The Best Free E-Commerce Platforms for Your Irish Business Website

The vast majority of the European Union population considers themselves active internet users.  In fact, nearly 82% of the population is online.

Digital commerce is a growing part of the landscape. Are you ready to begin your online sales business?

More than 350 million people purchased online in the EU, and that number continues to grow. Breaking those numbers down further, 85% of the purchases were from a company’s own website rather than from a marketplace.

Free e-commerce platforms make it easy to enter the market with professional style. But which one is right for your business?

Most articles are written for the U.S. audience, but this time we focus on EU companies. Read on to learn more.

Irish E-Commerce Future in Mobile

In 2017, website e-commerce traffic to Irish sites had a 14 per cent increase year over year. The number of transactions showed a 32 per cent increase for the same period of time. The study also shows that mobile is gaining more and more market share of Irish web traffic, with 51 per cent of traffic coming from these devices.

As you build your online business, pay special attention to the needs of the mobile customer for security, ease of conversion and payment. Also, look towards the larger EU community as the prospect of Brexit becomes a reality.

The Top Free E-Commerce Platforms

The most popular e-commerce platform solutions across Europe all have both free and paid subscription models. There is some overlap between European and American favourites.

WooCommerce is the dominant global e-commerce platform with 28 per cent of the market. However, Magento has the lead in Europe. Other top solutions to explore include OpenCart, PrestaShop, OsCommerce, and the U.S./Canadian favourite, Shopify.

Whether you sell physical or digital products, subscriptions, appointments, collect donations, there’s a platform for your needs.  Whether you intend to sell a single unique product in one country or a huge multi-product catalogue worldwide, you need to find a good platform fit.

What Makes a Good Fit?

Only you know your business’ needs. Think about what it will take to launch your business NOW as well as scaling it in the future.

Do you have a software engineer in-house or will you look for a consultant on the outside? How many products? How much language support and teacher support?

Magento for Europe

Ten-year-old Magento launched their platform for small business in 2008.  Magento is the most popular open source e-commerce platform in Europe. It’s easy to use and easy to customise. Multiple language support is no problem.

Large companies like Coca-Cola and Huawei take advantage of the Magento platform’s scalability and reliability.  Open source Magento has more than 9000 extensions and plug-ins available.  Small users praise its secure, but easy to manage options.

What makes Magento #1 in Europe:

  • Support for two or more languages
  • Different currencies
  • Management for multiple stores
  • Custom modules

Magento offers a high level of support through a comprehensive resource library.

The basic version is available for free. The Community Enterprise edition allows online retailers to enjoy plenty of free features too.

Presta Shop Minimal But Mighty

The intuitive admin panel of Presta Shop is a real contrast to the robust complexity of Magento. This popular free platform allows online retailers to determine the amount of technical control over their online store. PrestaShop gives a choice between either a fully-hosted or a self-hosted option.

Highlights of the Prests Shop experience:

  • Allows for cross-selling.
  • Supports digital products
  • One-page checkout
  • Shipping discounts by percentage or tiered rate
  • Full backend support

The free version has limited e-commerce site customisation features available. However, there are numerous layout and graphic elements available for purchase. There are hundreds of options to choose from amongst the templates and modules.

osCommerce, Tested By Time

Simple to maintain and with proven stability, osCommerce is one of the best e-commerce platforms. A fully-developed, loyal community provides user-friendly designs and functions.

As an older platform, it lacks some of the robust features of Shopify or WooCommerce. Yet, it is plenty powerful enough for a first-time start.

osCommerce advantages:

  • Stable and reliable
  • User-friendly
  • Large community

More than 7,000 extensions exist. osCommerce has a 26,000 retailer base that shows no sign of outgrowing or abanding the platform, so you can be confident that you will have time to grow.

The New Contender, Spree Commerce

Diet giant Nutrisystem and food chain Chipotle have adopted Spree Commerce. Built in Ruby on Rails, this fast-growing modular system is scalable and includes some important extras like Google Analytics and custom tax schemes.

Why Spree Commerce is an early contender:

  • Custom tax logic
  • Google Analytics
  • Ruby on Rails
  • Scalable

The community has not yet reached critical mass. Many extensions must be self-developed and stability is as yet untested. However, with Ruby on Rails as the base, Spree Commerce shows great promise for extended useful life.

Behemoth Shopify

Giant Canada-based Shopify started in 2004. Aggressively marketed as the global online standard-bearer, it focuses on the mobile shopping experience and social commerce.

Shopify CMS for e-commerce is ever evolving for the latest e-commerce technologies. It’s free to get started.

Things in Shopify’s favor:

  • Focus on mobile and social
  • Abandoned shopping cart recovery
  • Integrated backend for dropshipping

Available for purchase are useful features such as social shopping that allows customers to buy directly from their social media platform. There are also lots of plugins, themes, and extensions including a handy incomplete purchase recovery. Shopify technical support has phone, live chat, and tutorials options.

Mobile applications, the mobile-friendly shopping cart, and several innovative functionalities make this the choice of the majority of business owners in the U.S. and Canada.

OpenCart For Fast Setup

Pay nothing to download and use OpenCart. This free e-commerce software works well for small businesses that need customisation options. However, development skills are necessary as the basic package is pretty bare bones.

OpenCart extensions for e-commerce include payment gateways, shipping methods and social media feeds.

OpenCart highlights:

  • Simple to set up and run
  • Does not drain server resources
  • Multiple currencies
  • Multiple store management

Open cart supports multiple languages and currencies with ease. One admin can run several stores at once. Add filters, fast guest checkout, and custom shipping options quickly, with only minimal coding knowledge.

Worldwide Winner WooCommerce

WooCommerce is the startup small business winner when it comes to self-hosted applications. Online retailers praise its flexibility, features and ease of use. It is the e-commerce plug-in to the world’s most popular blogging platform, WordPress.

The seamless integration with WordPress means that you can leverage great SEO with easy e-commerce monetisation. Like the other platforms in this article, WooCommerce is free to download and use, although it is limited to WordPress only.

  • Large and active community forum
  • Integration with WordPress.
  • Mobile friendly

There are extras and add-ons that you’ll want to purchase. WooCommerce is similar to WordPress in that it includes extensions and features with the addition of plugin modules.

Store owners using WooCommerce can take advantage of the component-based functionality. Access to thousands of WordPress plugins and themes plus hundreds of e-commerce-specific extensions equals a level of customisation unknown in other platforms.

This mix-and-match approach is genius and allows every user to create their perfect application, from shipping to product handling, payments and more. The world seems to agree, as almost a third of the companies with online ordering capability now use WooCommerce.

Choose Your Platform

The number of choices can be overwhelming. You have a plethora of options when it comes to free e-commerce platforms. There are self-hosted choices and complete platforms that include website builders, hosting, inventory integration and more. There are trade-offs, though.

For instance, most free platforms limit customisation, support or functionality in their free product. You just to pay as you go to add the features you want.

Reasons to choose open source:

  • Free e-commerce framework
  • Creative control over the design and operation
  • Helpful community-based problem-solving
  • Control over hosting, plugins and themes
  • Pay to play

Of course, without some software development skill in your corner, free open source may not be a bargain. You have to make some strategic decisions.

  • Budget for extensions and add-ons
  • How much technical skill needed
  • Specific to WordPress, Joomla or Drupal
  • Must-have features vs. would be nice
  • How much support needed

By exploring your answers, you can make some preliminary matches and narrow the choices.

MyHost for Irish Business

Start your research into free e-commerce platforms and spend some time with user reviews. Once you’ve done that, take some time to request demos or go and see someone using the platform of your choice. At MyHost, we have more than 400 software choices to wortk with.

Download your platform and play with it to get a feel for it. Once you make your decision, notify your web host, build your store and customise it to suit your needs.

Questions and comments? Reach out to us!