When you sell anything on the web, yours is an e-commerce company, so choosing the right e-commerce platform – the software or service by which you sell to others via a desktop browser, mobile device or app – is the basis of your entire business. At a minimum, that platform will need to present items and allow customers to purchase them from your site. But there are five important questions to ask when deciding on a platform for your e-commerce store.
1. Flexibility: How flexible does your service or product require your sales process to be?
If you have a service that requires a special process during checkout (perhaps multiple steps or some sort of validation), you should choose an e-commerce platform that is flexible enough to handle any level of activity, from the simplest to the most complex. You should also consider flexibility in terms of the customer experience. Ask your vendor or implementor about those options and what they will cost, as well as any examples they can provide.
2. Investment: How much do you plan to invest in your first platform?
The amount of your investment will be driven, to a large extent, by your choices regarding scalability, integration and software, which are discussed below. Regardless, you will still need to decide if you want to pay a monthly service fee for a web-based platform, which may become more expensive as your site grows; spend nothing on an installed e-commerce solution that resides on a free hosting server like ours; or reach deep into your pockets to fund a familiar, yet expensive, platform that does everything the way you’re used to.
3. Scalability: When (if ever) do you plan to totally rebuild your site?
“Don’t build to scale” is an oft-cited mantra of lean business, and is good advice to follow when trying to anticipate the level of traffic your site will receive, especially in the beginning. You’re more likely to over-build your site to accommodate customers that are slow to come than you are to under-build and end up with more customers than you expected. With that in mind, you’ll need to decide if you want to use an e-commerce platform that will take you only through your first year or so (planned obsolescence included), or select one that can be scaled for use over the next 5-10 years.
4. Integration: Does the platform require integration with many external vendors and services?
Some popular platforms provide an extensive library of “plugins” which help you connect your site to credit card processors, fraud identifiers, address validators, tax calculators, shipping companies, etc. Others will require you to build these yourself, which is very expensive and time consuming. Find out what integrations you will need and if your platform will support them.
5. Software: Do you need to use a particular library or software language?
If you don’t know much about computer languages, no need to worry. Those languages, however, are dialects of the computer code with which your platform is built, so if you already have components you would like to use, this language becomes an important consideration. If unsure, reach out to us to discuss – we’re always happy to help.
These are just some of the items we see clients wrestle with in their first 1-3 years of e-commerce life. While the needs of every business and every entrepreneur are different, we really like WordPress e-commerce solutions for very new and lean startups. Later, you can migrate to a more specialized platform in a planned, orderly fashion when there’s a business case and the time is right. Now is the right time to continue the conversation about this or any other topic. We’re building a startup community to help you connect to other entrepreneurs and be more successful. Join us!