Choosing an eCommerce Platform
First things first, we need to understand your business.
We like to make the comparison that planning and building an eCommerce site is the same as opening a brick and mortar store. There are many considerations and they are mostly similar. You have to ask yourself, what will your store look like, how will it be merchandised and what is your ideal customer flow through your store. These are important questions when you consider your brick and mortar, but also your eCommerce store.
The first and most important decision to make is choosing a platform. When looking at which eCommerce platform to go with, it is a discussion that warrants careful thought and consideration. I hope you can understand and respect that developers cannot (and should not) just throw out a “one size fits all” solution or a quick price. There are a few different variables to consider and each can change your build time and project cost. Most importantly, you have to consider what works best for the logistics of your company. Every site and every company is different and has different needs. I have personally done several different kinds of eCommerce sites and have yet to have two builds that were exactly same.
Here are some basic things you should know when beginning the planning process:
- How many sku number’s overall will you have?
- How many categories will these sku numbers be broken into?
- Do you have all the product details (descriptions/dimensions/weights) for every product?
- Do you have photography for all your products?
- What type of additional options (sizes/colors/etc) can a customer choose from? Can these options change the price of that product?
- How are you fulfilling these orders and getting them to your customers?
- How much (if any) do you need to charge for shipping/handling?
- What type of (if any) custom functionality do you need to display your products? (Think personalization features…)
- Do your orders need to be sent to any 3rd party software for accounting purposes? Any integrations with existing software?
- Do you have a merchant provider that will allow you to process credit cards through a website? What type of eCommerce platforms do they have extensions for?
If you do not know the answers to these questions, don’t worry, most people don’t when they begin the process. However, your developer should ask all of this BEFORE they price out your project.
Answering these questions will help your developer narrow down what the best solution is for your business. Often times, finding answers may warrant additional research to find a solution that will work with the logistics of your business.
In the world of eCommerce, there are thousands of different platform options to go with and each will carry it’s own advantages and disadvantages. One of the most common web languages out there is PHP and that is what I mostly work with. Platforms based in PHP also happen to be some of the most well known and respected available in todays market.
Magento is a big name in the eCommerce world and became much bigger in 2018 after it was acquired by Adobe Inc. For the record, I have developed sites in both Magento 1 & 2 platforms. This is worth stating because of the vast differences in these platforms. VAST.
I will generally recommend this route if you are looking at either a large volume of sales or a large complex inventory set up. I admit, when you develop in Magento, you truly form a love/hate relationship with the platform and I mean that in a very kind way (half joking). Magento has definitely been great to me in providing client solutions and success, but there are some hurdles to get through that will sometimes not make it a viable option.
OpenCart is a lesser known platform, but by no means does that mean lesser in capability. It’s a solid choice for projects that have a simple scope. It can also handle a large volume of sales and products. What I love about OpenCart specifically is its simple code base. It’s not a very complicated platform to figure out from a technical standpoint and has a very lightweight code base (compared to Magento). OpenCart will be my go to if your project has very specific functionality that can’t easily be handled by Magento 2.
If you haven’t read the Web Development section yet, then you should know that we have huge love for WordPress, so naturally we are going to have a WordPress eCommerce solution available. WooCommerce is pretty cool in its own way, especially being a “one click” eCommerce install that you can add to any WordPress site. Oh yeah, it also holds the largest marketshare of eCommerce platforms out there (and by large margin). But that makes sense when you consider that WordPress sites make up 33% of all websites on the internet, so it sort of has that leg up.
I like to recommend WooCommerce for projects that have a small amount of inventory or when someone is looking for something simple and basic to get started. Like all platforms, there is always a ton of things you can add onto a WooCommerce site anytime as well.
Planning is key.
I discussed the platforms I work on the most, but really there are so many more. The number one thing when building your website is to slow down…think about how you want your site to function, what you might want in a year or two, will you be adding products, functionality, etc.. Don’t go cheap on the front, only to pay double on the back. Make sure you communicate all of your needs and discuss your business plans with your developer and project management team. The more work you do on the front end, the happier you will be in the end. I promise. And ultimately, that is what everyone wants.