Selling online requires an ecommerce platform. Fortunately, for entrepreneurs there are many good ecommerce solutions available. Selecting which one to use can be a matter of choosing the best option for a particular ecommerce business.
As selling online has changed, so have the required ecommerce features and functions. For example, just a few years ago mobile commerce wasn’t so important. But now every good ecommerce platform should make selling on a smartphone or tablet simple. Or, more recently, content marketing has become vital for ecommerce, so now ecommerce platforms should include a way to integrate content.
What follows are eight questions ecommerce entrepreneurs should ask when choosing a new ecommerce platform in 2015.
How Much Will It Cost?
Ecommerce businesses come in all sizes and with all sorts of different budgets. Ecommerce platforms come in lots of different price ranges too.
On one end of the scale, it is possible to run a free, open source ecommerce platform on a free tier of Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and essentially pay nothing in the first year.
At the other end of that scale, one could deploy an enterprise solution, like Hybris, which powers some of the largest of online retail sites in the world, but has a cost proportionate with the sales it helps to generate.
Estimate how much you think you can afford to pay for your basic software each month. Be certain to take into account related expenses like hosting fees, payment card fees, or transaction fees.
How Long Will It Take to Get Started?
Some software-as-a-service ecommerce platforms can be set up and go live in a matter of hours. Other solutions might take months to deploy. So know how soon the ecommerce site should be up and how much development time you can invest.
Also remember that the ecommerce platform is just one part of what it takes to sell online. A new online store needs product photos, product descriptions, text for the about page, a payment gateway, and much more.
Find an ecommerce solution that will be ready when the rest of the business is ready.
Will It Look Good and Function Well?
A successful online store functions well and looks great. Remember that shoppers, especially first-time shoppers, need to trust your business, and site aesthetics are a key indicator of trust.
Imagine walking into a physical store to find that the floor is old looking, the shelves are flimsy or broken, and the walls are only half covered in paint. What would you think about that shop and its keeper?
In the ecommerce platform context, having a site that looks good and functions well often means that you have a site you can control and customize. This, by the way, is also where mobile optimization comes in. There is a direct relationship between the ability to customize a site and the ability to mobile optimize that site.
To help answer this question, look for live sites running on the platform. Many ecommerce platforms will have a list of customers or a gallery. These examples can be helpful tools for selecting your platform.
How Flexible Is the Product Catalog?
Somewhat related to site aesthetics and functionality is catalog flexibility. Essentially, you’re asking if the ecommerce platform in question can adequately manage the breadth of products your store will sell.
Happy Socks, as an example, is an online store specializing in socks and undergarments. While the site certainly has a lot of fun products in those categories, there is not a lot of difference between how a pair of socks is presented on an ecommerce platform and how a pair of men’s boxers is presented. Both socks and boxers have a similar set of presentation requirements. So in the context of choosing an ecommerce platform, Happy Socks does not necessarily need a very flexible product catalog.
Conversely, Rogue Fitness, which sells strength and conditioning equipment online, has a relatively more diverse line of products. The product information shown when selling a barbell — for example the knurling pattern — may be quite different than the product information needed to sell a Rogue-branded women’s shirt, which is also for sale on the website. Even the aspect ratio of the product photography might be significantly different.
Be sure that the ecommerce platform you pick has the flexibility to present all of your products in the best possible way.
Will Pages Load Quickly?
Slow loading web pages can demolish sales.
There have been many significant studies going back several years that demonstrate that slow loading web pages hurt ecommerce sites. It was reported in 2009 that Amazon had found a 100 millisecond increase in site latency might reduce sales by 1 percent. Later, in 2012, Fast Company reported that slowing down Amazon load times just one second would cost the ecommerce giant $1.6 billion annually.
I could go on. GlobalDots estimates that an ecommerce site with 30,000 annual visitors, a 5-percent conversion rate, and selling about $75 per order would make $332,000 more annually if it reduced page load times from 10 seconds to 7 seconds.
The software architecture underlying an ecommerce platform can have a significant impact on load times. Here again, it can be a good idea to look at sites already running on a platform.
Will It Work with Other Software or Solutions?
Your ecommerce platform cannot work alone for long. You will need to integrate it with other software solutions to really get your business going.
For example, what if you want to use a more powerful email marketing solution? Will it be easy to integrate that solution with your ecommerce platform? Can you easily place an email subscription form on the site? Can you use purchase information to segment your email list?
Or what if you want to sell on Amazon? Would you need to treat Amazon Marketplace as something completely separate, or could you integrate it so that Amazon orders flow through your ecommerce platform’s order workflow?
Look for app stores, extensions, and integrations for the ecommerce platforms you’re considering.
How Will You Host It?
Ecommerce websites need a cyber home, if you will. They must be hosted somewhere. Software-as-a-service solutions will typically do this for you. So if your business doesn’t have a lot of technical resources, SaaS platforms can be a good choice.
Ecommerce sites can also be hosted on servers at companies that specialize in website hosting.
Although it might not immediately seem obvious, there are significant differences in experience and cost associated with how you host your site.
Will It Help Market Your Products?
Finally, there is a real sense in which your ecommerce platform should help you market your products. Or, put another way, facilitate marketing your products.
In 2015, these should take at least four forms.
First, your ecommerce platform should offer great on-site merchandising in the form of cross-selling and up-selling.
Next, your ecommerce platform should support email marketing either with some form of built-in email system, or, better yet, easy integration to an email service provider.
Thirdly, a modern ecommerce platform should work well with content. Look for a platform that easily connects to a blog, allows for videos on product detail pages, or even lets you associate products with articles.
Finally, you want an ecommerce platform that will help you list your products. For example, Google has announced a buy button option for ads displayed on mobile devices. To take part, you will need to be able to upload product information to Google Shopping, which is much easier if your ecommerce platform will output a CSV file with all of the product information Google will need.