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Ecommerce Platform Guide: 3 Key Factors to Consider for Your Online Business

While the COVID-19 pandemic shut down storefronts, e-commerce became crucial for business owners and consumers. Insider Intelligence predicts that ecommerce sales will make up 23.6 percent of all retail sales by 2025—more than double what they were in 2019.

Increasingly, continued business success depends on being engaged in ecommerce. Many businesses no longer have physical locations consumers can visit. Instead, they conduct sales transactions entirely through an ecommerce site or a social media marketplace platform.

So how do you choose the right ecommerce platform from the variety of available options? In this guide, we’ll discuss how to help you do just that.

Factors to Consider When Selecting an Ecommerce Solution

Before trying to wade through all the many available options, you must know what you’re looking for. Different solutions offer different flexibility and features, and not surprisingly, they come with different costs. Figuring out what best suits your needs will narrow your search.

1. Platform type

When choosing an ecommerce solution, who will host your site is one of your first considerations. The various types of platforms affect your level of control, flexibility, and cost and how quickly you’ll be able to get your online store set up.

  • Software as a service (SaaS). This is a cloud-based system that is accessible through a web browser. Typically sold through a subscription, a SaaS is great for small companies just entering the ecommerce arena. A SaaS offers all the basics you’ll need to open your ecommerce business. SaaS platforms make getting started and keeping your software upgraded a relatively quick process. Shopify and Big Commerce are two leading examples of SaaS platform providers.
  • Platform as a service (PaaS). Similar to a SaaS, a cloud-based PaaS provides you with the hardware, software, and infrastructure you need for ecommerce. The distinction with a PaaS is that your company controls the application code and its data. This gives your company greater flexibility over your application because you can alter it as you see fit. Magento, Hybris, and Oracle Commerce are some of the leaders in providing this type of platform.
  • Infrastructure as a service (IaaS). The next step in controlling your ecommerce site is using an IaaS. Also cloud-based, this ecommerce platform builds upon the PaaS’s level of control because you can manage not only application and data but also runtimes, middleware, and the operating system. Rackspace, Digital Ocean, and Google Compute Engine are examples of this platform.
  • On-premises. As you can imagine, the on-premises platform means your company manages all aspects of your ecommerce site. This includes servers, storage, networking, and virtualization. All the components of your ecommerce site are in your building, giving you the most flexibility and control. There’s no waiting for your platform provider to fulfill your requests. Of course, you must have the time and resources to manage all these components.

2. Cost

The many ecommerce platform types come with an array of costs. How much of your ecommerce site your business is willing to manage directly will affect things. However, you must also consider how much of your site your business can manage.

On the surface, open-source software may seem the most economical choice because it’s free. Conversely, employing a website builder means paying for a subscription. When choosing, consider whether an open-source platform subscription covers many maintenance costs, such as:

  • Hosting fees
  • Security and payment card industry compliance costs
  • Bug fixes

Plus, if your coding knowledge isn’t extensive, you may need to hire some form of web developer, even if it's just for a small business. Regardless of the platform you choose, consider the cost of extra charges for features like apps, extensions, and integration into other systems, such as inventory management.

3. Features

When choosing an ecommerce platform, you’ll want to consider the following:

  • Mobile support. More than ever, consumers are using their phones to shop. Having an ecommerce website that isn’t mobile-friendly can mean losing significant market share.
  • Security. Customers need to trust you with their financial information, regardless of payment options. If that information is stolen or potential customers even fear it might be, they won’t buy from you. Taking measures to keep your site secure is a necessity.
  • Customization. This is your ability to create a site on par with your brand and digital marketing identity.
  • Speed. This is the amount of time it takes to implement changes and upgrades. 
  • Integrations. Integrating your ecommerce site with other management systems makes your business more efficient.
  • User-friendliness. According to a report by HubSpot, ease of use is the top feature for 76 percent of consumers. Make sure it’s easy for customers—and you—to find your products and check out, or they might get frustrated and buy elsewhere.
  • Search engine optimization (SEO) capabilities. A great online store doesn’t mean much if people can’t find it. Make sure the ecommerce platform can optimize your headlines and subheadings (HTML tags), metadata, product descriptions, internal and external links, and the search structure for your users. Your products need to draw organic traffic from search engines.
  • Customer service: If you choose a SaaS, PaaS, or IaaS, you’ll deal with customer service.
  • Analytics. Analytics help you understand user behavior and collect customer data.     

Why Selecting the Best Ecommerce Platform Matters for Your Online Business

Using an ecommerce marketplace

Although you might still want to build an ecommerce site for your online store, you can also conduct business through a multivendor ecommerce marketplace.

This is not without costs. There are fees for posting products and a commission paid to the website host for sales. In exchange, however, you get many of the same benefits when using a SaaS platform, like website and security maintenance.

The biggest benefit, especially for small businesses, is increased exposure. Consumer convenience makes ecommerce marketplaces popular. Your product will likely generate more views than just a search engine. Some marketplaces, like Facebook and Instagram, also double as social media and can help spread brand awareness.

Best Ecommerce Platform Solutions for Your Business

Now that we’ve covered the factors to consider when choosing an ecommerce solution let’s make it even easier. Here are our top recommendations for ecommerce platforms, from small businesses to B2B ecommerce. We also cover some in the links throughout the rest of the article, so take a look!

How we rate ecommerce platforms

What do we look for when we select the best ecommerce platform for you?

  1. User interface
  2. Usability 
  3. Integrations
  4. Value for cost

Beyond these measures, each platform has its own special features and focus. Not every option might be suited for your online business, but you can be sure they all meet our standards.

The best ecommerce solutions

For a B2B ecommerce platform: B2B companies need an enterprise ecommerce platform designed to handle large transactions with a solid infrastructure that includes good inventory management. We’ve found the best B2B ecommerce platforms and highlighted their key features so that you can make the right choice for your online business.

For a small ecommerce store: Diving into the world of ecommerce can be overwhelming for a small business owner trying to manage operations. We've focused on ease and efficiency in our list of the best ecommerce platforms for small businesses.

For multiple channels: If you’re selling your product on more than one marketplace platform, managing more than one site can get overwhelming. Multichannel ecommerce software will create a base of operations for you to manage your inventory across host platforms.

For headless ecommerce: Headless ecommerce platforms are ideal for business owners and managers who want to integrate multiple touchpoints for their businesses. And to keep up with the consumer demands of convenience and accessibility, you probably should too.

With subscriptions: If your product or service is based on a subscription, you’ll need a couple of unique features, like a payment gateway, for your ecommerce website. Take a look at our 10 best subscription ecommerce platforms.

If you know you want the easiest and simplest options for basic ecommerce functionality, we’ve got a list for that too.

Compare Platforms to Make the Most of Your Online Store

The time has come. We’ve done all we can to narrow down your options. Now it’s up to you to choose the best ecommerce platform for your online business. But even here, we still have some tips to offer.

Start by estimating your budget. How much can you spend to build your online store? Compare the prices of different platforms. Don’t forget to calculate any extra costs for capabilities, such as adding external links or multiple payment methods.

Then, determine how much time you want to invest in site setup. A SaaS platform with more built-in features and attractive templates might be the right choice if it's not a lot. If you’re eager to customize and design, go for a different platform with more flexibility.

Now you should have an even shorter list of platforms that fit your budget and time constraints. If any offer free trials or similar promotions, try them out! A website builder might not ask for a fee until it’s time to launch, so get a feel for site functionality and how website design works. Also, look for examples of how others have used these platforms online.

For more helpful ecommerce tips and software suggestions, sign up for The Ecomm Manager newsletter today!

By Francois Marchand

I’m Francois Marchand, content strategist and editor. I've worked in marketing, journalism, and communications for 20 years. I've been in charge of creating and managing content at Postmedia, Vancouver Film School, and Unbounce. I love helping business leaders, content creators, and marketers of all stripes grow their skillsets and knowledge base to stay ahead of the competition.

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