How do you build an online store? With an eCommerce website builder platform that meets the specific needs and goals of your business. The best solutions will also give you a robust and easy-to-use interface to manage the whole thing, developing an online store that grows alongside your business.
Here at NEXT BASKET, we provide leading website builders and eCommerce solutions that help you achieve this. But which option is the right one for you? Take a look at our guide.
Consider Your Business Needs and Goals
Before we get started, you first need a strong understanding of what your business requires and what you want to achieve from the eCommerce solution. You need an eCommerce platform that will tick all the boxes, so you first need to know what these boxes are.
The first step is to create some general aims and targets. For example – increasing revenue by boosting the performance of high-value products. On the other hand, you might want to enhance the full lifecycle value of each of your customers. It’s up to you; just consider your reasons for investing in an eCommerce platform.
Building on these generalized goals, you can start to add more detail using the SMART framework:
- Specific: Each of your needs and goals must have a clear definition. For example, you want to use the platform to increase product sales, focusing on products in categories A, B, and C.
- Measurable: You will need metrics you can follow as you track your progress towards the goal. For example, you want to increase sales of Product A by 300%.
- Achievable: Each goal must be based on observable facts. Otherwise, it may not be realistic. For example, if you have witnessed your competitors increasing their product sales by 250% with a new eCommerce solution, it is reasonable to think you might achieve 300% with the right approach.
- Relevant: The goals and needs you define must directly support your business’ growth and development. The sales increase examples we’ve looked at are relevant, but a goal like “increasing traffic to ‘coming soon’ or ‘out of stock’ pages probably won’t support growth.
- Timely: Finally, each goal needs a time restraint. For example, you want to increase sales of Product A by 300% by the end of Q4.
Use this framework to develop a set of core needs and goals for your eCommerce solution. This will form the basis of your decision-making as you choose the right platform.
Evaluate Platform Scalability and Flexibility
Yes, the best platform for eCommerce website will meet your needs in the here and now. But what about in the future? Your business requirements and objectives will likely change as your company grows, so you need a solution that can handle this.
Growth can affect your ecommerce business in different ways:
- You may launch new lines, so you need a solution that can accommodate your expanding range with unlimited product capacity.
- You may increase the diversity of your products, perhaps selling subscription services, SaaS solutions, or other offerings.
- You may experience an increased volume of traffic as more and more visitors come to your online store, and you may need to expand customer support capabilities as a result.
- You may expand into other states or countries, and your eCommerce platform will need to meet regulatory requirements in these locations.
These are just a few examples of how your business can change as your company develops. There may also be external factors – change drivers beyond your control that influence your operations. In short, your eCommerce solution needs to be scalable — expanding to meet the predictable business growth challenges — but it must also be flexible enough to adapt to more unexpected changes.
Assess Ease of Use and Customization Options
In a basic sense, your eCommerce platform needs to be easy to use while also allowing you to customize the experience. We can look at this from your customer’s point of view and your own.
Ease of Use for Your Teams
It should be easy for your teams to make changes to the eCommerce platform – adding or removing products and making modifications. An intuitive interface and built-in features ensure your personnel can achieve this even without web development experience.
At the same time, a headless eCommerce solution means they can make changes to the front end without impacting the back end.
The backend should also be easy to use for your developers. They may have more experience and expertise in this field, but they still want a streamlined experience while they work.
Ease of Use for Customers
Your platform needs to support an intuitive and straightforward storefront page. What’s more, it needs to be adaptable – if customer requirements change, you need to be able to respond to this quickly and easily, making alterations via the eCommerce platform.
Customization for Your Teams
While the eCommerce platform is designed to support general business needs, you should still be able to personalize it to fit your own requirements.
Make sure your personnel have access to a comprehensive range of settings and customization options, effectively tailoring the platform to meet the specifics of your business operations. Customizable templates with drag-and-drop functionality give you this control without sacrificing ease of use.
Customization for Customers
Your customers likely want some customization options, too, and the best eCommerce platforms will support this. Creating different user journeys based on the specific customer segment or profile may be possible, achieving a personalized experience that will engage your customers.
Analyze Security and Compliance Features
Security is a really, really big consideration as you choose your eCommerce platform provider. Not only will robust security help you to remain compliant with all rules and regulations, but it will also ensure your customers can shop confidently when they visit your store. Look out for the following key features:
If your platform offers hosting and eCommerce software, ensure your pages are served over the HTTPS protocol. This is essentially the hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) used to render your website in the browser, but with secure (S) encryption applied.
To achieve this, the website needs TLS 1.2 encryption as a standard level of protection and must have secure sockets layer (SSL) certification.
MFA stands for multi-factor authentication. In other words, rather than using just a single login credential to get signed in, the user needs two or more. For instance, they might log in with a password and then use a verified device or a biometric scan to complete the process. MFA is far more secure than the alternative.
You will almost certainly need to apply MFA to your staff user login portals so you know that only authorized individuals can access the solution. If your customers need to enter passwords and usernames or access member areas, you may also need MFA in place here.
Non-storage Payment Processing
You need to be aware of data protection when choosing your eCommerce platform. Your customers need to input their data when they make a transaction, but you do not need to store this data. In fact, you shouldn’t even store this data – instead, the platform should be able to process the transaction without keeping hold of sensitive user information.
There will be customer data types that you need to store. However, keep user data storage to a minimum where possible, and choose a solution that does not store sensitive data like information from payment gateways.
Regulatory compliance is fairly complex, particularly in the United States, where each state may have its own data protection regulations. You’ll need to ensure you comply with regulations across all the states you operate in. At the federal level, eCommerce is regulated by the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC. Check that your chosen eCommerce platform complies with FTC regulations.
Check for Integrations With Third-Party Apps and Services
Even the best eCommerce platforms don’t exist in isolation. Instead, they form part of a network of solutions within your eCommerce toolkit. With this in mind, you need software that can integrate with many different third-party services.
Your platform may have payment features built in. However, it will still need to accept online payments with external payment solutions like Stripe or Apple Pay, providing your customers with secure and convenient transaction and payment capabilities.
Data Storage and Analysis
Data is an important resource for your business, but it can also pose a bit of a headache. Integrating with a third-party cloud storage solution can make handling data far easier. Integration with analytics services is also very useful for business intelligence in your ecommerce space.
Customer Relationship Management Solutions
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions are vital as you seek to retain high-value customers. Your eCommerce platform can provide a lot of valuable data to your CRM and vice-versa. Make sure the platform can integrate with the CRM software you are using.
Inventory Management Systems
Your inventory management solution needs to connect directly to your online store, drawing upon and delivering data in real-time to give you a good understanding of your stock levels.
Promotional and Marketing Tools
You will need to promote and market your own online store using search engine optimization, social media marketing, pay-per-click ads, and a whole host of other strategies as you get the word out there and build your revenue. If your eCommerce platform integrates with these tools, the work of your marketing teams will be much easier.
Remember, you’re looking for a solution that will effectively meet your needs and objectives. A good candidate will have plenty of internal eCommerce features built in and a range of external integrations – together, these translate to a comprehensive array of capabilities.
Evaluate Pricing and Transaction Fees
How much will the eCommerce solution cost you once it is up and running? This is one of the key differences between using an eCommerce software platform and developing your own – the ready-made platform is far more convenient and cheaper to deploy but will come with ongoing costs.
Get a detailed breakdown of all of the costs associated with each ecommerce site builder, including:
- Regular Subscription Fees: For software as a service (SaaS) platforms, you will pay a regular subscription fee for as long as you use the solution. This fee might be payable every month or every quarter and will usually be the same amount each time.
- Scaling Options: As your business grows, you may need to add more products or features to your ecommerce site. Check how much it will cost to upgrade the scale and capacity of your business online.
- Transaction Fees: Some platforms may charge a fee for each transaction or for transactions above a certain threshold. Make sure you understand how much online selling will cost you, especially if you run multiple online stores.
- Additional Fees: In some cases, other fees may be applied – such as fees for support or specific features. Refer to your needs and goals to find out more about the features you require. Check if you will need to pay for these or not.
Remember that different eCommerce platform providers may represent their prices in different ways. Take some time to check and compare all the pricing information so you make the right choice for your budget.
In some cases, you will be offered a free trial to compare the chosen alternative to other ecommerce solutions.
Assess Platform Support and Community Resources
In an ideal world, your eCommerce platform will be highly intuitive and super easy to use. You and your teams will be able to go it alone, managing your online business and optimizing your profits. The reality, however, will be a little different – yes, a good platform will be very user-friendly, but you’ll still need access to support.
Ask the following questions as you compare your options:
- Does the platform offer round-the-clock human support?
- If not, what hours does the support team operate?
- Is there a “Help” feature or an information repository to help you navigate the features?
- Does the platform include AI-based support tools for answering simple questions?
- Are there additional fees for support or higher levels of support?
A strong community of fellow eCommerce store owners can also provide beneficial support. User forums and groups can be useful places to seek help and assistance, although this is not a substitute for direct support from the platform itself.
If you’re planning to use an open source ecommerce platform, communities will be extra important for tips and advice.
Consider Mobile Responsiveness and Performance
Your customers may come to you from various locations, using many different devices as they interact with your store. They may access your website from a desktop computer or use a mobile app or browser to purchase your products.
No matter how your customers reach you, you must ensure you provide the same great experience:
- Look for eCommerce platforms that offer mobile-optimized versions of your storefront page: Displaying a desktop page by default on a mobile or tablet device does not give users the experience they expect from you.
- Consider mobile stability and loading times: We’ll talk more about SEO later on, but a stable mobile page with fast loading times is an important asset in search engine performance.
- Be consistent across different channels: Customers don’t just use one device; they use many, often simultaneously. During the same transaction, they might switch from a mobile to a tablet device and then to a desktop. Choose an eCommerce platform that offers a seamless experience across multiple channels.
- Think about numerous different browsers and devices: Select a platform that provides responsive and stable performance across all common browsers and device types. Consider the Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Edge, and Opera browsers, as well as Android, Apple, and Windows smartphone and tablet devices.
Evaluate SEO Features and Marketing Tools
Search engine optimization, or SEO, is something you need to bear in mind as you build your store. SEO is not limited to blog posts and web articles – it applies to all your pages, including your eCommerce pages.
A good eCommerce website builder will provide all the features you need to optimize your pages. You should be able to add meta titles and descriptions to your pages, as well as custom canonical and hreflang tags. There should be a text editor with header tag functionality so you can add descriptions that hit your target user search terms. The solution will also help you achieve specific optimization results, like Google Shopping listings, rich snippets, and local SEO.
The solution you choose should also make it easy to handle technical SEO for all your pages. By modifying the page layout and media files and by interlinking pages within the site, you can ensure your page is well-optimized.
Search engines may penalize pages that are slow to load or unstable, while crawlers may find it difficult to access pages that do not follow a strong linking structure. In other words, technical SEO tools and features are must-haves for your eCommerce solution.
Marketing extends beyond SEO, bringing together a wide range of different disciplines and techniques. The right platform will also support your other marketing efforts, enabling social media sharing, pay-per-click ad integration, and subscription and loyalty schemes.
Examine Analytics and Reporting Capabilities
Analytics give you invaluable insight into how your online store is performing. You’ll be able to view impressions and click through rates, time spent on the page, conversion rates, transaction values, and other key pieces of data for all the pages within your store.
Without this information, you’re essentially flying blind, and you won’t be able to tell what’s working and what’s not.
Before you make the final decision on which platform to choose for your eCommerce store, take a look at the analytics capabilities. Some platforms may only offer basic analytics, examining page views and product purchases over a set period. Others may provide advanced commerce data and analytic functionality, comparing customer lifecycle values, abandoned cart rates, conversion rates, and other higher-level insights.
Reporting is another important feature. A good website builder and eCommerce platform solution will enable you to commission highly detailed and accurate reports that give you a snapshot of your current performance. This is an important feature to help you track your progress and remain on course for growth as you sell online – but more detailed reporting functions may come at a higher cost.
It depends on how much insight you want and how much you’re willing to pay. Advanced commerce analytics might give you a greater understanding of your performance, but you might pay more for the subscription. On the other hand, you will save a bit of money with a more basic option, but you could lose money if you miss out on the data you need to grow your business.
Remember, you need access to analytics and reporting ecommerce functionality as you measure your progress toward those key business goals we discussed at the top of this article. Bear this in mind, and find the most detailed analytics and reporting capabilities for your budget.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best eCommerce platform for small businesses?
The best eCommerce platform for your small online store is the one that best fits your specific requirements right now while remaining scalable and ready for change in the future.
What is the best free eCommerce platform for business?
Free website builders do exist, and you might benefit from free themes and basic online selling capabilities, but you will still need to pay for web hosting, a custom domain, and other features. In other words, it won’t really be a ‘free’ solution. Investing in a solution that matches your requirements and budget when you create an online store is best.
How do I start selling online?
Follow the steps in this article and choose the ideal platform for ecommerce sites. Then, you can start selling unlimited products online right away.