Congratulations, you’ve decided it’s time to invest in an eCommerce site for your business. Whether you’re an established business expanding into online sales or a brand new venture, an eCommerce website can open your business up to a customer base that’s grown steadily for years. Now it’s time to face a very important question – which eCommerce platform is right for your business?
Unfortunately, choosing the best eCommerce platform is not necessarily a straightforward process. There are hundreds of eCommerce platforms available, so you need to identify which of those are fits for your exact criteria. If you don’t, you’ll likely run into a situation where your new eCommerce platform doesn’t meet your needs – and changing eCommerce platforms is a very difficult, painstaking process.
While this can certainly sound intimidating, some preparation and introspection can help you identify your specific pain points and narrow down which eCommerce platforms are right for your business. Let’s break down what you need to consider when evaluating eCommerce platforms.
Evaluate Your Own Business
The first step of eCommerce platform evaluation is to think about your business. There are a wide variety of hosted eCommerce platforms and Cloud-based solutions available, so it’s a matter of weighing everything from existing infrastructure and processes to future plans. As such, you’ll want to ask yourself the following questions to identify the best eCommerce platform for your situation.
What do you sell?
As you may expect, your products play a pivotal part in picking the perfect platform. In general, eCommerce platforms are better suited for certain types of products. For example, one platform may be set up to seamlessly handle shipping for physical items while another is designed around companies with digital goods. There are also eCommerce platforms like Subbly that operate specifically for subscription-based stores.
You’ll also want to see how well an eCommerce platform can handle the specific aspects of your products. The level of control over product variants, presentation, and other features can vary from platform to platform. Some eCommerce platforms may have a limit on product variants like color, sizes, and more. Other may offer more flexibility to provide product videos or zoom effects for discerning customers. Prioritize what you need to properly present your products online.
How complex are your existing business processes?
One of the most important aspects to understand about eCommerce is that it involves a lot more than just taking orders. Your eCommerce platform is tied to the entire life cycle of what happens in your business, and some platforms are better suited for more complicated processes than others.
To start, you’ll want to find a solution that accommodates your accounting, shipping, receiving, and any other key aspect of your business processes. Cloud-based eCommerce platforms like Shopify have their own workflows that can be a good fit for businesses with simpler processes. You still need to handle get a sales tax certificate and handle other regulatory work, but the larger Cloud-based eCommerce platforms offer a means to handle most basic processes and provide reports that you can hand off to your accountant at the end of the year.
On the flip side, a self-hosted platform like nopCommerce or WooCommerce can be better for more intricate shipping and receiving considerations. For more established businesses, eCommerce serves as more of a sales channel to your existing business and has to fit into those processes. In this case, you’ll need to vet eCommerce platforms for their ability to handle different complexities, such as custom validation for different tiers of clients and other features. Sometimes a single missing feature is a deal breaker, so you want to make sure that your future eCommerce platform gives you the means to conduct business properly.
What’s your plan for the future?
A few years can make a massive difference. When evaluating eCommerce platforms, you’ll need to consider both your needs for now and in the future. If you grow as planned, you’ll want to make sure that your eCommerce platform isn’t holding you back.
Scalability typically isn’t an issue for Cloud-based platforms as they should be able to scale to handle extra growth. For hosted solutions, you’ll want to evaluate a few factors. Does the eCommerce platform struggle to handle several concurrent users at the same time? Does it limit the total number of product listings? Can it support multi-server environments? If it looks like you’re close to outgrowing a platform already, it may be best to find a solution that won’t hinder your ability to grow your online customer base.
Analyze Key Features for eCommerce Platforms
Once you’ve done some soul searching to identify exactly what your business needs for eCommerce success, it’s time to analyze each platform’s strengths and weaknesses. Some platforms offer key benefits that will prove crucial in the future. Here are a few factors you’ll want to consider before you adopt an eCommerce platform.
- Available features
- Ease of customization and integration
- Site speed
- Balancing e-commerce and content
- Analytics options
Every eCommerce platform offers a certain base package of features. Standard eCommerce features typically include a checkout, credit card authorization, cataloging, some form of product search, and more.
Since you’ve already analyzed exactly what you need for your products and processes, you should already have a list of exactly what you need to succeed. You’ll need to compare competing eCommerce platforms to see how certain features compare to your preferences. If an eCommerce platform doesn’t have that feature out of the box – or doesn’t offer a means to add it in the future – you can confidently cross that platform off your list.
Ease of integration
It’s important to make sure that your eCommerce platform is able to communicate with external systems and plugins. These can include:
- ERP and CRMs
- Payment processors
- Accounting systems
If your eCommerce platform doesn’t play nicely with these systems or other plugins, you’ve got a problem. Some solutions come with built-in mechanisms for easy integration. Others may not communicate as well with outside systems or plugins. You’ll need to identify which of these are critical and make sure the platform integrates with your systems and any plugins you’ll need either now or in the future.
A slow eCommerce site is a failing one. One out of every five people who abandon their carts do so because the transaction process took too long, so it’s imperative that your platforms don’t slow you down. Cloud-based platforms oversee their own servers and software. For other solutions, you’ll need to choose a hosting provider. In either case, you’ll want to make sure your site is hosted on a reliable provider that has good uptime and fast platforms.
Information is a critical tool for success. eCommerce platforms can offer different reporting and analytical capabilities, but some may be more useful to you than others. While it’s not a deal breaker, better reporting can only help you identify opportunities for growth. Potential reporting features can include:
- Metrics like conversion rate, average order values
- Access to historical and behavioral data
- Search history
- Regular reports and analytics dashboards
Ensure eCommerce Security
Simply put, security is always a major concern for eCommerce websites. Since you’ll be dealing with payment processing and Personally Identifiable Information (PII) like full names and email addresses, it’s imperative that you identify an eCommerce platform that allows you to protect that information and handle any security concerns.
Cloud-based eCommerce platforms tend to simplify this process and bear some of the burden for you. Platforms like Shopify or BigCommerce host all the data for you, which means they are in charge of securely hosting your store and protecting cardholder data. The Payment Card Industry (PCI) sets specific standards for data security, so make sure any Cloud-based eCommerce platform you use is PCI compliant according to your needs.
With a hosted solution, that hosting plan and database more or less belongs to you. This essentially means that you are liable for any intrusions or other security issues that occur. As such, it’s important to make sure that you have an IT staff or a contractor who can make your site secure and protect you’re your business and your customers.
This process includes the same security that a regular website should have – an SSL certificate, updated software, etc. – but also tacks on other necessary steps. The PCI has 15 security standards alone to protect payment account data throughout the payment life cycle. This means that if you want to opt for a self-hosted solution, you’ll either need the in-house experts or an outside team who can maintain security standards and keep your eCommerce website safe for everyone involved.
Compare eCommerce Platform Costs
As is often the case, money matters. eCommerce platform costs can range quite a bit, but many of them break down into one of two pricing models: upfront costs vs. monthly models.
When it comes to Cloud-based eCommerce platforms, you’re almost always going to see costs for the following:
- A monthly platform subscription
- Percentages on a per-order basis
- Monthly fees for additional plugins or services
In general, Cloud-based solutions will have lower upfront costs than self-hosted platforms. This can make them initially cheaper of the two pricing routes. However, those monthly expenses add up over time, especially if you require multiple plugins for necessary features. These ongoing expenditures can make the monthly route more costly over a long enough period of time.
On the flip side, hosted eCommerce platforms typically feature higher upfront costs due to the initial licensing fees. You’ll also need to spend money to either build out the new site yourself or have a web design and development company do it for you. However, you won’t be exposed to nearly as many future costs aside from hosting fees or additions to your site. This makes a hosted eCommerce site a potentially more cost-effective solution over time.
Both options offer their own advantages – initial cost flexibility vs. long-term savings. The right answer depends on which route offers you the best combination of eCommerce platform performance and cost effectiveness.
Find the Best eCommerce Platform for Your Business
While eCommerce can make a massive difference for your business, it takes some commitment to create a successful eCommerce website. Fortunately, you don’t have to go through the process alone.
Aztek excels at helping companies make the transition to eCommerce. Our eCommerce website development team can guide you throughout this process. We can help you identify and support very specific business needs and build out an eCommerce website fit for you and your consumers.
Ready to make the move to eCommerce? Contact us today about your how we can help you grow your business online.