Are you pondering over starting your own online business? There’s an enormous market out there, just waiting for the right move, the kind of service or product that will reel in some of the online customers anxious on where to spend their money. One of the biggest decisions you will have to make in the very beginning is which e-commerce platform to choose. Why do you need this kind of platform? Well, essentially, you need a place online to sell your products online, but it also needs to be backed by software for things like accounting, order placement, and management, customer service, etc. Before the big online platforms emerged, businesses had to buy standalone software that was pretty expensive, had to have a development team, an extensive IT set up, and was quite difficult to integrate with other systems. These new platforms have all the components your business may need and are much easier to use and customize.
So how do you choose the right one for your business and ensure you get the most of it? There are more than a couple of things to look for when deciding.
Self-Hosted vs Cloud
E-Commerce platforms can be hosted in these two ways – self-hosted and cloud, so it can either be on-site – in a room/office that your IT team manages, or off-site – managed in a warehouse somewhere (E.g., Amazon Web Service uses this kind of hosting).
Running your online business with self-hosted e-commerce software can be pricey and time-consuming since you need to have the staff to update and do maintenance on the website. Plus, you need to deal with the installations. The benefits of choosing this option? Well, you get to have more control over the platform and a higher sense of understanding where all the data is and how the security works.
Cloud-hosted software on the other hand won’t require you to get so involved, as they manage almost everything from maintenance to updates. They are also cheaper because you don’t have to fund the servers, and you’ll receive support from the service provider if needed. For this option, you pay for two things, the cost of hosting and a licensing fee. The disadvantage to choosing cloud platforms is that you have less control and can’t tailor the servers to your particular needs.
Qualities of a Great E-Commerce Platform
You shouldn’t select the platform based solely on its size and popularity. While they may have the greatest reach, they may not be the right choice for your particular business. What you should have in mind is that the goal of a truly great platform is to deliver the outcome you have set in mind successfully. Is your main goal improving revenue, or customer management, or maybe tapping into a new market? Explore different platforms to see which you feel has the best chances of accomplishing exactly what you want. Look for those providers that have both the experience and the expertise in this line of work, and your particular industry.
One of the most important things in an E-Commerce platform provider is the quality of support, so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to check some reviews and see which of them provide quick and efficient support. Also, there should be more than one way of communicating, so look for providers that have a phone, e-mail, and web-chat support, and that it’s available 24/7.
A great platform is also SEO-friendly, which means it will enable your business to be highly ranked in search engine results. You should have the ability to add a blog to your e-commerce site, allow customer reviews and use your own domain name.
If you decide on one of the most popular e-commerce giants like WooCommerce or Shopify, you probably won’t regret it, and while they’re both greatly equipped, there are differences between the two. In the “war” of WooCommerce vs. Shopify, the first one is reviewed as having a better value for money and greater help and support. And the other, Shopify, has slightly better sales and website features.
Deciding on The Budget
There’s really such a wide pricing range for hosting your e-commerce site, it can vary from 10-20$ to thousands of dollars. You’ll have to think about what your needs are and how much you are willing to pay for it all. Usually, the cheapest way is to find an all-in-one hosting platform, rather than piecing together multiple providers for their various services. You’ll have to think about the budgeting for:
- Web Design
- App customization
You must also think about your target audience. If you’re thinking about capturing the attention of a massive number of customers, you should think about advertising to social media platforms. E.g., Facebook has over 2.5 billion active monthly users, so why not tap into that market? Platforms like BigCommerce advertise both to Instagram and Facebook, they are so integrated you can advertise directly to the news feeds of the users.
Design and Development
When you decide to open up your online store, you should pay much attention to its appearance. Same as with regular brick-and-mortar stores, the design of the storefront is of great importance, that’s the first step of enticing your customers. Many e-Commerce platforms are pretty easy to set up.
You don’t have to be tech-savvy to create and customize your online store, the process is simplified and there are many templates to choose from. If you want to customize it even further, you may have to talk to their developers and seek further assistance (note that this will probably increase the potential cost). What is also terribly important these days is to make sure your site is optimized for mobile phones, you don’t want to miss out on that part of the sales since more and more people use their phones to do almost everything including shopping.
You have to get a grip on the administration of the store, so you never get problems like stocking, what needs to be restocked, what’s available no longer… Also pay great attention to how you manage product returns, what the time limit is for a customer to submit a complaint, what the specific conditions for a refund are etc. You don’t want to get a customer frustrated because your policies are not direct or specific enough.
It’s important not to rush it when opening up an online store. Review all the objectives you have, think about how much you are willing to spend/risk on the endeavor, and research beyond this short text on the whole process of choosing the suitable e-Commerce provider for you.