You’ve probably heard that there’s a ton of money to be made online. It’s true, there is. As of 2020, the eCommerce industry is worth roughly $4.5 trillion, and it continues to grow.
But, setting up an online store isn’t as simple as building a website and waiting for the sales to roll in. There is a ton of competition, and you need the right eCommerce platform as a foundation.
As you begin your eCommerce journey, choosing your software will be one of the most important decisions you’ll make. Here are some tips for choosing the right platform for your eCommerce store and a few of the top choices.
Why Use an eCommerce Platform?
It would be difficult, if not impossible, to compete online without investing in an eCommerce platform. Whether you are a B2C or B2B enterprise, the right platform acts as the backbone of your online retail store, streamlining how your business connects with customers, suppliers, and even employees.
Essentially, an eCommerce platform is a software application that enables your business to easily execute a series of complex functions. This includes inventory management, customer contacts, mobile commerce, payment gateway and order fulfillment. You could design a website and code all of this from scratch, but why would you want to when ready-made solutions are available?
Tips for Choosing the Right eCommerce Platform
Choosing an eCommerce platform based on name recognition is one approach, but it may not get you what you need. The truth is that the best software application is the one that fulfills your particular needs and business goals. That said, any eCommerce platform you choose should meet some basic requirements in form and function.
1. Does It Address Your Shipping Needs?
Whether you’re selling smartphones, t-shirts, or heavy equipment, shipping is going to be one of the biggest puzzles in your online business. Your eCommerce platform must support your unique shipping requirements, including real-time communication and integration with a third-party Warehouse Management Software (WMS).
Most businesses will choose a carrier (UPS, FedEx, USPS) to ship products and handle returns. You’ll want to make sure that your platform will integrate with their software. Further, it should be able to send an automated message to everyone (you, customers, and carriers) when an order is placed and shipped.
2. Can Everyone Figure It Out?
The eCommerce platform you choose should be easy to use – for everyone. First, it should have an intuitive user interface (UI) for customers. If they can’t figure out how to place and complete an order, your business will be over before it begins.
Next, consider who is going to be using the system on the backend daily and make sure they’ll be comfortable handling it. Will they be able to make any required modifications? Does the platform provide support in the event of issues? What about analytics so that you can track the performance of your business? Finally, are there any SEO features so that you optimize your Google Quality Ratings and boost your search engine visibility?
3. Is It Compatible With Third-Party Software and Plugins?
Simply installing your eCommerce platform probably won’t be sufficient to run a competitive online store. You’ll need to integrate it with third-party services and include different plugins. Make a list of the features you want and need in your store and use these as criteria to narrow down your choices. Some of the items you’ll probably need include:
- Shipping tools to handle your orders;
- Integration with third-party payment services, like PayPal;
- Security plugins to safeguard from cyberattacks
- Email marketing capability to connect with customers; and
- Accounting plugins to manage revenues, taxes, and bill payment.
You might also want to integrate an existing inventory management system with your platform or a system that you use with a brick-and-mortar store.
4. Can You Scale Your Operations?
The goal of most businesses is expansion and growth. Ideally, you’ll want to choose an eCommerce platform that will be easy to scale as you grow your business. As you examine different options, ask how easy it will be to add new features, plugins, categories, products, and additional traffic without any roadblocks.
Top eCommerce Platform Choices
Now that you have a list of factors to help you choose the right platform, what are other people using? Here are a few of the best-performing eCommerce platforms on the market with robust features.
WooCommerce is the most popular eCommerce platform with a 21% market share. Brands like Airstream, Singer, and Weber are built using WooCommerce websites.
The basic version of WooCommerce if free, and you can find affordable web hosting depending on your anticipated traffic. Research suggests that pricing does impact web host performance. Some of the benefits of using WooCommerce include:
- It is open-source, so you control the customization of your site.
- The core software is free.
- It includes a robust and secure shopping cart.
- You get access to thousands of features, tools, themes, and plugins.
- There is a large developer community to provide assistance.
- There is no limit on the number of categories and products you can have.
Some of the potential drawbacks of WooCommerce are:
- It can only be used with WordPress.
- You will have to pay for third-party plugins.
Magento is another open-source eCommerce platform that has a large market share. Some of the notable brands that use it include Jaguar, Nike, and Everlast. Again, you’ll need to pay for hosting, but it’s popular software that has a variety of benefits:
- You control development and design since it’s open-source.
- There are a lot of free and paid tools that integrate with Magento.
- You can create websites in various languages using the platform as your business expands.
- The code is updated frequently.
Some of the potential drawbacks of Magento include:
- As the site owner, you are responsible for website maintenance, update and security.
- The basic version is free, but you’ll have to pay a small price annually for a hosted version.
Shopify has a large market share when it comes to eCommerce platforms, but that doesn’t necessarily make it the best choice. It is simple to set up and use and supports several third-party payment gateways. But it can get expensive. Some of the drawbacks of Shopify include:
- You have to pay for each tool, theme, app, and plugin, which can make your costs add up quickly. Some even have recurring monthly fees.
- The platform also charges a transaction fee on many third-party payment gateways.
- Shopify uses its own markup language, which can make altering code challenging.
As you can see, there isn’t a single option for right eCommerce platform, but it’s not a bad thing to have choices. In the end, the platform you choose should come down to your technical knowledge, plans for growth, and business requirements. With a list of criteria in mind, you’ll be able to narrow down your choices to the right one for your needs.