E-Commerce, a business sphere, which when came, disrupted the entire commerce on the globe. With eCommerce becoming popular, which used to be a local market, evolved unimaginably and grew into a global marketplace with products and services being sold through the internet.
It all started way back in 1995 when Amazon sold its first product- a book. From book to selling everything one can imagine, it was a long journey for Amazon, and so was it for the concept of selling and buying stuff online.
In 2018 eCommerce was a $2.3 trillion market, and experts estimate that it will grow tremendously to cross the $4.48 trillion mark by 2020.
If you too are an eCommerce enthusiast and thinking about investing in this lucrative market with your online venture, this guide will make you an expert in a very explicit domain where most entrepreneurs struggle to match.
I am talking about a perfect way of choosing an eCommerce platform. A decision which can prove to be a deal breaker if your calculations miss even by a decimal point. E-Commerce platforms are one of the earliest decisions in starting an eCommerce business and trust me, you would know how crucial they are after reading this article.
Be advised that this article will still prove to be useful if you are already using an eCommerce platform and not sure if it was a correct choice? So let’s just jump into the very crucial discussion
When Amazon sold its first book online, it was a different scenario. Back then, the facility to order something online and paying for it to the courier boy on delivery was a sensational innovation. However, today, eCommerce has become much more than just listing a product on a website.
There is competition; massive competition among different eCommerce businesses. Running an eCommerce business in 2019 is an array of user experience, supply chain management, strategic planning, competition research, cutting-edge marketing, and an infinite number of other things.
In all this, an eCommerce platform, also called as eCommerce CMS, plays as the base of your business. It is responsible for automating and streamlining the business operations and different activities that otherwise demand human intervention.
Selection of your eCommerce platform is directly proportional to how your business behaves on the following 4 grounds:
The best eCommerce platform you can choose would let you come out with flying colors on the above-mentioned aspects. These four factors decide if your business would thrive or would quit the league in the middle of the race.
In addition to the points explained above, an eCommerce platform is much more crucial for an eCommerce business to succeed in the current market. You see, an eCommerce platform is a ready-made application that allows a business to execute complex functions and also enables it to easily accommodate all other missing functions through custom integrations.
For example, an eCommerce platform may come with essential features to manage the simple buying and selling of products. However, it becomes innovative and invincible when you can also integrate cutting edge solutions to it. They can be anything from adding a popular CRM API, Inventory Management System API, Mobile app Web service API, to an email marketing tool API.
As the backbone of your business, an eCommerce platform offers a ready-made environment to build an online shop by just using a GUI or starting a custom development on top of it. For example, an open source eCommerce platform like Magento comes inbuilt with so many functions, which you can use as they are or you can also customize it. Features you can expect to come inbuilt with such a platform may range as follows:
In contrast to this, when you think about developing your entire eCommerce solution from scratch, you are dragged back in time. With eCommerce platforms, you get basic eCommerce setup ready-made, and this setup is almost similar for any eCommerce platform you choose from the market.
Now, when you decide to build everything from the beginning, you would be re-building what’s has already been built by others. You are not doing anything new, except for re-inventing the wheel to build a cart. When you can purchase a wheel and use it in your project to build the cart, why would you waste your time, money, and effort re-doing the same stuff again?
Unless you are thinking about re-inventing a non-circular wheel, you would be wasting your energy re-building the same wheel again and again.
A perfect eCommerce platform is a myth. Or I can say, the metrics we generally use to measure an eCommerce platform are a myth. The most obvious and false metrics of measuring an eCommerce platform today is “Popularity”.
Truth to be told- “A perfect eCommerce platform is not the one that is popular but the one that delivers the goals and objectives set by you for your business.”
A pro tip for choosing the perfect eCommerce platform would be identifying your goals first and then beginning the expedition to find the best-fitted platform. To find a competitive eCommerce platform, you first have to make your business goals and strategies competitive. A platform matching your checklist of competitive aspects would be the one crafted for you.
Once, you have your checklist in hands, you would come across the fowling six options to get your best-suited eCommerce platform. There are various aspects that influence the most suitable approach based on the size of the venture and future plans for scaling up.
This approach was well explained in the previous section while clarifying why you should not re-invent the wheel. I don’t totally decline this approach. It offers you complete control over everything about your website and business. However, there are other approaches as well, and they offer a similar kind of control and in a much quicker way. That’s why this approach is not common these days.
These are basically the enterprise level platforms suitable for building large scale businesses and you require a whole team of developers to acquire them. You have to purchase the license of the software which would be renewed yearly. In return, you get access to develop your own solution on top of the ready-made platform.
If you are thinking about starting a large scale eCommerce business, and you can also afford the annual renewal cost plus the cost of managing your technical team, eCommerce platforms like Hybris, Oracle Commerce, and IBM Digital Commerce would a perfect choice.
They are similar to traditional enterprise eCommerce platforms expect you don’t need to purchase the license to use them. So you are free from annual renewal cost. However, there would be the cost of development on top of the platforms. You would be hiring developers, server admin, and site admins to manage everything.
Open source eCommerce platforms have few of the biggest communities. Their members are highly active and they develop and sell various ready-made modules that can readily customize the platforms for specific goals.
For example, Magento, PrestaShop, OpenCart, WordPress-WooCommerce. You can find thousands of ready-made modules and extensions on the internet, which you can use to add new features to your platform. For example, to add a PayPal payment gateway in your Magento site, you can purchase and install PayPal Extension.
These solutions are suitable for launching small to medium-sized businesses. You have the choice to host your website on a server of your choice. However, some of them are a little complicated and you would require a technical team to manage your site for you.
Cloud platforms are nothing but a cloud extension of the open-source CMS explained just now. The popular eCommerce CMS vendors partner with cloud services and offer their platforms already hosted on specific cloud servers. This eliminates the need for manual installation and hosting as they come readily installed on the cloud servers.
Please note that you can find a particular CMS being offered by multiple could servers. For example, you can find PrestaShop cloud version hosted on cloud servers like IONOS as well as Microsoft Azure.
The cloud version of Magento CMS is called as Magento Enterprise Cloud. Other examples of cloud platforms could be Demandware, Salesforce Commerce, and Volusion.
These solutions are suitable for starting small-scale eCommerce businesses in lesser investment. However, you would feel the need to invest more and purchase paid modules to stay competitive.
Often times, we get confused between Cloud and SaaS platforms. We use them interchangeably but they are different from one another. One major difference is a SaaS platform is built on a single codebase and they do not allow the access to the source code. Another difference is they come with fixed monthly charges and they do not have any open-source counterpart.
While Shopify is an exception, which allows API-based access for limited third-party customizations, most of the SaaS platforms do not allow third-party customizations.
You would be offered with a ready-to-use cloud-hosted platform where you can set up the site in a few minutes by just updating some details on a web-based dashboard. You won’t get the cPanel access as they are closed- source.
Solutions like Shopify and BigCommerce are the perfect choice for those who do not want the hassle of managing the site and just want to sell products on the go. Most of the eCommerce entrepreneurs started their business on these platforms to gain the market and later moved to large-scale solutions for upscaling the business.
I find this approach more suitable for any scale of business. It is a controlled combination of benefits from all the above approaches. With turnkey enterprise eCommerce platforms, you get a ready-made solution similar to SaaS, where you can set up your site on the go. Plus point is, you get the source-code access as well, making it possible to customize the platform on need and also get the flexibility to choose your own hosting server.
One more benefit is unlike SaaS or traditional enterprise platforms, you don’t need to pay any monthly or yearly recurring fee. However, this could also be a drawback as you would have to pay an upfront one-time cost. This approach can land you with best eCommerce solutions if don’t want to pay recurring charges and can afford an upfront cost for once.
Setting up the site could be a little complicated with source code access, but your eCommerce solution provider generally gets this part covered for you. This approach gives you the freedom to control your future investments as you would be paying only for the customizations you want.
Solutions like Genstore, which is based on MEAN stack, also give you ultimate control over your business and you would be ensured of the scalability of your site with the power of Node.js. Be advised that biggest eCommerce names like Amazon and PayPal are based on MEAN stack itself.
Starting an eCommerce business is a gigantic task and one should be informed enough of all the pros, cons, and challenges of venturing into it. I have made an eCommerce platforms comparison, now the decision is yours to choose the best eCommerce platform based on your venture capital and size.
We have written a one-stop guide on How to create an online store and make $1000 on your first month? You should read it to comprehend the crucial aspects in minute details. I have also talked about the decisive features you should always anticipate in an eCommerce website builder irrespective of the business-size and approach.