Getting your first website up and running is easy. Select a pretty template for under $100 and slap it on one of the leading open source platforms and you’re open for business. But how do you expand into the world of selling online? That’s where things start to get a little trickier.
To help you decide amongst the varying platforms, we’ve dwindled it down to three credible and powerful self-hosted options: WordPress, Drupal and Magento. These big-hitters all have plus points and downsides – your final decision depends on the specific needs of your business.
To make things that little bit simpler, we’ve laid it all out for you with a no-holds-barred review of each platform.
Estimates for the percentage of total sites that use WordPress is around 20%. No matter which way you cut it, it’s fair to say that this platform is the most popular content management system out there. But does it stack up against other eCommerce platforms?
First of all, as with most WordPress plugins, there is no single solution. You have a wide array of different eCommerce options to choose from, all varying in quality and price. Some of the big names include Woocommerce, cart66, and WP e-commerce.
The clear advantage that WordPress holds is its sheer simplicity and the fact that it’s so user-friendly. Its interface is intuitive while powerful at the same time. Even technophobes tend to find it easy to get started.
Saying that, WordPress can at times feel a little restrictive. This is especially true for developers that are used to holding the reins when developing an eCommerce project from the ground up. Plugins are easy to attach to your site, but perhaps not quite so simple to tweak to your needs.
Web geeks were excited by the prospect of Drupal Commerce the minute it was announced – and there’s no reason to doubt that excitement as yet. Its release in 2011 gave Drupal a much-needed injection of quality in the commerce space, giving users a formidable open-source alternative to paid options.
Using the fantastic Drupal CMS framework, Commerce piggybacks onto the system as an add-on module. It’s far more advanced than its weaker Drupal predecessor and counterpart Ubercart. It’s flexible, uses the strength of other modules such as Views, and is overall much more adaptable.
The advantage of Drupal Commerce is that you can do pretty much anything. If you’re a ‘tweaker’, it’s easy to get your platform just the way you want it without always having to delve into the code. For more advanced users, writing complementary modules is a snap.
Of course, this flexibility also means that it’s not the easiest ‘out of the box’ solution out there. Novices will perhaps be surprised that it won’t just work with the click of a button – it’s slightly more involved than that.
Our final entrant is Magento, the Nestor of the eCommerce game. It’s been around for a long time and has a wide user base – over 200,000 businesses currently have an installation of Magento running on their websites. So what is it that makes it such a popular option?
To put it simply – Magento is an out-of-the-box solution that gives you advanced modules that work straight off the bat. They are all tried and tested, ensuring you won’t run into any teething problems you may get from younger alternatives. Though you do need technical knowledge to get these working properly – sometimes just a few clicks may be more than enough to optimize it properly.
The clear advantage you get with Magento (over, for example, Drupal Commerce) is that it’s a mature platform. No matter what your specific sales platform requirement, there’s every chance that an add-on exists to tackle your situation. For other platforms, a little custom work is required.
If you’re looking for something that allows you to delve into the nitty gritty, however, Magento may not be suitable. In terms of coding, there’s a very steep learning curve and it’s not always straightforward to change the inner workings of the standard functionality. For developers, this may be a little frustrating.
Magento might not be the best choice for a content management system either, and might require combining it with a good CMS to manage your blog, a CMS like Drupal or WordPress.
But Which One Should I Choose?
Instead of second-guessing our position or bias towards one platform or the other, leave with this: all three platforms provide the framework for some huge online household names and are all solid choices. The best solution really does depend on your specific needs.
Usually, for small ecommerce stores a WordPress with Woocommerce (a free eCommerce toolkit for WordPress), or a Drupal installation would be a good choice. For huge stores however, Magento is simply a superb solution.
Consider carefully how you want your online shop to function today and tomorrow. Are you are willing to forgo having your eCommerce shop exactly as you want it in exchange for plug-and-play functionality? Gauge whether you’re capable of doing a little bit of coding, or whether it’s best to leave it to the experts.
Remember: being realistic about your goals, your own capabilities, and your real business requirements is what will drive a successful eCommerce website.