Ahhh that old chestnut…. There’s so many options nowadays for ecommerce that trying to decide on the right platform is a bit of a minefield. Choosing the wrong one can lead to years of frustration and trouble for your business. Realising the pitfalls, limitations and costs only through experience. So best do a bit of homework, and get it right the first time.
To be frank, there’s no silver bullet ecommerce platform for retailers so it’s important to weigh up your options and find the best fit for your business. I’ve got a few insights here to help you on your way, but just like any webMD would say, “consult an expert if you have any of these symptoms or if you’re unsure”
STAY AWAY FROM CUSTOM PLATFORMS
Unless you’re a massive retailer with your own in-house development team that has the ability to build your systems within the business for years to come, or you have a really unique sales model that requires total custom development, then please do yourselves a favour and stay as far away from custom built platforms as possible. That means proprietary solutions or home-made jobs that are built specifically for one website, or one development agency to then on-sell to their own customers.
For all of you that travel down this path you are effectively locking your business in to a contract that’s often unwritten. Who’s going to support and maintain your website? What happens if your developer goes under or decides they’re not interested anymore? That’s right, when you sign up with anyone that builds their own platform, you’re at their mercy. That means costs (often extortionate amounts), upgrades, terms, and development are generally dictated to you, not the other way around.
The best most affordable platforms have already been built, and they’re supported by millions of developers like us around the world. That means you’re in the drivers seat, and you won’t get burned because you can cross the road to the next guy if you’re not happy with the service. Easy.
STAY AWAY FROM DRAG AND DROP JOBS
If you’re going to take your online business seriously, it’s hard to recommend the drag and drop solutions like Wix that make ecommerce seem so easy. Agreed, they can be useful to ‘test the water’ but you’ll soon find out the many limitations of such platforms put on your business, and you’ll find yourself moving on.
They’re unable to address complex requirements that a fully fledged retailer needs such as custom integrations, multi-currency, customised shipping solutions, and tailored promotions etc. You’re basically limited to the plugins and extensions they offer themselves. SEO which must be considered one of the most important forms of online marketing nowadays is almost non-existent on such platforms which is pretty lacklustre if you’re looking to tackle the online market.
GO OPEN SOURCE AND GO LARGE
Choose a platform that’s essentially open to the public for use and development, and choose one that has a strong support network. For the platforms we utilise (Magento, Shopify, and Woocommerce), they are all globally supported by massive communities, and there are plenty of developers to choose from. Yes of-course I’d say this, but I have to make a case.
I don’t particularly endorse going for the most popular platform on the market every time as there may very well be a better solution some guy has produced in his shed down the road, and when that solution comes about, I’d be happy to get on-board. But for most of the punters nowadays it’s cost-effective to think this way, you also have the additional reassurance that when advancements and updates come about, you’ll come up trumps.
By going open source, it means you will have the flexibility to customise your website any which way you like. If you’re looking to integrate with systems that don’t have existing links then this really is a good avenue for you. Not to mention the fact that open-source developers all over the world are always building integrations to popular systems to make life easier on your business.
We highlight this issue further in another post here on taking control of your website
WEIGH UP THE COSTS & OPTIONS
Well obviously this is a biggie, the beauty of the solutions we work with is that most of them are free to setup. That’s how they get ya! Some platforms will take a cut of your sales or cost you a monthly fee (Shopify). Both Woocommerce and Magento Community are free, which you own and customise yourself, whereas Shopify will cost you a monthly fee. Magento Enterprise which is typically for medium to large size retailers does cost significantly more but with the support and benefits to match it.
Add-ons or extensions can also cost a fair whack so you need to keep that in mind too, a lot of them are free. Generally for better ones or premium versions you’ll find that they cost a one-off fee. The Shopify add-ons will tack on an extra cost to your monthly fee, which can suddenly get very expensive if you’re utilising several of them.
For more on platform comparisons and pricing you can find information here.
THINK 5 YEARS DOWN THE TRACK
Everyone looking to re-platform or start fresh needs to have a long term strategy for their online store. Starting out small and with something that’s really accessible is often the way people get into online retail, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Just bear in mind that if things grow, the requirements of the business will change in time. That means you need to ensure that whatever plan you have for the business now and in 5 years time, the ecommerce platform you select is going to be the best fit.
Typically those retailers that have been around the traps understand this point a bit more, and will target platforms that will cater for their needs 5 years down the track. Just some things to think about might be:
- Will you need multiple websites and multi-currency? (international trading)
- Will you sell through multiple channels (Trademe, eBay, Google shopping, your website)?
- Your future ERP or CRM?
- Your POS system
- Automation of business processes for online retail
- What sort of flexibility does your business need to change?
- Current vs future product range
So which ecommerce platform is the right one?
Like I said before, there is no silver bullet but there are plenty of options. Ultimately you’ve got to decide what will be the best fit for your business, for now and into the future. I’d recommend that you look at the retail side of your business holistically and build a list of requirements that will suffice for now and 5 years down the track. Then you can start aligning those requirements with the platforms that are available on the market. Failing that, you can always talk to an expert and get the right advice for your particular business.