A platform in the world of computers can refer to operating systems, but in this case it refers to the software application conceived as a base for other programs. These additional programs are commonly called plug-ins, but also may be modules, add-ons, themes, or gadgets. Ecommerce is the practice of buying and selling in an online environment. Therefore, an ecommerce platform is a software application that both forms the basis for an ecommerce website and also accepts and integrates with plug-ins, which add functionality and features to the basic package.
Many ecommerce platforms are proprietary programs constructed by a web hosting company. This type of ecommerce platform is often made to interface with open source shopping carts and other free plug-ins and modules. Additionally, proprietary plug-ins are often used as part of a way to differentiate levels of service, along with other differences such as the numbers of products that can be sold, the amount of bandwidth, and other features that are conceived as amounts.
Another type of ecommerce platform is the creatively adapted open source program that was not initially designed with ecommerce in mind at all. Various types of software applications have been repurposed as ecommerce platforms, including blogging software and other content management software (CMS), as well as learning management software (LMS). In these cases, ecommerce functionality is attained primarily through themes and plug-ins.
Advantages of using proprietary programs that are ecommerce platforms from the get-go include the fact that the key features are already built-in and the user doesn’t have to go scouring third-party sites looking for add-ons, research all the alternatives, and make a choice for each bit of functionality. Advantages of using open source programs not fundamentally ecommerce is that the elements that are common to all websites that may not be available in narrowly conceived ecommerce sites — such as blogs — may already be available and well-developed, and either a theme or plug-in may provide a fairly complete solution. It is also possible for a company with special requirements to build their own ecommerce platform or have a web designer build it to their specifications. This can avoid the problems of both the proprietary platforms offered by webhosts and the open source platforms offered as content management or learning management software, but sometimes at the cost of doing some “reinventing of the wheel.”