Ecommerce Platforms 101 (2019 Edition)

By Dan Barraclough

What are they, and why are they more important than ever?


Ever wondered how Amazon keeps millions of product pages in line? Or how Walmart sends all those uncannily accurate Black Friday offer emails?

The answer is with a world-class ecommerce platform. And you don’t need to be a multinational corporation to have one. In fact, much like ecommerce itself, demand for affordable ecommerce platforms for small businesses is growing – rapidly.

Ecommerce platforms make sense in every way

With year-on-year growth of more than 20%, ecommerce is big business

What are Ecommerce Platforms?

An ecommerce platform is a type of software that allows businesses to sell products and services online. They’re used by all kinds of companies in different industries. If you’ve ever paid for anything online, you’ve transacted through an ecommerce platform.

SaaS vs Open Source Platforms

The leading ecommerce platforms include Shopify, BigCommerce and Wix. They operate on a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) basis, whereby you pay a company a monthly fee to use its software to power your own ecommerce website.

Open source platforms like Magento, WooCommerce and OpenCart also let you create ecommerce websites, but in a different way. Rather than accessing software from the Cloud, you download an app or plugin to your own local server infrastructure. From there, you’re responsible for hosting your website and scheduling maintenance. If that sounds more complex than the SaaS model, that’s because it is, and there are normally lots of technical details to manage that require the specialized knowledge and skill set of a web developer.

One upside of open source platforms is that they offer free website templates to help you get up and running quickly. However, they’re often dated-looking and overused. Unless you’re willing and able to customize the underlying code, you could end up with a website that looks like hundreds, or even thousands of others.

Overall, it’s tougher and more time-consuming to run a website with open source software, but you get more control over the end result.

Why Use Ecommerce Platforms?

Superb Server Uptime

Every ecommerce platform has its downsides, but one thing they all have in common is exceptionally reliable service. You’ll almost never hear customers complain about service outages on these platforms, because, well… they don’t happen. Server uptime of at least 99.99% – equivalent to just six minutes of downtime a month – is both normal and expected.

Ready… Steady… Rank!

Organic traffic (read: people who visit your website from search engines) is cheap traffic – and we mean that in the best possible way. Think about it; in an ideal world, you wouldn’t need to spend a penny searching for new customers because they’d all be coming to you through Google.

If you want to dominate the search results, you need a website built by someone who understands how search engines work. Normally, that means paying for the services of a search engine optimization (SEO) specialist – but websites hosted on ecommerce platforms are already optimized to rank highly from the get-go and bag those coveted Page 1 positions.

Outstanding User Experience

The quality of your website reflects directly on your brand – and your bottom line. Ecommerce sites that are easy to use and offer genuine value to their users boast the highest conversion rates.

A bad user experience can be worse than no user experience at all. Naturally, it’s important to make your online storefront as usable and accessible as possible. Ecommerce platforms come with tried-and-tested tools and templates to ensure a great shopping experience for your customers.

▶ Read more: Nine Ecommerce Design Trends to Watch in 2018

Seamless Integration With Sales Channels

From coffee coasters to social media feeds, ads exist everywhere nowadays. Most people – 86% to be exact – shop through at least two different online channels. If your brand doesn’t have a presence on at least one social media platform, a big chunk of your target demographic won’t even realize you exist.

The best ecommerce platforms have tools to manage (and even automate) paid marketing campaigns, and can report on which products and services sell best on different channels.

▶ Read more: Shopify Ecommerce Review 2018

Next Steps

Making a website used to be difficult and expensive. Now, it’s as easy as signing up for Shopify, picking a theme, uploading your inventory and pressing ‘Publish’.

Check out our other articles for more information about the ecommerce platforms covered on this page.

Dan Barraclough
Dan Barraclough
Dan’s a writer for Expert Market, specialising in a range of cool topics. He loves web design and all things UX, but also the hardware stuff like postage metres and photocopiers.
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