Whether you are about to open your first online shop or you are considering changing the ecommerce platform you are currently using, you will find all the information you need below. We look at the 15 most popular eCommerce platforms, breaking each one down into its respective pros and cons. There is a wide choice available, so it is vital that you do your research before choosing which one is right for you. Most share a basic set of functions, but offer a couple of unique features on top.
As well as offering a diverse range of features, ecommerce platforms are offered for a diverse range of prices. Many are free, while others can cost tens of thousands per year. Very generally speaking, those which you have to pay for not only offer the best support, they require the least programming knowledge to install and run. Look at the 15 below and select the one that is right for you, your business and your customers. Another great way to build an online shop is using Opencart templates for the popular Opencart e-commerse system – for some reason it did not get included in the list below, but make no mistake themes for Opencart can do a wonderful job!
1. Magento (free)
With 30,000 merchants using Magento to deal with $25 billion of transactions, it’s the world’s fastest growing ecommerce platform. Built using an open source model, distinguished Magento shop owners include Samsung, Nespresso and The North Face.
Magento comes in two flavours: Enterprise Edition and Community Edition. The Enterprise Edition is packed full of powerful tools to boost sales, including store credits, gift cards (virtual and physical), members only sales, clubs, multi-store capability (retail & wholesale) and top-notch support. The Community Edition, free to download, is for expert developers and comes with no support, warranty or indemnification.
2. osCommerce (free)
Out-of-the-box, osCommerce is more than sufficient for setting up, running and managing an online store quickly, easily and cost-effectively. If you want to distinguish your osCommerce store from the 228,700 others out there, however, you’re going to need one or more of the 5,800 add-ons currently available, some of which you have to pay for.
osCommerce is an excellent piece of software, don’t get me wrong. It’s considered the benchmark to which all other free, open-source ecommerce platforms aspire. Modifying your stores design, however, is not quite as easy as it should be.
3. Zen Cart (free)
Free and straightforward, using Zen Cart falls within the capabilities of almost everyone. Besides the standard features you’d expect, Zen Cart offers a newsletter manager, discount coupons, quantity discounts, gift certificates and the ability to select exactly which cards you accept. There are tons of contributions to the software at your disposal with many from osCommerce preinstalled. This does make the admin interface a little cluttered for my liking though.
4. X-Cart ($115)
X-cart is a commercial package with open-source code, but unlike Magento, it falls within the budget of start-ups as well as established companies. Users get the professional support they’d expect when buying a three-figure piece of software as well as community support in X-Cart’s forums.
X-Cart is fast, W3C-compliant and search engine friendly. It uses the Smarty template system, which many programmers enjoy working with. On the flipside, although it’s cheap, you’re probably going to have to fork out for a few add-ons, which cost anywhere from $35 to $109 a piece. Technical support isn’t free either.
5. CubeCart (free)
CubeCart 3, the standard edition, is completely free to download and use. It comes complete with three different skins, customer order history, unlimited products, categories and images, multi-currency support, and product search. CubeCart 4, which costs over $100, comes with enhanced SEO, visitor skin selector, courier tracking URL, superior product search, and the ability to add and edit orders from the back-end.
Both integrate well with any site and are suitable for those already selling online or preparing to open a shop. If you’re not familiar with PHP and MySQL, however, you might find setting up CubeCart on your own quite a challenge.
6. VirtueMart (free)
VirtueMart can’t operate alone: it’s an ecommerce solution designed to be used alongside the Joomla! CMS (content management system). In terms of a cart, it offers the complete package and it’s great from the shoppers’ point of view. Shoppers can register for an account, add addresses and view their order history with a minimum of fuss.
VirtueMart supports multiple languages and currencies and you can add an unlimited number of products and product categories. Your products are searchable and can be rated by users. Despite its obvious strengths, it does have some minor weaknesses, including a somewhat poorly structured forum and some messy code here and there.
7. Ubercart (free)
Like VirtueMart, Ubercart must be integrated with a CMS, in this case, Drupal. As well as physical products, Ubercart specializes in the sale of file downloads, event registrations, access to members only websites and even event tickets.
There are loads of modules and themes for you to download and customize your shop with and numerous payment gateways to choose from. If you’re a Drupal user, Ubercart is likely to be the best option for you, but if you’ve never used Drupal before, you might find it rather confusing to get your head round at first.
8. PrestaShop (free)
Around 100.000 stores are currently doing business thanks to PrestaShop, which was launched in August 2007. It uses the popular Smarty template engine, combined with an Ajax heavy back-end. PrestaShop offers, amongst other things, “free shipping” offers, product image zoom, package tracking, PDF customer invoices and cross-selling.
The best thing about PrestaShop, however, is that it’s very attractive. Users can create stores that are slick and polished and it’s got a very active community for online support. Its major weakness is its speed: the backend is very slow to manage and maintain.
9. LiteCommerce ($109)
LiteCommerce is a commercial platform which anybody can manage, but you have to pay for this simplicity. It’s basically a slimmed down version of the popular X-Cart, with a Quick Start Wizard which guides you carefully through everything you need to do to get your shop up and running.
Installation is easy and set-up very logical. You can tweak your shop’s appearance through the admin interface or edit store templates in DreamWeaver etc. Expert users, however, might find some unique features of other platforms lacking here.
10. Spree (free)
Spree, an ecommerce platform based on Ruby on Rails, is constantly growing and improving thanks to its active development team. There are loads of great extensions on offer which you can use to tailor your site to your specific needs.
Spree lets you modify shipping, tax, discounts and coupons to suit your customers, who will themselves be more than satisfied with the single page checkout. It’s search engine friendly and has Google Analytics built in. It’s ideal for small and medium enterprises, but not the best choice for sites receiving the very highest levels of traffic.
11. Avactis (free basic version, otherwise $19.95 per month or $199)
Avactis, available as a free version or for a fee, integrates seamlessly with your existing website. Its web based help manual, video tutorials and setup wizard are sufficient for most people to install and manage without the help of expert developers. Advanced features include newsletter management, marketing and sales reports which you can export to Excel, multiple storefronts, numerous payment methods including Maestro, the ability to export accounting data to QuickBooks and support for tax systems around the world.
To make the most of every feature out-of-the-box, you’re going to have to pay $19.95 per month or a one-off payment of $199, which seems reasonable. There are additional charges, however, for hosting your cart, support, updates and installation (if you can’t do that yourself). The shopper experience is smooth, but a little drawn out, as customers must navigate through various pages before paying for their goods.
12. AgoraCart (free)
AgoraCart is not as popular as some of the other platforms reviewed here and we’re not quite sure why. It’s flexible and fully customisable, great for setting up simple stores or complex design concepts. Insofar as design goes, you can choose from one of the templates on offer or design your own using CSS. Layouts and product categories can be tweaked to your heart’s content. In some ways, AgoraCart seems to have been left behind by some of the newer PHP based platforms, so is perhaps best suited to hobbyist coders.
13. WordPress e-Commerce Plugin (free)
Many people forget that WordPress can be used as a CMS to run an ecommerce shop, provided you have the right plugins that is. WordPress e-Commerce Plugin is by far the most popular plugin of this type available, having been downloaded over half a million times (at time of writing). Also it works well with many WordPress ecommerce website templates and they make it easy to create an impressive shop online fast.
It does pretty much everything you’d expect from any other ecommerce platform, letting you customise your shop to suit your brand image. It’s integrated with PayPal and Google Checkout, which the vast majority of your customers will be familiar with. The downside: it lacks the functionality of some other ecommerce platforms and, of course, is only available to WordPress users.
14. OXID eShop (free)
Like Magento and CubeCart, there is more than one type of OXID eShop available. The Enterprise Edition and Professional Edition cost money, but the open source Community Edition is completely free.
This Community Edition comes with no support (other than from the community) or warranty, but otherwise offers exactly the same features as the Professional Edition. It has an integrated CMS, powerful SEO, clean code and is relatively easy to install for developers.
15. Digistore (free)
Digistore’s based on osCommerce, so will be instantly recognisable to anyone who’s ever used that ubiquitous ecommerce platform. It’s a full CMS, very quick and easy to install and can be operated by people with little or no coding knowledge. There are a number of free templates available to use, but if you like, you can buy a sleeker template or even have your own personal one created for a small fee. You can manager and alter colours, site width, layout and template from within the admin area and even run multiple adverts to promote your products.
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