What to Look For When Choosing an E-Commerce Platform

You’ve finally done it. After months and years of planning, research, and education, you’ve taken the step to start your own E-commerce business. Or, after enduring a clunky platform for years, you’ve decided to make a switch.

Well, what platform should you choose? What should you look for when vetting a one-stop shop for an E-commerce site?

We recently interviewed Craig Fox, Founder and CEO of Pinnacle Cart. There are two main steps that Craig recommends when it comes to choosing an E-commerce platform:

  1. Look hard at your business/potential business. Understand all the functions you’d need to have. This is important because an E-commerce platform can automate a lot of those processes, so you need to know what they are.
  2. Understand how your company interacts with its customers. An E-commerce platform can emulate that experience—and you want it to.

Let’s go a little deeper into each of those steps.

Step 1: Find Out What Could Be Automated by Software

There’s no sense in wasting manual work on processes that can be automated.

So what can be automated on your E-commerce site?

Order management
Many companies have staff “in the back” managing orders. They don’t realize that E-commerce platforms, or some add-ons, can do that for you.
Marketing
Make sure the platform is doing the best work for you on search engines. It should offer a process of distributing your products to highly trafficked sites.

What to Look for When Choosing an E-commerce Platform

As we look forward to where E-commerce is going, the most important direction is syndication. We cannot, as merchandisers, think that the customer is going to continue to know our URL and go to it. Sure, there’s growth on the Internet, but a lot of that is happening on the Amazon-type level. So we need to make sure our E-commerce platforms are adaptable to that.

Thankfully, advanced technology makes this process fairly simple today.

What about features?
A lot of companies get stuck on a platform’s feature sets (i.e., whether it has this or that feature). However, the important thing is that the eCommerce platform works with the best in breed out there—not necessarily that a particular feature set is integrated into the platform.

Here’s what I mean: Craig’s company, Pinnacle Cart, gives you the ability to send out newsletter updates (so do all major platforms, really). But at some point, that email list becomes too valuable to rely on your E-commerce platform to do it.

An E-commerce platform should focus on selling your product. It shouldn’t be focused on all the other stuff.

Step 2: Understand Your Company’s Interactions With Customers
If you’re an existing business, this is especially important as you prepare to alter or launch an E-commerce site. You should be using Google Analytics, or something like it, to analyze your customers and the way they use your platform.

What to Look for When Choosing an E-commerce Platform

As a rule, make sure the platform is mobile-accessible (most are) and that it’s compatible with all browsers. If you stay with the major platforms, you won’t have a problem there.

Peer into how your customers use your site. It’s important because you want your platform to adjust to that.

Craig says your platform’s adjustments will depend on where you are in your business cycle. If you’re just getting started, the majority of platforms are perfectly fine for you. But as you grow, add products and resources, and start syndicating to Amazon/eBay, you want to make sure your platform is aligned to that.

That’s why it’s important that you align what your customers are doing with your platform.

A Checklist for Your New E-commerce Platform
Once you’ve taken those two steps, commit the data to a spreadsheet. You can even outline/color code it to know what you absolutely need, and what would be nice but not immediately necessary. Then run through this checklist:
Check Reviews
Go out to different software review sites (e.g., PCMagazine, ZippyCart). They take the trials of a lot of the E-commerce platforms and give an opinion.
Do Extra Research
Don’t necessarily take their opinion as your own; you never know if the company recommending a platform is getting a kickback. Instead, mark down platforms that intrigue you and do research on your own.

Once you commit to a platform, it’s difficult to move to another. Not impossible, but really hard. So make sure you get it right. Go to their website, look at their features, and so on.

Test It
Most platforms offer trials, so take a test drive.
Ensure Its Credibility
What to Look for When Choosing an E-commerce Platform

Research how long the company’s been in business. You never know if new companies will last. Putting your business on a platform that’s fly-by-night isn’t a good idea.

You can even email other companies who have used the platform and see what their experience has been like. Also, talk to customer service teams to make sure they understand the platform intimately.

At this stage, you should never have to worry about price. A lot of them range from $29-$150/month, but if you think you’re going to start an E-commerce company for $29/month, that’s not realistic.

Take price off the table.

Emphasize Product Upsells
Finally, when a customer is looking at your products, your platform should also recommend other high-value products. Make sure that there are recommendations during the checkout process, too.

Conclusion

The #1 thing to focus on is your long-term strategy. Craig recommends strong content marketing, so that your product will appear on search engines. You don’t see immediate results, but the long-term results are simply amazing.

Therefore, the E-commerce platform you choose should fully support and enable great content that gets you in front of customers as well.

After all, if your platform isn’t actually giving you a platform, what good is it?

This post is based on an interview with Craig Fox from Pinnacle Cart.

You can find this interview, and many more, by subscribing to the Hawke Media Podcast on iTunes. If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode by clicking here.

What to Look for When Choosing an E-commerce Platform

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