6 Questions to Ask Before Picking Your E-commerce Platform
When you gaze upon the endless list of available eCommerce platform options, you may think to yourself, “Aren’t these supposed to make my life easier?” Choosing one is hard enough, and it gets worse if you choose one that ends up not being the right fit.
It’s important to consider everything you need and want for your business before you get started on the eCommerce platform journey.
We’re going to take a deep dive into all the variables you’ll need to keep in mind when choosing a platform — far beyond “How much does it cost each month?”
In this article, I’ll keep you from going astray with six questions to ask before picking your e-commerce platform. This list of questions will help you know what to look for when deciding which platform is perfect for you.
After determining what you’re looking for, you may want to check out a resource that compares the best eCommerce platforms for small businesses.
Caption: SquareSpace has a sleek, relatively intuitive dashboard, making setup and day-to-day maintenance easy.
1. How Simple Do I Want the Setup to Be?
When you’re looking at eCommerce platforms, there will be a range of how simple it is to set up and get started. There are extremely simple platforms, like Wix or Squarespace, that can be started in about an hour or two with one hand tied behind your back, on the other hand, there are platforms that require you to have coding knowledge — or hire a developer — like WooCommerce or X-Cart.
There are trade-offs to both, which is why it’s an important question to ask yourself before getting started. Do you need lots of extras right away, or can you live with a fairly simple template for the short-term? You may have a vision in mind for the perfect, amazing, completely custom dream online store, but can you afford it? It’s all about balancing your budget and time with what your store needs right away.
2. How Much Does It Cost?
This probably seems like a no-brainer, but there are a lot of costs that businesses forget to take into consideration beyond the one-time or monthly fee of a platform. Over time these can rack up:
- Hosting: Most platforms will offer some level of hosting included in their package, but the price will typically increase as your size, products, or traffic increase.
- Custom development: As mentioned in the previous section, if you need a more complicated site, you will probably need to outsource to developers. This can be a one-time setup cost or an ongoing maintenance cost.
- Design: If you don’t go with a predefined template, you’ll also likely add some design costs along with development.
- Extra features: For many of the platforms, you’ll need to pay extra to get additional features for your site.
Determining how much you can afford to pay will help you narrow down your search for a platform pretty quickly. Also, keep in mind that many platforms (like Shopify) offer different levels of service. It may be worth getting the simple version now and scaling up later on the same platform.
Wix makes it easy for prospective customers to know what exactly they are paying for and how they will benefit from a particular package.
3. What Do I Need the Website to Do?
Sell stuff. Sure, pretty obvious. However, you should also be thinking about the additional features you’ll want, and whether they qualify as “needs.” For example, offering a third-party payment option (like PayPal) may be something you really want to do, but the platform may not offer it. Is it worth the potential loss of customers, or should you keep looking for one that does offer that? Only you can answer that question.
Other features you may want right away (or be willing to hold out for) are unlimited products, discount codes, product catalog options, and analytics. Some platforms offer varied pricing based on the number of products you sell, and some allow unlimited sales for the same price. Some have more extensive product catalogs than others, which will matter if you’re selling products that have a lot of specifications (like size and color).
You’ll need to balance what you need for your business (if you sell clothes, for example, a great product catalog is a must), whereas if you have a fairly low amount of sales, it could be worth saving some money on a more limited sales plan.
Pro Tip: Finding the right website for your e-commerce needs can be hard so we did the work for you check out the 10 best website builders along with their pros and cons so you decide which one works best for you.
4. What Integrations Do I Want It to Have?
Another consideration, similar to the one above, is looking at the plugins you already use — email, accounting, etc. — and deciding which ones you need and want the eCommerce platform to integrate with. The easiest option, by far, is to integrate your existing plugins with your platform. However, does the platform you want offer integration with all your current apps? Which would you need to switch over? Is it worth it? If there is a major price difference between the platforms that integrate with your current applications and those that don’t, it may be worth it, in the long run, to switch over now.
Caption: In a world of sub-par 4.0 rated mobile shopping apps, be a 4.8.
Pro Tip: Shopify offers hundreds of app integrations for your Shopify store, which means more option but it also means you’ll have to search for the best. Instead, take a look at the 150 Best Shopify Apps (Paid & Free) To Increase Sales for 2019.
5. Is It Mobile-Friendly?
If an eCommerce platform touts itself as having “mobile-responsive design,” run away immediately. These days, customers expect a separate, mobile-optimized design. Instead of forcing the desktop version to fit into the mobile screens, find e-commerce website that already offers mobile versions of your desktop template.
Caption: Make sure your e-commerce store looks just as good on mobile as it does on a desktop.
If you’re planning on sending out emails with promotions, did you know that almost 50% of your readers will open that email on their phone? That means they will be automatically directed to your mobile landing page, which suddenly puts that in the spotlight. Better make sure it’s up to snuff.
However, you may decide that that isn’t a priority for you right now. If you do, we recommend at least signing up for a platform that has the option to upgrade to mobile optimization or work into your plan when you’re going to hire developers to make that happen for you.
6. Can I Scale My Website Easily?
We’re gonna go out on a limb here and guess that you didn’t start your business with the hopes of staying small forever. You want to grow! When you’re picking an eCommerce platform, it is so important to determine if the platform can grow with you.
Caption: The good thing about sticking with a major e-commerce platform such as Shopify is that your website is built to scale as demand increases. This is growing Shopify Business called Jaswant's Kitchen.
Some platforms offer a very low price for small businesses, but the cost adds up quickly as they get bigger. It could be worth it to invest a little more at the beginning to get a platform that won’t penalize you for growing your business.
Caption: If your brand touts sleek, sophisticated design, your website should reflect that look.
7. Bonus: Does It Offer a Look That I’m Interested In?
If you’re going with a simple platform that offers a range of templates, it’s so important to find a look that fits the aesthetic of your brand. You may have decided that you don’t need all the bells and whistles, and you certainly aren’t interested in hiring a designer for a custom site — but that means that you’re going to be limited to the available templates. Be sure to thoroughly vet all the available styles and design options before settling on a platform, and have a template already in mind.
Caption: Tesla's website looks and feels like you would expect high performance, the cutting-edge tech company's to: smooth, sleek, and seductive -- just like their product.
It may seem like a lot at first, but these questions are designed to help you narrow down what you actually need, and hopefully, make your life a lot easier. In the beginning, you probably were able to figure out pretty quickly if you were okay with a simple and fast setup, or if you wanted something a bit more complex. All these questions will help guide you to the right fit for you and your business.
About the Author
Jake Rheude is the Director of Marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment, an eCommerce fulfillment warehouse that was born out of eCommerce. He has years of experience in eCommerce and business development. In his free time, Jake enjoys reading about business and sharing his own experience with others.