We could be really sneaky and take the easy route with this subject, and give you a nice long list of platforms to go and try, but frankly, that’s not going to help anyone – every business will have its own requirements and needs. This decision, is unfortunately, not a one size fits all: if you get a good idea of what you need first, it’ll be much less daunting when you start looking. We’re here to guide you through that decision making process, and hopefully make the choice easier!
Before diving into the world of e-commerce platforms, there’s a lot to consider. Not only will it give you a better idea of what to look for, but it should hopefully focus your search on only relevant packages, instead of trawling through the hundreds of available options!
Marketplace or site?
One of the first questions you should ask is whether you want to host your shop on an online marketplace, like ebay or Etsy, or have your own site. The answer should come from the type of product you’re supplying, as well as how big your budget is, and what you’re looking to get out of a site.
If you’re not a computer whizz, it might be easier to go for platforms with a wide range of pre-designed templates, and easy customisation options, especially if you don’t want to go through the hassle (and expense!) of hiring a designer to help you out. For those of you who know what you’re doing behind the scenes, you’ll have a wider range of options, especially when it comes to personalising it. Be careful not to set yourself too much of a challenge: your online shop should be making you money, not taking up all of your time.
The country you’re based in will also have an impact on what site you should go for: many American platforms will make it harder to sort out tax and VAT for UK based merchants, so check how this is put together before committing to anything.
As mentioned before, the type of product you’re selling will have a huge impact on what kind of platform works best for you. If you’re frequently updating your product list, a solution that enables easy data importing will be vital, whereas if your product rarely changes, a simpler platform will suffice.
The importance of your online shop to your business will be another major factor to consider. If you have a physical store, and your online version will be for customers further afield, it isn’t as important to get set up as if you’re relying fully on your website for profit. Decide how many conversions you expect to get on average, and then spend the appropriate amount of time and money on your online shop.
The variety of available platforms ensures that even businesses with the smallest (or non-existent) budgets will be able to find something suitable. If you really have nothing to spend, looking at sites like ebay may be a better choice, if your product is suitable. However, if your budget is limitless, why not hire a web design team and start your site from scratch?
The platforms popularity?
Although you want your site to look unique to you and your business, using a popular platform will be a great advantage to customers. A platform used by a huge range of companies will lead to a better user experience: if customers know their way around a site’s layout, they’re more likely to trust, and not abandon their cart at the last minute. Popularity is something to look for with e-commerce solutions: the more people who use it, the more likely it is to be getting good results.
Think about what will be the best way to sell your product, and what features you expect from an e-commerce solution.
Most platforms will have this as a feature, but double check this. It might not be something you want – but the peace of mind that a customer will receive communication even if they order while you’re in bed is worth it! There’s nothing stopping you sending a personalised message later on, or with the order. It might help to put yourself in your customers’ shoes - they would want an email with all the relevant information when making a purchase, and another one when the order has been dispatched, and they probably wouldn’t thank you for inundating their inboxes.
Some platforms have delivery options set up, but others require you to manually insert your preferred choice of courier. Decide which will suit your business and your customers best, and work to find a solution that fits best.
As mentioned before, many e-commerce solutions have a range of options to choose from when deciding on personalisation. Check how easy templates are to customise, and whether HTML can be rewritten. The easier and simpler it is to customise, the better: you want your store to look like yours, but without spending all of your valuable time on it. Keep in mind that your aim should be to make it easy to navigate as possible, and increase the user experience.
Some e-commerce solutions will include their own range of search engine optimisation tricks, and allow you to install Google Analytics. While a lot of your marketing will already have been planned, having a platform that tracks users and works well in the search engines will set you off on the right direction.
If you’re planning on expanding across different countries, adapting your site for language, shipping and currencies is vital. Some e-commerce solutions will host your shop in a variety of languages, meaning customers abroad will be able to get involved without having to run to translation tools.
Having a site that is mobile-friendly is something else you need to consider: some platforms offer this service, so if you think your audience is likely to browse for your product on a phone or tablet, ensure that you’re using a solution that will enable mobile-friendly shopping.
Whether this is stock lists or customer details, figure out the most efficient way for you to control your data. Do you want a quick upload button, or are you happy doing more of it manually? Have a browse through a couple of platforms to get a taste for the available options.
Having a brilliant website is one thing – but how can you ensure that the same level of customer service is applied from the top of your company, to your shop, and to your site? Next week we look at the importance of brilliant customer service in every aspect of your business.