The 6 Best Ecommerce Platforms for Small Businesses
To be on your A-game this year, you have to be using the right platform to maximize your sales potential.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
If you were to track the rise of ecommerce in today’s business landscape, you’d have to go back to the dot com crash of 2000. Despite a tanking economy, the businesses that survived the crash quickly started adapting their selling methods, because, even with an economy going down the drain, it was clear that the Internet would hold the key to the future of sales.
Fast forward to 2015 and the U.S. Census Bureau releasing a report on the dollar amount of ecommerce sales that took place within the first quarter of the year -- the total amount was 80.3 Billion -- and it’s clear to see that ecommerce is only getting stronger. Today’s consumer has time management and convenience on their mind when it comes to purchasing those sweet luxury or necessity items that you’re marketing to them. But, to be on your A-game, you have to be using the right platform to maximize your sales potential.
Related: The Top 5 Reasons You Should Start an Ecommerce Business
Whether you’re struggling to create a pre-ordering option within your current ecommerce marketplace, or you’re anxious to find out how your warehousing setup will interact with your online store, there are plenty of ecommerce options out there that can help your business succeed.
It’s in that spirit that I’ve taken the liberty of listing out some of the best platforms that I think small to mid-size businesses should be using right now. Here they are in no particular order.
The first ecommerce platform I want to talk about is a SaaS (software-as-a-service) type of solution. Of course, I’m being a little biased by putting this first, because I believe that SaaS can be a wonderful solution for businesses of any size -- not just big businesses that can afford the overhead cost of farming projects out.
Symphony Commerce, however, is a bit more than a typical SaaS platform, in fact they market themselves as a commerce-as-a-service provider. Not all brands are equipped to transition their physical experience into a digital one, which can make hiring information technology (IT) professionals to run your online store a bit of a headache -- and that’s why Symphony Commerce can be an asset to the right kind of company. By off-loading the architecture and backend duties that are critical to maintaining an online store, you can focus on the core aspects of what makes your business tick.
Symphony Commerce isn’t for everyone, though. While the pay-as-you-go pricing makes it an ideal option for a small but fast-growing company, this is a platform for businesses that are already running at full speed. If you’re still in the do-it-yourself phase of getting your business together, it would be better to build a small but functional online store with a site builder such as Squarespace.
Speak of the devil! Squarespace makes this list, because its fully loaded ecommerce platform is affordable and can actually help you sell as a small business. No matter which Squarespace template you select -- which is another strength of the platform, as you can choose beautiful layouts without having to know a stitch of code -- you’ll be allowed to upload an unlimited number of items to your online store and have full control of your inventory management, meaning that it’s easy to offer different variants of the same product type as well as control your inventory stock.
This is definitely an ecommerce platform for the type of business that you can run from your living room, and while your site will look great, Squarespace won’t offer you a lot of capabilities in search engine optimization (SEO) or customer relationship management (CRM). Still, it’s a great platform for any type of business from small retailers to professionals wanting to sell their services.
Magento is an extremely elastic ecommerce platform in that it can fit the needs of small or large businesses, making it probably the most scalable platform on this list. The platform owes its popularity to the fact that it’s open source, which means that adding features is extremely easy. For example, if you’d like to increase conversions on your site, you can add Nosto, a free extension that tracks unique visitor behavior and offers them suggested items based on their online actions.
While Magento can be a great option for growing companies, it is a platform that’s more mature (i.e., complicated to use) than the average platform meant for first time ecommerce retailers. While that shouldn’t deter smaller business owners when it comes to integrating Magento into their workflows, I do suggest that you make sure you’re confident in your ability to learn the ins and outs of using such a sophisticated platform before implementation.
Related: The 5 Most Innovative Trends in Ecommerce to Watch for in 2016
CommerceHub is a cloud based service that allows retailers to dramatically increase their inventory and product offering to the consumers that support their business.
How do they accomplish this? Essentially, CommerceHub works as a merchandising and fulfillment platform that connects online retailers to suppliers -- which, as anyone who’s tried to build a relationship with suppliers knows, is a major milestone to reach. Simply put, working with a quality supplier is a goal that can elude many businesses that haven’t yet obtained brand recognition.
The cloud based technology that CommerceHub offers can empower startup ecommerce companies -- who traditionally have had to compete with larger retailers to find sourcing partners -- to reach 100 percent compliant integration with any product source and allows those retailers to effectively become the middle man between wholesalers and the consumers.
Like other solutions on this list, CommerceHub isn’t necessarily for the early-stage startup as before you can drill down relationships with suppliers, you first have to have created a strong sales funnel that can support a product-delivery pipeline. It is, however, a great option for any startup that’s already on pace to hit quarterly sales numbers on a consistent basis, as well as mid-sized companies that want to build more consistency in their sourcing practices.
For my money, Drupal Commerce is definitely one of the more actionable and powerful commerce systems on this list. In fact it’s the only commerce platform that’s built within an entire content management system (CMS). Users of Drupal Commerce can easily customize their workflows, which makes this option ideal for marketers who don’t necessarily have a great deal of expertise working in the backend of ecommerce platforms.
Drupal commerce is also extremely flexible in that it’s highly modular and configurable, which means that it’s built to scale. But this probably isn’t an option for the do-it-yourself entrepreneur. In order to use Drupal Commerce to its full potential, you’ll at the very least need to hire an in-house developer that can help you set up workflows and the overall configuration of how you want your commerce platform to function.
That being said, this is a highly valuable tool that doesn’t come with licensing fees -- making it not only a powerful solution but an affordable one as well.
As the name would suggest, Shopify is all about helping you set up an online store so that you can sell online, and in my opinion, it’s one of the more powerful all-in-one ecommerce platforms out there. It’s also one of the most popular ecommerce building sites on the market today, as Shopify reports that they now have over 100,000 stores using their platform.
With Shopify, you can upload an unlimited amount of products with easy control over variants and overall inventory. It also comes with a discount code engine, and you won’t have to pay for transaction fees. The real beauty of Shopify -- and what makes it scalable for any type of business -- is their app store, which offers over a 1,000 helpful apps both free and paid.
For example, you can choose marketing plugins that help boost SEO, sales apps that help you customize your product list and social-media apps that help you track your followers to see who has converted and who is most likely to convert -- and all of said apps integrate seamlessly with your product pages, shopping cart and Shopify backend. If there’s a drawback to Shopify it’s that it has so many options to choose from that if you’re unseasoned in the ecommerce landscape, it can quickly become overwhelming. Still, this is an extremely powerful tool that doesn’t require a strong tech background to use.
There are more than enough ecommerce platforms out there that can help you fulfill every vertical you want your digital market place to cover. However, picking an ecommerce solution means investment in both time and money. Before settling on any platform I encourage you to do an internal audit of your current needs.
For example, you could be in the market for a relatively cheap solution now, but, as you scale, you know that you’ll need your ecmmerce platform to integrate with other systems like a CMS and CRM. If this is the case a platform like Squarespace might seem enticing in the early goings but could end up costing you in the long run due to its low scalability. You might instead choose Drupal Commerce, as it’s an extremely elastic solution that can integrate with almost any other platform.
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