eCommerce or CMS: which is best for you?

Christopher Brandt Christopher Brandt

To help you determine which platform is best for you and your business, we’ve compiled a handy list of questions to ask before you settle on eCommerce, CMS, or a combination of the two.

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Before we dig in, let’s clarify the difference between the two systems:

  • An eCommerce platform is an online shopping cart and catalogue that enables you to sell products directly from your website. Managing product catalogues is its primary strength. Magento and Shopify are prime examples.
  • A CMS (content management system) facilitates the building and maintenance of dynamic pages like blogs, portfolios, guides, and forums. Managing content is its primary strength. WordPress and Drupal are popular examples.

...but you likely need elements of both.

There are CMS plugins that do the work of eCommerce, and eCommerce plugins that provide content management—but each pairing has its strengths and weaknesses. For simplicity’s sake, we whittled it down to two main contenders:

For eCommerce + light CMS the main contender is Magento

For CMS + light eCommerce your best bet is WordPress with WooCommerce

To decide which combo works best for you, think about what your business needs most, then consider the following questions…

1. How complex is your product?

If you sell a broad range of products, or a single, complex product with many configurable elements, your customers will need to search and filter between multiple different options. In this case, Magento is your best bet, as its eCommerce database already revolves around product. The search options of a pure eCommerce system like Magento are much more nuanced and varied, thus enabling better search functionality.

If you have a large catalogue or varied products, choose Magento or Shopify.

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If you are a specialist retailer with a small catalogue of products, a basic CMS works quite well. WordPress running WooCommerce is a great eCommerce/CMS hybrid. If you’re planning to diversify your products in the future, you may want to switch to a pure eCommerce system like Magneto down the road, as its search offers more filter options and variability. But if your customers can find what they need with a one or two keyword search, WordPress with WooCommerce should suffice.

If you have a small catalogue of basic products, choose WordPress.

2. Does your brand tell a story? Do you require dynamic content?

If you plan to keep customers engaged with your brand via frequent updates, and your site requires an emphasis on content creation and workflow, a CMS is a great option for you. Consider how often you intend to update your site, and whether your content will need to be changed on a daily or weekly basis. If your business requires a great deal of dynamic content by multiple authors, WordPress is your better option.

If your focus is building brand loyalty with dynamic content, choose WordPress.

If your website is transaction-led with an emphasis on fast, effective shopping, and there’s no need for an elaborate content management, eCommerce is better option. Some eCommerce systems like Shopify offer basic CMS add-ons for managing blog content and the like. Magento has a light CMS built-in, so if you do decide to include a small section of dynamic content, Magento can do that for you too.

If your focus is shopping, and your content will remain mostly static, choose Magento.

3. Can you install security updates on your own?

If you choose to use a CMS like WordPress to serve your eCommerce needs, you should feel comfortable installing and maintaining plugins like WooCommerce. This is especially important when it comes to security updates, as many hosting providers manage your CMS for you, but stop short of keeping plugin updates refreshed and current. All plugins must be kept up to date, or new security risks will be posed for your customers.

If you’re tech savvy, choose WordPress with WooCommerce—and be sure to keep up with current security updates.

On the other side of the spectrum, eCommerce platforms like Magento provide straight-forward, accessible shopping interfaces—plus automatic security updates, so there’s no need to worry about exposing your customer to a greater risk of hacking. Magento will take care of the security updates for you.

If you need more guidance, choose Magento with its automatic security updates.

4. Do you require multiple payment providers?

Do your customers need access to unique or varied payment options? eCommerce platforms offer multiple payment providers like PayPal, Moneris, and Beanstream. For example, Magento gives its customers access to over 180 payment providers including Western Union—a useful option for some international customers who may not own credit cards.

If you require a wide variety of payment providers, choose Magento.

If PayPal is all your customers require, WordPress with WooCommerce will work just fine for their checkout needs. WordPress is a versatile CMS, especially working in conjunction with the WooCommerce plugin, but its payment providers are limited to a smattering of services—so if your customers need access to unique payment providers, Magento with its 180 providers, is a better bet.

If you only need a handful of payment providers, choose WordPress with WooCommerce.

In Summary

At the end of the day, it comes down to function. If your focus is brand engagement, your aim should be content management with a CMS like WordPress or Drupal. If your focus is shopping, go with an eCommerce system like Magento or Shopify. If you want elements of both content management and shopping, choose your primary focus and select a service that best serves that aim—then add additional plugins to serve your secondary needs. Every platform is uniquely positioned to solve particular problems. It’s up to you to think like your customers to find the winning combination that best suits their particular needs.

Cross posted to Medium