Mar 20, 2010

How to Pick an eCommerce Platform

Andrew Warden

Andrew Warden

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If you are ready to jump into eCommerce – or perhaps just need to rethink how your company currently conducts its eCommerce activities – then you need to start by considering the critical success factors for your eCommerce platform– the foundation of your investment. The following factors should be considered when choosing how your company pursues its eCommerce solution:

  1. Supportability – the eCommerce system you choose should be easily supportable, with an ample pool of development talent. Consider the underlying technology and the marketplace availability for developers of any open source system. For example, a Java-based system lends itself to easy and (relatively) cheap access to developers to support and enhance your platform in the long run.

  2. Scalability – Your eCommerce platform should be able to expand as your company expands. This applies to both the volumes of commerce the platform should support as well as the technological changes and updates that will be needed as your online channel expands. The platform you choose is an investment – a long term one, at that.

  3. Integration – A key determinant in the platform you choose should be its ability to integrate well with your current and planned operational and back office systems. Where will your parts catalog live? What about pricing? How will the online channel integrate with your current sales channels? Your eCommerce platform should not require you to maintain information twice. This is often the most complicated part of successfully enabling an online retail presence with your existing operations in a cost effective manner.

  4. Analytics –Detailed reporting gives you access to the key indicators of how your online channel is performing. How many customers are visiting your site? How many views are converted to orders? How many orders are abandoned in a user’s shopping cart? Analytics should be an integral part of your eCommerce platform investment, whether the platform itself has the capabilities or easily integrates with industry standard analytical capabilities such as Google Analytics. As products and services become more and more commoditized, many businesses are using analytics to compete effectively. Whether it is due to gaining better insights and taking action on richer data or making the same decisions as competitors more quickly through improved data, Analytics are critical to your eCommerce solution.

  5. Checkout – A smooth, intuitive user experience when ordering goods and services is critical to lessen abandonment rates. Ideal checkout processes should be streamlined and should provide users with an overall understanding of where the user is in the process (e.g., Step 1 of 4, etc.). You should also consider the ability to provide registration and stored information for users along with guest checkout for those that do not wish to create accounts. Often, the checkout is the last online experience a customer will have. You don’t want it to be a bad one.

  6. Security – Your chosen eCommerce solution should offer a painless method for maintaining industry standard protection of personal information, along with the ability to scale and grow to meet new innovations and approaches for maintaining a safe, secure environment for your customers. While most solutions in the marketplace offer industry standard security processes, care must be given not to overlook this impact criterion. Failure to safely maintain your customers’ data can land you in the news – for all the wrong reasons!

  7. Innovation – Will your chosen eCommerce platform continue to evolve and innovate? This goes hand-in-hand with the Supportability and Scalability components, in that you should consider only those platforms that will continue to meet the needs of your business as you grow, as your industry changes, and as technology evolves. If you are going the route of a packaged system, how often are releases produced? How frequently must releases be adopted and what upgrades are required to maintain support? If instead you are going the open-source route, how frequently is the code being updated? Is there a clear direction of where the platform is headed? Is there long-term viability in the platform?

  8. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – What features does the eCommerce platform offer to make it search engine friendly? You can always use paid search to draw customers’ attention to your site, but paid search should ideally augment your site’s built in potential to rank well on search engines for the products, services, and content that you offer to potential customers. Spend time investigating the eCommerce platform company’s website and salesforce to see if SEO is even on their radar.

  9. Content Management – Your eCommerce platform should provide an easy-to-use, end-user content management solution, enabling updates to the website by non-technical users in a streamlined, efficient manner. This is especially true for managing your catalog of products and services. If you already have a large product catalog database, look for a solution that provides capabilities to import your existing data. Make sure that your chosen platform offers flexibility to meet the needs of your catalog and offers flexibility for future growth. Successful content management solutions enable your site to be an extension of your store and your brand. Don’t compromise on a platform solution that negates your brand advantages.

  10. Special Promotions Management – Your platform should provide the flexibility to easily update pricing and offer special promotions or discounts to customers. Can your site send emails offering discounts to customers that have not ordered within a specified timeframe? For customers that abandon items in their cart? How will your marketing capabilities be integrated with your eCommerce site? Your platform should be able to handle promotions and discounts efficiently to allow you to maximize your marketing potential.

  11. Templates and Quick-Start Tools – Several eCommerce platforms offer the ability to “kick-start” your online presence by incorporating templates and construction tools. Others use wizards to help guide designers through a series of decisions to build a store design to fit the store presence you wish to create for your customers. It is much easier to use these tools to design your online presence versus creating everything from a blank page.

  12. Customer Service and Technical Support – Anyone in the retail business understands customer service is a huge differentiator. Your chosen platform should be backed by a company that offers outstanding technical support and customer service backing up its product. How will the company or platform integrator treat you during the sales cycle? How will they treat you long after the sale is done and you need support for the product? Your platform provider should meet or exceed the same standards you would offer to your customers. Don’t settle for less.

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