Things to consider when choosing an eCommerce platform

Choosing a base platform for your online shop is a significant step forward in business. You might base your research on what your peers are using because it is somehow proven to work. Or bet on the presently newest solution, in hopes that they support most recent technologies.

The best eCommerce platform for you, however, should be none of the above. ‘One size fits all’ type of solution may work for certain clothing accessories, but not for most eCommerce projects. Your platform should be an accurate representation of your intentions and goals. We tried to round-up some of the main aspects when picking a base for your online shopping websites.

When comparing the capabilities of different platforms, know that your business model should be a central requirement. Details about how your existing business practices should be pretty revealing about the eCommerce platform you need. Take an in-depth look at your daily problems and how they affect the course of your long-term strategy. Make a list of pending and recurring tasks and order them by priority. An accurate model of your workflow, available resources, and present management should help you narrow down the available choices. And there are many.

Choosing a platform

e-Commerce Platform Comparison

There are too many eCommerce platforms on the market right now. Marketers who are new to online business are additionally burdened by having to filter out so many available choices. Shop owners don’t always have the time or the capacity to run such research. Our approach with Shopware is a step toward minimizing the effort of business owners when choosing and developing their online shop.

Looking at what’s available, the biggest or the most popular eCommerce platform is not necessarily the best for you. Magento has been a popular search term for over a decade, but is it going to provide the support and functionalities you need? However, they must be adapted to your business needs and goals, and not the other way around. Trying to fit commerce functionalities with your demands is a common mistake, usually done when platforms’ pros and cons are taken too literally.

Wix is good for starter shops, but scaling can be a problem later. It supports an abundance of themes, but the site template has limited capabilities for layout changes. If design customization is what you are after, Magento has that, but can you handle the price or the demanding hosting requirements or overall cost of ownership? If a low price is a leading factor, Squarespace comes forward with shining brightness. It’s excellent for small shops with unpretentious customers, but it supports no add-ons, and marketing automation is not even an option.

The scope of eCommerce

eCommerce involves moving all present business challenges onto a digital plane. As soon as a business that depends on physical locations is transferred online, some cost and time savings become immediately apparent. Thanks to the optimized way that online management works, the more workload you can offload to the platform, the freer your human resources become to tackle other important matters.

For serious eCommerce projects, a platform that works comes at a price. Sometimes, the cost can be one-quarter of your total revenue, or even more. Initial investments in eCommerce may seem steep, but commerce platforms represent the fundamentals of every online tool and determine if it is flexible enough to adapt to business demands. Financing a platform upgrade depends on many things: business size, area of operations, the ate of previous success, brand awareness, customer base, cultural values.

These are some items from the ‘tip of the iceberg’. The total expenditures involve more than what’s immediately visible on the surface. If your eCommerce project has unique requirements, consider betting on custom web development. Unlike licensing and maintenance, a customized website can save money in the long run.

With your core team focused on business operations, sometimes a specialized group of eCommerce professionals is necessary. They would know how to best align your primary strategies with available technologies supported by the platform. Plus, such team of experts will build your website in a way that shopping for customers will turn from a plain necessity into a sought-out experience.

Maybe you know that most of your clients use mobile phones to get to your website. What about different devices and content responsiveness? For a customer experience team, factors like these open a list of available options and pathways of actions. Let them make the difficult technical choices about your eCommerce site, that you can later use to leverage your core strategy.

Add-Ons & Plugins

Commerce plugins and add-ons can be customized to reflect the look and feel you like your customers to receive. Buying top extensions may seem expensive at first, but a well-grinded system of carefully modified modules is very beneficial in the long run. With low maintenance and fewer bugs to fix, you are free to handle business as usual. Common mistakes made by eCommerce first-timers is spending money on cheap upgrades and then investing more on top of that to compensate for making the wrong choice.

Performance & Scalability

Site performance is a leading factor in setting up an online business, with a clear through about future development. Your site traffic may not be too big now, but what if you suddenly manage to attract a big crowd?

Is your platform flexible enough to respond to present demands?

Questions about scalability are best resolved during initial planning. Maybe a top performance will require the implementation of PWA, in combination with a capable hosting service. Progressive apps dramatically increase performance factors for eCommerce, and sometimes they are the better choice, considering present circumstances and near-future changes in content delivery.

Some commerce platforms claim they are tailor-made for female entrepreneurs, others - for owners of physical shops who decided to seek an improved online presence. One of these plans may seem enticing as it grants the convenience of a wholesome solution. But does it scale-up or perform per your present and future standards? The choice for commerce platform should come from within main strategy essentials. Some solutions address specific issues but are unable to guarantee they cover for others. A sound eCommerce platform should have the flexibility to support positive structural changes dictated by business reality.

Headless Commerce

The best eCommerce platform should allow for total control of the sales environment. With an open-source type of platform, you reap the benefits of cloud-based hosting. Your bandwidth will be limited, but if you want to prevent that, you must turn toward a SaaS solution. With an open-source base, you will also have to oversee the timely application of updates and patches, as well as manually set up and maintain the website’s security. An alternative to this is headless commerce, where the shopping cart functionalities are independent of the visible part, allowing for incredible flexibility in content display. Headless commerce also reduces total ownership costs. It supports microservice-based business models where content, product and order management is decoupled from the checkout process entirely.

UX / UI

An eCommerce platform needs to be able to both attract and retain buyers. Customer retention depends on auxiliary factors like loyalty and gift programs, premium deals, downloadables. Make sure your current offline marketing materials correspond with the design and layout of your online shop. Consistency is innate to brands that create high value with their products. With clean UI and design, your website communicates your idea of a quality experience – something your clients will notice immediately, by merely using the website’s interface to navigate. With a beautifully designed website, your promotions, and discounts will have an even better impact.

Staff Matters

An eCommerce platform can automate a lot of scheduled processes - some things are still better left to a human hand. Your staff can learn how to control and adapt the platform with supreme efficacy through on-site training. Most platforms offer excellent tutorials and knowledge base. Consider offering free training for your staff, because the lack of team expertise can sometimes ruin online shops with potential under the hood. An online commerce platform works best when run by a team of inquisitive individuals. Build a crew of people who intrinsically care about what they do in your company.

Your staff is the face of the company. To a customer, your brand is as valuable as your worst employee. To an online business, choosing the right platform is crucial, but it won’t get you anywhere without a team able to take proper advantage of its capabilities. Coca Cola’s infamous job interviews bring ‘passion’ as a top prerequisite for employees, for a good reason. It is better to invest in competent staff than having to watch unmotivated people move in and out of your payroll and diminish the power of your eCommerce platform.

Allow your team to have the flexibility to advance professionally in areas they picked themselves. When opening an online shop, especially based on a new platform, try to facilitate this transition by distributing the workload among those with the best skills and motivation for it. Learn to differentiate between team members eager to develop new skills and those who prefer to practice what they already know. Optimize workflow by having flexible team roles that allow for efficient task distribution, and match the flexibility coming from the platform itself.

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Author

David Dorr, Head of e-Commerce

David is the Head of e-Commerce at CodeCoda where he is responsible to lead several teams of eCommerce specialists. In his previous role as a data scientist for London Metropolitan Police, he was developing deep learning NLP algorithms as part of the Crime Prediction initiative. He then switched over to combine AI with e-Commerce.
He received a B.Sc in Physics from the University of Surrey, Guildford in 1996. With this scientific background, he switched relatively early in his life towards Neural Networks and e-Commerce and has ever since been fascinated with what AI and Machine Learning can do for Online Commerce.