Choosing the Right Ecommerce Website Platform

Ecommerce platform logos over a building

Your goal is a successful ecommerce business, but your website isn’t living up to your expectations.

You want to rebuild, or replatform – but you’re not sure what you need to do. Which platform is best for your business? How do you decide?

Start with clearly identifying what you don’t like or what is wrong with your current site. For example:

  • Not fulfilling all of the needs of the business
  • Not scalable or expandable
  • Too slow
  • Too difficult or too expensive to manage
  • Problems with the customer experience

Once you know what’s wrong, and what you want to change, you will be better able to find the right solution.

What’s the best ecommerce platform?
Answer: That depends on the needs of your business.

  • Functionality – do you need the basics, or lots of bells and whistles?
  • Customizability – how much control do you need/want over the look and feel?
  • Integrations – does your website need to integrate with third party platforms such as shipping management, accounting software, inventory management, or less common payment gateways?
  • Cost – what is your budget for building the website, and for maintaining it post-launch?

Chalkboard with ecommerce platform names

How do you know which platform to choose?

Some ecommerce platforms are more flexible than others. Some have more functionality built in out of the box, and some are more simple to start, allowing you to pick and choose what you want to add (think modular – like Ikea furniture).

Some platforms are only available as part of a “closed system” (aka a “hosted solution”) – common examples include Shopify, BigCommerce, and Wix. You pay a monthly subscription to these companies, and they manage both the server and underlying codebase (but not your customization!) You don’t have direct access to the underlying code, and you’re not responsible for maintaining it. It’s also not portable – i.e. a website built on Shopify can’t be moved to another hosting service provider.

Others, such as Magento CE and WooCommerce (for WordPress) can be hosted anywhere you choose. With self-hosted solutions, you have full access to the underlying code, which means your options for expansion and flexibility may be greater (along with your ability to break things – so be careful, and be ready!)

But still, how do you know which platform to choose?

The first thing you need to do is to outline everything you need or want your website to do.

  • Do your products have variations?
  • How do you want to accept payments?
  • What shipping provider(s) do you use?
  • Do you have any third party services that you need to integrate with?
  • What sort of promotions do you want to be able to run?
  • Do you want to offer gift cards? Virtual only, or also physical?
  • Do you want to display product reviews from third party platforms?
  • What are your needs for reporting / analytics?
  • Are there any other special functions you want?
  • Do you have any special needs for how you process orders or how you manage your customers?
  • Do your customers have any pre-existing expectations based on how your website has operated in the past?
  • And the list goes on…

Once you have identified everything (or as much as you can) that you want your website to do – both from a customer perspective and a management perspective, you can start to look at which platforms provide the functionality you’re looking for natively, or have the capability of expanding to do so through the use of reputable plugins.

The difference between hosted and self-hosted solutions for ecommerce.

With a hosted solution, you have less flexibility, but better support for the infrastructure (codebase). Hosted solutions typically vet the themes and software that can be installed on their platform pretty rigorously – they have to meet certain standards of security, coding and compatibility with the core software. As a result, there are less options to choose from, but you can be reasonably certain that they will work as described, and be well supported in case of issues.

With a self-hosted solution, a website owner can use any theme or extension that was developed for their platform – but there is no set standard for quality assurance in that software. The website owner will typically have more options to choose from, or can even hire someone to create a custom solution for their needs if one is not available. This can be very appealing if their needs are unique. However, they’ll need to vet that software / provider carefully and ensure that they’re getting the quality and security they need, and that the software is compatible with their system. With a self-hosted solution, the sky may seem like the limit when it comes to expansion, but that comes with big “PROCEED WITH CAUTION” signs.

So – you can see why it’s so important to identify the needs of your website first – then choose a platform, theme and extensions based on those needs. There are hundreds of decisions you’ll need to make along the way. We highly recommend working with a consultant or project manager that can help guide you through the process and help you make the decisions that are right for your business. One overlooked detail may cause the project to spin sideways – and cost you more in time and money than it would have to hire the guide in the first place.

If you have questions about which ecommerce platform is right for your business, we’re here to help.

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