6 key considerations when selecting the right eCommerce platform

It’s estimated that by 2021, Ireland’s eCommerce industry will be worth €14.1 billion. That’s double its current value and more than triple the €4.12 spent by online shoppers in 2012.


With a plethora of eCommerce platforms to choose from, it’s now easier than ever to create an online shopping experience for consumers. However, like everything else in life, too much choice can sometimes be a bad thing. Failure to choose the right eCommerce platform for your B2C eCommerce website could potentially damage your reputation as an online retailer and even deter consumers from visiting your physical store (if you have one).


The good news is choosing the right eCommerce platform is easy once you have an eCommerce strategy that clearly outlines your business requirements. And while web developers can advise you on the best platform to suit your business needs, it’s always best to research your options first.


Key Considerations  


Before discussing the various types of eCommerce platforms on offer, let’s talk criteria. Identifying what you want may seem like an obvious first step but oftentimes it’s not given enough thought. Knowing your requirements will keep you focused during the selection process and will eliminate options that simply won’t fulfil you business needs.


Whether you’re new to the world of online retail or are an established merchant, looking to change to another eCommerce platform, the following factors should be taken into consideration before you start browsing your options


1. Inventory & Product Catalogue


How many products do you want to sell online? Do you intend on displaying your full inventory or just a sample of your products? Whatever you decide, it’s important to remember that not all platforms will support large quantities of stock.


Another important consideration is the type of products you intend on selling. Are they digital or physical? Do they need to be shipped? How do you want to display them? How much information will you be providing for the customer? How easily can you collate product data?


If your product catalogue is broad or complex,you may want to include categories and subcategories to help the customer navigate the site more easily.


Remember, in physical stores, shoppers are presented with the full stock on the shop floor.They have the freedom to pick up items, feel them and look at them from different angles. This is a distinct advantage. Your online store needs to get as close to this experience as possible and your product catalogue plays a pivotal part in achieving this goal.


If you’re a fashion retailer for example, you may want to consider uploading the photos from several angles, including a 360 image viewer or even a video.


2. Integrations


Another factor which needs careful consideration is integration. As a business, you will already have a number of systems in place for back end data sources and business processes such as product information management, web content management, payments, invoicing and reporting. When you are selecting an eCommerce platform, you need to consider how it will manage and support these. Seamlessly integrating these systems with your eCommerce platform will allow information to become more centralised, thus enabling the smooth operation of your business.


With an array of plugins and integrations available, you should do an audit of your existing back end data and business processes before checking which extensions, plug-ins and add-ons an eCommerce platform can offer.


3. Scalability


Your online store needs to deliver a consistent experience, whether it’s serving five concurrent users or 5,000 concurrent users. If you’re an established online seller, then you should be able to predict seasonal traffic and therefore have time to prepare your eCommerce environment. But of course, there’ll be periods when unforeseen traffic comes your way. Similarly, if you’re a first time eCommerce merchant, then you may not know what levels of traffic to expect.


Sluggish load times, frozen pages and error messages are sources of frustration for the customer and will drive them way. Handling peak traffic is therefore a critical component of a good eCommerce website and it’s important to consider a platform that supports vertical and horizontal scaling.


How many transactions do you anticipate receiving on a daily, weekly and monthly basis? It’s difficult to say how many connections a site can handle without performing tests but it’s wise knowing the limitations of a system. A platform that offers real time performance monitoring will help you prepare.



4. Payment


How you accept payment is a critical consideration when it comes to planning your eCommerce website.


Without going into too much detail, as eCommerce payment options warrant a whole other blog post, you essentially have two choices. The first is to use a merchant service provider, such as AIB Merchant Services, with a payment gateway/ single payment service provider (PSP) such as Realex or Sage. This option involves the payment gateway /single PSP authorising a credit or debit card payment before processing it securely with your merchant account.


The second option is to use a 3rd party or dual PSP which enables you to accept online payments without your own merchant account.  Popular examples include Paypal and Stripe.


To help guide your decision, you need to consider a couple of factors. The first is customer payment experience. The payment solution you choose should be smooth, reliable and secure. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and imagine you’re at the checkout. What aspects of the payment process would cause you to abandon your shopping basket or browse elsewhere? Maintaining customer trust is key and choosing the wrong payment solution will affect your security level.


Another key consideration is fees. Single play and 3rd party PSPs charge differently, and  and you need to think about the impact these fees will have on your business from a financial and administrative perspective.


Finally, if you’re shopping around for a new eCommerce site as opposed to creating your first online store, bear in mind that not all eCommerce platforms favour 3rd party payment PSPs. Changing providers is difficult to do so if you’ve been using Paypal and want to continue using it on your new platform, check if its compatible.  


5. Features


If you are planning your first eCommerce site, then the thought of choosing features for your site might be daunting. But as a consumer, it’s likely that you’ve encountered several already whilst shopping online and have a good idea of what you like and don’t like.


Wish lists, customer reviews, responsive design and product filters are just some features on offer, but they don’t come with every eCommerce platform on the market.


Open source and proprietary eCommerce platforms allow you to customise the design and functionality to meet your requirements. Whereas hosted platforms are more basic and have limited features.


Think about the service you would like to provide your customers with and make a list of must have and like to have features that you think will help drive sales. Of course the more sophisticated features generally come with a higher price tag, which leads us nicely into our last consideration.



6. Budget


Ah money, everyone’s favourite subject.


When it comes to software, budget dictates everything. And while there is an eCommerce solution out there to suit all business needs, the capabilities offered by eCommerce platforms vary largely depending on price.


In addition to the price tag assigned to eCommerce platforms, you also need to take payment fees for your service providers, internal and external developers and marketing costs into account. Having a budget is imperative.


If budget is tight, you might consider selling your product through an online marketplace like Amazon, Etsy or eBay. The main advantage to this is you get to reach a wide audience without investing too much in time or money. These established sites already attract millions of customers, so even if competition is high, you are still being seen. 


Chances are though, if you’re reading this blog post it’s because you want to create – or update – your own eCommerce store.


Different types of eCommerce platforms


Budget and requirement dependant, you have four types of platforms to choose from:


Hosted Platforms


These are essentially Software as a Service (SaaS) platforms. You pay the vendor a subscription for the service and they handle the infrastructure, hosting and support for you.


Vendors typically offer tiered pricing for scaling, depending on your needs and requirements and for this reason, small companies and startups are most drawn to SaaS platforms. However, despite the fixed rate for hosting and support, you can expect to pay feature add-on fees, product limit fees and in some cases, selling fees.


Examples of hosted platforms include Shopify, Magento Go, BigCommerce and Volusion.


Open Source Platforms


Unlike hosted platforms, the code is fully accessible with open source platforms, meaning you can custom design your eCommerce site and integrate third party systems with it if required.


This type of platform, also known as self-hosted, can be set up anywhere and is free to download. However, bear in mind that costs are incurred when it comes to installation, initial development and customisation of your platform.


Businesses that have special data needs and/or have a large volume of products to sell are best suited to this type of eCommerce platform.


Examples include Magento, WooCommerce, Opencart and ZenCart.


Proprietary platforms


Proprietary platforms (also known as licensed and enterprise platforms) are hosted on a merchant’s own server or at a hosting company. They are possibly the most flexible and powerful shopping carts available and as a merchant, you’re fully in control and can run the platform as you want with high performance and data security.


With licensed platforms, you pay a fixed price license fee and get access to a development toolkit which enables you to customise and installation. However, the initial start up costs are high and constant maintenance is required.


Examples include SAP Hybris, Magento (Enterprise) and Shopify Plus.


Bespoke Platforms


A bespoke platform is built from scratch to fit an individual company’s unique requirements. Naturally, this is the most expensive option as it allows for full control over development and intellectual property. In general, companies with a niche eCommerce requirement, such as betting agents, will choose this option.


Final Thoughts


Selecting the right eCommerce platform for your business is not an easy task, but taking the time and effort to evaluate what you need will make the selection process easier.


Remember to get input from the entire team and to keep the customer and future goals at the forefront. Your chosen eCommerce platform should support you through every stage of your eCommerce journey.


We have successfully delivered eCommerce solutions for many of Ireland’s best known retailers. We specialise in the development of Magento and WordPress based eCommerce solutions and are experts at integrating eCommerce websites with Point of Sale (POS), inventory and accounting systems.  If you would like more information on the services we provide and how we can fulfil your eCommerce needs, please visit our website or email communications@softwaredesign.ie.