Building a successful ecommerce business is tough. Whether you sell a single product or multiple products as a reseller, wholesaler, or retailer, it’s pretty much a jungle out there – two-to-three million e-commerce websites around the globe. Let that sink in. Even if they are not direct competitors, they are still competing for consumer dollars.
You begin by building a website that you hope will attract, engage, and motivate your target customers – to look over what you offer, and ultimately make a purchase. That in itself is a daunting task. And then, there is all the content marketing, relationship building, maintaining a presence on social media, and more.
And there is also the big decision – which third-party platform will should you use?
An ecommerce platform is no more than a software that provides specific features and elements:
- The display and listing of products
- Allowing customers to “shop” and place items in a shopping cart
- Providing for customers to place and pay for their orders
- Collecting those payments through secure means
- Providing the “store” owner with all customer order information
Again, these are the basics. Different platforms can and do offer much more – marketing tools, design elements, automation, etc. The more features you want, obviously, the more expensive it becomes to use a specific platform.
Ecommerce platforms range from the highest amount of convenience, with the least amount of control, to the optimum of control, and far less convenience or automation.
Most ecommerce store owners want more than just the basic features, but which ones, and how much convenience are they willing to give up?
It’s a tradeoff. The more features you want, the more complicated it gets. Some platforms, for example, will use third-party apps that must be installed, involve monthly subscription fees, and then must be configured to work together. There’s a lot of individual control here, but certainly not convenience.
And given the magnitude of all of the available platforms. It’s easy to become confused about which platform you should choose.
Many ecommerce sellers skip the first step, set goals in terms of what they want in an ecommerce platform. And then, explore all your options.
As Ken Worthington, Marketing Director for the writing service Be Graded, states: “Deciding on the best platform for us has been a journey. When we first began, we were looking for the easiest solution, and it worked well for a while. As we grew, we kept adding fee-based features. Ultimately, we moved to another platform, and we may even do so again in the future. It is, I repeat, a journey.”
As you look at your options, and you have identified the features that are “must-haves,” you want to follow these three steps before you make a final decision.
Do Your Research
There’s a lot of hype out there, in the name of marketing. Here are some steps you can take to get to the truth.
Contact other ecommerce store owners about a specific platform and ask for their honest feedback.
Why did you choose [insert platform name]?
What features do you like the best?
What are the disadvantages?
Contact customer service reps. Ask lots of questions based upon what you need – pricing, scaling, and about how they will serve your needs and wants.
Do you want features that allow your customers to edit their orders?
Do you need automated emails that confirm orders and provide shipment tracking?
Are there automated customer service features?
Can you add a chatbot feature if you want?
Set Your Budget
If you are new “out of the gate” with your ecommerce store, you need to establish a budget. You should have a general idea if you have checked with other store owners and spoken with a rep from different platforms. Once you have stated the initial options you want, get a specific cost.
- Monthly flat subscription fee?
- Payment plans?
- What happens when you decide to scale?
If you don’t plan for these things in advance, you may be forced to change platforms in the future, and that can be a real hassle. And understand this: the platform is too important for you to cut corners.
Is the platform user-friendly?
Who is going to be managing your platform? Whether that user is you or a team member, everyone should feel comfortable in using the platform.
You want a streamlined process for both you and your customer. Consider all of the following:
- What technical skill does one need to use the platform?
- Is the platform capable of handling slight and significant modifications?
- Does the platform offer 24/7 support?
- What about analytics? Does the platform provide key reports that you will want?
Analyze Integrations/Plug-in Capabilities
You are more likely to use other third-party software as your business grows. Some of these might include:
- Plugins for managing your accounting, taxes, etc.
- Email marketing plugins
- Inventory management tools
There may be costs involved in adding integrations and plugins, and you need to research these for each platform you are considering.
Is the platform scalable?
Of course, you intend to grow. Be sure that the platform you choose will provide you with ease of scalability and avoid paying fees for features that you currently don’t need.
The Most Popular Platforms and their Pros & Cons
Part of the attraction of Woo Commerce is that it’s an open-source plugin that will integrate perfectly with WordPress websites. Right now, it is the most popular e-commerce platform (about 21% of all online stores use Woo Commerce). A basic version is free, and web hosting is quite reasonable and depends on the size of the store and the amount of traffic.
- Full customization is possible, as it is open source
- The basic core software is free
- Access to thousands of plugins, features, and tools through a strong develop community
- Analytics provided
- Unlimited number of products/categories
- Because it is a WordPress plugin, it cannot be used with any other type of website
- It does not offer hosting, so the store owner is responsible for hosting and security
- Scalability and multiple currency features are difficult
- Third-party plugins for additional features can become expensive
- Easy to install but scalability can be a problem if a business grows rapidly
You should choose WooCommerce if you already have a website and are looking to turn it into an online shop. With this plugin, you can either keep it simple or enjoy limitless customization. The platform also offers a solid set of SEO means.
This is the second most used platform and comes as a host too. It’s pretty comprehensive in terms of features and is used by some pretty major brands – Tesla and Penguin Books, for example. There is no free version, but the basic plan begins at $29.00/month.
- Shop owners have access to plenty of themes and fee-based app
- Supports a number of payment gateways
- Has user-friendly management
- Easy to set up and use
- Built-in cart abandonment tracking/recovery and inventory management
- Syncs with social media channels
- There is a 14-day free trial available
- Probably good for startups – easy setup and UI
- The cost of apps, tools, etc. can become high – some have one-time fees; others have a monthly subscription fee
- Shopify has its own coding language, and DIY changes can be a challenge
- There are transaction fees for most payment gateways
Shopify should be your choice if you are looking to get rid of the stress over technical maintenance and like to be on short terms with client support agents. If you want to experiment with design, however, it is likely only to be possible if you have an in-house team of developers.
Shopify also allows you to connect and manage your associated social networks.
Both WooCommerce and Shopify are an excellent option for a beginner as they offer an intuitive interface and extensive user base. There are many other platforms with wide variances in convenience, automation, and individual control. For the newbie, starting with a platform that is easy to set up and use, and that is budget-friendly, is probably the best initial investment. But you will be limited and will want to revisit your choice as you continue to grow.
For right now, these five steps should give you a better idea of what to do:
- Clearly define all of the essential features you need to start up.
- If the platform does not provide hosting, then be sure to find a host that is reliable and reputable. You don’t want customers to face navigational issues or lack of speed, etc.
- Think about the tradeoffs you will face with each platform – again, convenience, vs. control.
- Evaluate each possible provider in terms of features and price. For example, some are not responsive, and you certainly want customers to have access via their mobile devices.
- Take the trial period – test the waters before making a commitment
- Launch and continually look at other options as you scale.
We hope this helped, and we cannot wait to hear back from you, whether you decide to go with Woo or Shopify, know this, you are making a monumental step into the right direction. Good luck, and please do not hesitate to ask questions. We’ve been around the block once or twice, with years of ecommerce experience, we are here to help you succedd.