Which ecommerce platform should you choose?
A comparison of the top 5 most popular ecommerce platforms in 2021
If you're planning to launch an ecommerce business, you'll need to decide on the platform for your online store. But not all ecommerce platforms are suited to all business models.
Fortunately for you, we've compared the top ecommerce platforms so you can make an informed choice.
We measured each ecommerce platform on these criteria:
- Ease of installation and setup
- User friendliness (how easy it is to add and edit store products, check customer orders, etc.)
- SEO friendliness
Shopify is one of the world's most recommended ecommerce platforms because of its quick setup and intuitive interface. Shopify is a completely self-hosted solution, so you don't need to organize any additional web hosting to run the platform.
Shopify offers three different membership options, The higher paid options offer more complex reporting and also cheaper transaction fees.
|Plan||Monthly pricing||Credit card rate with Shopify Payments||Transaction fee for external gateways|
|Basic Shopify||$29 USD/mo||2.9% + $0.30||2%|
|Shopify||$79 USD/mo||2.6% + $0.30||1%|
|Advanced Shopify||$299 USD/mo||2.4% + $0.30||0.5%|
The pricing gets cheaper if you choose a yearly subscription rather than a monthly one.
Shopify ease of installation and setup
It takes minutes to get Shopify set up. Choose your membership plan, follow the guided installation process and your store is live.
If you've registered a website name with a third party, you can seamlessly import it into your Shopify platform by following the step-by-step instructions at setup.
There are several themes to choose from. Some are free and others are paid. The paid themes can cost up to $180. In our opinion, the free themes look sharp and professional, and they're already mobile optimized, so we recommend saving your money.
All Shopify memberships also include an SSL certificate which enables your shop to securely collect customer information and payments. An SSL certificate alone can cost at least $109, so its inclusion is a big plus for Shopify.
Shopify user friendliness
The Shopify dashboard is clean and simple to navigate.
Adding products to the store is a breeze. Simply select "Products" in the left hand menu and complete the fields to build out each product page.
Shopify's built-in analytics board displays all the information you need to run your ecommerce store efficiently.
You can display your total sales by day, week or month, view conversion rates, and returning customer rates. With the higher paid subscriptions, you get more in-depth reporting with unlimited historical data.
Shopify's tracking app, "Arrive," also makes it easy to keep an eye on your deliveries to customers. Arrive is a downloadable phone app that syncs with a customer's email address to scan for delivery codes and automatically keep the customer updated on the status of each delivery.
The best ecommerce platforms grow with your business, and Shopify does offer some customization.
With Shopify you can add layers of functionality to your ecommerce store by installing new plugins. There are plugins available for just about anything, from product countdown timers to notification banners and more. This allows you to upgrade specific store functions rather than investing in a complete upgrade.
But Shopify does have an upgrade threshold. It's aimed primarily at beginners, so its core functionality is centered around optimizing product publishing and store navigation rather than extreme customization.
That means your customization is limited to the available plugins. If you want to add a functionality that's not available via an existing plugin, you'll need to hire a web developer to adjust your shop's internal coding.
Is Shopify good for SEO?
Shopify falls short on the SEO front. It's not optimized to rank organically due to its limited technical SEO proficiency and lean blogging capabilities.
It's still possible to create stunning blogs with Shopify but you don't have as many editing options as a dedicated blogging platform like Wordpress. Writing SEO optimized blogs is one of the most important strategies for marketing your business, so this limitation is a big strike against Shopify.
It's not impossible to rank on the first page of Google with Shopify. Kim Kardashian built her online shop with Shopify and she ranks on the first page for multiple keywords. Now, how much of that is due to Shopify's SEO capabilities and how much is because she's Kim Kardashian is up for debate.
But the major factor affecting Shopify's SEO capabilities is its URL structure. There's currently no way of removing category terms in product URLs.
For example, all product pages will have the term, "/products/," in the URL. Since Google uses URL keywords as a ranking metric, these extra terms make your Shopify products difficult to rank for their intended keywords.
- Shopify is a fully hosted website, so you don't need to purchase separate hosting.
- SSL certificate included.
- Extremely easy to set up (great option for beginners).
- Plenty of helpful resources, both on Youtube and within Shopify's community.
- Easily upgradable from an ever-growing library of plugins.
- All themes are pre-tested and UX optimized to maximize conversions.
- Shopify can also be used at a brick and mortar store through Shopify POS.
- Not optimized for SEO. URLs and the blogging platform aren't very customizable.
- Web developer required for specific customizations.
- Transactional fees apply for every external gateway you use.
Overall, Shopify is a very intuitive and scalable model. You can have a professional ecommerce store setup within an hour thanks to its guided setup process and helpful tutorials. Shopify is a great option for beginners hoping to break into the ecommerce space and also seasoned entrepreneurs who want to open multiple ecommerce platforms with little setup time.
Ease of installation and setup: 10/10
User friendliness: 10/10
SEO score: 5/10
Shopify Score: 7.6/10
Woocommerce is one of the most popular ecommerce platforms. It's a free Wordpress plugin that lets you transform your Wordpress website into a professional ecommerce store.
It does take some skill and time to set up the platform, so it's not the ideal choice for those planning to launch an online shop ASAP.
The Woocommerce plugin is free; however, that doesn't mean it won't cost you anything to set up the ecommerce platform.
To get started with Woocommerce, you'll need:
- A domain name ($10 - $30 per year)
- Website Hosting ($5 - $30 per month)
Since Woocommerce is a Wordpress plugin, you can use any free Wordpress theme for your store. The paid Wordpress themes may help your ecommerce store load faster and provide you with a deeper level of checkout customization.
Woocommerce ease of installation
After subscribing to a website hosting plan and installing the Wordpress platform, you can install the Woocommerce plugin through the Wordpress plugin library.
- Click on Plugins > Add new
- Search "Woocommerce"
- Click "Install Now"
- Click "Activate"
Simply installing the plugin doesn't instantly set up your ecommerce store. It just makes the plugin accessible. You still need to manually build up and customize every component of your online store.
This tutorial guides you through the rather laborious process:
Woocommerce user friendliness
The level of user-friendliness depends on the Wordpress theme you're using. If you're using a drag-and-drop website builder such as Elementor, you can edit each of your store products simply by selecting them and dropping them into place. You can see below how simple and user-friendly Woocommece becomes with a theme like Elementor.
But if you add and edit your store products from the Wordpress back end, it's confusing to navigate and feels a lot like slogging your way through a program from the early 2000s.
When it comes to customizing your ecommerce store, Woocommerce is packed with both feature options and capabilities. There are more than 400 official extensions to choose from, ranging from checkout functionality to marketing and accounting. You can even install a membership extension to turn your ecommerce store into a membership website and sell your services on a subscription basis.
If you prefer to get your hands dirty in code, Woocommerce is fully open source and managed on Github. Developers can customer AJAX endpoints and even create custom integrations via Woocommerce's REST API. If all that sounds beyond your depth, you can find freelance web developers who specialize in Woocommerce.
With Woocommerce, there's no limit to the level of complexity of your ecommerce platform. If you're just breaking into the ecommerce space, you can start with a basic ecommerce build and upgrade its functionality as you need to.
Is Woocommerce Good for SEO?
Yes, Woocommerce is one of the most SEO-friendly ecommerce platforms. That's because it's powered by Wordpress, which is inherently a blogging platform, so Woocommerce stores are capable of ranking for both short and long form copy.
- SEO friendly
- 100% customizable
- Readily scalable
- Advanced features for complex store requirements
- Difficult to navigate outside of a drag-and-drop Wordpress theme
- Some plugins may affect performance
- Setup takes a considerable amount of time
- Need to search online tutorials to learn how to setup and navigate the platform
- SSL certificate and website hosting need to be purchased separately.
Overall Woocommerce is a very robust platform that's capable of building a very complex online store.
It can be quite intimidating and confusing to navigate for beginners, but if you have the time and patience to follow online tutorials, you should be capable of setting up your own store.
Ease of installation and setup: 5/10
User friendliness: 6/10
SEO score: 10/10
Woocommerce score 8.2/10
If you've watched any Youtube videos lately, you've probably seen an ad for Squarespace. An aggressive marketing campaign has helped catapult this ecommerce platform to the head of the pack in recent years, capturing more than 23% of the market as of 2021.
Let's take a closer look at how Squarespace measures up.
Squarespace has three different ecommerce plans: basically everything from the “business” plan on up, as the “personal” plan does not support ecommerce. If you pay yearly, your ecommerce site will costs as little as $18 USD per month.
Each of these plans offer unlimited bandwidth and storage, so your online store will have no issues displaying beautiful high-definition product videos to encourage conversions.
Squarespace ease of installation
Squarespace, like Shopify, is a SaaS website builder, so all you need to do is subscribe to one of their plans to activate your website and you're all set.
Squarespace also includes an SSL certificate with its subscription. To check whether your SSL is activated after signing up, check if your website URL begins with "https" rather than "http". If your SSL certificate isn't activated, follow these steps.
Squarespace's value proposition is that anyone can build a beautiful website in minutes without any web design experience, so there's a major focus on UX optimisation to live up to this claim.
When you first log in, a helpful step-by-step guide will walk you through the entire design process so you don't need to waste time searching for tutorials on YouTube.
Each plan comes with analytics dashboards that offer granular insight into the specific metrics that matter to you.
Squarespace also has a library of website templates available to download. Some are free and others are paid. Each of these templates have been designed by UX experts to give your customers the best possible buying experience.
Since Squarespace is aimed at beginners without web design experience, the platform offers limited customization. It's possible to use iFrames to display elements like calendars and widgets, but you don't have full access to the site's coding structure.
So, if you're looking for an ecommerce platform you can eventually build into a robust online store with a lot of features, it's best to steer clear of Squarespace.
Is Squarespace good for SEO?
Over the years, Squarespace has dramatically improved its SEO capabilities. They've included advanced SEO features such as:
They even have a suite of integrated features to help you optimize each page for SEO, meaning there’s less need for SEO-specific plugins.
But even with these additions, Squarespace still lags WordPress in SEO.
It's certainly possible to rank on the first page of Google with your Squarespace website. But, like Shopify, Squarespace's blogging platform is very limited. If you want to long-form copy like blogs to rank, you'll have trouble competing with Wordpress sites.
Easy drag-and-drop functionality
Vast selection of templates
Built-in SEO tools
Not as customizable as WordPress
Ongoing subscription costs can add up
Limited number of plugins available
Page speed can be on the low side
Squarespace overall score
If you just want to get your website up and running without any complex content marketing plans, Squarespace is a good choice. Its clean interface and guided setup makes it very accomodating for beginners.
Ease of installation and setup: 10/10
User friendliness: 10/10
SEO score: 6/10
Squarespace score: 7.4/10
Prestashop is a free, open-source solution. Like Woocommerce, you still need to pay for supporting elements like web hosting and a domain name.
Prestashop itself is completely free. However, you can add features to your store in the form of modules. Some are free, but others are paid.
Prestashop ease of installation
Prestashop is not easy to install. In fact, it can be an extremely frustrating process if you don't have much technical know-how.
You can install Prestashop via "one click install" if your hosting provider supports this feature. If they do, you'll need your FTP information.
If your web host doesn't offer one click install, you'll need to go through the arduous process of installing Prestashop manually. To achieve this, you will need sound knowledge in MySQL databases and FTP. Or, you can enlist the services of a freelance web developer.
Prestashop user friendliness
Prestashop's user friendliness is reflective of its setup difficulty. The platform isn't intended for beginners. If you've never worked with similar platforms before, you'll likely spend a lot of time looking for online tutorials.
With a talented web developer by your side, you have complete control of the customization of your online store and how far you want to scale it. Prestashop has a comprehensive developer library to assist web developers.
Is Prestashop good for SEO?
Prestashop's blogging capabilities are more advanced than Shopify and Squarespace, but inferior to Wordpress. Prestashop also tends to struggle with page load speed, which is very detrimental to SEO.
- Highly customizable
- Designed to scale with your needs
- Open source and free
- Design lacks luster
- No official support team
- Not particularly user friendly
Prestashop overall score
If you foresee your online store having very sophisticated functionality, Prestashop is a great platform that can readily evolve alongside your evolving requirements.
If you have the expertise (or patience to learn), Prestashop is a very cost-effective investment for an ecommerce business.
Ease of installation and setup: 3/10
User friendliness: 4/10
SEO score: 8/10
Prestashop Score: 7/10
Magneto has been around for a while, but was recently acquired by Adobe in 2018. With Magneto, you can either host it on your own servers by downloading it from the Magento website (free), or subscribe to a self-hosted service (paid).
Magento's diverse capabilities make it ideal for online shops that want to grow their functionality and expect to do high volumes of business. If you're new to the world of ecommerce, lighter-weight solutions like Squarespace or Shopify are better options.
Magento ease of installation
The open-source version of Magneto is available for free download onto your own servers. There are online instructions you can follow, but it's a difficult process if you've never done it before. Consider hiring a professional to help you.
To subscribe to Magento's self-hosting plan, you'll need to sign up to their paid solution, Magento Commerce. There are a lot more features offered in Magento Commerce compared to the open-source solution.
To help launch your online store ASAP, Magento Commerce has partnered with a series of solution providers that can help get your store up and running in as little as 10 weeks. If you choose to create your ecommerce store via any of these partners, you will need to sign up to their particular service. They'll build your Magento store for you. Or, you can hire a freelancer skilled in Magento and potentially get your store up quicker (and for A LOT less money).
Magento websites are continuously praised for their user-friendliness. Take a look at these websites made with Magento to judge the user experience for yourself:
Under the hood, Magento's analytics dashboard doesn't offer a level of detail expected by seasoned ecommerce owners. A number of third party providers have created intelligent analytics dashboards that integrate with Magento (such as Savvy Cube and Glew). This is, however, another subscription you'd need to add to your overheads.
Magento prides itself in its broad customization abilities. This process isn't straightforward if you're not a seasoned web developer. Magento does have an extensive developer library to aid any web developer you hire to customize your store.
With various REST API endpoints and a team of partners that offer integrated solutions, you have complete control over the level of complexity of your Magento store.
Is Magento good for SEO?
Yes, Magento is very accommodating for SEO. It promotes key SEO features that most ecommerce platforms overlook such as:
- UX optimization
- Independent product links
- H1 tag customization
- Independent page titles
- Canonical URLs
Besides the above technical SEO benefits, Magento also contains a robust blogging platform that allows you to craft the type of complex and information-rich blogs Google loves.
Magneto's architecture is also optimized for lots of website traffic, so you won't have to worry about your online store crashing when you rank on the first page of Google.
- Open Source option
- Extremely customizable
- Great for SEO
- Fast loading speed
- Paid solutions are expensive
- You require a developer to build and customise your website
- Poor customer support
Magento overall score
Magento is an extremely robust and highly capable ecommerce platform. It has broad customization capabilities and very advanced SEO features to help you attract new customers organically.
If you have the budget to build an ecommerce store through one of Magnetos partners, or prefer to work alongside a dedicated web developer, Magento is a highly capable platform that will always meet your evolving requirements.
Ease of installation and setup: 4/10
User friendliness: 5/10
SEO score: 10/10
Magnento score: 7.8/10
And the winner is ...
Here's the breakdown of the top ecommerce contenders:
|Ease of setup||10||5||10||3||4|
For overall functionality, power, cost and SEO capabilities, Woocommerce takes the prize. It needs to work on making itself more accessible to beginners, but it's a powerful platform for your ecommerce business.