Robot Holding Shopping Cart With Cardboard Boxes On Turquoise Background

An introduction to leading e-commerce platforms

First, a bit of e-commerce history

In less than a generation, e-commerce has completely revolutionised the way we shop. If we’re customers, it’s transformed the way we interact with the businesses we buy from. If we’re a business, it’s totally changed our approach to the customers we sell to. In fact, the last time the process of buying and selling were so radically shaken up by a single technology was arguably in ancient Greece, where the earliest known system of monetary coinage was developed. The 6th-century Greek poet Xenophanes, quoted by historian Herodotus, explains that the Lydians of western Anatolia were “the first to strike and use coins of gold and silver.” The first person to come up with the idea of e-commerce, on the other hand, was an eccentric Englishman out for a stroll in the late 1970s.  

The history of e-commerce is closely linked to the evolution of the World Wide Web itself. Back in 1979, the maverick English inventor Michael Aldrich pioneered what would eventually become known as e-commerce by connecting televisions to telephone lines. Aldrich allegedly came up with the idea during a walk with his wife, when he suggested to her that shopping would be so much easier if you could just order what you needed through the TV. This was a remarkable insight back in the era of gigantic mainframe computers, before the brick-like car phones of the 1980s had really taken off, and before the World Wide Web was even a twinkle in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye.  Whilst Aldrich didn’t have the technology back then to make e-commerce work properly, he imagined the concept with extraordinary clarity and saw its huge potential for the first time. 

The first company that actually sold products via e-commerce was an American IT business called Boston Computer Exchange, an online marketplace for used computers, which launched back in 1982. Another American company, Book Stacks Unlimited, began trading ten years later. It ran an online bookstore that predated another firm, launched two years later, which would come to define and dominate the entire e-commerce revolution: Jeff Besos’ brainchild, This company is now one of the largest and most valuable businesses in the world. The success of Amazon can be seen as an exemplar of the power of e-commerce; by using a website to sell products, a vastly wider range of customers can be reached than would ever be possible with a conventional bricks-and-mortar store. 

The businesswoman Anita Roddick, founder of the cosmetics chain The Body Shop, once argued that the skill of being a good entrepreneur is “the ability to imagine the world differently”. E-commerce as a concept might seem obvious to us all now, but Jeff Besos was one of only a few entrepreneurs who really grasped how useful it might be back in the early 1990s. He then proceeded to turn Michael Aldrich’s mad idea about buying stuff through your TV into a staggeringly successful commercial reality. By understanding that e-commerce would be a revolution and then making it happen, Besos and his colleagues made Amazon one of the most successful businesses in history. 

Global e-commerce revenue is expected to reach circa $7.4 trillion (USD) by 2025. In 2021, retail eCommerce sales were by contrast a mere – but still considerable – $4.9 trillion (USD) worldwide. This means that over the next two to three years, global e-commerce sales are likely to grow by roughly 30%. That statistic alone is a strong indicator of the extent to which e-commerce is the future of shopping. But shopping by itself doesn’t account for such a large revenue figure; these statistics also show how e-commerce is becoming the key technology driving many other consumer transactions online. Everything from tax bills to travel and hospitality spending, plus financial services like insurance can all now be paid for and processed online.  

An introduction to the leading e-commerce platforms 

Shopify is significantly the biggest and one of the leading e-commerce platforms currently in use. It’s the most popular platform across the English-speaking world, and it’s used by thousands of businesses of all shapes and sizes. More than a million online merchants use Shopify across nearly 1.5 million websites. Its success, to a large extent, is due to its flexibility and extensibility; there are more than 2,400 apps in the Shopify App Store, for example. 

BigCommerce is another eCommerce platform that’s popular and widely used for good reasons. It has two main components: BigCommerce Essentials, which is a DIY software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform, and BigCommerce Enterprise, which is a bespoke e-commerce tool for larger businesses with multiple product lines and a large customer base. Whilst it’s a good system, BigCommerce is perhaps not as user-friendly as Shopify. For example, there are two different areas for managing the backend of your store, whilst Shopify has just one. Nonetheless, BigCommerce is definitely worth a look for any business wanting to expand its online presence. 

WooCommerce is an open-source e-commerce platform that’s mainly geared towards start-ups and small businesses. It is built on the WordPress content management application, and you can run it through an existing WordPress site. Lots of extensions and plug-ins are needed to create a usable WooCommerce site, for example payment gateways like Stripe, PayPal, Square, Amazon Pay, and Authorize. WooCommerce permits unlimited products and product variants to be sold through its system, including digital products, which gives it a useful degree of flexibility for a start-up or small business targeting aggressive growth.

ECWID is unlike most other e-commerce technologies. Instead of creating a unique e-commerce platform with it, you can use it to add an online store to an existing website. It can be used to sync e-commerce sales across your website, social media channels, and on marketplaces like Amazon. If you have just a small number of products for sale, you can use ECWID for free (for under 10 products). ECWID then has a range of pricing plans for those wanting to sell more than 10 products. It’s potentially a very useful tool for small business owners with simple websites who only have a certain, small number of products for sale. 

Another widely used and powerful e-commerce platform is Adobe Commerce, also known as Magento. The platform features two distinct versions: an open-source version, and another called Magento Commerce. The open-source version is best for software engineers or professional web developers; it can’t be used by those without specialist computer science knowledge. The open-source version of Magento is often used on big websites owned by larger businesses that have their own in-house IT teams. 

Magento is a very powerful e-commerce platform, and can be expanded and refined according to a set of specific business goals. A good software developer can normally use Magento to build a fully functional e-commerce solution for a large and complex business with numerous product lines, and perhaps operating in different territories. Magento Open Source is free software; Magento Commerce, on the other hand, is a paid-for service targeting larger businesses and enterprises that require more assistance on their e-commerce platforms.

Modular Digital has extensive experience of building e-commerce and digital payment functionality for businesses and organisations of many kinds, from consumer brands to charities and NGOs. We’re able to advise on the best solution for your specific needs, and we can also provide ongoing support and maintenance for your new e-commerce site. We can build and add e-commerce features to existing sites, and we can easily create a complete new site optimised for e-commerce activity if that’s going to be a more successful solution. Whatever your requirements, we’ll always provide a bespoke, tailor-made package for all your e-commerce needs. So why not give our team of friendly experts a call to discuss your requirements in more detail? 

Emma can be reached on 07584 652 285 or drop her an email to talk through your needs in more detail? All the best projects start with a great conversation, after all. 

Emma Millington

Emma Millington

Head of Customer Relations - Passionate about demystifying tech so we can all speak the same language

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