Choosing an eCommerce platform can give even seasoned internet-savvy professionals a headache. For most small businesses the options boil down to open source, licensed or bespoke platforms...
Open source essentially means that the source code is open and freely available to anyone under the terms of a General Public Licence (GPL). This means developers can distribute, modify, integrate and customise the software as long as the original developer is credited.
Open source is perfect for a start-up or small business because the most popular open source software like Joomla, Wordpress, Magneto or Zen Cart are used by hundreds of thousands of web developers globally and are well supported via forums, blogs, videos and more. Loads of developers mean loads of applications and modules that can be added to create almost instant functionality. Lastly, due to the software being so commonplace, it is relatively easy to change web developers, hosting companies and so on – should the need arise.
In layman’s terms, software as a service means you are renting use of the software rather than owning it outright. SaaS platforms could be software packages that are installed or more commonly, these days, hosted online in the ‘cloud’.
SaaS platforms can be configured, designed and set-up to suit almost any business (depending on the features available), however the difference is that third-party developers do not have access to the source code and therefore cannot customise it in the same way as open source.
The advantages of SaaS platforms are that by paying a relatively modest licence fee, someone else takes responsibility for ongoing development of the features, managing security and issuing updates and patches. The main disadvantage is the lack of customisation and you are therefore dependent on the supplier building and releasing updates etc.
Most likely out of the reach of most small businesses, there are companies who will build a bespoke platform for you. This can obviously be a costly exercise and given that you will be largely dependent on the company to maintain and further develop the solution, it’s a decision to be entered into cautiously.
Regardless of what type of platform you opt for there are some killer features you don’t want to be without:
Custom design: It’s your business and your brand. Differentiate yourself, stand out and share your personality with your customers
Discount vouchers: Make sure you have the ability to run special offers or promotions quickly and easily
Social media: Make sure you can hook up to your social media networks to drive traffic and promote products virally
Newsletters: Email marketing is a vital component in terms of encouraging repeat orders and communicating special offers
Search: Much easier for customers to search the site rather than guess their way through your categories
User reviews: Statistics prove that visitors trust and react to customer reviews
Multiple images: A picture says a thousand words, so give your customers plenty to look at
Marketplaces: You need your products found and seen in as many places as possible, eg Amazon, eBay, Kelkoo, Twenga, Google Shopping etc
Import/export: Ability to add and download product data in one go via a spread sheet as opposed to manually
Guest checkout: Don’t force your customers to register as this puts them off
Group pricing: Handy for trade customers is the ability of offer preferential pricing to customer groups
Mobile ready: Do your customers use mobile devices? The fastest growing area of eCommerce is tablet and smartphone access
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