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The Commerce Shop Blog

March 7, 2016

15 Questions to Ask When Selecting an eCommerce Platform

15 Questions to Ask When Selecting an eCommerce Platform

Deciding on the right eCommerce platform for your business isn’t easy. With so many different options to choose from, there are a lot of important factors that every business owner must consider. Whether this is your first eCommerce platform for your business or you are looking to switch platforms, selecting the right one for your business will play a huge role in its success. In order to make a good decision, here are some key questions to ask first:

1. What Products/Services Are You Selling?

You may be surprised at how big of a role your product inventory plays when it comes to choosing the right eCommerce platform. What you’re selling, how large your inventory is, and the complexity of your products all need to be considered.

Small or Large Inventory?

Those who have a lot of products in their inventory will need an eCommerce platform that can handle this amount and which doesn’t charge by how many products you list. If your business isn’t going to sell many products, you might be able to get away with a more basic eCommerce platform, although you may be out of luck if you later decide to expand.

Digital or Physical?

Those who are selling digital products and services may have their own set of requirements for an eCommerce platform. For instance, some businesses sell digital subscriptions and will need to charge their users on a monthly basis. Not all eCommerce platforms make it easy to charge users on a repeat basis, and it is important to choose carefully. Others may require a system that sends a customer a unique link in order to retrieve their purchased download.

2. How Much Growth Are You Anticipating?

If your business is growing fast or you anticipate growth, you will need to choose an eCommerce platform that scales. It may be difficult to project the growth of your business, but this is critical to your online success. Some online stores become successful and are stuck with an eCommerce platform that isn’t designed to handle this success. While it is possible to migrate from one eCommerce platform to another, it will be easier to select a platform that scales so that you can avoid this in the future.

3. How Much Control Do You Want?

Do you want the freedom to customize your eCommerce site exactly how you would like, or are you fine with some limitations in exchange for ease of use and automatic bug fixes? When choosing an eCommerce platform, you will need to decide between a hosted or self-hosted option:

Hosted:

A hosted solution is where the software is hosted on a server to which you do not have any direct access. The benefits of using a hosted solution for eCommerce is that you have technical support when you need it, and bug fixes are automatically upgraded. On the downside, you are constrained by the platform, and it may not support a specific requirement of your website. For instance, setting up your site to be multi-lingual may be difficult or impossible with a hosted platform.

Self-Hosted:

Self-hosted solutions are those in which the owner hosts their site on their own server. This may cost more up front, but self-hosted solutions also allow you the freedom to customize your website and support larger and more sophisticated eCommerce stores. If you want to be in complete control, self-hosted solutions may be a better fit.

4. What Is Your Budget?

Many small businesses are working with a small budget in the beginning, and this may restrict what eCommerce platform you choose. It’s best to keep in mind that with hosted eCommerce platforms, there is typically a monthly fee that might be based on how big your catalog is. A self-hosted solution may cost more up front, but you will be able to control a lot of additional costs by doing some of the work yourself. Big retailers should not skimp when it comes to selecting their eCommerce platform, because cheaper options tend to be more basic and won’t meet their requirements.

5. How Do You Expect Customers to Pay?

When choosing an eCommerce platform, make sure that it supports your business’s preferred payment methods, such as credit card payments. If you want your business to accept credit card payments directly through your eCommerce site, you will need to apply for a merchant account. You also have the option of going through a third-party payment provider such as PayPal or Authorize.Net. Both options have their advantages and disadvantages.

6. Is It SEO-Friendly?

Many business owners make the mistake of underestimating the power of search engine optimization (SEO). If you want customers to easily find your products on the Internet, it’s critical that your eCommerce site is equipped with features that make it SEO-friendly. Some of these features include (but are not limited to):

  • Integrated blog
  • Use of own domain name
  • Independent navigation links
  • Independent H1 headings
  • Independent image ALT tags
  • 301 redirects
  • Product reviews

7. How Secure Is Your Site?

Customers need to know that they can trust your eCommerce site in order to do business with you. With a self-hosted solution, any faults with data security is in your hands, even if security is part of your self-hosted eCommerce package. With a hosted solution, the cloud-based provider is the one who is responsible for data security. As previously mentioned, hosted solutions provide this security in exchange for a lot of your control and potentially steep transaction fees.

On the other hand, those who go with the self-hosted solution will need to make their site PCI compliant, with PCI standing for Payment Card Industry. This set of requirements ensures that any business that processes, stores, or transmits credit card information has a safe and secure environment. Some eCommerce platforms are PCI compliant from the start, while others are not.

8. How Flexible Do You Want Web Design to Be?

If you want your eCommerce site to grow, it should have a flexible and responsive web design. Every eCommerce site owner wants to have a beautifully designed store that drives traffic and sales. A generic web design may be fine for those who simply want to have a web presence, but business owners that are looking to increase revenue and grow need to find an eCommerce platform that is flexible. Custom web designs will help boost your online presence and will accommodate the needs of your eCommerce site as it grows.

9. Does It Allow Customer Product Reviews?

Will your eCommerce platform allow customers to submit product reviews? If not, you are missing out on an important part of SEO. Product reviews let your customers generate unique content for your site, which allows it to be ranked higher in the search engines. Even bad product reviews can be helpful to your site, because they allow customers to more accurately judge whether they will invest in that product or not. This is why you should make sure that your eCommerce platform allows users to create reviews.

It should be noted that the way in which these reviews are generated and shown to users matters, as well. For instance, reviews that are loaded and rendered directly in the HTML will generate more traffic, because the search engines will find and index the content. Reviews that are generated through JavaScript after a page has loaded will not get the same benefit. In order to get the most out of your customer product reviews, check to see how they will be supported by the eCommerce platform.

10. What Key Plug-Ins and Integrations Does It Allow?

Before selecting an eCommerce platform, it is best to check out what that platform offers in terms of plug-ins and integrations. Having the right integration solutions for your eCommerce platform will make your business run a lot smoother by allowing information to become more centralized. The list of extensions and integrations are vast, and your eCommerce site can stand to benefit from them. Those who are using open source software can use extensions that were created by others, or they can create their own extensions if they have the skills to do so.

With so many different plug-ins to choose from, it can be a daunting task for any business owner to decide which ones will be the most beneficial to their eCommerce site. Because every eCommerce store is different, generic recommendations for plug-ins aren’t very helpful. Think over what plug-ins your store will need and check which platforms offer plug-ins to meet your requirements.

11. What Marketing Features Does It Offer?

Once your eCommerce site is up and running, you will no doubt want to acquire more customers to increase your sales. As most business owners know, marketing is an important part of boosting sales and growing a business. While you may have great products, it isn’t enough to simply hope that customers stumble across them as they browse the web. Before selecting an eCommerce platform, find out what it has to offer in terms of marketing features so that you can successfully market your online store. Here are some things to look for in terms of marketing features:

  • Newsletter integration
  • Social media support
  • Coupon codes and discounts
  • Email marketing integration
  • Mobile advertising features
  • Pay-Per-Click advertising

With all of these features, it is important that you find out exactly what your eCommerce platform can handle. An eCommerce platform may support the use of coupons, but can customers use the coupon more than once? Can a newsletter be sent out to consumers at different frequencies, or is it limited? These are key considerations to keep in mind.

12. How Does It Affect Your Site’s Speed?

Speed is incredibly important to your site’s visitors, and studies show that a slow site loading time will ultimately result in a loss of sales. Some eCommerce websites such as Magento are built with speed in mind because they understand the importance of a site that loads quickly. Other general purpose websites may not be flexible enough to have both a quick loading time and all the features that you want your site to have. Look for an eCommerce platform that doesn’t sacrifice speed for functionality and vice versa.

13. Is There a Free Trial?

Taking advantage of test trials that eCommerce platforms run is a smart move for business owners. Free trials allow you to see whether or not the platform will be a good fit for your online store and at no monetary loss for your business. Ideally, you probably plan on using this eCommerce platform for the long-term, so this isn’t a decision to take lightly. Just like you might test drive a car before purchasing, it would be in your best interest to test out an eCommerce platform before taking the plunge.

14. Does It Support Mobile Devices?

Thanks to the rise in mobile users, an eCommerce site that is mobile-friendly is now a must for any online store. The question that needs to be answered is how your eCommerce software will accommodate mobile users. If your eCommerce platform doesn’t offer features that allow your site to be optimized for mobile, then your sales will probably suffer. Whether it is viewed on a smartphone or a tablet, the platform should have the capabilities to make it mobile-friendly. Creating a fantastic shopping experience for visitors is key to increasing revenue, and this means that your web design must be responsive to mobile users.

15. What Happens if You Need Support?

Make no mistake, you will run into problems at the absolute worst times with your eCommerce site. The success of your business depends on how smoothly it functions, and problems must be resolved quickly so that users are not frustrated. Who will you call when things go wrong? A great technical support team should not be underestimated. Consider these questions:

  • Is their support team available 24/7?
  • Can you get in touch with them through online chat, email, or phone?
  • How many levels of support do they offer? Are all of these levels free?
  • Can you reach a live person?
  • Will you need to find answers to your problems from a community of existing users?

All eCommerce platforms have varying levels of support, and you will need to decide how much support you would like when things go wrong with your online store.

Selecting an eCommerce Platform Isn’t Easy

There are many things that business owners must consider before selecting an eCommerce platform. Every business is different and has its own specific requirements, which makes it difficult to recommend just one eCommerce platform. However, online store owners can make the right decision by asking these questions before they select their eCommerce platform.