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What is the difference between an eCommerce website and an eCommerce platform?

When you are starting your eCommerce business, the website options available can be overwhelming. This breakdown will help you figure out your strategy.

Clea Sherman
September 30, 2022

Starting an eCommerce business is exciting but there are a lot of decisions to make. One of the first will be how to actually sell your products to people. 

Before you launch your business you will have to choose between a quick, ‘out of the box’ online sales website and what’s referred to as an eCommerce ‘platform’ that is more involved but more flexible when it comes to meeting your needs. There is also the very basic option to sell via an online marketplace. 

Take a look at your main choices for hosting your eCommerce activities and the pros and cons of each. 

eCommerce platforms

With the immense success of eCommerce in recent years, it is no surprise that people from all over the world are selling goods online as a way to either make a living or supplement their income.

One way to sell online is to use an eCommerce platform.

In simple terms, an eCommerce platform is a software-based platform that allows you to sell your goods online. It can be used to cater to all customer and business interactions, B2B, B2C, C2C (consumer to consumer), and  C2B (consumer to business).

There are three styles of eCommerce platforms:

  1. Open-Source.
  2. SaaS (software-as-a-service).
  3. Headless commerce.

Open source

An open-source platform allows you to alter all aspects of the source code so you can change almost anything to suit your needs.

These platforms give you total control over the way shopping is handled through your site but the drawback is that they involve a lengthy set-up process. It is advisable to use open source if you are highly tech literate or have IT staff in your organisation who can handle the day to day maintenance requirements of your eCommerce platform.

Open source eCommerce software is often free to use, but there are hidden costs associated with it. Fees like security, licencing, and maintenance all become the responsibility of the operator and can quickly mount up.

Even if you run your open source eCommerce platform through the cloud, you still need to manually implement all patches and software updates.

Examples of open source eCommerce platforms include:

The brands that use open source eCommerce platforms generally have sophisticated requirements and the budget for a team to manage constant updates and changes. 

SaaS

SaaS eCommerce platforms are cloud-based and easier to manage.

Using an SaaS option means you essentially lease the platform from the provider.

This method means that costs such as security and maintenance are part of the fees. Because of this, SaaS platforms are a cheap and easy solution for many businesses. They follow more of a template style and have a ‘drag and drop’ interface. 

The main issue when it comes to SaaS platforms is the lack of flexibility. Because they are managed by the platform provider, they won’t have the customisation options you enjoy with an open-source platform. 

Ease of setup and use affordability keep SaaS platforms in front of the competition for many businesses. They also tend to be the more affordable option. 

Examples of SaaS eCommerce platforms include:

All of the above are used by vendors all over the world, often with the help of an external agency that knows the ins and outs. 

Headless

Headless eCommerce platforms are another cloud-based system. With a headless platform, the shopping cart is decoupled from the content management system (CMS).

Decoupling the shopping cart from the CMS leaves you free to use any platform you like to create your business's website, with options like WordPress and Drupal being among the most popular.

SaaS platforms can also work with the same web platforms, but there can be issues due to the costs of technology stacks and constant drives for innovation. 

By decoupling from the CMS, headless platforms do away with such issues.

Headless platforms also have the benefit of being capable of running across multiple front-end solutions simultaneously.

Finally, going ‘headless’ can also improve security because your shopping platform is different from your front end. This means that if your front-end code is compromised, your back-end won't necessarily be, because it is independent of the rest of your site architecture., 

Examples of headless eCommerce platforms include:

eCommerce websites

An eCommerce website is any website that you build for yourself or your business that has eCommerce capabilities.

Many website-building platforms such as WordPress and Squarespace allow you to build a shop into your site. 

The problem with eCommerce websites is they do not offer anywhere near the flexibility and customisation of more specific eCommerce platforms. They also lack scalability.

This lack is why many businesses opt for eCommerce platforms rather than websites with a basic shopping plugin. 

How to set up an eCommerce website

Here is a quick guide to setting up your online selling destination:

  1. Choose your domain name

Your domain name is the name that appears after the www. in your web address.

With thousands upon thousands of websites operating at any given time, there is no guarantee your chosen domain name will be available.

There are many online tools to find out if your domain name is available and to register your chosen name, but the best place to start is the Australian Government’s Business page. 

As a side note, consider purchasing a .au domain name as well as .com.au and/or .com. This will save other brands from launching a website with a really similar address. 

  1. Choose a web-building platform

Unless you have HTML skills or the budget to pay an IT team to build a website for you, the best option is to use a web-building tool. These are generally straightforward and easy to use once you get the hang of them.

 The most popular include Squarespace, Wix, WordPress and Shopify.

Do your research to see which is the best fit for you. Each platform will have a different fee system and online store options. Make sure that you choose a web builder that works with your choice of eCommerce platform.

  1. Build your site

Now, depending on the tool you have chosen, you can express your artistic side.

Make sure that your links are clear and easily accessible and that all information is easy to find.

Depending on your budget, you may choose to outsource this step to a professional designer. The advantage of this is you will have a site that looks good and functions well, and you’ll be free to focus on other tasks in the meantime. 

Marketplace/third-party selling platforms

Some vendors manage to operate online stores without ever setting up websites of their own.

Marketplace/third-party eCommerce selling platforms include well-known sites like eBay, Gumtree, Etsy and Facebook Marketplace.

These platforms can be an excellent way to get your brand known and are probably the easiest and the cheapest to set up. 

However, once your business begins to scale, you may find you need a unique online destination. This doesn’t mean you have to stop selling on eBay or Etsy, just that you’ll probably end up with a multi-pronged strategy. 

An example is online bookstore Wob (formerly World of Books). Wob has a well-managed and successful website but also manages an eBay page for supplementary sales.

What is the best platform to build an ecommerce website? 

 

eCommerce platforms

Pros:

  • Flexibility of design and functionality
  • Customisable to suit your brand
  • Feature options can be limitless

Cons:

  • More complicated to build
  • Higher maintenance requirements

 

eCommerce websites

Pros:

  • Simple to get started
  • Cheap to operate

Cons:

  • Less flexible
  • Less scalable
  • Minimal customisation options so you may not have the features you need

 

Third-party providers

Pros:

  • Easy to use for you and your customers

Cons:

  • Zero flexibility
  • Shared branding with provider
  • Struggling to stand out amongst other products

What is the best way to sell goods online?

Many businesses start out small with either a third party or basic ecommerce website option before transitioning to a more bespoke eCommerce platform. 

The decision you make will depend on your needs and your budget. If you’re unsure, reach out to an eCommerce expert and see what they recommend. You’ll get plenty of advice from online communities or you can look for a specific coach to guide you. 

Things to think about when starting an eCommerce business

Creating a successful eCommerce business is about far more than simply setting up an online store.

Whether you choose an eCommerce platform, a website or a third-party platform, you won’t get noticed online without a marketing strategy. 

This may come in the form of Instagram or Facebook ads, from a Google Ads campaign or by advertising locally. You could also try having a physical store at your local markets to kickstart a following (although this depends on your selling model). 

Having quality photographs of your goods is also important so customers have a clear idea of what they are paying for. The minor outlay necessary for some professional photographs will pay dividends in the long run. 

Where to source your products

When you set up your eCommerce business, odds are you will need to source your products or at least your materials from overseas.

China is the world manufacturing hub these days and the source of the vast majority of consumables. A sourcing agent is recommended to help you to find good quality products, deal with manufacturer contracts and understand timelines in terms of shipping. 

Your sourcing agent is your ‘eyes and ears’ and will ensure you have as stress-free an experience as possible when ordering what you need from China. 

A sourcing agent will:

  • Source high-quality products at the right price
  • Negotiate directly with suppliers for you (cutting out the chain of middlemen)
  • Speak the language of your suppliers for ease of communication
  • Have staff in China for even easier communication
  • Source only suppliers with ethical workplace practices
  • Negotiate and organise shipping costs and times
  • Talk directly with your supplier cutting out any possible chain of middlemen
  • Share some advice about the type of eCommerce platform or business that might work for your business
Are you ready to start your own eCommerce business? Contact Epic Sourcing for help finding the products you need at the right price.

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