With so many eCommerce platforms available, how the heck do you make the choice that’s right for your business? As an eCommerce development agency, we know this decision isn’t one to be taken lightly. Building a new website or migrating to a different platform are big projects that involve a lot of time, money and resource. Take a read for the many pointers that you need to consider.
A robust infrastructure is key – you need a site that’s reliable, stable, and easy to manage. And this doesn’t just apply to the back end, it also includes the face of your website, the part your customers engage with daily.
Consider what infrastructure set up you’re happy with – hosted or open source? There are pros and cons to both, but think of it like owning or renting your home:
- A hosted website is like a rented home. You have a space for your belongings, but you don’t own the building. You’re limited to the improvements and personalisation you can make, but when something breaks, the landlord is responsible for helping you fix it.
- An open-source platform is like owning your own home. Every bit of it belongs to you so you can rip down walls and build extensions to make it exactly how you want. But if your boiler breaks, it’s down to you to replace and pay for it.
Weigh up being in control of everything yourself, including your data and choosing who to work with, versus passing that control along with the strain to someone else, but potentially risk all your eggs being in one basket with that supplier.
Platforms like Shopify and Big Commerce are hosted. These platforms take the strain out of managing servers which frees up your resource, but on the other hand, it also means each platform holds full control over pricing. If they decide to increase their pricing by 30 percent, there’s nothing you can do as you’re reliant on them to host, upgrade and maintain everything on their servers.
Open source platforms
Magento and OpenCart are examples of open source platforms. If you opt for one of these, the onus is on you, or your development agency, to keep your store running, updated and secure. Taking this approach does have its benefits, namely choice and flexibility. With an open source platform, you are not tied to one single supplier.
Staying on top of security
There’s a common misconception that open source platforms are less secure, but we’re here to bust that myth. As many Magento merchants are large, enterprise businesses with equally large amounts of money flowing through their stores, it’s unsurprising they’re attractive to someone looking to compromise a codebase. Hackers with the intention of finding a vulnerability to exploit will download a version of the open source platform.
With a hosted platform, hackers can only gain access to a certain percentage of that file set so it’s more difficult to see vulnerabilities. But that’s not to say your hosted platform can’t also be hacked – it can. In fact, we hosted a webinar on security post Magento 1 end-of-life where founder of Sansec, Willem de Groot, shared his experience of finding a vulnerability on a hosted platform involving card details being skimmed.
A trade-off with a platform like Magento is that you, or your development agency, are responsible for manually ensuring your site uses the latest security patches and maintains upgrades. Magento usually brings minor upgrades out once every other month and major upgrades about twice a year, but the deployment of these is not as labour intensive as you may think. To keep on top of your site secure and easily manage the upgrade process, we’d recommend taking advantage of a retainer plan from your development agency.
Take some time to do your research on the types of platforms available. Should you stick to a traditional CMS and enjoy the out-of-the-box benefits and functionalities these platforms have to offer, or should you opt for a modern, headless CMS that facilitates speed and versatility? As with any decision, there are pros and cons to each.
A headless CMS consists primarily of an API as well as the backend technology required to store and deliver content. This means content storage and delivery are handled separately, giving you complete control over how the content is presented to the user. As such, the UI can be handled in any way making the website design capabilities much more flexible.
However, it’s important to note that an API first build can restrict you on certain elements such as how many calls a day can be made to the API. Depending on how much business your eCommerce store does, you could end up with issues around the volume of data that you need to send in or out of the platform. Using an open source platform, you don’t have this problem because you are in full control. You can, quite literally, do anything you want.
Opting for a traditional CMS, you can rest assured that everything is in one place. Critical features and functionality are usually provided out-of-the-box including a generic theme, an easy to navigate dashboard, the code, database and design functionalities.
One downfall of traditional CMS’s is that all of this out-of-the-box functionality translates into lots of code which means potential vulnerabilities. As we’ve already covered, you have to be mindful of maintenance, upgrades and implementing new security patches as they are released. Failure to do so can create some worrying security risks for your store and business.
What functionalities does your eCommerce website need?
When selecting the platform most suited to your business, you need to consider the complexity of your selling model and, as a result of this, what functionalities your eCommerce website needs. The more complex your business, the better a platform like Magento will be suited to you. But, if your main aim is to scale a less complex selling model, a hosted, simpler platform could serve you better.
Build for the future
We always advise our clients to consider the functionalities they may need further down the line. A question we often ask merchants who are unsure which platform to go with is, “What do you want your business to do online over the next five years?”.
It’s advisable to choose an eCommerce platform that can not only support your business needs today, but also further down the road. How do you see your business progressing? What aspirations do you have for your online store? Are you planning on changing ERP systems? Will there be any other major changes such as internationalisation?
Don’t choose a platform that only delivers 90 percent of what you need it to do now because, quite quickly, your business needs will outgrow the platform’s standard capabilities. Ensure you have the tools to grow your business without the limitation of a platform that can’t keep up.
When it comes to capability considerations, here are some of the features you may need to consider.
How flexible and personalised does your eCommerce store need to be? With a solution like Magento, you have access to more of the code meaning less restrictions on what you can do which makes customisation a lot more accessible. While hosted platforms usually have customisable functionality, they won’t be as flexible so if you only need basic features, this may very well suit.
If internationalisation is somewhere on your future roadmap, it’s a must-have for your platform choice. Some platforms have less or more capabilities when it comes to internationalisation and one essential requirement will be currency conversion.
For example, let’s say your store needs to sell in GBP, US dollars and Euros. For some hosted platforms, this would require you to have three separate stores, meaning three separate admin panels to log into that would be controlled separately. Or, you would have to work on a currency conversion basis which can be tedious and time consuming.
This is where Magento comes into its own. With Magento, you can have one admin panel and run 100 stalls from that single interface. When you click into a product, you can easily swap between the prices depending on what currency you would like to see. This makes it simple to manage pricing without using a third-party piece of software.
A payment gateway is what keeps the eCommerce ecosystem going, allowing online payments between consumers and businesses – think of it as the middleman between the customer and the bank. It’s quite common for merchants to have several payment gateways to give the customer choice. For example, we partner with Klarna, Braintree and Adyen, making it simple for our clients to integrate their store with any of these. However, not all eCommerce platforms can support this level of choice so it’s important to do your research beforehand.
There’s no point in having a brilliant website if Google struggles to crawl or index it. Each eCommerce platform will offer different SEO capabilities and you should really check out their options to see if the limitations are a deal breaker.
Magento has a whole host of SEO capabilities out-of-the-box such as handling hreflang tags with ease. Most hosted platforms will include basic features such as meta titles and descriptions, 301 directs and canonical instructions. However, when it comes to control over URLs, this is where they can struggle.
When you’ve considered the functionality your website needs, it’s easier to look at your budget from a total cost of ownership perspective. Your eCommerce site will require ongoing investment so it’s important to consider budget carefully. While you don’t want to overpay, you also don’t want to skimp out and be left with a platform that’s just not right for you. Afterall, that could result in needed to reinvest a whole lot sooner than you’d wish.
Question whether you’ll have to pay for extras to get the functionality you actually want. Each eCommerce platform will have different pricing models available with many offering a free or base version which can seem deceptively cheap. However, the free version of a platform may not provide the functionality your business actually requires. Don’t overlook the costs associated with development, configuration, third party integrations, plug-ins, licensing and ongoing support.
It’s important to remember with an open source platform, you will have higher ongoing support and maintenance costs in comparison to a hosted platform. The positive, however, is that you can build a website tailored to your business which is open to further customisation. Over time, it may end up offering a lower total cost of ownership than a hosted platform.
Understand your options and pay attention to what’s included. This way, you’ll not only get the most bang for your buck but there will be no disappointments down the line either.
Over to you
There are many options available for building an eCommerce store, but ultimately, the choice is down to you. Stripping it back to what technology and features you require, the complexity of your business and considering your future needs will make the process much easier.
Lean on the expertise of your web agency to get more support in this area, they should be able to provide all the information you need to help you make the right decision for your business. Team Pinpoint are well versed in the world of eCommerce, having advised, migrated and built websites for many businesses including Beer Hawk, Casio and Henry London. Get in touch if you need a helping hand, we’re always happy to chat.