In recent times, the digital selling arena has unexpectedly turned competitive and it is projected to remain as such. It is projected to grow exponentially.
An eCommerce platform comprises systems, data, and tools that enable entrepreneurs to carry out businesses online. Sales activities, marketing, payments, mobile shopping, and many other logistics are done on the internet. Shoppers will choose an eCommerce business that serves them with an easy tool to browse for products/services and a hustle-free online payment method.
There are two types of platforms available for your online business. These are Hosted and Self-Hosted eCommerce platforms.
Following the Covid-19 Pandemic, measures such as lock-downs, restricted hours, store closures, and social distancing shifted the consumers’ style of buying from the traditional to online. In 2020 a historical 32% growth in eCommerce was recorded in the US in comparison to a stagnant 15% growth rate seen year after year for the past 10 years. ($790 billion up from $598 in 2019). The same tremendous growth happened in other regions such as Latin America with 36.7% growth. Following closely are North America, Europe, and Asia-Pacific.
What is a Hosted Ecommerce Platform?
It’s a sort of Software as a Service (Saas) that hosts online stores. All technical-related aspects will be the responsibility of the hosted eCommerce platform company. You just sign up, choose your template, implement certain settings, and add your products and you are all set to start selling! Shopify and Prestashop are among the best-hosted eCommerce platforms. Mostly, a subscription-based model is used with different pricing tiers.
A vendor who offers you a full package? Both e-Commerce apps and hosting? Wow! Sounds good and easy, yes? It has its limitations. You might reach a certain point in business where you need lots of options and more control; hosted eCommerce won’t give you that option.
Individuals or small to medium-sized entrepreneurs with basic or no e-commerce development experience find hosted platforms ideal. Hosted platforms offer different prices based on the type of subscription which users can choose depending on the additional feature needed.
What is a Self-Hosted Ecommerce Platform?
A self-hosted e-commerce solution is whereby your company hosts on a web hosting account or server (cloud-based). Your e-commerce website is developed first using a software tool with support from the development team. Thus, the application and the infrastructure are availed separately.
You can download most apps free but you will need to pay for a server. The responsibility for the build and management falls on you or your team. However, with the customer support and developer teams available for advice, you don’t have to be tech-savvy to sail through. Examples in the industry include Magento and OpenCart.
Though it comes with unlimited options, self-hosting is not for the faint-hearted. It is time-consuming. So if you are an entrepreneur with free time on your hands, this option can be ideal for you.
Self-hosted vs. Hosted eCommerce – A brief comparison
Both self-hosted and hosted e-commerce platforms have proved to meet the demands of the users. Worth noting is that a self-hosted e-Commerce platform gives you unlimited control and it’s cheaper to set up and run. Hosted eCommerce platforms are less customizable but help you to hit the ground running. All the technical details are taken care of but you will need to dig deeper into your pocket.
Thus said, your business needs and budget come first before arriving at a decision. You might also need to consider whether you want to deal with the technology involved or not.
10 Best hosted eCommerce Platforms
e-Commerce platforms have continued to emerge with many offering outstanding solutions. Online stores have become easy to set up and run. Most platforms have built-in marketing features which can be a big boost to growing your business.
Having explained to you about the two types of e-Commerce platforms and their main differences, you will agree with us that there is a “fit all size” solution. However, despite the cons and pros that come with them, we still have those that fetch more market share than others. This tells you that functionality is key.
Users’ reviews and market surveys are a good point of reference. To save you from all that hassle, we’ve researched for you, and below are the 10 top eCommerce platforms in 2021.
Shopify is a SaaS, meaning you won’t have to worry about hosting and maintenance. With its comprehensive and easy-to-access interface, you only need to pick your template and set up your shop. No program downloads are required from you!
Shopify offers an extra package, Shopify Plus, as their enterprise eCommerce solution. So when your business grows and you start handling high-volume merchandise, this would be an ideal solution.
Theme store features – Shopify has over 100 store templates, both free and paid. They’re professionally designed and cover different categories of industries for you to choose from.
App Stores – You get access to 1400+ apps for customizing your store
24/7 support – Phone support, live chat, or email; there’s always ready help.
Templating language – Shopify uses Liquid. A barrier that could slow you down in case you needed to make quick modifications and you aren’t conversant with the language.
Transaction fee – Shopify plans will cost you 0.5-2% for transacting over and above the monthly service fee. If you opt to use Shopify Payments, you enjoy a no-transaction charge offer.
Costs of Apps – Not all Apps are free. If you’re not keen, your monthly costs could escalate. Some cost as high as $49 a month.
If you are a small or medium business with a need to set your shop quickly, Shopify is your best bet. If you encounter any trouble, the support team is superb.
For pricing and related details on Shopify, please visit: https://www.shopify.com/
Magento is a more robust platform excellent for flexibility, optimization, and scalability. It has proved to be a worthy alternative to Shopify. Despite its thorough documentation, Magento can be cumbersome for first-time users; thus a user would require some basic experience in Web development. A point worth noting is it offers a community version free of charge which allows you the autonomy to program your stores.
- Robust SEO tools
- Diversity of payment gateway options
- Advanced customizations and numerous extensions
- No monthly service charges
- Expensive because it requires hosting
- Coding skills experience required
Magento is an excellent platform for medium size, huge enterprises, and professional businesses. Don’t try it if you’re a novice.
For pricing and related details on Magento, please visit: https://magento.com/products/pricing
Though a hosted platform, BigCommerce provides a robust set of features and in-depth customization. It offers an outstanding solution to both small and big size industries and is now a leading tool in the SaaS market for helping merchants build a custom website.
- Comes with its in-built tools to help set up your store
- Supports cross-selling
- Several free Apps
- No transaction fees charges
- Large selection of free apps
- It can be confusing to set up
- Lacks a good selection of themes
- Complicated pricing models
For pricing and related details on Bigcommerce, please visit: https://www.bigcommerce.com/enterprise-pricing/
Salesforce Commerce Cloud
This is a cloud-based platform offering eCommerce as a SaaS solution. It’s a part of Salesforce Digital 360 thus allowing you a smooth integration with other software and the benefit of engaging audience in other online channels. Salesforce allows you to create a tailor-made purchasing process and a mobile-friendly shopping experience.
Customer-centric – Personalized customer experience from marketing to offering product recommendations to purchasing and retention campaigns. Unified commerce via digital channels.
Scalability – Automatic scalability. Integrating innovations and handling unforeseen business challenges seamlessly.
Mobile-optimized – Salesforce has a great mobile-optimized store with a user-friendly interface.
License fee – Your business must bring in a strong profit margin to fund the fee.
The roadmap doesn’t fit all (SaaS nature) – The feature roadmap is most fascinating to B2C retailers and not all audiences.
Salesforce commerce cloud is among the best one-stop-solution for brands and retailers in B2C and B2B. However, it might not be as good for high-volume, low-margin retailers or B2B with tight margins.
For pricing and related details on salesforce, please visit: https://www.salesforce.com/in/editions-pricing/overview/
This software offers solid features and it’s easy to use. It comes with four free website templates with an option of going premium if the free templates don’t meet your needs.
It’s different. It needs to be downloaded and requires you to pay for a lifetime license when you buy the software.
- Offers full multilingual and multi-currency support
- Integration with over 75 reputable payment gateways
- Easy integration with online stores such as Amazon and eBay
- Great developer support – its PHP code
- Built-in blog and WordPress integration
- You have to pay to access direct customer support
- You must pay an additional fee to use a CDN if you need a faster download experience for customers
- No provision of unique domains. Alternatively, you can register your own at a fee.
- If money isn’t an issue, X-Cart is a good choice.
For pricing and related details on X-cart, please visit: https://www.x-cart.com/software-pricing.html
Volusion has won popularity by its many features built directly into the dashboard. It has an easy-to-understand built-in SEO that enables smooth integrations with eBay and Amazon Marketplace to mention but a few.
- Analytics tools
- Efficiency in Mobile app
- World-class customer support
- No transaction fee
- Smart and attractive themes
- Lacks a variety in designing tools & features
- No out-of-the-box tool like a blogging option
- Not built to sell digital products
- Lacks speed – loads slowly
If you’re a start-up and need a solution with a lot of support, Volusion is a smart choice. With the right plan, you enjoy email marketing tools, affiliate program solutions, etc.
For pricing and related details on Volusion, please visit: https://www.volusion.com/v1/pricing
This isn’t your usual eCommerce website. It’s rather optimized with the artists’ and creators’ needs in mind. The upside is that you can use Big Cartel to build a specialized free eCommerce site and go on to sell your artwork there.
With its simplicity, you are limited to only one image per item and five products. This can be disappointing when your business starts expanding unless you’re prepared to pay for an upgrade.
- User-friendly onboarding framework
- Wide range of tools for selling artworks
- Enables you to generate revenue beyond the store through Facebook
- With basic coding technical skills, you can customize your site
- Focuses on artists and creators only; no advanced eCommerce website features to behold.
- You need coding skills to tweak your digital store.
- A limited number of products – The free plan allows you to sell only 5 products on the site at a time.
If you are a small-size business or an individual with no expansion plans shortly, Big Cartel is suitable for you.
For pricing and related details on Bigcartel, please visit: https://www.bigcartel.com/pricing
This platform is known for having the best collection of themes. Over 4,500 templates on their site!
Prestashop is also recognized for its user-friendly interface, effortless inventory management, and store maintenance that anyone could comprehend. Though it may not be as popular, this solution has shown tremendous market share growth in the recent past.
- No risk of slowing down your site as it is a fairly light platform
- Multi-vendor support for running multiple stores
- Provides a live demo before you register
- Categorized themes to guide you in choosing your fit such as compatibility, brand/style, industry, etc
- Limited marketing tools – you can’t cross-sell products
- Lacks extensions – You will need to pay for any extra modules installations
- Poor scalability – platform is not robust at all
- PrestaShop is perfect for small-scale businesses looking for a friendly interface and powerful shop-building capabilities offered free on the open-source platform.
For pricing and related details on Pestrashop, please visit:
With its customizable themes, over 100 templates, and a range of Apps, Wix is great for eStore development. Its plans are attractive because they offer you an easy-to-use interface.
Wix brings you two approaches to set up your shop. ADI and Wix editor. The former offers you configuration suggestions based on answers you give on their questionnaire through an automated assistant. The latter gives you full user control and customization.
- Around 100+ templates to select from
- Drag-and-drop editor and tutorials for new learners
- Integrates well with several payment gateways
- A range of rich features
- There is a limit in bandwidth and traffic
- Few choices for customization
- Payment processing is limited to Square
Wix fits both experienced users and newbies in the market.
For pricing and related details on WIX, please visit: https://www.wix.com/upgrade/website
Besides the typical online shopping cart features, 3dcart offers affiliate marketing program building and drop shipping support among others. Another compelling attraction is its website design capability. You enjoy full control over your digital store.
- Range of features for store customization
- Reasonably priced for both beginners and established businesses
- The free trial gives you a chance to test performance
- Unlimited bandwidth and products
- Supports 100+ payment gateways and no transaction fee charges
- Themes are not the best
- Can be difficult for newbies to comprehend
- 3dcart’s support is rated poor
- Prone to problems while upgrading the apps
- 3dcart is a good fit if you are looking for all-in-one cloud-based software that can help you create an online store fast. It doesn’t require technical expertise.
For pricing and related details on 3dcart, please visit: https://www.shift4shop.com/pricing.htm
It has the necessary features to run an online store but Yahoo! Ecommerce poorly compares to the dedicated eCommerce providers. Boasts of 36 themes on their theme store though not all are suited for online stores or eCommerce websites.
With the new rolled-out Shift4Shop by Yahoo!, you can enjoy advanced features. One crucial example is a fully integrated shipping carrier like UPS, FedEx, USPS, etc. Users can then access real-time rates, label printing, and tracking number.
- Live insights – monitoring visitors
- Inventory management
- Shipping Integration
- Built-in marketing
- Customer support
- Risk detection tools
- Transaction fees
- Limited payment options (Paypal, Credit and Debit card)
- No preview period – no free trial
For pricing and related details on Yahoo! Ecommerce, please visit: https://smallbusiness.yahoo.com/stores
It’s a shopping cart solution that is easy to set up and use. To increase conversions, it offers sales, traffic, and tools on top of forthright web-building and customer checkout features. The software product makes up for its advanced customization considering its restrictive template design.
- Product and shipping management
- High customization and intelligent integrated system
- Effective SEO and customer engagement
- Easy to set up and use
- Excellent customer service
- An all-inclusive price
- Seamless integration
- Lacks custom features
- Not a good choice for B2B
- Technical backup charges
The multilingual capabilities and multi-currency support make it a good fit for international businesses.
For pricing and related details on pinnacle cart, please visit: https://www.pinnaclecart.com/plans-pricing/
It has custom store builders which allow online shop owners, makers, and artists to set up and customize their stores at no cost. Two other great features are the Storenvy Marketplace where your products are showcased and a Pop-up store
- Simplicity to set up and start selling your products immediately- “fill in the blank” style template all the way!
- Cost of Doing Business – free to set up and add up to 500 products at a time
- Painless selling – yours is to list your product, upload photos, and wait for Storenvy to notify you of a sale.
- Customization is very limited
- Integration is low
- Unreliable – recurring website glitches
For pricing and related details on Stonenvy, please visit: https://www.storenvy.com/open-a-store#simple-pricing
Tips to choose the best-hosted eCommerce platform
What you ought to know is that the best eCommerce solution in the market does not necessarily mean it’s the best platform for your business. Focus more on what works best for your type of business.
We would recommend you consider the following points.
- Easy set-up and design, ease in navigating, and a secure platform
- Loading time – are the technical aspects at par? How do you feel when you click on a website and have to wait forever for it to load? This is an experience which you wouldn’t like your prospective clients to encounter.
- Content quality must be good, product and other images should be of high definition
- Website optimization
- Maintenance and services must be worth the charges you pay. Some packages are quite expensive yet not satisfactory. You ought to have a clear understanding of what you are paying for.
- Flexibility in the optimization options- Some platforms are optimizable yet restrictive. So watch out!
- Technical expertise requirements- Will you need to edit codes for example? Do you know how to?
- Support team – frequency and response provided, training documents, user manuals, etc.
- Time and effort – How much time do you have in your hands to invest in building an online business
- Integration capabilities
- Analytics available
- Customer payment options
We could go on and on, but the best route is for you to do your research and follow your gut.
In a bid to create an eCommerce business, you may encounter a lot of recommendations that may make or break you. It is a wearisome task. In the end, you will need to make a decision.
For a successful business, reflect on how much control you require, what effort you can put in, and how fast you want your enterprise to grow unhampered. You will be surprised at the many options available in both hosted and self-hosted platforms to pick from.