Looking for an Ecommerce Solution? Here’s Your Capability Checklist
This decade has not been good to traditional brick-and-mortar retailers. Even the most bullish analysts agree that the industry is facing a make-or-break moment — that, at a minimum, a period of painful right-sizing lies ahead.
Others are more blunt, painting recent mass store closings and chain bankruptcies as harbingers of a full-blown collapse. Some call it a “retail apocalypse” — the death knell for the old way of buying and selling things. Business Insider argues, contra “smart money” insiders, that right-sizing is actually counterproductive: by the time you admit that you need to close stores en masse, it’s already too late.
Getting to Digital-First Retail
Just about every major retailer sells its products online at this point, as do tens of thousands of independent, single-shop vendors around the United States. Going forward, the retail landscape looks to be a digital-first affair: merchants might have a handful of flagship stores in high-traffic districts, but the bulk of the action will be online.
If your company is just starting out, or you’re flexible enough to make the switch from brick-and-mortar-first to digital-first retail, you’ll need an ecommerce platform capable of supporting the bulk of your company’s revenue generation — with all the variety and complexity that entails. That’s likely to tee up one of the most important decisions you make as a leader.
“If your company earns substantial revenue from online sales, its choice of e-commerce solution is incredibly consequential,” says William Michael Keever, CEO of Nashville-based Castle Venture Group, an investor in several high-growth digital startups. “You need a solution that offers the right mix of operational functionality and flexibility at a reasonable cost — one that can grow with your company over time.”
Ecommerce veterans routinely cite the following capabilities at or near the tops of their “must-have” lists. But it’s important to remember that all eight are rarely if ever found in the same package.
As you narrow down your ecommerce platform options, you’ll likely settle on a solution that offers some — but not all. Let your company’s current and projected future needs dictate your ultimate choice, not directives from pushy salespeople or online reviews from anonymous users who may or may not be on the up and up.
- Out-of-the-Box Functionality
Don’t confuse this with “outside the box” functionality — it’s your team’s responsibility to find outside-the-box answers to your ecommerce needs.
The best ecommerce solutions use open-source software that allows them to work right out of the box, with little to no modification.
Most of the solutions on Young Entrepreneur Council’s list of the top ecommerce software platforms have this key capability. Unless you have the utmost confidence in your in-house development team’s ability to rapidly and effectively rig up a bug-free, semi-customized solution, you’ll want to learn toward an ecommerce platform that allows for rapid turn-up and high ease of use for team members with little to no programming experience.
- High Customization Potential
Out-of-the-box functionality notwithstanding, your ecommerce solution should respond well to in-house customization. Clunky solutions that can’t be adapted to specific needs (that will likely change over time) probably aren’t worth the upfront investment.
- Light Weight
If your server resources are limited and you’re not keen (or can’t afford) to add more, you’ll need a lightweight ecommerce solution — most likely a plugin that integrates with your publishing platform.
There are dozens of viable ecommerce plugins for WordPress, for instance; WPBeginner rounded up the five best of 2017 here. Make sure your chosen plugin integrates with your site’s theme and can support everything you want your ecommerce solution to do.
Before you take it live, test it out to make sure it doesn’t slow down your site too much — the only thing worse for customer retention than a subpar ecommerce portal is a slow-loading site that frustrates users before they even get to the checkout page.
- Curb Appeal
Your ecommerce platform should look great — at least as good as the rest of your site. Ideally, the transition between your non-commercial pages, product/service listings, and checkout pages should be seamless, like they were developed at the same time, by the same team, on the same rails. Avoid clunky solutions with lots of take-it-or-leave-it design elements.
- (End) User-Friendliness
What’s even better than a great look? Great ease of use. If your customers don’t love using your ecommerce solution, they’re going to do it less often, full stop. Look for real-world examples of every solution you’re considering and try them out yourself. Discard those that don’t offer a smooth, pleasant experience.
- High Security
Pretty much every ecommerce platform has built-in security at this point, but it never hurts to check. At minimum, you want a valid SSL certificate and 128- or 256-bit encryption for payment transactions.
Dive into the developer’s security content and ask your sales contact if you’re not sure about anything; don’t take vague pronouncements or assurances that “it’s secure” for an answer. When in doubt, call on an outside expert to verify that you can trust the system to handle your customers’ financial and personal information.
- Flexible Hosting
Look for ecommerce solutions with flexible hosting arrangements that fit your company’s needs. If online sales account for a relatively small proportion of your site’s bandwidth, you can probably get away with an internally hosted platform. If you need lots of sales power and don’t have the internal hosting capacity to handle it all, you’ll need a platform that’s hosted separately. To minimize barriers to growth, your ideal platform should do both.
- Broad Range of Payment Options
Before you choose your ecommerce solution, look over past sales data to determine how your customers prefer to pay for your products. Are you primarily working with traditional credit card users? PayPal enthusiasts? Fans of alternative payment methods, such as Bitcoin? All of the above?
However your customers prefer to pay, it’s crucial for you to support their wishes. If you don’t, they’re likely to turn to more flexible vendors. Look for ecommerce platforms that support a wide range of payment methods, including cryptocurrencies.
Are you looking for an ecommerce solution for your growing business? What attributes and capabilities are most important to you?