10 eCommerce platform essentials

Choosing an eCommerce platform can be daunting, so here are the key things to look out for

Ecommerce has grown steadily over the last 10 years. Online sales climbed by nearly 15% last year, and it's predicted to keep increasing in the future.

If you're starting a wholesale or distribution business, you manufacture products, are in retail or provide services, an eCommerce site is crucial to capitalise on the explosion in online sales growth.

While you could hire a web development agency or your own in-house IT resource to get your business started online, those costs can inhibit your ability to grow rapidly. Opting for an already-developed eCommerce platform saves you time, money and increases your speed to market.

The stumbling block, however, is that there are lots of options available to you. So how do you know that you’re choosing the right one?

In this article, we’ve outlined the 10 essential things you’ll need to consider when you’re looking for the best fit eCommerce platform for your business.

So let’s have a look in more detail to help you get a better understanding of why this top 10 is so important.

ERP Integration

If you have an ERP system for your business, you should only consider eCommerce Platforms that can integrate with your existing ERP software. This will automatically transfer information between your online webshop, your ERP system and vice versa.

The result is a unified system that automates orders, order fulfilment, returns, provides real-time stock updates to shoppers, issues low stock alerts, provides full customer account information and a host of other benefits.

Third-Party Integrations

No matter which platform you’re looking at, it should allow you to use your favourite third-party tools, which will make the whole experience much more worth it.

Some third-party integrations that you should consider are:

  • Email Marketing - MailChimp, Campaign Monitor, Wufoo, etc.
  • CRM Integrations - HubSpot, Sugar, Zoho etc.
  • Payment Gateways - Stripe, PayPal, SagePay, WorldPay, etc.
  • Analytics & Reporting - Google Analytics, Google Search Console, Hotjar etc.

Platform Scalability

As you aim to grow your business, you should consider how a platform will allow you to scale over time. Be forensic in analysing potential eCommerce platforms.

Here are some questions to ask a potential provider:

  • How easy is it to add functionality to your eCommerce store to reach new markets?
  • Does it facilitate multiple languages, multiple currencies, and geo-located sites?
  • Does the platform have other add on solutions that can help your business grow e.g eProcurement tools or mobile apps?
  • Can you leverage the platform to add B2B, B2C or D2C channels?

SEO Friendliness

One of the greatest benefits of selling online is that you can be found by every person on the planet. Therefore, you want your products to be found when a customer is searching with intent.

That’s why you need to look extensively at the SEO features supported by the platform to boost your chances of being found online.

Supported features would need to include:

  • Meta tags, keywords, descriptions
  • Navigation architecture
  • Pagination
  • Ability to access and update XML
  • SEO friendly URLs
  • Captions and alt descriptions
  • Canonical tags
  • Schema markups
  • Redirections
  • Multimedia support
  • And more

Mobile Responsiveness

As most shoppers have become accustomed to shopping online using their smartphones, it’s of the utmost importance that an eCommerce platform is 100% mobile responsive.

This means your webshop can be used on desktop, laptop, tablet and smartphone with no compromise on user experience.

If the platform you are evaluating is not mobile-friendly, then you’re going to miss out on a lot of potential sales due to poor page layout and design.

Platform Types

There are three main types of an eCommerce platform which are on-premise, cloud-hosted, and SaaS. Each one of them has many benefits depending on the individual business use case.

With advances in technology, it’s now common that cloud-based or SaaS platforms are more popular due to the low cost of ownership. This is directly due to the cost of managing and maintaining an on-premise platform that isn’t future-proof, isn’t scalable and hasn’t got the agility of cloud or SaaS.

Even though an on-premise solution can give you complete control over security, hosting and the management of your platform, these systems significantly drain time, money and resources from your business.

Cloud eCommerce platforms are often assumed to be SaaS, but they’re not always. With a cloud platform that is not SaaS, you still have to undergo initial development and customisation as you would with on-premise or open-source platforms and while maintaining security and manually applying upgrades.

A SaaS eCommerce platform offers you the fastest route to market, as your platform is ready to roll out. You simply pay a monthly subscription fee for the platform and the eCommerce provider will take care of everything else for you such as hosting, security, maintenance, upgrades, and more.

All you need to do is add your logo, branding elements, corporate colours and start selling online.

Security

Online security is one of the most essential things you need to consider when choosing an eCommerce platform.

Even if you invest in the best possible solution, if your eCommerce is not secure, then your customers won’t buy from you as it will be flagged by search engines before they have the chance to make a purchase.

To achieve a high level of security for your eCommerce platform, you will need to familiarise yourself with the following things:

Note: Open-source software is more prone to cyber-attacks

Be sure to run through the above security list with any potential eCommerce provider.

  • Open-source or closed-source software
  • HTTPS support
  • SSL support
  • PCI compliance (for secure payments)
  • GDPR compliance (for compliance with EU regulations)
  • CCPA compliance (for California regulations)
  • ERP certification (if platform integrates with ERP software)
  • Regular security audits (to ensure the platform is always compliant)

Hosting

Hosting is essential if you want to offer customers a fast, reliable shopping experience with as little downtime as possible. Some eCommerce platforms are hosted out of the box, so you do not need to look for a hosting provider.

Not all eCommerce platforms offer to host though. In this case, some of the best hosting providers to look at are Amazon Web Service (AWS), Azure Web Services, and Google Cloud.

Our advice is that you should let the provider choice for you as they are the experts in this field, you should remain focused on growing your business as you are the expert.

Customer Service

No matter what eCommerce platform you end up choosing, it’s inevitable at some point you will need help with it. Make sure that the support team of the provider you choose is always available during your main business hours.

Ecommerce providers and in particular SaaS or cloud providers are truly global entities and may not be based in the same time-zone as you or offer around the clock support.

Business Alignment

Selecting an eCommerce platform means you’ll also be investing in a digital partner who will help shape the digital future of your business. You need to find a partner with who you can develop a close working relationship with to future-proof your business.

For this relationship to be a success, you should ensure that your business objectives align with the platform providers.

For example, you should ask the provider what their roadmap looks for the platform and if the platform is being developed to better serve B2B or B2C businesses. Having this information will go a long way to choosing the right eCommerce platform for your preferred route to market.

Choose the right eCommerce platform for your business

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of the ten essential things you need to consider when choosing an eCommerce platform and you have all the information you need to find an eCommerce platform that will digitally transform your business.

While many platforms may meet some of your requirements, not all of them will be sufficient. It depends on what you need, when you need it, how big your budget is and if the platform can future-proof your business.

A fit for purpose eCommerce platform should meet all the points mentioned as standard, allowing you to quickly disqualify the ones that can’t.

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