Welp, it’s time to decide. After years of talking about the website, your business decided to work with developers to establish a new eCommerce presence, or rebuild the one you’ve got. This is a big deal. We get it. The businesses we work with have established, successful sales channels. The operational infrastructure is optimized for a network of retail locations, regional sales reps or an existing eCommerce site. Whether your business is B2B or B2C, the system is pretty complex. Everyone is on board with developing something new because a new sales portal has the potential to revolutionize the business. In the short term though, sorting out the logistics is no small task. And selecting an eCommerce platform is no small choice.
What are the factors?
With so many options out there, over a hundred the last time we counted, the choice is overwhelming. Coupled with all of the choices are an equally inordinate number of determinants to base your decision on too. Depending on your business, some are more critical than others. Ultimately though, a smart decision comes down to ten essential factors.
First, narrow the list of options to platforms that align with your product assortment. Some platforms are well suited for certain categories like digital download sales right out of the box. Others might require a plug-in. Likewise, not every platform is equipped to handle a large product catalog with many variations. Inventory types impact shipping methods as well.
Not every eCommerce platform works with every payment system. If you are considering PayPal alternatives, this is key.
Your host is your website’s home. Picking a solid website host is critical, especially for an eCommerce site. Software-as-a-service systems (SaaS) like Shopify have hosting built in. If you are looking to self-host, that narrows the list of options as well.
Your website developer, the customer service team of your eCommerce platform, and an online community of experts are about to be your new best friends. Choose wisely.
When it comes to website traffic, “if you build it, they will come” is a fool’s dream. Your site must be optimized so that your future customers will find you. That means being strategic with product titles, navigation links, and meta descriptions. For some businesses that also means blogging and leveraging social media. Here’s a great round-up of SEO friendly eCommerce platforms.
Your eCommerce website does not live in isolation. It has to play nice with your fulfillment systems, marketing programs, and perhaps some third party channels like Ebay,Google Shopping and Amazon Marketplace. The eCommerce platforms on your short list should have the extensions and integrations your business needs.
If you are just starting out, working with readymade templates may get the job done. If your business is established, you probably have a solid brand and a deep understanding of your customer which mandates a unique solution. Customizability allows an eCommerce site to visually stand out and allows you to create a user-experience that meets the needs of your consumer. Be sure to consider what screen type your audience is using, and ensure that the design can be optimized accordingly.
ECommerce success is a product of ongoing testing and adjustment. Those changes are inspired by the data you capture and the strength of the reporting. Google Analytics can be optimized for eCommerce, and the platform you select will likely offer reporting as well, although every system is different.
If your product database is ready to go, and your needs are straightforward, you could select a SaaS eCommerce platform and be ready to deploy in a matter of hours. On the other hand, a more complex customized solution could take months to develop before going live.
Well yea. You have to select something you can afford. A custom-built solution may be more costly up front, but may not require licensing fees to contend. SaaS platforms will either have flat monthly fees or charge a small percentage of sales. Add-ons and plug-ins typically add to the bottom line too. And don’t forget expenses like hosting and payment card fees when you compare total costs.
What are the options?
So you have a solid understanding of the business and you know what factors to keep in mind. Now you’re ready to make a choice among the sea of eCommerce systems out there. Here’s a quick overview of a few to get you started.
Rather than go with something off the shelf, you can build an eCommerce solution from scratch. We do a lot of that around here. The obvious benefit – you get exactly what you want. There are no limitations, no maximum number of SKUs and this system is built to the specific needs of your business. Although this is not always the case, customization sometimes results in a longer costlier buildout for the initial launch an ongoing work with your developer as you continue to enhance and finetune the site.
There are quite a few off-the-shelf eCommerce platforms out there. Magento wins for popularity. Magento is an open source eCommerce content management system. It’s widely known, making it a good safe choice with lots of third party support. There are new enterprise B2B features that look promising as well. Magento offers robust reporting out of the box and lots of flexibility in terms of hosting and design. On the flip side, Magento can be more cumbersome to work with. Before recommending Magento to a client with an older legacy systems, ensure integration won’t be problematic.
Another well-known solution is Shopify, a self-hosted SaaS eCommerce platform. One big perk is security. The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is built-in. Shopify also offers robust reporting and total design flexibility with both customizable templates and the ability to design from a blank page. Because the platform is self-hosted, upgrades are pretty streamlined as well. There are lots of great things about Shopify. That said, if you are thinking about building a B2B eCommerce website on Shopify, keep in mind that some features like accounts and delayed shipments require third-party add ons.
The list goes on and on. Bigcommerce, Volusion, 3dCart, Big Cartel, and AmazonWebStore are a few other big names out there. And don’t forget about WordPress. Although it would not be our recommendation for most businesses, open source WordPress plug-ins like WooCommerce are widely used as well.
So do your homework and find a system that marries best with your business. Don’t go it alone though. Include your web developer in the process. That’s why we’re here.