eMarketer sees eCommerce sales touching £80 billion by 2017. However, not everyone will have a share of this pie.
Everyone understands the importance of the customer facing website. However, realization has not yet dawned that in a highly competitive environment with cut-throat margins, only businesses with robust, efficient back end systems in place will succeed. The choice of the eCommerce platform, therefore, is critical.
1. Opt for Flexible, Right-Sized Platforms
The eCommerce platform handles the all features in the website, and it is important that the size of the platform matches the scope of the website. Any eCommerce platform offers customizable site templates, an integrated shopping cart, an admin control panel, an inventory control solution, store management tools, analytics, hosting solutions, many configuration options, and so on and on. Many others offer a host of add-on features, such as coupon wizards, eBay integration, and more.
The possibilities with an eCommerce site are endless, but it is not necessary that all eCommerce sites require all the features. For instance, an eCommerce site catering only to the domestic market does not require multiple currency options. Again, not all eCommerce sites would want features to support affiliate marketing. The greater the features required, the greater the computing resources needed. Conversely, if the platform is restricted to save computing power, the website may be constrained, causing customer annoyance. For instance, a restrained platform may not support the much needed dynamic pricing functionality, to deliver custom offers.
The choice of the features required would also depend on the nature of the business. For products with long buying cycles, the eCommerce platform would require features to track a site visitor’s activity over time, and engage with them on a personalized basis. For fast moving and impulsive items, the platform would need to support mass campaigns, launched frequently.
The best eCommerce platform offers the flexibility to pick and choose the features required, and remains scalable to accommodate varying demands.
2. Price vs Value
Price is usually the first consideration business owners make when evaluating options, and rightly so. However, when it comes to a suitable platform for the eCommerce website, business owners need to look beyond price and seek value. For instance, shared server space or multi-tenancy may be risky, as another site sharing the server crashing could result in all the websites in the server going down. It pays to invest a little more to have a platform that offers a workaround to this menace, and a little more for the platform that offers better security. In any case, without the platform complying with PCI-DSS standards fully, it is not possible to accept credit cards.
Also, do not look at the upfront investment alone. Pay close heed to the service level agreements (SLA) to ascertain the recurring costs, or monthly liabilities. It is worth its while in gold, to have an expert crack response team ready to troubleshoot at the drop of a hat, when the site goes down, or when cyber criminals knock at the gates.
3. Open Source vs Proprietary Solutions
The most popular eCommerce platforms in vogue now, such as Magento and OpenCart, are open source. Open source cuts costs drastically, remains more flexible, and it is possible to add modules or make custom changes to tailor the interface or features as required. Traditionally, open source faced a disadvantage of poor support and inconsistency compared to proprietary systems, but the increasing base of user community, and maturing of the open source protocols has negated such disadvantages largely.
When scouting for the best platform for your eCommerce website, consider speed above anything else. Speed is the crucial factor that determines whether customers would proceed to buy or drop the cart and go elsewhere. It may not even come to that. Search engines penalize slow sites, negatively impacting SEO so customers may not get to enter a slow loading site in the first place.
Speed depends on many factors, including size of the catalog, configuration settings and more.
5. Support for Mobile
With more users set to access the internet from mobile devices, any eCommerce site that does not support mobile devices is obsolete. Even mobile friendly versions of website are passé. The in-thing is responsive website design that loads features after ascertaining the screen size. The best platforms support this key requirement.
Image Credit: halfrain on Flickr