It takes effort and tech skills to create any website. The process becomes even more complicated, when it comes to the development of eCommerce projects like online stores. The choice of the most suitable platform proves to be one of the major challenges here.
In this review, we are going to analyze the most full-featured and affordable ecommerce solutions for beginners. However, we are going to focus not only on the development simplicity aspect, but on the possibility of further website growth up to the large-scale project.
CMS (Content Management System) – is a type of software, which makes it possible to manage your website content, using a convenient graphical interface and concentrate on individual tasks (for example, creating and publishing web pages, moderating comments, editing etc.) with regard to user roles.
Thus, an eCommerce CMS should obligatory have at least two roles: a seller and a buyer. Each of them will have its own interface to access the required functions. For effective performance, such engines require the functionality to post information about products, prices as well as the opportunity for order placement (there are a lot of nuances here that will depend on payment, delivery and customer interaction options).
What can modern CMS offer for online stores? Let’s figure that out, reviewing the most popular eCommerce platforms from our list.
Best eCommerce CMS:
WordPress – The Most Popular Full-Featured Software
WordPress – is a CMS, which has initially been created with easy blogging in mind. However, free software nature, its open-code design approach, convenience for web designers and ordinary users as well as simplicity of add-on creation have brought the system popularity to the brand new level. WordPress is currently one of the top tools in the list of the best CMS in the world. The platform can be used for a variety of purposes, including the creation of one-page websites/landing pages, corporate projects, large-scale info portals – the list is quite extensive.
The CMS is also quite effective for starting full-featured online stores. To launch a project with it, however, you will have to install special plugins like WooCommerce, for example, as the software does not work well for eCommerce purposes in its baseline version.
Pros. WordPress – is the most popular platform for creating any websites with all the related advantages: a large number of add-ons (both official and unofficial, paid and free), a huge amount of learning information, affordable prices for the services of niche experts (if required), an exhaustive number of templates and the possibility to customize them from scratch etc.
WordPress + WooCommerce solution is worth separate attention. You can start a web store absolutely for free. You can even find free add-ons and templates that will come up to the website owner in their functionality and built-in toolset etc.
This CMS has a very user-friendly interface that will even be suitable for beginners. The project has all the chances to develop into a large-scale project without the need to be transferred to another platform.
Cons. You will have to spend much time to figure out the optimal web store configuration. This is required to find, set up and even sometimes translate necessary plugins. Some extensions (especially design templates) may be paid.
Cost. The use of WordPress CMS and its multiple plugins, including WooCommerce is completely free. You won’t have to invest more into the system except for obligatory hosting and domain expenses. This is, however, typical for any “out-of-the-box” CMS websites. If you have enough experience and/or time, you can implement a functional/full-featured online store without any extra investments. In case you wish to speed up the process, get a premium theme or specific functionality, you will have to buy a corresponding add-on or hire a niche expert. Anyway, the prices are lower here as compared to other platforms. A special comprehensive hosting provider the CMS developers recommend to their subscribers is Bluehost. Its cost starts at $2.95/mo.
Magento – Professional eCommerce Open-Code Platform
Magento – is one of the most popular eCommerce CMS in the world. It is widely used for the development of large-scale online stores. The system has been acquired by Adobe, which has extended its worldwide popularity and applicability.
Regardless of its open-code structure, this CMS cannot be called a completely free product. You can only download the Magento Open Source edition for free, which, however, comes with certain functionality restrictions. All the options, including cloud hosting, advanced analytics and an online page builder, are available only in the commercial version of the engine – Magento Commerce (now Adobe Commerce). The cost of the latter is formed individually.
Pros. Magento is a serious project supported by a professional development team. It is based on a clear commercial model – sales of the main product (cloud service). The CMS provides all the necessary functions and capabilities to launch an online store out-of-the-box. After all, this is a specialized platform for high-load projects)
There is everything to have a team work opportunity here – from access rights to multi website support (several websites that are actually controlled by one engine).
Cons. The CMS is not quite affordable for ordinary users. It is possible to use the baseline version of the system for free yet you should be ready to invest into extra features to launch a large-scale eCommerce project. Due to the incompatibility of different CMS versions, you will have to spend much time selecting suitable add-ons. There are literally about a dozen design templates in the official marketplace of the software (it is initially supposed that a custom project is created from scratch here). You can also find themes on third-party resources, but the choice is also quite limited.
Cost. Magento Open Source Edition is available for download and installation for free. You can even take part in the development process on GitHub. Many add-ons in the official catalog however, will cost you around $40-$200, while the cost of individual extensions may reach thousands of dollars.
The cost of the cloud edition is determined individually, only by request. According to real customers, however, a minimum price tag may reach about $ 2,000/mo. The launch of an online store through official partners will cost you around $20000-$30000.
PrestaShop – Niche CMS for Online Store Creation
PrestaShop – is an open source CMS written on PHP (it can operate on almost any hosting, even on a shared host). The system has everything you need to run a small online store out of the box. The platform is quite popular in Europe – customers can not only get a ready-made engine, but also avail professional help directly from the official development team or from third-party specialists.
Pros. The software boasts an exhaustive functionality available in its baseline version (the mechanisms for generating SEO attributes are thought out, there is a built-in CRM system, email newsletters, customer notifications, product import/export etc.). If necessary, you can install add-ons from the official catalog.
The interfaces available in several languages – you can choose the one on the stage of installation. Support is provided not only by the community, but also by the development team.
Cons. The major PrestaShop problem is the cost of its add-ons. There are free extensions in the catalog of the service, but their list is quite limited. There are no free templates here at all (except for the one that comes with the engine by default). There is no official cloud version of the software either. You can make use of the quick deployment provided by the platform partners only. Bluehost is one of the potential solutions here that lets you launch the system with one click directly from the control panel.
Cost. The CMS is free and it is possible to use any hosting, including shared. The major investments include the purchase of dd-ons and templates. The cost of plugins ranges around $35-$760, while that of themes will cost you around $65-$325. There is an opportunity to opt for the start-packs, which include the full set of extensions in one package. Its cost ranges around $85-$325.
Joomla – Feature-Rich System That Will Work for a Web Store
Joomla – is an open-source CMS, which makes it possible to create full-featured dynamic websites of any complexity level. What’s more, this is one of a few modern content management systems that can compete with WordPress in terms of functionality, abundance of additional modules and the scale of the established community.
You can create a web store on Joomla using special modules. These can be paid or free solutions. Some of them include EShop (paid), cciDEAL (paid), HIKA Shop (free), j2Store, Phoca Cart, VirtueMart (free) etc.
Pros. You get all the features of the basic CMS (convenient content management, a lot of extensions, a modular structure to reduce the load on hosting etc.). Additionally, you can avail eCommerce functionality (unlimited catalog, shopping cart, integration with payment systems etc.).
As opposed to WordPress, Joomla unveils more opportunities to work with complex web page structures and creates less load on hosting. There is a convenient content visual editor and advanced management of user access roles. You can add missing functionality by installing additional plugins from the official or unofficial catalog.
Cons. The modular structure of the platform seems somewhat confusing, especially for newbies. beginners to understand. The choice of modules that implement the eCommerce functionality complicates the set up process. Each of them has its own strong and weak points, plugin infrastructure, technical restrictions (including integration with the necessary external services) etc. A number of modules and design templates are paid. Compatibility problems require special attention. The available eCommerce extensions do not always keep up with the releases of a new software version.
Cost. The engine is completely free. eCommerce add-ons and templates are paid and free as well. Paid extensions may imply a one-time purchase ($40-$100) or a recurring subscription (from $100/year). Paid templates for VirtueMart (the most popular Joomla eCommerce module) will cost around $20-$100.
osCommerce (Phoenix) – Open Source eCommerce Platform
osCommerce – is an open-source CMS that was first introduced in 2000. The original name of the software is The Exchange Project. It was mainly developed by one author – Harald Ponce de Leon. This CMS acquired the target audience after the release of its 2.0 version. The third version was released in 2011, but it did not receive such wide recognition. Many online store owners decided to stay on the previous 2.0 version as there were many useful add-ons and templates available for it out there.
After the author seized coding the platform, the community kept working on its development.
The current version of the engine is 220.127.116.11 (the latest release took place in 2017), while the community-supported code is separated into another branch – CE Phoenix (Community Edition of osCommerce). The first release of this project took place in 2019. The current version is v18.104.22.168 (October 2021). The engine is live and actively developing.
Pros. The project has been completely restored after many years of neglect. There is a sufficient number of add-ons in its official catalog now (more than 9 thousand extensions). The engine boasts support for all modern technologies and high page load speed, even if there are thousands of products in the catalog. Multilanguage support is available here as well.
The source code is open and you can configure it to suit your needs (many companies and development teams have even created their own frameworks based on osCommerce, like a paid SoloMono software or a free Zen Cart engine, for example). Support can be availed both free of charge (including niche forums) and on a paid basis (through partners). Shared hosting will be enough for work (only PHP and MySQL are required as they will work well even for the older versions).
Cons. Whatever expectations users set on the Phoenix project, many of them keep running their online stores on the second version of the platform. There are still a few intelligible and useful add-ons for the new platform. There are also a few templates for this engine online, even paid ones. Launching a new project on osCommerce will be quite challenging for beginners as support options are quite limited here as well.
Cost. The original engine is distributed completely free of charge. A framework developed by the Ukrainian team Solomono will cost about $300 USD (this is the price for the basic package, some of the add-ons will have to be purchased separately). Professional osCommerce templates can be purchased for about $100.
We have reviewed the most popular solutions for creating full-fledged online stores. Each of these engines has its own strong and weak points. Even if the software is distributed for free, this does not mean that you will not have to invest a penny in it. You will at least have to purchase high-quality hosting. It should preferably be unlimited, letting you install CMS in one click. Bluehost and HostGator as the best samples here. The host should also provide an opportunity of second level domain connection (the costs will depend on the selected zone and registrar here, although companies frequently provide bonus domains for a year).
When it comes to WordPress and Joomla, you will have to dive into technical details and spend much time on the search, installation and set up of the required plugins. This will be extremely difficult for beginners.
Some platforms like Magento, which make it possible to work with high load projects, eventually prove to be too complicated and require mandatory professional assistance. The services of experts, however, are quite expensive.
It is possible to run a store on niche eCommerce platforms like PrestaShop, but you will hardly go without buying extra add-ons or templates. Additionally, you will face the need to study tech nuances and invest much time like in WordPress or Joomla.
Commercial engines are worth separate attention. Getting a license is just the tip of the iceberg here. You will additionally require the rent of special hosting, implementation investments, development of unique design, buying plugins, various complex integrations etc. All these expenses, however, can be justified for large-scale projects, especially when there is always someone to hold for account.
Anyway, there is no universal solution. Therefore, you need to make the choice with regard to your preferences, goals and website tasks as well as required technical capabilities. Any choice is always a compromise. You may need something but you are ready to sacrifice that. Likewise, you may eventually regret something, when the consequences of your choice become obvious.