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] Woman and man on computer evaluation e-commerce platforms

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.

If you’re considering e-commerce solutions for your business, you might wonder how to get started. This article covers popular e-commerce platforms, how they compare, and the steps for 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. Global e-commerce sales are expected to hit just over $6.3 trillion dollars (£5 trillion) in 2023, with steady growth set to continue [1]. By 2026, estimates put the worldwide e-commerce marke around 8.1 trillion dollars (£6.4 trillion) [2].

In today’s e-commerce economy, buyers can purchase almost anything online. Trending e-commerce categories include digital and print books, pet products, dinnerware, toys, and computer parts, according to popular e-commerce platform Shopify’s sales data (2022) [3]. 

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

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

  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 give businesses insights into their consumers' behavior to improve their digital marketing and business operations.

E-commerce platform comparison 

One of the most important first steps in selecting a platform is investigating 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

How to choose an e-commerce platform

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

1. Identify necessary e-commerce platform features

When you know what you need an e-commerce platform to do, you can confidently choose the elements necessary for your business from the numerous features available. List the key features essential to selling your products and operating your business effectively. For example, you may need: 

  • Integrations for offering customers multiple payment options 

  • A customer relationship management (CRM) system for organising a growing list of leads and customers

  • 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. Consider what features you need now and those 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. Be sure to consider: 

  • How easy is it to set up customer-facing components of the site, including product pages, checkout pages, and blog articles?

  • Does 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? 

4. Examine SEO settings

Whilst most website platforms, including those for e-commerce, allow you to customise your SEO (search engine optimisation) settings, some platforms may offer more extensive SEO features, 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 enquiries 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. 

E-commerce platforms' key takeaways

Remember: As the e-commerce industry grows and your online business evolves, finding the best platform for your e-commerce website is important. Remember your options' cost, functionality, and scalability as you choose a platform and consider upgrading to premium versions further down the line. 


Get started in e-commerce with Coursera 

Online courses can be a great way to learn more about e-commerce, from building online stores to nurturing customers through email marketing. Explore this and more in the Google Digital Marketing & E-Commerce Professional Certificate and get yourself ready to start your store and learn how to market your e-commerce business.

Article sources


Insider Intelligence. “Worldwide ecommerce growth drops to single digits, while overall retail muddles through, “https://www.insiderintelligence.com/content/worldwide-ecommerce-growth-drops-single-digits-while-overall-retail-muddles-through.” Accessed August 24, 2023.

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