An eCommerce website is a powerful money-making tool – if you use it correctly and choose the right eCommerce platform for your online store. There is a great choice of eCommerce solutions out there these days.
If you choose the right platforms, you will get a better-supported solution, the wider choice of designs for your online store, better functionality, and more additional features.
Why choosing the RIGHT eCommerce platform matters for your business
Building an eCommerce business is not only simple like putting up your product listings on the web but far more complicated than you actually imagine. Just like building and running a physical retail shop, the same level of thinking and strategy is required for building and running eCommerce business.
If you get this fundamental strategy, then you can take the advantage of digital environment where you can automate and simplify many of the tasks and activities that would have required human intervention.
But when it comes to choose an eCommerce platform, you have to remember that your eCommerce site will dictate the following 4 things:
- How quickly you are going to growth your business.
- The cost of building your eCommerce platform and ongoing development and maintenance costs.
- How you can control your customers engagement with your business.
- The right eCommerce platform will enable you to deliver the service you set out to achieve.
It is very important for us to point out many eCommerce vendors tend to focus on serious issues like design, UX branding and content. But the real eCommerce issues are found within the eCommerce business process, customer engagement and lead generation. All these processes can help you determine whether you’re making a healthy return on investment on your eCommerce business.
Why you should have an eCommerce platform?
To run eCommerce business it is essential to have an eCommerce platform. If you don’t have an eCommerce platform, it is impossible for you to compete online.
An eCommerce platform is the backbone of an online retail store, whether it is B2B or B2C types of company. The right eCommerce platform can also help to streamline how your business interacts with your clients, customers and employees.
eCommerce platforms are basically software applications that enable businesses to execute complex functions both in the front-end and back-end. The software application includes CRM, inventory management, mobile commerce, web design and warehouse fulfillment.
Before the invention of eCommerce solutions, businesses had to build their own platform in-house by their IT and development team. This was a laborious and costly affair. These self-built solutions were usually unscalable, difficult to manipulate and were not able to integrate with other software solutions used by the marketers.
Today, many small companies are using build-your-own method. But with the improvement of technology we have now “free” open source platforms that you can pay someone to build to your requirements, proprietary software that can also be customized with a team of developers, existing platforms such as Amazon or Walmart where you register to sell your products.
The best eCommerce platform
Selecting an eCommerce platform based on their popularity is not the wise decision. The best eCommerce platform is the one that successfully delivers yours required outcomes and objectives.
You have to set some simple goals like an increase in revenue, improving customer engagement or entering or creating a new market. If the goals that you will set is complex then you have to face trouble since you have many stakeholders involved that have conflicting objectives.
That is why strong leadership is required to get everyone on the same platform, without it, your eCommerce project will face difficulties to take off.
The right eCommerce platform also should fit well with the current technical expertise of your business team. For example, if you choose an eCommerce platform that is very popular but has a high barrier to entry, this will not move well with a team who have a low technical knowledge. In that case, you will have to employ a technical team to assist you towards your end-goal.
Another factor that can determine your choice of right eCommerce platform is your business’s competitive landscape. If you compete in a fast-paced industry, where you’re bound to encounter too many technological disruptions, then you’ll need a platform that can move and adjust at the same speed as your required business.
Types of eCommerce platforms
There are 5 types of eCommerce platform to choose from. They are:
- Build your own
- Traditional Platform
- Open-source platform
- Cloud Based Platform
- SaaS Platform
1. Build your own
As the name suggest, such type of eCommerce platform depends on you. As per your requirement, you have to contract someone either internally or externally to develop it. This method is obsolete nowadays.
But if your products are very niche and has a specific set of needs and requirements that none of the traditional eCommerce platform can offer, then this could be your best option.
2. Traditional platforms
If you select this type of platform, then you have to purchase the license key and have to renew annually. Your developers team will then build and customize on top of the platform and then install it either on-premise or into the cloud. Examples of traditional platforms – Kentico, Hybris, Oracle Commerce and IBM Digital Commerce.
3. Open source platforms
Same like traditional platforms where you follow the same development procedure. The main difference is that you don’t suffer an upfront cost in purchasing a license. However, you have to pay for initial development, implementation, ongoing development, upgrades and migration. An example of an open source eCommerce platform is WooCommerce.
4. Cloud based platforms
Cloud based platforms are a little murky. Some traditional and open source platforms have bolted onto a hosting system and now call themselves cloud based platforms. Examples of such types of platforms Magento Enterprise Cloud, Demandware, Salesforce Commerce and Volusion.
5. SaaS platforms
eCommerce SaaS (Software as a Service) platforms are generally built on a single code base. Everyone who uses an eCommerce SaaS platform experience the same technology for a fixed monthly fee that covers server use, maintenance, security and upgrades.
Difference between Cloud-hosted and SaaS platfrom
Most of the people think that cloud-hosted platform is a SaaS product. But this is not true. Many cloud based platforms are just legacy platforms that are hosted on a cloud that still requires you to undertake maintenance and install upgrades, same like traditional and open source platforms.
And also, when you use a cloud based eCommerce platform, you have to go through initial development and customization as you would with traditional and open source platforms. So, you are require technical hands to carry out this work. But once this job is done, the platform is pretty much yours.
On the other hand, for SaaS platforms, you’re not required to maintain either any cloud-based hosting provider or a physical server. You just have to pay a monthly subscription fee to access the already developed software application through your browser. And unlike cloud based solutions, you don’t have to worry about the maintaining part of the software, because the SaaS provider maintains it for you.
Related costs to build, maintain and update eCommerce platform
While selecting an eCommerce platform, a lot of people tend to underestimate the actual costs of running an eCommerce website. While the initial building and development costs are obvious, but there are some other hidden costs you need to keep in mind. They are:
- Maintenance cost
- New features / Improvement
- UX changes
1. Maintenance costs
If you decide to go for a traditional/open source eCommerce platform, then it is your responsibility to look after the maintenance cost. Since, your eCommerce site performs to its requirements. And depending on the size and complexity of your eCommerce site, these maintenance costs can vary and may require you to hire technical person. However, with SaaS platforms, this part is taken care off in exchange for the fixed monthly fee.
Most of the open source platforms, require you to download and install the updates whenever they release. If you don’t updates in time, then your platform is at risk to hackers and cyber attacks. Though, installing these updates (on some platform like WooCommerce) doesn’t require some level of technical knowledge, but some platform require technical person to install the updates. With SaaS platforms, just like maintenance, any updates are covered in the monthly subscription fee.
3. New features/improvement
Customer behavior changes time to time. That’s why you need to ensure your eCommerce site maintains its relevancy by implementing the new improvements and adding features whenever it is required.
4. UX changes
Besides adding new features and improvements, you might need to change the overall user experience of your eCommerce platform. Again, this comes down to changes in customer trends and behavior. If your current eCommerce becomes too rigid, then you might have to shift onto another system that allows you to make these UX changes – this can be a costly affair.
Think about vendor
Besides looking at development and operating, there are other factors that you have to consider when choosing right eCommerce platform.
Vendor experience and expertise
Check whether the vendor actually has the experience and the technical skill to meet the needs and complexities of your requirements or not. Also check whether they have both the knowledge and the experience of working with your industry or not.
Take your time to research case studies, customer reviews and forums to see if the vendor is well equipped to handle more than just development.
Always look out for vendors who provide 24-hour emergency support through different channels including email, web chat and by phone.
Since, your eCommerce platform is the central hub of your business. So, a platform that is difficult to scale can hinder the growth and success of your business.
eCommerce platforms come with comprehensive SEO features that will enable your eCommerce site to rank high in search engine results. Some important factors to consider when looking for an SEO friendly eCommerce platform are:
- Adding a blog to your eCommerce platform
- Using your own domain name
- Allowing customers to leave product/service reviews
A platform which is mobile-friendly is essential. According to a prediction, mobile commerce in Germany, the US and the UK will make up a third of all retail eCommerce sales.
The most important thing to consider about vendor is security. Since, eCommerce is a digital platform that is actively taking payments through different payment methods, you have to make sure your eCommerce provider has the necessary security protocols in place.
Consider client experience when choosing an eCommerce platform
Your client experience will influence on the success of your eCommerce business. One important factor that determines client experience is the user experience (UX) of the eCommerce platform.
A platform which is user-friendly and intuitive can improve user-satisfaction and help your team to achieve their objectives. This is why it is crucial to know if a UX of your platform reflects your business needs.
Besides the user-friendliness, client experience is also heavily relies on the flexibility and adaptability of a platform. Since we are deep into the IoT-era, we’ve seen so many technological disruptions with likes of voice assistant devices, smart refrigerators, and smart wearable. Your eCommerce platforms must readily adapt to these changes and innovations.
Nowadays, personalization is also a major component of client experience. eCommerce platforms must be able to integrate with artificial intelligence and machine learning tools to understand consumer patterns of individual customers and use this data to deliver a personalized service.
Features to consider when choosing an eCommerce platform
Every eCommerce platform has their own unique features and functions. But for your business, you have to make sure your eCommerce platform has these following features.
- Robust Catalog
- Flexible product pricing
- Website personalization
- Flexible shipping
- eCommerce analytics
- Google merchant integration
- Facebook business integration
- Built-in or third-party customer review system
- Automatic tax and review calculation
- Multiple payment gateways
- Single customer view
- Handless commerce
1. Robust catalog
Normally, the product catalog represents the heart of your inventory. During the selection of right eCommerce platform, check that the catalog is easy to update and intuitive. It is also important to check that the product catalog meets the requirements of your sector. For example, if you work in the fashion or clothing sector, your product catalog should come with a feature that allows your customer to select a size or color of a product.
2. Flexible pricing
You may want to run promotions, sales or discounts. Support for multiple currencies is another consideration while choosing right eCommerce platform. Because you may need to charge different fees for different geographical locations.
3. Website personalization
Buyers want a personalized experience. Check that your selected platform equipped with a recommendation engine that sends personalized suggested items-to-buy to the customers based on their previous purchases and product they’ve been searching for.
4. Flexible shipping
Shipment demands have changed drastically in few years. Customer wants to get the products on the day of purchase or the next day. Make sure that the platform is well-supported by a decent distribution and logistics company.
5. eCommerce analytics
There’s a wide range of eCommerce metrics and KPIs that you should monitoring and a built-in eCommerce analytics system is the perfect way to do that. Thankfully, most eCommerce platforms have their own analytic systems.
6. Google Merchant integration
Google Merchant allows businesses to upload and maintain product information. As a result, it can be displayed in the relevant Google Shopping results. It helps to get more traffic to your product listing page. This type of feature is beneficial to reach customers beyond the borders of your website.
7. Facebook integration
An integration with your Facebook business account allows you to sync your products to your Facebook, Instagram, and Facebook Messenger account. After creating a catalog, you can use it for different business cases such as displaying products in a collection ad or tagging products on Instagram.
8. Customer review system
Built-in or third-party customer review systems that allow for customer ratings and reviews — can greatly impact your conversion rate. According to a study, positive reviews increase trust for 72 percent of consumers, while Millennial in particular trust user-generated content 50 percent more than any other media.
9. Automatic tax and account calculation
If you want to run eCommerce business globally, then you need to follow tax laws of different countries alongside their currency requirement. Failure to follow tax laws can lead to a high-profile legal action.
10. Multiple payment gateways
eCommerce platform must have payment options which include PayPal, credit card, and debit card has proven to increase conversion. Additionally, if you’re planning to grow your eCommerce store internationally, you’ll need to use local payment gateways to gain the trust and custom of local markets.
11. Single customer view
This feature enables you to track your potential customers and their communication across every channel. It also allows you to see what they are buying.
12. Headless commerce
eCommerce sales expected to rise from both voice-assistant devices and smart wearable. You need such type of platform that enables you to deliver eCommerce activities to various touch-points. And you can do this with headless commerce.
Common mistakes to avoid when choosing an eCommerce platform
There are some common mistakes you need to avoid when choosing an eCommerce platform. These are:
1. Investing in clunky monolithic platform
An eCommerce platform that is built on a rigid infrastructure leads to slow and sluggish performance. If you want to update a small component of your platform, you would have to move the entire system, which can result in lengthy downtime.
Instead, you should choose an eCommerce platform which is easier to update, upgrade and manage since all the individual components operate individually and communicate with each other via API calls. This leads to a more efficient experience for both your developer team and your customers.
2. Selecting a platform that’s hard to scale
An eCommerce platform that is hard to scale harms the growth of your business. The main reasons why some platforms lack scalability is because they do not support multi-tenancy and multi-site and they rely on local servers.
3. Too many features
This also relates to scalability where you invest in a platform that has way more features than you actually need. Not only are you getting a poor value for your buck, but you’re paying for features that you are not using.
Choose a platform that meets the minimum “must-have” requirements and has the ability to add new features and capabilities as your business grows. This helps you to keep your spending inline with the growth of your business.
4. Having no objectives
We already mentioned earlier how crucial it is to set your objectives before you go and choose the best eCommerce platform. If you don’t set any objectives at the very beginning of eCommerce selection process, you will end up wasting a lot of time and money. And finally, you might end up choosing the wrong eCommerce platform.
Here are few examples of some objectives when starting an eCommerce store:
- Launch your online store within 3 months
- Collect contact information of minimum 1,000 customers in your target market
- Make at least 10,000 sales in the first quarter
5. Customizing the wrong way
Many brands choose a rigid online eCommerce platform, and then customize their internal systems and requirements to fit the platform. But if you know what your exact requirements and goals are, you should be able to pick a platform that fits your brand — and is flexible enough to be customized for everything else.
6. Check on Payment Methods
If money is the lifeblood of commerce, the ability to accept payment from your customers is the lifeblood of an eCommerce store. Review the payment method available with any eCommerce platform you want to use relative to the methods you’re accepting now.
Choose an eCommerce platform for tomorrow
Starting any new business is challenging, but moving away from the traditional store to an online version can be a little daunting—especially with so many options for you to start with—that is why choosing an eCommerce platform is so difficult for many business owners.
Figuring out what your online store will need as you grow and keeping up with trends is a challenge, but it is well worth it in the end to create processes that work and will scale with your business. Knowing what to look for ahead of time makes choosing a right platform is an easier process and can help you find success!