Monday, September 23, 2013

Lesson #155: Best E-commerce Platforms for Small Business

Posted By: George Deeb - 9/23/2013


& Comment

Choosing an e-commerce platform for your online store can be a daunting experience. There are many providers new, old, and truly tested, that are available in the market.  That said, it does seem like shopping for a new house - a very personal experience, as you try to find the platform that best meets your specific needs. To assist me with this lesson, I asked for guidance from Yulia V. Smirnova at, an e-commerce marketing and technology consulting business.

Yulia pointed out that e-commerce platforms have some similar features between them and some unique features to themselves.  There is no perfect platform and there will be tradeoff you make in picking one over another. And, like with any system, there will be things you will learn along the way, that you wished you had known ahead of time. Hopefully, these lessons will help point you in the right direction for making the best decision for your business.

To decide which e-commerce platform is best for you, it comes down to: (i) your capital budget; (ii) your team resources (access to in-house developers); (iii) the scope of your e-commerce business (niche market or multiple revenue streams); (iv) your product offering (high-end vs. mass-market, depth of SKUs); (v) single retailer vs. multiple retailer marketplace; and (vi) expectations of your target audience (minimum features needed for them to effectively compare/buy what you are selling).

Below, Yulia selected and compared a number of cost effective providers that e-commerce startups and smaller online businesses mostly end up using, based on her experience.  She has broken the decision making process into four key user scenarios:

1.    Go with Shopify. Big Commerce or similar hosted solutions if . . .

·        you are a small startup that still needs to prove that you have a good market and that your product is in high demand.

·        you desire to keeps your back-office technology staffing costs low with an easy plug and play solution for your business people to use.

2.    Go with OpenCart, 3DCart or another open-source, self-hosted solution if . . .

·        you are tech savvy enough and need a low cost solution and have time to figure out the setup and implementation.

·        you wish to customize the solutions to meet your specific needs and want the control of a self-hosted system.

3.    Go with Magento, the largest and most-robust of the self-hosted solutions if . . .

·        you are a $10MM+ online business and need a more innovative user experience with custom functionality.

·        you wish to sell in international markets with no hassle on translations, pricing and fulfillment.

·        you need the capability to plug into the APIs of your vendors.

·        you have a team of smart developers to fine-tune the system.

·        you are up for playing a serious game in e-commerce built for scale.

4.    Go with building your own system if . . .

·        your tech team thinks they can build a system that is easier to use than Magento (complex to use), and you have the time/budget to build such.

·        you are building a longer-term enterprise needing highly customized solutions.  Not recommended for lean startups needing MVPs.

·        your other local systems do not work well with Magento or the others (you might be operating in an emerging market).

For a full comparison of the top 12 e-commerce platforms for small business, including the ones listed above, click here to learn about the pros, cons and costs of each.

It is also best to ask other e-commerce retailers in your industry or market to learn what they use and what works best for them, to get a better perspective.  Most of the times, it is these private conversations from the people running their stores which ultimately settles which system will work best for your business, getting their candid feedback.

Thanks to Yulia for sharing her insights here. She has made herself available for any e-commerce strategy, marketing or systems questions you may have from here.  Feel free to reach out to her at or 415-666-6002.
For future posts, please follow me at:  If you enjoyed this post, please click the social sharing buttons to share with your social networks.

Red Rocket is a featured contributor on entrepreneurship for many trusted business sites:

Copyright 2011- Red Rocket Partners, LLC