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How to Choose an eCommerce Platform for Your Business

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Need help choosing an eCommerce platform? Join the party. There are so many options to consider that it might be tempting to put all of your choices on a bulletin board and just throw a dart. Since that's also the fast way to messing up big-time, try reading this post instead. It's not as fast, but it's less likely to hurt.

Every eCommerce platform fits into one of these six categories. They all have their ups and downs, so think carefully when trying to pick the right one for your business.

Enterprise

Enterprise systems are feature-rich. The have all the bells and whistles you could hope for. They also come with an equally "feature-rich" price tag, so be ready to squeeze this one into your budget. Classic American lifestyle retailer Sperry Top-Sider uses an enterprise system to handle it's ecommerce needs. This solution is generally a good idea if you do business in the millions of dollars.

Hosted

With a Hosted platform, you pay a monthly fee and let someone else handle the big stuff. As an all-in-one (no separate companies for eCommerce and hosting), this is a good choice for those who don't have a lot time to spend on website management. Personalized children's merchandise seller Sara + Abraham is an example of a hosted site. Before you jump on this type, however, remember that with a hosted platform you are at the mercy of the hosting company. If their servers go down, your store becomes inaccessible. Also, if they go out of business, you're left high and dry until you can find another host. You pay for a lot of convenience, but you give up a lot of control. The pricing schedule is also important to look at. Some charge a fixed fee while others charge per transaction.

Open Source

At the other end of the spectrum from Hosted, Open Source is a truly affordable system to get-it's free. However, you are your own tech support, so you'd better know what you're doing. You can also pay for a support team to take care of that for you, which is where the real cost of this option comes in. There is, however, a robust online community for Open Source users, so answers and help are often very easy to get. This is definitely an "advanced users" option. UK-based charity website Grace's Gift is an example of an open source site that employs a lot of creativity on the part of the designer (and probably more lines of code than most have time to input!).

Simple

No bells, no whistles, just a straightforward website. This is best for sites that just sell a few products. It's very popular with small ebook sellers and places that sell small volumes of downloads. My Short Books is a seller of ebooks that uses a simple platform.

Plug-In

Some sites like Wordpress and Drupal have plug-in eCommerce software. Some are free while others must be purchased, but as a plug-in there's only a minimal amount of configuration to get it to work with your site. GoDaddy is a site that offers multiple Wordpress plug-ins. However, sometimes a small hiccup in the link can cut your customers off from their shopping carts.

Custom

Built from the ground up, it's hands-down the best way to get what you want, guaranteed. It can be fairly time-consuming, and hiring professional designers and a support team can add to the cost, but the upside is that you will get exactly the features you want, presented exactly the way you want them. If branding is a major concern for you, going custom can be the best solution for your company. Merrell, an outdoor apparel retailer, uses a custom eCommerce platform that presents the product in a manner unique to their brand, allowing the company to present itself to the world on its own terms. The result is a website that doesn't look like thousands of others. In addition, offering specific functionality to your consumer base can enhance the buying experience and build brand loyalty.

There's no such thing as the "perfect platform." The ways of doing business are too varied to have a one-size-fits-all solution. However, by taking these things into consideration, you can find the eCommerce platform that is right for you and your business.

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