What is the best Ecommerce software for entrepreneurs and new businesses?

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E-commerce is the buying and selling of goods or services on the internet, which for many businesses is an essential part of their sales strategy and is important because it gives your business the ability to reach more customers than through traditional retail, is more convenient for your customers, increases your marketing opportunities, and can easily scale with your growing business. It’s no surprise that moving your business “online” is all the craze.

One of the main benefits of adopting e-commerce is an increase in revenue. In fact, polls have found that 43% of small businesses experience sizable revenue growth when incorporating online sales. And thanks to the restrictions of the lockdown local e-commerce spending is estimated to have increased by 30% in the last year, meaning South African’s appetite for online shopping is greater than ever and growing.

There are a variety of tools that exist to assist with bringing your business online, which is a win for entrepreneurs! But, it does leave business owners with the tricky task of deciding which solution is suitable for their needs. With options ranging from paid and cloud-hosted, to free and self-hosted, as well as ranging in complexity from simple, code-free to more powerful but also advanced solutions, choosing the right option for your small business can be tricky. To make it easier for entrepreneurs and small business owners to select the best e-commerce software, we’ve highlighted some of the most important features you’ll need to consider below.

Which features are important for small businesses?

Costs: Since the goal of e-commerce is to make money online, the best e-commerce software for a small business is a free or low-cost solution that doesn’t compromise on ease of use. When choosing an e-commerce software solution, there are two main costs you need to consider:

  1. Setup Costs: How much does it cost to create and customise your shop?
  2. Ongoing Costs: These costs will depend on the solution and can include monthly fees, hosting, and other website-related fees, as well as transaction fees.

Ease of Use: For entrepreneurs, a solution that is free, but so complicated that it eats up hours of time that could be spent on other aspects of the business, can cost money instead of generating it! This means that the best e-commerce solution for small businesses is one that is quick and easy to set up and maintain. While self-hosted solutions may allow for greater flexibility and cost-savings, they often do so at the expense of simplicity.

Features: Although some e-commerce solutions offer powerful features, these often come at an increased cost and aren’t strictly necessary, especially if your business is just getting started in the world of e-commerce. There are, however, a number of basic features that are important for any e-commerce software to support in order for it to be considered as a viable solution. These include:

  1. Plugins: Can the online store be customised and expanded with plugins (like marketing or logistics software), and are they free or paid?
  2. Themes: Can you customise the look and feel of your store with themes and are they free or paid?
  3. Sales Tools: What kind of sales tools are integrated into the e-commerce solution? Can they be expanded with plugins?
  4. Payment Gateways: How many payment gateways does the solution support? Does it support local payment gateways and can one add additional gateways if needed?
  5. SEO: Are you able to implement SEO best practices in order to improve the ranking of your store and your products in Google search results?

Resources & Support: Since it’s your virtual storefront, and any downtime can mean a loss in sales, it’s vitally important that there is help available should anything go wrong! Apart from rich documentation and user guides, other useful resources include user forums and training courses. For those cases when documentation isn’t enough, support needs to be available around the clock. 

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Comparing the best e-commerce software for small businesses

Provider Shopify Basic WooCommerce Magento Open Source
Year launched

2006

2008

2008

Setup Cost

Free to setup. Pay to connect custom domain name.

Free (Open Source) - but pay for website hosting and domain connection.

Free (Open Source) - but pay for website hosting and domain connection. 

Ongoing Cost

$29 (approx. R435*) p/m + 2.0% transaction fee per order. Fee excludes payment gateway charges. 

Transaction fee dependent on the payment gateway.

Transaction fee dependent on the payment gateway.

Ease of Use

5/5

"Shopify is a quick and affordable way to create your online store. Shopify is amazing for people who don't know how to make their own website."

4/5

"WooCommerce is one of the most complete and powerful plugins for WordPress, just by installing it and applying certain settings we can transform our website into a fully functional online store."

3/5

"It is a lot more complex to develop than other eCommerce sites, however, this is an expected trade-off for the standard features and security."

Ideal Size business

Small - Large

Small - Large

Medium - Large

Resources

Help Center

Blog

Business Courses

Guides

Forums

Free tools

Podcasts

Business Encyclopedia

Shopify Experts

Mobile app

Open Source Documentation

Guides

Blog

Forum

Mobile App

Help Center

Tech Resources

Magento U

Resources Library

App Plugins

4,100+ apps that integrate directly with Shopify via the app store. Multiple shipping integrations with leading couriers. 

Hundreds of free and paid WooCommerce extensions on WC Marketplace, but select courier/shipping integrations. 

Thousands of free and premium extensions on Magento Commerce. Limited integrations with couriers. 

Support

24/7

Online (limited to paid products)

Only with Magento Commerce starting at $2000

Design/Themes

70+ professional themes. 9 Free. Easy to customise, but not drag and drop. Most themes include Blog function.

Woocommerce themes and 3 standard free, + thousands via  WordPress (paid themes). Requires code to edit look/feel, but supports drag & drop builder plugins like Elementor too. Most themes include blog function. 

Thousands of free and premium extensions available on upgrade to Magento Commerce, otherwise limited customization. 

Sales Tools

  • Google Analytics support
  • Product reports 
  • Abandoned Cart Reports and automations. Traffic/Referral reports 
  • Integrate/Sell on Instagram and Facebook. 
  • Built-in email marketing/newsletter. 
  • Live customer chat

Discount Codes and Gift Cards. 

  • Sizeable plugin directory. 
  • Link to Google Shopping.
  • Link to Facebook. 
  • Google Analytics support
  • Abandoned Cart automations. 
  • Email marketing/newsletter.

Discount Codes and Gift Cards. 

  • Only with Magento Commerce (Business Intelligence: reports and data visualisation)

Payment Gateways

100 payment gateways, including Payfast, PayU, and Peach Payments. 

140 region-specific gateways, including Payfast and PayU.

PayPal

Braintree

Klarna

Amazon Pay

More with extensions

SEO

Supports SEO best practices and can be extended with plugins.

Optimised through WordPress and can be extended with plugins like Yoast (free).

Supports SEO best practices and SEO extensions.

All above data sourced February 2021.

* Estimate calculated at an exchange rate of R15 to $1

And our winner is…

Well, it comes down to your preference and level of expertise.

With WooCommerce being a WordPress plugin, it is a great e-commerce solution for entrepreneurs that are comfortable in the WordPress ecosystem since it’s free to set up and use, is highly customisable thanks to its support of WordPress themes and its own repository of free and paid extensions, and supports a wide variety of region-specific payment gateways. Being a plugin, however, means that you are responsible for hosting and maintaining your online store, and the support available is limited to products purchased from WooCommerce.com. It’s also typically accepted that WooCommerce is better suited to entrepreneurs that are comfortable in adding “code” to their stores, or have the budget to hire a developer to do so. In all, WooCommerce is a well-rounded solution for many entrepreneurs. 

But, for the “man of the street” looking to get into e-commerce for the first time – and even mature businesses looking to grow their e-commerce function – we think that Shopify is the best e-commerce solution for entrepreneurs and small businesses. Despite its perceived higher monthly cost, web hosting is included in the price and its wide array of free app plugins and integrations make it worth every penny. 

Like all new software, there is a learning curve with Shopify, but it has the best array of online resources and 24/7 support to get you up and running fast. The app store is huge, and there are countless, free value-added apps to help you customise your store, enhance sales and integrate with a variety of different services including couriers and marketing solutions. The array of standard sales tools and beautifully designed templates to personalise your store’s look and feel, while supporting 100 payment gateways, makes the choice compelling. 

But arguably the biggest factor comes down to Shopify’s strategic partnerships. Shopify has partnered with Facebook and Instagram to allow merchants the ability to sell on their social media channels and run the backend through their Shopify store. This functionality has recently expanded into payments too, and although select features are not available in South Africa just yet, these moves add considerable value to merchants hoping to sell through as many channels as possible. Shopify is a simple yet powerful e-commerce solution that makes it easy to bring your business online. 

BUT WAIT…THERE’S MORE!

The above solutions are great if you want to setup your own freestanding e-commerce store. BUT – doing so can be a lonely journey. You’ll need to create all of your own web traffic. This requires budget, digital marketing, PR and it takes considerable time. There is also always a learning curve involved with how to setup and edit your store.

Now, whilst that’s the case with most store builders, we’ve built a solution to get you selling online with ease! (Drumroll please)…. introducing the getlion marketplace! South Africa’s leading B2B platform for verified businesses to sell their products and services online. Best of all, there’s no setup fee and you can have your online store up and running within a matter of minutes! We’ve taken the pain out of the setup and management of selling online, and you’ll be able to get your offering in front of countless online visitors organically. Want to know more? Visit marketplace.getlion.co.za today.

About getlion

At getlion, it’s our mission to see entrepreneurs succeed. We start by helping them make the best decisions for their business, and sort through the clutter of offerings out there! Beyond that, we’ve set out to build South Africa’s leading one-stop mobile app for entrepreneurs, boasting education, rewards, funding, an online B2B marketplace, and more. We’ve also partnered with the country’s leading companies to ensure that our users have access to the best (and often discounted) solutions. Visit getlion.co.za and download the getlion mobile app to enjoy offers from leading partners like Shopify and others.

Getlion