E-commerce Platforms: How They Compare + How to Choose One

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Compare popular e-commerce platforms and discover the tools to choose the right platform for your business.

[Featured image] Two sales reps review analytics from their e-commerce platform.

E-commerce platforms enable both large and small businesses to sell their goods and services online. As a result, whether you sell directly to consumers (B2C) or to other businesses (B2B), your e-commerce platform will be the centerpiece of your digital storefront. This means that picking the right platform will be critical to achieving your business goals.

E-commerce is a fast-growing market that requires flexible platforms to meet consumers' needs. According to Statista, 2021 saw around $4.9 billion in retail e-commerce sales, up from $4.2 billion in 2020, and projects that e-commerce sales will reach $7.3 billion by 2025 [1]. To capture some of that profit yourself, you'll need a platform that meets your needs and helps you achieve your own goals.

If you’re considering e-commerce solutions for your online business, you might be wondering how to get started. This article covers popular e-commerce platforms, how they compare, and the steps to choosing a platform for your business. 

What is an e-commerce platform?

An e-commerce platform, also called e-commerce software, is an application that facilitates the buying and selling of products online. Businesses use e-commerce platforms to manage their websites and operate their sales and marketing functions.

At their most basic level, all e-commerce platforms provide consumers with the following three features:

  1. A search capability that allows them to easily find products online

  2. A digital cart that allows them to manage their orders

  3. A payment system that allows them to make purchases

Many platforms also use data analytics to provide businesses with insights into their consumers' behavior so that they can improve their digital marketing and business operations.

In today’s e-commerce economy, buyers can purchase just about anything through the internet. Trending e-commerce categories include power tool accessories, dog toys, baby clothes, matcha, and even model train sets, according to popular e-commerce platform Shopify’s sales data (trending as of May 2023) [2]. 

E-commerce platform comparison 

One of the most important first steps in selecting a platform is to investigate the key features available and how they compare. Explore the table below to start the process. 

PlatformKey featuresBest forStarting cost
Square OnlineUnlimited products, offers fulfillment options, ability to sell on social platforms Facebook and InstagramBest for integrating with Square point-of-sale and selling on social mediaFree
WooCommerceMultiple payment systems, mobile app, integrations to enhance storeWordPress site owners who want to sell products$3.95 / month
SquarespaceMultiple product types (physical, digital, and services), appointment scheduling, shipping and payment integrationsBuilding attractive websites for creative businesses that want to reach niche markets$16 / month
GoDaddySelling on Amazon, Etsy, social integration, discounted shipping, branding studioBeginners who want to build an online store fast$16.99 / month
WixUnlimited products, social integration, abandoned cart recoverySimple e-commerce website builder with scalability$27 / month
ShopifySell on multiple channels, track inventory, manage staffScaling a large business$29 / month
BigCommerceSell on Walmart, social platforms, and more; single page checkout, mobile appScaling an enterprise level business$29 / month
KajabiAll-in-one platform for site building, sales, CRM, digital product storageCoaching, thought leadership, course creation, and other digital products$119 / month

*Prices are based on information available as of June 2023. 

How to choose an e-commerce platform

In this section, you will use our process to choose the best platform for your e-commerce business needs. Build from the information in the table above, adding additional e-commerce platforms as needed, and follow the steps below to further investigate platforms, pricing plans, key features, and more.  

1. Identify necessary e-commerce platform features.

When you have clarity on what you need an e-commerce platform to do, you can confidently choose among the numerous features. Start by listing the key features essential to selling your products and operating your business effectively. For example: 

  • Integrations for offering customers multiple payment options 

  • An analytics dashboard for examining multiple performance metrics 

  • Integrations for dropshipping (selling your products online without having to store inventory yourself)

  • Simple, intuitive admin panel for quick setup 

  • Custom domain 

Online or on premises?

As you're exploring e-commerce solutions, you'll want to consider whether your platform should operate on your own on-premise servers or in the cloud via a software as service (SaaS) platform. Each has their own use case.

While on-premise platforms tend to be best suited for businesses that work in tightly regulated industries, like health care, cloud-based platforms are well-suited to business looking for a scalable solution.


2. Conduct a cost-benefit analysis. 

Your next step is to compare the cost of using essential features on different platforms. Take into account what features you may need now, as well as ones you may need as your business grows. Most platforms unlock different features, such as increased storage and additional integrations, when you upgrade from a basic plan to a more expensive price tier.

Your goal is to balance making an economical selection with gaining access to essential features. 

3. Test the user experience.  

With the information you’ve gathered from the first two steps, begin narrowing down your list to two or three most appropriate platforms for your business. Sign up for a free trial on these platforms to test the experience of using them as a site administrator. 

  • What’s the ease in setting up the customer-facing components of the site, including product pages, checkout pages, and blog articles?

  • Do the platform’s features, such as the checkout process and payment processor, allow you to create a seamless customer journey and buying experience?

  • How intuitive is it to navigate the admin panel? 

  • How helpful do you find the support documentation and customer service experience? 

  • Does the e-commerce website builder allow you to create the kind of storefront you want?

Read more: UI vs. UX Design: What’s the Difference?

4. Examine SEO settings. 

While most website platforms, including those for e-commerce, allow you to customize your SEO (search engine optimization) settings, some platforms may offer more extensive SEO tools, such as blogging tools and the ability to change ALT tags for images. 

SEO is important for an e-commerce website because it means you can rank higher in search engine results for inquiries related to your products. In other words, the right SEO settings help customers find your site and purchase your products. 

Before making your final e-commerce platform selection, be sure that the SEO tools will support you as your business grows so that you can attract more internet traffic. 

Read more: E-commerce SEO: How To Drive More Traffic to Your Online Store 

E-commerce platforms key takeaways

Remember: As the e-commerce industry grows and your online business evolves, it’s important to find the best platform for your e-commerce website. Keep in mind the cost, functionality, and scalability of your options as you choose a platform and even upgrade to premium versions. 


Get started in e-commerce with Coursera 

Taking online courses can be a great way to learn more about e-commerce, from building online stores to nurturing customers through email marketing. And, what better way to ensure you make the most of your e-commerce solutions than to learn from an industry leader themself?

In Google's Digital Marketing & E-commerce Professional Certificate, you'll learn how to build e-commerce stores, analyze online performance, and grow customer loyalty. At the same time, you'll also learn how to attract and engage customers through digital marketing channels like search and email.

Article sources


Statista. “Retail e-commerce sales worldwide from 2014 to 2021, with forecasts from 2022-2025, https://www.statista.com/statistics/379046/worldwide-retail-e-commerce-sales/.” Accessed June 2, 2023. 

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