The Best eCommerce Platforms of 2023
Gartner magic quadrant view, business expectations, industry leaders' opinions, most popular solutions… best of articles come in all shapes and sizes. This one of ours about eCommerce platforms is a bit different… we hope.
Imagine trying to build a house on a shaky foundation. It’s a disaster waiting to happen. Similarly, choosing the wrong eCommerce platform is like setting up your online store on a shaky foundation. The right platform ensures that your store runs smoothly, is secure, and provides an excellent shopping experience.
Open-Source, SaaS (software-as-a-service), or headless platform for your online store, plenty of choice here.
Shopify, a popular choice for businesses looking for a hassle-free setup and scalability, or WooCommerce, an open-source platform integrated with WordPress, works awesomely for small businesses. If you need more from your platform, like more personalization, control, and more effortless scalability, you'll turn to one of the headless solutions (like Crystallize).
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Understanding your needs comes first (actually, the product or the service comes first, then this), and that means Determining Your Business Model, Knowing Your Audience, and Analyzing Your Technical Requirements, so let’s break down the three a bit.
Determining your eCommerce business model is the first step in shaping your business idea. Are you selling physical products, digital products, or both? Subscriptions maybe? Are you selling it to businesses or the general public? Different platforms cater to different needs. It’s like choosing a vehicle – you wouldn't take a sports car off-roading, would you?
Understanding your audience is like knowing the ingredients of a recipe. It’s essential. Are your customers tech-savvy? What devices do they use? What is their buying journey? Where do they hang out, and how do they gather the info about the product such as yours? Answering these questions will help you find and choose a platform that provides your audience's desired experience.
Finally, technology is the linchpin that holds the wheel together. From the underlying website structure over the frontend interfaces to your team's preferred solutions and tech know-how, tech determines your business, team, and online store's efficiency, security, and user experience.
Nowadays, advising on the best [insert anything here] is a two-edged sword. That’s why we prefer to talk about some of the most popular solutions rather than rank them as the best. Also, as much as it helps that these are our competitors, it makes keeping unbiased opinions really f…ing hard.
Anyways, let us introduce you to some solutions worth checking.
Without a doubt, Shopify (built on a Ruby on Rails framework) is currently the most popular and well-known eCommerce platform.
With its help, merchants can build and customize an online store and sell in multiple places (such as web, mobile, tablet, in-person, etc.) and across various channels, from social media to online marketplaces. 24/7 support makes it even more appealing for both newbie and veteran businesses.
While it does have many advantages, some disadvantages need to be considered. For example, you need to pay a monthly fee to use it, and then you also need to pay an additional fee for premium features you want to use. It charges a transaction fee for each sale that you make and does not include email hosting in its plans.
Then there is limited design flexibility compared to, for example, headless solutions often emphasized as a disadvantage, but in reality, that one depends on the use case and your teams' dev/design proficiency.
Then there is Shopify Plus, a premium version with extensive features tailored explicitly for high-growth, high-volume businesses with a much bigger price tag OFC.
If you want to grow your online store into a large and successful business, this might be the right choice.
BigCommerce is a PHP-based eCommerce platform ideal for businesses looking for an affordable, all-in-one solution. It has many useful features to offer, which are all available once you choose a pricing plan.
Everything you need to make your online store succeed is already built into its library of themes and ready to go.
The main drawback of BigCommerce is that though it is intended for a dev-less team, it is not as easy to use. The platform uses a lot of complex terminologies, which won’t appear user-friendly to anyone who doesn’t have good knowledge of them.
Finally, regarding price, BigCommerce offers a range of plans, and like a custom-tailored suit, you’ll get what you pay for. It might not be the cheapest option, but at least its features and scalability reflect the price.
Many of you have probably heard of Wix, one of the most popular website builders in the world. In 2020, the Wix team expanded its business and released Wix eCommerce.
Wix eCommerce is meant for small to mid-sized businesses, has a few helpful tools, and is beginner-friendly. It comes with classic eCommerce functionalities such as tracking orders, online payments, multichannel selling, and abandoned cart campaigns.
You can even sell through the Facebook and Instagram integration tools. Once connected, your customers can tap your photos to purchase the item in your Wix store.
It lacks certain features of high importance for product-based businesses, in particular, such as low stock alarm. Given that it is a simple website builder, you can’t complain much about the downsides, right?
It works perfectly for its use case (small personal eCommerce stores and eCommerce MVPs). Still, you should be aware of the hidden costs of Wix, which start piling up once you start using the platform.
If you are just starting your own business, ZYRO might be your right choice. It is an affordable and easy-to-use builder that's perfect for small businesses. It has a great price-to-feature ratio on monthly plans.
However, it is not the right choice for larger businesses, as its features aren't as scalable as you'd need them for rapid growth. Again, this is as good as any other solution for its use case.
WooCommerce is like a LEGO set for eCommerce built on top of WordPress. It allows the users to build an eCommerce website from scratch or add shopping cart functionality to an existing WordPress website.
It’s a flexible, open-source eCommerce platform that gives you the building blocks to create a store exactly how you want. You can pick and choose add-ons from the vast WordPress plugin universe, making it highly customizable. There are plugins available for integrating payment gateways, social media, email marketing, 1-click selling, shipping, etc.
Downsides? Scalability, as most users have reported, it slowing down as they grow. Potential code bloat if you use too many plugins. And complex maintenance, as it requires constant core WP updates and plugin updates, which may introduce compatibility issues.
WooCommerce itself is free, but you’ll need to consider hosting, themes, and extensions, which can add up. Still, this option benefits those already accustomed to the WP universe.
Enterprise's popular choice is Magento (Adobe Commerce), which comes as an all-in-one solution but relies heavily on Magento-certified designers, increasing the total ownership cost. The same thing goes for Presta Shop. Both rely on monolith architecture, making vendor lock-in a problem for businesses.
Other popular website builders, like Squarespace and Weebly, offer their eCommerce solutions, and just like Wix, they come with limited functionalities.
With Shopify Plus, we’ve opened the door (kind of in this article, at least) to new tools and solutions relying on headless architecture. The central premise, and the benefit of the headless approach, is the decoupling of the frontend presentation and backend functionalities.
In practice, that means you have a single source of truth, i.e., the backend that stores all the data you need (product and/or marketing data), which allows you to use whichever frontend you like in whichever fashion you want. This approach gave birth to modern headless commerce solutions like CommerceTools, Commerce Layer, and OFC Crystallize.
CommerceTools is known for emphasizing composable commerce and microservices architecture in their approach to eCommerce. The compartmentalization of services that comes with these offers unprecedented flexibility and scalability. It’s like upgrading the components of a high-performance car; you can fine-tune or replace individual parts without overhauling the entire vehicle.
It’s not without challenges. Complexity and a steep learning curve for one. Reliance on third-party services can lead to additional costs and potential compatibility issues for two. It might not be the best option for small businesses or businesses without a dedicated dev team.
One of the key features of the Commerce Layer is its API-centric design. This ensures that all functionalities and integrations can be accessed and manipulated through APIs. The possibilities you get this way are only limited by the tech know-how of your team.
It may require additional resources for integration and management, but so does any other headless solution.
Crystallize is built with developers and performance in mind. GraphQL API, cloud-native architecture, and integration with global CDNs ensure fast content delivery and can scale to accommodate fluctuating traffic. Imagine it as a high-speed train that automatically adds more carriages based on passenger volume.
But the strongest point is that Crystallize encompasses product information with rich marketing content and order intake and fulfillment orchestration like no other platform on the market, allowing you to serve your customers with all information (product and marketing) and track their flow from setting an order over purchasing delivery.
Dev-focused to set up, but not to run. Once you set it up, Crystallize is easily managed for content editors, product teams, and shop admins (or whatever you label the roles). Still, in all honesty, it is not for everyone and every use case.
… and it seems like traditional commerce platforms (the monolith solutions) can't keep pace with the growing demands of modern customers. We might be biased on this, but headless commerce does allow businesses to break free from the constraints of legacy systems, enabling them to deliver a seamless, personalized experience across all channels.
Using the wrong tool or one for what it is not designed for the use case is a recipe for disaster we have seen all too many times. And just as important as the tech is the team. The solution picked needs to match the team that will customize/build the eCommerce experience. And the team to run it.
How to choose an eCommerce platform is a question for another article (it is in the making). Today we hope we’ve sparked some interest in what is out there for your consideration.
We can help with that. Seriously, we can!
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Our journey to reimagining eCommerce is not about adding features. It's about delivering core, modern commerce business requirements and future-proofing tech stacks.