How to Choose the Right Ecommerce Platform For Your Business

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Picking the right eCommerce platform for your business is a big decision. We work with thousands of merchants as they’re evaluating eCommerce platforms and we want to share some of what we’ve learned to help you in your decision making process.  

The first thing you’ll want to realize is that there’s no perfect eCommerce platform. Your decision comes down to the trade-offs you’re willing to make.  

You’ll also want to evaluate this decision through the lens of your long-term business strategy. Moving platforms can be time-consuming and expensive depending on the platform you choose and the amount of data that needs to be migrated. Oftentimes it’s a better overall decision for a new business to start on a platform that’s a little more powerful than they need so that there’s room to grow as the business evolves.

For an established business, this decision will be informed by other factors. For example, perhaps their current platform lacks key features and capabilities they now need or maybe they’re looking to reduce the cost and complexity of running their online store. 

Either way, let’s take a closer look at some of the criteria you’ll want to consider when selecting an ecommerce platform for your business.  

Hosted (SaaS) or Non-Hosted (Open Source)

We’ve gone in-depth on this topic in the past, so we won’t cover it too deeply here. The simple answer is the following: 

  • Non-hosted platforms makes sense if you have a large budget, technical resources and need some type of customization that’s not possible on a hosted platform
  • If you would rather focus your time and money on managing and growing your business vs. managing technology,  take a long, hard look at a hosted eCommerce platform

For more information on choosing between hosted and non-hosted platform check out our blog post: SaaS vs. Open Source: Which Is Right For Your Ecommerce Business

Designing Your Store    

Your site design is going to play a key role in communicating your brand and persuading shoppers to buy from you, so it pays to pick a platform with flexibility for your design needs today and in the future. Design tools fall into two buckets across all eCommerce platforms: 

Templates with Custom Code

Almost every platform uses this approach with varying degrees of complexity. Within this design paradigm you use a template (free and paid options exist) designed for your platform as a starting point. It will be pre-filled with images and text that you can swap out with your content.

If you want to make any customizations to the template you will either need to write custom code or hire someone to do it for you. Some of the more entry-level eCommerce platforms do allow you to modify fonts, font sizes and colors of the theme with WYSIWYG tools, but everything else requires code. 

Templates with Drag-and-Drop Design Tools

Forgive us for being self-promotional here, but this is the bucket Zoey falls into and we’re the only ecommerce platform with this functionality. Here you use a template (all of ours are free) as a starting point. If you like the template and don’t want to change anything, just add your images and other content.

If you do want to make changes, you can use our drag-and-drop tools to customize your design without writing any code. Almost every element in our templates is customizable. This is a great approach if you want to control your design but don’t know how to code or do not want to hire a developer or agency to do it for you. 

Product and Category Tools

Every online store revolves around products and categories. As a result, you’ll want to spend some serious time looking at the product and category tools of the platforms you’re evaluating. Here are some major things to look at:

  • Ease of Use – Would you feel comfortable using the product creation and management tools on a daily basis?
  • Flexibility – How limiting are the tools? Can you create multiple product types (simple, configurable, downloadable, etc. ) or are you just limited to one? Are you limited in the number of product attributes or variants you can create? Does this limit negatively impact your ability to present your products to shoppers?
  • Conversion Rate Optimization – Do the tools offer features that can improve your conversion rate like swatches or layered navigation (faceted search)?
  • Sales – Does the platform support product cross-sells and up-sells? If it does, how much flexibility do you have over their configuration? These features can be key sales tools if used correctly.

Remember, what you need now and what you’ll need in the future are two very different things. Be sure to account for future needs in your decision. 

Integrations With Third-Party Apps and Services

No ecommerce platform comes out of the box complete so you’ll want to take a look at the apps and other services that integrate with each platform. If you’re an existing business that relies heavily on a single application, you will want to be sure it works with the platform you’re evaluating. If you really like an ecommerce platform, but it doesn’t integrate with an app you’re using, consider asking if they work with an alternative app. You could find something that works just as well (or better) for your needs. 

Major categories of integrations you’ll want to look at include:

  • Marketing and Sales – email marketing, marketing automation, recommendation engines, customer review tools and advertising integrations
  • Fulfillment and Logistics – order management tools, 3PL or warehouse software, shipping rate calculation tools and shipping carrier integrations
  • Finance – accounting software, payment gateways and sales tax tools
  • Customer Service – live chat and customer service software
  • Marketplace Integrations – software that connects your store to eBay, Etsy, Amazon and other places
  • Omnichannel – point of sale solutions, inventory management tools and ERPs
Technical Resources 

Evaluating the amount of technical resources required to build your online store and manage it on an ongoing basis is going to be a critical part of your decision. In general, this question goes back to whether you’ve picked a hosted or a non-hosted platform.

Unless you’re very non-tech savvy, a hosted platform is not going to require a lot of technical resources to build on and manage. That’s the value of a hosted platform – you don’t need to worry about hosting, security, uptime, setting up complex integrations and other tasks. The big caveat here is around design. Even if you’re on a hosted platform customizing your design is going to require hiring at least a developer, or more commonly, a team composed of a designer, developer and project manager.

Once your custom design is live a non-technical user should be able to manage a hosted platform on an ongoing basis, but design updates will typically require working with a developer again. 

Due to their complexity a non-hosted platform is going to require significantly more technical resources to build on and run on an ongoing basis. It’s really not possible to use one of these platforms if you’re not a developer or you don’t have the budget for a development team. For a deep-dive into the specifics of using a non-hosted platform, check out our blog post: SaaS vs. Open Source: Which Is Right For Your Ecommerce Business.   

The Cost of Launching an Online Store   

Cost as it relates to ecommerce platforms can be bucketed into a few big areas: 

Design and Copywriting
  • Will you use a free template or buy a premium one?
  • Will you make additional customizations to the template and will this require hiring a developer or a designer and developer team?
  • Do you have professional product photos? If not, will you take these yourself or hire a professional?
  • Will you write the copy for your site pages and product descriptions or hire a professional to do it?
Platform Fees 
  • If you’re evaluating hosted platforms, what is the monthly or annual fee for their service?
  • If you’re evaluating non-hosted platforms, how much will you need to pay for hosting, monitoring, security and other services related to running your site?
  • Does the platform charge a transaction fee on top of the credit card rate charged by your payment provider?
Integrations 
  • How many apps and integrations will you need to run and market your business effectively?
  • What is the credit card rate charged by your payment provider?

Note: sometimes platforms seem very affordable, but they require multiple paid apps to build even the most basic online store. In these instances, you will get more value and you won’t have to manage as many different service providers if you go with a platform that has a higher monthly fee but requires fewer apps. 

At the end of the day, your decision should come down to finding a platform that delivers the right balance of functionality and cost. If you’re already selling online, you’ve likely identified some issues with your current platform so you’ll want to ensure those are addressed with your new one. If you’re starting a new online store, consider choosing a platform that’s more powerful than you need right away so that you have room to grow and don’t need to move just a few months after opening your store.  

Looking for a platform that balances the power of an enterprise solution like Magento with the ease of use of a modern, hosted platform? Consider Zoey by starting your 14-day free trial today! 

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