Having an ecommerce platform allows your business to attract new and repeat customers by fitting into their daily lives. They can shop whenever they want, from wherever they want and on any device that they want.
94% of global internet users have purchased products online. Ecommerce has made us adapt the way we sell our goods and services. The proportion of what we purchase online on a daily basis is only going to increase and the breadth of online shopping options has widened because of COVID-19. The days of relying solely on a physical retail space are over. Never before have retailers in all sectors had to adapt their business models so quickly. Now, thoughts are no longer about adapting, but scalability and growth.
With so much of the world having faced periods of lockdown and the closure of physical retail spaces, for many people, ecommerce has moved from being a luxury to being a necessity. For shops and businesses, even as they open their premises for trade again, having a hybrid model with an online space is necessary to remain competitive.
So, having an online shopping platform is critical to the success of any retail-based business. Consumers need to be able to purchase what they want on their laptops, tablets and, most importantly moving forward, their phones. Mobile phones accounted for 65% of all ecommerce traffic in 2019 and their use for online retail continues to grow year-on-year.
There are a number of ecommerce options. Bespoke and off-the-shelf products generally fall into one of, or a combination of, these technologies to supply the wide range of businesses with an online retail presence.
You can engage a supplier to create a fully bespoke ecommerce solution from scratch that will meet all your requirements. This is not an inexpensive option, so there needs to be a good business case to customize an off-the-shelf product.
This is a system that enables you to sell online without any advanced functionality, integrations or inventory and tracking visibility. It is a limited option and should probably be avoided unless your market is very specific-for example a B2B proposition with a limited customer base and a narrow transactional model.
Shopify, BigCommerce and Magento are three of the most commonly used open-source ecommerce products. Open-source ecommerce platforms give your business the flexibility to customize in order to accommodate your immediate requirements, while still being able to adapt as your business grows. Note that not all open-source software has a cloud presence.
This allows your business to operate fluidly from anywhere in the world, because your ecommerce solution is in the cloud with no physical hardware base. There are obviously big advantages to being able to access all your data and business systems from anywhere. However, with cloud-based ecommerce, security can be an issue, because you are hosting your company’s information on a remote network that can be accessed from unsecure locations.
SaaS ecommerce software is the most advanced form of a cloud-based system. It offers unlimited data storage and has no restrictions when it comes to browsers or operating systems. As the name suggests, a large part of what you are buying here is the service element of the relationship with the provider, not just the software.
There are multiple software products that have established themselves as leaders in the marketplace. Below are the most commonly purchased options based on budget, ease of use, reliability, scalability, maintenance and customer service.
Magento is a very popular ecommerce platform because of its functionality and adaptability. It enables your business to innovate rapidly and is user-friendly, with strong customer support. This flexibility comes at a price, however, as it tends to be at the high end of the market in terms of investment for an off-the-shelf product.
Sitecore Commerce allows retailers to focus on marketing and the customer experience. Your business can also benefit from its 'headless' commerce functionality, which means that the front-end of your website works independently of the back-end. This makes it easier to adapt the user experience (UX) without needing to change the way the ecommerce platform is built.
Shopify is a piece of widely used ecommerce software intended for smaller businesses and consumers setting up their own digital sales sites. This software allows for easy integration between your physical and online stores. For less tech-savvy people, what they give up in terms of functionality, they will gain back in ease of use.
This is a completely bespoke ecommerce solution for your business. You partner with an ecommerce supplier and their fully customized options allow you to build exactly what you want from the ground up. It’s a great solution if you have the budget and the vision to know how your business is going to grow.
Salesforce helps you build a shopping experience that caters to the needs of your customers. It provides you with a wide range of data and analytics so you can track the consumer journey and evaluate the customer experience. This solution is one of the more user-friendly ecommerce options.
This solution is one of the most widely chosen options because it is relatively inexpensive and caters to less tech-savvy users. It is a SaaS product that comes with a wide range of templates that can easily be customized to create a basic ecommerce product for your business.
WooCommerce uses the basic WordPress operating system and adapts it to create an online shopping store. It is a good entry-level option for businesses that have a straightforward ecommerce model, or for people who would rather forgo a wide range of customization to achieve a simpler user experience (UX).
A wide range of technology is used to create viable ecommerce platforms. These are a few of the more prevalent ones that have a big impact on the growth of retail online. The most successful sites rely on a number of these technologies, if not all.
Cloud technology gives your online business maximum flexibility because you can access your site from any internet-enabled device. If your business is looking to move beyond physical premises or an office-based solution, you need to have cloud technology at the heart of your ecommerce offering.
All consumer-facing retail websites need to think about their ecommerce platform with a mobile-first attitude. Mobile is the primary method of accessing ecommerce for most consumers as they fit shopping into their busy, on-the-go lives. When the mobile user experience (UX) shapes the shopping experience, you are creating a solution for the future.
Consumers want safer ways to shop online. eWallets provide an option where the customer can put money in them and use it for payment. Rather than expose their bank details or credit card to a vendor, when they pay using an eWallet, they minimize the risk so it only applies to the amount of funds they have transferred into the wallet.
User browser history on your site is used to suggest purchase options to the consumer. Even if they have not gone through the checkout or they have removed a product from their cart, the data on these products of interest to a specific customer can be used to suggest other items they may be interested in. Marketing automation uses machine learning (ML) to create options relevant to that individual consumer.
Similar to marketing automation, personalized recommendation engines review products that your customers have shown an interest in, but have perhaps not yet purchased. They then make suggestions of similar or complimentary products to these customers. If you are buying shoes, maybe you need socks too? Or a shoe cleaner? Or extra laces? Or anything else shoe-related.
You need to understand the complete customer journey-from the moment someone enters your app or site to the moment they leave. This helps you build a picture of what is working, what is popular and where the trouble points-places you are losing customers-that need to be addressed are. Your ecommerce site should collect a wide range of user data so that you can evaluate your whole online operation.
Keep customers engaged on a monthly basis. Subscriptions give you the chance to create regular marketing contact and ensure your customers feel appreciated using loyalty offers and other exclusive benefits. With a subscription to Amazon Prime, for example, customers get free delivery, games, streaming entertainment content and other offers.
There are a number of costs that need to be considered when creating an effective ecommerce site and budget is usually a primary factor in the buying decision. These are the costs that need to be considered before choosing or creating the system that is right for your business.
Ecommerce websites all have license fees. Typically, the fee is paid annually and the amount depends on the provider and the type of ecommerce platform. Even fully customized options need to pay for their domains and it is a good idea to check and see if there are any other licensing costs that are specific to the type of industry you operate in or services you provide.
All ecommerce platforms need to have a provision for maintenance factored into the day-to-day running of the operation. Because you are in an online, 24/7/365 environment, you need, to minimize downtime immediately. Maintenance is both proactive-a regular schedule of checks for the key elements of your system-and reactive-an around the clock operation ready to deal immediately with issues. This could involve a contract with the vendor or a third party.
Upgrades are a part of the lifecycle of almost all kinds of software. Part of your decision-making process should be an understanding of what kind of upgrades will be necessary (major or minor) and what the cost implications of these will be. Can your software choice run on older versions if you decide you do not need or want the newer functionality that upgrades bring? Or will you be forced to upgrade because what is being changed is a fundamental part of the operating system?
Different from upgrades, modernization is about being able to embrace new technologies as they come out. For example, in the past few years, augmented reality and recommendation engines have come to ecommerce platforms to enhance the customer experience. Your business can still have an online retail experience without these additions, but your competitive advantage will be compromised.
As you investigate, you’ll naturally want to know about costs.Each vendor will need to provide you with exact costs, however, for benchmarking, we provide a guide to costs below.
For example, a bare-bones drop-shipping store can cost you about $40. Depending on how much inventory you buy, a bare-bones inventory store can be $140-$1,040. Next, with all the bells and whistles, you can spend $700-$3,000, depending on inventory, whether you hire a website designer, etc.
There are some features that every ecommerce platform should have. Of course, you want your ecommerce platform to have everything, but often project parameters, including budget, do not allow for that. So, what are the features that you really cannot live without in today's online retail world?
Having a responsive website is about consistency across all devices and all browsers. Even if different devices require different navigation, the customer experience should be the same, regardless of whether your site is being accessed on a computer, laptop, tablet, phone or in any other way. Design your site so that elements can reorder themselves depending on the screen size and orientation of the device it is being viewed on.
When the front-end (or customer facing) side of an ecommerce site can be changed without the back-end (or technical and developer side) being affected, this is headless commerce. The advantage is that cosmetic changes can be made easily with minimal cost or disruption so that the customer journey can be constantly fine-tuned.
Your platform should allow you to manage all your channels, from your website to social media to third-party platforms, from one place. This saves you time and allows you to have a single view of your entire retail operation.
You want to have real-time information about your inventory in all your online and physical retail channels. This unified view of your stock gives you the confidence to be agile with your pricing and ordering.
Always have direct selling from your website as part of your online retail solution. Your ecommerce platform should give you the option to sell through third-party sites, such as Amazon, but you don’t want to be solely reliant on them.
As much as possible, you want options that allow you to personalize the customer experience to keep them engaged with your brand. This can happen in a number of ways, including personalized marketing, shopping recommendations, offers, or even non-sales related communications such as birthday wishes.
For example, if you can customize the user experience (UX) through analysis of a customer’s shopping or browsing patterns in your retail space, it will be easier to make consumers feel that you understand them. Ecommerce platforms that give you the right analytics and can use automation to target each individual customer with the products that are most relevant to them will drive brand loyalty through more personalized experiences.
Your ecommerce system should be intelligent enough to automate your product pricing. Working within parameters that you set, if a certain product is not selling well, the system can lower the price. Alternatively, for in-demand products with high sales, the prices can be automatically increased.
Automatic calculation of shipping and delivery charges, along with a range of options, allows the customer to feel in control of the delivery process. For example, your ecommerce solution should be able to determine shipping pricing based on different data like order value and customer location.
You want as much information as possible at your disposal. This allows you to make decisions on how to streamline the experience for your customer and increase your profitability. Analytics can tell you what is selling, what is not, which season is your strongest, what time of day people are buying, where most of your customers are located and what their shopping patterns are.
These are advanced accounting formulas through which your business can gain insights into online sales. This allows you greater understanding of your business systems, enabling you to make day-to-day operations more profitable by removing some tasks traditionally outsourced to accountants, such as tax and shipping calculations.
Your ecommerce solution should allow you to have multiple payment options so you are not creating a barrier at the checkout for any customers. Digital currencies, credit cards, eWallets, online banking and anything else that could be requested should be considered.
Regardless of whether your customer is purchasing online or in a physical location, unique customer identification numbers help you customize activity to each individual customer account. This provides a single view of the customer, regardless of what channel they are shopping through.
Being PCI compliant means your business is adhering to a set of industry standards. This gives the customer more confidence in shopping with your business because you have agreed to rules guiding the security of the environment in which their personal credit card information will be held.
Your ecommerce solution should include the ability to get feedback on your marketing campaigns, such as click-through rates and which pieces of content are gaining the most engagement with your audience, so you can adjust your customer marketing strategy accordingly. This data allows you to make tactical adjustments in the future and create better automated messaging and campaigns, based on customer information and buying patterns.
There are a wide range of considerations to be made when looking at what the right ecommerce solution for your business is. These broadly fall into the following categories. By moving through the procurement process with these in mind, you will be considering all the elements it takes to create and operate a successful online retail platform.
You should have a presence in as many retail channels as possible: your website, social media such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, third-party retailers like Amazon and eBay, affiliates and any other channels you are engaged with. Your website should be integrated with all these channels so that customers have the choice of accessing it directly or indirectly. Don’t forget bricks-and-mortar: omnichannel also includes having a physical retail space that ties in with your digital presence.
No two businesses are the same, so your ecommerce software should be able to adapt to exactly what you need. A lot of businesses use an off-the-shelf product like Magento, Shopify or Sitecore commerce as the basis for their solution and then adapt this to fit their specific needs. Making sure your software solution is customizable and scalable in line with your business goals will give you long-term stability.
Order management is the key to keeping your stock at optimal levels so there is enough to meet demand, but not so much that it causes you cash-flow or storage problems. Your ecommerce software should let you easily track orders across all your retail channels and see your inventory list and seamlessly update it.
The more payment options you give your customers, the less barriers there are to making a sale. Credit cards, bank transfers, online payment portals such as PayPal, eWallets, and even physical money, should all be factored into the way consumers can transact with you. If your business is not going to accept all payment options, you need to define which ones are applicable and make sure your ecommerce solution can accommodate them with the necessary security in place.
If you are not taking advantage of the widely trusted and popular online marketplaces, such as Amazon, eBay and Flipkart, then your business is missing out on a large percentage of the online shopping trade. You should be choosing an ecommerce solution that allows you to integrate these different marketplaces into your website so you are managing everything from one central location. This centralized approach allows you to stay on top of inventory and track orders-reducing risk and saving time.
Most businesses want to grow. The ecommerce platform you choose should have the flexibility to suit your intended growth. 10,000 customers today could be 100,000 in three years’ time. The larger your business, the more disruptive changing your ecommerce software will be to online purchases, order tracking, inventory management, and all the other aspects of a great customer experience and smooth business operations. You need to make sure your platform can scale as you grow.
Your budget may largely dictate what ecommerce system your business purchases, but the level of support you get from your supplier should be a big consideration. Maintenance and customer support (when you are the customer) are crucial to being able to keep your online retail presence operating around the clock.
Your website has to have the ability to rank highly on Google and other search engines. It is no surprise that your SEO ranking will play a major part in your online visibility and consumer traffic. Some of the ecommerce products on the market with lower price-points tend not to be optimized for SEO. This creates more work or expense for you as you will have to handle this function separately or outsource it.
The support package your ecommerce supplier provides should take into account all the active channels you are using. If the support is just for your website, it could decrease your sales efficiency in the other channels your business is targeting, such as popular social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and, Twitter or third-party sites like Amazon and eBay.
Customers will be giving your business personal information and you need to make sure this private data is used securely and properly protected. When this trust is breached, word spreads fast and this can not only cause irreparable damage to your brand, but may have legal implications as well.
Open-source platforms have the least technological restrictions, so they give you the most flexibility when it comes to creating a personalized shopping experience. The best types are 'headless'-meaning you can make changes to the front-end customer experience without having to change the back-end coding. This allows you to easily adjust the retail experience without incurring constant costs.
For your business and for your customers, your chosen ecommerce solution should be easy to implement and easy to use. The purchase process, from viewing items through to checking out, should have no pain-points or areas where the customer might get lost or decide not to purchase.
Once you are set up, your ecommerce system should be easy to use so you are not spending a large amount of time on its day-to-day running. While it is recommended that you have a support package, drawing on this continually will still create downtime or at least slow down your operations. Factoring in training during implementation is an important consideration prior to your site’s launch.
There are a lot of mistakes that are commonly made when selecting an ecommerce platform. Navigating the ecommerce landscape and putting the right foundations in place is not always an easy task, especially if this is your first foray into online retail. Here are some things to avoid.
Monolithic ecommerce platforms are not 'headless'. This means that any changes you make to the customer-facing front-end of your site will also involve adjustments to the coding in the back-end, or engine, of the site. These platforms do not allow you to be agile when you need to frequently update the design and user experience (UX). A headless system is better because once you have the back-end established, you can adjust the front-end as much as you like.
You have a better chance of creating a successful online retail presence if you use multiple models. Just sticking to business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C) is limiting. Your ecommerce solution should have these options and also include other models, such as affiliate marketing, consumer-to-business (C2B) and consumer-to-consumer (C2C) where applicable.
Your chosen ecommerce system should allow you to grow. You do not want to be going through the procurement process again in a couple of years because your original solution was not scalable. It is worth considering this at the initial investment stage because the alternative is to be constantly investing as you grow, or even worse, looking at a large investment and downtime, when you have to change your platform completely.
Experience-driven commerce supports multiple retail routes, integrating your various online channels and your physical shop-front presence. It is also device-agnostic. Your ecommerce solution should allow you to sell on mobile, computer, laptop, tablet and via your website, social media and third-party sites such as Amazon and eBay.
With the wide range of technologies available, it is more important than ever to understand your customer and how they want to interact with you. Just because a technological option exists does not mean it is right for the customer or for you. Do you really need a chatbot? Are you going to use enhanced reality? If you try to have everything, rather than improve the customer journey in a focused, intelligent way, you might be complicating things needlessly (and spending too much money).
We work with major brands all over the world to help them build ecommerce solutions that are ready for the global marketplace. We can help you create the right solution for your business.