Does your business need a third-party ecommerce platform? Global ecommerce sales look to hit upwards of $6 trillion in 2023. Projections show that in the following years this will only increase and demand for online access to products is not looking to abate. With this hefty increase in e-commerce demand, now may be the time to consider whether you need an ecommerce store, and dependent on the store you choose, whether you need to outsource to a web development company.
Whether you’re new to the idea of ecommerce, or are looking to update a longtime brick-and-mortar business, this is the right time for an ecommerce shift. It’ll benefit your business to ensure online functionality for your future customers meets their evolving needs.
In the ecommerce platform landscape there are many professional options available. Some of these are relatively ‘set and forget’ others require more customisation, which may require the skills of a web development company. Established brands like Ben & Jerry’s and SkullCandy have opted for ecommerce platform BigCommerce, instead of developing and maintaining their own in-house custom ecommerce solution.
That aside, just because a platform sells itself as a ‘plug and play’ or an easy to customise platform, it does not mean it does not require coding skills for more customised development. Many of the major platforms have great template features and functionalities, but the more you want to achieve for your customer, be prepared to need some custom coding skills.
While you may not enjoy full control and customisation with a professional ecommerce platform – it can save you money – especially if you are starting out. Be prepared to do all the customisations, branding and product uploads yourself, as well as configuring all the of the settings like cart functionality and analytics connections. If you are considering outsourcing some of these elements to a web development company that may reduce the time you spend working it all out, so you can get up and running quickly.
What are some important considerations in choosing an ecommerce platform for your business?
Choosing an ecommerce platform to power your online store isn’t as easy as it seems. The wrong choice could result in a financial or temporal setback.
As a website development company, we see it all. We have tried and tested all the platforms, and not all are created equal. Read on to find out how to evaluate professional ecommerce solutions using a thorough and comprehensive eight-step assessment guide.
1. Pricing and hidden fees
First, determine your budget. How much are you willing to pay for an ecommerce platform that you trust to handle your money? Not all services bill you the same way. Many platforms charge monthly for full website hosting, however will restrict certain functionality based on the package you choose – Shopify is an example of this. Others like WooCommerce are ‘free to use’ but charge a fee for additional plugins such as subscription services or recommendations functionality.
To understand how much each platform will actually cost, you should prepare a functionality map of all the features you think your customers might want now, and into the future. We recently had a client using a shopify platform and because of all the extra functionality they needed, were spending $400USD per month in shopify and shopify plugin fees, totalling $4,800 per year. We moved their store over to WordPress where many of the plugin fees were annual, and managed to reduce that cost down to $900 per year.
For those that do charge you a flat monthly fee, check out all of their features costs like installing apps and plugins or accessing more server storage
2. Customer payment methods
Think about how your customers are going to pay you. Credit card support should be standard and many platforms link to third party payment services like Stripe. Whilst credit card or PayPal are tge most common way of paying online, there has been a move towards BitCoin or cyptocurrency. Some platforms may not accept these more uncommon payment methods.
For example, BigCommerce doesn’t support cryptocurrency payments at this time. Shopify and WooCommerce do, through BitPay integration and plugins.
3. Secure handling of sensitive information
Make sure the platform of your choice supports HTTPS/SSL for encrypted protection. Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance is important too. The latter’s requirements depend on management by credit card companies like VISA and MasterCard.
Having these as the minimum requirements to keep your customers safe. They reduce the likelihood of credit card information theft.
With the significant increase in major companies, even financial institutions, being hacked and sensitive data being breached, it is more important than ever to ensure you are doing everything you can to follow data security protocols. You can read more about how to know if you have been hacked or if you need website maintenance to avoid being hacked in our resources section.
4. Allowance for seamless scalability
What if you eventually outgrow your ecommerce platform setup? Every business hopes to grow, but exact numbers are hard to predict. If you’re doing aggressive marketing and moving products quickly, you may need to scale up sooner rather than later.
Sometimes scalability is an easy point-and-click process. All you need to do is to switch to a higher-tiered monthly plan. Shopify offers this experience. The service even has an enterprise version called Shopify Plus, should you expand so much that the highest Shopify tier can no longer handle your online store volume.
One of the newer ecommerce platforms Webflow also allow for scalability with minimal effort.
5. SEO readiness for growth
Are you a small brand looking to compete with larger businesses? SEO could be the answer.
Here are some features to look for in an ecommerce platform to asses their SEO friendliness: a way to add blogging to your website, customer product reviewing functionality, and the ability to change and use a domain name of your choice.
It’s in your best interest to rank high in search results. If your website is SEO-friendly, it’s more likely to generate a larger amount of organic traffic. Over half of web traffic and about 40% of total retail revenue is from organic searching, so raising the latter number is crucial.
6. Mobile-friendly design
Did you know that 40% of internet traffic in the U.S. in early 2019 came from mobile device usage? Fast forward to 2023, mobile phones are now responsible for ~74% of retail traffic and generated 63% of online shopping orders. Smartphones and tablets are becoming the leader of ecommerce traffic, and more importantly, sales.
It’s important to have a website and online store that looks as good on your phone as it does on a desktop screen. Customers should be able to navigate your site easily and complete purchases without any issues on both. Whether you are going to tackle you ecommerce store yourself, or use a web development company, you should be mobile first.
7. Customer support for your business
It can be frustrating to have your online store go down because of a server crash that you have no control over. Even worse is if you can’t contact your ecommerce platform for an update to relay to your own customers when they start to ask you what’s wrong.
When you count on an ecommerce platform to power your online store, you’re dependent on their customer support services. Look for 24-hour availability and make sure you understand how many levels of support are part of the tiered plan you’re thinking of getting. This is one area that can change dramatically as monthly fees go up.
If utilising a web development company to build your store for you, make sure you have checked what level of support they will provide if ever anything goes wrong,
8. Ease of use
If there are more than a few people running your business, you should involve relevant staff members in the platform decision-making process. You don’t want to rest the future of your business on an ecommerce solution that’ll only invite confusion and inefficiency.
Check for apps, plugins, extensions and allowed integrations too. You should choose a platform that’ll work with what you’re comfortable using. For example: if you’re not using WordPress, you can’t use WooCommerce.
What are the most popular ecommerce platforms right now?
Here are four of the most popular ecommerce platforms available:
- BigCommerce: As you may glean from its name, BigCommerce is ideal for big retail brands. If you have a brick-and-mortar store and a large inventory, this ecommerce platform will be able to handle your online expansion. You can go in and tweak CSS or HTML to customize templates, but BigCommerce is understandable with little to no coding experience. This is a scalable and flexible platform with strong SEO capability.
- Shopify: App fees on top of your monthly Shopify fee can get unmanageable if you’re not careful. The platform charges additional fees for using payment providers other than its own Shopify Payments too. While it’s not the best at SEO integration or handling high volume stores, Shopify is generally the best if you want to focus on retail selling. Loading times are blazing fast. It supports drop shipping, Instagram marketing, and Facebook Ads. Setting up a store is beginner-friendly, due to Shopify’s drag-and-drop interface.
- WooCommerce: It’s not the best ecommerce platform around, and you may find it difficult to scale up when needed. However, it’s affordable and comfortable for WordPress enthusiasts. If you want to run a WordPress affiliate site with strong SEO and then add an online store, WooCommerce is your best bet. More functionalities—email marketing, one-click selling, and more—are possible through WordPress extensions as well.
- WebFlow: The newest player to the market, boasting elegant templates for storefronts and an easy to use admin interface. It is known for its increased security functionality and because it is an all-in-one solution – over one that needs plugins etc you do not need to update the site, fix plugin conflicts or worry about needing a web development company for ongoing maintenance. Take that last sentence with a grain of salt, because whilst it is a ‘visual builder needing no code’ it is not as simple as Shopify or WordPress.com when it comes to learning how to use the system for design customisations. If considering WebFlow we would recommend you get a web development company to step in for any advanced customisations you need.
There are so many challenges involved in setting up an online storefront, even if you’re internet-savvy. Choosing the right ecommerce platform or outsourcing a web development company depends on your business size, growth trajectory, marketing style, and so much more. If ever in doubt, contact your local web development company for advice or simply to understand other options available. You may find the most cost effective and time friendly solution is a mix of both options.
Which email marketing platform should you choose?
In theory, you can use any email marketing service with your chosen ecommerce platform, as long as the former allows for integration with the latter. In practice, though, not using a comprehensive email marketing platform for ecommerce can feel like working with an incomplete set of tools. We tried and tested a few, here are our thoughts:
Campaign Monitor Commerce: Developed for store owners who do not have an extensive background in marketing; with their platform they claim you don’t need it to reap the same rewards as major brands that have an entire team dedicated to email marketing.
Customer engagement and loyalty are at the heart of CM Commerce’s design. Ready-made email automation recipes, personalized upsells and cross-sells, powerful segmentation tools, and product review submissions make every part of the customer journey a chance to connect and increase revenue.
MailChimp: Mailchimp is a leading all-in-one marketing platform providing small and large businesses powerful tools to engage with customers. We find about 70% of our SME clients are using MailChimp. From a cost perspective it is the most affordable for small businesses. It has some pretty neat functionality and templates to make it simple for new users to navigate.
HubSpot: HubSpot is a CRM platform that’s designed to scale with your business. From a one-person business to a 2,000+ employee enterprise, The HubSpot CRM platform has the marketing, sales, customer service, operations, and content management features you need to build the best experience for your customers. We find HubSpot is the right fit for our medium sized clients who are utilising HubSpot for email marketing and sales.
Web development company wrap up
The right ecommerce platform to trust with your business can be difficult to find. It’s essential to evaluate even the most popular ecommerce solutions—like BigCommerce, Shopify and WooCommerce or WebFlow, as well as a web development company — by looking at what they have to offer.
Here are the ecommerce features to asses in order to decide which platform is best for your business needs:
- Pricing and hidden fees
- Customer payment methods
- Secure handling of sensitive information
- Allowance for seamless scalability
- SEO readiness for growth
- Mobile-friendly design
- Customer support for your business
- Ease of use
More About Soto Group
We are an Australian branding, marketing, website design and web development company with offices in Perth, Western Australia and Melbourne, Victoria. We service clients all over the globe and help them navigate the often tricky website design landscape. Our ethos is to build relationships based on trust that leads to design projects and outcomes that are goal-specific and help our clients’ businesses grow and thrive.
If you are looking for more advice on getting the right website for you or finding out more about our services and how we help businesses excel, reach out to our friendly team for a no-obligation chat.