Want to create your eCommerce website? We reviewed the best eCommerce platforms in South Africa to help you make the best choice.
A key step to start selling online is choosing the best eCommerce platform that you will use to build your eCommerce website and online store. This platform will provide you with the skeleton of your website and a website builder, where you will add your content, your product descriptions, your blog posts, and so on. In this article we review the best eCommerce platforms in South Africa to help you make your choice.
Here are the best eCommerce platforms in South Africa, all reviewed below:
- Shopify – Best for larger businesses
- Portmoni – Best South African platform
- WooCommerce – Best open-source platform
Let’s get started and review each of them in detail. And to know more about how we evaluated the eCommerce platforms, don’t forget to check out our buying guide.
|Shopify – Best for larger businesses||
+ Easy to start
|Portmoni – Best South African platform||
+ Easy to use on your phone and local integrations
– Fewer customization options
|WooCommerce – Best open-source||
– More complex to scale and maintain
Best eCommerce Platforms South Africa
Shopify is a popular eCommerce platform that allows you to easily create your online store. Shopify is a Software-as-a-Service, which means that you will create your store using their software and they will host it for you.
The platform includes all the standard online store features and is easy to use. A selection of themes is available so that you can find the right design for your store. Shopify also offers a marketplace where you can find apps that extend the functionalities of the platform. Finally, the Shopify eCommerce website builder also includes reporting dashboards, so that you can see data about your sales.
Yet, several key eCommerce features need adding extra plugins. These plugins can be free or paid, with many even requiring monthly subscriptions. Updating your store from your browser on your phone is also not very convenient. To work on your store using your mobile phone, you will need to install the Shopify app.
Shopify offers different monthly packages but charges a transaction fee on all of them. Plans start at $29 per month + a 2% transaction fee. Their main plan is $79 per month + a 1% transaction fee. And they also have an advanced package at $299 per month + a 0.5% transaction fee.
Overall Shopify is a great solution to get started. The platform offers a large number of functionalities and can be extended using plugins. Yet, the Shopify South Africa pricing is also expensive. Their monthly package cost is quite high, and the extra cost of plugins adds to the monthly fee.
- Easy to get started
- Extensive array of features and add-ons
- More expensive than most other solutions
- Take a commission on your sales
- Not the best for SEO
Portmoni is a South African eCommerce platform that powers thousands of ecommerce websites. One of Portmoni main focuses is to make it very easy to create your online store with just your phone.
They offer all standard eCommerce features inside the platform so that you do not have to add extra plugins. Discounts, product reviews, abandoned cart recovery, everything is already there. You do not need to install and pay for extra plugins. As they are based in South Africa, they also integrate with local payment gateways like Payfast and Yoco. They also offer several features designed for the South African market. For instance, a 1-click WhatsApp integration allows you to easily chat with your clients through your site.
The platform focuses on being easy to use on mobile and you do not need to install an app to update your site. Yet, the design options for the sites are more limited. You can choose between many templates and customize them to your wishes. But the options are fewer than with other platforms.
Portmoni offers several packages, starting at R90 per month, and does not charge transaction fees. The R220 package includes your own domain, as well as most features. The advanced package at R490 per month even allows integrating your e commerce website with the Facebook Marketplace and Google Shopping.
Overall, Portmoni is a great choice to start selling online in South Africa. They integrate with local payment gateways, which makes it very easy to start accepting payments on your site. Yet, they have fewer customization options, even if the default themes are quite extensive.
- Affordable pricing for small businesses
- Easy to use from your mobile phone
- Free domain on all professional packages
- Fewer customization options
WooCommerce is another one of the most popular eCommerce website builders in South Africa. WooCommerce is an open-source plugin for WordPress. It will add online store capabilities to any WordPress website.
It offers a large selection of themes, and it is quite easy to use and customize. After reading some documentation, it is even possible to install and set up your eCommerce store yourself. And if you already have a WordPress site it is just another plugin to install. There is also a large community of developers if you need to hire help to customize your e-commerce website.
However, there is no support offered for the platform. When you have questions, you will need to find answers yourself in the forums and online. You also need to manage the hosting of your site yourself. This can be complex and expensive for mid-size and large WooCommerce sites. WooCommerce only has basic features so you will need to install plugins for a lot of standard eCommerce functionalities. As the add-ons are untested and provided by the community, their performance and security can also be lacking. You need to be careful about this.
As an open-source eCommerce platform, there will be no setup or monthly cost to use the platform. You will however have to cover the cost of the hosting of your e-commerce store, as well as your domain. WooCommerce requires quite a lot of computing resources, so a large store can be expensive to run. You will also likely need to hire a developer to integrate extra features. This can cost between R300 and R1500 per hour depending on their skillsets.
Overall WooCommerce is a great choice if you want to get started with a free eCommerce website builder. However, as you grow, the complexity of the platform can catch up with you. The running and maintenance cost can even become larger than a hosted solution.
- Large community of developer
- No support
- Dealing with the add-ons security and performance is complex
Wix is a popular website builder that offers an eCommerce add-on. It allows you to easily create your online store.
Wix is easy to use and includes a simple eCommerce website builder. It can also be extended using extra add-ons available in their marketplace. They offer a large selection of templates, and it is easy to edit the design of your online store. They also offer an integrated payment processing solution called Wix Payments.
Wix charges a monthly subscription to use their platform and does not charge transaction fees. Their business package starts at $20 per month. It goes up to $42 per month if you want to access the full business suite, with dropshipping integrations and product reviews.
Overall, Wix is an interesting option, especially if you already have a website with them and want to add eCommerce capability. Yet, if you start from scratch, Portmoni or Shopify will likely be more suitable.
- Easy to extend existing Wix websites
- Not many differentiators with other solutions
Ecwid is a great solution if you already have a website, and want to add eCommerce functionalities to it.
Using Ecwid, you can choose between adding your online shop within your existing site, on Facebook, or even as a starter shop on the Ecwid platform. Ecwid also integrates nicely with social media to help you sell your products. When you grow, their more expensive packages include all the features required to run a fully-featured eCommerce site.
Ecwid offers the option to create a basic free eCommerce website. This gives the option to have a free ecommerce website in South Africa. The cost is then 15€ per month for the starter package. It goes up to 99€ per month for the unlimited package that includes point of sales integration and a custom shopping app. For the business plan that includes Google Shopping and abandoned cart recovery, it will cost 35€ per month + VAT. Ecwid does not charge transaction fees.
Overall, Ecwid is a good option if you already have a website and cannot add an eCommerce module to it. However, as an extra add-on to websites, it will remain less integrated than other options. It is also quite expensive as soon as you want to access more features.
- Great to add eCommerce functionalities to an existing site
- Most standard eCommerce features require the 35€ per month package
Shopstar is a South African e-commerce platform that allows users to create and manage their online shop.
Shopstar includes most standard features of online stores. For instance, orders management, social media integration, or sales analytics are available. One of the benefits of using Shopstar is that they have their own payment gateway, Shopstar Pay. You can enable it directly from your Shopstar account, and start accepting card payments from Visa and Mastercard right away.
Yet, transaction fees for Shopstar Pay are on the high side, with a 3.5% commission on the order total, plus R1.5 per transaction (excl. VAT). The interface is less intuitive than others, and a bit difficult to use on mobile. Some of the features like discounts also do not work exactly as expected.
Shopstar charges a monthly subscription based on the number of products available in your store. It starts at R220 per month for 1-25 products, all the way up to R1,050 per month for unlimited products. A mid-size store of 101-200 products attracts an R740 fee per month. They do not charge a transaction fee.
Overall, Shopstar is an interesting solution based out of South Africa. They integrate with local suppliers and offer a local payment gateway to get started quickly. However, if you look at Shopstar vs Shopify or Shopstar vs Portmoni, Shopstar’s functionalities are less developed. The interface is not the easiest to use, and the pricing based on the number of products makes this eCommerce platform expensive.
- Local payment gateway available
- Price based on the number of products in your shop
- Not very easy to use on mobile
Magento is an open-source eCommerce platform targeted at enterprise customers. It is used by large companies such as Nike and Coca-Cola.
Magento is very powerful and highly customizable. However, you will need a specialized developer to do the setup and the maintenance for you. There is also no support if you just use the open-source software. The Magento platform itself is free, but they offer paid plans for enterprises for the hosting and maintenance of the sites.
Overall, Magento is a powerful free ecommerce platform. But it will not be well suited for small businesses, due to the complexity and costs of running it.
- Powerful open-source platform
- Complex and expensive to run
- More suited to large businesses and enterprises
Prestashop is another open-source eCommerce platform that you can host yourself. This free eCommerce website builder for South Africa can help you get started easily with your e commerce website.
However, the basic features are limited, and extensions can be expensive. In addition, customizing your online shop requires specialized programming skills. There is no direct support available from the company: you will have to rely on the Prestashop forums and community to get help if needed.
Overall, Prestashop is an interesting open-source option. Yet, compared to other open-source otions, it remains more complex and difficult to use.
- User-friendly interface, easy to set up a demo shop
- Limited features in the base open source package
- Extensions can be expensive
Buying Guide eCommerce Platforms South Africa
There are plenty of eCommerce platforms on the market, but not all of them are convenient to operate an online store in South Africa. We will now review the key points to consider to consider when selecting the best eCommerce platform for South Africa.
In a nutshell
Before going into more details, here are the 3 key points to consider.
First, the platform needs to allow selling in Rands (ZAR). Even if you sell internationally, most of your customers will likely be from South Africa. Due to the regulations, the local payment gateways like Payfast also operate in Rands, so this is a must have.
Second, you need to be able to get local support easily: if you have questions or issues, it is very important to be able to reach somebody to ask your questions. You don’t way to have to wait days to get an answer. Ideally chat support is very nice to have.
And finally, the eCommerce platform needs to offer integrations with the right tools for your business. The minimum is to get access to a South African payment gateway if you want to accept Visa & Mastercard on your site. Ideally some other integrations are also nice to have.
Hosted for you or self-hosted
The first thing to look at when selecting an eCommerce platform South Africa is if it comes with hosting.
Hosted platforms such as Portmoni or Shopify make the setup and maintenance of your site very easy. They also include a lot of functionalities from the get-go. Their initial monthly cost is often higher than a self-hosted platform. But, as you do not need to pay a developer to add features or maintain the site, the global cost is often cheaper than a self-hosted solution.
Self-hosted solutions such as WooCommerce or Prestashop will be free to install and can be customized as much as you want. Yet, as soon as you need features that are not part of the core modules, they can become quite complex to install and maintain. You will often need a developer to help you. Running them with adequate speed can also require specific hosting as soon as you reach a certain number of visitors. All this can make the running costs quite high, even if the initial setup is free.
Overall, unless you have a very specific reason to self-host, we recommend using a hosted platform for your e-commerce site. There are great solutions on the market, and this will free you up from all the technical sides of the site so that you can focus on the business side.
Ease of doing updates and maintenance yourself
Another factor to consider is if would like to create, update and manage your site yourself. All available ecommerce platforms in South Africa allow you to create and manage the content of your site, like your products and other data. But the eCommerce platforms differ when it comes to adding new features or updating existing ones.
Software-as-a-Service platforms like Wix or Portmoni make it very easy to do it yourself. Their ecosystem is controlled by the company and the available plugins will work well together and be easy to install.
With eCommerce website builders like Magento, WooCommerce or Prestashop, you will often need a developer for these updates. Indeed, the installation is usually more complex. It might also require specific developments, or can cause incompatibilities with existing modules.
Overall, SaaS options are typically easier to manage if you want to do everything yourself. Indeed, they are designed to make things very intuitive and do not require coding skills.
Local payment gateways and domains
Two other things to check are if the platform integrates with local payment gateways and offers local domains.
In South Africa, to access the local market it is important to use a local payment gateway, such as Payfast or Yoco. They will work best with your customers’ cards and will also offer other local payment options such as EFT. Offering the payment methods expected by your customers will help you close more sales. By choosing a platform that supports these payments methods, you will reduce the time and budget needed to launch your online store.
If you sell within South Africa, having a .co.za domain is also important. Your visitors will immediately see that you are a local e-commerce company. This will add trust, and tell them that they can expect local delivery rates and support. You should check that the platform allows this domain extension.
The cost of eCommerce websites includes different dimensions:
- Setup cost: how much does it cost to start and launch your site
- Monthly running costs: how much does it cost to keep your site running
- Transaction fees: does the platform charges a commission on your sales
- Updating/upgrading costs: how much does it cost to add new features or update existing ones
- Domain: is the domain included in the platform cost
The ecommerce website price South Africa will be a combination of those.
The setup cost will typically be free with all platforms. Most of the SaaS platforms also offer a free trial to test their services. However, there might be hidden costs. For instance, a platform like Magento is very complex to set up. Even if the platform is free you will have to hire a specialist to install it for you.
For self-hosted platforms, the monthly running cost will be the hosting of your site. The price is then typically between R50 to R500 depending on the size of your site and the speed you want to achieve. For hosted platforms, the cost is the monthly subscription fee. It is typically between R90 and R1000 depending on the solution you choose.
If you want to accept payments by card, payment gateways like Yoco or Payfast charge a transaction fee to process the payments. This cannot be avoided. However, some platforms also add their own transaction fee on top of that, as a commission on your sales. This can become expensive, as they will capture a percentage of your revenue, instead of a fixed monthly fee. This is something to avoid if possible.
Updating and upgrading costs will be free with SaaS solutions, as they are included in your monthly subscription. For self-hosted solutions, you will either need to do it yourself or hire a developer to do it for you.
Finally, your website domain also needs to be renewed every year. The price is R90 to R200 per year depending on the extension. The domain is cheap in comparison with the other costs involved with running your ecommerce website in South Africa. However, some suppliers like Portmoni include a free domain with all their packages, which is always nice to have.
Type of product
The type of products you plan to sell also influences the choice of the platform. Physical products, digital products, or events require different feature sets.
Physical products ideally require inventory management, tracking, and integration with your delivery service. It should be something you look for when selecting the best eCommerce website builder South Africa for your needs.
Digital products require securely storing the files you sell. The platform should also send or share them securely and automatically to your clients once a payment is received. For digital products like online courses, it can even be better to use a dedicated online course platform like Teachable. These will have all the features you need right out of the box.
Events require inventory management to manage your seats and a link to your ticketing platform. Specialized platforms like Evently offer both online tickets sales and event management. They can be interesting if events are your focus.
Features and functionalities
Most platforms include all the standard eCommerce website functions. This covers features like discounts, inventory management, or products reviews.
Each platform also allows adding extra functionalities, usually using plugins or add-ons. Yet, the costs and available extensions will vary from platform to platform. Open-source platforms typically offer a wider choice of extensions. However, as this is open source without central control, the quality, stability, and security of those options can also vary. Other platforms will offer app marketplaces, like Wix or Shopify. But the available plugins often use a subscription model, which can increase your monthly fee.
The eCommerce website builders offer different options to customize the design of your site. Most of them have templates that you can adjust to your needs. SaaS solutions are typically more constrained, as they try to make the platform easy to use without coding skills. With open-source platforms, you will be able to edit everything. Yet, you will need technical skills or a developer to do those modifications, as they can be quite complex.
Most open-source platforms only offer community support. You will be able to find help in online forums and communities but will have to figure most things out yourself.
On the contrary, hosted solutions mostly come with support included, usually by chat or email. You will be able to contact the support teams to get guidance and answers to any questions you might have on the platform.
The ownership of your site and your content is another question to consider. This influences if you can move it easily to another platform if you wish.
Software-as-a-Service platforms typically allow you to export the content of your site and all your data. You can then import your data into another platform of your choice. However, as their software is proprietary, you cannot export every file of your site and copy them on another platform. You need to convert the data to the new platform format, and recreate your site using their eCommerce website builder.
With open-source eCommerce platforms, you will be able to export all the data as well as the code running your site. You can then reinstall your database and files on another host. Yet, moving the site from one host to another requires strong technical skills. It is a complex process that can cause data loss if done wrong. If you want to migrate to another platform, the process is the same as with hosted platforms.
Overall eCommerce websites are quite complex, and cannot be moved easily. Using an open-source platform gives you slightly more control. But changing platforms will always require a complex migration process.
It is always a complex choice to select the platform upon which to build your e-commerce website. Here are our 3 best picks for the best ecommerce platforms in South Africa.
To get started easily, Shopify is a great option. It is powerful and extensible but is also quite expensive. As they charge a commission on your sales, the cost can also grow very high.
Portmoni is our best South African option. The platform is very easy to use, affordable and integrates with local South African suppliers. Yet, this ease of use comes at the cost of more limited design options.
Finally, WooCommerce is great if you would like a self-hosted solution where you control everything. It can however get challenging when your store grows, both on the performance and the security sides.
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