Which is the Best eCommerce Platform? | 17 Critical Questions to Help You Decide.
How to Choose the Best eCommerce Platform?
Choosing and deciding the best eCommerce platform that fits your business model can be time-consuming and definitely requires some in-depth study. Spending this time upfront to analyze will save you a lot of frustration and headaches moving forward.
Sure you can use review site’s (as long as it is unbiased) to get a different perspective, but at the end of the day, it is you who has to make the eventual decision and find the best eCommerce solution which works well for your business.
Before you start any investigative work, I strongly suggest you jot down the following;
- Features you must have (now)
- Features you would like to have (soon)
- Bonus features for a growing business (future)
Not every eCommerce solution fits every business model, so choose carefully. I have put together 17 critical questions that will help you narrow your choice and ensure you make an educated and intelligent decision.
1. What does “out of the box” product include?
Many times, the initial price may look attractive, but the features that come with the core product aren’t. In fact, the price adds up as you keep selecting add-on features that are important for your shop.
For instance, your product may require detailed technical information, which shows better in a Tabbed format (reduces clutter), but the feature may not be available in the core product and would require an add-on purchase. Such features can quickly add up and increase the cost.
Naturally, not all features will be included in the base product. Check what you need to what is included.
Generally, the Pricing page clearly shows the various plans and features available. Check them against your own list.
2. What is the net monthly cost?
This cost will depend on the platform you select.
Some eCommerce platforms are free to use, such as osCommerce, WooCommerce. Others sell their online shop software for a one-time fee (future upgrades are extra) such as X-Cart, and others charge you a monthly fee such as Shopify, BigCommerce.
The free versions and the full licensed purchased ones require hosting costs to be taken into consideration. The ones with monthly fees include the hosting.
Initially, the free may look attractive, but the overall time spent in getting the site ready may not be worth the effort.
Purchasing a licensed product may require you to ensure you have some technical knowledge on how to setup your hosting site for optimum results.
Take all these into consideration as you tally your monthly costs.
3. What other plug-ins, widgets, add-ons are available?
Most eCommerce software developers allow 3rd party vendors to partner up with them and sell their plug-ins, add-ons, widgets etc. This enhances the base product and allows shop owners to integrate their online shops with rich features.
Study all the add-ons available and especially those that may be of interest as your business grows. You want to understand what is and isn’t available. A wider selection shows a healthy eCommerce platform.
Of course, free features are desirable but study the cost of each one. Some may charge per month, some may be a one time fee. Add this to your monthly charge tally.
In addition, ensure the 3rd party plug-ins have sound support in place since they are responsible that their widget integrates well with the core product.
4. How well does the platform suit your product? Can you try it?
Not every eCommerce platform fits every business. Just because it works for your friend Jack, does not mean it will for you.
Check out the various live demo sites. Find out that closely resembles your business and see how well it works.
Most developers will allow you to try out their eCommerce software for a limited time. Use that time to test the platform and make sure all parts of the viewing, buying and checkout cycle are working as they should. Most give you between 15 to 30 days as a trial period.
I highly recommend you create at least one product page and have someone share their unbiased experience with you.
Remember, you are building a long-term online business. For you to succeed, you need to select the best eCommerce platform that will work well for you now and the future. Don’t make a hasty decision.
5. How scalable is the platform?
As an entrepreneur, your mindset needs to be positive and optimistic. Your business will grow to as big as you can imagine.
Some platforms are great for small businesses with limited products, once you go beyond a certain threshold they tend to fail in their performance.
Which eCommerce will be best suited to accommodate your business growth?
What will it cost to ensure this future growth?
How scalable is the platform to accommodate this growth, especially when it comes DB management?
Study other larger stores on the same platform, better yet try to connect with store owners for feedback.
6. Can you customize the base product?
No “off the shelf” platform or software solution will ever fulfill all your online shop business needs. Although I must admit at times, shop owners over complicate their requirements by adding features which hinder rather than help.
It’s still a good idea to understand how customizable an eCommerce platform is.
How will any customization affect future upgrades to the core product, especially on the monthly fee eCommerce platforms? Will updates to the core software wipe out your custom changes?
Will the customization affect support? What if the customization is made by the platform developer or their partner?
7. How is it hosted?
When you pay a monthly fee for the use of the eCommerce software, the hosting is included and is part of the charge. But be aware as some use shared hosting to a point which can make your shop sluggish and slow. Ask and find out. Just remember your shop needs to load fast.
With a purchased license, you may have a choice of hosting it on the developer’s site or choose your own server. Find out the difference and what would work well for your shop.
Make sure you understand the technical requirements of the various hosting options. Most have minimum requirements and recommended settings to ensure optimum functionality.
Selecting the cheapest hosting (shared) is not always the best idea.
8. Is your data portable from and to another platform?
You have a successful online shop with hundreds of products. After some serious thought and analysis, you and your team have determined that the current online store platform cannot fulfill your business needs any longer. What are your options?
How easy is it to port your data into a new environment, is importing or exporting relatively pain-free?
9. What about SEO?
SEO is an integral part of any eCommerce site.
Check how the following items are handled (ask them if you don’t know);
- Independent page URL
- Independent Meta Descriptions
- Image ALT Tags
- H1 Headings
- Independent Page Titles
- Navigational Links
- Integrating Blogs
- Social Media Share Buttons
- Review Section
- Search Bar
- 301 Redirects.
All these features add up to providing your eCommerce shop a solid SEO presence. Since more than 50% of purchases are made based on search results, it stands to reason your online store needs to have products which can be easily searchable.
10. What shop templates or theme are available?
A few default shop templates are generally included with the platforms.
Take a look at the free ones and also review ones that cost. Do they work for your shop?
Can they be modified further to give your shop a unique look?
How does modifying the theme affect any future software updates?
Does the product page layout work for your products? Upload an actual product and description to experience the view and feel.
11. How efficient is the checkout process?
An absolute critical portion of any eCommerce shop is the checkout process.
Focus on the following
- Progress indicator
- Guest checkout option
- Easy form filling
- No distractions
- Thumbnail of products purchased
- Display guarantee badge
- Final cost indicator
Have someone unbiased go through the entire buying experience on your store and provide you with an honest feedback. It’s a great way to help you build an effective store
All of the above matter and will ensure a higher conversion rate.
12. What about SSL?
Shoppers shy away from sites that have no SSL badges showing or no “https” shown on their URL.
Does the eCommerce platform provide SSL certificate or do you need to purchase your own? Do they charge or is it included in the monthly fee?
Self-hosted shops need to buy their own SSL certificate.
This is not something you can avoid and is a must for every eCommerce store. So don’t even think about trying to skipping this cost.
13. How is shipping handled?
The biggest factor for cart abandonment is shipping charges.
Knowing this, many eCommerce platforms (including Amazon, eBay etc) have partnered up with logistics companies to provide heavily discounted shipping rates to shop owners which naturally filters down to the end customers.
- Check into the option using 3rd party shipping companies (resellers) by integrating their API or plug-ins into your shop for further discounted shipping rates.
- Can the platform handle 3rd party integration of shipping module?
- Major carriers also provide plug-ins or integration modules with platforms to provide discounted rates directly to shop owners.
- If you have large shipping volumes, you can always approach courier companies directly and negotiate discounted rates for your shop.
- New eCommerce shipping solutions provide a means of mixing and juggling multiple purchases into a single box and lowering shipping costs.
Spend time here and thoroughly investigate all your options and rates.
14. How good is the customer support?
eCommerce shop owners need good customer support. One that is accessible via all modes; phone, online chat, and email.
Poor support will leave you frustrated and cost you business. Make sure you give bonus marks to the platform that has great client care department.
15. How are other shops performing and growing?
One of the best ways to check on eCommerce platforms or software is to join their support forums. Ask questions and read through the various threads to understand any pain points or concerns others are facing.
Call and reach out to other shop owners. You can gain an incredible about of knowledge and feedback from existing clients.
More importantly, you need to understand how the support team is handling issues raised by shop owners. Better support should give you greater confidence in choosing a specific platform.
16. How well does it handle inventory?
Inventory is a pain but a very necessary evil.
With poor inventory control, your shop will suffer lost business and gain a poor reputation in the marketplace.
Having a good handle on Inventory is a crucial when it involves;
- Kits or item bundles
- Multichannel integration
- Variant products etc.
Depending on your products, how your shop is setup and the channels you sell through will determine the best manner to control your inventory.
17. How easy is it to setup and use?
Some eCommerce platforms are easy to setup and manage and have a short learning curve. Others are a bit more complex and require some basic knowledge of website management. Yet others, have a steeper learning curve and have a slew of features that require development skills necessary to implement into a live store.
Depending on your comfort level, you need to decide what works well for you.
If you want to grow a serious online business without having the stress of getting technical, choose a platform that provides you the tools to launch and grow your business. Don’t over complicate things by getting too technical. It may cost you a bit more at the start, but it will free up your time to market and grow your business.
These checkpoints listed will help in your decision-making process of filtering out the best eCommerce platform for your online business. The list is not exhaustive but has crucial points to take into consideration when making your selection.
- What is included in the base eCommerce platform model?
- What is the net monthly cost of operating your shop (software, hosting, domain)?
- Are there other essential add-ons or plug-ins available (paid or free)?
- Does the platform fit your product and marketplace? Is there a trial period?
- Is the platform scalable?
- Can you customize the base platform?
- Where or how is it hosted?
- Is the data portable?
- How well does it handle SEO?
- What themes are available (free and paid)?
- How efficient is the checkout process?
- Is SSL certificate included?
- What options are there for shipping?
- What level of support is available?
- Did you check other stores running on this platform?
- How is the inventory handled?
- Is it easy to setup and use?
One platform will not fulfill all your needs. You will need to reach a compromise and decide on the best eCommerce platform that fits for your shop.
Which platform worked the best for your business?
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