Ecommerce has come a very long way since the first online shopping sites started to appear in the early 1990s. These days, it’s easy to set up an online store – and it can be highly profitable too.
Unless you’re launching a major brand with money to spare, however, hiring developers to create your ecommerce platform from scratch is not an option open to most small businesses. Instead, you’ll want to choose one of the ‘off the peg’ ecommerce solutions already available. But which to choose, and what should you be considering?
Understanding Ecommerce Platforms – SaaS or Open Source?
The first thing you should consider is how tech-savvy you are, and how much you want to be involved in the tech end of ecommerce. This is a key consideration which will inform your choice between the two main ways in which ecommerce solutions are provided – either as SaaS or open source platforms.
SaaS stands for ‘software as a service’; SaaS ecommerce solutions are accessed and delivered via the cloud. Leading examples for this type of solution include Shopify, Squarespace, BigCommerce, Big Cartel and Volusion.
An SaaS ecommerce platform is ideal for those who aren’t tech-minded or who simply want to spend their time on other elements of their business rather than managing their ecommerce. For these solutions, no coding knowledge is needed, and no tech skills are required. They provide out of the box fully functional online stores, with no stand-alone hosting required either. Often known as shopping cart software, these solutions are especially useful for those just starting out with ecommerce.
These online stores are typically very easy to set up, with a variety of themes and styles available to suit your look and feel. However, they’re not free – they usually charge recurring fees and over time, they can work out to be an expensive option.
Because you have no access to the source code, customization is also limited in these stores. Although ample for the needs of many small businesses, there may come a point where you get frustrated with not being able to customize your store further.
If you have some tech or coding knowledge, or are willing to learn, or to hire someone to handle it for you, an open source ecommerce platform is another option.
With these ecommerce platforms, you have full control over the style and design of your online store. Examples of open source ecommerce solutions include Woo Commerce, Magento Community, Drupal Commerce and Prestashop.
Bear in mind that although the main elements of these ecommerce solutions are open source, and therefore free, you will have to arrange and pay for your own secure website hosting. You may also need or want to obtain extra add-ons, modules or plugins, which are not free.
Arguably, open source ecommerce solutions may therefore work out more expensive upfront, but in the long run you will be saving by not paying recurring fees. You may feel that having total control over the customization of your online store is worth it.
What to Look for in an Ecommerce Solution
Once you have made your initial choice between an out of the box, SaaS solution or a fully customizable open source solution, you will still need to narrow down your options. Here are a few hints on what to consider.
Look for a platform which gives you plenty of control over your on-site SEO, for example allowing access to meta tags and descriptions, captions for images and so on.
If your online store isn’t secure, you may as well not have one. As a minimum, it must have https or SLL support. It must also be able to support secure payment processors such as Paypal, Worldpay or Stripe.
3. Product Management
How many and what kind of product management tools you need will depend on the size of your business and how many products you sell. However, as a minimum, you’ll want an easy way to bulk upload products, and the ability to create categories in your store and assign products to those categories.
You’ll probably also need to be able to set different shipping options, and to enable dynamic catalog sorting so that customers can view items sorted by size, price and so on.
Then there are the nice-to-have but not necessarily essential options, such as wishlists and recently viewed features.
4. Mobile Friendly
These days, the majority of people use smartphones or other mobile devices to look at ecommerce sites either most of the time or at least some of the time. It’s essential that your store looks good on a mobile device, or you will be missing out on a huge potential chunk of customers.
5. Social Media Integration
Look for a solution which enables you to embed social buttons into your product listings, and which makes it easy to integrate your store into your social media activity.
6. Other Integrations
Ideally, your store platform will integrate with other software you use on a daily basis – for example, your accounting software.
Even if you are starting small, you’ve got big dreams – so look for an ecommerce solution which will grow with you. You may not need all of the bells and whistles to begin with, but it’s good to know that they’re available when you do.
8. Multichannel Marketplaces
Finally, if you sell on multiple different channels as well as your own website, your ideal ecommerce solution will be able to integrate all of these sales into one view – so that you can keep track of your sales on Amazon, Ebay an Etsy, for example, as well as those made from your own store.
This may look as though there is a lot to consider when deciding on an ecommerce platform for your store. There is – but if you make the right decision the first time, you should end up with an ecommerce solution which pays dividends, and which grows with your business for many years to come.