How to Choose the Best eCommerce Platform for Your Online Store
You’ve decided to start selling your product online, congratulations! Now you have to figure out how you will make those sales. There are hundreds of eCommerce platforms out there, each making the claim to be the best. Do you flip a coin? Put them on a dartboard, close your eyes and throw? If not, how do you make your decision?
First thing to do is ask yourself some questions.
Number of Products
Do you carry just one or two products? A small selection? Dozens and dozens? This makes a difference on which platforms work best for you. You might even be able to negotiate better rates if you have a very limited product line.
What’s It Made Of
Are your products made of matter or of bytes? Physical or digital? Delivery systems for these differ enormously, so be sure to consider this when investigating platforms. Drop shipping features aren’t much use for digital products, for example.
How Customers Can Pay
If PayPal works for you, this should be easy. They are easy to use and widespread. If other options are necessary, this will limit your selection a lot.
How much control do you want to have over your platform, and how much work are you willing to do to get that control. Using a hosted service is easiest but can limit your control. If you start with hosted services, check to see if you can switch to self-hosted later. Pure open source is an option if you have the technical know-how or are willing to hire it.
Will you need to support customers around the world? Will there be currency conversion, customs and delivery issues? Make sure your platform can deal with these.
Your Payment Plan
Do you have specific needs or desires for how you pay for these services? Usually a monthly fee is preferable to a percentage-based system but take stock of your business plan to determine your needs and find a platform that meets them.
Once you’ve answered those, start researching platforms to match.
Many platforms are best known for supporting certain kinds of commerce. Look to see if any specialize in your area. Don’t automatically eliminate the rest but do check to see if other choices have any familiarity with your field at all. If there are no customers using that platform for your type of commerce, that could be a sign it is incompatible with it.
Many platforms support only basic functionality ‘out of the box’ but depend on plugins to support additional features. Check that the features you require can be added to the platform if needed but beware of adding too many plugins to support what you need. This can become an integration and support nightmare if you have to work with a large number of separate vendors.
Supporting SEO in an eCommerce platform is just as important as it is for the rest of your site. Determine if they have the ability to help you rise up the search ranks and how easy those features are to use.
Customer Service/Technical Support
It is critically important that when you have a problem, or a customer has a problem, you are able to get it fixed. If you can’t fix it yourself, contacting the platform’s technical support or customer service should result in a quick turnaround for the solution. Check reviews of the platform for other users’ experiences.
In the end, we are talking about a service that takes money from your customers for you. Security is an important issue. Your customers can be harmed not only by the loss of the money paid to you, but by fraudulent charges if criminals get access to their financial information. And you may very well be liable for those losses, along with the possibility of penalties for negligence. Your platform should have a great reputation for security and have a consistent update and review process to be sure they stay secure.
Mobile access to your site is simply a must. You should have a easily usable interface for mobile devices just like you do for computers. Platforms must support this cleanly and with minimal additional effort.
Of course, you want your company to grow and to make more sales. But not all platforms are designed to support large numbers of sales. Additionally, their billing model may penalize either very high-volume sales or very low volume. Analyze how their capabilities and pricing matches up with your business plans.
A good platform should have a clean and usable user interface, both for customers and for the staff of the company. If possible, do a demo of setting up products, reviewing sales, and other typical functions to be sure you are comfortable with the interface.
Find out what other companies are using the platform and take a look at their reviews. You can also go to their sites and see for yourself what the customer side looks like and how usable it appears to be.
You can get a feel for the customer base and how well the platform performs for them by visiting user forums for it. If the platform doesn’t have a user forum, this may be a bad sign.
Calculate All Costs
When looking at the price make sure to go beyond the first level and see what additional costs are required to make the platform work on your site. Are there other monthly fees that are necessary to provide needed functionality? Dig into any hidden costs and add some buffer for ones you don’t find out about until later.
Once you have your estimated costs, compare them to your expected revenue. What’s your Return on investment for the platform? Does it make sense to invest in it? Are there features you can live without to get a more affordable product with a better ROI?
There’s no magic formula to make the final decision. All you can do is arm yourself with information and look at the options. You may not make the perfect choice, but you can make one you feel good about, after doing your due diligence.
As they say in the movies, “You must choose, but choose wisely.”