Motive: How to choose an ecommerce platform
by Matt Roux (@matthewroux) If they haven’t already experienced it, most retailers will soon feel the pull to begin selling their products online. With so many ecommerce platform options available, it is not trivial to select the most appropriate platform for the unique needs of any particular retailer. It is certainly not a “one-size-fits-all” discussion. As a result, here’s a toolbox of seven questions to help narrow down the choices.
For purposes of this discussion, an ecommerce platform is defined as including the following components:
- responsive website (B2C or B2B) that works on pcs, Macs, tablets and phones
- site search engine
- web content management system
- online promotions engine
- omnichannel awareness
- customer master database (if it doesn’t already exist for the retailer)
- product information management (if it doesn’t already exist for the retailer)
- customer servicing screens for online orders
- payment gateway interface
The ecommerce platform excludes the following components (we call these “the backend” of your company’s IT environment)
- accounting system
- warehouse management system
- ERP system (including supplier master)
- EDI system for communicating with suppliers
- courier hub for communicating with couriers
- email marketing tool
- business intelligence data warehouse
Defining the following five ecommerce platform types:
What is your current technology stack?
Unless you’re starting a website from your garage, your company probably already has an it development team and that team will have chosen a dominant technology stack such as microsoft.net or java. It’s a great idea to first check what the accepted technology standards are with your IT team, so as to align the proposed ecommerce platform with your existing technology stack. For example, if the IT team uses microsoft.net then nopcommerce, episerver or umbraco.net might be good starting points. Similarly atg, hybris or broadleaf would be good bets for a java-dominated IT environment and php shops would want to look at magento, woocommerce or prestashop.
As an added bonus, try to find the rock star of the IT team who knows all of the systems; he or she will be an excellent ally for the ecommerce rollout especially if the proposed ecommerce platform fits the existing skillset.
How deeply do you have to integrate to the backend?
The deeper the integration requirements into the backend, the more likely that you need to be able to make changes to the ecommerce platform. If deep backend integration is needed, the hosted, template-based solutions like shopify quickly fall off the pace.
How much money do you have?
Massive amounts of time and planning go into budgeting for the upfront build cost of the project to implement an ecommerce platform but project teams often forget that, once the ecommerce platform is launched, there are monthly hosting and maintenance and enhancement costs. These are called the costs that you need to cover for the “rest of your life”. See the table below of estimated costs.
How unique is your user experience?
If you are happy to expose standard ecommerce features with minor tweaks, then buying a shopify or WordPress template can hit the spot. But if you will wireframe every page and you have unique data that needs to be shown on the website, then you need to move beyond the template-based websites.
How much time do you have?
A template-based website such as shopify can be launched within four weeks. A customised, medium-sized website build such as magento can take between three-to-six months and an enterprise rollout such as hybris will take at least 12 months to launch.
How many unique products (aka skus) do you have?
In ecommerce, sku count is an excellent proxy for complexity. More skus mean more effort in pricing, promotions, descriptions, images, video, search, omnichannel awareness and supplier ordering. Therefore, the higher the sku count, the more sophisticated your ecommerce management tools need to be; those more sophisticated tools come in the more-advanced ecommerce platforms (and not the template-based solutions like shopify).
Have you prepared the non-negotiables?
You should not write a line of code or begin to configure a template-based solution without:
- finalised corporate identity
- finalised lifestyle imagery
- finalised product imagery
- finalised UX and/or wireframes
By asking these seven questions, you can rapidly narrow down the shortlist of the most appropriate ecommerce platforms to suit your unique needs.
Matt Roux was previously CTO and director of programme management and IT operations at kalahari.com. As CTO of Emerce Commerce, he works hand in hand with the executive team to identify opportunities to drive growth, including matching the right technology platforms and development teams to customer needs.
“Motive” is a by-invitation-only column on MarkLives.com. Contributors are picked by the editors but generally don’t form part of our regular columnist lineup, unless the topic is off-column.
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