How to Choose an E-Commerce Platform?

According to an updated retail industry data and historical figures from the US commerce department, the eCommerce market in the US grew by over 15% in 2018. Currently, the global eCommerce market is worth $2.3 Trillion, which is also expected to grow up to 4.48 Trillion by 2020.

All these stats point in one direction –The future of eCommerce is both scary and exciting. Exciting because the trends are promising and the market is huge enough to look out for business opportunities. It’s also scary because the industry is undergoing through evolution, and the competition is getting harsh days after days.

Ultimately, it’s all about offering the best customer experience and attracting as many customers. If you can’t keep up with the expectations and the changing trends, your competitors would not miss a chance to fill this gap.

Here is the thing- whether you are running an established eCommerce business or thinking about expanding to new niches, you have to capitalize on the trends to bring new customers to your business. There isn’t any better way to do this than making the base of your eCommerce business stable- the eCommerce platform.

How good is your eCommerce platform?

Seeing countless eCommerce solutions in the market, choosing an eCommerce platform for your business seems like a modest task. However, only a few realize that an eCommerce platform isn’t just a ready-made shopping cart. It’s the most complex and decisive element of your online business. What seems so small is marvelous enough to make or break your eCommerce business. One wrong decision, and you are back to square one.

Running an eCommerce business is more than just putting up some products online. If successful eCommerce businesses could be made by just uploading products online, nobody would have been spending fortunes in developing cutting-edge features.

There are N numbers of free-of-cost eCommerce platforms on the internet. Everyone could use them in their native forms. In fact, the most popular eCommerce platforms in the market are available as open-source – Magento Community, WooCommerce, PrestaShop, and OpenCart to name a few. Despite this, why people still spend on customization, modules, plugins, and eCommerce website design?

It’s because,you can’t beat the competition by simply doing what everyone is doing. It’s important to stand out and focus on the following 4 factors to make profits-

  • Growth Opportunities: How quickly can you stand out in the crowd and grow in the market?
  • Business Running Cost: How much should you invest on the back-end to stay in profit?
  • Customer Engagement: Is the customer experience on your store competitive and trendy?
  • Business Goals: Are you able to achieve your set business objectives and revenue goals?

It’s all about a unique propositions to the customers. The better is your eCommerce platform, the better is your chances to stand out in the crowd.

From front-end’s UI, back-end’s accessibility, easy process automation, and error-free order fulfillment to cutthroat customer support, everything depends on the architecture of your eCommerce platform. It’s a base where your eCommerce businesses propel and make a profit. One wrong decision while choosing the best eCommerce platform for your business could leave you with nothing but redemption.

Hence, don’t just jump in to an upfront conclusion. Don’t just choose any random or popular eCommerce solution everyone is using. There is a lot more to consider beforehand.

How many types of eCommerce platforms are there?

The market is full of alternatives. However, the following five types of eCommerce platforms are popular and have been supporting the most successful eCommerce business models in the past.

  1. Enterprise Licensed Platforms
  2. Free Open-Source/ E-CMS
  3. CMS Extensions
  4. SaaS Platforms
  5. Premium Open-source

Enterprise Licensed Platforms

These are ready-made eCommerce platforms sold with a license for a specific period only. You have to renew your license annually to keep using the platform. You, your team, or outsourced developers can work on top of them and develop customized solutions for the business.

Suitable for: Large enterprises with large investment budget and custom business requirements.

Example: Hybris, Oracle Commerce, Kentico, Magento Enterprise, and IBM Digital

Free Open-Source/ E-CMS

These are the most popular and easily accessible alternatives to set up your web store. Here, you would not be paying any upfront charge for using the platform. However, they require some initial developments and customization in the eCommerce website design, which you can do by yourself or hire developers.

Suitable for: Small to medium level start-ups with hundreds-thousands of products in the catalog.

Example: PrestaShop, Magento Community, and OpenCart

CMS Extensions / Headless Commerce platforms

These are nothing but plugins and extensions that add eCommerce capabilities to a traditional CMS. Here the CMS and Shopping Cart functionalities two decoupled entities. Most of the time, the CMS as well the shopping cart are free, but you can also go for premium options for better services.

Suitable for: Small enterprises and startups with lower start-up budget and few hundreds of products.

Example: WooCommerce Plugin for WordPress and Drupal Commerce plugin for Drupal.

SaaS Platforms

These are ready-made and managed eCommerce solutions delivered through third-party cloud services. They are closed-source, hosted, and managed by the vendors itself. Vendors charge a monthly fee based on the plans you purchase. You cannot customize the platforms by yourself.

Suitable for: Startups or individuals with a decent recurring budget and do not want to hire a team.

Example: Shopify, BigCommerce, and Volusion.

Premium Open-Source

These are open-source code eCommerce platforms, but they not free to use. You need to pay an upfront one-time cost to purchase the source code. Most of the time the eCommerce platform is ready-made and well-polished. However, they still give access to the course code, which you can customize by yourself or by hiring a developer. Vendors also provide paid customization services for features and eCommerce website design.

Suitable for: Medium to large enterprises with custom requirements, a decent budget, and thousands of products in the catalog. Most suited for creating large-scale multi-vendor marketplaces.

Example- ShopyGen Node.Js shopping cart

Note: Cloud-hosted and SaaS aren’t the same

Sometimes, we use the terms Cloud-hosted and SaaS eCommerce platforms interchangeably. However, it’s not correct. They are two different business models of the eCommerce platform providers.

SaaS eCommerce platforms are ready-made and vendor-managed solutions. They are closed source as only the vendors are allowed to make customization. Once done, the customization are available to every other user of the platform. Only the vendors are responsible for updates, upgrades, security, and maintenance of the platform.

If you and your competitor use the same SaaS marketing solution, both of you will have a similar set of eCommerce platform features. The only difference could be in the choice of templates and themes. The features will remain the same for both. However, you can also opt for an expensive plan than your competitor, but this might not be an ideal way to lead in the race.

On the other hand are cloud-hosted solutions. It is a general term used to describe any solution being offered as hosted by the vendors. It’s not necessary that the solution would be closed-source. Cloud solutions are merely the legacy platforms being offered as already installed on a cloud server. They save the time required for installation and server setup. However, you still are responsible for customization, security, and maintenance.

If your competitor uses the same cloud-hosted eCommerce platformas yours, it would still be a different scenario. You can customize the eCommerce website design,add new features, and optimize the source code, etc. to stand out.

For example, PrestaShop is an open-source platform and falls under E-CMS category. However, the vendors also offer cloud-hosted versions of the platform, and it doesn’t mean PrestaShop is SaaS. These are just the platforms being delivered via the cloud, you still can do the customizations as you do in the self-hosted versions.

How to switch from your existing eCommerce platform?

After relying on limited eCommerce platform features for a while and not getting desired success, you may think about trying out some new alternatives. However, eCommerce platform migration is not an easy job. You have to build a ground right from the point of selecting your first eCommerce software. Unfortunately, not everyone plans in this direction.

If you are looking to switch your existing eCommerce platform, here is a list of questions you should ask to yourself first-

  • WHY do you want to change?
  • WHEN is the best time to make the switch?
  • WHAT effects would it have on your search ranking and conversions?
  • HOW to switch over to a new eCommerce platform without losing anything?

Now that you know what to do, let’s proceed with the WHY and HOW part of the discussion.

Why should you change your eCommerce platform?

There could be several reasons for why entrepreneurs keep switching from platforms to platforms. However, I think there are seven non-negotiable reasons do it-

  1. Initial budget: The initial budget of some entrepreneurs might not allow them to opt for top-notch solutions. However, after starting with flying colors, they might consider moving ahead.
  2. Limited Administration: Struggle in day-to-day admin tasks due to complex architecture and inability to perform advanced functionalities. The administration might have been workable on a small scale but not good enough to handle large-scale implementations.
  3. Limited customizations: It’s not possible to tweak or twist the theme or eCommerce website design as per preferences. The current platform is either closed-source or its framework is outdated.
  4. Outdated Features: The eCommerce platform features depend on the ability to accept new extensions and plugins. However, despite being backed by thousands of plugins and extensions, some platforms cannot handle them all at once.Only few plugins are actually usable at a scale.
  5. Amplified expenses: Might have opted for recurring plans in the beginning. However, the vendor has increased the fee with time, and the increased cost is not bearable.
  6. Limited Scalability: Some platforms are not suitable for medium and large scale business. Their front-end and database cannot handle large traffic and heavy server requests. You need a specialist solution for heavy-weight websites.
  7. Customer support: Who would like to work with an unprofessional vendor? Entrepreneurs should be supported properly for not just the technical part but also with proper documentation of the solutions.

There were 7 critical reasons to make a switch. If you existing eCommerce platform lags on any of these seven fronts, it’s always counseled to make a switch.

When is the best time to change your eCommerce platform?

It depends on your business. There isn’t any standard practice or pre-defined rule to make a switch. However, based on my experience with dozens of platform migrations, I can state some useful tips-

  • Don’t do it in the holiday season: Don’t take down your existing website in the holiday seasons. I know, you might be facing difficulties and sales might have gone down, but it’s better to receive at least some sales rather than none. Moreover, your regular customers would look out for your deals in the holiday season. Disheartening them with a ‘website in maintenance’ notice is not a good idea.
  • Consider the nature of your products: You could have multiple peaks season based on the nature of the products. I would advise you to switch only in the off-season. For example, if you specialize in warm clothes, the beginning of summer could be a good time to switch.

Don’t rush; test everything first:Even if your existing eCommerce platform is giving a hard time, it’s not wise to simply jump into a conclusion. It’s better to wait for a while rather than choosing a wrong alternative in hurry. Re-define your goals and test all the alternatives thoroughly before you finalize one for the cause.

How to change your shopping cart?

There are two ways to switch your existing eCommerce platform with a new one:

1. Automated

Automated migration works only when the technology stack of the platforms are similar. For example, it’s easier to switch among the LAMP stack–based eCommerce platforms. The most important element of automatic migration is the database engine. Migration is possible only when the DB architecture of both platforms are same. For example, you cannot import your existing MYSQL database to a platform with the NoSQL database.

2. Manual

There are ways to manually migrate between different tech stacks. You can do it by yourself or can hire any eCommerce migration service provider to do it for you. They will not only migrate your database but also the entire customer and product information as well.

Re-think your approach before committing

While you are executing your current migration, it’s wise to re-think your approach and make your new platform migration-friendly; just to stay on the safe side for the future.

You can use any efficient library of pre-built connectors and integration templates to form easy connections with third-party integrations such as Salesforce and SAP. This makes it easier to map your existing data to the target platform, and migration becomes quick and feasible.

  • Customer Data: Integrate a CRM system to maintain coherence in the customer data. It’s easier to migrate a CRM data across different types of platforms with simple API integration.
  • Product data: Integrate a Product Information System (PIM) to centralize your product information in the same way CRM does for customer data. It will make the migration of the products easier and quick with mere API integration.
  • Multi-media: Integrate a Content Delivery Network (CDN) to store the multi-media file centrally. This will not only make the multi-media files such as product images, banners, and videos migration friendly but also upscale storage, reduce stress on the webserver, and make website loading faster.

Doing this will make your eCommerce store migration friendly as well as future proof. Besides this, your new eCommerce platform will become more scalable. You should keep your options open as you never know what tomorrow holds in its truck for the market. I recommend thorough research and selection of a platform that can easily adapt to new trends and technologies from the market.

How to Choose an E-Commerce Platform?
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