How to chose the best online store for your business?

15 November 2020

The reason for moving part or all of your business to the Internet is not only the epidemic and limited contacts between people. The e-commerce market is growing very fast and according to forecasts, in 2025 it will constitute 20% of the whole Polish retail turnover. This means that:
“In 2025 every fifth zloty in retail trade will be spent on the Internet”.
There is still time to have your share in the fastest growing business in Poland, but you have to start now. See how to chose the best online store that suits your needs.

From this entry you will learn how to choose software for sale on the Internet, what to pay attention to when choosing solutions and what to avoid. If you are already selling online, your store is no longer sufficient and you are looking for other interesting solutions, this article should also interest you. Maybe you are selling to business customers and are interested in the possibility of automating sales and relieving the burden on traders? Then you need B2B solutions, which are described below.

Internet sales are based on 3 main elements:

  1. Customers – it is them that you offer your goods and without them there will be no sale.
  2. Sales platform – that is the way of offering goods, depending on the type of your customers – most often it is an online store plus necessary elements such as hosting and domain.
  3. Logistics – the best and fastest way to deliver goods to your customers.

If you want to be successful in the e-commerce industry, you have to take care of each of these elements, but due to the limited volume of the entry, I will only deal with the technical aspects of online sales, i.e. the second point.

Depending on the size of your company, you may have different expectations as to the functionality of your future store and allocate a different budget to its launch. This is why you should consider very thoroughly which platform will provide the best online store for you.

Types of software for online stores

On the market you can find many types of software for online stores. The simplest division is:

  1. Open source software – using free software, customized to your needs.
  2. SaaS platforms (software as a service) – subscription solutions, ready-made stores with basic functionality.

There are also dedicated solutions, i.e. stores written from scratch according to your requirements, but due to the high cost of such implementation and further expensive development, this solution is rarely used.

Open source online stores

This is a category of stores whose characteristic feature is the use of open software as the basis of the store. In this type of stores we will find solutions that are very cheap and relatively easy to implement, such as Wooommerce based on WordPress, through stores based on Presta or Magento. The latter platforms are designed for more advanced solutions, their implementation is more expensive and often more resources are needed to maintain them. A typical practice is the outsourcing of an external IT company, which serves as technical support for the store.

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular solutions, starting with the simplest ones:

WooCommerce

This is an open source e-commerce plugin for WordPress. If you can install WordPress yourself, you will be able to start an online store. In addition, a lot of functionality is available in free or fairly cheap plugins. Contrary to popular myths, you can even sell a large amount of goods in it without performance losses.

Advantages

– Store is actually for free, you need hosting and domain name and you’re working… And that’s the end of the story.

Disadvantages

– The biggest disadvantage of this solution is WordPress – a very popular system, but also highly vulnerable to hacker attacks – it is extremely difficult to provide security.
– You have to spend a lot of time on starting up and configuring the system, and after all, your task is to sell on the Internet and not to configure the software. You will have to outsource the start-up and you will lose the main advantage, which is cheap implementation. The price of implementation by Software House may be comparable to the implementation of “stronger” systems, i.e. Presta or Magento.
– There are many known problems with plug-in compatibility, configuration of the basic system may not be so trivial.
– Specific functionalities must be written from scratch. Of course, there are companies that will do it for you, but the time spent on it by a programmer can be large, which will result in considerable costs. Often these functionalities are available from the start in other platforms.

The traps you fall into:

The price trap – cheap implementation makes the store expensive to maintain, with poor functionality and difficult to change in the future. A solution that requires paying a lot of attention to the software, which distracts you from more important tasks.
If you don’t intend to expand the core functionality too much, this platform will not provide the best online store for you.

Presta Shop

As the platform on its official website says about itself –  “PrestaShop: software that you can customize for any e-commerce project” . Presta is free and in theory you can install and configure it yourself. In practice, it is better to leave this task to the professionals. The implementation of Presta is not expensive, the requirements for quality hosting are on a medium level. You can find free or quite cheap plugins that extend basic functionality:

Advantages:

– You get a modern, well-configured store.
– You can easily find Software House, which will implement and configure it professionally.
– Presta can be customized to your specific requirements, often these are already ready-made solutions in the form of inexpensive plugins.
– Presta is an intuitive panel for store management, the ability to create user accounts with different permissions.
– You will integrate Presta with your existing software such as CRM, EPR. You will get a system that will allow you to automate the execution of Internet orders thanks to the connection with the existing solutions in the company.

Disadvantages:

– Some basic functions are not available in the store and need to be implemented additionally (like the famous “cash on delivery”).
– Some functions may not be implementable or may be very difficult to implement (e.g. if you need prices calculated on the basis of certain parameters, rather think about Magento).
– Very difficult editing of Presta templates – in most cases you need the support of experts.

The traps you fall into:

– To maintain your store you basically need IT outsourcing, if you are planning to develop your store continuously it is not a burden because you can combine maintenance and development services in one company. However, you are required to pay a monthly fee for the store, higher than in the subscription model.
– “We’re not dealing with this system anymore.” – you may also fall into the trap of lack of support; the company declares that it is no longer developing a given version and what will you do to them? This happened with the transition from Presta 1.6 to 1.7 – the lack of backward compatibility means that store owners on Presta 1.6 are practically forced to re-build the store, which generates additional cost.

Magento

The Magento platform provides the best online store solutions on e-commerce market. Magento is currently used by more than 250,000 salesmen around the world. It is a fully customizable system that can be adapted to very different sales functions. In Poland you will find many professional companies that implement Magento. The implementation itself in the basic version is not complicated and can be done quite quickly.

Advantages:

– You get an e-commerce system with unlimited possibilities of configuration. There are easily accessible plugins for even advanced functionality. If there is no ready-made solution, implementing such a solution by an experienced Software House is not complicated.
– There are many software companies that have experts responsible for the implementation and configuration of your store, it is also worth to sign a post-implementation maintenance agreement with such a company.
– You are not attached to one company, the popularity of Magento causes that another company can quickly take over your store at the maintenance stage (and often even implementation).
– Magento easily integrates with existing accounting or storage software in the company.
– It is one of the few sales systems that has such great possibilities to optimize the code for SEO. Ensuring good visibility of the store in search engines is an important aspect of online sales. In addition, Magento has the easiest positioning process.

Disadvantages:

– Due to its high level of complexity, Magento has a high demand for server resources – this means that you need dedicated hosting with high performance and therefore more expensive than other solutions. It is possible to optimize the speed of the service by using advanced cache and compression functions, but this requires the help of experts.
– Implementing and maintaining Magento is more expensive than other e-Commerce systems. Programming  can be much more time consuming and therefore more expensive than with other open source platforms. Due to the complexity of the system, each change must be completed with more tests, extending and increasing the cost of implementation.

The traps you fall into:

– The necessity of hiring an employee or hiring a company that maintains the Magento platform and the demanding hosting contribute to the high cost of maintaining the store. However, if continuous development is your motto, this is the best online store for your business. In return you get a store with which you can easily generate millions in sales.

Summary

The systems listed here are not all open-source solutions, but they are most popular in Poland.
As you can see, “free software” is not quite so free, the cost of implementation is higher the more complicated the system becomes. Don’t fall into the trap of “low initial costs” because you will pay for it later with high costs of store development.
The second thing, Magento is a good system, but don’t start with it if you’ve just started your business and every penny counts…

If you’re at the beginning of your business and simply don’t have the right implementation budget, best online store for you will be the one based on SaaS platform – that is, subscription stores.

Subscribtion online stores

A subscription store, or SaaS, is a ready-made proprietary software, for which you pay a monthly (or annual) subscription. A subscription store, or SaaS, is a ready-made proprietary software, for which you pay a monthly (or annual) subscription. The amounts start from several dozen zlotys, for this price you get a complete functional store. For an additional fee you can buy the necessary modules to extend functionality and give the possibility of various integration.
A few popular solutions include Shoper, Sky Shop, Redcart, Shoplo, Sellingo. There are other equally good solutions, not mentioned here. They are characterized by similar functionality and similar subscription prices. I will discuss here their main features on the example of probably the most popular Shopper.

Shoper by Dreamcommerce S.A.

This is how the company presents its store

“Shoper software includes all the necessary tools and integrations for professional online sales: modern payments, two-way integration with Allegro, delivery and warehouse services, Facebook store and much more”.

For the price of a small subscription we get a fully equipped store with which we can start selling on the Internet. The store is fully responsive and available on any device (desktop, mobile). In the basic package we get a few “skins” defining the look, we can also order our own graphic design.

The admin panel is clear, you can define users on different access levels and the store management is intuitive. Existing (usually additionally paid) modules allow to extend functionality (including integration with delivery services and external company software).

Advantages:

– Complete functional system of sales on the Internet for a low price. The store is maintained on the company’s servers, so the hosting fees fall off, you just need your own domain. There is also no need to deal with store updates, because the company will do it for you.
– You can take advantage of the 14 day free trial period.
– Simplicity at the stage of store management, intuitive administration panel and the possibility to perform all the actions “from one place”.
– A lot of additional functionalities are included in additional plugins, which can be easily configured by yourself.

Disadvantages:

– Shopper is a closed system, there are methods to customize it to a limited extent, but they are usually very expensive. Due to lack of access to the source code some things are not possible.
– The shopper has some possibilities to optimize the code for SEO, but they are usually very insufficient. The shopper has a reputation for being difficult to position. It is not possible to insert redirections, because there is no access to the .httaccess file.
– You have to pay extra in addition to the subscription for most of the necessary plugins included in the optional modules.

The traps you fall into:

Closed system with no access to the code. On the one hand, this is cool, because everything works immediately. On the other hand, you will quickly encounter a problem that can’t be solved. Some limitations can be ” circumvented”, others will sooner or later become “brakes” for your development. Think of this solution as a “transition” to the right store.

Summary

At first glance, the store in the subscription looks like a super-offer – we add our goods and start selling quickly…

The perfect image is spoiled by statistics – more than ¾ of such stores are closed after a year. Why is this happening?

Before I explain this matter – one comment: As the author of this entry, I am absolutely not against subscription stores. On the contrary, I respect them very much for the quality and professionalism of their work. I have used this type of solutions myself several dozen times and I think that in certain conditions they are a very good choice.

My experience shows that ALWAYS, sooner or later it will turn out that we need a feature that is not present in such a store and cannot be introduced. A real life example – we sell packaged goods, the customer buys linear meters and we have to calculate the price per sq.m – in no subscription can it be done easily!

Internet wholesaling and B2B stores

If you sell exclusively to business entities and want to transfer your business to the Internet you will need dedicated B2B (business to business) solutions. There are two solutions:

  1. B2B as a part of the existing B2C store – you separate a group of customers who will see the wholesale prices after logging in.
  2. Independent B2B store – a wholesale store built from scratch, the offer is available only after logging in to the store.

In any case, the customers are companies that have previously signed an agreement with you, most often they have an appropriate account in the store established by you and only after authorization they can use the established wholesale prices.

There are many software solutions for B2B stores, each of them will rather be based on an open source system like Presta or Magento due to their flexibility. So, once you have a Magento-based store it is quite simple to separate the wholesale part. Building a standalone B2B store based on Magento is not a very complicated thing either.

B2B stores have a few unique features that make them different from B2C solutions:
– Full integration with EPR existing in the company.
– Support for multiple warehouses including warehouse operations and sales units.
– Fully automated integration with delivery services.
– Individual price lists for customers, possibility of automatic price calculation based on specific parameters related to customers and goods.

Wholesale stores are usually graphically much “poorer” than retail stores. In the first place is the transparency of the offer and proper presentation of the goods. Usually wholesale customers make large purchases of goods and repeat them. That is why B2B stores often have the convenience of presenting goods in the form of “clickable” lists or the possibility of editing previous orders. Such facilities aren’t found in retail stores.

How to chose the best online store for you?

B2B online stores are in a way “similar” to B2C stores, but due to many specific features they must be software based to implement them.
The undisputed leader here is Magento, the vast majority of B2B platforms are based on this software. Magento allows for integration with the company’s existing IT structure, has the ability to work on many warehouses and can automatically calculate prices. It is easy to add specific functionalities appropriate for a particular type of business. Therefore, if you are looking for B2B solution, a store based on Magento will be the best online store for you.

In the entry I discussed the available software for sale on the Internet for both retail and wholesale stores. I have presented both open source systems and subscription solutions, showing the pros and cons of each option. 

If you have any questions regarding the choice of the best online store, please write to us.

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Gate-Software is a team of Magento e-commerce experts. We secure the continuity of online sales in e-commerce through effective technical care and maximize the potential of online stores through modern technological solutions.