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A simple guide to the most popular South African e-commerce platforms to launch your online business

September 1, 2021

Online businesses are becoming more and more prevalent which has led to an increased interest in e-shops and e-commerce platforms. Our current blog series has been diving into a variety of themes which aim to promote the successful functioning of small, online businesses like yours. Whereas our previous blog dealt with the fundamental role of social media (with a specific focus on Facebook and Instagram) in optimising an online business, this blog investigates the popularity, benefits, and challenges of e-commerce platforms.

When starting your online business, an important decision that has to be made pertains to the most suitable e-commerce platform. An e-commerce platform is a software application that allows online businesses to manage many aspects of the business, including websites, marketing, sales and operations. These platforms, if utilised properly, may offer many benefits to businesses, including finding customers, driving sales and managing the daily functioning of the online business.

A shopping cart on top of a laptop
Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Choosing an e-commerce platform

The first question to be asked is: What factors should be considered when choosing an e-commerce platform?

The needs of every online business are unique but below are some important considerations when choosing the most appropriate platform for your business:

• Price and associated costs;

• Ease of Use;

• Functionalities and features;

• Design Customisation; and

• Ownership.

The priority of the above-mentioned considerations, and other factors that will influence the choice of platform, are dependent on the unique needs of each business.

Setting up an e-commerce platform

Although developing an e-shop may appear to be a daunting process, it can be simplified to the following steps:

1. Choose a name and obtain a domain;

2. Choose an appropriate e-commerce platform;

3. Plan, strategize, build and add content to your e-commerce platform;

4. Set up payment, delivery, marketing, and functionalities; and

5. Test and launch your e-commerce website.

A person holding a tablet and a paper with graphs
Photo by Firmbee.com on Unsplash

What are the different e-commerce platforms you can use as a South African business owner?

Given the rise in online shopping and the greater use of digital technologies, a wide variety of e-commerce platform options exist. The most common e-commerce platforms in South Africa are:  Magento, Shopify, Wix eCommerce and WooCommerce. Let us investigate these platforms in more detail, in order for business owners like yourselves to make a wise choice regarding the platform you wish to use.

Magento

Magento is an open-source e-commerce platform that allows you to set up an online shop free of charge. It is comprised of modern, drag-and-drop tools which allows the quick creation of compelling, personalised content and shopping experiences. The advantages include that it is built exclusively for e-commerce, offers several functionalities, provides 4 different editions and allows for the management of multiple stores. A few of the disadvantages include that problems may arise due to heavy load, it requires heavy servers and intensive data input and its installation and modification script may require a developer’s experience. Although the platform does offer a free version, use of support and extensions requires payment.

Shopify

Shopify is a subscription-based and complete eCommerce solution. Once you have signed up, you can create and develop your store without a lot of complex technical set-up. The platform powers over 1,700,000 businesses worldwide.

Shopify requires a monthly subscription which allows for the buying and selling of products through their platform. A wide variety of different packages are offered, based on your needs and requirements. A few of the benefits of Shopify include a relatively straightforward set-up process, continuous availability of customer support, compatibility with mobile devices, multi-functional features, and an independent payment gateway. The disadvantages include scalability, difficulty in customising a theme other than the default theme, lack of email hosting and relatively expensive costs.

Wix

In similarity with Shopify, Wix is a subscription-based and complete e-commerce solution. Once you have signed up, you can immediately start creating your store. Wix charges a monthly subscription to utilise their platform and offer 4 different monthly plans which are comprised of many different features. The pros include its user-friendly functionalities, fast set-up and affordability. The challenges include limited loading speeds and fewer tools when compared to other e-commerce platforms.

WooCommerce

WooCommerce is an open-source e-commerce plugin for WordPress. It offers a free service for setting up your online store, but costs may be incurred if you obtain the assistance of an e-commerce web developer for the set up. WooCommerce is known as a WordPress “plugin”, which means that your store may take on similar styling to that of your website. It is also very easy to transform a WordPress site into a WooCommerce store. Since this is a self-hosted solution, you will need to pay for your own website hosting. Its advantages lie in its infrastructure being able to handle thousands of products and categories and its back-end systems/processes being relatively user-friendly.

a person using a laptop
Photo by Mikhail Nilov from Pexels

Making a decision about which platform would work best for your business will depend on the size, resources and needs of your online business. For business owners who are just starting out, Wix or WooCommerce would most likely be the most appropriate options due to their user-friendly tools and affordability. Shopify and Magento would be the recommended choices for larger businesses who require more complex functionalities and require the input of larger amounts of data. However, the above platforms are just four of many options that are at your disposal. It is recommended that you do more research, try out different platforms and view the platforms from a buyer’s perspective. These tips, along with the information given above, will assist you in making the best choice when it comes to choosing the ideal e-commerce platform for your online business.

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