What Kind of Ecommerce Platform is Right for Your Business?
When it comes to choosing an ecommerce platform for your online store, the sheer number of options available can be overwhelming. Whether you’re putting your store online for the first time or are looking to upgrade your existing site, this blog will help you explore the key factors to consider when determining what kind of ecommerce platform is right for your business.
Self-Hosted v. Hosted Platforms
Before we dive into considerations for choosing an ecommerce platform, it’s important to define the two main categories of ecommerce platform available today: self-hosted platforms and hosted platforms.
Self-hosted ecommerce platforms, also called open-source platforms, require ecommerce businesses to set up their websites on their own servers. Businesses that use a self-hosted platform have complete control over their website’s code, design, management, and maintenance. This high level of autonomy is a compelling selling point for many businesses; however, hosting your own site requires you to either have a high level of technical knowledge yourself or to pay a developer to create and maintain your online store.
Hosted ecommerce platforms, on the other hand, are typically software as a service (SaaS) companies that offer their clients an all-in-one solution. In addition to hosting their clients’ websites on their server, these platforms usually include technical support, automatic software updates, and, depending on the platform, a variety of native integrations and other functionalities. Because they don’t require from-scratch development or coding, hosted platforms are often easier for businesses to manage and maintain. And while they don’t allow for the complete creative freedom provided by open-source platforms, many hosted platforms offer a wide variety of flexible templates and themes for businesses to customize to their needs.
The differences between self-hosted and hosted ecommerce platforms will play a large role in choosing which overall solution is right for your business.
Considerations When Choosing an Ecommerce Platform
Before you begin comparing available ecommerce platforms on the market, you’ll want to consider each of the following factors.
Business Size & Structure
The first step in determining what kind of ecommerce platform is right for your business is to think about where your business is right now: the size of your business, the size of the team managing your online store, your available budget and resources, and your level of experience in ecommerce.
Smaller businesses, or businesses new to ecommerce, may benefit from using an accessible hosted ecommerce platform—the high level of technical support and pre-made web templates included in these solutions may provide these businesses with beginner-friendly shortcuts for page creation and optimization. Meanwhile, larger businesses, particularly those with a team of in-house web developers, might prefer to use a self-hosted option to create a wholly unique site.
Your industry and sales model will also play a role in determining what kind of ecommerce platform to use. For instance, B2B businesses often sell complex products with a wide range of variations and will want to find an ecommerce platform that can accommodate a large catalog and unlimited product variations. These businesses will also want to consider whether a platform has functionality for offering online quotes or account-based pricing in order to provide their business buyers with a convenient purchasing experience.
Meanwhile, businesses that sell directly to consumers might consider different ecommerce platforms’ capacity for integrations with their warehouse management system, shipping provider, and other DTC logistics solutions. DTC and B2C ecommerce businesses should also consider the product merchandising features of different platforms to ensure their unique products are displayed online with the accuracy and care they deserve.
Finally, if your business manages multiple channels, you’ll want to find an ecommerce platform that will allow you to sell B2B and B2C at the same time.
Total Cost of Ownership
Different types of ecommerce platforms charge differently for their services. Self-hosted platforms may charge their users an annual fee, while hosted platforms may charge a monthly subscription rate. Generally, open-source platforms carry a lower initial price tag; however, their fees typically don’t cover additional costs—such as maintenance, security, and licensing—that are included with most hosted platforms’ plans.
If you’re looking at a hosted option, consider as well what it will cost your business to create a site that works for you and your shoppers on a given platform. Are all the platform’s templates included in your subscription, or do some of them require an upcharge? What does the platform charge for the apps, plugins, and extensions you’ll need to keep your site running? Does the platform charge transaction fees? These are all questions to consider when looking at the total cost of ownership for different ecommerce platforms.
When you’re choosing an ecommerce platform, it’s important to think about where your business is headed as well as where it is now. Successful businesses will ultimately grow and evolve, so it’s wise to choose a solution that allows you room for expansion. Laying out a general roadmap for your business’s goals can help you determine the tools and functionalities you may need from your ecommerce platform.
For instance, you may decide you want to add a new sales channel or serve a secondary audience. You may release new complex product lines or begin shipping your products internationally. Allow yourself a moment to look toward the future in order to choose a solution that has enough space for you to meet and exceed your most ambitious goals.
Keep in mind that it’s not only your business that’s likely to grow, but ecommerce itself. Ecommerce is a constantly evolving industry, and your platform should allow you to easily seize new opportunities.
When you’re comparing platforms, pay attention to how their features accommodate ecommerce trends and emerging technologies. Does the platform in question allow your shoppers the flexibility to use a variety of payment options? Does it have built-in SEO features to help your shoppers find you?
As your business evolves, you may also need to make unforeseen changes, and your ecommerce platform should allow for that. For instance, if your business ever undergoes a rebrand, a hosted platform with flexible themes can support you in creating a brand-new look without needing to overhaul your site’s underlying code.
Functionality & Ease of Use
If you’re determining which ecommerce platform is right for your business, functionality is likely one of your top concerns. You’ll want to give your shoppers a website that’s easy to use—studies show that 90% of users won’t return to a website that has bad design, while 70% of online shoppers abandon their carts due to poor user experience.
On the front-end, your platform should allow for seamless navigation and an aesthetically pleasing design. Your platform should also support a high level of mobile responsiveness so that your buyers can have a great purchasing experience across a variety of devices.
Your ecommerce platform’s back-end functionality is equally important. You’ll want to take inventory of all the other pieces of your ecommerce tech stack: your ERP software, your email marketing platform, your shipping provider, your order management system, and more. Find out how all these online systems will integrate with the ecommerce platform you’re considering. Does the platform offer native integrations, or does it mainly rely on plugins? Likewise, you’ll want to ensure that your ecommerce platform’s back-end systems allow for a high level of visitor traffic, so you can continue to give loyal shoppers a great experience as your business grows.
Choose a Platform That Empowers Your Business
There’s a lot to keep track of when you’re figuring out what kind of ecommerce platform is right for your business. It’s also clear that in order to position your online business for continued growth and success, you can benefit from an ecommerce platform that offers high levels of flexibility and expert technical support.
Miva’s modern ecommerce platform is designed to evolve alongside businesses as they grow and scale, helping them to increase sales, cut costs, and grow revenue. Visit Miva’s website to learn more about how the Miva ecommerce platform can help unlock your online store’s potential.