Which Is The Best Ecommerce Platform For Startups?

Which is The Best Ecommerce Website Builder?
Chapter 1

Ecommerce Speed Performance

Site Speed Performance Metrics For Ecommerce Platforms

In ecommerce, speed is money. Every second your site takes to load is costing you.

A lot.

According to research by Akamai, most consumers want sites to load in 3 seconds or less. The median load time for the top 500 ecommerce sites is 10 seconds.

According to our data, the load time for average ecommerce sites is 3.39 seconds, but the platform you use makes a big difference. For example, WP Ecommerce sites tend to load in 5.61 seconds, while 3D Cart sites tend to load in under 2 seconds.

There’s more – a 1 second improvement in load time equates to a 7% increase in conversions. Wouldn’t that be nice?

If you’re running a self-hosted platform you can optimize it for speed, but again that takes time and effort. Most self-hosted sites don’t bother; the average Magento site loads in 5 seconds. Forget collecting any credit card payments with that slow site.

Price might be the problem – optimizing for speed isn’t cheap, and ironically, can take a lot of time.

An out-of-the-box solution that offers great loading speed is a secret weapon in your ecommerce arsenal. Don’t underestimate the value of this metric.

Speed performance is so important, we wanted to collect multiple types of data (from 2000 ecommerce website domains) to determine how well a site performs. We discuss two of the most important factors briefly after the table.

Platform Loading Speed

Average Ecommerce Platform Load Time

Load time is a pretty straightforward indicator of how fast your site is. Simply put, it’s the measure of how long it takes a page (or pages) on your site to fully load. A slow site is a killer in ecommerce – potential customers run away from slow sites, and as we mentioned earlier, each second you gain in site loading speed translates directly into sales gained.

Load time was the most heavily weighed metric for our overall performance score.

Ecommerce Platform Loading Speed Comparison

Google Mobile PageSpeed Score

Average Google Mobile PageSpeed Score

Google’s PageSpeed Score is based on several factors that rate your site’s speed and usability. Across the board you’ll notice poor mobile speed scores. The average score is 58/100.

Marketers and developers are really starting to feel the mobile speed crunch. Mobile users expect pages on their mobile devices to load faster than desktop. Companies like Google are focusing on projects like AMP to make mobile pages load faster.

Average Google Mobile PageSpeed Score

Chapter 2

Ecommerce Mobile Performance

Ecommerce Mobile Performance

What is it about mobile? More than a passing fad, mobile tech is an ecommerce retailers’ dream. Mobile-friendly sites are a must have for all e-retailers, and with good reason –

  • 66% of time spent on online ecommerce is done through mobile devices
  • 82% of smartphone users turn to their devices to help them make a product decision

Customers want mobile friendly ecommerce web design, and the market is showing that mobile commerce is growing 300% faster than ecommerce, which means your site also has to have a responsive design.

To get the most out of mobile site design, you need to make sure your online platform is easily upgradable. Look at live sites to see what works and what doesn’t.

Test your site repeatedly and on multiple devices, and don’t forget to keep your mobile set heavy on the visuals and with type that’s large enough for everyone to use – not to mention easy and intuitive navigation.


Take a true mobile first approach with your design and UX loading performance.

Google Mobile Friendly Test

Google-Mobile Friendly Test Passed

Mobile responsive is recommended over dedicated mobile sites. Google uses a bot, Googlebot to see if the page is mobile friendly – mainly for the purpose of search engines. Learn more about the criteria here.

This test shows the percentage of sites on each platform that passed Google’s Mobile Friendly Test (MFT).
Ecommerce Platform Google Mobile Friendly Test Scores

Google Mobile User Experience Score

AVERAGE MOBILE USER EXPERIENCE SCORE

Google’s Mobile User Experience score offers an excellent idea of just how much your website will frustrate mobile users…or not. Unlike Google’s MFT, that is based on Googlebot, this score tries to mimic how a real user interacts with the page.

According to a post on Moz, five key factors to consider for mobile user experience include:

  1. Viewport configuration
  2. Font legibility
  3. Use of incompatible plugins
  4. Content to viewport
  5. Size and proximity of links

Read Sharon’s article to learn more about fixing common mobile UX mistakes.

Ecommerce Mobile UX Scores

Chapter 3

Platform SEO Performance

SEO Performance Ecommerce

“SEO is dead.” – People who don’t know how to do SEO

Can we just tell you how sick of hearing that, and how wrong it is, once and for all?

Excuse me while I rant, but you need to know your SEO. Keyword stuffing and content written for robots and spiders was never a smart move, and sure, it’s penalized and anyone who practices it should be punished.

Bad SEO is dead. It should be.

Good SEO, on the other hand, is alive and well. The best SEO practices will catapult you the top of Google’s coveted search results, and win friends on Yahoo! and Bing, too.

You’ll generate more organic traffic, saving you cash on leads. SEO is a crucial part of site design and performance, and there are plenty of ranking criteria to consider for your ecommerce enterprise.

Making it easy for humans and robots to navigate is a good first step – and that takes using the right URL structures. Site promotion and honest, white hat backlinking are also smart. That’s good SEO.

URLs are super important. Do NOT skip over good URL structure.

It’s not something you can make up for through great content and backlinks. Although we hate to point fingers and bring up bad examples, we’re begging you.

Don’t ever let your URLs look like this:

http://purplesagetea.com/epages/472f26ef-dbcc-482e-8f37-4e8a0b5ede3c.sf/en_US/?ObjectPath=/Shops/472f26ef-dbcc-482e-8f37-4e8a0b5ede3c/Categories/Category3 (via 1&1/ePages)

Great selection of teas, but between the slow load time and the painful URL, we’re betting their shop isn’t making anywhere near what it could be. They’re lacking good technical SEO. So if you are looking for the best ecommerce platform for SEO, check the data below.

Average # Terms Ranked In Top 20

Average # of Terms Ranked In Top 20
This is fairly self-explanatory. One factor you want to look at is the number of search terms your site ranks in the top 20 for. The closer you are to page one in search results, the higher the chances of you drawing organic search traffic. The more keywords your rank for, the more traffic you get.  Using data from Ahrefs, we looked at the average number of terms ranked on the first two pages on Google.  In terms of my overall performance scores, live ranking data was only a small factor.

 

AVERAGE-#-TERMS-RANKED-IN-TOP-20

SEO Friendly URLs

77% Of Ecommerce Websites Have SEO Friendly URLS

Search engines like to keep things simple and easy for the end user. Bulky, huge URLs are NEVER user-friendly. They’re not good for your business, either. Short, relevant URLs are an important ranking factor. Good for usability.

Which Ecommerce Platform Has The Best URL Structure?

Chapter 4

Ecommerce Platform Features

Features for the top 20 ecommerce platforms

If you do short run custom products like engraved jewelry or even wall decals, you’ll need custom product fields for customization. Plan on managing a large inventory of various products? You might need a back-in-stock email notification feature or dropship integration to keep your orders leaving the warehouse as fast as they enter your ecommerce system.

Every platform will allow you to:

  • open an online store in a relatively quick time period
  • accept basic types of online payment
  • boost your site’s online presence

Our scoring system in a nutshell: anything rated 75+ is good, 50-74 is ok and less than 50 avoid.

Essential Features vs Nice To Have Features

When you look at all the ecommerce platforms and tally up all the features like we did, the end result is a mind-boggling list of 41 core features. After you make sure that your platform can handle your business model (i.e. recurring orders or customized products), you need to make sure that your online platform delivers on the features we’ve identified as crucial for ecommerce entrepreneurs – we weighted these 5x more than ‘nice haves’ in our assessment of best ecommerce software.

After years of working with ecommerce clients, it’s pretty clear that if you don’t at least have these, you’re in trouble:

  • Fast web hosting
  • SEO tools (sitemaps, customizable meta data and URLs, bulk editing)
  • Fuzzy & exact product search (check out this article for more details on search)
  • Ability to send abandoned cart emails
  • Blog
  • Mobile store
  • Coupon and discount compatibility
  • Integrated ratings and reviews
  • Multiple product photos with zooming capability

If you’re a tech whiz, you won’t be too concerned with some of the features we weigh heavily, but keep in mind that you want to spend the bulk of your time working on the most profitable areas of your business – otherwise, you’re losing money.

The features we’ve noticed are great additions, but won’t make or break your ecommerce store:

  • Ability to handle subscriptions/recurring product orders
  • Drop-shipping integration
  • Ability to sell customizable products (like engraved jewelry)
  • Fulfillment by Amazon integration
  • Real-time shipping/tracking
  • Reward points program compatibility
  • Google Trusted eCommerce Stores

Adding stuff out of the box takes time and money. Adding a bunch of paid plugins can really drive up costs – so we wanted our scale to reflect that.

When looking at features we used the following point system:

  • Included out of the box = 100
  • Free plugin/add-on needed = 75
  • Paid plugin/add-on needed = 25
  • Not available = 0

FEATURE RATINGS

Ecommerce Feature Scores

Scalability

This looks at the features that help your website grow. Once your sales start to tick up, you’re going to want to scale your operations seamlessly. That means going multi-channel, selling on other platforms and even countries. You might even need apps made just for your business as you scale.

Platforms like Squarespace really struggle in this area. Squarespace only has one payment option, Stripe, and no payment gateway integration with other selling channels like Amazon.

BigCommerce came out heads and shoulders above the other platforms with market place and social media integrations available on their lowest package.

We based our scalability scores on the following criteria:

  • Number of Payment Gateways/Options
  • Amazon, Ebay, and Etsy Integration
  • Facebook, Pinterest Sync
  • Google Product Data Feed
  • Open API
  • Design Customization

We followed the same point allocation that we used for main features.

  • Included out of the box = 100
  • Free plugin/add-on needed = 75
  • Paid plugin/add-on needed = 25
  • Not available = 0

Scalability RATINGS

Scalability-Scores

Ease Of Use

First-time ecommerce entrepreneurs should be able to launch and run a store on their own without having to call a developer for every last thing. So we gave extra weight for the ability to set up and run your store code free.

Other things that make your experience a little easier is:

  • Phone support
  • 24/7 support
  • Chat support
  • Certified additional dev/marketing support
  • Free templates

Ease Of Use Ratings

Ease-Of-Use

Still have questions about what platform would work best for you? Take a look at our top ecommerce platforms for startups by downloading the full report below.

Chapter 5

2017 Recommended Platforms

We told you our criteria and showed you some of the data we used to arrive at some pretty strong conclusions.

Choosing the best ecommerce site builder is really based on your needs.  We do want to recommend that you consider a few as front runners – BigCommerce was by far the strongest option for start-ups looking for a platform to grow your business with. Prestashop gives entrepreneurs the best bang for your buck. X-Cart is a fantastic open source ecommerce shopping cart software if you have dev resources.

Shopify is another strong ecommerce software option. Their mission is to make selling online as fast and simple as possible. They nailed that, but their SEO has some holes. Weak ranking performance, rigid URL structures and a WordPress plugin that uses iFrames highlights my concerns with their SEO. Moreover,  you can’t customize Shopify’s checkout page.

If you’re WordPress savvy, WooCommerce can be a great option for you.

Most ecommerce platforms do a decent job. There is a handful we’d warn you to think twice before committing to, including Magento, Open Cart, Jigoshop, ePages (1&1), WP Ecommerce, CoreCommerce and Big Cartel. There are much better options available at similar price points. Still, many people use and love these platforms.

Still have questions about what platform would work best for you? Take a look at our top ten ecommerce platforms for start-ups by downloading the full report below.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Epic post, Darren. As we move closer and closer to a world where things are sold online, and where entrepreneurs’ barriers to entry are reduced, this post sums things up incredibly well and we cannot thank you enough for taking the time to do all the research.

    • Really appreciate it, Chris! I think entrepreneur that own mobile commerce and performance will win big.

  2. Is the Magento review based on Magento 1 or Magento 2?

    They said they’d sorted a lot of the speed issues in magento 2.

    • The review looks at both magento community and enterprise. I did not distinguish between Magento 1 and 2 when pulling sites running on Magento – so I cant tell if there was improvement in speed from #1 to #2.

    • Thanks Shabbir! As you know its super hard to get a apples to apples comparison with all the platforms. With endless options I decided it was most fair to compare out of the box solutions of well known and lesser known platforms.

  3. Awesome job on this, Darren. Finding the “best” ecommerce platform can be tricky. And as you know, choosing the wrong one can be a huge pain. Whenever someone asks me: “what’s the best ecommerce platform for me?”, I know where to send ’em 🙂

  4. Interesting post, but I kind of disagree in the you approach; I think is pretty crucial to distinguish if you want to run you an Open Source app by you own or having a SaS platform, then also, the business model is kind of super-relevant as selling digital goods is way more “marketing demanding” than physical ones.
    I have something similar, but more technical oriented here: https://xdrupal.wordpress.com/2015/09/16/should-i-choose-drupal-commerce-as-my-e-commerce-platform/
    Also, if you speak Spanish, I would love to invite you to an ecommerce podcast!

    • haha- I expect a lot of people to disagree with my approach (especially devs). It means Im doing something right 🙂

      Why do you think it is crucial to decide if you want to open source vs SaaS? I agree with you – but I want to understand your reasoning. In no scenario, do you actually own the platform. You’re either dependent on a dev or the SaaS company. Ive worked with people that have run sites on their own servers using open source and you need additional resources to manage it (like IT). Might not be worth it for some folks.

      For a start up I think its more critical to match your business model. Are you a drop shipper? retailer? Selling handmade products in short run?

      I think thats SUPER critical.

      No hablo espanol.

  5. I wonder how the tests were done, especially that I work on Magento and have own thoughts comparing Shopify and other platforms. Magento is a big thing, packed into community version, Yes, its slow, but it can be tweaked. Btw its no.1 platform in usage currently wordlwide. So your guides is a bit skewed I think……. Magento is not absolutly pricey, I can set it for free on $5 VPS on Digital Ocean

    • Thanks for reading, Tomek.

      An explanation on testing methods can be read here: below the infographic.

      Scoring for magento – I treated it like all other platforms. I averaged out the main options/plans. So the scoring for magento is based on averaging the community and enterprise version. Its my best thought on making an apples to apples comparison.

      By the time you get a blank (free) open source app – pay for customization, find the right plugins and make them work together – you’ve spent too much money (and time) already if you have not made a single sale.

      If you know how to do it yourself, more power to you!

      By no stretch is magento cheap for the average start up. The problem is most people starting up don’t know how to do the tweaking.

      • I totally agree with Darren here. We used Magento for our start-up and spent 80% of our money on developers and plugins. Also its super slow if you have a technology based UX, for eg. 3D front end. However, my site is best viewed on Mozilla Firefox since it uses Unity Web Player not supported by Chrome.

  6. This is the best comparison of platforms for entrepreneurs I have seen!

    Many guides show comparisons for businesses for 1 million+ in revenue. I am glad to see a comparison like this.

    I recently launched a business on the side on Shopify. According to this, it seems I have made a decent choice 🙂

    • Thanks, Henneke – I wanted to do something no one else has done before. Site performance is so critical with ecommerce. Hopefully this data helps some folks.

  7. Really cool infographic. You’ve got just about everything covered. I actually sell a product just using paypal since I thought it might be the easiest for me to set up and it is what I am most familiar with. I guess really lots of ecommerce solutions even integrate with paypal however I do not run the sales of my products as a store just individual sales pages for a pay per product approach.
    Adam Joshua Clarke recently posted…Adam’s Linking StrategyMy Profile

  8. Excellent article, well researched.

    For my money though, comparing SaaS and deployed platforms is a bit too big of an ask. Comparing Apples with Apples is a good ambition but by their nature you have two very different types of fruit there. Magento site performance, for example, is almost entirely dependent on how well set up the store is. A good Magento developer can make it sing – but it takes time and expertise…. As a SasS solution the variance between Shopify sites should be much smaller.

    Look forward to reading more from you Darren

  9. Outstanding use of images showing all the ecommerce platforms. I am torn between using a free ecommerce platform which involves too many tweaking or just go for a hosted one.

  10. Great article, thanks!

    I was wondering if it’s already possible to sent push message with any of these ecommerce platforms to customer that visit a online shop? That is going to be a must for customers on mobile devices, and will definitely give a sales boost.

  11. Thank you for your overview. Impressive job!

    Counting the features seems boring, yet easier to do that speed tests, since to get reliable results you need to place the compared platforms into exactly the same conditions.

    It’s very interesing, how exactly you measured the speed? Were all the platforms placed in equal conditions from the point of view of servers? If yes, what server was used? What was the PHP versions etc?
    What pages pf the websites were tested? What versions of the software were used?

    Please shed more light on the speed tests methodology.

  12. Darren — Being a research nerd, I’ve read dozens of ‘reviews’ of ecommerce sites. Most seem to simple regurgitations of ‘known facts,’ should the reader have spent 30-seconds on any one of the sites of the offerings. Your performance metrics are much appreciated. One in particular is a standout, that being actual SEO performance.

    We have a tiny (and ancient) little niche business of selling genuine – unworn – vintage shoes from the 30s – 70s (aVintageSole.com). Your reviews have convinced us that refreshing a custom with another ‘custom’ approach site isn’t even worth it. It’s amazing how much the market has progressed in just the past 8-years!

    Again, many thanks for your insightful and most useful reviews.

  13. Any update on this for 2017? As I’m currently on Volusion (for many years) and being forced to switch to their responsive system. I know this is rather a necessity. But as such, I might as well now compare to other platforms. So, in your evaluation of Volusion, were you basing the performance and SEO ratings on a newer, responsive site or everything on their platform? I know I need to move to response. But I’m hesitant to lose SEO traction in the process. Any hints in that regard as we lean into migrating forward?

  14. Hello,

    This post is impressive… I am using Shopify and believe me I am very happy with it. And after reading your post. I think I took a very smart decision. Really, I like its features very much.

    Yes, I am absolutely agree with this point “it is better to pay some money for creating your store rather than hiring a developer for step up of your free platform”.
    Singtel Shopify recently posted…How To: Identify Technical SEO Problems Through Technical SEO AuditingMy Profile

  15. Hey dude.
    You claimed there is no affiliate link, but here I extracted your website code..!

    Shopify
    You inserted full of affiliate links & then why you claim there is no affiliate link??
    Anyhow I think most of the stats are true..!

    • Hey Niranjan, the information in this post is 100% data driven. The post didnt have any affiliate links for over a year after publishing. It was only after a reader of mine suggested that I do it that I ended up adding some affiliate links. Im working on a site revamp and will add an affiliate disclosure.

  16. Hey Darren; that’s really a fantastic article! I assume you’ve put a lot of effort into that but believe me that’s the best comparison of eCommerce platforms I’ve seen so far 🙂 One question popped up on my mind. Do you believe that an eCommerce platform lacks certain competencies if a merchant using that platform needs external apps to support his/her store? I work for an app developer company – so I may be subjective in that sense – but for me eCommerce apps add a lot of value on top of the standard offering of the platforms. For instance, we provide AI powered personalization for the eCommerce websites. An eCommerce platform’s development team do not need to bother creating these competencies in house – and they may not succeed – as this is not their expertise. I’d love to hear about your thoughts 🙂

  17. Thank you for this report. It has saved me a lot of time and effort. I do however have one question. I am looking at GoCentral which is GoDaddy’s e-commerce platform. Have you heard anything good or bad about this? I am trying to find out if it has drop shipping integration. There is a charge for each transaction but I am looking for security, ease of use, the best customer service….as I don’t want to wait days to get a response back if I have an issue with my store. Time is money and I would like to use a company that will answer the phone and emails asap. I have always had a great experience with GoDaddy but I didn’t know if you had heard about this service. Any help that you can provide would be great. Thank you!!

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