How to choose the right eCommerce platform for building a successful online store.

Once you have a vision for your online business that includes a broad understanding of your target market, it’s time to start thinking about building your website. The vast majority of online stores use web-based eCommerce platforms, rather than building websites from the ground up. This approach comes with a much lower barrier to entry, as well as a scalable and standardised framework that leaves ample room for growth. 

What is an eCommerce Platform?

An eCommerce platform is software designed to enable the process of buying and selling over the internet. Today, businesses on the pulse of time use cloud-hosted eCommerce platforms, instead of hosting their own solutions in-house. This is more cost effective and easier to implement, and with a dependable provider, it also means better security and higher availability.

Unless faced with very specific and atypical requirements, the benefits of using an eCommerce platform, as opposed to having something tailor-made from scratch, are without doubt. Choosing the right solution however can be difficult. There are many different platforms available, some of which are designed for small businesses with relatively small product catalogues. Others offer much greater flexibility, but with the cost of increased complexity.

Since it isn’t easy to change later on, without causing substantial disruption, it’s important to choose the right platform from the outset. While sometimes it may be without alternatives, re-platforming can be a complex and often also expensive step.

In order to help you with making the right decision for you and your company, here is our

List of the Most Important Technical Considerations When Choosing an eCommerce Platform

#1 Extensibility

No two online stores look the same, hence the need for a flexible, yet controlled, environment. Most eCommerce platforms provide the features necessary to launch a basic online store straight out of the box. That said, there may be cases when you need to add new features like support for additional payment and shipping methods.

One approach to tackle this problem is to look for ready-made integrations that are provided or supported by the software vendor. Both our preferred eCommerce platforms, Episerver and commercetools, provide numerous plugins and add-ons to integrate popular 3rd party solutions with their own.

In case there is no existing ready-made extension, the headless or microservices-based architecture of a platform such as commercetools offers the greatest flexibility by featuring extensive application programming interfaces (APIs), that let clients connect to any frontend, integrate different third-party applications as well as communicate with smart devices. This enables brands and retailers to steadily develop new features, extend the functionality of their online shop and shape the future of their digital shopping experience sustainable.

#2 Scalability

Any eCommerce venture hopes to succeed to the point they can expand their operations by serving more customers or growing their product inventories. It’s essential that you consider your long-term goals when choosing a platform.

An extensible platform architecture, enabled by open and well-documented APIs can enhance agility, speed and scalability. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) eCommerce platforms hosted natively in the cloud allow for the scalability and flexibility to adapt in real time to any traffic volume and changing customer demands. However be cautious about the claims of an increasing number of legacy software vendors that put ‘cloud’ in their product names. While they may rightfully claim to be hosted in the cloud they often are still running the very same old software that does not offer the scalability of native SaaS solutions such as commercetools. As a simple measure of a vendor’s flexibility and scalability, simply ask them to provide you with a trial instance of the software and see how long or short it takes to provide – it should be a matter of hours rather than days.

What unites preferred vendors at Bright across all categories is that they all are cloud-native solutions that leverage the capabilities and scalability of the cloud.

#3 Compatibility

Truly modern eCommerce platforms are not only web-based, so they function much like any other website and should render in any browser on any device. They should also be able to power additional channels such as mobile devices, point of sales devices or sometimes even print. 

Even if users outside of your web-based channels aren’t your core target market, you should always choose an eCommerce platform that allows you to extend your digital commerce to additional devices and channels. Commercetools, for example, offers a Mobile Commerce solution for building Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) and native apps for IOS for delivering outstanding digital shopping experiences on any mobile device. Besides that its extensive APIs make it easy to integrate your online shopping experience or product catalogue into pretty much any other platform or solution.

 #4 Internationalisation

One of the biggest advantages of online commerce is that businesses of all sizes can reach global marketplaces without dramatically driving up operating costs. That said, if you plan to target international markets, you’ll need to choose a platform that’s easily adaptable to international business.

Fundamental aspects of international eCommerce include support for multiple languages, currencies and varying taxation rules. Support for local time zones can also help by removing ambiguity when tracking orders. Last but not least, the regions or countries you serve may also serve varying product catalogues depending on local availability or sometimes also legal restrictions.

#5 Management

The basic function of a product management system is to make it easy for sales teams to add and manage product listings. In the simplest of cases this involves importing CSV or Excel files into the platform, uploading product images in bulk, and adding different product categories. For larger businesses it often means having the ability to automatically synchronise data from 3rd party systems such as a product information management (PIM), digital asset management (DAM) or ERP systems.

Besides that you also need to think about how the system manages inventories, orders, and returns. These components all need to communicate reliably with one another, so it makes sense to choose a platform that provides everything you need to run an online store.

#6 Support

Many eCommerce platform vendors provide a fully managed service that includes technical maintenance and 24/7 customer support. Software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings also provide full visibility into costs in the form of a pre-agreed monthly fee. Some platforms may include additional support in the form of workshops and other training sessions to help teams get up to speed with using the platform.

Choose a platform vendor whose vision aligns with your own. Always vet the vendor to ensure they have a solid track record of committing to their service level agreements (SLAs). After all, when things go wrong, you need to be able to resolve the problem as soon as possible. Look for vendors that provide 24-hour emergency support via multiple channels like email, phone, and web chat.

And then of course, choose wisely when it comes to the agency and systems integrator that builds and maintains your online store. Often they will have a much deeper understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the platform vendor than yourself, and they may also have more direct communication with their team.

#7 Reporting

One of the biggest advantages of eCommerce, like any other digital activity, is that it generates large amounts of valuable data. But to make sense of this data, it’s essential to have an easy and intuitive way to track the metrics that matter by translating the data into actionable insights. 

Most leading eCommerce platforms have analytics built in, which allow administrators to track their store’s performance and reveal important trends. For example, commercetools provides native integration with minubo, an analytics solution that provides a snapshot of key metrics like sales channels, orders, and conversion rates, to help you find new ways to drive sales. 

Our Recommendation

At a certain level, most eCommerce platforms appear to have much the same set of features and functions. It’s only once you start to dig deeper into the fine print that you may discover potentially serious limitations, such as a lack of support for certain business models, industry-standard security and compliance features, or essential integrations. That’s why you must carry out ample research when choosing a platform, especially if you want to establish a large online store with constantly evolving needs.

At Bright, we recommend headless and microservice architectures, since they provide far greater flexibility. Most importantly, they allow you to extend your eCommerce platform beyond desktop and mobile platforms to contact points such as television, IoT device, shop-in-shop and even voice assistants (Augmented Reality). This is because you can create front ends and use APIs for any platform, while still enjoying the benefits of a system that’s easy to update and add new products to.