Choosing a platform for your online store is one of the most important decisions you can make when building your web presence, because it will affect the success of your web strategy now and into the future.
But don’t get stuck trying to decide which is the best platform—there’s no such thing. There’s only the best platform for your business, and no one knows your business better than you do.
If you have a clear picture of where your business is headed and where your web store fits in that frame, you’ll be better positioned to choose a platform that works for you. Most businesses use their websites to showcase and sell their products, interact with their customers, and share their news, and you’ll find a wide range of ecommerce platforms will meet these needs with varying degrees of customisation and sophistication.
Here are a few things to consider when choosing your platform.
When you’re setting up an online store, you have a few basic hosting options. The first and easiest approach is to choose an ecommerce platform that takes care of hosting for you as part of the package. All you’ll need to do is buy your domain name, choose your package and get started with set-up.
You’ll know your hosting is set up the best way for your online store, and you won’t need to worry about managing bandwidth, storage, security or backups, which can be quite challenging if you don’t have the technical expertise in-house. But if you do have that expertise and want to be able to control all aspects of your hosting, you could also host on your own servers or buy hosting services through a third-party provider.
Once your hosting and e-commerce platform are in place, you’ll need to set it up with your branding and content. Each platform offers different solutions for customising your website’s branding and navigation. If you choose one that provides easy-to-use design solutions or ready-made themes, you’ll be up and running in no time. On some e-commerce platforms, that’s as simple as adding your brand colours and logos, then customising your navigation.
Other platforms offer more detailed settings or access to the site code, which may take longer to work through but can result in a better experience for site visitors. And if you want a truly customised website, you’ll want to consider a platform provider that offers professional in-house design services that make best use of the platform’s features.
The biggest point of difference between platforms is usually in their feature offerings. It’s important to have a clear idea of what you need your online store platform to do. Also consider features it would be nice to have, and features you’d like to add down the track. Look for platforms that offer in-built integrations or add-on modules to make your life easier, such as:
By choosing a platform that works with the systems you’re already using, you’ll avoid double handling and free up time to focus on your customers.
Like any technology solution, your online store can encounter problems or you might need a hand when setting up shop, so you’ll probably want support from your e-commerce software vendor. Many providers offer multiple levels of support, which might include an online knowledge-base, training videos, webinars and one-on-one support via chat, email or phone.
It’s often cheaper to go with a provider that doesn’t offer phone support but most people find it easier to explain a problem over the phone with a consultant to find an immediate solution.
Just as they differ in their features, customisations and support plans, e-commerce platforms differ in their pricing. Look for the platform that offers you the best value for what you can afford, paying careful attention to your list of required and desirable features.
You’ll also want to think about how your web store will scale with your business. If you grow and need to add more users, will the pricing plan still be affordable? How about when you want to open a new bricks-and-mortar store – will your e-commerce platform also work at your point of sale? Will it make it easy for you to manage inventory and accounting across all your sales channels? If the answer is yes, you’ll be seeing returns on your investment in the platform for years to come.
Even after you’ve read the detailed product information, it can be hard to know if you’re really choosing the best solution until you’ve started using it. That’s why it’s best to find a website platform that will offer you a no-obligation free trial to get started. A truly free trial – one that doesn’t ask you for your credit card details – is also a great sign that the vendor is confident you’ll be so impressed with their service that you’ll want to sign up.
And, once you’ve done that, you’re ready to go.
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Ryan Murtagh is the founder and CEO of ecommerce platform, Neto. Established in 2011, Ryan built the business based on a need in the marketplace for an end-to-end ecommerce platform designed to automate and streamline online trading for SMEs. An online retailer himself, Ryan understood the industry pain points and sought to provide a platform that could be applied to businesses of all sizes. Evident throughout his life, in his early years, Ryan identified opportunities to operate businesses differently. This saw him become a success story at the age of 14, flipping his school’s tuck shop and selling it back to them. Having owned and operated businesses since his teen years, Ryan’s passion and interest in retail has evolved into a thriving portfolio of success.