Which eCommerce Platform Should You Use?

Which eCommerce Solution Should You Choose?

There’s an old saying that goes something like, if the only tool that you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail. Not all eCommerce is created equal. Every store is unique, and recommending the same platform simply because it’s an excellent eCommerce platform is an error.

Because I work in both Magento and WooCommerce, I’ve seen a lot of different sizes of stores. Both platforms are solid, industry leaders, and they fit different types of stores well. Listening to the client and determining what they want from their eCommerce storefront is critical before any design, or even organization, begins, because the scope and specifics of what the client wants determines up front which platform I’m going to use for the project. Here are some of the criteria that I apply when deciding with a client which platform suits their site best.

What’s the Primary Purpose for the Site?

I know that may sound overly basic, but you might be surprised how many projects begin with this concept poorly defined. The first question I ask the client: is this an informational site that also sells things, or this primarily a store-front that also has information?

Every eCommerce site contains information about the business. That’s a given. The issue, however, is whether or not the site’s primary purpose is to sell items, or if that’s secondary. For example, many non-profit sites sell t-shirts or other memorabilia, or even tickets to events, but I’ve often seen this be secondary to the blog or other informational pages on their site. They are primarily blogs that also sell things, which is an initial indicator that the site might be best suited by WordPress and WooCommerce rather than Magento. However, if the site is primarily the online storefront through which to sell products, with only basic information pages in addition (such as an “About Us” page, or an “In the Media” page), then Magento becomes more of a consideration. I’ve also worked in scenarios where the storefront is simply a shopping cart living on a subdomain that is separate from the rest of the site design. This is another situation in which Magento is often a better solution.

Complex shipping scenarios are often another factor that weighs in Magento’s favor, because what Magento can handle out-of-the-box in regards to shipping is stunning (did you know that Magento will print your shipping labels from UPS and FedEx out-of-the-box?).

The Size and Nature of the Catalog

The size of the product catalog is another factor to consider. In my experience, Magento is better suited for large product catalogs (roughly 500 items or more, although that’s not a hard and fast rule in any way). Magento can also accommodate very complex product attribute scenarios. As far as being able to handle physical products and digital (downloadable) products, both platforms excel.

Budget

Of course, every project involves limitations in this area, because few clients have the budget, and few developers have the time, to build everything that we would like. Even more so with eCommerce projects, which are always more time-consuming than other sites because of the strenuous testing involved before you begin processing payments in the real world. Magento projects are always big, but the features included in Magento are impressive: out-of-the-box integration with almost every major shipping provider and nearly every major payment gateway still speed up development time considerably. WooCommerce integrates nicely with PayPal, which is certainly one of the most popular payment gateways. However, I’ve worked with many clients who use other gateways, primarily Authorize.net, which is not included out-of-the-box with WooCommerce (it’s a paid extension). Most shipping integrations are also paid extensions in WooCommerce.

Magento, however, will frequently require paid extensions if you want to add functionality (such as blogging or simple content management features) that WordPress will handle beautifully out-of-the-box. Again, knowing the details of the project and the purpose of the site are of primary concern in making this decision.

Other Factors

Both Magento and WooCommerce excel as eCommerce solutions. Both handle complex product catalogs well, and both offer excellent and detailed reporting options (WooCommerce offers beautiful mobile integration for reporting, which may tip the scales in its direction if this is critical to the client). Magento is ultimately an eCommerce platform more than a content management system. WordPress excels as a content management system, and WooCommerce adds solid eCommerce functionality to WordPress. Both Magento and WooCommerce include specific features, and will require payment for others. Which features are “deal-breakers” to have easily available will be determined by the individual project specifications. Of course, connecting Magento with WordPress is possible, also, but is out of the scope of this post.

These are simply a few of the factors that I consider when choosing an eCommerce platform for a client. There are many other considerations, such as the need for multiple storefronts and multiple languages, for example. The needs of the client drive the decision at the end of the day, and having both of the industry’s leading eCommerce providers in one’s toolkit makes the developer more effective.

Are you considering launching an digital storefront? Let’s talk about how I can help.

Image Credit: Maria Elena under Creative Commons 

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