When it comes to building e-commerce websites, it seems like there is a never ending list of options to choose from. All you have to do is Google “Ecommerce software” to get over 25 million results, from basic off-the-shelf templates to fully fledged systems targeted at enterprise customers.

We’ve been designing and developing e-commerce websites at Papertank since we first set up shop in 2010. In that time we’ve reviewed, used and customised a variety of e-commerce systems as well as coding bits and bobs of our own to suit the project.

Top E-commerce solutions

While there is a lot of good e-commerce software around, there is also a lot of bad and ugly ones – either because of sloppy coding, very out-of-date structure, or both.

Although each project is different, we often look at the following software for each e-commerce project before recommending the best solution to our clients.


Now owned and funded by eBay, Magento is without a doubt one the most popular e-commerce solutions. Commercially, Magento costs $15k per year just for the software. However, a free open-source version is also available with the same core functionality, albeit with less features and the expectation you know exactly what you’re doing or employ a development studio (like Papertank) to set up your website.

Magento is one of the most powerful and feature rich solutions – which is both a blessing and a curse. While customising the design and structure of the website is easy with experience, adding to the functionality can be very pricey – either though purchasing bolt-on third party extensions or coding custom features from scratch. As a “heavy” system, one of Magento’s biggest complaints is also the the slow speed and steep learning curve of doing day-to-day updates and configuration.


Unlike Magento which you download and setup on your own, Shopify is a monthly subscription service which costs from $14 and upwards to use. This means that you have to pay a monthly subscription for using the software rather than setting up on your own server / hosting.

That said, Shopify is a wonderful service and is constantly adding new features including the ability to use their software as both an online shop and a face-to-face point of sale in your brick-and-mortar store.


A quick caveat about WordPress – it is not e-commerce software and therefore third-party plugins need to be installed to get a typical product, cart, checkout facility working. While we use WordPress as our preferred content management system at Papertank, we don’t normally recommend its use for e-commerce unless there are specific requirements or the shop component is relatively basic.

For clients, the main attraction to using WordPress is using the one interface for both adding website content and managing orders, reducing the learning curve.

Why build our own?

With so many existing e-commerce systems out there, why decide to build our own from scratch? The answer is a very simple one – flexibility.

As a bespoke web studio, our clients and projects are not only varied but are often  both complex and challenging. Given the complex nature of e-commerce development, we want our projects to meet every requirement, whether it is as basic as a comment field on each order or as complex as a weekly lottery system with direct debit or credit card payments.

Coming soon…

Our as yet un-named e-commerce software is currently being planned, designed and implemented for one of our favourite clients – the Wild Futures animal charity.

After discussing and detailing what features their new shop should have, it became clear that using an off-the-shelf system was not going to work or, at best, would require a heavy and costly amount of customisation. Our bespoke solution will handle donations, adoptions, event tickets and merchandise sales, and we look forward to working with Wild Futures on this exciting new project.

If you’re interested in chatting about how our custom e-commerce system might work for your business, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.