Ecommerce CMS comparison guide: How to choose the right platform for your online store

The best ecommerce CMS is…Choosing the right platform for your online store

That’s what you want to know isn’t it.

You’re just thirsting for someone to tell you.

Just one answer.

No ifs, no buts, no conditional advice, no splintered opinions.

Sorry.

It’s not that easy. There’s no simple answer. Unfortunately, things are heavily dependent on you and your company’s needs.

We’ll explain though. By the end of this post you should have a much better idea of the CMS platform to suit your online store.


Your ecommerce CMS choice depends on your business

Asking me to name the best ecommerce CMS avalialable, is kinda like requesting me to categorically tell you the best destination to choose for your next holiday.

A ski holiday in Switzerland? What if you have the knees of a 90 year old…

A luxury villa at the Bora Bora Four Seasons? What if you have the budget of a 17 year old…

A massive week-long bender in Ibiza? What if you have the children of a 35 year old…

Decision options for a holiday

Selecting a CMS for your online store is not a one size fits all. Context matters.

That doesn’t mean we can’t help you choose.

Our team of gorillas spend our days trying to improve ecommerce websites, so we’ve learnt a thing or two about the major CMS providers. We understand the major strengths and weaknesses of each platform and we have a good idea of what type of business is best suited to which options.

Everyone is always asking us for our advice, so we thought you studious, curious, knowledge-thirsty readers would like to see our analysis.

I’ll list out the questions you need to ask yourself to help you work out your specific needs and restrictions.

Then we’ll compare the major players and let you know the strengths and weaknesses of CMS.

By the end of this post, you should be a whole bunch clearer on the best option for you.

If not, don’t despair. I don’t want to leave you befuddled. If you’re still stuck, you can get in touch and I can give you some more specific advice.

What you need to know before you select a new ecommerce CMS

There are a few questions that you should consider before you pick a new content management system for your online store. Here’s the most important ones:

#1. Where do you plan to be in the next 12 months?

You need to make this choice based on the growth your forecast/guess/wants in the future.

It is not uncommon for fast growing ecommerce stores to have several different website incarnations within a short period of time, but if possible, you should avoid chopping and changing your platform.

Are you in it for the long haul?

Is there more products, more sales, more requirements on the horizon?

It might be worth laying down some extra dollars now to avoid a whole lot more pain, time and money further down the track. Plan with the end in mind.

#2. How many products will you have on your site?

The number of products you stock will influence the cost of the CMS and hosting.

This one’s a gamechanger. No use buying the schmickest studio apartment overlooking the harbour if you can’t house your family of six. You’re better off with the old 4 bed Queenslander in the ‘burbs.

Get clear on your range, it’ll point you to the right shelf.

#3. How much traffic are you expecting?

I get that I’m almost asking you to predict how popular you’ll be.

It’s gotta be done – your traffic will help determine the best web hosting solution.

Don’t underestimate yourself or you might end up with a system that can’t handle your needs.

Don’t Kanye it either. Keep things realistic is what I’m saying. There’s a bunch of cheaper, simpler, more effective options at the lower end of the scale that you don’t want to rule yourself out of.

#4. Does your site need to be integrated with a POS or inventory management system?

If a platform doesn’t support your must-have technology, you might have yourself a deal breaker.

Do your homework on compatibility with your existing tools. If you’re not sure, get your provider’s account manager on the phone and run them through your conundrum.

Sorting this one out is an easy way to whittle down the options.

Your budget affects your CMS selection

If this is your first ecommerce site, there are a number of costs to take into account:

  • Purchasing, installing and configuring your CMS
  • Customising a theme or template
  • Customising functionality (purchasing, installing, configuring extensions/plugins)
  • Updating
  • Site hosting
  • Payment gateway for payment processing
  • POS integration
  • SSL certificate
  • Marketing/Promotion

In the early days of online retail, custom ecommerce site development was the only real option to achieve the functionality and customisation you would need to operate successfully.

This meant lots of dollars and long development lead times.

Thankfully, things have changed. Heaps.

There are a range of off-the-shelf CMS’s that will provide pretty much all the functionality you could ask for.

The 8 most prominent Ecommerce Platforms

So at last count there were 3,720,937 CMS platforms in use in the world.

I’m sure you can all appreciate the fact that I’m more likely to relocate to Jupiter than analyse each of these options for you.

Here’s the top eight instead:

Ecommerce Platform Comparison

Usage data thanks to BuiltWith

There are plenty of CMS options out there. Some providers like Magento offer free, open source versions (community) or paid versions (enterprise). All in one packages like Shopify or Volusion provide both CMS platform and hosting for a monthly fee.

Below is a comparison of some of the more popular ecommerce platforms.

Shopify

Shopify's ecommerce CMS

  • Free Trial – Yep, free for 14 days.
  • Starting Cost - US$14/mth for Up to 25, $178/mth unlimited products.
  • Setup Cost - Low.
  • Customisation Cost - Low.
  • Ongoing Costs - Medium. You're looking at around 1-2% fee for each transaction.
  • User Friendliness - Shopify is made for marketers. Extremely simple and easy to use.
  • SEO - Pretty supreme. The Shopify platform makes for some effective default SEO.
  • Extensions/Plugins - Not the best. You're limited to basic provisions from Shopify.
  • Scalability - Limited (particular with integration with POS)
  • Technical Support - High. Shopify has a dedicated tech support team.

Volusion

Volusion's Ecommerce CMS

  • Free Trial - Yep, free for 14 days.
  • Starting Cost - US$15/mth for up to 100 products, $135/mth unlimited products.
  • Setup Cost - Low.
  • Customisation Cost - Low.
  • Ongoing Costs - Low – no % charged of transactional fees.
  • User Friendliness - High. Volusion is super simple and easy to use.
  • SEO - Built well to work with search engine optimisation.
  • Extensions/Plugins - Low, you’re limited to what is provided by Volusion.
  • Scalability - Limited. It’s tough to with integrate this CMS with your point of sale system if you’re not a pureplay ecommerce brand.
  • Technical Support - High. Volusion has a fantastically dedicated tech support team.

Wordpress - WooCommerce

WooCommerce Ecommerce CMS

  • Free Trial - Free to download.
  • Starting Cost - Free and simple to install yourself, only web hosting costs are required.
  • Setup Cost - Low.
  • Customisation Cost - Low.
  • Ongoing Costs - Medium. There’s a bunch of costs required to update and maintain site. WordPress has a history of hacks so regular theme and plugin updates are important.
  • User Friendliness - High. WooCommerce is simple and easy to use.
  • SEO - Nicely built for SEO.
  • Extensions/Plugins - WordPress.org lists over 35,000 plugins. That’s unrivalled.
  • Scalability - Flexible.
  • Technical Support - Medium. There is no dedicated tech support (apart from some specific paid extensions) but there are plenty of user forums available.

Magento

Magento Ecommerce CMS

  • Free Trial - Free to download.
  • Starting Cost - You’ll need a web developer to install, and web hosting is required.
  • Setup Cost – High.
  • Customisation Cost - High.
  • Ongoing Costs – Significant. Hosting is expensive for these resource hungry sites. As site traffic and product range increases so do your hosting requirements.
  • User Friendliness – Medium. Magento is not as easy to use as Wordpress but still quite user friendly.
  • SEO – Excellent SEO capabilities.
  • Extensions/Plugins – Lots of valuable options available.
  • Scalability - Nice ability to increase products, with existing extensions available to integrate with POS systems.
  • Technical Support – No dedicated tech support (unless for paid extensions or enterprise edition) of Magento but plenty of forums available.

What factors do you need to consider?

Some of these line items will mean more to you than others. The main considerations tend to come back to cost, number of products and need for customisable features. Prioritise these factors and you’ll be able to narrow down your options.

Of course, there’s so many more options out there than the 4 we have profiled in detail. Be sure to check out the platforms specific to your industry. This often alleviates the need for customisation as you’re getting a refined, specific product.

We always warn our friends and clients to think carefully about the SEO capabilities of any potential platform. As you know, the search requirements for online retailers are much more complex than your average website. Before you commit to a platform, run your contenders by an SEO expert to see how the CMS will cope with on page ecommerce website optimisation.

If you’re can’t decide on your ecommerce CMS platform, let us know

If you’re still stuck, I don’t blame you. It’s a big call.

Instead of sobbing by yourself in a dark corner of the office, you are more than welcome to ask me. We work with ecommerce CMS platforms every day and we have no affiliation with any in particular, so we can give you a really objective, unbiased opinion.

If you like, flick me through an email with the platforms you are considering, your website URL and a little info about your business. I’ll do my best to give you some advice.

Pretty swell of me right?

We primates are the sharing type. Not as scary as your average gorilla. 

 

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Author

Nathan Manning

Nathan’s SEO knowledge runs so deep that fellow gorillas question his ability to maintain a social life. Seriously, there’s a lot to know - but this guy is an SEO Rainman. Somehow, he’s still the first primate to the bar, sharing a story with craft beer in hand. After co-founding the agency, Nathan has sharpened his online marketing wisdom into a fearsome internet-dominating weapon. And as any prophet-appropriating digital native knows, the keyboard is mightier than the sword - so Nathan brings his ecommerce marketing wisdom to our Jungle Gym learners as often as he can.
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