Three questions to ask when choosing a new ecommerce platform

ecommerceWe make thousands of choices every day, from what to wear and what to have for breakfast, to more difficult decisions like how to impress the boss and how to meet impossible deadlines.

Choosing a new ecommerce platform is not an everyday decision, which means that if you do decide to make a change, you want to choose the right replacement, so you don’t have to worry about it for the next few years.

Before you start speaking to different ecommerce platform vendors, it’s good to first ask yourself and your team the following questions:

1. What do I want to achieve with the new platform?

Decide what you would get out of your ecommerce system in an ideal world. Don’t think about specific features, but rather about the broader picture. Determine if you want to specialize in a certain product range or become a multi-seller, if you want to focus on your local market or eventually go international. Figure out how your e-business fits into the broader picture of your company; if your website is your whole business, what is your ultimate goal for it?

Then look at your current platform and think of the issues that are preventing you from reaching your goals. These are the issues that need to be addressed first. Think about the following:

  • Payment methods: Be cognizant of your preferred payment methods, and whether they may be well-suited for one demographic (e.g. German clients), but not generally available in every ecommerce platform. You want a platform that offers some flexibility in plugging in additional payment methods.

  • Checkout options: There are quite a few “standard” checkout systems. If you have worked with one that converted really well, see if it is available. If you want to be able to design and customize your checkout as much as you would like, then keep this in mind when choosing an ecommerce platform.

  • Inventory: Depending on the ecommerce platform and your level of integration, there might be a limit to how you can present the availability of different products. Make sure your platform can scale to meet your changing inventory in the years to come.

2. What kind of service level do I need?

Most ecommerce platforms let you choose between different packages when it comes to services. To make sure you choose the right service level with your web shop, you need to look at two things: 1) Your current resources, and 2) Your level of flexibility.

Let’s take a closer look at the first one: your current resources. Do you have people available full-time to look after your website, both the back-end and the front-end? If it looks like you would need to hire a new person to fulfill this role, then you might be better off purchasing a bigger service package.

This brings us to the second item: your level of flexibility. Imagine that you need to make a last-minute change to your website because an important sale is starting tomorrow, and you want to announce this with a big banner, but the support team for your ecommerce platform won’t be able to fulfill your request for another week. That wouldn’t suit your flexibility requirements. You might decide you’d rather have control over the platform yourself without being dependent on an external team.

3. What technical features are necessary?

You will need to consider many technical features when deciding on an ecommerce platform. For example, the platform’s architecture will determine how smart and flexible it can be over the next several years. Will it scale your website for evolving business needs such as multiple languages and currencies? The platform’s speed is another important technical feature, and it is important to understand what possible roadblocks could be a hindrance to that speed.

Since mobile has become the norm in ecommerce, you should evaluate your platform’s compatibility with browsers and mobile devices--is it fluid enough to adapt to your needs and preferences? Ecommerce platforms require daily management, so you should ask yourself how easy the platform would be to use for both a technical and non-technical person. How much training and knowledge share are required to get the most out of the platform?

Finally, it is important to see if the complete source code for the platform is available. Having this source code enables you and your team to build features on top of the core platform, further contributing to the scaling fluidity and adaptability that will make your ecommerce platform investment pay off in the years to come.

These three questions should help you develop a clear and realistic picture of what you want from an ecommerce platform. Once you know what you want, then you can productively research different platforms and begin discussions with platform vendors.