eCommerce has carved out a foothold in both B2B and B2C. Many businesses realize that launching a website on any platform is not enough to meet buyer's expectations for an engaging and helpful digital purchasing experience.
The decision to choose the right platform is not merely a technical one. It covers the entire spectrum of business intelligence, its culture and practices. Test platforms in the context of business needs, not based on what is trending. Undertake a platform discovery process.
What is an eCommerce platform?
The best eCommerce platform for any company is the one that facilitates the process of capturing business objectives and maximizes the ROI. An eCommerce platform is derived from the heart of your business needs and is in sync with your buyer backbone.
Businesses often fail for a variety of reasons and one of the reasons is not choosing the right platform. Alongside this, owners make the mistake of having a weak implementation and obsessing over a specific platform. They lack a thorough understanding of their goals and lack understanding of the true role of eCommerce. They even fail to make continuous improvements.
All businesses are turning into a Sports Car Rally competition. To win this harsh race, you need three components: A great car, excellent driving team and a great pit crew. Your car is the eCommerce platform for your business. You wouldn't know which car is the best fit for your business requirements. Fixating over a sought after and fashionable car will trigger disastrous results.
You wouldn't leave the platform selection to your in-house team. Also you wouldn't outsource the same to a generic marketing agency. The entire cycle needs a certified software engineering mindset with an astute skill set. The set of experts who would assist you - from discovery to implementation to support stage. The car that ultimately enters the rally is a derivative of your business objectives.
There is no eCommerce platform to rule them all. Each has its strengths and weaknesses and its feature and product choices that make it more or less suitable.
The eCommerce portal mustn't compromise with the User Experience (UX). The website ought to serve customers better, which, in turn, improves the likelihood of future orders, thereby increasing customer loyalty. As a result of which sales, revenue and profits escalate for your brand.
Hence it's never a cut-throat decision, but rather an elaborate balancing of priorities. Gather stakeholders, customer data, and employees to help break down the desired functionality that is needed. The platform must match and execute your business vision.
Your Business is Unique
You’d make a top style statement when you pick an outfit that best suits your body type, comfort, and other attributes. In the same way, your business must also be dressed up with a platform that matches its true identity. A symmetric platform is the best stepping stone for online sales success.
Here’s all the unreliable sources that owners use during their platform selection process. The worst is when they get swayed by this info and end up finalizing a platform based out of this.
Relying on Google Search
Results from Google may lead to some insights about an appropriate platform for your business. Thus the data that you collect post this activity must figure during the selection process. But that kind of info isn't always aligned with your business. The ratings and favorable comments online could be deceptive.
Relying on Biased Experts
It’s also quite harmful to rely on misguiding specialists who tend to lean towards particular platforms. Such eCommerce agents already have a financial motive behind their prejudiced choices. A fair assessment is hard to come out of a session with any of them.
Relying on Word of Mouth
Friends, family, and Peers, who may know little to nothing about eCommerce. Such advisors are not the best source of information on eCommerce platforms. These unqualified “armchair experts” lack the technical knowledge and vision required to set up a business online.
Your business needs are unique; hence running to unreliable sources is not the best bet. Choose a platform that has everything glued according to your business only. All you’d have to do is spend time discussing, planning and implementing features that come out of your business. Your business needs a platform that facilitates your kind of selling.
Choosing the most feature-rich platform is not always the best choice for a business that will not benefit from any of the costly features. It will likely increase the build, maintenance and licensing costs without providing any Return on Investment (ROI).
Factors to Consider While Choosing an eCommerce Platform
1. Initial Costs
There is no magic formula for estimating the correct initial cost. It is indeed a notoriously tricky task. For established companies, massive investments may not pose a problem. Small businesses with obscure funding run into a wall when confronted with hefty expenses.
The cheapest solution will not always provide the highest ROI, as each platform offers different value to the business through usability, features and integrations. The budget can sometimes be a mere reflection of where the company aims to be in a couple of years.
Ultimately the commercial performance from the platform, together with the risk and reward, will dictate the funds. The indispensable features required would also become a contributing factor. Any amount of spend is justified if it can generate additional value.
The implementation phase and license fee will play into the amount required to be invested. All upfront costs you’ll need to invest in the platform, which is all costs in the lead up to the launch.
The idea is to start with functionalities that are necessary and then continually experiment with new features and processes. The complexity of the platform for some companies, due to its being feature-rich, went on to become an expensive distraction later on.
2. On-going Cost
The recurring costs to support the eCommerce site are heavily involved in the decision-making process. Any secondary expenses that emerge – maintenance costs, hosting fees, transactional costs, and further developments, will play a big part in the selection process.
Increased customizations to create a more novel and engaging experience will add to the costs. Also, the desire to create a competitive advantage in terms of the digital experience offered will incur more charges. Every little detail that is added or detached will invite more expenses.
Add-ons and periodic support from a qualified agency or freelancer to run the eCommerce store will escalate the costs. The total cost of ownership requires factoring in up-front, yearly and transactional expenses on the platform.
When it comes to eCommerce websites – safety is of principal importance. Consumers do not want to transact on a shady website. In the absence of HTTP and SSL, visitors to your site will not feel comfortable in sharing their sensitive card details. eCommerce sites have this responsibility towards their consumers.
Due to this, every site needs to ensure that they are PCI (Payment Card Industry) compliant and have fraud protection and data backups. eCommerce websites need to be protected from hacks and data theft from the day it goes live. Ensure that the checkout process is safe and secure to prevent any unnecessary suspicion at the end of the funnel.
4. Customer Service (Support)
No store is free from bugs and glitches. At any time, an unwarranted update of the platform or a plugin can send things haywire. Of course, your internal IT team wants to handle situations with a little assistance from the platform support team – except there may not be a support team.
The recurrent errors will waste a lot of time and deviate your resources from business development. As a store owner, you want to quickly resolve any interruptions and delays at the earliest - which is why expedited customer support is vital.
Every business starts small, with the vision to grow down the line. During this phase, if you end up on an eCommerce platform that doesn't necessarily keep up with that pace and fails to complement your goals and capture all the KPI's – then you'd have to migrate to another platform. Future-proof your business by ensuring that scalability is a critical element of your platform.
The last thing any owner wants is to end up on a platform that doesn't offer the essential functionalities to support their business venture. The platform shouldn't put any limitations on your business plans. Numerous SKU's, users, peak traffic and other objectives, should not become an issue on your choice of platform. Magento 2 is recognized as a powerful and highly-scalable platform.
eCommerce platforms aren't based on a "build once and last forever" concept. They are known to go through several changes. Most businesses are known to be agile whenever the industry witnesses any severe fluctuations. Thus, the platform on which the company is based must also be equally flexible. Be open-source, have comprehensive APIs and a modular architecture.
Periodic customizations and room for improvements emerge within the business - that warrant corresponding changes for the eCommerce store. When this happens, the platform must respond well to accommodate those changes. The platform must show the capacity to bring solutions for any future business requirements.
7. Uniqueness Across Devices
Users aren't limited to one device – the idea of browsing on one touch-point and buying on another is quite prevalent these days. As such, their experience must remain consistent from one device to another. Visitors nowadays are more likely to come through mobile devices.
Thus, platforms that prioritize customer experience on mobile are likely to score higher. Platforms must have a mobile-first responsive design and may even carry Progressive Web App (PWA) features - such as offline support and push notifications. With searches and transactions from other devices booming – it'd be wise to capture different touchpoints.
8. Business Model
Whether B2B or B2C– each business type would need a different kind of platform. B2B requires shared buyer accounts, account management tools, RFQ features.
Besides this, B2B would expect tiered pricing, CSV uploads, credit limit, different shipping options, and more that vary drastically from the B2C setup.
Then there are standard features like analytics, point of sale, order management and marketing. The platform feature-set for B2C and B2B would differ – so should your platform selection process.
The platform's ability to handle excess traffic on a peak day is essential. The last thing a merchant wants is downtime and crashes. Analyze the stability before investing in a solution. This will help you define your budget, which may otherwise stretch out due to the irregularities that pop-up later.
The up-time should be guaranteed and not optional. During sale seasons, a crash or longer page loads can upset buyers enough to make them want to not return to that website ever again. Nothing should disrupt the functioning of the site and trigger loss of revenue. Use a content delivery network (CDN) to speed up the website. Closer servers will ensure faster response times.
10. Resource Availability
An advanced enterprise-level eCommerce site needs able minds to handle it. The platform will need round the clock monitoring. Every eCommerce store needs a crew to analyze the site. Any anomaly that erupts within the store or a malicious attack can wreck the website. The ability to hire certified and expert developers to manage the website will play into the platform selection process.
If there is a sheer lack of developers for a select platform – then opting for that may not be the best choice. It can become difficult to recruit, retain, and keep a development team engaged on a platform with higher complexity and technical overhead. The in-house developers ought to be well versed in Java, .NET, PHP, Ruby on Rails and other technical skill sets. Else, look for partnerships that complement the in-house experience.
11. Platform Maturity
The eCommerce platform's maturity and its credibility over the years must also be weighed in. The longevity of an eCommerce platform, its evolution, and the broader acceptance in multiple industries by various business types is a testament to its reliability. eCommerce platforms must evoke a sense of trust.
When platforms grow into a beacon of reliability, they become the preferred choice for many brands worldwide. Consider the standing of the platform and how far it has come since its inception. Perfecting the art of eCommerce is the real seal of progress. Any platform that has done so and holistically improved its eCommerce game will naturally be the front-runner.
12. Business Maturity or Growth
Where and at which stage the business is, will decide the best platform for your company. The set of goals that are currently in-store and the targets that you aim to accomplish will lead the way in your platform selection process. In essence, any eCommerce platform you pick will reflect your current business status.
Whether the business is merely starting, is it surviving, is it succeeding, or is looking to take off – will come to decide the suitable platform for your company. Any business in its nascent stages may not need the same platform as one in the expansion stage.
Measure your performance over the years and what it looks to achieve from here onwards. A detailed review of all the KPI's and past success will give an accurate measure of what you seek from an eCommerce platform. From accounting and procurement to sales and logistics – every department will be factored to decide the perfect platform fit for your business.
13. Ease of Administration
After implementation, comes the part where you'd have to manage the website. A sophisticated platform that needs daily intervention from expert developers or agencies is not the best fit for your business. Easy to run web shops prove less hectic for the merchant.
The owner can focus on the business management side of things. However, when it gets too technical, owners find it hard to run the store. Some SMB's even choose to opt for a platform that offers a simple drag and drop interface and requires less to do from a programming standpoint. Something like a simple admin panel can also make a significant difference.
Merchants feel a constant need to handle - critical orders, shipping information, inventory updates, and more between the eCommerce platform and ERP/POS system. Thus, merchants need to connect their eCommerce platform and backend systems to automate critical processes.
Headless commerce is rapidly becoming the architecture of choice for many eCommerce brands worldwide. Headless allows you to build the best eCommerce ecosystem to support your requirement for integrations. Not only that, but headless platforms have a seamless integration capability.
Easily integrate your web store with ERP, order management, fulfillment, and other systems to accelerate the delivery and purchase experiences across any touch-point. Thus, the ability to integrate will also play a crucial role in the platform selection process.
15. Time to Market
Measure the ability of the platform from the quality of plugins available. The availability of popular extensions will give the best insights into the platform. In a mature eCommerce platform, you'd see feature-rich and professional products. In such an advanced network – there is a chance of finding pre-existing solutions in the platform marketplace.
A robust marketplace of the extensions mentioned above will make it easier to create and launch anything for your web store. Your development team can select and purchase these pre-set solutions. From there – all they'd have to do is either customize the same or use it directly. The ability to access and add features and functions fast helps the business to meet their ever-changing needs.
16. Automation of Business Processes
Every business executes thousands of small tasks that consume a portion of every day. These chores devour productivity and stunt growth. The use of automation eliminates a manual operation and leaves it to software – so you employ your workforce on growing the business. If a considerable portion of your business involves time-consuming tasks, then pick an eCommerce platform that integrates well with automation software. The software will convert tasks, or processes, within your business to execute when needed intelligently.
The geographical presence of the business will also decide the suitable platform. Often platforms provide features that are more aligned with companies in and around the area where their offices are situated – language, currency, support, etc. Thus, having a platform with a dominant presence in your operational area can prove quite significant.
Aside from this, platforms also provide compatibility with local customs, regulations, tax, and payment gateways. Such a prerequisite is crucial because it may come to decide the custom development work needed during the build phase. Such native or regional platforms are better equipped to support merchants that want a platform with features that match their business sensibilities.
18. Market Share
The next thing any business wants to do is get a sense of the popular platforms and services in the market. Even analyze the platform that your competitors are using.
It helps to validate at least that your competitor's platform has experience in supporting similar businesses. It alludes that a specific platform has the inherent abilities to run a business like yours.
Beyond this, you'll have to establish the partners or agencies responsible for the implementation by doing a simple Google search. You could even use a tool like BuiltWith, to determine the technologies the website is running. Use the evidence to draw up a plan which helps your business and not because the same platform worked for your rival company.
19. Data Platform Ownership
Open source platforms allow a way better control and ownership over data. WooCommerce and Magento, open-source edition, are the prevalent cases of an open-source platform. Such platforms give you complete access to the source code and the freedom to modify it.
On the other hand, the back-end code of proprietary software is kept secret from the public, and anyone attempting to re-engineer the code is subject to legal action by the platform. In other words, you agree not to adjust the software and rely on them to update and use the best practices for the features on the platform.
20. Internal Skills
The internal team should be equally adept and familiar with the complex architecture of the platform. Specific tasks that need a great deal of programming will drain precious time. That is why the leadership will not just obsess over the features, but also look at the skills of its employees and match the platform accordingly.
When the platform's inherent capabilities are too weak, you'll end up developing features to address this void. Often it takes too long to develop new features – because the workforce is not familiar with the technology used within the platform. Either train and bring your in-house team on par with the latest methodologies or directly recruit a skilled developer.
Factors to Consider While Choosing an eCommerce Platform - Infographic
Business First, Platform Second
Every company needs to be armed with a good understanding of their business objectives. Once that is established, you proceed to shortlist all the eCommerce platforms. On the other hand, a platform first approach always fails – since it looks to adjust the business around the platform.
Probing enough and cultivating a business vision beforehand helps ensure that the platform ties to the business and not the other way around. Evaluate the pain points in your business and how you look to mitigate that with the help of eCommerce.
There is a vast range of considerations involved in selecting an eCommerce platform. But first, we start by scoping out the requirements of the business and then assess the suitability of various platforms against it.
Plan, research, assess, and evaluate which eCommerce platform is right for your business's KPI's. Extract insights about your business model, collect enough data and then apply everything to arrive at the perfect eCommerce platform.