SHOPIFY, WOOCOMMERCE, MAGENTO, PRESTASHOP… HOW (AND WHAT) TO CHOOSE?

I am always very surprised to receive calls from potential customers who tell me they have made their choice of e-commerce platform (Shopify, WooCommerce, Magento, PrestaShop or others). Why am I surprised ? Because most of the time, they made the wrong choice of platform. I implore you : do not get caught up in the marketing pitfalls and do your research right.

Usually, a merchant who plans to sell online will do two things;

  1. consider the platforms they know the name of (for having seen an advertisement on Facebook or elsewhere);
  2. contact a web agency in their region and ask them for an estimate for the creation of a transactional site.

Is that your case? This is the case of everyone, do not worry.

 

What is very funny (and a shame really) is when the merchant asks a question in an entrepreneurial group on Facebook: “I’ve heard about the platform XYZ (meaning I’ve seen ads) What do you think about it ?”… and then a plethora of comments start coming.

Unfortunately, most criticized the choice.

 

What would you do if your choice had already been made and you had already started the job? It’s too late. Better make a wise choice from the start.

 

Hosted platforms vs. Downloadable platforms

Besides marketplaces like Etsy, Amazon or Ebay, there are two types of platform to build an ecommerce website.

  1. The hosted platforms (Shopify, Zoey, PanierDAchat.ca, VotreSite.ca, Wix, etc…)
  2. The downloadable platforms (Magento, Prestashop, OpenCart, etc…)

The hosted platforms

Fortunately we are no longer in 2007! 10 years ago, you had to plan everything when you wanted to sell online. You had to find a programmer, an API for online payment, understand how SSL security certificates worked to have a secure HTTPS connection, find a webhost, etc …

But since then, fortunately, selling online is much easier and user friendly. It’s now very easy to take a hosted platform, open an account, set everything up and be able to start selling in less than a day.

You probably have heard of Shopify ? Lightspeed ? WIX.com ? Woocommerce ? Votresite.ca (for those in the province of Quebec) ? Those are all hosted platforms.

Given a monthly fee, they provide you with:

  • A security certificate
  • A payment platform
  • An internet website with a choice of designs (some are free) to build and personalize
  • shopping cart functionality
  • Hosting
  • Support
  • & lots of other things…

What’s particularly nice with these easy-to-use platforms is that just about anyone can work with them efficiently. You do not need to be a programmer or be a computer genius to understand how to add products or modify a menu on your website.

So, what’s good is that the only concern you have is selling. It’s not to manage and understand the platform.

The cost ? Really affordable. In general, you have plans from $ 30 to $ 200 per month. The price depends on the functionalities, sales volume and commission you will pay on credit card transactions.


There is also another advantage: if you want a feature that is not available, these platforms often have active communities and an App Store. This means that if, for example, you want to offer your customers a choice of “pick up locations” to pick up their order physically in their region, chances are that another developer in the community has already programmed this feature and offers it for free or only for a few dollars a month.

Awesome, simple and easy. What could be better ? Versatility!

 

The downloadable platforms

Magento, Prestashop, WooCommerce are ecommerce platforms very often used throughout the world.

The main advantage with them is that you can download their “code” and then you can hire a programmer to modify and shape it according to your needs.

The disadvantage ? The complexity and the cost to maintain these solutions.

First of, you’ll need a web host, an SSL security certificate and a really technicality versed person. Then, you’ll need to integrate a design that you will have to buy – or a design that a designer will need to create for you. This integration will be time and energy consuming.

Ultimately, if there are some bugs, you’ll need to find ways to fix them. Even if there’s a community, support is scarce ; and in the end, people will tell you that you are the cause of the bug. It’s like buying the plan for a house and one of the floor is crooked: the plan designer will tell you that you build it incorrectly and it will be your responsibility to prove that it is not your fault.

In summary, the solutions are only recommendable for some merchants. And I’ll speak about that later on…

 

Web agencies

Most of the times, calling a single agency that makes websites in your area is a big mistake.

Why ? Because working/programming using a downloadable platform (Magento, Prestashop, Woocommerce… or even programming a design for Shopify) is a really complex job.

In fact, it’s like learning Mac or Windows. If you’re a pro with Windows, you’ll probably be disoriented on Mac and, in fact, you won’t be able to do what you’ll want how you’ll want it.

We could do a comparison with the learning of a new language. If you have learned Spanish, you probably worked very hard to learn it. But if you are asked to sell in Germany, you will not be able to.

That’s what happens with web agencies. They are used to work with Magento ? Don’t ask them to work on a different platform. They will probably tell you that they can, but it’s going to take them a long time and the result may be disappointing.

But then, why am I saying that it’s a mistake to contact one web agency at the start of your project ?

Simply because, whatever your needs are, they will recommend to take the platform which is the one THEY are used to. Since they know it, they’ll be used to work on it and recommended it to execute your project… And sometimes, they may not even know the options and advantages of other platforms.

By doing business with them, you’ll probably end up with a website that is not ideal for your needs and at a price that will most certainly be too expensive. And if one day you don’t want to work with them anymore, chances are that another agency won’t want to take over from the previous agency and force you to make a new website on their terms. Not a very pleasant and ideal situation.

I’m not saying that it is necessarily a bad idea to call a web agency to get a quote. I’m only saying not to trust them for advice.

What you SHOULD do: call at least three different agencies and ask them with which platform they mostly work. Then, read my advices below and ask for a quote with the company that works with the platform YOU have chosen

 

How to choose ?

Read the paragraphs that speak about your situation:

At this moment, I do not sell online or in stores

You’re starting from scratch. Try to invest as little as possible to test your business project. Go with a Shopify or with Zoey.

*If you are in the province of Quebec, Canada, there are some good local choices such as VotreSite.ca or PanierDAchat.ca.

Minimize the cost and delay before being able to sell online. Put most of your money on marketing.

I also suggest selling on marketplaces (Amazon, Ebay, Etsy).

You do not have a known brand and you want to make sales? Submit your products to the international market as soon as possible!

 

I have a blog and I would like to sell some products

If your blog is operated with WordPress, that’s great! Use WooCommerce (a free plugin) and make sure you have a WordPress theme that can also work with WooCommerce. The integration itself will take you one day (at most) and you’ll be able to sell really quickly.

 

I have one or two physical stores and I do not yet sell online

You’re almost starting from scratch, but at least you already have a customer base and a brand. I suggest you use it as “leverage” for your website.

Collect the email addresses of all your customers starting right now. Launch your transactional website as soon as possible and send emails to your customers to buy from your website.

I suggest you start with a hosted platform, such as Shopify or Zoey.com.

You have to hurry up and sell online.

If you have a little time, put your products on Amazon. Open your Amazon store under a different name to sell at a lower price without harming your main brand.

 

I have several branches and/or I have a big budget

If you want to invest for the next five years and you have a good budget, this is really the only situation for which I recommend using a web agency and using a downloadable platform like Magento, WooCommerce, Shopify Plus or Prestashop.

First off, like I said earlier, take the time to compare different solutions and make your choice without calling a web agency. In addition to my bits of advice, go on the internet and reviews and comparisons between platforms.

If your budget is unlimited or if you have great aspirations for the future. If you absolutely want to have a multi-language, multi-currency (Euros, USD, CAD) site, or manage multiple online sales sites simultaneously from a single platform, then the choice is clearly Magento. It is the most robust and versatile platform on the market today. On the other hand, it is very expensive to set up (programmers are expensive) and it is very expensive to maintain (it takes well-configured servers).

If you want an easier solution but you have a good budget, go with Prestashop or WooCommerce. WooCommerce is based on WordPress, a very easy to use blog solution, and is recommendable if you have few products, few orders, and little product rolling. Prestashop and WooCommerce will allow both of you to have a bilingual website (via the WPML plugin for WooCommerce). These are two recommendable solutions, cheaper than Magento, but still more expensive to set up and maintain than Shopify.

If you want simplicity, go with Shopify or Shopify Plus. However, you will not have much versatility and your site will be unilingual.

*If you’re from Quebec (like we are :)) and wish to encourage a local solution, contact VotreSite.ca (pretty inexpensive, with support) or PanierDachat.ca.

The advantage with PanierDAchat.ca is that a web programming firm is behind it and will be able to program things for you if needed.

The great thing with VotreSite.ca, is that the work is done free of charge by trainees.

 

TL;DR

You did not take the time to read everything? Remember this at least: go online as soon as possible with the least amount of money and make sure you do not have to deal with the same web programming firm in the future.


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