The five best e-commerce platforms and how to choose
In 2021, worldwide e-commerce sales grew to about $4.9 trillion US dollars.
Even more impressive, this trillion-dollar number is expected to grow by a whopping 50% over the next four years.
There’s never been a better time to be in e-commerce.
There’s also never been a more high-stakes time to be in e-commerce.
Getting everything right–from technology to marketing to order management–could set you up for success in the next decade. On the other hand, getting it wrong puts you at risk.
Implementing the right e-commerce platform is a huge piece of the puzzle for e-commerce success. But there are so many options out there. How do you confidently and efficiently select a platform?
We have experience with most of the leading e-commerce platforms available today, and we’ve worked with a number of diverse companies across countless industries to understand who should select what, and why.
In this guide, we’ll take a look at the most popular e-commerce platforms, share the pros and cons, and simplify which platform is best for you.
Finding a platform that’s right for you
There is no single “best” e-commerce platform, but there is one that’s best for you. Which platform is ideal for you depends on a number of factors, most importantly your:
- Business model
- Core capabilities
- Internal team structure
- Top channels
It always comes back to what your business wants and needs. What is your team best at? What are your business’ challenges, objectives, and goals?
Other things to consider are how you manage your channels (where are we selling?), order management, product information management (PIM), and even warehouse management. Ultimately you want an e-commerce platform that fits into your other technologies and processes.
Understanding your technology goals is critical to selecting the best e-commerce platform for your online store. Below we’ll dive further into which platform is best for certain business models and team structures.
Salesforce Commerce Cloud
Best for business-focused brands 1
Website: Salesforce Commerce Cloud
Market size: Enterprise and mid-market
Pros: Easy to use, heavy customisation, and an immersive brand experience. Get a 360º view of your customer by adding Salesforce’s other products such as Pardot, CPD and Mulesoft.
Cons: The fee to use Salesforce is a percentage of your revenue, so if you’re already operating on thin margins, other options might be better for you.
Cost: Between 0.5 and 2% of your sales revenue.
The best thing about it: Since Salesforce is such a robust product, you don’t need to hire an engineering team to manage the platform. This lets you focus on what you’re best at.
Salesforce Commerce Cloud is the ideal solution for brands selling directly to their customers, like Patagonia.
It may not be as ideal for retailers selling Patagonia, like REI and Macy’s, because of the way the Salesforce licence cuts into margins.
For brands with wider margins, Salesforce is worth the cost, because the Salesforce engineering team upkeeps the system, allowing brands to hire fewer engineers, and instead focus on their core capabilities.
Salesforce is also excellent for internationally-operating brands, or brands with international ambition. Across markets, it’s flexible and easy to set up storefronts with localised language, content, etc. To give you an idea, Bugaboo was set up on Salesforce Commerce Cloud for 26 Countries in just four months.
Finally, elastic hosting automatically scales up and down depending on demand (Cyber Monday shopping, for example).
Important to know
Salesforce Commerce Cloud is an “out of the box” solution providing a standard retail store, so it takes design and development effort to align it with your brand and differentiate it from other Salesforce stores.
DEPT® has vast experience creating custom, immersive Salesforce storefronts for customers like GANT and Canyon in addition to Patagonia and Bugaboo, so reach out if you need this support.
It’s also worth mentioning that there are two versions of Salesforce Commerce Cloud: one for B2C; and another for B2B businesses.
The B2B solution essentially automates everything an account manager would do, including automation and workflows, repeat orders, different price lists, and different payment methods.
Best for business-focused brands 2
Market size: Enterprise
Cost: Licensed based on volume of annual transactions
Best thing about it: Optimizely offers dedicated B2C and B2B products, both of which are centred around creating highly unique shopping experiences, which can be easily personalised with data-driven recommendations.
Optimizely B2C Commerce is a complete suite for digital commerce and content management (rather than having a separate CMS), enabling brands to provide rich product and content experiences.
Meanwhile, Optimizely B2B Commerce enables brands to minimise the complexity of their commerce stack by providing means to manage catalogues, check out and orders all within one view. It’s designed to help manufacturers and distributors drive efficiency and increase revenue through meaningful customer experiences.
Best for brands who are also tech companies
Market size: Enterprise
Pros: “Headless commerce”, which makes it easy to create storefronts on any channel, leverages your engineering team’s skills, and it’s easy to build subscription options.
Cons: Requires a strong engineering organisation, with processes like CI/CD.
Cost: +$2,500 USD per month.
Best thing about it: Headless commerce reduces the risk of experimenting with unique storefronts. Businesses can quickly test new channels without spending too much time or resources.
commercetools is best for companies that consider themselves tech companies, with high-functioning engineering teams that want to utilise the absolute best in tech.
With commercetools, you build APIs rather than a storefront, similar to headless CMSes. This gives your team the flexibility to add new storefronts and points of sale quickly. You can build a store on not only websites and mobile apps, but also on IoT devices, digital signage, and virtual reality.
An example of this is Audi. Audi wanted to be able to create a store within their luxury cars, so users could purchase in-car services, like satellite radio. Using commercetools, they don’t have to separate their in-car storefront, they can simply build a new API and the store renders.
If you believe you have special requirements for your e-commerce store, commercetools is probably a good solution.
Shopify & Shopify Plus
Best for new-to-retail
Website: Shopify Plus
Market size: Mid-market
Pros: Inexpensive, easy to use, extremely customisable, and robust features. Headless commerce is an option through Shopify Plus.
Cons: Multi-country retail is difficult.
Cost: A percentage of your gross marketable value (GMV).
Best thing about it: It’s so easy to use, you don’t need a robust engineering team.
Shopify took over in the early 2010s when other e-commerce solutions failed to live up to the new e-commerce world. Today, they are still a major player, but other options have caught up (and even surpassed) their capabilities. However, that’s not to say they’re a weak option. They are ideal for new and/or smaller e-commerce stores. Shopify also makes it easy to migrate from other e-commerce platforms.
Shopify vs. Shopify Plus
Shopify Plus adds multiple features on top of the standard Shopify e-commerce platform. Any large brand or retail company would want to use Shopify Plus because Shopify is only suitable for small and medium-sized businesses.
Some of the advanced features you get with Shopify Plus include:
- Headless e-commerce approach
- Greater control over shipping methods, customer fields
- Wholesale e-commerce channels
- Easy integrations with product information, inventory management, warehouse management, etc.
- Robust analytics
Adobe (formerly Magento)
Best for Adobe users
Website: Adobe Commerce
Market Size: Mid-market.
Pros: Acquired by Adobe in 2019, Magento is an open-source, scalable, SaaS version, that integrates with Adobe products like Marketo, Experience Manager, and Adobe Creative Cloud.
Cons: Magento has split into two products–Magento Open Source and Adobe Commerce. This is a bit volatile.
Cost: Based on your business’ gross merchandise value (GMV) and average order value (AOV).
Best thing about it: That it integrates with Adobe’s suite of products.
This particular e-commerce solution used to be Magento, an open-source PHP platform. It was extremely popular around 2010 when online shopping became widely available.
However, it wasn’t built to scale alongside online stores. So as online commerce exploded, Magento couldn’t keep up, and thousands of customers fled to Shopify.
Times are changing since Adobe purchased Magento to rebuild it. Focusing on the future of e-commerce, Magento is splitting into two viable options.
While Adobe Commerce will move “towards composable microservices hosted in the cloud, only suitable for the largest merchants,” Magento Open Source will go back to open-source, hobbyist, and scalable technology.
We think both commerce solutions will grow in popularity, especially for those that already use Adobe’s suite of products.
Other e-commerce contenders
There are a few other players worth mentioning, Shopware, Spryker and BigCommerce.
Shopware isn’t quite as popular as Shopify and Adobe, but its flexibility and customisation make it worth considering. Shopware gives you the ability to “make every touchpoint shoppable” alongside advanced user personalisation.
Spryker is ideal for marketplaces and B2B commerce but also has B2B commerce capabilities. Because it was founded only a few years ago (2018) Spryker’s tech stack is incredibly modern, which development teams like. It is also “headless.”
With its modern tech stack and third-party integrations, Spryker’s futuristic features allow businesses to take advantage of the newest technology. This includes car commerce, click and collect, and IoT devices.
If Shopify lacks some of the robustness you need, but you don’t have the resources for something super custom, BigCommerce is probably an ideal solution for you. It is still an out-of-the-box, easy-to-use platform, but has more tools and integrations than some of its competitors.
It’s ideal for smaller businesses, costing between $400-20,000 per month. The only downside is that managing inventory may not be as intuitive compared to other platforms.
Selecting your ideal platform
Similar to which e-commerce platform is ideal for your business, the selection process also depends on your business and teams.
If you’re large enough to have a dedicated e-commerce team, then this team will lead the decision-making. If you’re direct-to-consumer, your CMO will have more weight. And if you’re a B2B company, your IT team will understand the capabilities needed over other teams.
Of course, your technology team should always be involved, since they understand technical implementation, third-party integrations, and other things needed to make the system work. Having a team of technical experts alongside your day-to-day admins of the systems is necessary to make the right decision.
Once you’ve selected your platform, there are a few projects outside the scope of onboarding.
The biggest one, in our opinion, is designing your store so it doesn’t look like the platform’s out-of-the-box catalogue. Getting your brand’s personality across a templated, regimented store is difficult but necessary to win over savvy consumers of today.
If you need help comparing, selecting, or designing your e-commerce platform, reach out to the team at DEPT®. We offer complementary services across technology engineering, creative, and growth marketing to help your e-commerce store succeed in the digital economy.
Managing Director, Design & Technology UK
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