E-commerce solutions

When you start googling to find an online shopping solution to suit your business, the good news is there’s a sea of choice out there: CS-Cart, Shopify, Big Commerce, 3D Cart, PrestaShop, Spiffy Stores, Shopping Cart Elite, Magento and many more.

The bad news is that the sea of choice can be hard to navigate. Review sites listing the pros and cons of e-commerce offerings can be helpful – both for what they say about the sites reviewed and the criteria they use to evaluate sites. But, as usual, buyer beware. Review sites can have agendas. They can be dated. They can also be the subject of furious online arguments as viewers contest the reviews. While these can be informative it takes time to sift through it all.

Start by thinking about whether you want a hosted or a self-hosted online shopping site.

Hosted The provider will host your store (also known as SaaS or software as a service). Examples include Shopify, Big Commerce, Spiffy Stores
Self-hosted Provides you with the software, but you have to secure your own web hosting (a whole other Google). Examples include Magento, Zencart

Never lose sight of your business as the priority: what you have to sell, your budget, the scale of your business now and your growth plans.


Hosted or self-hosted sites: the ups and downs

Hosted sites Self-Hosted sites
An out of the box solution and you don’t need to know that much about e-Commerce to get started Options include free self-hosted software with a free Paypal checkout and default templates
The platform is usually stable and secure (though ask searching questions about this with every provider you look at) You can personalise your site for competitive advantage e.g. integrate and customise your site search engine, add machine learning features, change how products are filtered and discovered, how the checkout works
Will offer you support You have more control over design
Likely to integrate with Facebook and other social media, and marketplaces such as eBay, Amazon and Google Shopping You are responsible for setup (are you a web designer? Didn’t think so). The software may or may not be easy to use and it can still be hard to customise
Can offer additional functionality with apps Support may be limited or non-existent
They update and improve all the time, will respond to downtime, look after SSL certificates, and update your platform It’s your responsibility to source your own Web hosting and payment gateway, and to make sure your platform is stable and secure
Can be expensive. Do the sums on the monthly charges against your expected turnover. Do they charge transaction fees as well? Higher upfront expenses and a longer build time before you can launch
May not offer you much control over site design or the checkout page. You’re limited to whatever their core functionality is at the time Optimising your site takes revenue, vision and expertise. You might want to engage a development agency to keep moving this forward
Upgrades may not be in step with your business needs. Ask what the service time is for changes. At what cost? Will it be fast enough for your product? You need to keep on top of maintenance, e.g. software updates, security patches, SSL certificates and responding to downtime. Again, you might engage a development firm that specialises in managing e-commerce sites


12 questions to ask before you select an e-commerce provider

  • Is it mobile friendly?
  • What are the speeds like?
  • What’s it like for storage and bandwidth?
  • What are the security features and does it offer encryption?
  • How does it handle search engine optimisation?
  • How does it handle discounts, coupons and specials?
  • How does it integrate with my CRM, shipping and inventory control systems? If the product is integrated with others, how tightly – is it a two-way integration? How can I fix the rare integration failures?
  • Is the reporting detailed enough for my needs and easy to use? Will the reports be available not only with the information I want, but in the correct format?
  • Do I want to offer shoppers a unique online experience or would a more standard (but less customisable) hosted site meet my needs just as well?
  • If I’m already thinking I might start small with a hosted site then jump to something more flexible as I grow my business, am I locked-in or can I migrate to another platform?
  • New systems mean we change how we do things. The team needs training and we need to execute well. Do I have the appetite to make the change now?
  • How much money do I need to keep this going and how does this compare to expected revenue?
Serious about your success?