Success and growth lie at the core of any business. Gone are all the days when the success of the business was mainly dependent on how it operated locally. Rise of the Internet, smartphones and now this COVID-19, has made eCommerce an essential for any business.

If you don’t own an online shop now, you are destined to fail or feel outdated.

But worry not. Going online with your business is very easy.

We currently are in the dot com era where selling products online has become easier than ever before. All thanks to the incredible ecommerce platforms available online.

But there is this problem of plenty. There are too many, like hundreds of ecommerce & online shopping software to choose from.

See: List & Comparison of shopping cart software

So, which one platform out of the hundreds is supposed to be chosen?

Choosing The Best Ecommerce Platform

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First of all, you need to know that there is no such thing as the ‘perfect’ or the ‘best’ eCommerce platform. Some may have a feature others don’t and vice versa.

However, based on a business’s goals, resources and preferences an appropriate eCommerce platform can be chosen.

Now the very first step of choosing an eCommerce platform is the most critical decision to make and the decision taken will reshape the story of your online success.

If you are new to ecommerce, I suggest you consult an expert first and then decide on which software to get started with. If you don’t want to hire an expert for now, keep reading this article. I am kind of an expert too – so my reviews and recommendations will help you with the selection.

Before I move further ahead, let me tell you – the aim is to make sales and to boost your profit. Don’t think anything beyond or below this.

Also remember that nothing is tricky or tough now. All you need is to start. Things will start looking easy.

There are only a few things that you will have to decide though.

  1. Will you host your online shop or get it hosted by the software provider?
  2. What will be the stock size?
  3. How much flexibility or variations will you require with the products?
  4. How would you accept payments?
  5. What else integrations or automations will you add to your shop?

Let’s start understanding and answering the questions.

Self-hosted or Hosted by Provider

Will you host your online shop (called, self-hosted) or get it hosted by the software provider(called, hosted or SaaS)?

Deciding the kind of hosting suitable for your business should be the first factor to consider while opting for an e-commerce platform. Now what is the difference between the two, you may ask?

A hosted eCommerce is a piece of software that runs on someone else’s (mostly the software provider) server whereas a self-hosted e-commerce platform is a piece of software that you run on your own server or machine.

Hosted ones are commonly known as SaaS: Software as a Service where one cannot access the source code of the software but is provided with everything that is required in exchange for a service fee.

Examples of Hosted (SaaS) Ecommerce Platforms

  • Shopify
  • BigCommerce
  • Volusion
  • Magento.com
  • uCoz
  • SupaDupa
  • Storehippo
  • Sana Commerce
  • ProStores
  • Miva Merchant

A self-hosted platform requires the developer to have access to the source code of the software and gain complete control and flexibility over your website. In such cases, from setting up to running and maintaining your web store everything comes under your responsibility.

Examples of Self-Hosted Ecommerce Platforms

  • Magento
  • WooCommerce on WordPress
  • osCommerce (Under no active development)
  • Easy Digital Downloads on WordPress
  • AbanteCart
  • ApacheOFBiz
  • Pimcore
  • Drupal Commerce
  • OpenCart
  • VirtueMart
  • Zen Cart
  • Prestashop

What will be the stock size?

Another interesting factor that plays an important role in the decision-making process is the stock size.

You need to decide how many products you will be selling, based on that you can select an appropriate platform. After all, you will be paying a huge amount for the platform or to the developer for selling a huge quantity of products while you only want to sell just a few is not a financially viable option.

Apart from this, choosing a platform according to smaller stock might create troubles for you in future especially when you decide to scale up or increase your stock.

How much flexibility or variations will you require with the products?

It is truly said that functionality and aesthetics of a web store are somewhat related to the product catalog. Henceforth, it is very important to compare your products with the template of product catalog they offer. Here the kind of goods (digital or physical) you are selling can also be kept into consideration.

How would you accept payments?

Offering customers with a wide range of payment options can definitely result in maximizing the overall sale of your business. E-commerce platforms featuring a variety of payment methods always lead to success and growth of your business.

What else integrations or automations will you add to your shop?

Do you think that eCommerce is just limited to shopping carts? If so, then you may be wrong. There are many more things that you will need to do while running your online business.

For instance, if you aim to sell on marketplaces like Amazon, eBay then your eCommerce solution must be strong enough to integrate with them. In addition to this, other integrations that you may need can be CRM, Data Onboarding, Accounting, Warehousing, Analytics & Reporting etc.

The aforementioned points are some of the most important options that can be taken into consideration while choosing an eCommerce platform that’s right for your business. Well, it’s all about taking the utmost care while making this first and most critical decision of choosing an eCommerce platform. Remember, it is the choices you make that makes you.

Why choose an ecommerce platform?

I wrote a piece of article about why businesses must consider websites as their primary information platform. Having a good website is equally important as is having a great workplace or office.

In order to make sure that a business succeeds, several factors are considered, including the use of trendsetting technologies. I also discussed how not having a website can affect the growth of any business. The same is true for businesses who are selling their products online.

Back in the time, around 3-4 years ago, small companies did their online businesses by selling products on various marketplaces like Amazon, ebay, flipkart etc.

Larger companies, on the other hand, didn’t solely rely upon such marketplaces, but also preferred to use their own resources to sell their products and services. The later saved loads of money that went in the form of commission to marketplace agents.

Now that the time has changed and the resources needed to build an eCommerce site are cheaper (even free) – ecommerce stores are no longer the royalty of large scale companies.

Not just the small or medium businesses but also the individuals, who have something to sell can be seen having their own ecommerce portal. This doesn’t just help make money but also to build trust factor between the seller and the buyer.

Additionally, the coronavirus pandemic has told us clearly that we need to get online in order to survive. So, better late than never – you must get an online store right now.

So, what are my options?

We have already discussed the two types of ecommerce platforms – hosted and self hosted. Let’s not discuss all of those listed above but rather focus on the best choices that can be made.

Top Ecommerce Platforms

WordPress

WordPress is not an ecommerce platform. But it is a framework that supports installations of popular ecommerce platforms, like Woocommerce & Easy Digital Downloads.

woocommerce

WooCommerce

WooCommerce is the world’s most popular e-commerce tool and it powers over 28% of all online stores. It’s highly customizable and gives control to every element of the store, making it easy for both developers and non-developers. With plenty of add-ons/extensions available, WooCommerce is easily the best way for a business to get started with an online business. The best of all, it is free and open source.

Easy Digital Downloads

edd logo

While WooCommerce sells everything, Easy Digital Downloads (EDD) specializes in digital goods, digital services and downloads. It’s as powerful as any other tool available online.

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Shopify

shopify ecommerce platform

Shopify is a hosted/SaaS ecommerce platform. Shopify helps businesses get a full-scale e-commerce solution online with the help of Shopify.

This is one of the most cost-effective solutions available, and it’s the ultimate solution to those that aren’t tech-savvy. Although you’re limited in terms of the templates and themes at your disposal, it’s still an excellent way to get a store online that looks professional.

The Shopify platform gives business owners many features and multiple options to sell, whether that be via a physical offline store, through Facebook, or by using their own Shopify platform.

Magento

magento

Magento is another specialized tool dedicated to online stores. It comes in two flavors: hosted and self-hosted. Hosted Magento, also known as Magento.com, is a managed solution like Shopify while Selfhosted Magento, aka Magento.org, can be downloaded and installed on your own server. It currently empowers thousands of retailers and brands with its flexible cloud solutions to rapidly innovate and grow.

Others

Other recommended solutions include BigCommerce, Volusion, uCoz and Prestashop and custom web development.

There are also some cheap website building tools available on the internet, using which you can build custom ecommerce sites. These solutions are much like what Shopify offers, except you’re likely to not get as much of a professional experience.

This is one of the cheapest routes of getting an e-commerce store online, though, so if you just want something temporary for a year or so, this would be a route worth taking. Again, you’re going to be limited in terms of features and the themes you can choose, but you’ll still get a professional looking store out of it for an affordable monthly fee.

The above are just a few of the ways you can get an e-commerce store without going down the custom web development route which can often cost thousands.

If you’re just looking to get a store online so you can build a client base, any one of the above solutions will help you do that. However, if you’re looking for the most professional solution, you’re better off siding with WordPress (if you have the tech experience) – as that’ll get you a better solution online with access to better management features.

How to Optimize and Grow your ecommerce business

website shop

Now if you are done selecting an ecommerce platform. You will be done with your online shop real soon. After that your aim should be to optimize your ecommerce store and run marketing strategies every day so that you get the greatest returns on your efforts.

Running an ecommerce store is challenging, but it can also be very rewarding when done right. So, if your store is not doing quite as well as you hoped, try out these top tips to help you optimize your store for greater sales and exposure:

Conduct a Website Audit

The first step to optimizing any aspect of your website is to conduct a content marketing audit.

A website audit can be done for many reasons.

  • It can be done to ensure that your SEO is working with you, rather than against you.
  • It can be done to remove any old pages or fix broken links.

The more often you optimize your site, the better it will perform in the digital sphere. Your audit should tell you a list of problems your site has so that you know how to go about fixing them.

Use Analytics to Determine Where Sale Failed

Your next step will be to use analytics. Analytics, whether it is provided by Google Analytics or your own web host, will be your best friend. Refer to it often so that you can understand how well your website is doing. Read full guide

You can even use it to determine where a sale was abandoned. If, for instance, you notice a significant drop in activity after a user has put items in the basket, the problem might be that the check-out process or your security credentials turned them away.

Your analytics can help you determine problems with your e-commerce store and give you hints on what you need to do to increase sales.

Redesign Your Website

Once you know what has gone wrong on your site, it is time to fix it. This can either be done by cleaning up your site yourself, or you could invest in a complete overhaul and hire a professional web developer. Your website should look incredible, be easy to use, and be optimized for SEO.
Read full guide

Optimize Your Marketing Strategy

Once your website has been redesigned and optimized, it’s time to take your efforts off-site. This means improving your social profiles and page ranking so that you increase your organic traffic.

Continue to use Analytics so that you can make any necessary changes to your social media marketing campaign and your off-site SEO efforts. Combined, you should get a lot of click-through traffic that results in greater sales, subscriptions, or engagement on your content.

Optimizing your online store means ensuring that your website attracts users, convinces them to stay, and is so easy to use that the very same users have no problem finding products they like and checking out with them.

Design and user-friendliness is key here, but those are not the only factors you need to consider when optimizing your site. Ensure it is also SEO friendly and that you have a variety of content that can be shared and engaged with. This way you will increase your organic reach and traffic, resulting in more sales and more repeat customers.

This post was originally published on May 26, 2020 at Ecommerce in 2020: The Definitive Guide

About Gaurav Tiwari

Gaurav Tiwari is a professional graphic & web designer from New Delhi, India. gauravtiwari.org is his personal space where he writes on blogging, digital marketing, content writing, learning and business growth. Gaurav has contributed in developing more than 500 brands worldwide and while you are reading this, he's busy building a couple more.

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