eCommerce software is the heart of any eCommerce business – be it an international corporation or a local flower shop. eCommerce platform is supposed to facilitate almost all, if not all, eCommerce related tasks: from presenting product catalogue and promoting new arrivals to managing shippings and generating reports. With so much depending on it, the eCommerce platform you choose can become either a key for your business’s success or a bottleneck that holds you back.
Add to this things like multi-store support, inventory management, setting up storefront, translation into different languages – and choosing the right platform may become quite a daunting task. In this article we will try to help you figure out what options are out there, what things you need to take into consideration, how to find the best fit – and so on, while choosing the eCommerce platform.
Data source: SimilarTech; aggregation: TMO Group
There are literally hundreds of different eCommerce systems you can choose from. Systems that are installed on just a handful of sites and those used by millions; receiving only a few thousand visitors in a month and tens of millions.
Here is a plot graph of various eCommerce platforms. Each dot is an eCommerce system, placed according to its popularity, the number of sites using these platforms – more to the right for more popular ones. Vertical axis reflects the average monthly traffic of the top shops using these platforms. Dots are also color coded, reflecting if the platforms are free or cost money. We also labeled those we are going to discuss in this article.
3 tiers of eCommerce solutions
There are more than two hundred eCommerce platforms in use – with a number of sites using each platform ranging from a few dozens to hundreds of thousands. In this post we will try to compare eCommerce platforms, look at their stats, typical cost, implementation difficulty, pros and cons.
To make sense of this plethora of options, let’s look at three major groups, three tiers of eCommerce software – and typical examples from each one.
Tier1. eCommerce dinosaurs
We start with the most powerful, the most expensive, the most complex solutions. Big software providers like Oracle, SalesForce, IBM each offer eCommerce platforms that, like dinosaurs, tower above other players on the market. Few can compete with the strength and scale of these giants. However, same as dinosaurs, they have their problems – being a bit slow and stuck in their ways when it comes to adaptation to the fast evolving world.
The number of websites that use these eCommerce platforms may seem low – collectively they probably represent less than 1% of the market by the number of sites. But don’t let this number fool you: these 1% are the very popular, very successful top eCommerce businesses – as you will see from some of the stores that use Tier 1 platforms.
Oracle CX Commerce (formerly ATG Web Commerce)
Number of sites: 2.500
Cost: starts from $150k / year, with typical project cost around $500k / year. Pricing is based on the maximum daily number of server calls.
Deployment: On-premise / Cloud
Implementation complexity: medium-to-high, you need trained professionals to implement it, but it is still easier than, for example HCL Commerce
Software development company ATG began development of its eCommerce solution in the late 90s. From the beginning it was designed as a framework that allowed building large-scale eCommerce applications. ATG was acquired by software giant Oracle in 2011, and this eCommerce platform was known as Oracle CX Commerce from then on.
With the power of Oracle behind it, Oracle CX (ATG) is one of the most robust and powerful eCommerce systems out there. It is used by such industry leaders as Barnes & Noble bookstores, Macy’s department stores, kids products retailer Toys”R”Us.
Pros: Oracle ATG allows users to leverage other Oracle products, like Oracle Marketing Cloud, Oracle Sales Cloud, and provides modules to personalize website experience according to customer interests and previous actions.
Cons: In the last few years Oracle ATG attracted some criticism for not being able to keep up with requirements of the modern market. Combine it with a really high price and steep learning curve, and one can see why the number of its users is sliding down.
HCL Commerce (formerly IBM WebSphere Commerce)
Number of sites: 6.300
Deployment: On-premise / Cloud
Implementation complexity: notoriously high
Another old-timer from the 90s is WebSphere Commerce. Known as Net.Commerce through its first years, this eCommerce platform was developed by IBM and was used for the first time to sell tickets and merchandise for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Net.Commerce was renamed to WebSphere Commerce Suite in 2001. In 2019 the platform was sold to an Indian company HCL Technologies.
HLC (IBM) WebSphere offered convenient solutions with the ability to engage customers across any digital touch-point. List of notable users include such companies as Target, Disney, Zara and Costco.
Pros: HLC Commerce has a great set of features that you can use without having to go through the customization process. It is a powerful robust system suitable for large projects.
Cons: HLC commerce has a rather steep learning curve and it may require a dedicated IT support team to operate. It did experience a decline in popularity over the 2010s, which made IBM divest it in the first place.
Number of sites: 12.800
Cost: starts from $150k / year, with typical cost about 700k / year. Based on the % of GMV.
Implementation complexity: medium-to-high. Basic functionality is easy to master, but deeper customisation require professional support.
Our next platform was founded in 2004 under the name DemandWare. It was designed as a service that would provide easy-to-build, customisable eCommerce websites. Company experienced explosive growth in the end of 2000s, was acquired by SalesForce in 2016 and renamed to SalesForce Commerce.
List of notable clients include such famous apparel and lifestyle brands as Uniqlo, Adidas, Hugo Boss, Ralph Loren.
Pros: Obvious advantage of SaleForce Commerce is that it is a part of the world’s most popular business ecosystems – SalesForce.
Cons: SalesForce Commerce is rather pricey, with average licence cost of 150.000 a year, Besides, there is a rather high technical threshold for a prospective user, so be ready to spend some time and effort setting everything up before you can fully enjoy the force of SalesForce.
Number of sites: 3.500
Cost: starts from $100k / year
Deployment: On-premise / Cloud
Implementation complexity: high. SAP products are, in a way, a separate environment with its own tools, systems, and professional developers.
Story of the most popular German eCommerce Solution SAP eCommerce starts with the company Hybris, founded in 1997 in Switzerland. Hybris eCommerce software was quite successful and Hybris was acquired by German company SAP, famous for their software solutions for business. After a while the name “Hybris” was abandoned and the eCommerce platform continued its life as SAP Commerce Cloud, part of SAP Customer Experience.
SAP may look like a smaller player compared to other platforms, but it actually holds leading positions among big eCommerce businesses operating in Europe.
Notable users of SAP Commerce include GE Capital (USA), Deutsche Post (Germany), Unilever (UK), Groupe Casino (France).
Pros: Same as all systems in Tier 1, SAP is a powerful, flexible and capable system. Besides, it offers seamless integration with any other SAP business software.
Cons: SAP Commerce comes with relatively high cost (starts from $100.000 / year) and requires some effort to learn how to use it.
Tier 2. eCommerce workhorses
The next tier of eCommerce platforms are the platforms popular among medium and medium-to-large size businesses. These solutions are somewhat more affordable than Tier 1, yet they provide a lot of power and flexibility to satisfy quite high demand.
Frankly, the border between Tier 2 and 3 platforms is quite blurry: all solutions we list here offer a variety of options, where a more expensive one would fit a larger business and costs upwards of 1000$ a month. There would also be a cheaper option that is good fit for a small business that is ready to pay 20-30$ for an eCommerce solution.
Adobe Commerce (Magento)
Number of sites: 112.000 (free) ~1000 (Enterprise)
– Community version: free + hosting costs;
– Enterprise version: starts from $22k / year, $200k / year for bigger projects. Cost is based on GMV.
Deployment: On-premise / Cloud
Implementation complexity: medium. While basic functionality can be installed and used out-of-the-box, customisation will require knowledge of the Magento system. Fortunately, it is based on PHP, one of the most popular programming languages out there.
Magento was developed as an open-source eCommerce platform, with functionalities that can be extended by plugins written by hundreds of developers from all over the world. After it’s initial release in 2008, Magento gained significant popularity due to its open architecture.
In 2015 Magento released its Enterprise version, designed for large businesses and providing more functionalities.
In 2018 Magento was acquired by Adobe, and after becoming a part of Adobe Experience Cloud, was rebranded as Adobe Commerce.
While Magento has only about 5% of the overall number of eCommerce websites, it is a clear leader in the mid-high segment of the market – with about 1 out of every 4 websites in this segment using Magento.
Pros: Magento is customisable and powerful enough to satisfy many requirements with its out-of-the-box version. If it is not enough, there are thousands of extensions to expand baseline functionality of your shop without any coding in the first place. Finally, if you do need to implement some unique features, Magento is based on one of the most popular PHP-MySQL stack, so it should not be a big problem to implement additional features.
Cons: If you choose to use an open-source version of Magento, it does require some basic technical expertise to get things going.
Number of sites: 35.000
– Essentials: $30-$300/mo + transaction fee (2.9% + $0.30¢ per transaction)
– Enterprise: from 900/mo to 15k/mo, no transaction fees
Implementation complexity: easy for Essential option, medium for Enterprise.
BigCommerce was founded in 2009 and in a little over 10 years became one of the significant players on the eCommerce platforms market. With abot 30.000 websites around the world using BigCommerce, it is a prominent player in the mid-high segment of the eCommerce platforms market.
BigCommerce offers its customers two options: Essentials (for small and medium-sized businesses, plans start from 30$), and Enterprise (for larger businesses, with fees starting from 900$/mo)
The most notable company that is using BigCommerce is FlyDubai, an UAE-based airline.
Pros: BigCommerce is powerful and flexible enough to satisfy the needs of most medium to large businesses. With extra attention paid to integration technologies (SSO, API, headless support, etc) it can be easily integrated with whatever systems you are currently using.
Cons: BigCommerce’s templates may raise some issues – free ones are rather similar looking and are inconvenient to edit.
Shopify / Shopify Plus
Number of sites: 350.000
– Standard version: $30-300$/mo + transaction fees
– Shopify Plus: 2k/mo or 0.25% of revenue, whichever is higher
Implementation complexity: easy. Shopify was designed with ease of use in mind. Even the Shopify Plus option, targeted at larger more complex projects, boasts the shortest time to the launch.
Canadian-based Shopify is one of the most prominent eCommerce systems out there. It was founded in 2006 after Shopify’s future CEO Tobias Lütke was trying to set up a shop to sell snowboarding equipment. As he was rather disappointed with the choice of available software, he decided to write his own platform. Long story short, Shopify now is the biggest Canadian public company with hundreds of thousands businesses all over the world using this platform (according to Shopify’s own advertisement, this number is larger than a million).
The most basic plan for using the platform is as low as 29$ and offers just entry-level functionality with rather tight performance limits. For large businesses Shopify offers an enterprise version of the software – Shopify Plus. The cost associated with using Shopify Plus is much higher, it starts with $2000 /mo.
Notable Shopify uses include such companies as office supply chain Staples, food companies Heinz and Lindt.
Pros: If you want to get your business going without much hussle setting things up – this is where Shopify truly shines. A basic shop can be launched in 3-4 days by someone with no prior experience and technical background. Even for bigger projects using Shopify Plus, the time to launch is about a few months, which is shorter than with the alternatives.
Cons: Simplicity and ease of operation come at the cost of control you have over your shop. SEO settings or checkout process are just a couple of examples of things you will have no way to change. If your business grows over time and you find yourself in need to customise things just the way you want them too – Shopify may feel somewhat restrictive.
This problem is less prominent if you decide to choose the more expensive Plus option, but even here you may feel restricted should your business require unique properties and features.
Tier 3. eCommerce for everyone
As the internet became a part of almost everybody’s life during the 2000s, so did eCommerce. Following this trend, many people want to become online entrepreneurs, so the demand for simple, affordable yet reliable platforms is growing.
Shopify was one of the first such platforms, catering to an average not always tech savvy user who wanted to set up a shop quickly and hassle free, without investing much effort into learning how everything works. Many other systems followed: Magento, Big commerce. We put them in Tier 2, as they also have an enterprise option for larger, more demanding businesses.
In this last part of eCommerce software comparison we will look at platforms that exclusively focus on small businesses that want a cheap, simple and fast setup.
Number of sites: 1.000.000 (up to 4M according to other estimates)
Cost: free + hosting, maintenance and extensions costs
Implementation complexity: easy-to-medium. If you have experience running/setting up a WordPress site, adding WooCommerce will probably be a breeze. If not – be ready to google a lot of questions you will have.
WooCommerce is not a standalone eCommerce platform, but a plugin for WordPress, the most popular site engine in the world.
What started in 2011 as just yet another WordPress theme ended up being by far the most popular eCommerce platform. WooCommerce has about 30-40% of the eCommerce market, by various estimates, with millions of shops and tens of billions of generated revenue.
What makes this solution even more attractive, there are about a thousand of additional plugins developed to extend WooCommerce functionality and make it almost whatever you want it to be.
Pros: very popular, easy-to-use (if you are already a WordPress user), SEO friendly, flexible, with a lot of extensions. And did I mention it’s absolutely free?
Cons: The fact that Woo is a part of WordPress univers may not only be an advantage, but a problem too. If you are not familiar with WordPress – it would mean there are now 2 systems you will have to master.
There is another problem that comes with WordPress: yes, you are in control of pretty much everything, but it’s not fool-proof. If you don’t quite know what you are doing, you may end up having a slow and half-broken system on your hands.
As for WooCommerce being free. True, except that the cost of hosting is still there. And those extensions – quite a few of them cost money too.
Number of sites: 300.000
Cost: from $18-40/mo + 3% transaction fee
Implementation complexity: easy. Critics say the Squarespace’s interface is not the most intuitive one, but once you have learned what’s what, you’ll be fine. Most importantly, it does not expect you to have any technical knowledge going in.
SquareSpace started in 2004 as a blog hosting service. Growing over the years, it became one of the most popular website creating platforms, with additional eCommerce capabilities.
Pros: SquareSpace has always been praised for its looks and eCommerce templates are no exception – your website will look great even if you just use some out-of-the-box options. It is quite friendly to eCommerce beginners, taking care of most of the technical aspects that need to be taken care of.
Cons: While your website may look great, you’ll have only limited options for customising its looks. Customisations and unique functionalities are not what you would want to go to SquareSpace for. Also, payment options are limited, compared to similar platforms.
Number of sites: 100.000
Cost: $28-56/mo + 2.9% transaction fee
Implementation complexity: very easy. Was it difficult to learn how to use Microsoft Word? Probably not. Wix Shop is the same way: it is specifically created to be the easiest tool to build eCommerce sites.
Another “site builder going eCommerce platform” is Wix, an Israeli-originated site builder known for its extremely user-friendly drag-and-drop interface.
Pros: Excellent page-builder. Wix was created with the goal of creating beautiful websites easily and this is exactly what it is good at. Page components look great and designing a page is a blast.
Cons: Easiness with which you can design stunning looking sites comes with a price: pages may have a slow loading speed and are not always great for SEO.
When it comes to choosing an eCommerce platform you probably don’t find one that is perfect in everything. What you can find though is there is a wide variety to choose from to get to the ideal as close as possible. Depending on the size of your business, on the amount of customization you want to have, on your level of your technical expertise – there is a solution that will suit most of your needs.
Whether you are looking for a platform to support a multi-billion dollar enterprise across many countries and divisions; whether you are a small mom-n-pop operation that is looking to sell something you produce in your garage; or if you are anything in between – we hope you have found this eCommerce platforms comparison guide a useful starting point in your research.