Choosing the Right E-Commerce Platform for Your Small Business

2016-04-01-1459543575-7999506-SethRand.pngBy Seth Rand

You finally decided to launch an online version of your brick-and-mortar store. Congratulations! Now that you've decided to take the leap into the world of digital selling, the next big decision you must make is figuring out which e-commerce platform is right for your company.

Once you start researching the variety of e-commerce platforms out there, you'll see that there's no one-size-fits-all solution - nor should you be looking for one. Each platform has its own set of strengths and weaknesses depending on what sort of functionality you'd like your website to have. Here is a list of the most popular e-commerce platforms on the market today, along with why you might want to consider using each for your new e-commerce store, based on my experience as a founder and CEO of an SEO marketing agency.

Magento is one of the most flexible and full-featured e-commerce software platforms available on the market, and it works for just about any type of business. Since it's open-source software, you can use it right out of the box, with slight tweaks or completely tailored to your needs. This software offers endless amounts of customizations through plugins and extensions, or your team could develop customizations in-house. Magento connectors can sync data with other systems too, allowing you to fully integrate it into your business and marketing operations. You can also choose between the free (and more popular) Magento Community version, or Magento Enterprise, which caters to large online businesses.

Formerly known as Pixafy, Zoey is a strong addition to the market. Its platform is built on a Magento backbone, but offers many enhancements. Zoey hosts websites and provides support, while also throwing in extras like pre-installed extensions that can easily be turned on or off according to your needs. It also boasts a user-friendly design panel, allowing you to apply basic styles to pre-installed themes without needing much of a technical background. It's similar to designing e-mails using templates in a system like MailChimp or Constant Contact. For those that want a Magento site without having to worry about extension compatibility and security updates, Zoey is a great fit.

Magento Community is best known for everything that you can do with it -- with some time and proverbial elbow grease. With Nucleus, you still own and host your own Magento website, but can also take advantage of a wide range of extra extensions and features with one installation, and at a fraction of the cost of Magento Enterprise. Nucleus can help Magento sites get launched faster and with more predictability. For those who want the flexibility of their own Magento sites with less development time to launch, Nucleus may be beneficial.

WooCommerce is a free, open-source e-commerce plugin for WordPress websites. This means that you will need to create a website in WordPress and then add WooCommerce to that website. WooCommerce was named the best WordPress shopping cart plugin by Business News Daily. While it's not as robust as Magento and doesn't have as many plugins and add-ons available, it's a great fit for businesses who want the power of WordPress to serve their main business needs, with e-commerce as a secondary need.

For B2B organizations, such as wholesalers and distributors, most e-commerce software will need significant customization out-of-the-box. OroCommerce has been developed to address additional needs, such as contract pricing, configurable payment term levels, personalized catalogs and a configurable order submission process. While it's currently only in Alpha testing, you can try the demo and sign up for their newsletter to be notified once it becomes available to use.

Miva is a hosted e-commerce platform solution for both small retailers and enterprise-level e-commerce businesses. Miva is a feature-rich, easy-to-use system and doesn't require a lot of work up front to get your new website up and running. It's been around since 1997 and is still a privately held company, which demonstrates its experience and maneuverability. While Miva hosts your site and provides direct support, you still get full hosting access to customize as needed, including frontend designs and backend modules. It's great for businesses that want reliability with less fuss.

3Dcart is a fully hosted e-commerce shopping cart solution that provides all the features you'll need to build and run an online store. Most features are built directly into the software, which makes getting your online store up and running relatively easy and painless. In many ways, 3Dcart is similar to other hosted e-commerce platforms, although it does provide FTP access, giving more freedom to work with frontend design files.

These three allow you to create your own online store out of one of their several customizable templates. It's a great option for a do-it-yourself approach. Each has its own pricing model, features, plugins and user interface, so it's best to compare to see which might best fit your business needs. For instance, Shopify works with a point-of-sale system, Bigcommerce offers flat monthly fees with unlimited products and bandwidth, and Volusion has built-in recurring billing for subscription-style products.

Best known for their ERP, Netsuite includes an e-commerce platform that ties in with its inventory, pricing and other data. As Netsuite is considered much stronger on the ERP side of their software suite, many customers will use a stronger e-commerce platform like Magento and connect it with Netsuite as its ERP, thus getting the best of both worlds.

This list is just a basic overview of some of the most popular e-commerce solutions out there. There are others, like OpenCart, ZenCart, osCommerce, CS-Cart, UniteU, Demandware, Hybris, NCR Retail Online, PrestaShop [disclaimer: PrestaShop is a partner of Rand Internet Marketing] and so on. Before choosing a platform, you should make sure to do additional research and read online reviews. If you have developers on your staff, ask them which platforms they've used. Many of these solutions offer free trials or online demos, which will give you the opportunity to experience the platform's functionality firsthand before investing in a final product. If you work with an e-commerce website development and marketing agency, it can provide feedback and recommendations tailored to your individual business needs and goals.

Seth Rand is the Founder and CEO of Rand Internet Marketing. He is also an Internet marketing speaker and author and consultant specializing in search engine marketing and social media marketing.