Choosing the Right Ecommerce Platform for Your Business

Choosing the Right Ecommerce Platform for Your Business

2021 is an amazing time to be part of the ecommerce landscape. With ecommerce accounting for more than 21%1 of total retail sales in 2020, and revenues expected to generate over $4.5 trillion in sales in 2021, online sales seem to only be growing, and growing fast. 

While it is important to understand the trends of this industry, it is also important to understand how to do it well. With only around a million ecommerce websites actually making a profit, finding your “WHY” when determining if you should upgrade your existing ecommerce platform, as well as “HOW” to choose an ecommerce platform, are hugely important. 

That’s where CQL comes in. We not only partner with some of the leading ecommerce platform companies on the market, but we also have over 25 years of experience providing top-notch services in technology and software solutions for our clients. 

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some considerations to keep in mind when fleshing out both the WHY and HOW. In this article, you will find the following:

  • Why The Early 00s Are Not Making A Comeback
  • Why Journeys On The Web Are No Longer Just About the Web
  • The Criteria That Might Change Your View
  • Areas That Will Bring Tech Into Focus
  • Red Flags That Could Stall a Platform Choice

Why The Early 00s Are Not Making A Comeback

Old Tech
Remember the old-school ecommerce websites that packed every category imaginable in a left nav, then used tables of categories or products as their home page? Remember the site taking 30 seconds to load?

My, how things have changed…or have they? Customers want, or rather NEED, a really great presentation when visiting an ecommerce website. 

Recent studies show that 38%2 of people will stop engaging with a website if the content/layout is unattractive, and another 39%3 will stop engaging if images on the website won’t load or take too long to load. Attention to detail is more important than ever, and the expectation that the presentation and user experience are top-notch have to be assumed.

Why Journeys On The Web Are No Longer Just About the Web

Mobile-First Matters
Think about the environment we live in today. More people than ever are using their mobile devices as their primary source of information. This is also increasing at an exponential rate when browsing ecommerce sites via a mobile device. 

Mobile Designs
Design matters and it needs to flow into everything else your customer is doing on their device. Google reports that users are 62%4 less likely to purchase from you in the future if they have a negative experience on their mobile device. That means that not only will they not buy from you in their first experience on the mobile device, but they won’t even consider you most of the time when using ANY device.

Social Influence
This is just the tip of the iceberg, however. Users are more ingrained than ever before with their devices utilizing social interactions with friends, peers, and influencers. AI is working overtime by presenting the latest trends and must-haves through social marketing, and by tracking customer experiences and previous purchases.

Buying Evolution
On top of all of this, the expectations of an online consumer have also evolved. Gone are the days of a separation between the online experience and the in-store experience. With the onset of COVID-19 and an explosion of more robust tools, customers are now looking for a frictionless experience when buying online. This includes free and easy returns, fast and free shipping, and the ability to start the purchasing process online and pick up their order in-store.

The Criteria That Might Change Your View

So you might be thinking to yourself at this point, “I already know the reasons why I want to change my ecommerce platform, I just don’t know what I need to look for with all the choices out there”. Fear not, we have you covered.

Let’s present some basic criteria to consider first.

The 90/10 Rule
Basically, this comes down to understanding if the platform you are looking at can perform 90%-ish of what you are trying to accomplish right now. If so, is the other 10% something that can’t be done today, but can be done in the near future?

Ease of Use
When considering a platform, look at how intuitive it is. Try to make sure that the platform provides a lot of functionality without having to jump through a lot of hoops. It makes sense to also consider the opposite and be sure the platform provides just enough functionality so it is not overwhelming or confusing.

Primary Audience
Understanding your primary audience is especially important in regards to a platform. While there are only three options here – Business to Customer (B2C), Business to Business (B2B), or a combination of the two – some platforms position themselves to be better suited for one audience over another.

Out-of-the-Box Features
All platforms are unique, especially when it comes to out-of-the-box features. What a platform doesn’t provide out of the box, it usually compensates with some type of integration. While important, there are some value-adds to sticking with what the platform provides, as there is usually a much tighter integration between the functionality of the platform.

Some of the most important features of a platform include:

  • A robust product catalog that allows for dynamic attribute creation
  • A really good content management system
  • Search tooling that allows for suggesting results, ability to add additional weighting on various fields, searching across content and products, etc.
  • A multitude of discounts and promotions can be added to handle a multitude of various scenarios
  • The ability to add and segment users into different groups for customized content, pricing, discounts, etc. 
  • Great SEO tooling
  • Return functionality that allows for a frictionless shopping experience

Platform Support
While lots of platforms have a great set of features that can seemingly solve every ecommerce problem that might arise, it only takes one issue with the platform to cause a huge problem. When that happens, you will want to make sure that the platform you have selected will support you. If support is considered secondary with a platform, consider the uphill climb that could occur.

There is always a cost to consider when looking at platforms. Cost considerations include the startup cost, initial development, monthly fees that will be incurred, and continued support. Platforms that allow more out-of-the-box features may cost more and require less investment in development, but those same platforms may have costs associated with features that are not even used.

Fun To Use
One criterion that is often overlooked is the fun factor of a platform. Consider the fact that this platform may be used every day by multiple groups of people. Is it enjoyable to use? Try to factor in if the platform will cause more frustration to your day, or if you are excited to explore more of the possibilities of the platform and your website.

Areas That Will Bring Tech Into Focus

The intangibles of a platform are important, but probably more important are the behind-the-scenes components of the platform, such as the technology stack and integrations.

Tech Stack
The following areas should be considered when reviewing a platform:

  • How does the data flow between the data layer and the presentation layer? Is there a heavy dependency on APIs? Is the platform headless and actively storing, managing, and delivering content without a front-end delivery layer?
  • What is the backend architecture of the platform? These days, there is a strong movement to microservices which allow for the application to be a collection of loosely coupled services, which means modifications to specific areas of the platform are independent of each other.
  • What does development look like for the platform? Does it use old technology like jQuery, or is it allowing for development using more recent frameworks like React, Svelte, or Stencil? Can you modify the backend code using an MVC approach?
  • Is the platform flexible by allowing the formation of templates for content pages, PDPs, and other areas of the site? How locked down are portions of the ecommerce journey? Do you have the ability to modify cart and checkout to be more personalized? Can you modify the database without a ton of leg work, allowing for ad hoc object and property creation and modifications?

Again, most platforms allow for integrations where they don’t have the functionality out of the box. Most platforms may even come with this functionality, but still, allow for additional integrations. Some of the more important integrations to consider include the following:

  • Payment Processors
  • Order Management (OMS)
  • Enterprise Resource Planning (ERPs)
  • Product Information Management (PIM)
  • Customer Data Platforms (CDP)
  • Additional Marketplace Integrations (Amazon, eBay, etc)

Red Flags That Could Stall a Platform Choice

Of course there is a high probability that a single platform will not solve every problem or scenario. While various small issues, or even bigger issues, may make your choice easier to make, here are a couple of areas that might help you remove a platform from consideration even before an evaluation has started.

Monolithic Architecture
One major area of concern would be that the platform is built on a monolithic architecture. As stated above, there are a lot of platforms moving to microservices to get around this issue.  Those that still exist have the possibility of interjecting issues in various areas of the platform when changing to an entirely different area.

Ecommerce is an Add-On
Another red flag would be if the platform is a secondary add-on to an existing platform that specializes in an entirely different aspect of the ecommerce journey. This could be something like an ERP that decided after the fact that it needs to have an additional ecommerce platform.

Option Overload
Similar to ecommerce being an add-on, some platforms go the opposite way, trying to add every feature imaginable into a single application. While this might seem beneficial, it is hard to take full advantage of every feature, and some areas get less attention than others, making the platform seem robust, but still lacking.

Difficult Customizations or Upgrade Issues
Every software application has a lifecycle, and when upgrades are needed to maintain best practices, security patches, or upgrades in technology, it is important to understand how those upgrades can break a heavily customized instance. Platforms that have a history of leaving customers with heavy customizations during major upgrades should be considered, as the cost and time may be considerable to get back up and running.

Next Steps

Even with a good set of data on why a new platform should be selected and full knowledge of what to look out for when selecting a new platform, it is still a major undertaking that could help shape and define your company for years to come. Don’t do it alone.

CQL specializes in helping customers go through this journey and working with them to develop the best solution that works for them. Contact us today and one of our platform professionals will be happy to answer all of your questions and meet your ecommerce platform needs.