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Top 7 eCommerce platforms for 2021

Every organisation will have its own unique combination of needs, budget and resource which will dictate which platform will work best for you. Before choosing a platform, it is important to have an idea of your goals and future intentions for the store to save time on re-platforming in the future. For example, if you’re looking to create a store with a small range, or to perhaps introduce print-on-demand products and ticketing bundles in the future, then the platform must also support these needs. Reviewing your store requirements will help determine which platform will be fit for purpose for now and in the future.

Other possible factors to consider when choosing a platform could be:

  • Whether your store will need to connect with existing software such as financial accounting, ticketing, POS, warehouse distribution, email platforms, delivery partners or suppliers.
  • Flexibility for new opportunities such as print-on-demand, marketing tools, marketplaces and social media platforms.
  • Any bespoke sales promotion offers or loyalty programmes that will need to be supported for your organisation.
  • A solution where staff will feel confident with the new system, from front-of-house to customer service, marketing and financial teams.

Let’s take a look at the top 7 platforms in more detail:

1. Shopify

Shopify logo

We’re going to start with Shopify as it’s one of the most popular platforms across the sector. Some key benefits of Shopify are that it’s really easy to set up, you don’t need any coding experience, and you could manage the build in-house without needing an agency (which saves on set-up costs). Thanks to its code-less store-building tools and its intuitive interface, users are able to easily set up products, manage orders and create promotions. Plus, there is a wide range of pre-existing shop templates that give you a professional-looking store, which can easily be branded for your organisation.

The level of support is by far the best across all the existing eCommerce platforms. This Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform has a large number of add-ons and extensions available that can extend the capability of your store, which is a huge selling-point. Most new apps are built to integrate with Shopify first due to the popularity of the platform, plus Shopify actively looks to partner with the next best tech. Shopify makes it easy to scale up or down for small and large sized organisations.

A selection of arts and cultural organisations currently using Shopify: Baltic Mill, Museum of London, Southbank Centre, Barbican, Bristol Museums, Whitechapel Gallery, William Morris Gallery, Turner Contemporary, Royal Opera House, Tank Museum, Photographers Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Royal Albert Hall, Snape Maltings, Unbound, National Theatre, Science Museum, Grimm and Co, Shakespeares Globe, National Portrait Gallery, Royal Shakespeare Company, Birmingham Royal Ballet, London Symphony Orchestra, Halle Concerts Society, Birmingham Museums Trust, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra ,Hepworth Wakefield, The Lowry Centre Trust, Museums Sheffield, The Reading Agency, Derby Museums, Towner Art Gallery, The Design Museum, Northern Print, Watts Gallery Trust, Wallace Collection, Sir John Soane Museum, Royal Museums Greenwich, British Motor Industry Museum, Live Art Development Agency (LADA), Amber Film & Photography Collective, Theatre Centre, Inpress, Snape Maltings, Kettles Yard, Manchester Art Gallery, National Theatre, SS Great Britain.

Site-building features:

  • Unlimited product listings
  • Custom domains
  • Real-time sales statistics
  • Inventory tracking
  • AI/Personalisation
  • Over 70 themes/templates available
  • Mobile optimised
  • Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) – no hidden hosting fees, automatic platform updates at no extra cost

Level of support:

Support rating: A

Analytics available? Yes

  • Dashboard
  • Product Reports
  • Export Reports
  • Google Analytics
  • Traffic/Referral Reports

Price:

  • Basic Shopify ($29/mo)
  • Shopify ($79/mo)
  • Advanced Shopify ($299)
  • App extensions and add-ons -some will incur extra costs.

2. Magento

Magento logo

Magento is one of the most powerful eCommerce platforms on the market. However, it has a hefty price tag attached due to it being heavily customisable to fit with pre-existing or legacy software solutions for an organisation. Unlike Shopify, you’ll need to have a developer or an agency to help with the build and set up the store. You’ll also need to spend time training up your team on how to use and manage this powerful platform. If you don’t have the budget to hire your own Magento developer, everything you do within your store will be self-taught, with a longer timeframe to launch. Open Source users gain access to a large and knowledgeable Magento community that can answer questions and troubleshoot problems. In the long run you’ll need to rely heavily on developers to help with platform updates as Magento is offered as a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) which means you’re responsible for updating software changes and general maintenance of the store.

This platform is very much geared up to support larger organisations producing larger collections, with an emphasis on bespoke and custom approaches for generating powerful strategic sales campaigns. There are fewer arts and cultural organisations using Magento due to the price tag. However, it is a popular choice of platform worldwide for other sectors who are eCommerce-led.

A selection of arts and cultural organisations currently using Magento: London Transport Museum, Royal Academy of Arts, Kew Gardens, National History Museum, British Museum, National Trust Scotland, Westminster Abbey, Royal Collections Trust, V&A (soon to move to Salesforce)

Site Building Features:

Magento Open Source comes with the following basic features:

  • Integrated checkout, payment and shipping
  • Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), highly customisable with open API integrations
  • Mobile-optimised shopping
  • Catalogue management
  • Extended Functionality via app marketplace
  • Instant purchase
  • Site search

Level of support:

Support Rating: D

Open Source support is virtually non-existent, as you’re expected to develop your site on your own using available guides and community resources.

Magento Commerce support includes direct support, which comes with a steep price tag.

  • Online help centre
  • Community forums

Analytics available? Yes, with integrations and add-ons

Price:

Prices for Magento are in two tiers:

  • Magento Open Source is free to download and use. However, expect to pay for everything else associated with the site, like hosting, themes, development, add-ons, etc.
  • Magento Commerce is the enterprise-level solution. Prices quoted by a sales rep are reported to run anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000 annually.

 

3. WooCommerce

Woocommerce logo

WooCommerce is an open-source WordPress shopping cart plugin owned and developed by WordPress. It’s one of the most popular eCommerce options, due to many websites being built with WordPress. It’s less commonly used in the arts and culture sector, however it does provide a powerful eCommerce solution which is free to install and won’t cost you extra hosting fees to get started if you are already using WordPress for your website.

You can build a seamless customer experience from website to shop under the same domain and utilise already existing marketing tools purchased for your website. There are many pre-existing shop templates to choose from or you can use a developer to create a custom looking shop to mirror the look of your website. It also has a large variety of app plug-ins to keep your store up to date with the latest trends such as product reviews, latest payment solutions and scaling opportunities. If your team isn’t very comfortable with updating your website, you may find making updates to your store difficult, but there are help guides and ticketed support available.

A selection of arts and cultural organisations currently using WooCommerce: Photoworks, National Horseracing Museum, Collections Trust, Ikon Gallery, Modern Art Oxford, Brighton Museums, Out of Joint, The Poetry Society, Jasmin Vardimon Dance Company, Serendipity, South London Gallery, Northern Broadsides Theatre Company, Company Chameleon, Multistory, National Youth Jazz Orchestra, Intoart, Punchdrunk, Art Car Boot Fair,

Site Building Features:

The free WooCommerce download comes with the following features:

  • Mobile-optimised shopping
  • Geo-location support
  • Catalogue management
  • Inventory management
  • Shipping options and calculator
  • Coupons and discounts
  • An open source app store to extensions and plug ins

Level of support:

Support Rating: C

WooCommerce does not have phone or email support. Users have to file a ticket, which will be answered via live chat within 24 hours.

  • Live chat
  • Online help guides
  • Community forums

Analytics available? Yes

  • Google Analytics integration
  • Third-party plugins available

Price: Free to download, some extensions and add-ons will incur extra costs.

4. Squarespace

Squarespace logo

Squarespace is a New York-based Software-as-a-Service company that provides website and eCommerce store building and hosting to organisations. It’s a contender to WordPress but demands less technical knowledge and no coding experience. Many smaller arts and cultural organisations have adopted Squarespace due to the drag-and-drop functionality and pre-built website templates to create their web pages and online shop. However, Squarespace is most appropriate for individual creatives and small organisations with basic eCommerce needs. The eCommerce platform is effective, but only as a companion to the main website builder. Organisations with more advanced online retail requirements or that handle a large amount of stock inventory would be better off with a more dedicated eCommerce platform, as there are limitations for add-ons and services.

A selection of arts and cultural organisations currently using Squarespace Commerce: Heartnsoul, Pacitti Company, Alexander Augustus.

Site Building Features:

Squarespace offers the following options for its ecommerce extension:

  • Abandon cart auto-recovery
  • Digital products
  • Personalised products
  • Product import/export
  • Real time shipping rates and tracking
  • SEO tools
  • Up-selling and cross-selling
  • Gift cards
  • Automatic discounts
  • Limited integration options
  • Mobile-optimised shopping

Level of support:

Support Rating: B+

Squarespace has plenty of ways to get help from both official and unofficial channels. All support options are accessible to all pricing tiers.

  • 24/7 Twitter support
  • 24/7 email support
  • Live chat support (Monday to Friday)
  • Online help centre
  • Community forums

Analytics available? Yes

  • Default builder analytics mostly serves generic websites. Only a few eCommerce-specific reports available.

Price:

Squarespace offers four monthly pricing tiers:

  • Personal ($16/mo)
  • Business ($26/mo)
  • Basic Commerce ($30/mo)
  • Advanced Commerce ($46/mo)

Only Business tier and up include eCommerce functionality. Squarespace charges a 3% transaction fee on any purchase made in the store. Free trials available, no credit card required.

5. Wix.com

wix.com logo

Wix.com is a cloud-based website builder that allows individuals or organisations to create online stores through drag-and-drop tools like Squarespace. It has an extensive range of templates and designs that make it easy for beginners and resource-strapped organisations to build a compelling and functional website. Wix is appealing to organisations who don’t have access to a dedicated web designer. The site builder itself is easy to use and the eCommerce functionality is robust enough to fulfil basic needs. Plugins can help extend the functionality, but organisations with deep or complex product lines and offers may be better off with a dedicated eCommerce platform, such as Shopify or Magento.

A selection of arts and cultural organisations currently using Wix: Inspirate- Indian Summer, Samira Addo.

Site Building Features:

The lowest eCommerce-capable tier of Wix.com offers the following eCommerce options:

  • Digital products
  • Product galleries
  • Shipping options
  • Discount codes
  • Inventory management
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Mobile-optimised
  • Payment options
  • Other functionalities available via extensions

Level of support:

Support Rating: A

  • Phone support
  • Social media support
  • Email support
  • Community forums
  • Online help centre

Subscribing to the Business VIP plan gains you priority phone and ticket status.

Analytics available? Yes

  • Google Analytics integration
  • In-app analytics

Price:

  • eCommerce ($17/mo)
  • VIP ($25/mo)
  • Business Basic ($23/mo)
  • Business Unlimited ($27/mo)
  • Business VIP ($35/mo)
  • Enterprise ($500/mo)

6. Big Cartel

big cartel logo

Big Cartel is an eCommerce platform made by artists, for artists. Started in 2005, this Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) site builder focuses on creators who need a place to sell artwork, clothing, jewellery and photo prints. Big Cartel is considered the best eCommerce platform for artists and smaller organisations who are looking for an alternative to the marketplace platform Etsy. The shop builder itself is simple, uncomplicated and helps artists to start out selling online.

The pricing structures are also attractive as Big Cartel does offer a free model, although this comes with some restrictions, such as limits on the number of products listed and images per product but the reasonably priced plans ease some of those limitations. All plans allow you to create and manage an online store, fill orders, monitor statistics, and run promotions. Another bonus is that Big Cartel doesn’t charge listing fees or transaction fees which is great for organisations with limited profit margins, just bear in mind that a payment processor fee will be applied to orders.

A selection of arts and cultural organisations currently using Big Cartel: Africa Oye Festival, De La Warr Pavilion, The Smokehouse.

Site Building Features:

Big Cartel’s site building features include:

  • Dashboard
  • Product options with different price points
  • Multiple selling channels
  • Online checkout
  • Limited tax calculation
  • Inventory management
  • Discount codes
  • SEO tools
  • Plugins available

Level of support:

Support Rating: A-

Big Cartel only offers limited support options, but their responses are helpful and timely. Questions posed through social media are often redirected to email.

  • Email support
  • Social media support
  • Online help center
  • Recorded webinars

Analytics available? Yes

  • Google Analytics integration

Price:

Big Cartel offers the following price options:

  • Gold (Free)
  • Platinum ($9.99/mo)
  • Diamond ($19.99/mo)
  • Titanium ($29.99/mo)

7. Salesforce Commerce Cloud (Demandware)

Salesforce logo

Salesforce Commerce Cloud, formerly known as DemandWare, is an enterprise-level eCommerce platform which offers an extensive range of features and capabilities for large scale organisations who have complex needs, large budgets and process millions of pounds in orders a year. It’s a highly capable platform that has enough customisations to cover any business need whether it’s Business to Business (B2B) or Business to Customer (B2C). The platform integrates perfectly with other Salesforce products and is future-proofed for any new app requirements or technology advances such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) or creating bespoke customer journeys.

It’s a complicated platform, so would suit organisations with a highly skilled eCommerce team and an in-house IT team in place. An aggressive retail strategy is a must for this platform, to help towards the expensive running costs of the platform. Organisations who are looking for a step up from Magento tend to seek Commerce Cloud as an alternative eCommerce platform.

A selection of arts and cultural organisations currently using Salesforce: Tate, soon to be V&A. Non- arts and cultural organisations: Fender, Sonos, Puma, Rituals, adidas.

Site Building Features:

The features for B2C Commerce Cloud are as follows:

  • Product and catalogue management
  • Marketing and advertising tools
  • Customer segmentation
  • Site search
  • Guided navigation
  • AI personalisation
  • Social media integration
  • Global scale
  • Responsive design
  • One-touch mobile payments
  • Multiple channels and retail locations
  • Customer targeting
  • A/B split testing
  • Commerce Cloud Endless Aisle
  • Full development platform including API support

The B2B Commerce Cloud has many of the same features as the B2C version, but also has:

  • Segment-specific pricing
  • Contract ordering
  • Multiple customer accounts in one company
  • Ability for sales to order stock
  • Order templates
  • Shipments split across locations
  • Real-time reports and analytics
  • Multisite management
  • Integration with other Salesforce product clouds

Level of support:

Support Rating: C

  • Online reviews indicate that customer support can be slow to respond and, because individual needs are complex and situational, may take time to come to a fruitful conclusion.
  • Salesforce Implementation partner
  • Online ticket system
  • Community forums
  • Online help centre

Analytics available? Yes

  • In-app real-time reports and analytics

Price:

Salesforce Commerce Cloud comes in two editions

  • Salesforce B2C Commerce (contact vendor)
  • Salesforce B2B Commerce (contact vendor)

There are no free trials available.

If you have any further questions or queries about any of the platforms listed above, please get in touch so we can discuss your bespoke needs for your organisation.

What’s next?

The Digital Culture Network is here to support you and your organisation. Our Tech Champions can provide free 1-2-1 support to all arts and cultural organisations who are in receipt of, or eligible for, Arts Council England funding. If you need help or would like to chat with us about any of the advice we have covered above, please get in touch. Sign up for our newsletter below and follow us on Twitter @ace_dcn for the latest updates.

Original article created in May 2021. Author: Emma Roberts.

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