Choose the right e-commerce platform for the scale of your business
Story by Mila Klimkowicz
15 min read
When you plan on taking your business online one of the most important decisions you will have to make is selecting the right e-commerce platform. After all - this will be the heart of your online shop shaping not just how it looks, but also the kind of experience it serves to your customers with the available features. There are many factors to consider when choosing the right option - the pricing, available features, and customizability just to name a few. But before we dive into comparing the features of these options, there's an important point to note right from the beginning: the size of your business will play a major role in the decision-making process. We'll delve deeper into this as we continue through the article!
In this article, we will be taking a closer look at some names you've likely come across before: WooCommerce, PrestaShop, and Magento. These three e-commerce solutions are quite popular when it comes to open-source options on the market. But what other options are out there? And what is the difference between them?
Open-source vs. SaaS e-commerce platforms 💻
So, what sets these two options apart? At first glance, it might not be immediately obvious to distinguish between an online store created using an open-source platform versus a SaaS one. But there are some notable differences between them - the main one being access to the source code.
As the name may already imply, open-source platforms are those that are "open" to all and usually free to download and use. They grant the freedom to modify the source code, allowing for extensive customization.
Open-source platforms give you plenty of flexibility and full control over the ecosystem that you build. You don't have to worry about vendor lock-in or relying on your provider for third-party integrations. However, this comes with the responsibility of keeping everything up to date, maintaining your website, and taking care of security.
This route is a go-to when seeking a fully customizable e-commerce solution. If you're tech-savvy, there's a wealth of documentation, online resources, and dedicated communities that will help you get started. Alternatively, you could bring in a developer or development agency to manage the nitty-gritty for you.
As mentioned earlier, both WooCommerce, PrestaShop, and Magento fall under the umbrella of open-source solutions.
Saas (Software as a Service) platforms on the other side, don't provide access to the source code and you have to rely on the provider of the platform for integrations, security, necessary tools, and other important aspects tied to the functionality of your shop. Saas platforms work on a subscription model - meaning that you have to pay a regular subscription fee.
We can compare this to renting a flat: you can meet your core needs, you know what you can expect when it comes to the monthly costs, and you can enjoy a degree of customization (but with limitations). However, the freedom to truly make it your own is somewhat confined.
Some examples of SaaS e-commerce platforms include Shopify, NetSuite, and BigCommerce.
These are the basic differences between open-source and SaaS e-commerce solutions and in order to determine which one is more suitable for your business you need to evaluate your needs. If you appreciate the convenience of a hosted website and seek rapid store setup, a SaaS e-commerce platform could be the best choice. On the other hand, if your priority is to have full control over your online shop and greater flexibility, then an open-source solution aligns with your needs. In this blog post, we will give you a quick comparison of three open-source e-commerce platforms so you can get a feel of the available options in the market.
The first option we will take a look at is actually not an e-commerce platform! Woocommerce is a WordPress plugin that has garnered considerable popularity, which most likely stems from its user-friendly nature, cost-effectiveness, ease of use, budget-friendliness, and the fact that it’s based on the most popular CMS in the world which is WordPress. With a market share of 64.20%, WooCommerce ranks as the most used e-commerce platform among customers.
With just a few clicks you can set up your online store and gain access to tools that will help you maintain it. So if you already have a website on WordPress, you can install the Woocommerce plugin which will enhance your site with new functionalities without losing any of the CMS core functionality. It is also a good solution for small businesses that are getting started and are just dipping their toes in the world of e-commerce.
Open-source and free to install - this is a free plugin which means you can convert your existing WordPress website into an online store without shelling out extra funds! However, do keep in mind that running a WordPress site still involves expenses like hosting and domain fees. Additionally, depending on your needs, you might choose to invest in various extensions, but that's entirely up to you.
Many customization options - since this is an open-source software it offers the flexibility of tailoring the platform to precisely match your preferences and needs. And due to its popularity, it has a large community of users and many learning resources that you can look for online. If you’re not satisfied with the “base” there are a multitude of extensions and add-ons at your disposal on the Woocommerce website.
Ease of use - one of WooCommerce's standout qualities is its user-friendliness and relatively simple installation process. You will not be needing any developer support or knowledge to install and take care of configuration settings. And if you’re already accustomed to WordPress then you know how easy it is to manage content. Woocommerce uses the same format as WordPress posts to manage product data. Apart from that, as mentioned above, it has great support from the online community which may be useful when you're on the lookout for specific solutions.
Dependence on WordPress - Woocommerce is a plugin and is connected to WordPress, so the performance of your shop hinges on keeping your entire system up to date. Because it follows the WordPress structure, rather than being a dedicated e-commerce platform, the efficiency of data storage can be compromised. Particularly when dealing with a substantial volume of items - this could potentially lead to server overload issues.
Limited performance and functionality - this disadvantage is tied to the previously mentioned point. As WooCommerce functions as a plugin it has a limited amount of features available by default. You most likely won’t get away with having to look for additional extensions to provide needed functionality to your store. This means additional costs as well as having to update those extensions to ensure that your shop is running smoothly.
Since its release in 2007, PrestaShop has built a reputation as a reliable e-commerce platform and currently has 215,733 live stores running on it. According to statistics, it has a prominent presence in Europe, particularly gaining traction in countries like France, Spain, and Poland. The reason companies opt for this solution is because, much like WooCommerce, it provides a wealth of module and integration options for your online store. Whether you need a module for payment processing, marketing tools, or store design enhancements - you will find something suitable for your business. The PrestaShop Marketplace allows you to browse modules by categories, or by specific requirements (for example a module that will help you "Increase traffic").
Operating on an open-source model, this e-commerce platform is available for free download and use, which undoubtedly is a big advantage when considering the budget. With the abundance of themes and modules, it can be used to fit practically any online store. And the scalability options will allow you to expand your business. This makes it an optimal choice for small to medium-sized businesses.
Customization is a breeze - similarly to WooCommerce, PrestaShop offers extensive customization options and you can tweak the script according to your requirements. The PrestaShop Marketplace hosts an array of tools and extensions, both free and paid, offering you the resources to sculpt your store precisely to your liking.
source: PrestaShop Marketplace
Remarkable scalability options - one of the largest benefits of PrestaShop is the outstanding scalability options that it offers- you can start with a small number of products and effortlessly extend your range as you go. What's more, with PrestaShop you are able to run and manage multiple online stores on a single dashboard. This becomes a game-changer when you're looking to take your business global.
And speaking of going global, PrestaShop supports over 75 languages, making it easy to connect with customers worldwide. Your products can be displayed in their preferred language, and prices can be displayed in their own currency, all thanks to the localized language and currency settings. Plus it has 250+ payment providers to choose from, including integrations with gateways like PayPal.
Good product management options - when it comes to tasks like handling your inventory and products, PrestaShop keeps things simple and intuitive. It allows you to add unlimited products, categories, images, and product features. Apart from that, you can easily manage your inventory and make use of features such as inventory tracking and receive notifications about which products are popular amongst customers.
Product page - source: PrestaShop Documentation
Stock Management panel - source: PrestaShop Documentation
Additional costs - while PrestaShop does come packed with a good set of foundational features, there are a lot of additional extensions that you will have to add on to fully develop and customize your online store. And of course, the selection available is vast, but keep in mind, not all of them are free. The pricing of them can be quite diverse (starting from around 49,99€) and if you find yourself in need of multiple additional functionalities the costs can quickly add up over time. Therefore, despite PrestaShop being a free e-commerce platform, the reality might end up different as you might need to open your wallet for those extra functionalities.
Technical know-how is required - even though there's online documentation available for PrestaShop, if you don’t have any technical knowledge or experience, you may need to hire a developer to support you with the installation process or any issues that may arise. Alternatively, you could opt for the PrestaShop support plans but those start at 248,99€ per month.
Magento has been around for many years since its release in 2008 and it was acquired by Adobe in 2018, changing its name to Adobe Commerce. This e-commerce platform is known as the more advanced and “heavy-duty” solution (offering both a free and paid version). The free version, Magento Open Source, is available to download by all and is commonly the solution chosen by small to medium-sized companies as it provides fundamental e-commerce features needed to run an online store. Adobe Commerce, on the other hand, is an enterprise-level solution and offers the same core features as the open-source edition as well as many more functionalities such as B2B capabilities, content staging, and advanced marketing tools. You can compare the two versions by taking an interactive product tour offered by Adobe.
Adobe Commerce is the perfect choice for enterprises with an extensive inventory. The fact that many renowned brands such as Coca-Cola, Nike, and Ford have used this platform, only goes to show the platform's reliability and trustworthiness. However, this does not mean that it comes without any drawbacks. Let’s take a closer look…
source: Adobe Experience Cloud
Powerful features for complex business models - when it comes to essential built-in features, Magento stands head and shoulders above the competition. It covers areas such as customer segmentation, shipment tracking, and something often absent in other alternatives - business-to-business capabilities. Magento also offers different marketing opportunities such as automatic email marketing, discounts, and gift cards, and is well-adjusted for SEO and SEM optimization.
Advanced analytics and reporting system - Within Magento's arsenal lies a sophisticated mechanism for generating analytics and sales reports. By leveraging these reporting tools, you gain the ability to monitor sales trends, customer interactions, inventory levels, and order fulfillment. Such insights will help you understand business performance and see where improvements are needed. This is particularly useful for enterprises operating on a grand scale.
Visual Report Builder - source: Adobe Experience Cloud
An omnichannel approach - Magento places significant emphasis on adopting an omnichannel approach, ensuring your business thrives across diverse touchpoints (these can be for example a physical store, an online store, social media platforms, or a dedicated app). With the various extensions and third-party integrations, it becomes possible to bridge the gap between offline and online sales allowing a unified customer experience across all avenues.
Can be extremely expensive - it shouldn’t come as a surprise that all of these sophisticated features offered by Magento come at a price.. and that cost can be substantial. While there's a free version, Magento Open Source, it might lack important features needed for larger businesses. The paid version, Adobe Commerce, comes with an annual payment that starts at $22,000 but the amount may vary depending on your store's sales revenue per year. Needless to say, this option may not be the best fit for companies with a more modest budget.
Technological complexity - another downside of Magento is that it’s difficult to install and set up by yourself. Unlike the previously listed e-commerce options, this platform requires the involvement of a developer or a development agency not only for the installation process but also for ongoing management since even small modifications can be a hassle.
WooCommerce vs. PrestaShop vs. Magento - Final Comparison 🛒🛍️🔍
Now that we’ve done a quick overview of WooCommerce, Prestashop, and Magento and covered a few of their main advantages and disadvantages, let’s summarize the important aspects.
To conclude everything, the right e-commerce platform for your business is dependent on several factors such as:
- What is the maturity level of your company and its business operations?
- What is the product range and the average amount of transactions?
- Do you already have an existing store that you would like to migrate? Or are you starting from scratch?
- Would you be developing your store in-house or hiring an external agency?
- Would you be managing your online store yourself? Or are you willing to hire a team of professionals to do the heavy lifting?
- What is your budget for this project?
- But, at the crux of the decision-making process lies one paramount question - What is the quantity of products you are going to offer? Your product volume will significantly influence your platform selection.
If you are just starting out with taking your business online and want to learn as you go then WooCommerce might be the best option for you. Its budget-friendly nature and intuitive interface (especially for WordPress users) make it an attractive starting point. Another solution you might also consider is a SaaS e-commerce platform like Shopify. This is particularly a good choice if you don't have much technical knowledge and want a quick and easy way to get started. With a SaaS platform, comes the huge convenience of your service provider taking care of the maintenance and hosting of your shop. However, with this solution, you will have some limitations when it comes to customization and flexibility.
What if you're a more established company, have some knowledge of the product demand, and would like to use a dedicated e-commerce platform? Here, PrestaShop steps forward. It strikes a balance between affordability and flexibility, making it the ideal option for small or mid-sized businesses. But, for enterprises with a considerable product volume, the preceding options might not suffice. If you need a platform equipped with a robust system capable of managing large-scale business operations, advanced analytics capabilities, and unique features then Magento is the way to go.
If you aren't sure where exactly your business stands within these parameters or have questions then feel free to reach out to us. Together we can discuss your business objectives and our team can provide you with personalized recommendations and help you with choosing a platform that perfectly aligns with your needs.