Zenstores guide to choosing an ecommerce platform

zenstores guide to ecommerce platforms

Category: Setting up a shop

If you're thinking about adding another selling channel to your online business to reach a new audience of buyers, or even just taking your first steps into ecommerce, there's a lot to think about when considering which platform is right for you.

We've assessed each of the most popular hosted, self-hosted and marketplace platforms against a number of criteria, from how much they cost and how easy they are to set up to how easy they make it to access new customers. Our advice is to take your time over this decision. Each platform has its own strengths but some are more relevant to specific types of sellers, so doing the research now to choose the platform that best suits your needs is incredibly important.


Type: Marketplace

Cost: To start selling on Amazon there are two different plans: the Basic plan costs 75p per item (less than 35 items a month), or Pro costs £25 per month (35 items or more a month). With both plans you also have to pay a Referral Fee that’s charged on the total paid by the customer (including postage, customs, taxes etc). The referral fee amount depends on the category - for media products it’s a percentage, and for non media products it’s either a percentage or the per item minimum referral fee, whichever is greater. On top of that you also have to pay a Variable Closing Fee, which depends on the category and destination.

Set up: Starting to sell on Amazon is very simple, you just have to register your seller account, providing a few basic details about your business, and then once your account is set up you can start listing items. Find out more here.

Key features and benefits: Amazon is one of the most popular ecommerce websites worldwide, you can sell on all five European Amazon marketplaces, and you can use Fulfilment by Amazon.

Reaching customers: As one of the biggest ecommerce sites you have the potential to reach a huge customer base, from all over the world. However, because of the huge popularity of the site, there is also a lot of competition, so it can be difficult to get your products in front of a customer instead of one of your many competitors.


Type: Marketplace

Cost: When you’re selling regularly on eBay you’ll need to register as a business seller. You can set up a shop and list up to 65 products per month for free, monthly fees start from £17.38 for 65 - 600 listings per month. On top of the monthly fee you will also be charged a final value fee which is a percentage of the total transaction value with postage per item - the amount varies from 6% - 11% depending on which category your product is in.

Set up: Setting up an eBay business is fairly straightforward, once you’ve registered for eBay you can open an eBay shop. You have three choices for an eBay shop - Basic, Featured or Anchor each with their own requirements. All the information you need to set up and start selling through your eBay shop can be found in eBay's Seller Centre, and you should be able to do it all yourself.

Key features and benefits:  As one of the biggest online marketplaces, eBay has a ready made audience, making it easier for customers to find your store and your products.

Apps: eBay offers hundreds of verified third-party apps that can help with every aspect of running an eBay business. The most popular eBay app is Listing Analytics by Terapeak, which allows you to monitor and analyse your eBay sales.  

Reaching customers: Like Amazon, eBay already has millions of customers so there is the potential for a lot of people to find your products, but for a lot of items there will also be a high number of competitor selling the same or similar.


Type: Marketplace

Cost: Signing up to Etsy is free, you only pay when you start to list your items, and then there are further fees when you sell. It costs 14p to list each item, and when it’s sold you have to pay a 3.5% Transaction Fee (not including shipping cost), as well as 4% + 20p Payment Processing Fee if you receive your payment through Etsy’s Direct Payments system.

Set up: Starting an Etsy shop is simple and you can easily do it yourself. You just create an account, set your location and currency, choose a shop name, create a listing, set a payment method and set a billing method - then you can start listing your products.

Key features and benefits: Etsy is aimed specifically at handmade and vintage sellers. You can use the Sell on Etsy app, which lets you manage orders, update items and respond to customers.

Apps: Etsy has a number of different apps to help sellers manage listings, inventory, promote on social media or improve their product photography.

Reaching customers: Etsy is a well known marketplace for handmade items so if that’s what your business sells then it’s a good way of reaching potential customers.


Type: Self-hosted

Cost: The Magento Community Edition is open source and available to download for free, however unless you have the experience you will probably have to employ someone to create the site for you, or you can buy templates. You have to get in contact with Magento for a quote for the Magento Enterprise Edition.

Set up: If you don’t have experience of programming and web development then you will most likely have to employ someone to set up your Magento ecommerce store

Key features and benefits: You have the potential to have complete control over your ecommerce site, and make the design completely unique. Magento was specifically created for ecommerce websites. You can manage multiple shops from one dashboard.

Apps: Find Magentos apps here. 

Reaching customers: Magento is SEO friendly, like WordPress; it has SEO features such as search friendly URLs, sitemaps, meta tags etc.


Type: Self-hosted

Cost: OpenCart is free to download however, you may have to pay someone to set up your ecommerce site. There are also a number of extensions for added features, some of which are free and some you’ll have to pay for. 

Set up: OpenCart is slightly simpler than Magento but if you don’t have website building experience then you will probably have to pay someone to set up your online shop.

Key features and benefits: It’s free, open source, and you can sell an unlimited number of products.

Apps: There are a number of different extensions, free and paid, that can add more functionality to your site. 

Reaching customers: Being a completely independent ecommerce site you won’t have to compete directly against similar products. OpenCart offers search engine optimised URLs for product, category, manufacturer and information pages. 


Type: Hosted

Cost: To set up an online store using Shopify the basic plan costs $29 per month. On top of this, you have a 2.2% +20p rate for credit cards, and transaction fees for external payment gateway of 2%. Shopify Payments have no transaction fee. 

There are free Shopify themes available, but you can also pay for them. On top of this there are a lot of Shopify apps that have a monthly fee, so the cost can add up.

Set up: Shopify is pretty straightforward to set up, you can get started with a free 14 day trial. There are free themes and paid themes, or you can build you own using HTML or CSS.  

Key features and benefits: Shopify is a simple way to create a professional looking online shop, you have more control over your shop than when you sell through a marketplace.

Apps: Shopify has an extensive app store, and it allows developers to create apps that easily plug in to Shopify. https://apps.shopify.com/

Reaching customers: Despite the fact that selling on Shopify you won’t have the ready made audience you might have on eBay or Amazon it does support SEO best practices such as customizable H1, title and meta tags, as well as SEO product tags (product specific meta tags, titles, and URL handles).


Type: Hosted

Cost: WooCommerce is a free plugin for WordPress, however you do pay for extensions that give you extra functions and these costs can quickly add up.

Set up: If you’re already familiar with WordPress then WooCommerce should be fairly straightforward to set up and use. You can log into your WordPress admin, then add the WooCommerce plugin. Once it’s installed on screen instructions will take you through the simple set up process. This video explains how to set up your WooCommerce site.

Key features and benefits: It’s built to integrate with WordPress, and is a very simple way to build your own online shop. WooCommerce is also open source and mobile friendly.

Apps: Hundreds of free and paid extensions for WooCommerce - https://www.woothemes.com/woocommerce/extensions/

Reaching customers: WooCommerce runs on WordPress, which is a good platform for SEO but you do have to take advantage and use SEO keywords, as well as promoting your shop and your products as you won’t have the immediate customer audience of a marketplace.

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