Walking into a mall, browsing through shop windows, and coming home with big bags of goodies and happiness is a customer’s ideal day.
Now imagine being on the seller’s side.
Having customers walk into your stores, love the selection, and shop more than you expect! What a day!
But when the pandemic struck, buyers and sellers got the biggest wake-up call of their lives. No more shopping malls and no more walking into stores!
And at that moment, e-commerce emerged like a true hero saving millions of businesses and keeping the economy afloat.
While e-commerce has been there for quite a while now, it has gained massive momentum in the recent past. To know what exactly ecommerce platforms are, read on.
- What is an ecommerce platform?
- Why Use an Ecommerce Platform?
- Different types of Ecommerce platforms?
- Self-Hosted vs Cloud-Hosted Platforms
- Things to Consider When Choosing Your Ecommerce Platform
- Best Ecommerce Platform
What is an ecommerce platform?
From the best ecommerce platform to the smallest one with a minimal selection, an ecommerce platform is essentially a website that operates as a shop.
Businesses can list their products on it, customers can browse the selection, pay for them, and get them delivered to their doorstep.
It’s nothing but a retail store where the brick and mortar have been replaced by a webpage (or webpages) and there is no physical interaction between the buyer and seller.
Why Use an Ecommerce Platform?
As a customer, it’s like walking into dreamland! Sitting at home (or practically anywhere), browsing through a catalogue rich with products simply via an internet connection, placing an order, and receiving the order at their doorstep.
It is said that the customer is king. Well, ecommerce truly treats customers like kings and queens.
And as a seller? It’s better than dreamland!
- Not having to maintain a physical store – no rent!
- Relatively lesser ‘maintenance’ costs
- Enjoying the benefit of staying open 24×7 (After all, customers love coming home from work, lying on the bed, and shopping online!)
- Better returns on marketing costs due to audience targeting.
- Being able to run your website from anywhere.
- Not keeping a huge stock on display.
- Growing your business easily.
The list goes on… but we believe that you’re convinced about why you should join the e-commerce market.
Different types of Ecommerce platforms?
While owning an ecommerce business sounds rewarding, making it and maintaining it requires some more time, dedication, and research.
Here are the three options you can choose from:
Open source platforms are essentially code that can be accessed and customized completely according to your needs and desires. It is where your developers will favour you because they will have complete control of even the smallest nuances of your ecommerce website, which means that things can be altered whenever required without much hassle.
You can host an open-source website on the cloud or on-premise. However, when we say in complete control, we also mean completely responsible for security certifications, firewalls, updates, CRM, CMS, payment gateway, marketing tools, design customizations, running promotions, etc.
While open source solutions offer massive room for uniqueness and control, they’re also often very expensive to make and maintain.
Software as a Service solution is a relatively easier-to-use code that takes away all the ‘complicatedness of running an ecommerce website. It is as simple as renting a platform already coded with the required features for an ecommerce website. Due to the fact that it eliminates the need to build or develop a website from scratch, it is relatively cheaper and a favourite of the marketing team because it saves a ton of money that can be used to run offers and advertisements instead.
Unlike an open-source solution, security, hosting, compliance, etc. are managed by the SaaS provider and not the ecommerce website owner.
However, you must note that using SaaS solutions limits the room for customization since a portion of the code is completely closed-off to your own IT team. Not to forget that SaaS solutions can only be hosted on the cloud.
Headless ecommerce is basically running an ecommerce website without worrying about how the customer will check out and the payment will be processed. In technical terms, it is a decoupling of the shopping cart from the customer management system (CMS). Brands and businesses tend to use individual design platforms and a content management system to make their website. Once that is done, they plug in a decoupled shopping cart solution.
While a decoupled shopping cart is one option, a headless commerce provider can also offer a bunch of other services like email service provides, enterprise resource planning, order management system, etc. Headless commerce allows you to enjoy the benefit of assembling the best technologies without having to host them all on your own.
To put it simply, think of it as a car. Car companies often take multiple pieces of a car and assemble them together to create a great product. Similarly, choosing a headless commerce solution allows you to simply host a page with your product on it and buy other services that can be automatically plugged into your page from expert providers.
Self-Hosted vs Cloud-Hosted Platforms
A self-hosted platform means literally hosting the server of your ecommerce website in a room with your own IT and development team. Some of its advantages are that you never have to depend on other companies for your hosting and can immediately resolve problems in-house. However, it all comes at the cost of maintaining a server room, installing machines, performing updates manually, and employing your own IT team.
There is the option of hosting your website on-premise but via a third-party provider’s a warehouse/server room. However, while this option is cost-effective, any maintenance issues and malware problems in your provider’s server will directly affect your business. It may so happen that your website will be down and you will simply have to wait for the provider to solve the problem.
To give you an overview, hosting on-premise provides better visibility of your data, a deeper knowledge of data security, and more control over your ecommerce website.
Cloud-hosting means hosting your website off-site on a network of virtual and physical cloud servers. One of the biggest advantages of cloud hosting is that there is no hassle and cost of setting up server rooms, maintaining them, and deploying your own in-house IT team. You simply have to choose a provider. For eg: Amazon Web Services. While it seems like the best option for new players, it has a few disadvantages.
There is a fixed licensing fee involved. More so, you might have to incur the cost of adding more security layers to your website since not all cloud servers provide the best protection. There is little room for customization and you’re always dependent on the efficient functioning of the cloud server. Additionally, installation of patches, updates, and more is not done automatically in all cloud servers.
Things to Consider When Choosing Your Ecommerce Platform
Building an ecommerce website is now easier than ever. However, choosing a service provider without much thought is a rookie mistake that you don’t want to make. Here are the things to consider before choosing a platform:
Open source solutions are usually the most costly because they require you to build everything from scratch, host it, troubleshoot it, and upgrade it from time to time. However, even SaaS platforms like Shopify aren’t always the best options. It may be cheaper to host your website on their platform, the add-ons for various services may run up the bill. Also, even while choosing headless commerce, the type of services you take and the service providers you choose can determine how expensive will it truly be to host our ecommerce website. More so, your budget will depend on various nuances like security, licensing, web design, maintenance, programming, etc. Choose a platform after detailing down all the costs and reaching the best conclusion.
On one hand, there are websites like Amazon that list lakhs of products on their website, and on the other hand, there are websites owned by a single business that host only their products/services. For eg: You have a business selling athletic/gym wear. Supposedly your collection includes 50 items of clothing, you will only need a website with a few pages. The more extensive the product/service offering, the more pages your website will have. Take this into account especially when choosing a SaaS solution. SaaS may offer solutions that allow you to list only a limited number of products/SKUs. Therefore, choose a solution where all your products can be listed clearly.
One of the biggest reasons that ecommerce has grown exponentially is because of the popularity of social media. For users, they’re platforms to unwind, but for marketers, they’re the best places to advertise and get people redirected to marketplaces. In fact, with the advent of Instagram and Facebook Shopping, users aren’t even required to leave the social media platform. Only once they intend to buy the product will they be redirected to the ecommerce platform for checkout. So make sure that you use built-in integrations with social media platforms to make the users’ shopping experience on your website smoother.
Back in the day when Amazon started in a garage, all it had was a few pages and a few plug-ins. But as the company saw growth, so did their website. Similarly, you may be okay starting small. However, once your products become popular, you run more ad campaigns and you host promotions and sales, the website traffic significantly increases. While with an open-source platform you can easily upscale since you are under total control, it is not always the case with SaaS and headless commerce. You need to purchase relevant add-ons and plug-ins to upscale your website.
One of the biggest disadvantages of the ecommerce industry is the lack of one-on-one human conversation. While it works well when the buying and checkout are smooth, more often than not customers need to talk to a real person to solve their problems. From late deliveries to in-app/website glitches to payment gateway problems to questions about returns, the best way to take a customer from disgruntled to loyal is by a human voice answering their questions. So make sure that the provider you choose comes with a great customer service centre. Because at the end of the day great customer service goes a long way in creating loyal customers.
Best Ecommerce Platform
Making an ecommerce platform is difficult when you are doing it from scratch, but getting one made with the help of providers makes the job much faster, better, and easier.
One of the most popular platforms these days is Shopify. By far, one of the user-friendly SaaS platforms, Shopify is a great choice among home-based entrepreneurs, small business owners, newbies, and people who want to expand their hobby into a profession. With a simple plug and play-based tool, you can make your website within a few hours. With Shopify, there is no need to develop your own servers, arrange for payment gateways and other hassles.
You can choose a design, list your products, and use ready-to-use pre-integrated payment gateway options that allow you to get started in no time. Since it’s a SaaS-based platform it hosts your store online.
While we’re on the topic of SaaS solutions, you can also consider smaller platforms like Shift4Shop that are ideal for multilingual support and don’t require any APIs.
Another great platform that is gaining momentum is Wix. By far one of the easiest ways to make a website, Wix is the ideal drag-and-drop solution you’re looking for. It offers free themes to customize your website, market-friendly pricing and is ideal for beginners as well as big businesses.
A great provider of headless commerce is Magento. Not only is it great for businesses who are hosting their stores on-premise and using an open-source code, but it is also a much easier way to expand and scale up your website when you have a big IT and development team. Magento is SEO-friendly, provides faster loading time, flexible content management, customization opportunities, and more to businesses.
An open-source solution that you can explore is OpenCart. It is ideal for businesses and freelancers looking to set up more than one store and payment options.
You can also check out the likes of Episerver, Ecwid, Big Cartel, Squarespace, etc.