How we set up our online store, Part 2: Picking an eCommerce Platform
(See Part 1)
The first thing we wanted to do was get a nice looking store up and running so we could put some products online, and start to get real world feedback. The store had to look professional, because we wanted to gauge whether people liked the products or not. We did not want people leaving because the store looked cheap or fishy looking.
My criteria for selecting an ecommerce platform were:
- A hosted solution. I did not want to deal with installing software, renting servers, etc.
- Great looking design templates (themes). I did not want to have to hire a designer at this stage.
- Lots of possibilities for upgrading. I’d rather pick a solution that would allow us to pay for upgrades as needed, instead of being limited to the basic functionality that we needed on day 1.
- Reasonable monthly fees, with tiered pricing
And most importantly:
- It had to be easy to get started
After some research online, and asking friends, I narrowed it down to Shopify and Magento. Magento is an open source ecommerce platform which was bought in 2011 by eBay, and has a wide range of solutions from a low-end hosted solution, to solutions for large companies. Shopify is a Canadian startup with a fully-hosted solution, at various price points. I signed up for the 30 day free trials on both MagentoGo (Magento’s hosted solution) and on Shopify.
Both seemed to have a vibrant ecosystem of 3rd parties creating plug-ins, providing services, and designing themes. Both seemed to allow integration of many payment providers. Both seemed to have sophisticated admin consoles allowing you to easily add products.
My first test was to see if I could find a nice theme. I was willing to pay a reasonable amount, up to $200, for a nice theme, figuring that this was much much cheaper that hiring a designer. After spending some time on both platforms, I found that Shopify had a very nice selection of high quality themes, and most importantly we were able to find a theme that suited our concept for $150. MagentoGo’s themes didn’t have much variation, and the overall level of quality and finish seemed much lower. Shopify seemed like the Tumblr of eCommerce, while Magento was like Blogger. If you selected Magento you needed to have the budget to hire a designer to either design a new theme from scratch or to customize an existing theme.
At this stage, given that our goal was to get a professional looking site up and running quickly, we went with Shopify. I selected the Basic, $29/month, plan. It only took us a month until we needed to upgrade to the $59/month option, but more on that in another post.
Checking out both options only took us a couple of hours, and after buying a domain name at GoDaddy and pointing it to our new Shopify store, we were up and running that evening.