Formerly known simply as virtual shopping carts, ecommerce platforms have evolved into sophisticated and feature-rich software suites that help a business do more than processing orders and transactions. As these solutions become powerful content management systems, it can be a challenge for a new or expanding ecommerce business to determine which platform is the best to use. There are plenty of good options but, certainly, there are bad ones, too. To make the process of selection less complicated, here are some suggestions and considerations.
Types of Ecommerce Platforms
First of all, you have to know what options are available in general. Basically, all ecommerce platforms will fall into one of these types: proprietary, open-source and software-as-a-service.
- Proprietary licensed software is owned by its developer (which could be a company or an individual) and there are normally major restrictions on its usage. Only the developer has access to the code so modifications and improvements can only be done by the developer. Proprietary software offers some rich features but it is expensive so it’s suitable to large enterprises and not an ideal option for cash-strapped small to mid-sized businesses.
- Open-source ecommerce solutions allow open access to the source code of the program so any business owner or developer can get inside it to make changes or add to it. There are some technical limitations to open-source software but you can do a lot with it if you know how to code or you hire a developer to do the work. This type of ecommerce platform is well suited for online business operations that are looking for more control over functions and features.
- Software-as-a-service or SaaS, as its name suggests, are ecommerce solutions that are delivered as a web-based service. Clients can use the software by subscribing to a monthly plan versus purchasing licensed software. They do not have access to the entire source code but some features of the program are flexible and can be easily modified on the backend. SaaS ecommerce platforms are often the best choice if you need to launch a business quickly but you lack technical resources.
Extensible and Flexible Design
An ecommerce platform that is flexible and extensible (can easily accommodate new capabilities) allows merchants to control their online store better. Choose software that gives plenty of options when it comes to site layout, graphics and motif. You also want to have complete CSS or style sheet access to allow for significant modifications in design to suit your needs. Ideally, you want either an ecommerce platform that has an open source code or one with a robust interface that will let you customize your store with the features you want and even add third-party tools.
As mobile commerce sales continue to grow, it is paramount that you run your ecommerce business on a platform that will not only power your online store but is also mobile optimized. Ecommerce platforms with mobile support include shopping cart features that will let your customers browse your store and make a purchase through their mobile phones. Mobile optimization also means the design of your website automatically switches to a mobile theme or template when your site is accessed via a smartphone.
Business Intelligence Capabilities
The ecommerce platform you choose will process all of your store’s sales and transactions and it should be able to offer more than just storing and securing your store’s data. It should have capabilities to use that data to provide you with business intelligence that you can use to better manage your business. Look for software that can collect data and give you reports about inventory trends, customer shopping behavior and other important indicators of your business performance.
Content Marketing Support
One of the best ways to grow your business in today’s highly competitive market is to use content such as images, blog posts and videos to differentiate your site and draw customers. That’s why it’s very important to use an ecommerce platform that can support your content marketing efforts. For instance, does the software allow for plug-ins like the ones that can integrate your ecommerce site with your blog?
Total Cost of Investment
It is crucial to have a solid idea around how much you will invest into an ecommerce platform over time. You may find some open source solutions that have a free version that you can use; however, take note that if you use this platform you will need to have a way to host it and may have to invest in a server. Remember to always consider your hosting costs when choosing software for your ecommerce business. In comparison, a SaaS solution may be more affordable since its monthly rate already includes hosting services. Just be aware of how much you will be spending with every customization that you will do. You may also need to add necessary hardware like Shopify point-of-sale hardware which includes a card reader, barcode scanner or receipt printer.