This blog post is part of a series written by various members of Indiespring to help you improve your online sales through various methods.  Last week, the first step, was Strategy, because having a plan is the best way to kick off increasing your conversion rate! This week is Platform; Which Online Sales Platform Should You Be Using?


The answer is simple: it’s complicated.


There isn’t one answer for everyone, or the others wouldn’t exist. Depending on numerous factors including the size of your business and what you’re trying to sell, you may have different requirements, and therefore need a different platform. But that’s what we’re here to figure out.


We’ll be talking about the pros and cons of 3 types of platform; Add-ons to a CMS, Software as a Service, and Standalone eCommerce Packages. These software choices are all called an ‘eCommerce Platform’. Let’s find out which suits your needs best.


Do You Already Have Your Own Website?


If you already have your own website created in WordPress, Drupal or another Content Management System, it’s likely there will already be an eCommerce module for it. Examples of these are Buddypress for WordPress and Ubercart for Drupal. Using one of these may be your best option if you already have a website built with a CMS as it will be quick to add to the existing site, and relatively painless. You also won’t require much, or even any additional training.


If you already have your own website, but it’s not built with a CMS that includes eCommerce modules, you’re out of luck. You may have to get your site recreated- whether that’s with a CMS or with one of the options below.


If You Don’t Already Have A Website…


you have a couple of great options; Stand alone eCommerce Packages, and Software as a Service Providers.


A “Self Hosted” Standalone eCommerce package (a platform such as Magento, Opencart etc.)

If you don’t already have a website, or the primary purpose of your website is to sell products rather than provided content/information then you’re probably looking at a bewildering array of eCommerce software options including Magento, Opencart and more. With a self hosted option you, or your digital partner, are responsible for provisioning and maintaining the server the software will be hosted on.

This has a higher upfront cost, and you’ll need to maintain it regularly, but you can expand or change your site depending on what you need. It’s entirely yours.

Software as a Service eCommerce Providers (Shopify, Squarespace etc.)

These providers take the hassle out of hosting your own eCommerce website. For a monthly fee and percentage of sales they provide the software, hosting, security updates and payment processing for you. This is your fastest route to an eCommerce store and quite often the best looking/performing.

This is quicker and easier, but you’re often limited in how you can modify the site to your requirements.

3 different approaches each with dozens of options available to you. So where do we begin?

Well we would consider identifying your requirements and choosing the technology to match rather than the other way round. This can be narrowed down to a few questions:

1. Is the the store an add-on to an existing website? Or is the selling of goods secondary to the delivery of attracting, informative, regularly updated content?

If so, the primary purpose of your website is to deliver content and the store/eCommerce side of the site is secondary. You’re better off identifying the most relevant CMS to deliver/update your content and then explore the eCommerce add-ons available. Some standalone eCommerce solutions offer reasonable content editing/presentation options but they’re often limited and awkward to use.

Most smaller businesses are looking for the cheapest solution which makes open source CMSs a great choice so we would recommend either:

  1. a) WordPress with the BuddyPress add on – best for blog/news focussed sites with regular articles being posted.
  2. b) Drupal with UberCart – better for community focussed websites which focus on having users sign up and engage with the publisher in forums, content generation etc.

2. If the website is primarily an online store, is your business likely to scale to 10s/100s of orders a day within the lifetime of this website? Will it need to integrate into back-office systems automatically? (Warehousing, logistics, accounting etc.)

If so you’re better investing in a popular, scalable standalone solution such as Magento. Although this represents a greater upfront investment it is far harder to outgrow a standalone eCommerce package versus a subscription solution. One of the great advantages of the self-hosted model is your developers have access to the code so they should be able to make anything happen.

As your store scales you will start requiring integration with accounts packages, logistics/delivery solutions, warehousing/inventory tracking. Unless you very carefully select your suppliers, these integrations are difficult or simply not possible in the software as a service market as your developers are restricted in their access to your store. Another problem is the monthly percentage you pay can really start to add up as your business grows which can quickly outweigh the upfront cost of building your own store. Lastly your business is at the command of your service provider, they can change their pricing model in the future which might not be compatible with your own.

If you’re looking to scale fast, save yourself the pain down the road and invest in your own web store.

If you answered no to the above two questions, then a Software as a Service solution such as Shopify is perfect for you.

This option is perfect if you want a low cost, quick route to an online store which will look beautiful and perform well. Provided your margins can cope with around a 5% fee and you don’t have any special requirements for integration with other IT systems this is a great option. There are many providers, but we love working with Shopify.

Just be aware that if your business does grow rapidly, that 5% fee can be a hindrance as can the lack of integration options available. That said, if your business is growing that rapidly you’ll probably have some cash available for investment in your own standalone store – not a bad problem to have!

We hope that our series is helping you so far. If you need more advice on which platform is right for you, contact us here. Alternatively, check out our eCommerce expertise , or our previous work with eCommerce platforms.