What should you consider when choosing an ecommerce platform for your business?
Just as it’s important to make the right choice when choosing suppliers for your store’s products, it’s important to make the right choice of hosted ecommerce platform. What are some of the main factors that you should consider?
While at first glance providers might all seem very similar, there are sometimes some important yet subtle differences between hosted ecommerce platforms that you need to be aware of. Armed with this information, you can make the best possible choice for your business before investing too much time and money in getting the site set up.
Firstly, it’s very important to know that there is a big difference between a hosted ecommerce solution and an ecommerce solution that’s hosted by you. The former, a hosted solution, is an end-to-end ecommerce website. This means that you don’t have to buy a hosting plan, configure the environment, and install the shopping cart script and theme before getting started. On a hosted solution, that’s done for you by the provider. After you sign up and your site is built for you, you get a web-based interface to log in to and start designing, configuring and managing your new store. On a self managed hosting account, you get blank space and have to do all of this yourself. You’ll have more control over what goes where, but you have to do it all by yourself and you must be sufficiently savvy with the technology to do it correctly.
There’s no substitute for doing your homework when it comes to choosing a supplier for any aspect of your business. However, we have detailed below some of the important questions you might want to ask yourself when choosing a hosted ecommerce solution. If you have a question about our solution and how it fits in the list below, please feel free to contact us
and we can let you know. If you prefer, you can take our feature tour
or view the Ozcart introductory video
- Is a hosted ecommerce solution right for you? Do you have the time to take care of maintaining the technology platform that you’ve chosen? That is, bug fixes, security updates, backups etc. If not, a hosted ecommerce solution is well suited for you. If you want to manage functionality and bug fixes or a hire a developer to make changes to your website, you might be better off on high performance hosting with a self-installed and managed solution.
- Is owning the rights to the software itself or being able to move providers later important to you? A hosted solution is an end-to-end website that you rent from month to month, so if you decide you don’t want to carry on with it in the future, you have to export your data and start a new solution on a different platform. A self managed solution requires more work to keep it running as the provider is just providing blank space for you to use but you own everything you put on it.
- What business are you in? Are your customers savvy, non-nonsense industrial shoppers who want to access their products as quickly as possible? Do they shop around a lot? How much prior product knowledge will they have? This will determine how much information you need to have on your website. If you have a lot of information to add, you need to make sure that you’re comfortable with how the administration panel for adding and editing products and pages works, as you’ll be spending quite a lot of time there.
- Who are the top competitors in your industry, and what do their websites look like? What design features and functionality do they have prominently in their website?
- How many products do you have? How many will you be adding? Some carts have limits on the number of products you can have on a particular plan, which can then determine the minimum monthly spend that you’d need to go with that hosted ecommerce platform
- How will you be taking payments? Stripe? PayPal? Credit Card? Both? Does the ecommerce solution you are considering integrate with your choice of payment provider? If not, are they able to build an integration to it for a reasonable fee?
- How many different kinds of customer groups do you have? e.g. Are they all retail or do you have retail and wholesale? Or do you have retail and VIP customers? If you have multiple groups, does the cart support multiple customer groups and bulk discount pricing?
- How will you be pricing shipping? Do you need a real-time calculator for the shipping provider you are using? Can you set up a pricing system in the cart that marries up with the way you plan to price shipping for customers? Can you have different shipping options for different customer groups?
- Do you need a system to manage returns requests? This is not so important if you have a small number of products but larger clothing stores with free exchange policies can generate too many requests to be easily manageable on a notepad or in a spreadsheet
- Will you be connecting to a shopping comparison site like Google Shopping? If so, does the cart have support for the feed that the platform requires? If not, can they build it for you for a reasonable fee?
- How do you plan to manage inventory? If you don’t make your products to order or plan to count inventory in the cart software, then the cart let you manage inventory stocks and stop items from being purchased if they are not available. Can you create pairs of product options like sizes and colours and add inventory levels to those pairs so you could be sold out of red, size 10 pants but still have blue size 10 ones showing as available for purchase?
- What social media tools do you need? Social media is an important part of doing business, and unless you are selling to a pre-defined market that’s already aware of your offerings, chances are you’ll require social media integration of some kind. Can the solution let you sell on Facebook, does it have the ability to add social media sharing buttons to product pages? Can customers easily log in with their social media accounts without having to create a new account all over again?
- What other marketing tools might you need? There are a diverse range of online marketing tools around, so you need to go back to thinking about your target customer group and how you might reach them. Are sales responsive to price? If so, sales, coupons and discounts might be tools you need. Will sales come as a result of events like markets/stalls? If so coupon codes with fixed uses or expiry dates might be useful. Will there be are a lot of holiday-time purchases? Gift cards might be relevant if that’s the case. Think about the types of things that would appeal to your customers and check that your choice of ecommerce platform covers the bases. You might also want to consider things like cross-selling options as that would give you the option of encouraging sales of higher-margin products alongside those of lower-margin ones.
- Are you registered for sales tax (GST, etc)? If so, you’ll need to configure your cart to charge your country’s business sales tax (GST, etc.) and to generate your country’s compliant invoices. For example, if you are registered for GST and purchase your shopping cart software subscription from a local supplier in Australia, you’ll also be able to claim back the GST portion of your monthly fee, potentially reducing the net cost to you of using the web service.
- Where is support located and what are their hours? Technical support for ecommerce websites can vary widely across the industry, and there is no one set standard. So it’s worth considering what country the support teams are located in (which may affect their hours of availability and understanding of your country’s business market), and hours of operation (some are 9-5 Monday to Friday, others are every day, others are 24/7, others have standard and emergency support options). Support may be by email, phone, chat or Skype depending on the provider, so make sure you’re happy with the way they offer support and are happy to work within those guidelines.