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17 Essentials for Choosing the Right E-Commerce Solution (and a few things to watch out for!)

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Considering an online store or business? Here are 17 Essentials for Choosing the Right E-Commerce Solution that you should be aware of….

1. What is your long term strategy for your website?
E-commerce can become very complex so make sure you take the proper amount of time to plan a strategy and timeline for starting a successful online sales campaign.

Caution: Jumping into a quick solution without considering your long term objectives can cost you time and money down the road.

2. How many products do you sell?
Are you selling just a few items or do you plan to manage a large inventory online, with lots of options, sizes, etc.? Will you be selling physical products that require shipping or intangible goods such as software, videos and online courses?

These are important things to plan on when considering one shopping cart over another.

3. What are your estimated sales?
It’s important to take a moment to estimate how much your e-commerce system will be generating in sales.

Obviously, if you’re on the higher end as far as sales income, you might be better off considering one of the more sophisticated systems such as Magento. If sales are on the lower end, a system such as Magento could be too expensive and cumbersome to work with.

4. Can it scale with your business?
If you’re starting off small, make sure that you consider a cart that can scale up to meet growth demands. Some shopping carts are too simplistic though inexpensive. Others such as Shopify, Bigcommerce, etc. offer enough flexibility to scale up as your business grows.

5. How easy is to use the administrator dashboard?
Some carts are easy an comprehensive to use. The more sophisticated carts can contain numerous features that make it difficult to find your way around.

Tip: Make sure you take the time to view a shopping cart demo to determine if it’s and e-commerce system you feel comfortable working with.

If you have a large sales volume and work with these cart admin areas daily it’s not a problem. If you only process sales once a week, you may want to select a simpler system to work with.

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6. Who will manage your e-commerce sales and fulfillment?
If you’re a one man show, you will have to manage all these components so it’s very important that you choose a cart that you can work with comfortably. Support is extremely important and some e-commerce systems provide much better support than others.

If you have a team or even a few people especially designated to working with different areas of your e-commerce then one of the more robust carts makes sense as they have more extensive reporting systems and features.

Tip: Technical support can vary in quality. Be aware that just because one e-commerce system might be more expensive than another, tech support may not necessarily be as good as you would expect just because you are paying more. Having worked with both Shopify and Magento, I personally find Shopify tech support superior.

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7. Listen to your customers. What do they want?
Your customers are your best feedback source in terms of selecting an e-commerce system to work with. Features such as multiple ship-to addresses, etc. are popular requests but many carts do not offer such features.

Send out a poll or email and ask customers what they would like to see in order to make their online shopping quick and easy.

8. Can you afford it?
Make sure your budget can support the e-commerce system you choose. Many companies make a huge mistake of buying into an e-commerce system that requires a lot of costly maintenance and development support. No use “killing a fly with a sledgehammer”. If you are not selling a substantial amount online, then Magento Enterprise would be a very costly system that you simply would not be able to afford to maintain properly.

Important Tip: Estimate and determine future costs for maintaining your e-commerce system before you invest in purchasing a cart. If the support costs look prohibitive, then it’s best to consider a different e-commerce solution.

9. Don’t try to be or do everything at once.
Add products and features gradually, as needed. Don’t try to add every new feature just because one or two people request it. Take the time to discuss with others to make sure that adding a new feature makes sense and will enhance the e-commerce process. Don’t clutter up a shopping cart with too many choices, making it difficult to complete a sale quickly and efficiently.

If you’re not in a rush (and you shouldn’t be with e-commerce), start small, test and make sure everything works flawlessly. Add more over time and continue to test.

Nobody wants the headache of an online sale that goes wrong.

10. Plan a strategy for ROI.
Ok, so now you’ve got a great new cart and you’re anxious to get started. Think about what you’re going to sell, are you going to do promotional or exclusive teaser sales? Do you have the proper descriptions and SEO for all of your products?

Make certain to plan for a return on investment.

If the cart is not paying for itself and generating a profit, you need to switch gears and make some decisions.

Shopping Cart11. Hosted or self-hosted carts?
The advantage of hosted carts is that they are hosted and maintained externally, with no headaches for you in terms of power shortages, in-house server maintenance, etc. If something goes wrong with one of the hosted carts, you simply call a tech support number and they are responsible for handling technical issues, upgrades, etc. The downside of a hosted cart is monthly fees.

Basically, you are at the mercy of any e-commerce provider when they increase fees.

If you purchase and host your own shopping cart, make sure you have the financial and technical resources to do so. The advantage is that you will not be held hostage for monthly fees or percentages of sales but you will be responsible for applying your own updates, custom development and so on.

Technical support will be more limited than with a hosted solution.

For most small businesses, hosted carts make more sense but for large companies with the budget and resources to pay for everything in-house, a self hosted cart might be the best choice.

12. How do you want to deal with PCI compliance?
In recent years, this has become much more of an issue than it was years ago due to increased hacking activity.

Most of the hosted carts are already PCI compliant which makes for a worry free solution for small businesses.

It does make good sense to confirm that any hosted cart you’re looking at is fully PCI compliant. Again, those with a larger budget may prefer their own self hosted cart but will have to take steps to ensure that their systems are all PCI compliant.

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13. Will the cart work with software such as QuickBooks, NAV, ERP, etc.?
Many carts will integrate with some or all systems such as Quickbooks, MS NAV and ERP systems. The lower cost carts may not offer any integration at all.

14. How much control do you have over design and customization? How much would have to be outsourced?
This is an important discussion to have with any e-commerce cart vendor. There are some things which can be changed or added to functionality within carts using plug-ins, extensions, etc. and some will require custom development.

Some carts make it very easy to make theme design changes while others can be very complicated.

These factors all vary considerably no matter which system you’re considering. If these are important, take the time to ask questions from each vendor before signing up.

15. Do you get the technical support that you need?
Some carts offer fantastic technical support, such as Shopify whereas others offer very limited support.

If tech support is of critical importance, do some research on the web to see what others experiences have been before signing on with any vendor. Find out what developers charge per hour to get an idea of what custom coding will cost you, if you need it.

Others such as Magento CE (Community Edition) offer no tech support at all, so you need to be aware of this.

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16. Does it have all the features you need?
Make sure to look at all the features an e-commerce system offers.

Most features are standard on all carts but some have unique features that are not available on other carts, or may require custom programming or development.

If you’re on a small budget, you may have to look through several carts and sacrifice some features in order to get what you need. There is no commercial e-commerce system that includes every option or feature that you would want, without custom development.

17. Does it offer future updates?
Nothing is of more concern in e-commerce than outdated cart software.

With the constant threat of hacking attempts and exploited systems, you simply cannot afford to run an outdated cart with security holes.

Most hosted carts are vigilant about applying critical updates because they do not want their servers compromised. A self hosted cart that you purchase should also have ongoing updates but you are responsible for applying the updates yourself.

That’s 17 of the essentials for you to consider when selling online. Contact us now for consulting and assistance with choosing the right e-commerce system that work best for your company.

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