Ecommerce Platforms – Best Comparison of Ecommerce Software & Features


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Looking to set up an online store and not sure where to start? This guide will introduce you to the best types of ecommerce platforms and how to decide which is best for your business.

Looking to set up an online store and not sure where to start? This guide will introduce you to the best types of ecommerce platforms and how to decide which is best for your business.

Table of Contents

What is an ecommerce platform?

What are the different types of ecommerce platforms?

What are the types of ecommerce hosting?

Why does my business need an ecommerce platform?

What is the best ecommerce platform for my business?

What should I consider when I’m comparing ecommerce platforms?

Ecommerce Platform Comparison & Review List

Ecommerce Platform FAQs

What is an ecommerce platform?

Put simply, an ecommerce platform is the transactional infrastructure for your online store. While a basic website might display products, the addition of an ecommerce platform allows customers to select an item and conduct the financial transaction that completes the sale. More complex ecommerce platforms provide sophisticated merchandising tools and targeted promotions, as well as ways to track and synch inventory. Platforms can also integrate with accounting and CRM software and shipping services.

What are the different types of ecommerce platforms?

Open Source platforms

Open source platforms are based on code that has been made freely available. Inexpensive and easily customizable, they are a popular option for small businesses. Marketplaces offer thousands of plugins and themes. Open source platforms are good for businesses who want to have developers on staff, or when the company wants to commit external developer resources.

Software as a Service ecommerce platforms

SaaS has a variety of benefits when it comes to security and stability. You won’t have to worry when new security patches come out, or that an upgrade to one part of your system will clash with another. A SaaS platform is great for businesses who want robust functionality without the expense of having a team of developers.

What are the types of ecommerce hosting?


All open source platforms operate independently from hosting for the online store, so you can choose your provider and, theoretically, move if you outgrow your hosting service or find a better deal. Some companies own and manage their own servers for on-premise hosting, while others turn to third parties with competitive pricing. While the hosting may be cheaper on a third-party site, this option is likely to involve more time for set up and to maintain the site, particularly if you decide to move between hosts. It’s also likely to take longer to fix problems if there is finger pointing between the providers, with the platform blaming the hosting company and the hosting company blaming the platform.

Hosted & managed by the platform

Ecommerce platforms that include hosting enable you to get things up and running quickly, with quick scalability when you need it. These companies are pre-optimized hosting for ecommerce businesses, as opposed third-party hosts who serve a variety of online business such as video libraries, for example. Managed hosted environments also offer more stability than small hosting companies can offer. Look for details about the platform’s redundant infrastructure, network core, and connectivity to make sure your store stays open even with high traffic. Note: your hosting charges will likely increase as your business grows, but with a highly secure, stable, and scalable system you are less likely to have downtime that will hurt sales. You’ll also have a single person to call if you have a problem, making issues easier to identify and faster to fix.

Why does my business need an ecommerce platform?

Your business needs an ecommerce platform because it enables you to market and sell your products. Unless you’re selling only on a marketplace such as Amazon, eBay or Etsy, you’ll need a way to display your products, so customers can see them. Unless you’re expecting customers to send in old fashioned checks by snail mail or go through PayPal, you’ll need a way to process credit card transactions. If you want to sell products directly to customers, you’ll need an ecommerce platform. Having an ecommerce platform also provides a variety of other benefits, including building your brand, developing a long-term relationship with your customers, and managing operations such as inventory and shipping.

What is the best ecommerce platform for my business?

The best ecommerce platform for your business depends upon a variety of factors. How hands-on do you want to be with the technology? How many services do you want to be integrated into the platform? How many SKUs do you expect to offer?

What should I consider when I’m comparing ecommerce platforms?

When comparing ecommerce platform features and software packages, these can vary on each ecommerce platform so it’s important to consider which are most important to you.

Design and Building Features

Product Management & Marketing Features

Look for these core components of ecommerce that are key to building sales on your online store:

  • Promotions and discount codes – Many of the basic sites will only be able to do these with plugins. A more sophisticated system will let you configure coupons with restrictions for date, number of uses, and per shopper use, as well as configure upsell products based on basket content.
  • Inventory and catalog management – Do you have thousands of SKUs that fit highly specialized purposes, such as auto parts or printer cartridges? On an advanced platform you’ll have the opportunity to create an unlimited number of different categories, and then organize them into tree-like structures using a drag-and-drop interface. You’ll also be able to set up custom searches. This helps your customers find what they are looking for – and presents suggestions for additional products. On the backend, an advanced system will let you sync inventories, manage shipping, and integrate with your CRM system.
  • SEO optimization features – Look for more than just the option of adding metadata and keywords. URI Management tools give you control over your page URLs, while Schema tools enable search engines to display content such as pricing and imagery. You’ll want to be able to automatically create both redirects and Google sitemaps.
  • Availability groups – Controlling which products and pricing are seen by different individuals or customer groups gives you the ability to serve both B2C and B2B customers on a single platform.
  • Social Media integration – You want to be able to seamlessly cross promote your online store through the most relevant social media sites. Whatever they happen to be at the minute. At a minimum, this includes the ability to place ‘Share’ buttons on product pages. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+ each offer plugins. But the reverse is true – you want to be able to highlight and moderate content from customers and fans.

Development & IT Features

Finally, as you shop for an ecommerce platform don’t forget to run these by your IT department. These are the main issues they are likely to care about.

  • Hosting environment – Outlined above, the key decision is whether you want the ability to shop around for hosting services with the intent to save money or have the convenience of going with a platform where the hosting is included. A hosted environment may be a bit more expensive but it’s likely to be a lot more stable and secure.
  • PCI compliance – The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) applies to companies of any size that accept credit card payments. If you intend to accept card payment, and store, process, and transmit cardholder data, you need to host your data securely with a PCI compliant hosting provider. While PCI DSS compliance isn’t required by federal law, it is by some states. And it’s simply the right thing to do.
  • Scalability – If you have a deep inventory of products, look for a platform that can scale up to manage high volumes of SKUs. These tools include the ability to add an unlimited number of categories.
  • Customer service support – Many open-source platforms offer little or no customer service or support. Are you comfortable with that – or would you prefer a platform with a responsive customer service department that can answer questions and help solve problems? Check what hours support is available. On some platforms, hours are limited. On others, help is available 24/7. There may come a time when you need it.
  • Resources & Tutorials – Check what resources are available for new users. Forums? Documentation? Video tutorials? Open-source platforms have large crowd sourced developer communities, but the quality of the info can vary. The more sophisticated platforms will have their own Reference Guides and Getting Started guides which are apt to be professionally produced and up-to-date with the latest version information.

Ecommerce Platform Comparison & Review List

Ready to start looking at specific ecommerce platforms? If you’re a mid-market or enterprise business – or a startup with ambitions – you’re likely to be considering these companies:

Is switching to Miva right for your business? Download the Complete Guide to Changing eCommerce Platforms whitepaper to find out.

Ecommerce Platform FAQs

Are there free ecommerce platforms?

Yes, but, they usually aren’t actually free. You’ll need to pay for hosting. You’re likely to need to pay for some custom development. You’re likely going to need to pay for some plugins. The truth is, “free” platforms can end up being more expensive than paid platforms. (Watch this webinar for more information.)

Do I need a programmer to use an ecommerce platform and what languages are used?

If you’re keeping it simple, you might be able to do it on your own. Each ecommerce platform is different in the language they use, but most are built in such a way that someone who is somewhat tech savvy can put together a website. But you’re likely to want extra technical help at some point. Therefore, it would be wise to evaluate your options for development support when choosing a platform – even if you don’t need a developer right away. Look for in-house Professional Services and third-party agency partners that can help you grow.

What is a payment gateway?

A payment gateway is the online equivalent of a credit card swiper that you use in a retail store. Payment gateways shouldn’t impact your choice of an ecommerce platform. Braintree and Square make it super easy to start processing payments. gives you the flexibility to work with nearly any merchant services company.

Find out how your online store can benefit from a move to the Miva platform. Book a time with a Miva Solutions architect today.

About The Author

Elisa Williams

Elisa Williams is a journalist and communications strategist who combines storytelling with solid research and analysis. A contributing author to the Miva Blog, Elisa has written for a wide array of consumer, business and technology publications, including Newsweek, Real Simple, Computer Life and Inc. Her marketing and content development work includes supporting technology companies that specialize in ecommerce, financial services and big data.


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