The time when there were only two types of mustards and three TV channels to choose from is long gone. Today, every industry offers a wide array of products to meet an equally wide range of needs. This also applies to ecommerce solutions. There are different platform specifications, features and prices that all serve one general purpose – allow you to sell your products/services online. The process of choosing the right ecommerce solution can easily become overwhelming if you don’t know what you need. To help you in your quest, we have put together what we think are the important questions your business needs to address before evaluating your next ecommerce platform.
1- What type of ecommerce strategy does your company wish to adopt?
Thinking of selling your products/services online is only the beginning of the thought process. Do you intend to sell to the general public (B2C) or to other companies only (B2B) or both? Do you intent to offer extended customer support or not? Many solutions are specialized in B2C, some in B2B and only a handful excel at both.
2- What is your timeline?
How much time do you have before your business goes online and becomes operational? Days, weeks, months? Knowing this will greatly help you choose a service provider. Some solutions are pre-built and can be deployed rapidly; others need to be programmed to your specific needs and can take much more time before they are ready to go live.
3- Will your eStore be part of an already existing website?
If not, chances are that you will need to allocate a part of your budget to the design of your eStore. Some ecommerce solutions include a certain amount of design while others don’t. If the solution doesn’t include store design, you will need to do it yourself, allocate internal resources to the task or hire an external design team.
4- What type of hosting are you looking for?
There are basically two ways an ecommerce solution is hosted: In your company’s IT environment or in the ecommerce solution provider’s IT environment (more commonly called SaaS – Service as a software- hosting ).Think of it as owning an entire office building vs. renting a floor in this same building. On the one side, you have complete freedom but you also need to attend to the daily job of managing a building – paying taxes, window washing, repairs and improvements. On the other side, you have the freedom to focus all your efforts on your business without thinking about building maintenance. Not all ecommerce solutions offer SaaS so you might want to be on the lookout for those.
5- How many products will be available on your eStore?
A health product manufacturer can have less than 10 products on its web site, an online library could easily have more than 20 000 books to sell, and an auto part dealer specialized in B2B could have more than 200 000 different parts available. The need for a robust and powerful ecommerce solution differs greatly according to the number of products you wish to sell.
6- Are you looking for integration between your ecommerce solution and your ERP or accounting software?
Integration with ERP’s or accounting software usually makes your whole business more efficient and less prone to mistakes. If you like the idea of efficiency, you will need to find a solution that can be connected to your internal systems. Standalone versions – no integration- work just as well but without the benefits of sharing the same database as the rest of the company. You end up spending more time creating and updating the same information in two databases, manually entering orders in your ERP or accounting software and correcting the errors that will follow.
7- What are the tools you wish your ecommerce solution would offer?
Do you need eMarketing tools, SEO optimization tools, the ability to generate reports, offer private sales, the list goes on. Don’t compromise; find a solution that meets your needs. Some providers can also custom build some features to fit your specific needs.
8- Are you looking for Open source or proprietary technology?
Open Source ecommerce allows you to make your own modifications to your solution. It may require additional dedicated IT resources capable of handling such a task which can be more expensive and take longer if they are not familiar with the product. With proprietary technology ecommerce solutions, only the provider of the solution can make modifications because he has already invested time and money to develop it and therefore, knows it inside and out. He becomes the IT resource for your solution so to speak. Proprietary technology ecommerce solutions are usually very affordable. You only need to develop a healthy and trusting relationship with your provider.
9- What is your budget
All these tips about tools, products and strategies won’t help you if you don’t know how much you are willing to spend on this project. eCommerce solutions can range from Free to millions of dollars so your primary tool for narrowing the list is your own budget.
No matter your choice, always ask for a few customer references. Verify delivery times, support and customer satisfaction. It’s also good to know how long they have been providing ecommerce solutions and what resources are available.