If you’re new to the world of online retail, one of the first (and most overwhelming) questions you may be asking yourself is: how do I choose an ecommerce platform? With so many options out there, how can you tell them apart? And, what factors will determine which is the best solution for your business? Keep reading for an overview of where to get started, and the four questions you should ask yourself when making an ecommerce platform selection.
What is an ecommerce platform?
Let’s start by defining what we mean by an “ecommerce platform.” Also sometimes referred to as an ecommerce cart, your ecommerce platform is essentially the software that powers your online store. From storing product data and rendering it on the front end of your site, to accepting payments and processing orders, your ecommerce platform is responsible for a significant amount of your store functionality and, ultimately, the smooth running of your business.
What are the most popular ecommerce platforms for online retailers?
There are a wide range of ecommerce platforms available – big and small, basic and advanced. Within each of the main platforms, you will also usually find a number of subscription tiers that offer various levels of functionality.
Some of the best known platforms include BigCommerce, Shopify and Shopify Plus, Magento, and Miva. You may have also come across platforms like 3dcart, Hybris, WooCommerce, Volusion, and many more. And, of course, some online retailers operate their own, custom-built platforms.
No one platform is objectively better than the others. Essentially, it’s about finding the best fit for you and your business.
4 Questions to ask when choosing an ecommerce platform
The best ecommerce platform for your store is the one that meets your current needs and objectives, while also being equipped to scale with your business trajectory. These are the questions to ask when choosing the right platform for you.
What are your specifications?
Before you begin shopping around for an ecommerce platform, make a list of the precise specifications you need for your store. While almost all solutions come with certain functionality out of the box, it’s important to consider any unique or advanced requirements you may have. For example, if you have products with multiple variations, how should that be handled on your site? Do you have particular pricing bundles or discounts that will need to be supported? What kind of design customization will you require, and what merchandising controls do you expect? It’s also a good idea to identify essential integrations to ensure the platform operates seamlessly with your other systems. By creating a checklist of must-have features, you’ll go into demo and sales calls well-prepared to assess the viability of each platform.
What technical capabilities do you have in-house?
Some ecommerce platforms are more user-friendly than others, especially when it comes to customization. If you have a dedicated team with the relevant technical skills in-house, this won’t be an issue. But, if you’re running a tight operation with limited resources, you should place more emphasis on the usability of your platform. Take full advantage of personalized demos and free trials from a variety of providers, and make sure the person or people who will actually be managing your site feel comfortable with the interface you ultimately choose. Regardless of the technical expertise in-house, make sure to clarify the level of support you will have from the solution provider in the event that you run into difficulties.
What is your budget?
Make sure to read the small print when assessing the prices of different platforms. Not all packages are created equal. While one may seem vastly cheaper than another, it’s important to compare like with like to ensure you won’t incur additional costs to achieve your desired level of functionality and support. For example, are there any transaction fees? Are multiple payment methods included? While the ongoing subscription costs associated with a SaaS ecommerce platform may be off-putting, you should think carefully before pursuing a custom-built alternative. Custom platforms take time to get up and running, and can be costly to maintain as your business grows. Do your research, delve into the details, and remember that the cheapest option isn’t always the most financially astute decision in the long run.
What are your plans to scale?
If and when you successfully scale your business, will your platform be ready to grow with you? Just because a particular provider seems perfect right now, doesn’t mean it will still be a good fit if you drastically expand your product line or increase your volume of traffic and sales. As well as checking the capacity to add more products, find out whether a larger catalog will lead to slower site speeds, for example. If you expand your team and require additional platform admins, how much will it cost? When you’re ready to take your store to the next level, you don’t want to be held back by limitations within your platform.
Take your time to find the right ecommerce platform
While choosing the best ecommerce platform for your business may seem daunting, it’s worth doing your research and getting well acquainted with the various features on offer. Getting it right the first time will save you many headaches in the long run, and will help you avoid the stress of a platform migration at a later stage. Take your time, and remember, no one platform is intrinsically “better” than another, it’s all about finding the right fit for you.