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4 steps to choosing an e-commerce platform

Article provided by PayFast

E-commerce in South Africa is rapidly expanding with the online spend for 2017 estimated at R10bn.

While still in its infancy compared to global standards, now is the time for South African entrepreneurs to take advantage of the Internet for building a business.

However, venturing into an unfamiliar online world may be daunting for the less tech-savvy entrepreneur. If you have started or you are starting an e-commerce business and you want to make sure you’re on the right path, here are four steps to guide you along the way.

Step 1: assess your product

Is your product a physical product, a digital product, an event, or a membership?

Physical product

Although selling a physical product online may remove the need for a physical store, you still have to consider logistics. This could include manufacturing, storing and delivering products if you’re creating your own, or receiving ready-to-sell products from your suppliers and delivering them to your customers.

When choosing an e-commerce platform for physical products, consider how the system handles stock management, stock variation, and the delivery of your products to your customers locally, nationally, and globally.

Digital product

E-books, online courses, podcasts, and webinars have gained popularity with entrepreneurs all over the world as either as a business or for generating leads. Digital products are easy to sell online because it can be as simple as downloading or streaming a file.

Digital products require simpler shopping carts than physical products. While physical products can be bought in multiple quantities, for example, 5 small red t-shirts, it is unlikely for one buyer to purchase more than one e-book with the same title.


Managing an event is a mammoth task. Fortunately, the Internet has removed the hassle of managing event bookings by facilitating online booking and secure payment.

Membership or subscription

No longer limited by physical location, memberships bring together people with common interests no matter where they are in the world. Recurring membership fees or subscriptions could provide access to members-only benefits, such as discounts, discussions, exclusive training, or networking opportunities.

As an entrepreneur in the digital age, there is no reason to limit yourself to only one product or one type. The most successful business models have a combination of all, for example, consultants could create an awareness of their services by offering e-books, workshops, and memberships to additional training and benefits.

When deciding on the requirements for your e-commerce platform, consider which products and in which formats will appeal to your potential buyers and complement your core product range. This allows you to choose an option that can satisfy your current and future business goals.

 Step 2: Decide on the purpose of your business

Are you supplementing your income or is it a core business?

Some entrepreneurs have an online shop as a means of supplementing their income while for others, it’s a core business.

Supplementing your income

If you have a small product range, an e-book, occasionally host events, or want to build a community of members with similar interests as something on the side, it may be overkill to invest time, money, and effort into having a fully functional online shop of your own.

In this case, it may make better sense to use “Buy now” buttons instead of a shopping cart on your existing website, or join a marketplace, such as Etsy to sell your arts and crafts, Quicket to sell tickets to events, Meetup to grow memberships, and bidorbuy for everything else.

A marketplace allows you to upload product information and manage payments on your behalf. You either pay to be listed on their platform or they deduct a fee from every sale you make.

If your online business takes off and shows the potential of being a core business over time, you’d already have gained a loyal following that will happily support you as you make your transition to other platforms that can serve them better.

Core business

If your online shop is part of your core business, it requires time, effort, technical knowledge, and maybe a bit of a budget depending on the platform you choose. As an entrepreneur, you’ll find yourself limited in some of these areas. Fortunately, there is an e-commerce platform to suit every business need.

Step 3: Determine the primary purpose of your website

Before investing in a fully functioning e-commerce platform, the important consideration is the primary purpose of your platform:

Are you primarily an information provider, for example, a blogger, that sells complementary products on your website?

Or are you primarily an online store that may require additional features, such as blogging?

Primarily an information provider

For example, many entrepreneurs start experimenting with their online presence using Content Management Systems (CMS) such as WordPress for blogging or providing company information.

If you’re among this category of entrepreneur whose website or blog is to provide company, educational, newsworthy, or uplifting content, you an easily add a shopping cart feature to your website through plugins.

For WordPress the most popular e-commerce plugin is WooCommerce. WooCommerce allows you to sell digital products and memberships. They integrate with a number of plugins that enable selling event tickets, for example, Events Manager for WordPress, and thousands of plugins that will automate and enhance the selling experience.

Another easy-to-use e-commerce plugin is Ecwid which enables you to turn any website, including Joomla, WordPress, Wix and Facebook, into an online store within 10 minutes.

Primarily an online store

If the primary purpose of your business is to sell products, you need a fully functional e-commerce platform built specifically with selling in mind. The most popular e-commerce platforms today include Shopify, Prestashop and Magento.

Step 4: Consider your time and financial resources

So far, we’ve covered a few questions about your product and your business that you need to consider when choosing an e-commerce platform. Further considerations are the ease of use, customisation, and cost.


WooCommerce is an open source plugin. If you know your way around WordPress, adding a WooCommerce shopping cart to your website or blog should be relatively easy. The huge selection of free and paid-for extensions allow your shopping cart functionality to grow with your WordPress site as your business grows.


If the sole purpose for your online presence is to sell, Shopify is the first choice for most entrepreneurs who need a quick, easy-to-learn, easy-to-use, and affordable e-commerce platform. Your online store is hosted by Shopify, which eliminates the monthly hosting fees you would have with a self-hosted website.

Shopify is easy to set up and comes with a 14-day trial. Their packages range from $29 a month to $299 a month.


PrestaShop offers more flexibility than Shopify in terms of where your online store is hosted.

You can choose between:

  • a ready-to-go online store hosted by PrestaShop, PrestaShop Ready, from €19.90 a month,
  • a self-hosted online store where you download, install, and customise your shop as you would any other open source CMS, such as Joomla and WordPress.

Free and paid-for themes and extensions are available to build your shop according to your business needs. Be prepared to dig in your heels and learn. The ready-to-go version comes with a free 14-day trial for you to familiarise yourself with the platform.


While not among the top e-commerce platforms for larger organisations, Ecwid is the perfect solution for entrepreneurs wanting to test the waters before committing to a permanent e-commerce platform. You can choose whether to host your shop on your existing website, on Facebook, as a starter shop hosted by Ecwid, or all of the above. Ecwid also makes it possible for merchants to integrate their Wix website with PayFast.

Although Ecwid is free for a basic website, packages range up to $99 a month depending on your business needs.


Magento 2, which is an improvement on the original Magento, offers two versions of its powerful e-commerce platform: hosted in the cloud and as a downloaded package.

Magento offers solutions by the size of your business. It becomes affordable through its monthly subscription fees and cloud-hosted express packages with Magento partners.

Magento prices are available on a quotation basis.

When deciding on the platform for selling your product online, consider the vision for your online business. Perhaps, in future, you may include elements that may not be considered necessary at the moment, but rather invest in a platform that will allow you to integrate easily and affordably instead of having to start from scratch when your business model changes.

If you’re still not sure which e-commerce platform is right for you, you could take advantage of the demos, free downloads, or free trials available to you for each of these options. The best way to make an informed decision is to get in there and give it a try.

PayFast makes it possible to accept payments from shoppers in a variety of secure and innovative ways. Whether you choose WooCommerce, Ecwid, Shopify, PrestaShop, or Magento as your e-commerce platform of choice, PayFast has your back. All you need to do is a sign up for a PayFast account if you don’t have one already.

PayFast integrates with more than 80 platforms from ticketing to billing. In upcoming blog posts, we’ll show you how Google Analytics can help you increase your online sales. We’ll then demonstrate how integrating PayFast with cloud billing can take the hassle out of accounting.

PayFast is a proud Partner of the NSBC.