These days, 51% of Americans prefer to shop online rather than in stores, a figure that jumps to 67% for Millennials and 56% for Gen-Xers. Yet, research shows 46% of small businesses don’t have a website.
This disconnect between what shoppers want and what retailers are actually delivering is even more startling when you look at the actual numbers: Data gathered by the National Retail Federation recent consumer survey found that 108.5 million people shopped Black Friday deals online last year, while 99 million shopped in-store.
More people than ever are shopping online than they are in physical stores. And according to some experts, online sales will increase from $335 billion in 2015 to $523 billion in 2020, a rise of 9.32% per year, although the current annual growth rate is actually 14%.
Think about it – what did you last purchase and where? Me? I just bought a coffee. But earlier today I compared prices online for a bag I’ve had my eye on for a while as I ate breakfast in my kitchen Interestingly, stats show 43% of online shoppers have made a purchase while in bed, and 23% of online shoppers have made an online purchase at the office. We love the convenience of shopping when we want and where we want.
This growing demand for ultra-convenience is pushing for eCommerce companies to innovate and deliver increasingly powerful features to their platforms, while retailers are also expected to keep up, and even anticipate, online shopping trends – because if they don’t, their competitors will.
So in this eCommerce guide, we’ll take a look at the eCommerce platforms dominating 2017 and also break down the trends we’re seeing this year as Cyber November and the holiday shopping season fast approaches.
The top 4 eCommerce platforms compared
Retailers are spoilt for choice when it comes to finding and implementing an eCommerce solution. There are so many options now available that are easy for non-technical people to setup – the only hard part is choosing the right platform.
Keeping in mind online shopping trends (which you can read more about further down in this article) and the needs of different kinds of online stores, from artists selling one-off digital prints to established stores selling physical goods, here are the top 4 eCommerce platforms in 2017.
First launched in 2008, Magento is an open eCommerce platform now owned by the eBay group. With the largest slice of the market share at 29.1%, Magento handles $100 billion in gross merchandise volume every year.
- Hugely flexible. With a community of more than 150,000 developers, the core Magento software can be extended with add-ons and integrations for shipping, marketing, security, social media integration and more.
- Feature-rich. Magento’s community version allows you to manage multiple storefronts, multiple location, multiple currencies and multiple languages with a user-friendly UI.
- Free community version. The community version is free for small to medium sized businesses.
- Helpful community. Magento has a large community of users and developers.
- Difficult and time consuming to customize. There’s a steep learning curve that comes with using Magento. While it’s hugely customizable, non-technical users will likely need help from a developer.
- Expensive for small businesses. The community version if free, but the enterprise version starts at $18,000.
- Hosting is not included. Hosting and setup will be additional costs.
Magento Community (CE) is free to download and use for small-medium size businesses. Magento Enterprise (EE) is $18,000 per year for large businesses. Extensions and add-ons for both versions cost extra, as does hosting for the CE version.
Best suited to:
Many popular brands like Burger King, Huawei, and Liverpool F.C. use Magento for its reliability and scalability. The platform is considered the best eCommerce platform for enterprise level online stores.
WooCommerce, a plugin for WordPress, is another popular open source eCommerce solution. Launched in 2011, it was acquired by Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, and a core contributor to the WordPress software. It holds 26.5% market share and powers 380,000 online stores, while the WordPress platform is used by 28.5% of all websites.
- It’s free to download and use.
- WooCommerce is regularly audited by Sucuri, an industry leader in security.
- You can sell anything from physical products and digital downloads to subscriptions, content and even appointments.
- It has fewer administration costs compared to Magento and PrestaShop.
- It’s designed to work with any WordPress theme, of which there are thousands available.
- Since WooCommerce is open source, you can modify and customize anything and everything.
- There are more than 400 official extensions for WooCommerce for everything from payments and shipping to marketing, accounting, and analytics.
- Since it’s built on WordPress, you can leverage its customizable blogging tools for content marketing and build your brand.
- The more extensions you add to your store, the more you’ll be paying each month in licensing fees.
- You’ll need to take care of hosting and setting up your website yourself before you can install the WooCommerce plugin.
- Basic customizations are fairly easy, but if you want to change the look and feel of your store, you might find it difficult if you’re not comfortable using WordPress.
- You can’t use WooCommerce without WordPress.
The WooCommerce plugin is free to download and use. Hosting, extensions, and add-ons cost extra. Find out more about pricing for WooCommerce hosting, extensions and add-ons.
Best suited to:
Websites that are already using WordPress. If your website runs on WordPress, it’s easy to install the WooCommerce plugin and get started right away, whether you want to run a small shop or large store with many products.
Founded in 2004, Shopify was initially based on software written by its founders for their online snowboard store. The hugely popular eCommerce platform now holds 10.5% market share, powers 500,000 online stores and handles a total gross merchandise volume exceeding $40 billion.
- There are more 100+ store templates to choose from and if you don’t like any of the templates, you can customize your store’s HTML and CSS, use the built-in website builder, or work with a “Shopify Expert” to customize your store from the ground up.
- Shopify comes with free hosting and SSL certificate. All pages, content, credit card, and transaction information is protected by the same level of security used by banks.
- There are 70 payment gateways and credit cards are accepted. The platform integrates with all the popular gateways, like PayPal and Stripe, and even bitcoin. Plus, you can accept Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and American Express.
- Shopify uses its own templating language Liquid rather than PHP, so making customization can be tricky for non-technical users.
- The content marketing options are basic. While Shopify does provide a blogging platform, it doesn’t hold a candle to WordPress.
The Basic Shopify package is $29, the Shopify package is $79, and the Advanced Shopify packages is $299. Plus there are additional fees for credit card transactions.
Best suited to:
If your primary goal is to get up and running as quickly as possible, then a fully hosted platform like Shopify is for you. Best suited to small and medium businesses.
PrestaShop started out as an open source student project in Paris in 2005. It now powers 250,000 online stores, with 9% market share. According to W3Techs, PrestaShop is used by 0.5% of all websites. It’s easy to setup and configure, and is available either as a fully-hosted solution in the Prestashop cloud, or self-hosted, giving you full technical control of your online store. Both options are free.
- It’s easy to install and customize (especially compared to Magento and WooCommerce) and includes a user-friendly dashboard that gives you a quick overview of your store’s stats.
- It comes with a “Live Configurator” that allows you to easily customize fonts and colors.
- It’s available in 40 languages.
- There are hundreds of PrestaShop add-ons and modules that can extend the core software, including payment and shipping, security, SEO, social media, and analytics.
- The default PrestaShop theme comes with few customizations.
- You’ll need to buy templates, themes, add-ons, and modules if you want to customize, extend and build out your online store, which can be costly.
- Support is a paid add-on. If you need help setting up your store or diagnosing technical issues, you’ll need to either pay for support (the basic Support Easy Plan costs $279.99 a month) or try your luck in the PrestaShop forums.
PrestaShop is free to download and use. Hosting, extensions, and add-ons cost extra.
Best suited to:
Like WooCommerce, setting up PrestaShop involves some technical know-how, especially if you choose the self-hosted version. It’s best suited to small or medium businesses that require multiple languages.
2017 eCommerce industry trends
While the number of people shopping online is growing each year, with 30% of Americans shopping online at least weekly, growing an online business is still a difficult task, even for experienced retailers. Simply launching a store is hoping for the best isn’t enough – the most successful retailers are strategic and targeted in their efforts.
So let’s take a look at the trends and important developments in eCommerce this year that companies need to take advantage of to ensure sales growth.
The rise of mobile
Last year, Google search queries for products on mobile surpassed desktop searches for the first time. What does that mean? It means if you’re not implementing a “mobile first” approach to your store’s shopping experience, potential customers who have a hard time using your site will shop elsewhere. Mobile-first implies that your strategy primarily revolves around the experience of mobile users.
Just as shoppers like to buy in bed, 20% of American online shoppers have purchased from the bathroom or while in the car. How are they doing that? With their mobile phones (or tablets, too).
As these figures suggest, retailers need to fully embrace the fact consumers want to shop online using different devices that are convenient for them.
But it’s more than just having a responsive website. Many big companies are blurring the lines between their physical and online stores and mobile is playing a big part as these examples show:
- The Walgreens app allows users to renew prescriptions by scanning products. On top of that, the app changes when customers are near a stop and then again when they are inside it, offering exclusive deals and features.
- L’Oréal Paris has designed diagnostic tools for skincare, cosmetics, haircare, and hair color for use on mobiles that allow consumers to “try on” different shades of make-up and “scan” their hair color. Not only is this convenient for potential customers to play around with, but it provides the company with invaluable customer data for personalized interactions.
Conversational commerce is a recent term coined by former Uber developer experience lead Chris Messina. It refers to the intersection of messaging apps and shopping, more specifically the trend toward interacting with businesses through messaging and chat apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Talk, and WeChat, as well as voice technology, like Amazon’s Echo.
With conversational commerce, consumers can talk to chatbots, real people, or a mixture of both in messaging apps, much like you would with any person in your contact list, to ask questions about a product, get personalized recommendations, and even buy directly in the app.
For businesses, conversational commerce automates customer service and support, allowing for interaction in real-time, which is hugely convenient for consumers who want immediate help when they need it.
Live chat is also becoming an increasingly popular eCommerce tool for businesses that want to provide the closest thing online to a shop floor experience. Live chat is immediate and real people answer your questions in real-time while you’re browsing online.
According to Shopify, customers who use live chat are three times more likely to become return shoppers and have 48% larger order sizes. Forrester Research has also found that 44% of online consumers say that having questions answered by a live person while in the middle of an online purchase is one of the most important features a website can offer.
So it’s no surprise that outdoor clothing company The North Face experienced a 33% jump in conversions when it added live chat to its site and staffed a dedicated chat team.
Social commerce isn’t slowing down
Social commerce is about building a relationship with customers rather than marketing or advertising a product or service. Essentially, it’s about influencing consumers – using social networks to find, connect with, understand, and develop meaningful relationships with potential customers that keep your brand front of mind so when they’re ready to buy, you’ll be the first point of contact.
According to one study, social media influences buying decision of about 74% online shoppers. Plus, 60% of retailers who implemented social commerce said they gained new customers from different social networks.
Social commerce delivers the ultimate in convenience by allowing customers to purchase directly from their preferred social media channels rather than having to exit to a separate shopping cart. Take Instagram, for example, which introduced Instagram Shopping last year. The feature allows people to seamlessly tap and shop products, going from inspiration to information to purchase in just a few steps.
Shopping online is becoming hyper personalized as more and more retailers leverage big data. While personalization is not a new concept – online stores have been offering features like wishlists and product recommendations based on past purchases for years – hyper personalization takes it to the next level.
Hyper personalization is the systematic collection, real-time analysis and use of a huge range of customer information in context, from the device they’re using to their mood, shopping intentions, and previous brand interactions. The Google Display Network’s huge advertising network – you know, those ads that seem to follow you everywhere you go online – is just the start.
While hyper personalization is still in its infancy, some big brands are already using it to their advantage. Take Spotify, for example, which has used user data to provide uniquely personalized music recommendations, and even inform stats for its advertising.
We are now well into 2017 and not far off Cyber November, so if you’re thinking about setting up an online store, now’s the time to do it. The top four eCommerce platforms mentioned in this post are hugely customizable, with hundreds of extensions available for Magento, WooCommerce, and PrestaShop in our eCommerce marketplace.
All the trends mentioned above will continue on into 2018, so if want to grow your online store, make sure you adopt them soon so you’re not left playing catch up to your competition.