How to choose an e‑commerce platform

How to choose an ecommerce platform

Seb Harris

6 minute read20 Jan 2023

As an e-commerce entrepreneur, choosing the right platform is crucial. This choice will impact the potential growth and success of your business, so it’s important to get it right. You can always migrate from one platform to another later, of course, but avoid headaches by choosing right the first time around.

To choose the right platform you need to be aware of your market, your product, your goals and the way your business operates. Every platform has its strengths and weaknesses and these will usually align to the specificities of your business.

Why is it essential to choose the right e-commerce platform?

Here’s a theory we hear all the time: your customers don’t care about which platform you use. They just want a good product for a good price.

Whilst technically true, there’s a lot wrong here. Yes your customer cares about the product and the price, but they also want the best possible buying experience. They don’t care which e-commerce platform you’re using but they do care how easy it is to navigate your store, add products to a cart and proceed to the checkout.

When your website is optimised for fast site speed, when the design is perfectly balanced for the best UX and when the checkout is smooth and familiar your clients will spend and return to spend again.

For digital selling, think of the e-commerce platform as the technical foundation of your business. It sets the path for everything else that comes after, so you need to pick one that can deliver in the most important areas.

Things to consider

There are numerous factors and features to consider when choosing an e-commerce platform but here we’ve boiled them down to the most important. Take the following into consideration when choosing which software to use as the foundation of your e-commerce store and you’ll be well on your way to success.

1. Platform features

To start with the most obvious. It’s important to check what your proposed e-commerce platform can actually do. This is especially important if your business model is in any way out of the ordinary.

Are you a subscription-based business? Do you sell products through auctions? Do you solely use dropshipping? Do you have a hybrid model combining online and POS? 

All of the above require slightly different features from an e-commerce platform so it’s always important to check that you’re covered.

2. Total costs 

Quite simply, you can’t choose an e-commerce platform that’s too expensive. But working out a platform’s true cost is more than noting how much you’ll pay each month for the software itself. It’s important to take into consideration the cost structure, or “Total Cost of Ownership” (TCO).

Most of us will see the upfront platform costs and base our evaluation of that platform on those figures. It’s easily done. These are the prices displayed on Shopify’s website, Magento’s website, Salesforce, Woocommerce etc. But don’t forget that these are only the monthly fees you’ll pay for building on the platform, the true cost of building a website on any of these comes via numerous other sources.

To get an insight of the TCO you have to look at the following variable costs.

  1. Platform costs
  2. Hosting costs
  3. Apps and extensions
  4. Transaction fees
  5. Third party services
  6. Platform maintenance and support costs
  7. Platform development costs
  8. Platform upgrades

And on top of these there could be any number of additional costs, including but not limited to: training your team, specialised employees and marketing costs.

Platform costs

Platform costs are the figures we just mentioned that are shown on platform websites. For example, Shopify Advanced will cost you $299 a month. But as we’ve said, do not expect to build a store on this platform and only part with this amount of money each month.

Hosting costs

If hosting isn’t included in your platform package you’ll have to source it yourself. And this is rarely free. Hosting costs can vary depending on how powerful you choose to go - in simple terms, the more power you choose the larger waves of traffic your store can withstand without crashing.

Apps and extensions

Whilst e-commerce platforms come with a set of standard features, each of them requires apps and extensions bolting on to reach top performance levels. The majority of apps and extensions you’ll be using require a monthly subscription, which contributes to the total cost of running your site.

Transaction fees

E-commerce platforms make money by charging their merchants a small fee for every transaction they complete. The sums are nominal on their own but quickly add up if your business grows and you’re completing hundreds (or even thousands) of transactions a day. 

Most e-commerce platforms offer reduced transaction fees for merchants using the more advanced service packages so it’s well worth keeping an eye on how much you’re spending and whether you’d save more money on the next step up the ladder.We go into depth about this topic in our discussion of Shopify vs Shopify Plus.

Third party services

Like apps and extensions, it’s quite likely you’ll need 3rd party services at some point during your site build or ongoing maintenance. The costs for these services again contribute to the TCO.

Platform maintenance and support costs

Some platforms include maintenance and support costs in their standard pricing, but others expect their merchants to find maintenance services themselves. If your platform offers the latter, you’ll need to factor this into your overall platform price.

Platform development costs

A lot of platforms today are beginner friendly and anyone can put together a working e-commerce store but if you want a top website you’ll need development expertise to build it. If you don’t have this yourself you’ll need assistance and this always costs money.

Platform upgrades

All e-commerce platforms undergo frequent updates. On some platforms these are free but on many they're not. It’s always worth finding out in advance whether a future update will spring hidden costs upon you.

In summary

When calculating the TCO you should take costs across the entire webshop lifetime into account. Not simply the upfront costs but all the additional extras we’ve run through above. It’s almost impossible to get an exact figure of how much it’ll truly cost to build and run a website on any e-commerce platform but with all the above factors taken into account you can get a pretty good idea.

3. Scalability

Platform scalability is another important factor to consider. Some platforms are very rigid and do not offer much flexibility when a business begins to grow. On such platforms, if you begin to scale beyond the limits of your website, you must essentially rebuild in order to continue growing.

Other platforms do not present such headaches. Scaling is easy and does not require any changes in maintenance, hosting, development, design or strategy. If you’re building a business with the serious intention of growing in the future it’s wise to make sure you begin on a platform that gives you room to grow.

4. Maintenance

The final factor to consider is platform maintenance. In an ideal world you want the vast majority of maintenance to be taken care of automatically, with minimal input from you and your team. Why? Maintenance work is usually very technical and time consuming, and you want as much energy as possible to put into tasks that will directly add value to your business.

Be aware: many e-commerce platforms offer fast, automated maintenance as standard but many do not.

Want to know more?

For more information on why we believe Shopify to be the best e-commerce platform on the market, check out our further material below:

For more information on how Shopify can transform your business, get in touch with our team for a free consultation.

Do you want to
stay updated?


Stay ahead

Subscribe to our newsletter for a roundup of the latest in ecommerce, straight to your inbox.