July 5th, 2021 marked the 27th year of Amazon, the almighty platform which raced its way to the top of the e-commerce leaderboard. The number of businesses selling products & services over the internet exploded during the global pandemic, and with increased competition, standing out amongst competitors becomes even more difficult. Fortunately, the number of out-of-the-box e-commerce solutions has also risen in recent years, making it easier than ever to get up and running in no time, but picking the right tool for your business could be a make or break decision.
From WooCommerce to Shopify, Magento and many other “no-code” solutions, you can viably spend the minimum amount of time & money getting started. But which one should you pick? Or should you build a custom solution yourself? As always, there are pros and cons to the choices you make and this article breaks down the four key questions you need to ask yourself before you make a choice. If you’re already using a platform but considering a move away, whether it’s custom built or a no-code option, the four questions below still apply:
- Is the platform frictionless for both you, the admin trying to manage the store, and for potential customers trying to shop your products?
- Is the platform customisable and does it allow you to make game-changing moves and updates with little to no friction?
- What payment methods are being offered? Are they inline with what potential customers expect?
- Is the platform growing and making frequent updates in order to help your business grow?
One question sums up frictionless: How fast & easy is your website to use for potential customers? I know this sounds like a very basic question but if you take anything away from this article, it should be that frictionless design is the most crucial aspect of running an e-commerce business. Are your potential customers able to discover all the information they need to progress through the user journey? Everything you do to improve your existing platform, or what you may be looking for when choosing a new platform has to be centred around how easy, convenient and speedy it is for your customer to transact with you. You should also take into account how easy it is for you to administer changes too.
When trying to run the business, it’s important to understand how long it takes to upload a new product to the platform, update an existing product, the ramifications of making changes (i.e. does changing the homepage banner lead to caching issues which then affects site speed), and being able access the analytics and transactional data behind how customers are interacting with your website. If you’re using your accounting software to measure sales, something is not right and there are easier ways to build what you want elsewhere. If you have additional features you need across your website such as merchandising and curation, how non-resistant is the tool in making those changes?
For consumers, you need to ensure that the platform is scalable and can perform with a high volume of traffic, be mobile-first, is easy to use and navigate, i.e. the bugs won’t creep out of the woodwork if you double your marketing budget. Remarkably, the scaling ad spend issue is the biggest blocker to purchase, not because the ads stop working but because the site is no longer functioning as expected.
The full breadth of this I won’t get into but as you build your brand, if you’re running a true e-commerce business and not a product-flip hustle, you will need to understand key areas which can be improved. The platform that you choose must be able to, at its core, run A/B tests as a minimum and offer add-ons and solutions which will over the long run, increase conversion rate and your overall revenue. The need to “always be testing” is not a nice to have anymore but rather a pre-requisite for entry.
3. Payment Methods
The most overlooked sale booster is the payment methods that you offer. Including Apple Pay and Google Pay has been shown to increase conversion rate by at least 15% whilst other alternative payment providers such as Klarna increases sales by up to 44%. If you’re running a e-commerce business and are not using many different payment providers (excluding PayPal as their rates can kill a lot the of the margin), you need to consider including them now.
4. Growth as you grow.
The platform that you select should be centred around helping your business to grow. This doesn’t mean having a support chat managed by somebody in a foreign country but rather, they work relentless to install new features and capabilities based on real world situations. For example, at the height of the pandemic, Shopify rolled out “curbside pickup” or as we call it in the UK, click & collect, enabling businesses to offer alternative solutions to mitigate the issue of having to close all physical locations. Allowing merchants to turn this on so that customers no longer had to enter the physical store is a sign of Shopify helping to grow your business. The rate of the platforms innovation should be taken into consideration and if you have in-house developers working on your site, their output should be measured also.
Should you build your own
Just to get this clear, the answer is no, unless you are doing something that is impossible to do with the providers already available. The platforms that you can select from have gone through many iterations and many test phases in order to figure out what works best for most businesses in the sale process. For you to begin from ground zero, building a platform that will effectively do all of the things that you want and need plus more, will involve a lot of heartache and wasted time.
However, if your business contains something totally unique that you can’t build on top of one of the existing platforms, then building your own store should be considered, but this is extremely rare. It comes with high costs, an even higher difficulty of development and if you aren’t a natural “tech nerd”, understanding what your developers are actually doing will become a nightmare that you won’t even recognise as a nightmare.
We have to remember that the point of building a business is to build a business and enjoy the process. If your engineering team spends all their time fixing bugs, you’re most likely doing something wrong.
What we recommend for most businesses
Before you go ahead and build your own solution, test out your idea in a MVP format. You want to be sure that what you are building, the market actually wants. At the end of the day serving customers is the end goal and if you rush ahead, build a solution and the idea is not quite strong enough, there will be a lot of time wasted and hopelessness.
Shopify is always the tool I recommend for two reasons. 1) It never goes down. Shopify famously touts a 99.99% uptime, even in Black Friday, meaning that for most businesses, this is an easy choice as your customers will be served a working website all of the time. 2) Shopify’s API tool is the best I’ve ever seen. The ability to build your own apps on top of the existing platform to extend feature usage is truly remarkable and their rate of innovation is exemplary. Hands-down, I will always recommend Shopify as it allows us to build with it in an open-ecosystem.
If you get to the stage where you’re weighing up two potential options, flip a coin and don’t look back. Getting started is better than deliberating on the initial decision.