The Best eCommerce Platforms

Pick the Right eCommerce Provider for Your Store

More and more people are opting to shop online these days and if you do not have an online presence for your store then you run the risk of fading away into obscurity as customers turn to online stores or stores with a click and collect option instead.

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What is an eCommerce Platform?

Providing users with an online shopping option is a good way to hold on to your business and to attract new customers. Popular eCommerce solutions make it easier for you to reach prospective customers and allow you to present your stock online and show people your current prices. Users could order for digital download, delivery, or click and collect. They can pre-order goods that are not released yet, check whether you have their size in stock at a specific store, and compare prices between different products. A good eCommerce platform makes shopping in general much easier for your customers and can improve your brand's reach quite successfully.

Who Needs eCommerce Platforms and Why?

Most stores can benefit from an eCommerce platform. If you can ship goods to your customers directly then it makes sense to have a robust platform that supports modern features such as loyalty schemes and pre-orders. If your goods are digital then automating their delivery makes sense. If you have a bricks and mortar store then offering a click and collect option is an effective way of encouraging people to buy 'while the mood strikes'.

Even service industries can benefit from eCommerce. Many salons, spas and gyms allow people to buy passes online that they can use at the facility.

Essential eCommerce Features

There are many eCommerce platforms out there to choose from, ranging from plugins for popular content management systems to standalone open source eCommerce platforms, and Software-as-a-Service features that allow you to use an eCommerce suite without having to worry about the maintenance of it yourself. If you are looking for a good eCommerce suite, consider whether you want any of the following:

  • Loyalty offerings
  • Stock control (integration with the stock control for your bricks and mortar store)
  • Multiple shipping options
  • Multiple currency support
  • Multiple language support
  • Product categories
  • Digital download options
  • Member-only deals
  • Click and collect

Any eCommerce platform available now will support the ability to present a product, take payment, and then send fulfillment information to the store owner. Those are essential, basic features. The above features, however, are things that some platforms and services offer only as added extras or plugins. You should also consider how easy it is to run and maintain the store:

  • Do you need to install updates yourself?
  • What kind of server does the store need (or are you 'renting' the service from someone who maintains it for you?)
  • How much traffic can the store handle?
  • How many products can you list on the store?
  • How easy is it to change the theme?
  • Is the store easy for your customers to use?
  • Do you get your own URL, or is it obvious that you are running your store on someone else's platform?

Choosing your eCommerce Platform or Service

Having the right eCommerce platform could make or break your brand. It is important that you pick something that works for you, and that reflects the brand that you want to put forward. There are many factors that you should consider when choosing an eCommerce platform, including:

Your Budget

Third party eCommerce platforms can range from 'free of charge for a limited number of products', with a commission on each product you sell, up to substantial fees per month. Self-hosted products can range from open source, free of charge plugins that need some technical skill to set up but that will run on top of your existing blog or website, to systems that require a substantial amount of server resources and will carry an additional monthly fee by stealth, because you will need to pay for a better server to run them. Your decision will depend on what you need, and how much you want to spend.

The Size of Your Catalog

If you plan on selling just a couple of products, then you may not even need a dedicated system. You could set up payment and order forms through 'sale buttons' and a payment processor of your choosing. As your catalog grows, the need for a more sophisticated eCommerce platform or service will also grow. Think about the plans for your business over the next year or two, and plan accordingly. Consumers dislike change, so having a system in place now that you will keep using is the best choice.

Your Technical Skills

Your choice of platform or service will also depend on the technical skills that you have, or have access to. Some people may prefer to be in control of their own server and to control the software they use directly, being able to edit the code and make detailed changes to the layout and functionality. Others may be happy to give up some of that control in order to have access to something that 'just works'. The choice is yours. You may end up paying a higher monthly fee for a subscription based service, however you should consider the cost of your time. If you are going to have to invest a lot of time into maintaining the code base for an open source platform, then are you really saving money by using it?

Take a look at what other online stores in your niche use. Is there a layout that is popular? Is there a platform that seems to be the industry standard? Do you want to adopt a similar platform or would you prefer to use something different and stand out from the crowd? There are benefits to both approaches. Think carefully. If you have the time, set up trials on a few systems and test them in-house, then launch the one that gets the best reception from your sample group. There are enough choices out there that there should be something for any company.