A Beginner’s Guide to the Ecommerce Website Platforms Your Clients Are Using

5th Jul 2019
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What is an ecommerce platform?

Ecommerce platforms are a type of software application which is used to create online storefronts so that customers can shop on the internet. If your clients have their own website, and someone can use it to place an order for something, then there will be an ecommerce platform somewhere in the background.

What does an ecommerce platform do?

There are lots of ecommerce providers to choose from, which all offer something slightly different. An ecommerce platform allows the user to manage everything relating to the online sales process. That goes from listing the products available, to handling the order.

Some platforms, such as Shopify, act as an all-in-one service. This means that the website is built as part of setting up the online storefront. Others, like Woo Commerce, are a sort of shop-extension which integrate with an existing website.

Accountants and ecommerce

Most clients are using their ecommerce platform all the time, and so are likely to have at least a working knowledge of how it all works. It can come in handy for the accountant to know, if not the practicalities of sitting down to use it, at least an understanding of the theory.

For example, if your VAT registered client is selling products across EU borders or outside of the EU, the sales data collected by the ecommerce platform will form part of the VAT calculation for each country.

The Big Three Ecommerce Platforms in the UK

These are the ecommerce platforms which come up again and again, but there is plenty of variety out there for clients to choose from depending on their needs.


BigCommerce is a meaty online platform which offers an all-in-one approach to ecommerce. Users can either create their store through the BigCommerce site, which means it takes care of the site build, customer payment processing, marketing and hosting, all in one platform. They also offer a plug in to handle the shop processing end of things, which can be coded in to an existing website which is built on a different platform.

Big Commerce allows the user to set all sorts of rules up to charge customers the right amount of postage, and so on, although is only powerful enough to cope with loading websites with smaller product catalogues.

They provides templated layouts of stores which can then be personalised with content and branding, or users can customise code for a more unique layout. Everything is built in, including data and reporting tools for your client to keep you up to date on sales figures.


WooCommerce is owned by the same people who made WordPress, which is a website platform adored by search engines (and so good for appearing higher up the search results). It means that WooCommerce integrates beautifully with WordPress sites, and has a lot of support available. There are an outrageous number of themes which can be used as a template to build the site, but it’s also very friendly to those who want to build something very unique.

The downside is that this takes things more into the territory of the website professionals. The hosting (where the website lives on the internet) and domain (the address of where it lives) are all arranged separately; there is no all-in-one solution here. It can process a big product catalogue without too much strain, too.

The upside is that WordPress is one of the most popular website platforms and it is open source. This is brilliant, because it means that once WooCommerce is plugged in to the WordPress site, all sorts of other fancy gadgets can be plumbed in too.

It allows for seriously detailed reporting tools which can be set up from within the back end of the website (or ‘behind the scenes’ for non-tech types) by the developer when the site is built. Then, all your client has to do each month is press a button to generate the detailed reports that you might need, with a lot less wrangling of Excel spreadsheets (and less chance of them getting it wrong).


The big daddy of ecommerce. Some developers are a bit frightened of it, because it’s built in a different coding language to a lot of websites, whereas others take advantage of this to make it their speciality.

The big websites with extensive product catalogues, where each product is then available in different sizes and colours, and sell all over the world? They tend to be built on the Magento platform. They do offer ready-made themes for beginners to use, but that is rare.

Because Magento sites are more specialised, the build cost comes with a price tag to match. It’s useful if the client has a big budget, and will be paying for someone for the ongoing management of the site and all the data which is generated, but tricky for even more advanced users.

If you have a client who has a Magento site, or is planning one, it’s well worth getting involved to let them and the developer know what sort of reporting output will be useful for you, and in what format.

The world of ecommerce is big, and getting bigger. Platforms like Shopify and Big Cartel are also very common, each with their own traits and offering. If you would like to read more about how technology is changing accountancy, head over to our blog