The global pandemic saw the closure of many physical shopfronts in 2020-2021, resulting in some businesses making the move to online for the first time. However, for most modern retailers, eCommerce has been a key channel for many years. By the end of 2021, global eCommerce sales have been projected to approach $5 trillion, with year-on-year growth predicted to continue.
But with so many online shop/eCommerce hosting options at your disposal, how do you find the best eCommerce platform for your site? Here, we explain the main benefits of eCommerce platforms, and how to decide on the best type of platform for your business.
Why use an eCommerce platform?
Consumers know they have a wealth of options when it comes to making a purchase, which means they tend to favour convenience and quality over anything else. In Australia and New Zealand, 1 in 3 consumers reported a willingness to choose their second-choice brand over their first choice, just because it appeared first in online search engine results (Think With Google, 2021).
For business owners, this means you need to make your digital presence known and give your customers the option to buy your products or services online. The bottom line: if you don’t have an eCommerce platform, you will ultimately lose out to your competitors.
eCommerce platforms are the backbone of every online business, but they are also becoming increasingly central to more traditional business types. Both B2B and B2C companies must invest in the right software to better interact with their customers and boost overall sales.
The good news is that eCommerce has come a long way in recent years. In the past you would have needed to create a dedicated online shopping platform from scratch, there are now many eCommerce hosting platforms available, which are easy to set-up and manage.
With so much choice, however, comes the challenge of finding the best match for your business.
Different types of eCommerce platforms
There are plenty of eCommerce platforms that will allow you to jump straight in and launch your online store, however they aren’t all created equal.
Generally, you will need to make a choice between two different types of platforms: open source and software-as-a-service (SaaS).
Open-source eCommerce platforms are for the more tech-heavy businesses that want to introduce their own code and create an entirely unique online-shopping experience. They can be cloud based or on-premise, and they will allow you to customise every part of the platform. If you aren’t confident in your own coding and development capabilities, this duty should fall to a member of your IT team or a dedicated web design and development agency with experience in eCommerce platforms.
Because of their overall complexity compared to an SaaS alternative, open-source eCommerce platforms are usually reserved for large brands who don’t want to be seen as offering a ‘cookie-cutter’ shopping experience. Open-source platforms, however, are also much more expensive to develop and maintain. It may take several weeks or months to get the platform from ideation to implementation, even with the help of a dedicated agency—depending on the size and scope of the project.
SaaS solutions such as Shopify, on the other hand, are hosted in the cloud and much more user-friendly for the average business owner. Rather than developing everything from scratch, you get to ‘rent’ the platform, which makes it a cheaper option and will allow your store to go live much more quickly than if you chose an open-source provider.
5 things to consider before choosing an eCommerce platform
Before you start compiling a list of the top eCommerce platforms, take some time to look inward and uncover exactly what your business needs. Here are five questions to ask:
- What’s my budget? Your budget will need to cover a range of factors – not just the platform itself. This could include everything from web design to security, hosting fees, maintenance, licensing, programming, chat functionality and more. If you can’t take on the constant care and maintenance that an eCommerce store requires, consider speaking to a development and design agency for an ongoing management quote. This can help you save in the long-run, as you ensure that your strategy is continually in line with the changing needs of the digital customer.
- What functionalities do I want my store to have? Some functionalities on an eCommerce store come as standard in the digital age: think social media integration and flexible payment options like Afterpay and ZipPay. Other functionalities will be specific to your niche or industry, so it’s a good idea to consider how your customers shop. For example, a local GP practice website will require a booking form function. A clothing store, on the other hand, will not—but could benefit from a live customer support chatbot.
- Will I need to factor in future growth? It’s a good idea to consider how many products or services you sell, and whether these needs will change in 6-12 months. If you only have a handful of products, you should be able to find success with most eCommerce platforms. However, if you offer a large range or plan to expand your online offering, you’ll want to avoid any platforms that have low SKU restrictions. This will hamper how many products you can sell online. Make sure you choose an eCommerce platform that allows you to scale up, as it is able to handle a growing business.
- What about customer service? Even the best eCommerce platforms can run into issues from time to time. Whether it’s a patch you need to download, issues with checkout or technical difficulties, you’ll want a provider that offers great customer service. Because of the 24/7 nature of eCommerce, many businesses prefer to outsource their web development to dedicated agencies with the support of a dedicated account manager. Any potential issues can either be dealt with by specialists before they impact you and your business—meaning you can focus on your business, not your eCommerce platform.
Different eCommerce platforms suit different industries
Unfortunately, no eCommerce solution will meet the needs of every business across every industry. You’ll need to do your own research to find a platform that fits the needs of your growing business, or speak to a specialist digital marketing agency familiar with the nature of your industry online
The type of eCommerce platform that will best meet your business’ needs will depend on a variety of factors. Make sure you take the time to do your due diligence and speak to an expert about your options. Vine Digital is a highly experienced digital marketing agency, well versed in the world of eCommerce and its effect on health and fintech industries. We can help optimise your website, boost your audience, and much more. Contact us today or call (02) 8006 8100.