Consumers can now find and purchase nearly anything they want, from a rubber ducky to life insurance, on the web. The laptop, phone, tablet, and POS have made access to eCommerce so widespread that online purchases have become ubiquitous. This also means that if you don't make it easy for consumer to purchase from your site, they will go elsewhere. So it is important to take your time when choosing an eCommerce platform to invest in - one that offers a both a good user, and administrator, experience.
With so many options out there, we know it can be overwhelming to decide which one is right for you and your company. We have developed 3 major buckets of consideration that any online business should take into account when evaluating eCommerce platforms for themselves.
1. NEEDS: FEATURES AND FUNCTIONALITY
It all starts with defining your product. Essentially, you start with specifying what you want to sell because this will have a huge impact on your overall decision. Are you selling services, merchandise or media files (pdfs, mp3, zip, mp4, png)? The type of product or service you sell will determine which features you want to be included on your eCommerce platform. Different platforms will better satisfy each product type and affect shipping, download speed, or how you contact the customer after purchase.
You'll also need to understand the unique functionality of your store. Online stores with international sales will have to deal with the currencies, languages, and tax laws of different countries versus a domestic only store. How big is your store going to be? Larger sites may require expensive hosting fees and additional organizational architecture. The traffic to your store could also modify the price of your chosen eCommerce platform.
The best way to start this process is to document every specific requirement you need to satisfy. These can take the form of user stories, and are best defined as high-level descriptions of feature requirements from the end user's perspective. They typically follow a simple template: As a < type of user >, I want < some goal > so that < some reason >. For example, as a customer I want to be able to sort items on a landing page by price and category so that I can find the item I am interested in purchasing. These user stories will help you focus on what your user actually requires, versus chasing after bright shiny features you don't actually need.
2. HOSTING: SELF HOSTING VS THIRD PARTY HOSTING
In terms of hosting, you can either do it yourself or have someone do it for you. The big difference between these two hosting options is cost and ownership. Self-hosted platforms provide you with lots of control over your online business, but come with a hefty upfront cost. Hosted platforms on the other hand, run on someone else's server, which reduces the amount of control, and ownership, you have over your online store, and require a smaller investment upfront.
You can start your evaluation of these options by asking yourself the following questions:
Do you have any special functionality needed for your site?
Who do you have on staff to maintain your site?
Do you need code-level access to your site?
Do you require 24/7 customer support?
What is your upfront budget for this project?
What is your monthly operating budget for running your website?
Self-hosting gives you full control over your digital business so you can personalize your store just the way you like, with smaller ongoing fees from a hosting service. This option can be selected if the project is small and limited in needs, or if the project is extremely complicated, requiring a custom built system. The benefit of this option - you own everything. However, while ongoing operating costs are very low in most cases, a large upfront investment is required to get things going.
Generally, this option is only recommended when you have the right people (e.g., IT Staff) in place to resolve issues that may arise and take care of things like internet security, which are a big deal when you are handling payments, credit card information, and personal information.
Third Party Hosting
Third-party hosting is becoming commonplace for both small organizations and large enterprises and include platforms such as Shopify, BigCommerce and Magento. In this case, you're handing the details off to a company that specializes in things like information security and compliance. They also provide good customer support for any technical setup or operational questions you might have.
Costs tend to be shifted from large upfront amounts common to self-hosting projects to smaller, but consistent, ongoing payments for the ability to “rent” the system. Over time, the cost of these systems may outpace self-hosting, but you tend to get a more robust system that continues to grow and improve. Third party hosting also comes along with a community, support, and other benefits that may be worth the ongoing cost.
3. CUSTOMIZATION: TEMPLATES, SEO AND PLUGINS
Look and feel tend to be a critical part of selecting any website system online. Your selected eCommerce platform might be feature rich, but it won't mean much if you can't customize it to fit your unique brand and visual needs. Therefore, it's crucial to check out the customization features of a potential platform in depth before making a decision.
Check to see if your intended system has a good selection of templates if you don't have the skills or time to create one from scratch. The chosen platform should also provide easy access to files with a user-friendly back-end where you can track client interactions, or implement changes to your site. Inflexible platforms might be cheaper, but you may find the limits frustrating and could stall the growth of your brand. The workarounds required to make an inflexible platform perform to your standards may cost more time and money than it's worth.
Search engine optimization, SEO, management options are almost standard in these types of platforms. The most basic SEO options in these types of systems tend to help manage things like XML sitemaps, canonicalization, title tags, and meta descriptions, alt tags, link structure...
Essential for building awareness and traffic for your store is a blog. Blogs also give you a space to share knowledge, gain your customers' trust, increase your visibility, keep your visitors engaged, and make you an influencer in your field. If that sounds good to you, make sure to find an eCommerce platform that supports blogs.
If you have identified the features you want, but don't want to develop them into your site yourself, you could always check your platform's marketplace. Many of the standard platforms, both self-hosted and third party, have invested in a marketplace that allows you to select free and paid enhancements or integrations. This option can save quite a bit of time and money. So be sure to do some window shopping in these marketplaces ahead of signing on the dotted line.
WHAT WILL YOU CHOOSE?
Hopefully these points help you in your journey to selecting the perfect eCommerce platform. But if you still need help, check out our ECommerce Marketing: Intro to Lead Generation Guide and we would be happy to offer our expertise to guide you to the right choice.
Have more tips to add to our list? Let us know in the comments below and we will credit you in this post!