If you are looking to start an online store or an online business of any sort, you might be researching – what is an eCommerce platform and how to select the best eCommerce platform for your business needs.
Starting an online store for your business can be daunting, but an eCommerce platform can make the process much easier by providing the necessary tools and features to create and manage an online store.
An eCommerce platform is a software that enables businesses to sell their products or services online. Such platforms usually provide a suite of tools within a single platform to help businesses and brands to create and manage an eCommerce or online business.
In this guide, I will provide you with a detailed overview of what an eCommerce platform is, the different types of eCommerce platforms available, and the key features to look for when choosing the best solution for your online business.
I will also discuss the process of selecting, setting up, and managing an eCommerce platform, along with providing some major insights into the future of eCommerce platforms.
Definition – What is an eCommerce platform?
So, what exactly is an eCommerce platform, and how does it differ from an eCommerce store or website?
An eCommerce platform is an actual software application that allows businesses to sell products or services online. It provides the necessary tools and features to create and manage an online store, including the ability to create an eCommerce website, list products, process orders, and handle payment and shipping logistics.
In general, eCommerce platforms can be self-hosted, which means they are installed on a web server and require the business owner to handle hosting and maintenance, or they can be hosted, which means the platform provider handles hosting and maintenance.
There are several eCommerce platforms suitable for businesses of all sizes, from small startups to large enterprises. They offer a variety of features and functionality to suit the needs of different types of businesses, such as international trade with support for multiple languages and currencies, customizable design options, and integrations with third-party tools and services.
The idea behind modern eCommerce platforms is to provide businesses with a single platform to build their online stores and manage the entire process of selling their products or services online.
With eCommerce features built-in or with connections to existing systems, these platforms reduce the need for multiple disparate systems and provide a unified interface to manage everything in one place.
Overall, an eCommerce platform mainly serves as the foundation for online business and plays a crucial role in enabling business owners to sell products and services online effectively and efficiently.
Types of eCommerce Platforms
There are several types of eCommerce platforms that businesses can choose from, each with its own unique features and functionality.
Essentially, most of the eCommerce platforms can be classified as self-hosted or hosted, but you will come across several other classifications.
|eCommerce Platform Types||Examples|
|Self-hosted eCommerce platforms||WooCommerce, Magento, OpenCart|
|Hosted eCommerce platforms||Shopify, BigCommerce, Wix eCommerce|
|Open source eCommerce platforms||WooCommerce, Magento|
|SaaS eCommerce platforms||Shopify, BigCommerce, Squarespace, Zyro|
|PaaS eCommerce platforms||Salesforce Commerce Cloud, Oracle Commerce|
|Headless eCommerce platforms||Shopify Plus, Contentful, Commercetools|
|On-premises eCommerce platforms||Custom built platforms|
Let’s first take a look at the two main types of eCommerce platforms, and we can then look at different variations.
Self-hosted eCommerce platforms
Self-hosted eCommerce platforms are software applications that are installed on a web server and require the business to handle hosting and maintenance.
Examples of self-hosted eCommerce platforms include WooCommerce, Magento, and OpenCart.
These self hosted platforms offer a high level of customization and control but also require a greater level of technical expertise to set up and maintain.
Hosted eCommerce platforms
Hosted eCommerce platforms are platforms that are hosted and maintained by the platform provider. The business does not need to handle hosting or maintenance, and the platform is typically accessed through a subscription-based model.
Some of the main hosted eCommerce platforms include Shopify, BigCommerce, and Wix eCommerce.
Such fully hosted platforms offer a more streamlined and user-friendly experience but may have more limited customization options.
Which one should you choose then? Well, both self-hosted and hosted eCommerce platforms have their own pros and cons, and the right choice for an eCommerce business will depend on the needs and goals of the business, as well as the size and complexity of the business. We will look at the more deciding factors in the later section.
Few other types of eCommerce platforms that you will come across include;
Open source eCommerce platforms
An open source eCommerce platform is primarily developed and maintained by a community of users and developers. Such platforms are typically free to use and offer a high level of customization and control.
Please note that although the core software of such platforms is free, you might incur additional costs for hosting and other plugins and apps that you might need to use.
WooCommerce is a prime example of a popular open-source eCommerce platform which is entirely free to download and install. However, you need to find a hosting solution and buy additional plugins for a fully functioning store.
Check out these main open-source eCommerce platforms;
SaaS (software-as-a-service) eCommerce platforms
SaaS eCommerce platforms are platforms that are hosted and maintained by the platform provider. This is often the easiest eCommerce solution to take your business online as you don’t need to handle hosting or maintenance, and the platform is typically accessed through a subscription-based model.
A few examples of SaaS eCommerce platforms include;
- Wix Commerce
PaaS (platform-as-a-service) eCommerce platforms
PaaS eCommerce platforms are platforms that provide a complete eCommerce solution, including hosting, maintenance, and support. The business does not need to handle any technical aspects of the platform, and the platform is typically accessed through a subscription-based model.
Some of the main PaaS eCommerce solutions include Salesforce Commerce Cloud and Oracle Commerce.
Headless eCommerce platforms
Headless eCommerce platforms are platforms that allow businesses to separate the front-end user experience (i.e. the eCommerce website) from the back-end eCommerce functionality (i.e. the platform).
Such platforms allow businesses to use any front-end technology (such as a mobile app or a voice assistant) to access the eCommerce functionality.
Check out these examples of headless eCommerce platforms – Contentful and Commercetools.
On-premises eCommerce platforms
On-premises eCommerce platforms are platforms that are installed and run on the business’s own servers or infrastructure.
Such on premises platforms offer a high level of control and customization but also require the business to handle hosting and maintenance.
Deciding what kind of platform might be suitable for your business should be fairly easy. Most businesses find all they need in the latest and best SaaS eCommerce platforms, but you might want to check out the features to see if they have everything that you need for your business.
Main Features of an Ecommerce Platform
Most eCommerce platforms are very feature-rich to accommodate all functions of an online business.
Here is a more detailed overview of the main features of an eCommerce platform:
Product management Features
This includes features for adding, organizing, and managing products in the online store, such as the ability to add product descriptions, images, and pricing information, as well as options for grouping products into categories and tags.
Most of the platforms also offer features for managing variations of products, such as different sizes or colours.
Order and inventory management Features
This includes features for tracking and fulfilling orders, such as the ability to process orders, calculate shipping and tax, and other inventory management features, such as updating inventory levels.
Some platforms also offer features for managing returns and exchanges, as well as tools for creating invoices and receipts.
Payment processing Features
Most platforms include support for several payment processors and make it easy to implement third-party payment solutions if necessary.
Generally, the payment features include solutions for accepting and processing payments from customers, such as support for various payment gateways and options for handling recurring payments or subscriptions.
Some platforms also offer advanced features for managing payment disputes or fraud prevention with the latest AI/ML implementations.
Shipping and tax calculation Tools
This includes features for calculating and charging shipping fees based on the destination and weight of the order, as well as options for handling tax calculations based on the location of the business and the customer.
Some platforms also offer integrations with shipping carriers or support for real-time shipping rates, which can be really helpful for both your business and your customers.
Marketing and Analytics Tools
Many eCommerce platforms offer built-in tools and integrations for marketing and promoting the store, such as email marketing, social media integration, and search engine optimization (SEO) tools.
Most of them also include additional advanced analytics and reporting features to help businesses track and understand their sales and performance, such as data on site traffic, conversion rates, and customer demographics.
However, you can always look for dedicated third-party tools when it comes to analytics (such as Google Analytics) and marketing applications.
If you are looking to opt for a specific platform, it’s important that you check out the complete features of the platform to ensure it has everything you are looking for.
You need to evaluate further the features, tools, integrations, and functionality of your selected platforms, which we will look at next in even more detail.
How to choose the right eCommerce platform?
Choosing the right eCommerce platform is an important decision for any eCommerce business looking to sell products or services online. Here are some key considerations to keep in mind when evaluating different platforms:
Determine the needs and goals of your business
Consider what you want to achieve with your online stores, such as the types of products you want to sell, the size and complexity of your business, and any specific features or functionality you need.
Besides, who will you serve with your platform? Are you catering to business to consumer needs or business to business needs?
A detailed thought process will help you narrow down the options and choose a platform that is the best fit for your business.
Consider the size and complexity of your business
If you have a small, simple business, a hosted eCommerce platform may be a good fit. These platforms offer a more streamlined and user-friendly experience but may have more limited customization options.
However, if you have a larger, more complex business with complex inventory management needs, you might want to look into self-hosted platforms.
Such platforms might offer a higher level of customization and control for your need but also require a greater level of technical expertise to set up and maintain.
Evaluate the cost and resources required to maintain the platform
Consider the ongoing costs of using the platform, such as subscription fees, transaction fees, and any additional costs for plugins or extensions.
Also, consider the time and resources required to set up and maintain the platform, including any technical expertise or support needed. Evaluate the developer ecosystem and availability of themes (see themes for Shopify, for example) and plugins around the platform in case you need to extend the capabilities in the future.
Calculating the realistic cost of running an online store goes beyond simply choosing and implementing an eCommerce platform.
Research and compare different platforms
Take the time to research and compare different eCommerce platforms to determine which one is the best fit for your eCommerce business.
Read reviews of the best eCommerce platforms and case studies, and consider reaching out to other businesses or experts for guidance.
By carefully evaluating your business needs and goals and researching and comparing different platforms, you can eventually choose the right eCommerce platform for your business.
How to setup an eCommerce platform?
Setting up an eCommerce platform involves several steps, including buying a domain name, setting up hosting, installing and configuring the platform and customizing the design and layout of your final eCommerce website.
Let’s look at some of the major steps and what’s involved in detail;
Registering a domain name and setting up hosting
The first step in setting up an eCommerce platform is to register a domain name for your website and set up hosting.
A domain name is the web address for your online business, a URL that customers will use to access your store (e.g. “www.webguided.com“).
Hosting is the service that stores and serves the files and content for your eCommerce website.
If you are using a self-hosted platform, you will need to purchase hosting for your eCommerce store from a web hosting provider.
This is the case with open source platforms like WooCommerce – you can choose from multiple hosting providers dedicated to WooCommerce or set one up yourself using cloud servers.
For example, Bluehost, one of the top web hosting provider powering millions of websites, offers WooCommerce-focused hosting services that you can use to start your store. (You can always use our exclusive Bluehost coupon to get the best deal and free domain name when getting started.)
For hosted platforms, you don’t need to worry about setting up hosting, as the eCommerce software provider will fully manage it for you in the background.
Installing and configuring the platform
Once you have a domain name and hosting set up, you can install and configure the eCommerce platform.
For self-hosted platforms, this typically involves downloading and uploading the platform files to the web server and then following the platform’s installation instructions.
For hosted platforms such as software as a service, the process is typically more streamlined, with the platform provider handling the installation and setup.
Adding products and setting up payment processing
Once the platform is installed and configured, you can start adding products to your store.
This involves creating product listings, adding product descriptions and images, and setting pricing and other details.
You will also need to set up payment processing, which involves selecting a payment gateway and configuring the payment options for your store.
Customizing the design and layout of the website
Many eCommerce platforms offer a variety of customization options for the design and layout of the website, including themes, templates, and the ability to add custom CSS or HTML.
Take the time to customize the look and feel of your store to reflect your brand and provide a good user experience for your customers.
Testing and launching the store
Before launching your store and taking your business online, it’s important to test everything to ensure that everything is working correctly.
This includes testing the payment processing, shipping calculations, and any other features or functionality of the platform. Once you are confident that everything is working correctly, you can launch your store and start selling products online.
Setting up an eCommerce platform can be a complex process, but with careful planning and attention to detail, you can create a successful online store.
How to Manage and maintain an eCommerce platform?
Managing and maintaining an eCommerce platform involves a variety of tasks and responsibilities to ensure that the platform is running smoothly and effectively.
Here are some key considerations for managing and maintaining an eCommerce platform:
Updating the platform and plugins
It’s important to keep the platform and any plugins or extensions up to date to ensure that the store is running smoothly and securely.
This may involve installing updates or patches or upgrading to a newer version of the platform. For hosted and SaaS platforms, this is already taken care of by the eCommerce solution provider itself.
Handling orders and customer inquiries
Managing orders and customer inquiries is an important part of running an online store that needs to be taken care of on a daily basis.
This may involve processing orders, handling returns and exchanges, and answering customer questions or concerns via phone, email, or chat.
Analyzing and optimizing sales and performance
With the analytics and reporting tools offered by most eCommerce platforms, you can track and understand their sales and performance.
By analyzing this data, businesses can identify trends and patterns and make adjustments to optimize the store’s performance.
Marketing and promoting the store
Marketing and promoting the store is an important part of driving sales and attracting new customers. This may involve activities such as email marketing, social media marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), and paid advertising.
Overall, managing and maintaining an eCommerce platform requires ongoing attention and effort to ensure that the store is running smoothly and effectively.
By staying up to date with updates and performance data and actively marketing and promoting the store, businesses can maximize their success with an eCommerce platform.
How do I find out what eCommerce platform a site is using?
If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to check out what eCommerce platform any website is using, BuiltWith is your go-to solution. It works for most online stores that use a standard eCommerce platform software.
However, when you are investigating an online store that uses custom CMS or proprietary software, BuiltWith or other tools might not be able to detect it, and you might want to try other options.
There are several ways to find out what eCommerce platform a website is using:
Check the eCommerce website’s source code
One way to determine the eCommerce platform a website is using is to view the source code of the website.
To do this, you can right-click on the webpage and select “View Page Source” (in most web browsers).
In the source code, you may be able to find references to the platform or specific plugins or extensions being used.
As you can see in the example above, the eCommerce website is using Shopify, as seen in the references to the URL for its CDN.
Use online tools to identify platforms
There are several online tools that can scan a website and identify the eCommerce platform being used.
One example that we mentioned earlier is BuiltWith, which allows you to enter a website’s URL and provides a detailed report on the technologies and platforms being used on the site.
Navigate to BuiltWith tool and simply enter the website URL of the eCommerce store that you want to investigate further.
Scroll to the eCommerce section, and you will see all the tools and platforms used by the eCommerce website.
The above screenshot from BuiltWith shows that the website is primarily using Shopify Plus as its core eCommerce hosting platform.
Contact the website owner or developer
If you are unable to determine the eCommerce platform being used by the website using the methods above, you can try contacting the website author or developer directly and ask them what platform they are using. They could share this information with you if you ask them nicely!
Keep in mind that some websites may use custom or proprietary platforms or may have modified or customized a commercial platform, so it may not always be possible to determine the exact platform being used.
However, using the methods above should give you a good idea of what platform a website is using.
Basics of eCommerce Platform FAQs
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions to understand the basics of an eCommerce platform.
What is an eCommerce platform provider?
An eCommerce platform provider is a company or organization that provides the technology and tools necessary for businesses to create, manage, and run an online store.
What is an eCommerce platform ecosystem?
An eCommerce platform ecosystem is a suite of products, services, and integrations that are designed to work together and provide a comprehensive solution for businesses to build, manage, and scale their online store.
What are the benefits of using an eCommerce platform?
An eCommerce platform provides businesses with a range of benefits, including cost savings, scalability, flexibility, access to cutting-edge technology, data security and analytics, and more.
What are the different types of eCommerce platforms?
There are several types of eCommerce platforms, including hosted solutions, open-source platforms, subscription-based software, and custom solutions.
What are the costs associated with eCommerce platforms?
The cost of an eCommerce platform depends on the type of platform you choose. Hosted solutions tend to be more expensive than open-source or subscription-based software, while custom platforms can vary in cost depending on the scope and complexity of the project.
What is an eCommerce platform developer?
An eCommerce platform developer is a programmer or software engineer who specializes in developing custom eCommerce platforms. They are responsible for coding and implementing the features and functionality of an eCommerce store, as well as providing ongoing maintenance and support.
Future of eCommerce Platforms
With the significant growth of eCommerce and several developments and trends on the horizon, the future looks bright and exciting.
Some of the key trends and predictions for the future of eCommerce platforms include:
Increased use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning: Many eCommerce platforms are already using AI and machine learning to enhance their capabilities and improve the shopping experience for customers. This trend is expected to continue in the future, with more advanced AI and machine learning algorithms being used to personalize recommendations, optimize pricing and inventory management, and improve the overall online shopping experience.
Greater focus on omnichannel experiences: As consumers continue to shop across multiple channels, eCommerce platforms will need to provide a seamless and consistent experience across all channels. This may involve advanced eCommerce features such as integrating with physical retail locations, incorporating social media and messaging platforms, and offering flexible fulfilment options.
The continued growth of subscription-based models: Subscription-based models, in which customers pay a recurring fee for access to a product or service, are already popular in some industries, such as software and media. This trend is expected to continue in the eCommerce space, with more platforms offering subscription options for products and services.
Increased use of blockchain technology: Blockchain technology, which allows for secure and transparent record-keeping, has the potential to revolutionize the way eCommerce platforms operate. It could be used to create immutable records of transactions, reduce fraud and counterfeiting, and enable new business models.
Overall, the future of eCommerce platforms looks bright, with many exciting developments and trends on the horizon. Online businesses can stay ahead of the curve and succeed in the fast-changing world of eCommerce by staying up to date with these trends and adapting to new technologies.
Continue learning the basics of eCommerce in this guide and once you are ready to start implementing, find the best eCommerce platforms to choose from here.
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Additional Reading – Check out some of our best eCommerce-related guides here at WebGuided.