If there were any question that eCommerce is here to stay, COVID-19 and the global pandemic in 2020 has put an end to that debate.
As the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company states about “the great consumer shift”:
A few months into COVID-19, consumer shopping online has increased significantly across many categories…More interestingly, these habits seem like they’re going to stick as US consumers report an intent to shop online even after the COVID-19 crisis.
This marked digital transformation goes for businesses of all sizes, at all stages, and in all areas, including B2B, B2C, and DTC.
The eCommerce market is growing steeply, with the global retail eCommerce sales projected to grow by about 85% from USD 3.53 trillion in 2019 to as high as USD 6.54 trillion in 2022.
Whether your business is a startup or is scale-up, you must be strategic as you consider how to choose the best eCommerce platform for your business — now and in the future. By the time you finish reading this article, you’ll know the 12 core factors to consider when choosing an eCommerce platform. And with our expert insights, you’ll have all you need to make the right choice for your business, regardless of stage, from start-up to scale-up.
The Importance of Choosing the Right eCommerce Platform
First, the basics. An eCommerce platform is an all-in-one software solution that empowers online businesses to seamlessly manage their website, marketing, sales, and operations. A fast, flexible, cloud-based solution delivers memorable customer experiences, streamlines your operational efficiency, and creates phenomenal growth opportunities.
Best of all, the cost of entry doesn’t have to be prohibitive. The opportunities afforded by the top eCommerce platforms means you can create the perfect storefront for your business on a relatively modest budget. Make a wise and balanced choice by keeping these four essential factors in mind:
- Growth: You need the ability to expand your offerings and services quickly.
- Running costs: The cost of building your eCommerce platform is just a starting point; factor in ongoing maintenance costs.
- Customer engagement: What built-in tools does the platform provide to engage your customers?
- Service: Prioritize customer service to support customer conversion, loyalty, and retention.
12 Factors to Consider While Choosing an eCommerce Platform
Just as you market your goods and services, eCommerce platforms are experts in framing and conveying their offerings. Yet determining what is the best ecommerce platform for your business can be complicated, with around 370 eCommerce solutions to choose from worldwide. And, of course, you might decide that a custom-built solution is best.
Currently, the top solutions in the US are WooCommerce, Magento and Shopify. Other popular eCommerce platforms include Wix Stores, Squarespace Add to Cart and Ecwid, OpenCart, PrestaShop, Zen Cart, and BigCommerce.
Making the best choice for your business starts with understanding your eCommerce objectives with an eye on current and future customer needs and desires. Use the MoSCoW method to assess your business criteria based on must-have, should have, could have, and won’t have parameters.
Considering each aspect in detail will help surface the eCommerce success factors for your business. Be sure that you are clear on your business requirements and have a solid understanding of customer needs and desires. And don’t just guess — conduct stakeholder meetings, surveys, and several brainstorming sessions with different departments in your organization. That way, you’ll be able to assess each of the following factors through a customer-centric lens.
1. Cost of Ownership
The first thing to consider when assessing each eCommerce platform is the price. Whether you’re a small business just getting started or an already established brick and mortar store moving online, you need to understand the full cost of each platform.
Almost all platforms will have a monthly fee. There are also processing costs associated with each platform. Don’t sacrifice the things you’ll need for a lower price. Weigh the pros and cons of each to get the best value for your budget.
Finally, be sure to consider how your customers will pay for your products to help assess opportunity costs. For example, some platforms don’t offer payment via third-party vendors (such as PayPal). This can end up being a huge inconvenience for your customers — a frustration that can lead to shopping cart abandonment.
|Platform||Free Trial||Starting From*||Who’s it for?|
|Shopify||Yes||$29/month||Relatively small/starter stores with less than 100 SKUs|
|BigCommerce||Yes||$29.95/Month||Business owners and new store builders|
|Volusion||Yes||$26/month||Starter stores and hobbyists|
|WooCommerce||Free||Free||Bloggers who launch a shop; starter stores|
|Magento||Demo||$14/Month||Larger, more complex enterprise stores|
* Prices as of 2019
- What are the platform’s licensing fees?
- Are there transactional/commission-based costs?
- How long is the contract?
- What are the hosting costs?
- What are the one-off and subscription costs for add-ons?
- What is the estimated development and implementation cost?
- What are the maintenance costs?
- What is the estimated lifespan?
- What is the estimated annual cost of the platform?
Another critical factor to consider when evaluating eCommerce platforms is integrations and plugins. Not all platforms offer every integration, so be sure you understand your business requirements to assess the available features and functions properly.
Here are some of the most popular plugins to look for:
Delivers financial information, including sales, taxes, revenues, and profits.
- Email Marketing:
Empowers you to keep in contact with your customers.
- Customer Loyalty Programs:
Allows you to reward your customers for using your products and repeat purchases.
- Payment & Shipping:
Makes it simple and accurate for you to process payments and ship products.
- 3rd Party Digital Tools:
Facilitates easy integration with tools like marketing automation systems, CRMs, and ERPs; allows for additional customization.
3. Themes & User Experience (UX)
When you think about the most popular digital companies, who springs to mind? Airbnb? Lyft? Netflix? Elegant in their simplicity, welcoming interfaces, and myriad choices, they work hard to deliver an excellent, intuitive UX.
Research shows that in 2020, a brand’s quality of user experience became more important than price and product as a critical differentiator. Today’s consumers aren’t just looking to buy products — they want to shop in engaging, immersive environments.
A theme defines your online store’s design, and most eCommerce platforms offer a variety of options to choose from. Some themes are free with the subscription, while others are premium and require an additional fee to use. It’s worth the investment to stand out from the competition, as a well-designed experience is key to turn browsers into buyers.
4. Headless Commerce Support
Today’s shoppers consume content and make purchases through a wide variety of digital touchpoints, from smart wearables to voice-assisted devices, progressive web apps, etc. This puts the burden on the eCommerce platform to keep up.
Your ability to stay on point and deliver a seamless shopping experience across all devices relies on headless commerce. Headless commerce decouples the front-end user experience (the “head”) from the back-end. By passing information between the front-end and back-end layers through application programming interface (API) calls, developers can engineer fast, dynamic, personalized UX.
The most popular eCommerce platforms make it easy for you to deliver an omnichannel experience that engages customers where they are, whenever they want to shop. This helps you build customer trust and gives your brand a competitive advantage.
For more details about headless eCommerce, download our guide, “Headless Commerce: The Stepping Stone to Omnichannel Retailing.”
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5. eCommerce Platform Speed & Scalability
In the age of “Micro-moments” — what Google defines as “an intent-rich moment when a person turns to a device to act on a need to know, go, do, or buy — your platform must deliver a lightning-fast experience. And this has to remain consistent as you scale and grow the business.
While it’s not simple to evaluate platform performance and scalability, you can look at where the holes might be, from slow load times to frozen pages, 404 errors, and other sluggish performance indicators. Understanding how many customers the platform can handle simultaneously at peak traffic times — how it scales horizontally and vertically — and reviewing typical site speed is a critical part of your assessment.
Our advice is to seek out a cloud-hosted, scalable solution with out-of-the-box features and functionalities that satisfy your growing business’s needs from day one. Things like advanced caching methods and the ability to automatically purge content when updating product descriptions are also worth considering.
- How does the platform handle scaling?
- When you make updates, what does the delay look like?
- Can you update your store during peak periods?
6. Store Functionality & Ease of Use (Product Management System)
The Product Management System is the lifeblood of your business. Today’s admins need advanced eCommerce product management out-of-the-box to create a compelling shopping experience.
When assessing store functionality, it’s crucial to consider features and functions like the bulk product upload (CSV, Excel files), categorization, advanced features (i.e., wish list, product comparison, recently viewed), shipping options, and dynamic filters (i.e., sorting, price range, color, size, location, etc.). The more power the admin has to design a robust, dynamic store, the more opportunities to maximize revenue.
- Can you create different categories and easily map products to them?
- Does the platform allow you to map different shipping options with individual products?
- Can you bulk upload high-res product images?
- Are you able to create product variations and combinations based on color, size, etc.?
7. eCommerce Platform Security
Website security concerns are paramount in the digital age. Not only are there stringent global laws protecting consumer privacy, but a security breach can damage one of your most important assets: trust.
Security issues aren’t your fault, but they are, sadly, relatively common. A recent study shows the top types of online eCommerce frauds are identity theft (71%), phishing (66%), and account theft (63%). And in our research, we’ve found that security issues in the IT industry and entertainment industry are by far the most serious capability concerns at 51% and 44%, respectively, over things like digital vision and strategy.
Because you’re handling so much sensitive data, you must take a critical look at the security credentials of the eCommerce platform you’re considering for current needs and future growth. While all have some degree of protection built-in, many also offer extra security options like monitoring for DDoS attacks and fraud protection.
Also, check to see that the platform you select is Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliant. This set of requirements ensures that companies processing or transmitting credit card information maintain a secure environment. For example, we’re a PCI DSS Level 1 certified service provider — the highest level of certification for a service provider. This type of commitment by a provider signals a commitment to your data and security.
|Top eCommerce Security Threats & Issues||eCommerce Security Solutions|
|Financial fraud||Switch to HTTPS|
|Spam||Secure your servers and admin panels|
|Phishing||Payment gateway security|
|Bots||Antivirus and anti-malware software|
|DDoS attacks||Use firewalls|
|Brute force attacks||Secure your website with SSL certificates|
|SQL injections||Multi-Layer security|
|XSS||eCommerce security plugins|
8. Multiple Payment Gateways Support
Making it simple for customers to pay for your goods and services entails providing multiple options. This means your store has to be connected with a reliable, secure eCommerce payment gateway — a dedicated processor that safely moves funds from customers’ bank accounts into your own.
This sounds like a no-brainer, but the reality is, not all eCommerce platforms are compatible with every payment gateway. The most significant factor is geography — being able to localize the payment process is key.
While eWallets are seeing significant worldwide growth, they’re still not a dominant force in the payments realm. So make sure whatever platform you choose provides you with a wide enough variety of payment options to satisfy your primary customer base. Our research shows the following:
Know your customer is product marketing 101 nowadays. And personalization is the name of the game, as our research shows:
Thanks to machine learning and AI, you can offer your online buyers a personalized experience that elevates your site over all others. The most popular eCommerce platforms come equipped with a recommendation engine that dynamically shows shoppers items to purchase based on criteria that includes:
- Demographics: Age, sex, location, etc.
- Psychographics: Interest, personality, lifestyle
- Context: Includes type of device, time of day, weather, location, etc.
- Behavior: Recently viewed items, current searches, products in abandoned carts
- History: Previous purchases, old email interactions, loyalty program member
By considering a range of data points, the platform can deliver a personalized experience to the customer in real-time.
10. Mobile friendliness
With more and more digital communication and transactions happening through mobile ($432.24 billion in the US by 2022), merchants are increasingly looking at platforms that provide a mobile-ready experience for their online store.
This is especially true in our post-pandemic world. A significant portion of online shopping for various products, from groceries to household goods, medicine, and other staples, is now done via smartphone. So make sure your design supports an intuitive, smooth customer journey. From design to navigation, layout, and general user experience, a well-designed mobile experience from beginning to end is critical.
11. SEO Friendliness
Search engine optimization (SEO) is one of the most critical factors in ensuring your store’s success. Organic SEO takes time to build, and the task is much easier when the platform you choose has best practices built-in — and makes keeping up with changes in Google’s algorithms a priority.
Not all eCommerce platforms are created equal when it comes to SEO, so it’s crucial you check to see what SEO capabilities are included, from simple options like updating metadata (tags, descriptions) and captioning/describing images to more advanced features like adding canonical tags and pagination in product search results.
- Can you add a custom domain name?
- Do you have access to the robot.txt file of the platform?
- Does the platform allow you to convert into SEO-friendly URL structures?
- Do you have access to update the XML sitemap?
- Can you integrate Google Analytics?
12. Order Management System (OMS)
A smooth, speedy order experience is a crucial aspect of your eCommerce experience. Research shows that over 80% of online shoppers expect regular communication about their orders. That means to be competitive, you’ve got to have an OMS that makes the process interactive, accurate, and transparent. Features to look for including order tracking, email notifications, and shipping service API, so you know that orders are processed accurately and on schedule.
Additionally, there needs to be seamless communication between your OMS and Inventory Management System (IMS) so shoppers can be sure items are in-stock and ready to ship. Other key integrations to look for include ERP and CRM solutions through API integration or plugin installation.
- How does the OMS help you achieve your business objectives?
- Can the OMS facilitate cross-border eCommerce orders and payments from any country/currency type?
- Does the OMS continually update based on evolving customer desires or needs?
- Does the OMS support inventory visibility and streamlined ordering from suppliers?
How Net Solutions Can Help
To choose an eCommerce platform for your business, it’s tempting to go for the most popular one or the one that seems to have the most bells and whistles. But don’t be swayed — the two most important factors in your selection process are your business objectives and your customer needs. The right platform is the one that has the features and functions you need most, with the flexibility to customize the experience to win and keep customers and sharpen your competitive edge.
At Net Solutions, we understand how important — and overwhelming— it can be to make this choice. For more than 20 years, we’ve been a trusted partner to global eCommerce startups and enterprises for more than two decades. We’re here to help you make the best decision for your business — not just the platform but also the eCommerce strategy necessary for your ongoing success.