Shopify, WooCommerce, Magento, 3dCart, eBay, Amazon, SEOCart, Gambio GX3, PrestaShop, BigCommerce, the list goes on.  Let me tell you – they’re not all equal. Picking the right one can make a huge difference in the success of your store.

Let’s start by separating the Web Stores from the Marketplaces. Web Stores have the most freedom because you can control how the store looks, the categories you create, the types of products and images you load, and a ton of other features. Creating a web store is like having your own independent building with your own signs and parking lot out front. You are in control.

Marketplaces, on the other hand, are far more restrictive. They are like opening up a store inside a shopping mall. You’ve got to open when they open, pay rent to the mall owner, and follow their rules. The benefit of being inside a Marketplace is that the traffic is already there. You don’t have to do much work to get people to look at your products. But in return your product prices are pretty much the only differentiation because the Marketplace does everything they can to make every shop the same as every other shop. eBay, Amazon, Wal-Mart, Google, and Newegg all provide online marketplaces where you can sell products. Shop owners who don’t follow the marketplace rules are can find their stores suspended, unable to sell. So it’s best to learn these rules and follow them.

The most successful store owners can master both. By creating a Web Store and Marketplace presence you can build your own brand that people recognize. They might find your shop name in the Marketplace, then go to your store to place their order. It creates a sense of presence.

Today I am going to focus on the different web stores. There are so many choices and I find that most new stores start off with a web store rather than jumping into a marketplace. So this is a good place to focus.

Here are the most important questions to think about when choosing a platform.

How many products do you want in your catalog?

This is the most important one. If you know your store needs to hold millions of products, we can eliminate all of the choices and take a focused look at Magento. It’s currently the only one I have seen that scale. Product data can be partitioned at the database level and Magento indexing provides quick access. Automating a Magento store is also easier because of the database structure.

There are two primary versions – 1.9 and 2.0. It was a big (really big) change from 1.9 to 2.0. The whole front-end changed. When 2.0 was initially released it was very unstable and a lot of users backed away from it. But it has matured now to the point where it is leading over 1.9.

How much do you like technical mumbo jumbo?

If CSV data files and hosting make you feel extremely uncomfortable, it’s best to go with an all-in-one system like Shopify, BigCommerce, or 3dCart. These systems intentionally make life easier by removing the technical complexity. For example, you can have a store set up and running in minutes. The administration is super easy and allows you to create your own products.

However, there is a cost. The more advanced features aren’t there and you won’t be able to load millions of products. But this might not be a problem if you’re just getting started.

Some say that you shouldn’t use Shopify for automotive parts. I disagree. The argument is usually because of the lack of fitment support out of the box. But there are some excellent plugins that can make this work.

WooCommerce is more technically complex than Shopify because you need to host it yourself.  However, it has a clean user interface and is easy to learn.

Magento is perhaps the most technically complex but also provides the best level of scalability, into the millions of products.

Do you want to customize the store?

The all-in-one store platforms provide basic levels of customization.  However if you are looking to Salvatore Dali the heck out of it, you’re better off with WooCommerce or Magento.  Those platforms provide infinitely customizable themes, plugins, database extensions, etc.  There are also healthy pools of freelance talent available for those platforms.

How easy is it to connect other services to the store?

Some platforms are built for expansion. Shopify has their app marketplace, but as an app developer myself I find that there are significant hurdles within the Shopify app ecosystem that makes it less attractive for expansion.

WooCommerce and Magento provide incredible plugins and customization. They are built to be automated and have thriving marketplaces for plugins. There are connectors for external shipping, ERP, tracking, and other services.

Will I need to host the store myself?

WooCommerce, Magento, PrestaShop, and other open source platforms require you to host them. This means that you need a company that can run your store for you. There are a lot of good options.

Some companies like GoDaddy and 1&1 provide ultra low-cost ($11/month) shared hosting and claim to be able to run WooCommerce and Magento. While they can technically run, they can’t handle many products at all. I’ve seen these kinds of stores max out at around 1000 products. They run slow and the back-end throws a lot of internal server errors when trying to update pricing, images, add new products, etc.

The best scenario is to find a hosting company that gives you platform-optimized options. For example, WordPress (WooCommerce) optimized hosting is becoming more popular. This means that the hosting company is providing a high capacity database and dedicated resources. It takes some digging because some hosting companies claim to have optimized hosting but it’s really just marketing.

There are a lot of factors to consider when setting up a new store.  Choosing the right platform is like buying a new jacket.  When it fits, it feels great.  When it doesn’t, it feels like a big bag of burlap.  Choose the store platform that fits you.

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