Summary: To stay competitive you need to deliver quality. That calls for improved technology, more so in the online retail sector. Increased customer expectations & demands require enviable shopping experiences, the right products, and order fulfillment. This write-up takes you through finding and selecting the right eCommerce platform.
If there were any questions that eCommerce is here to stay, COVID-19 and the global pandemic in 2020 have ended that debate. McKinsey calls it “the great consumer shift” and points out:
“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. For all that was always said about the prominence of eCommerce earlier, it used to be one tiny fraction of the total retail revenue. All this changed with Covid-19. Data on shopping behavior in the US shows that consumers shifted to e-commerce channels by nearly 30 percent, increasing the sector’s growth.
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 start-up 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. After 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 best eCommerce platforms mean 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 the best eCommerce platform
As you market your goods and services, eCommerce platforms are experts in framing and conveying their offerings. Yet selecting 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.
Primarily, you must help customers engage with the brand and manage your cost-sales ratio. You also must ensure that the employees have full support for implementing sales & marketing strategies.
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.
Choosing the best eCommerce platform for your business starts with understanding your digital commerce 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.
Start by listing down and gaining clarity on which segment of consumers you are catering to. Every business type and every consumer segment will need a different platform – this spells out your segment choice from B2B or B2C. Your goals and targets for the business will decide the platform you choose. For example, a business in its nascent stage doesn’t need the platform the same as a business in its expansion stage – hence you will make your choices accordingly.
The following content gives you an idea about the factors to consider while ensuring that yours is one of the best eCommerce platforms. There are also some questions about specific aspects you can ask yourself while doing so.
1. Hosting and Platform ownership
eCommerce platforms can be self-hosted or on the cloud. In the former, you must find the hosting, deal with the installation, and look after the updates yourself. This could become expensive sometimes. The advantage is greater control over the online platform and better security management. Plus, you can view your data more visibly.
For a cloud-hosted platform, you can get hosting for our website via solutions like AWS (Amazon Web Services), implying that the cloud platform manages the brand uptime. The costs are lower, and the customer support is better, but you will have less control over the servers. It isn’t possible to mold the server to your specific needs.
In terms of platform ownership, you can have Open-Source,SaaS, or Headless platforms.
With Open-Source platforms (WooCOmmerce and Magento, for example), you can have better control and ownership since the source code is not only accessible but can be modified too. You would be responsible for web hosting, security issues, integrations (say, with CRM, CMS, or ESP), and analytics. Development or IT-infused businesses would prefer these kinds of platforms.
However, you cannot update or use any method to change features. They could also become too cumbersome and expensive to maintain. They demand too much technical knowledge too.
SaaS eCommerce solution means that you are renting a platform. Which essentially means it is a cheaper option than open-source solutions. Updates, security, hosting, and other software management tasks are all left to the SaaS provider. The go-to-market time also is faster. But the lack of flexibility and customization is a matter of concern.
Today’s shoppers consume content and purchase through 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 an application programming interface (API) calls, developers can engineer fast, dynamic, personalized UX.
The best 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.
Headless Commerce provides a faster go-to-market time with a significant cost reduction.
For more details about headless eCommerce, download our guide, “Headless Commerce: The Stepping Stone to Omnichannel Retailing.”
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2. Cost of Ownership
Pricing is one of the first things to be considered when assessing each eCommerce platform. Whether you’re a small business just getting started or an already established brick-and-mortar store moving online, you need to understand the total cost of each platform.
Almost all platforms will have a monthly fee. There are also processing costs associated with each platform. The initial and ongoing costs must be considered while making your choices. Don’t sacrifice the things you’ll need for a lower price. Weigh the pros and cons to get the best value for your budget.
Finally, 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 be 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 does 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?
Integrations and plugins are other critical factors when evaluating if your platform is one of the best eCommerce platforms. Not all platforms offer every integration, so be sure you understand your business requirements to assess the available features and functions correctly.
Here are some of the most popular plugins to look for:
- Accounting: Delivers financial information, including sales, taxes, revenues, and profits.
- Email Marketing: It empowers you to keep in contact with your customers.
- Customer Loyalty Programs: This allows you to reward customers for using your products and repeat purchases.
- Payment & Shipping: This 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.
4. 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 will become 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 vital to turn browsers into buyers.
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. Select a platform that grows with your business to be one of the best eCommerce platforms.
While evaluating platform performance and scalability is not simple, 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 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. Also, ensure good customer/technical support to your users.
- How does the platform handle scaling?
- When you update, 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 to make the best eCommerce platforms, 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 other shipping options with individual products?
- Can you bulk upload high-res product images?
- Can you 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 essential assets: trust.
Security issues aren’t your fault, but they are 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 and entertainment industries are the most severe 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.
Ecommerce owners should be particular about ensuring PCI compliance, SSL, and secure data backups.
Also, check that the platform you select is Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliant. These requirements ensure 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
It is simple for customers to pay for your goods and services and provides numerous 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 that not all eCommerce platforms are compatible with every payment gateway. The most significant factor is geography — localizing 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 on b2b marketplace trends shows the following:
Knowing your customer is product marketing 101. 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 best eCommerce platforms come equipped with a recommendation engine that dynamically shows shoppers items to purchase based on criteria that include:
- 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.
With increasingly 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 stores.
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. The best eCommerce platforms will build a structure such that the 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.
Besides, the business needs to be able to offer products and services on multiple channels like Facebook, Instagram, Amazon, etc.
11. SEO Friendliness
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a critical factor for your store’s success, and the best eCommerce platform will build its infrastructure with due consideration to the SEO. 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. You must check 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 crucial to 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 include 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 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?
Some of the best eCommerce platforms: Examples
Choosing the best eCommerce platforms is difficult; you must look at several aspects. The most appropriate one will suit your functionality, budget, features, and security purpose. Though facet could be comparatively more or less in different platforms. Statista put the following numbers to the share of eCommerce platforms as of April 2021.
Later, Forbes Advisor put forward a rational comparative analysis of the various platforms in 2022. This is a helpful analysis and good to guide a potential user. The methodology of this analysis is pricing, features & functionality, ease of use, inventory management, and multichannel selling.
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 essential factors in your selection process are your business objectives and 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.
Euro Car Parts (ECP) had grown into the United Kingdom’s leading distributor of automobile parts. Yet, the company knew its weak online channel needed a solid e-commerce strategy. To sustain competition, the ECP e-commerce site needed a tech team to address some issues:
- Enabling the site to support mobile browsers
- Updating an outdated e-commerce site
- Fix broken connectivity with back-end systems.
Net solutions worked with the company for three business quarters, giving them customized solutions in line with their specific needs & issues. The new platform constructed supported a highly dynamic configuration engine.
ECP launched a new site in less than 30 minutes by selecting the desired features, products, etc. Existing properties were supported and maintained. The site was built on a single platform, thus enabling business units to receive relevant reports and data. Only the clean, high-level summaries were sent to the headquarters.
After the initial launch, the Net Solutions team migrated all of ECP’s properties and completely refreshed designs within six months. In the end, ECP’s willingness to be innovative, backed by Net Solutions’ problem-solving skills, transformed Euro Car Parts from a primarily brick-and-mortar retailer to an e-commerce powerhouse. You could read more about the ECP Story here to understand the nuances of our working capabilities.
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 start-ups and enterprises for over 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.
1. Which is the fastest growing eCommerce platform?
Iperiodriod of growing eCommerce, Shopify has gained the reputation of being the fastest growing platform. It is a unique retail eCommerce platform that works with the philosophy of building a democratic e-commerce ecosystem. It is good for large-scale businesses that want to excel further, as also small & medium-sized businesses. Since 2004, it has grown to over 5000 employees and expanded its business in 175 countries. In the third quarter of 2020, it showed a profit growth over the same period in 2019. The gross profits grew 61% – to $2,481.1 million in 2021, as compared to $1,541.5 million for 2020.
2. What are the categories of eCommerce?
There are different ways of classifying and naming eCommerce business setups. But general agreement says the following types of businesses exist – B2B (Business to Business), B2C (Business to Consumer), B2G (Business to Government), C2C (Consumer To Consumer), C2B (Consumer to Business), C2C (Consumer To Consumer) and B2B2C (Business to Business to Consumer). Besides, new words have been coined for m-commerce (mobile commerce) and Social Commerce (eCommerce through social media).
3. What do consumers look for in an eCommerce platform?
People across all geographical regions, genres, statuses, and incomes, look for common features in eCommerce platforms. They want it to be easy to use – functionality in the form of being intuitive, responsive, speedy, smooth in navigation, and optimized for mobiles. Users also want comprehensive details about products & services – they aren’t satisfied with short descriptions. They want accurate information, clear & descriptive fast-loading images, and a dynamic and fast on-site search. Keep a section for the ratings & reviews to build credibility.