If you are thinking about starting your own e-commerce business, we think you would find our guide very useful: How to start your e-commerce business from scratch.
Choosing the right e-commerce platform can be a difficult process as there is no right or wrong, nor is there a one-size-fits-all solution. It is an important decision which cannot be taken lightly as the result holds the key to either the success or failure of your business. Many business leaders see the choice of e-commerce platform to be the foundational architecture of their entire business model, as the demands of your business strategy and goals need to be met by the platform you choose.
As developers of innovative e-commerce solutions for a variety of global clients, we understand the importance of this decision and the resulting effects it will have on your business. That’s why we have outlined a few important factors to take into account when choosing an e-commerce platform to suit your business needs.
Types of e-commerce platforms
Before you are able to make a decision, you first need to be aware of your options. We could devote an entire article about the associated pros and cons of each e-commerce platform, but for the purpose of this article we will briefly explain what each are, and move on to the various factors you need to consider when selecting one of them.
Build your own: This entails hiring a team to develop your platform from scratch. This is a good route if your business is so niche that no other platform can provide adequate support for your specific needs.
Traditional: This involves purchasing a licensing fee to be renewed annually. Your team customises the front-end on top of the existing platform.
Open source: Similar to traditional platforms, with the main difference being although you do not pay up-front licensing fees you do pay for initial development, implementation, ongoing development and migration. WooCommerce and PrestaShop are good examples of open source platforms.
Cloud: A mixture of traditional and open-source, with some open-source platforms utilising the tools and resources of traditional platforms.
SaaS: Software-as-a-Service platforms are commonly built using a single codebase, meaning everyone using the service pays a monthly fee for maintenance, server use, upgrades and security. Shopify and BigCommerce are good examples of SaaS platforms.
It is important to note that each platform type carries its own cost and development implications, and the benefits and drawbacks of each must be weighed up in accordance to your overall business strategy and goals.
What to look out for when choosing your e-commerce platform
Now that you have chosen your ideal platform which aligns perfectly to your business goals, it is important to ensure it meets the following requirements essential to the success of your e-commerce business:
1. Pricing and payment methods
No matter the size of your business, the first thing you must consider is the price of your e-commerce platform. As described above, almost all platforms require a monthly fee which varies depending on the platform plan you select. Be aware of various hidden costs and processing fees to align with your budget requirements.
It is also crucial at this stage to consider how your customers will pay for your goods or services on your platform. Some of them lack third-party vendor payment functionality which could result in huge frustrations for your customers, and you. It is imperative that you establish the various forms of payment you want to accept on your platform and make sure your software is able to support these transactions. We will devote an entire article to this in the near future so be sure to look out for it.
2. SEO friendliness
The nature of the internet requires everything to be linked via keywords and other search engine optimisation (SEO) factors – they don’t call it the World Wide Web for nothing. To leverage the linked paths of the internet, it is important to choose a platform that has comprehensive SEO features to ensure your site ranks highly in search engine results. To remain competitive, your e-commerce site needs to be easily discoverable (searchable) for your customers when they are browsing for items or services you sell.
To ensure your site ranks high in search engine results, your SEO game needs to be strong. To make sure of this, your platform not only needs to allow you to use your own domain name, but it also needs to add your blog to your website, and allow customers to post reviews. Pages rich in content increase the chance of your site ranking higher.
3. Mobile friendliness
Over 70% of the world’s total e-commerce revenue is projected to come from mobile device usage in 2021. It is therefore imperative that the platform you choose has sufficient functionality to support mobile usage. Your customers must be able to easily access your site from their mobile device to not only browse your product catalogue but also to make purchases.
Choose a platform that is responsive to mobile. It must also be able to offer native mobile apps. The goal is to make browsing and purchasing as seamless and efficient as possible to eliminate any and all barriers to entry regarding purchases on your platform via mobile devices.
An important factor to consider when selecting an e-commerce platform is its ability for seamless integrations and plugins. Most platforms already contain numerous tools to help your business operate, but it will be your specific business requirements and goals that will determine which plugins you need.
Be sure to search for a platform that has most (ideally all) of the following integrated plugins to boost the efficacy of your e-commerce endeavours:
- Email marketing tools to reach your audience
- Financial and accounting plugins for sales, revenues, profits, and taxes
- Various shipping and delivery apps
- A loyalty platform to reward customers
5. Support and scalability
Knowing that you have on-demand support from your platform vendor goes a long way in driving your business to scale-up when needed. It is crucial to ensure that the platform you choose has robust support systems in place to help you resolve issues as and when they occur. Problems big and small arise often in the e-commerce/tech sphere, so it is best to go with a vendor that is available 24-7 that you can trust to support you in times of need.
Platform vendor support also comes in the form of helping you adjust and scale your site to meet the growing demands of your customers. Be sure to choose a platform vendor that is able to scale along with your business without charging exorbitant fees.
Ensuring payment security on your e-commerce site is a fundamentally important component to drive the success of your business. Get this right, and your customers will enjoy seamless shopping experiences. But get this wrong, and your entire business will potentially go down the tubes. Most platforms contain decent security tools as standard, however when it comes to securing the trust of your customers you should explore every option available.
Make sure the platform you choose supports HTTPS or SSL for safe and secure payments for your customers. An e-commerce industry must-have is a PCI-DSS compliant payment option which your platform must be able to support natively or through platform customisations. We advise spending time and resources on your site’s security features as it quite simply translates to the success or failure of your e-commerce business.
7. Management systems
It is important to keep track of every aspect of your platform but none are more important than having reliable product, order, and return management systems. These systems form the bedrock of your e-commerce enterprise and so your chosen platform must have dedicated and robust systems in place to manage their associated requirements.
Product management system
There are a host of important product management requirements and functionalities that your platform needs to be able to handle, some of which include: bulk product catalogue uploads using either Excel or CSV files, creation of different categories to map products and shipping options, and dynamic catalogue filters like sorting, price, specifications, etc.
Order management system
Staying on top of your orders will reduce backlogs and delays, resulting in your business remaining competitive. When selecting an e-commerce platform, it is imperative that it allows for dynamic features like order tracking, shipping service APIs, and email notifications regarding the status of orders.
Return management system
This is much like an order management system but it works the other way – internal facing. If you want to ensure ultimate customer satisfaction then your return management system needs to be on-point at all times. In e-commerce, product returns are as common as snowfall in the Alps, so it is best you establish a simple and efficient system. A return management system needs to have clear return rules and types according to dates of delivery and product type (among other things), return requests, product exchanges, invoices and stock synchronisation.
As you can see, there are a number of e-commerce platforms available to choose from. Whether you want to build your own platform or go the traditional, open-source, cloud or SaaS route, it is important to ensure that your platform has important functionalities and features in order to ensure the success of your business. Each platform has its own set of benefits and drawbacks, but these can only truly be identified when weighed up against your specific business needs and goals.
Making the right choice is not a cakewalk, partly because there are so many to choose from, but also because each suits a specific business model accordingly. Identifying the areas where the benefits of the various platforms meet with your business requirements can be tricky, but it is certainly not impossible. If in doubt, it is always better to leave it to the experts.
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If you are looking for an award-winning, full-service digital agency to help you find the best e-commerce solution for your business, then contact us today to see how we can usher your business into the new digital era.