown ecommerce site. The platform comes with everything you'd expect from an ecommerce app, including detailed statistics on product sales, various shipping options and more.

The Good

Free - WooCommerce is free so you can set up your online shop without having to worry about how much it's costing you. In addition, you can add an unlimited number of products to the eshop.

Easy to Manage - WooCommerce is one of the easiest to install ecommerce platforms available. If you're familiar with WordPress CMS, you'll find it extremely easy to install and customise your web store. Adding products and descriptions, generating coupon codes and controlling inventory is straightforward and intuitive, which means anyone can create a web store and start selling products online without too much hassle.

Beautiful templates - Since WooCommerce is created by WooThemes, a company that sells professional templates, you get a beautiful design for your eshop. This ecommerce platform comes with all the tools you need to create a unique and attractive storefront. You get full access to the source code and you can also customise the design of your store. The functionality of your eshop can be extended by installing one or more of the extensions available at WooThemes.

The Bad

Expensive extensions - WooCommerce includes all the basic features you would expect from an ecommerce app. However, if you want to add more functionality and provide things like UPS or USPS shipping, follow up emails or dynamic pricing, then you have to pay extra. For example, the Dynamic Pricing add-on costs $99, which is not cheap.

In conclusion

All things considered, Magento is one of the most respected ecommerce CMSs in the industry although it does require much more configuration than WooCommerce, osCommerce and OpenCart. When it comes to web hosting, you can easily run WooCommerce, OpenCart and osCommerce on a standard shared hosting package. However, if you choose to go with Magento you are better off hosting it on a VPS or a dedicated server. How about you: which ecommerce app are you using? Are you happy with it or are you considering a different one? Let us know in the comments below. Rahul Mistry is a content writer and web specialist for (VPS) Virtual Private Server providers Heart Internet__. His interests include graduate employment, web design and development. You can connect with Rahul on Twitter and Google+.

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