Are you already on an eCommerce platform and thinking about switching to a different one? Maybe you have a custom site, and want to switch to a Shopify theme to make your site more streamlined.
We’ve seen a lot of eCommerce companies make the mistake of switching to Shopify or another platform and seeing their conversion rates plummet. Switching is generally a good decision, but don’t lose sight of why your current site is working. And, don’t simply switch for the sake of a prettier design.
There are several things you should keep in mind when choosing which eCommerce store platform is best for your business. In this article, we’ll unveil the secrets to choosing the best ecommerce store platform for your online business. We’re here to simplify the process and help you make an informed decision. From analyzing your business needs to evaluating features and pricing, we will guide you through every step of the way and help you avoid the major pitfalls that lead to conversion rate crashes.
Factors to Consider When Choosing an Ecommerce Store Platform
Every eCommerce platform does the same one thing: helps you sell your products or services online. They’ve streamlined the process to make building your website, adding products, and taking payments easy for owners. However, deciding which one you choose can significantly impact your success.
To ensure you make the best choice, there are several factors you should consider. Think about your business goals and objectives. What kinds of products do you sell, or plan on selling (i.e. physical products, digital goods, or both)? Do you have plans to scale your business in the future?
Next, how much money can you afford to spend and how much time you have available to dedicated to this project. There are ways to bootstrap with all of these platforms, but money and time will typically be inversely proportional. Every platform has options for both big and small companies and allow for scaling small budgets.
Lastly, consider the level of technical expertise you and your team possess. Some platforms are more user-friendly and require minimal technical knowledge, while others offer greater customization but may require more technical skills. Most offer no code, or “drag and drop” type web builders. These are typically pretty easy to use, but don’t be surprised if there is a learning curve before you’re comfortable.
When evaluating different ecommerce store platforms, it's important to compare features, functionality, and ease of use.
Let's explore some of the most popular platforms in the market to help you make an informed decision.
Popular Ecommerce Store Platforms
Shopify is the largest and most well-known eCommerce platform. If you’ve purchased anything online, then there’s a good chance you’ve used a Shopify store.
Shopify has a lot of appeal because of it’s user-friendly interface, customizable templates, robust inventory management, order fulfillment capabilities, extensive app store, and seamless integrations. It works with multiple payments gateways, making it easy for customers to make payments. Overall, it’s options are great for both small business and international retailers.
This will sound counterintuitive, but it’s ease-of-use and endless apps and customizations are its biggest downside. Store owners start managing the user-experience and look of their site on their own, and adding app after app thinking it will help boost conversions. What you’re typically left with is a really slow site, and hodge-podge of elements that lead to a confusing and convoluted user experience.
WooCommerce is a popular ecommerce platform that operates as a plugin for WordPress. With WooCommerce, you’re still going to get a lot of flexibility and customization options to meet your needs. There’s also an extensive WordPress plug-in ecosystem that will allow for additional functionality. If you’re operating internationally, or plan to, then WooCommerce will allow you to accept payments in multiple currencies and grow your global footprint.
Keep in mind, that WooCommerce does require some more technical knowledge than other platforms to set up and maintain, so it may not be the best choice if you’re planning building and managing the site yourself.
WooCommerce would likely make the most sense for stores who already have their sites built in WordPress and are working close with a development team, or have one in house managing their website needs.
BigCommerce is another robust ecommerce platform that has something to offer for both big and small companies making it similar to Shopify and WooCommerce. It provides a user-friendly interface, a variety of customizable templates, robust SEO features, and integrates with popular payment gateways.
BigCommerce’s biggest asset is its built-in analytics and reporting platform. A lot of Shopify users have to familiarize themselves with Google Analytics or other tools. This isn’t to say that Shopify doesn’t have built in analytics, but having an in house analytics that can provide more granular insights is a major advantage when it comes to growth and scaling your business.
Magento (now Adobe Commerce)
Last but not least is Magento. Magento is popular for a lot of the reasons that the previous platforms in our list are. It offers a wide range of features and customization options, provides advanced inventory management, and a variety of marketing and promotional tools.
However, Magento is similar to WooCommerce in the sense it does require more technical expertise to set up and maintain. With that in mind, it may be more suitable for larger businesses or those with a dedicated development team.
Also, now that it us under the Adobe umbrella, I expect it to continue to look like a better option for Enterprise level companies. I’m willing to be proven wrong, but that’s my hunch.
The Big Questions You Need to Ask First
After a bried overview of the biggest eCommerce platforms, you may already be formulating a decision in your mind and have a front-runner. That’s perfectly fine, but make sure your chosen platform can deliver on all of your business needs. Start by asking yourself the following questions:
1. What type of products will you be selling (still good to think about, but most platforms are built to sell just about anything unless you have a completely new idea)?
2. How many products do you plan to offer (i.e. how robust do you need your inventory management to be)?
3. Do you require any specific features or functionality (i.e. international checkout, HIPAA compliance, specific integrations with your CRM, etc.) ?
4. What is your budget for an ecommerce store platform? Most platforms will be able to provide options for small budgets, but if your looking for enterprise tools then the price and functionality can start differ dramatically between platforms.?
5. How much technical knowledge do you and your team possess? This is usually the deal-breaker right here. A lot of new stores don’t have a dedicated team of developers, or don’t have the start-up capital required to build a store/site from scratch. If you’re doing this on your own, don’t forget that even drag-and-drop builders do require a bit or learning.
6. Do you plan to scale your business in the future? Make you sure you plan for features you may need in the future. Switching platforms can be done, but I wouldn’t recommend it if it can be avoided.
Make sure you’re front-runner can provide the support and features that you need for each of these items. Cast a wide net to start out with, and start eliminating your options once one falls short on a major need.
Key Features to Look for in an Ecommerce Store Platform
Again, pretty much every platform will deliver their own solution for each of these key features. Make you look at how robust each feature is and how that plays into your store’s needs. Here is what you need to look for to start.
1. Mobile responsiveness: I don’t think it needs to be said, but mobile is king. Every year, mobile continues to take more and more traffic share from desktop and other devices. It goes without saying that your store should be prioritizing mobile first, and your platform should be able to accommodate that with ease.
2. Payment gateways: This has become a pretty standard offering for most platforms, but make sure your choice has seamless integrations with the gateways that you want to incorporate. If you don’t think you’re going to use them, then think again. Stores are getting huge conversion lifts from adding ShopPay, PayPal, and Buy with Prime.
3. Inventory management: The first two features are pretty commonplace anymore, but inventory management will be one of the bigger differentiators for most stores. If you have a massive online inventory, then make sure your platform can easily accommodate the intricacies of every product, and easily arrange it in an intuitive way for your employees to manage.
4. SEO optimization: Every platform will accommodate key SEO features. I expect platform offerings will continue to grow in customization and depth as SEO continues to become more important with the changing advertising landscape.
5. Security: Ensure the platform provides a secure environment for your online store and offers features such as SSL certificates and secure payment gateways to protect your customers' sensitive information.
6. Scalability: Once again, most of these platforms allow for easy scalability. If you have a vision for what you want your company and website to look like in 2, 5, or 10 years, then make sure the platform you choose allows for easy integration as you grow.
How Much Do These Things Cost?
Between Shopify, WooCommerce, and BigCommerce you can get an online store setup for around $30 to $40 per month. Shopify does charge transaction fees, so be sure to keep an eye on how much your paying on top of your subscription fees. Also, be aware of any additional costs like hosting fees, domain registration, 3rd party apps or add-ons, and any premium themes you use for design.
Lastly, standard plans are typically pretty bare bones, so be aware that your monthly subscription fees can go up pretty fast as you grow and need more functionality and features. While a standard plan will run you around $30/month, Enterprise level plans can be in the thousands per month.
Is it Easy to Use and How’s Their Support?
Depending on how you plan to interact with your website, ease-of-use is typically something that every store owner wants in an ecommerce website builder. Entrepreneurs typically like to be pretty hands on, but don’t have the time to dedicate to learning a complex website building platform.
While the easy-to-use ones are all designed to be intuitive, I haven’t always found that to be exactly the case. They are certainly “easier” to use than going and learning how to code and develop a site from scratch. However, they are all usable and can learned in a relatively short amount of time. The important part is to make sure it’s intuitive for you, and that they have responsive support and/or tutorials if you get stuck and need help.
Finally, make sure your chosen platform’s onboarding process is straightforward, easy to follow, and can get your store up and running quickly.
Customization and Design Options
Themes and templates are a great way to save money, and create a great looking store quickly and easily. While it doesn’t provide a unique experience, that doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable. Regardless of what your design preferences are, most eCommerce platforms have plenty of options to choose from.
Drag and drop website builders will also allow for additional design customizations to help set up an online store and make it unique, even if it’s from a premade template.
Integrations and Third-Party Apps
Integrations and third-party apps are the platforms answer to outsourcing additional functionality. The number of available third party apps is getting difficult to keep track of, but it can be a way to help compensate for functionality that your platform may not have but you need.
Keep in mind that third-party apps can start to negatively impact your site speed, and more apps and functionality is not always better. Make sure you have your basics covered, and add functionality where you need it (i.e. analytics, personalization, remarketing).
Lastly, make sure you platform integrates seamlessly with you existing CRM, analytics, and marketing platforms. If you’re using any major players, then you shouldn’t have a problem. However, make sure you test out these integrations so you’re not caught with a new store that creates cumbersome tasks that used to be simple.
Customer Support and Resources
This goes a little hand-in-hand with one of our earlier sections, but I wanted to take it a step further. It’s safe to say that as an eCommerce store owner, you can’t be the end all expert of your online platform and website. That being said, make sure the experts are easy to get ahold of (i.e. responsive and timely) and aren’t afraid to be hands on when needed.
Shopify is the most popular, so it goes without saying that their online forums are some of the largest, and users are often willing to provide support to other owners. Don’t forget the rest of the internet as a valuable resource. YouTube has a wealth of knowledge on all of these platforms, and there are short tutorials and instructional videos abound.
Case Studies and Success Stories
Another helpful guide in your journey to find the perfect platform should be looking into case studies and success stories for each platform. Look for specific examples that have relevance to your industry (i.e. fitness equipment, fashion and apparel, vitamins & supplements, etc.) and are similar sized businesses.
If you’re just starting out and selling a new flat screen TV, then it probably won’t be helpful to look at case studies for LG and Sony. Find industry relevance, and business size relevance.
Lastly, look at what metrics they’re using to determine if the outcomes where successful. Make sure those coincide with how you’re measuring success, and what it would mean to your business to have those outcomes.
Finalizing Your Decision and Making the Switch
Alright, we’ve covered a lot, you’ve got you’re work cut out for you, and you’ve got a really important decision to make. Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
Once you’ve decided on which platform you want to choose, make sure you take advantage of the free trial period and test the hell out of everything during that time. If you’re migrating any existing data from another platform, then test that out as well to ensure a smooth transition and to avoid any disruptions in your day-to-day operations.
Once you’re new store is set up, test and retest everything when everything is setup. Leave no stone unturned. This is your chance to be 100% positive that you’ve made the right decision, so don’t leave anything up to chance.
This is a big and super important decision. We’ve seen it botched more times than we can count. Don’t forget to prioritize for user-friendliness, customer support, relevant case studies, budget, growth/scale, features, and specific business needs. That sounds like quite a bit, but it’s well worth it to do your due diligence.
Lastly, I don’t want to leave without mentioning that if you’re transitioning from another platform, don’t fall into the shiny object trap. It’s not uncommon to see companies switch platforms in favor of a prettier and more asthetic website, but at the same time destroying their customer experience and losing everything that worked on their old site. Don’t just switch for the sake of a redesign.
And don’t forget, if you get yourself into trouble, you can always call us and we’ll fix it for you.