When you’re deciding on which technology platform to select for your retail business, it’s vital that you pick one that is a reflection of your current abilities as a company, both resource wise and budget wise. Selecting a platform that will allow you to perform the functions of eCommerce with stability and the relative ease in your ability to grow online sales is extremely important.
Before going into how to select an eCommerce system, we need to identify the two main buckets of eCommerce systems you can go with, advantages and disadvantages in each, and compare platforms within each bucket.
Bucket 1: Software as a Solution (Saas) eCommerce platforms, such as Shopify, Volusion, and BigCommerce. These platforms charge a monthly fee, control the backend of the platform, and take a lot of the headache and up front cost out of creating an eCommerce website. If this is your first eCommerce site, we recommend Shopify to get off the ground quickly and with minimal headaches and cost. You can then work out the kinks and upgrade as the business grows.
Bucket 2: Self Hosted eCommerce platforms, such as Spree, Magento, or Drupal Commerce. These platforms are completely self controlled — you install them, and customize them however you’d like. The pitfalls are that you have no one to turn to except for your programming team and communities to help, however you do have full control over all aspects of the platform. These are typically best for more advanced startups who want to create a truly unique experience for their customers. We recommend Spree (Ruby on Rails) or Magento (PHP), although be warned: Magento is known for particularly long development cycles. These recommendations depend upon your programming resources and the company you’re working with.
If you’d like to view a side by side comparison of various eCommerce solutions, you can visit: http://ecommerce-software-review.toptenreviews.com/
Once you know what is out there, the next questions to ask yourself are ones pertaining to selecting the appropriate eCommerce system for your company. Some questions to ask yourself include:
Who is your target audience? If your target audience demands a high end, custom experience, you’ll need to have more control over the backend. This would lend itself to a Self Hosted eCommerce platform over a SaaS based solution.
What kind of funding / budget do you have? If you’re tight on funds, you should definitely go with a SaaS solution to begin with. Remember, you’re not just investing in your website, you’re investing in your marketing, social media outreach, product, etc. If you’re not well funded, be smart about your costs and start small. As you build up your business, you can always move into a self hosted solution if/when that makes sense. The added bonus is that if you’re really strapped for cash, you can buy a theme for the solution you choose, install it, and customize it yourself as desired. This lends itself to a templated look, but allows you to focus on content (great photography and copy) and best practices in marketing.
Do you need to integrate with any systems? Credit card processing is common on either SaaS or self hosted, so no issue there. Order fulfillment houses sometimes have integrations built, typically for Shopify and Magento. Keep a look out here, as this can be an added cost to build yourself if needed. Either way, you should have a real time integration with your fulfillment center, to save time and headache on inventory, so pay attention to this.
Once you select a technology package, being able to customize the front end can be very important as well.
Lastly, take a look at this video on eCommerce platform selection. In it, Cloud = SaaS, and In House = Self Hosted. It’s very informative and really points towards a Cloud / SaaS based solution as the best one, for multiple reasons. We agree, and have built many of our clients’ sites on Shopify with great success, both on the sales side and on the client management side.