Whether you’re ready for it or not, ecommerce is here to stay.
If you don’t believe us, just look at the statistics:
According to eMarketer, in 2022, global ecommerce sales will surpass $5 trillion for the first time, accounting for more than a fifth of overall retail sales. And by 2025, total spending will exceed $7 trillion, despite slowing growth.
As a merchant looking to move your business online, one of the biggest decisions you'll make is choosing an ecommerce platform that will ensure scalable, long-term growth.
An ecommerce platform is a software application that allows online businesses to manage their website, marketing, sales and operations. Platforms like BigCommerce offer powerful ecommerce features, while also integrating with common business tools — enabling businesses to centralize their operations and run their business their way.
Understandably, deciding on an ecommerce platform has wide-ranging implications:
Let’s dive in and take a look at what to consider when you’re selecting an ecommerce platform, as well as some popular options:
There are three main ecommerce platform options:
Hosting environment: cloud or on-premise, though all patches and platform updates require manual implementation across the board.
Open-source ecommerce platforms are solutions in which you can modify all aspects of the code.
This type of ecommerce platform is popular with development and IT-heavy organizations who want control of their ecommerce environment.
Using an open-source ecommerce platform means you — the brand — are responsible for:
For many brands, open-source ecommerce platforms are too cumbersome, expensive to maintain and require too much technical knowledge.
As such, there wide popularity among the two other types of ecommerce platforms:
In fact, open-source ecommerce platforms hosted via the cloud (i.e. not on-premise) are today only 46% of the consideration set for large ecommerce brands.
Because often, the cost of open source can be deceiving, since the software itself is free to use.
Unlike SaaS platforms, which typically include costs such as security, licensing fees and maintenance fees in the monthly subscription rate, open-source solutions often leave those responsibilities up to the user and may result in a higher cost of ownership.
SaaS and headless commerce can help brands get to market quickly.
And we live in an incredibly competitive environment, where a slowdown to beautiful and innovative UX, product or backend optimizations can give your competition the leg up.
Hosting environment: cloud.
SaaS ecommerce solutions remove much of the complexity from running an online business. Instead of building and developing a custom solution or an open-source solution (which is often developed upon so much as to be custom), you essentially rent the platform.
When factoring in development cost, this is a vastly cheaper option than open-source solutions.
Product updates, security, hosting, PCI compliance and every other task that comes with managing your own software are managed by the SaaS provider.
Marketing and growth teams at ecommerce brands are often the internal cheerleaders for SaaS ecommerce solutions at their organizations. With a SaaS solution, you’re able to go-to-market quickly and affordably.
However, there is some concern about a lack of flexibility and customization due to the closed-off portion of code on a SaaS solution. APIs help to ease this concern, as well as non-proprietary coding and staging environments for UX build outs.
Platforms that meet the above criteria, such as BigCommerce, are often referred to as “Open SaaS.”
With BigCommerce’s open API, merchants receive all the benefits of a SaaS platform — being hosted on behalf of BigCommerce, a lower total cost of ownership and faster go-to-market time — as well as the flexibility to create custom integrations and functionality faster, similar to using an open-source platform.
Hosting environment: cloud.
Headless commerce is a version of CaaS ecommerce in which the shopping cart is decoupled from the CMS.
In these use cases, brands can use a design experience platform (DXP) such as Adobe Experience Manager and Bloomreach or a content management system (CMS) like WordPress or Drupal. Then, they can plug in a decoupled ecommerce shopping cart solution.
SaaS technologies are also often used here in place of decoupled carts due to their low total cost of ownership and high API flexibility.
Historically, with on-premise hosting, open-source platforms or proprietary platform builds, IT and development departments at large brands have been controllers of the business.
However, due to the high cost of monolithic technology stacks and need for speed and innovation from a marketing standpoint, SaaS and cloud hosting disrupted the model.
Headless commerce alleviates this pain point by allowing for faster go-to-market with significantly lower total cost of ownership.
Using APIs, plug-ins and occasionally decoupled technology, brands can maintain their single source of truth monolithic systems on the operations end.
Other decoupled solutions a headless commerce provider works with include:
On the presentation layer, SaaS APIs allow for a modern SaaS technology stack, including ecommerce SaaS platforms as well as everything from ESPs and even lighter weight ERPs like Brightpearl.
The best analogy to give here is IKEA furniture.
The individual pieces of the item are the microservices and, when put together, they create a final finished project.
For many ecommerce brands, the first step toward this microservice architecture is being done via headless commerce.
DTC furniture brand, Burrow, uses a custom frontend built to bridge content and commerce. By using a headless configuration, they have been able to create the kind of online shopping experience they want their customers to have.
As Burrow co-founder and CPO Kabeer Chopra explains:
“Along with operational functions, being headless has empowered us creatively as well; we use a headless CMS to drive modernization of our platform and to create a great digital experience across multiple channels.”
Let’s look back at our IKEA example and take the classic IKEA nightstand.
If you replace the top piece of the nightstand with a wireless charging-enabled top, you’ve done headless commerce in a way — using a different frontend piece that gives you an updated take on the original, but still with the same foundation and utility (e.g. drawer = cart/checkout).
For those leaning toward a headless ecommerce solution, consider what BigCommerce has to offer. At BigCommerce, we've decoupled the presentation layer from our commerce engine, giving brands the freedom to simultaneously run multiple stores across various frontend solutions — all from a single BigCommerce account.
Discover how BigCommerce's headless offering can help your business.Learn More
There are two ways ecommerce sites can be hosted:
Neither of these two options are platforms in and of themselves. They are merely how the site itself is hosted, with machines on-site (literally in a room that your IT or development team control and manage) or off-site and managed in a warehouse (think Amazon Web Services, for instance).
Self-hosted, or on-premise, ecommerce platforms require ecommerce store owners to find hosting, deal with installations and often perform updates to the software manually.
Running an ecommerce website using self-hosted ecommerce software requires developers to maintain and update the website, which can get costly and time-consuming.
An example of a self-hosted ecommerce solution is WooCommerce, a plugin for WordPress, is also an ecommerce solution that is often hosted through a third-party hosting provider, although it can also be hosted on-premise on your own servers with some technical know-how.
The benefits of this option include more control over your online retail platform, greater visibility of your own data and a better understanding of data security.
While this route makes sense for some extremely complex businesses, it can result in higher expenses and lower revenues.
Cloud-hosted ecommerce platforms offer hosting for their customers via off-site solutions like Amazon Web Services. This means the cloud platform manages uptime for the brand.
One advantage of choosing a cloud-hosted ecommerce platform is its lower cost, since you don't have to fund the servers nor any related maintenance or updates. You'll also receive customer support from the hosting service provider, as needed.
There are some disadvantages to using cloud-hosting, including having to pay a licensing fee in addition to the cost of hosting. You also have less control over the servers and can't tailor them to meet specific needs.
Every online storefront has unique needs, and choosing the right ecommerce platform is wholly dependent on the platform’s ability to solve the day-to-day challenges inherent within your organization.
There are, however, some basic things you should find out about prospective providers.
Your hosting environment refers to a web hosting platform that serves an ecommerce website, which includes features such as payment processing services, security initiatives, SSL, shopping cart software and more.
Depending on your traffic, site size, budget, web development experience and the number of products you’re selling, you’ll need to find the right host to accommodate all your needs — especially if you’re relying on your online store to deliver your income.
Luckily, BigCommerce stands out from the rest with 99.99% uptime, as well as unlimited bandwidth on the Google Cloud Platform, a leading fast, flexible and secure global hosting provider.
On top of that, BigCommerce merchants have access to the following hosting features:
When using a SaaS platform, the number of API calls available, the efficiency of those APIs and whether or not the necessary APIs exist are all crucial for ensuring the platforms and data orchestration function smoothly. Thus, businesses need to be able to have high or even unlimited API call volumes. However, every SaaS platform manages this differently and offers different API call volumes.
For example, Shopify has rigid API call per second limits, while BigCommerce offers industry-leading API calls per second and no cap on the number of API calls for Enterprise merchants. Not to mention we don’t charge based on the number of API calls your business uses.
More than 60% of designers say they spend 11 to 40 hours crafting a website before it’s ready to launch for their customers.
And for a business owner with little to no experience in web design and development, this may seem like a major undertaking — which is why it’s critical to choose a platform with a user-friendly ecommerce website builder and a wide range of free themes in non-proprietary languages. The BigCommerce Page Builder, for instance, is a great choice for web design beginners because of its ease of use and flexibility. The tool offers drag-and-drop functionality so you can make quick changes to your site, have full control over your brand and get your site up and running faster.
Running an online store means dealing with sensitive data, such as customer addresses, credit card numbers and other payment information — which means it’s your responsibility to handle it with care.
PCI Compliance standards must be met to accept payments or you may risk being charged fines, termination of ability to accept payments, loss of customer confidence and other fraud-related financial consequences.
And the bare minimum provided by some platforms may not be enough. Many platforms come with an SSL certificate, but proper protection may mean third-party software or an additional investment in in-house infrastructure.
Luckily, BigCommerce stores come standard with Level 1 PCI compliance to make your site safe and secure. This way you can spend your time building your business instead of worrying about security.
According to a study by MarketingSignals, 90% of ecommerce startups fail within the first 120 days, largely due to weak search engine optimization — which proves that creating search engine traffic isn’t always as easy as it seems.
With factors like page load speed, relevant keywords, mobile friendliness and website structure all contributing to SEO ranking, there’s a lot to think about when optimizing your site.
Luckily, many ecommerce platforms provide built-in SEO tools to help make your life easier.
For instance, BigCommerce provides several SEO tools right out of the box:
Beyond those listed, there are a number of other important ecommerce features to look out for:
Although you might be lured into an especially affordable plan that meets some of your criteria, it’s important to do some research before you commit. You can change hosts at any time, but migrating your site can be a hassle for you and your customers. Consider the following:
Even though ecommerce hosts offer competitive packages, you have to decide whether or not they’re actually cost-efficient.
Paying more doesn’t always equal the best experience.
However, choosing the cheapest option will often leave you looking for add-on capabilities from somewhere else. Piecing together fees from various providers is usually the most expensive way to go.
Before you choose an ecommerce host, decide on your budget for the following features.
If you choose standalone web hosting, you’ll have to research the costs of these services from other providers. But if you look at all-in-one hosts, you’ll often find that you can select a premium package that includes all of these features and stays within your budget.
From landing page to checkout, your store web design should create a unique user experience that reflects your brand and keeps customers coming back.
Many major ecommerce platforms have a variety of themes you can choose from. Some themes may be free with the platform, while others may range in price from $60-$200 each.
In addition, there will likely be instances when your ecommerce solution doesn’t have a necessary feature you’re looking for. This is where add-ons, plugins and extension costs come into play.
Custom ecommerce functionality, backend programming and coding are often the highest costs in building out your ecommerce website. However, they’re also extremely important if you want your business to operate efficiently and have a competitive edge against other ecommerce solutions.
According to OuterBox Design, backend programming can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $75,000, and third-party integrations can range from $500 to $20,000, depending on the size of your business.
Protecting your data and that of your customers should always be a top priority. Choose a platform that will help you feel secure in how payment processing and data are managed — the alternative can cost your company and lose loyal customers.
Luckily, BigCommerce is ISO/IEC 27001:2013 & PCI DSS 3.2, Level 1 certified and supports 65+ online payment gateways, such as PayPal and Stripe, as well as 140 currencies.
Platforms like BigCommerce are hosted on the cloud and offer web hosting as part of the monthly subscription, which means you don’t need to search for third-party hosting or deal with the challenges of managing it.
However, if you want to self-host your ecommerce store or use a platform that doesn’t include hosting costs in the subscription rate, such as WooCommerce, the cost can range from $80-$730 per month. However this price may depend on your amount of web traffic, your website features and automated services, such as a site backup.
Building an ecommerce website isn’t just a one-and-done fee — you’ll likely have to pay to keep up your site and ensure everything continues to run smoothly.
For instance, your domain name will be an annual cost unless you're able to pay for several years upfront. Plus, you’ll likely have to pay regularly for hosting unless your ecommerce platform includes it in the subscription costs, and your SSL certificate is another annual fee to keep in mind.
Nothing is more frustrating than migrating to a new platform and having to start from scratch when it comes to business software. Make sure that the platform you choose can easily integrate with your current solutions and systems at no additional cost.
Luckily, BigCommerce has thousands of agency partners on hand and can help create a seamless transition to our platform without having to sacrifice your existing software.
Especially when choosing between an open-source or SaaS platform, customization will likely be a major deciding factor.
With open-source software, the user has full control over the source code, which means the user can customize every aspect of their site, from product pages to themes to check-out experiences. However, unless you have extensive coding experience and the budget to account for programming costs, open source might not be in the cards for you.
On the other hand, SaaS platform customization can be more limited. Since the service provider has control over the source code, the user does not have as much freedom to customize their site as they would with an open-source platform.
However, there is a happy medium.
With open SaaS platforms like BigCommerce, merchants can have all of the benefits of SaaS in addition to the flexibility and functionality of open source.
Plus, with headless capabilities, brands can deliver API-driven experiences through a CMS, DXP, application, device or custom frontend while BigCommerce powers the commerce engine — allowing you to create a unique customer experience without ever having to replatform again.
Some of the most successful businesses are the ones with a strong omnichannel strategy — one that weaves together various business channels, both online and offline, to create a consistent, engaging customer experience. And leveraging social commerce is a key way to achieve that.
Nowadays, many social media platforms aren’t just for entertainment — they’ve also become a hub for online shopping. With Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Pinterest now delivering in-app ecommerce experience for users, there are endless opportunities for merchants to sell across all channels.
To help merchants achieve their omnichannel strategies, BigCommerce offers one-click integrations with leading software providers like Survey Monkey, HubSpot, Alibaba and Salesforce, as well as integrations with the world's largest marketplaces including Google Shopping, Amazon, Facebook, eBay and Instagram.
Maybe you offer a wide assortment of physical products and digital products, or perhaps you have a significant number of variants for your basic product line.
If you have a large catalog and need several product pages or plan to grow your business, choosing a platform with low SKU limits essentially restricts the upside of your business.
Luckily, BigCommerce is built for big catalogs. Merchants can add up to 600 SKUs per product compared to the 100 SKUs per product cap of Shopify/Shopify Plus.
Of course, every company has different needs, and one company may require more SKUs than another. For instance, an auto parts manufacturer would likely require a higher SKU volume, while a DTC company may only need 1 product per SKU.
It's important to consider a platform that can grow with you.
How much traffic do you expect on your site? If you’re just starting out, it’s understandable that you might not need a host with high-traffic capabilities. But if you’re focused on your growth, your ecommerce business could scale rapidly. Will your host be able to handle traffic demands now and in the future?
What could happen if you run a promotion or campaign that goes viral? Your hosting infrastructure needs to be flexible enough to handle traffic surges without crashing your site.
Cloud hosting is one of the best options for ecommerce sites, because it can keep up with traffic. Because a network of machines handles your site’s hosting needs, you have almost unlimited growth capabilities.
You’re inside an ecommerce solution every single day.
And when that time comes, it’s good to know that you can get a hold of a real-life person to assist you with the problem, whether that be through phone support, email or chat.
Some platforms outsource their customer service and make it difficult — or practically impossible — to call in and get help when you need it most.
But at BigCommerce, we feel that every one of our customers is entitled to personalized customer support. For that reason, we offer 24/7 live agent support, as well as a dedicated help center and active community of merchants.
Now that we’ve covered the key elements to look for in an ecommerce solution, it’s time to compare the most popular ecommerce platforms on the market. As you’re evaluating, keep in mind that every platform has its own benefits and shortcomings, so the best thing you can do is choose the one that best suits your specific needs and use cases.
For both small businesses and large enterprises, BigCommerce boasts an expansive suite of tools from marketing to analytics, high-caliber design options and plenty of support from industry pros.
With all the advantages of a SaaS platform (such as a hosting provider and a lower total cost of ownership) and the flexibility of an open-source platform, BigCommerce can meet a variety of business needs, whether you’re looking to have more or less control over your platform.
On top of that, BigCommerce is a growing headless commerce provider, which means that merchants can run multiple stores across various frontend solutions from a single BigCommerce account. This way, merchants have the flexibility to customize their storefront without worrying about the commerce engine running behind the scenes — BigCommerce takes care of that for you.
With out-of-the-box features such as abandoned cart recovery, coupons and discounts and single-page checkout, as well as zero hidden transaction fees, BigCommerce is undoubtedly a frontrunner across ecommerce solutions.
Owned by Adobe, Magento offers three versions: Magento Open Source, Adobe Commerce and Magento Commerce Cloud. Magento offers real-time inventory control, SEO features, marketing automation tools and multi-store functionality.
However, to use Magento, you will likely have a heavy dependence on designers and developers as well as expensive maintenance and support, which can make it difficult to calculate your total cost of ownership.
Big Cartel was founded in 2005 to help artists, makers and small brands sell their wares. They offer customizable templates, domain name registration and marketing tools, however the platform may not fill your needs if you have a large product catalog.
OpenCart is another open-source online store management system. It uses a MySQL database and HTML components and integrates with over 20 payment gateways and eight shipping methods. There are approximately 400,000 live websites using OpenCart. OpenCart is free to download and use, but you can pay for additional themes, plugins and dedicated support.
PrestaShop is another open-source platform that is free, but you can pay for add-ons and plugins to make it work for your business. PrestaShop is written in the PHP programming language with support for the MySQL database management system. PrestaShop currently supports 300,000 merchants globally.
Salesforce Commerce Cloud is a scalable SaaS option that enables businesses to manage their sales in digital and physical channels with one unified solution. It provides a suite of related services that can complement the ecommerce offering, though it may require previous programming and web development expertise.
Furthermore, Salesforce Commerce Cloud is intended for B2C businesses, so if you are operating a B2B or hybrid business, you will want to look at Salesforce CloudCraze.
If you’ve been in the ecommerce space for a bit, you’re probably already familiar with Shopify.
Shopify has a strong market presence in the ecommerce space, and in 2014, they launched Shopify Plus as their solution for enterprise clients.
As a SaaS solution, the Shopify Plus platform offers the benefits of handling PCI compliance and security and solid uptime stats. The platform is also easy to use, has mobile-friendly designs and a customizable checkout.
However, besides the monthly subscription rate, Shopify Plus merchants may have to pay for paid extensions, themes and plug-ins, and B2B functionality is limited compared to other platforms.
With a Professional, Performance, Premium and Free Plan available, Square can accommodate businesses of varying sizes and needs. The platform offers real-time shipping rates, gift cards and coupons, SEO tools and more.
Squarespace is a SaaS provider used largely by creatives and entrepreneurs, and many of their templates showcase art, video or music products.
At its core, SquareSpace is a content management system, but for those who wish to sell physical or digital products, SquareSpace Commerce offers more specialized features such as professional templates, automated emails and integration with social media channels.
However, while SquareSpace does have an app marketplace, called “Squarespace Extensions,” it only offers a limited number of apps, and its payment methods are also limited (only Stripe, PayPal and Square).
Founded in 1999 as a web design agency, Volusion eventually became one of the first SaaS ecommerce platforms in the early 2000s. The platform offers built-in SEO features to help boost your ranking and get your page noticed, as well as affordable pricing, with a basic plan starting at $29 per month.
However, Volusion does not offer its own blogging platform, and Volusion Payments are currently unavailable to merchants outside the US, so if you’re looking to sell overseas, you might want to look elsewhere for an ecommerce provider.
For small business owners with limited web development experience, Weebly offers a user-friendly interface and easy setup, as well as several free design templates for those on a budget.
However, as a platform geared toward beginners and solo entrepreneurs, Weebly only offers simple photo-editing and blogging tools, which may make it difficult to make your site look professional. As a result, Weebly may be a decent starting point for new business owners, but be aware that it might not be able to keep up with your business’s growth.
Many people know Wix as a free website builder, but it can also be an ideal option for entrepreneurs and small business creatives.
The platform offers omnichannel selling features, abandoned cart recovery, dropshipping capabilities and more. However, to sell products, you need the Business Basic plan which costs $23 per month. This plan includes a free 1-year, custom domain, 20 GB of storage space and 24/7 customer support.
WooCommerce is an open-source WordPress plug-in that merchants can use to transform their websites and blogs into online storefronts. It offers SEO features, various payment gateways and options for multichannel.
However, keep in mind that customers on WooCommerce are responsible for ensuring that their stores are PCI-compliant.
When it comes down to it, there is no one one-size-fits-all platform — there’s only the solution that best suits your ecommerce business. Every company has different priorities for ecommerce features, whether it’s more payment options, dropshipping capabilities, real-time inventory management or a user-friendly interface, so the “best” platform for you will be the one that meets your specific needs.
Take your time evaluating your options, and don’t be afraid to take advantage of free trials to test out each platform’s unique features and advantages.
Yes, you need an ecommerce platform to sell products online.
The only alternatives to an ecommerce platform are:
Having a well-crafted online store using an ecommerce platform will help you expand your reach with SEO tools and build trust with customers via a unique online experience.
Yes, there are ecommerce platforms that can integrate with social media channels.
BigCommerce offers built-in integrations with Facebook and Instagram, so you can market to users directly in their news feeds or main accounts.
With the advent of Product Tags Checkout on Instagram, you can even sell directly to users without them needing to leave their platform of choice.
By taking an omnichannel approach, merchants can leverage multiple sales channels to make more sales and create a consistent brand experience across all touchpoints. Utilizing channels such as Amazon Marketplace, Instagram, eBay and your online store, you’ll be able to multiply your sales and get more eyes on your product.
Selling on social media should be a no-brainer when it comes to marketing your brand. Create a Facebook Business Page or Instagram profile that highlights new product listings or customers who use your products, and include links that lead back to your online store. Luckily, many social platforms even offer the ability to sell products straight from your profile.
Yes, many ecommerce platforms allow you to push your products from your online store to Amazon and vice versa. This is called multichannel selling, where you sell both on your own website as well as on a marketplace, in this case, Amazon.
BigCommerce, for example, integrates with Amazon Marketplace. This lets merchants tap into Amazon’s huge selling potential by letting you to list your products on Amazon straight from your BigCommerce control panel, using centralized inventory and order processing and fulfillment.