Which e-commerce platform is best for your business' needs?
Since e-commerce first came about over forty years ago thanks to an English inventor named Michael Aldrich, it has become one of the fastest-growing consumer markets in the world. From big-box retailers to small businesses, everyone is selling online, and everyone’s shopping there, too.
The ever-growing popularity of e-commerce also means that there’s an abundance of options when the time comes to build your own online store.
So, how do you know which e-commerce platform is best for your business? Read on to find out!
In the following article, we're going to talk about how e-commerce platforms work, the pros and cons of their different types, and how to identify which solution meets your needs best.
What is an e-commerce platform?
Before diving into which e-commerce platform would be best for you, we're going to provide you with some background information on e-commerce platforms in general.
For starters, an e-commerce platform is a piece of software that allows businesses to sell online. As a result, consumers get to use it to shop online. It’s an application that offers front-end features like browsing and purchasing, as well as back-end business features, such as order management, payment processing, and inventory management.
Given the growing popularity of e-commerce, it should come as no surprise that there are quite a few options that you can choose from. While the wealth of options is generally a positive thing, the saturated market can make it difficult to pick the best option for your business.
Generally speaking, there are three primary categories of e-commerce platforms.
Native e-commerce platforms
Also known as a hosted e-commerce platform, this type of platform typically operates based on a software-as-a-service model. The majority of features are configured out-of-the-box, which may include cloud-based hosting, shopping baskets, sales and marketing automation, order management, inventory management, plug-ins, and more. A good example of such a model would be Shopify.
An out-of-the-box e-commerce solution provides several benefits for businesses.
- Simplified payments – These platforms are subscription-based, meaning you pay a monthly fee for access to a certain set of tools and features. There is a commission fee on sales, but hosting and environment setup are free of charge. In most cases, there’s also an upgraded version. It gives you more room for customization and checkout modifications, though it does come with a higher price tag.
- Quick launch – You can get started the moment you’re ready to go. The host already has the framework and infrastructure in place. You just need to personalize it and adjust it to your needs.
- Robust support – If you encounter technical issues, you have access to a team of experts whose sole focus is on resolving the problem as quickly as possible.
- User-friendly – These platforms have been fine-tuned and optimized over time with an emphasis on ease of use.
There are some disadvantages to using a native e-commerce platform.
- Limited customization options – Native platforms can be customized to a certain extent, but these customization options are limited by what the vendor allows or has the technical infrastructure to support.
- Increasing subscription costs – The larger your business and the greater your demands, the more you will have to pay.
- Potential need to re-platform – You may reach the point where you realize that the e-commerce platform you chose isn’t suitable for your needs anymore. If so, you will have to switch to a new one, which can be costly and time-consuming.
Read also: 10 e-commerce mistakes that are killing your e‑commerce conversion rate
Semi-native e-commerce platforms
As a middle-ground option, this type of an e-commerce solution is often open-source, meaning that you have unrestricted editing access and greater control over a modular system. Most of the features will require specific configuration, but you also have access to a variety of plug-ins which can be set up in accordance with your needs and desires.
There’s no platform access fee, nor a commission on sales with this model. However, both hosting and environment setup cost money. WooCommerce is a popular example of this platform type, and there’s a long list of others just like it.
A semi-native e-commerce solution provides several benefits.
- Greater customization – There are almost no limits to what features your website could potentially support or to the way it works. You can modify and customize each individual element to your heart’s content.
- Modular system – You still have access to pre-built plug-ins and extensions, which can speed up the development process quite a bit.
- Advanced security – Semi-native platforms like WooCommerce tend to have several layers of cybersecurity.
Naturally, this option also has some disadvantages that you should consider.
- Harder to set up – Native platforms can be set up by someone with little to no experience with e-commerce platforms. But with a semi-native platform, you may need professional assistance when it comes to finding a hosting service, setting up the e-commerce functionalities you're interested in, and customizing the many different elements of your site.
- Lack of expert support – Because this solution has far more customization options, it means that you may run into unique issues based on your individual configuration. If you don’t partner with a web design professional, you won’t necessarily have built-in assistance if technological troubles arise.
Bespoke e-commerce platforms
Some businesses have needs that go beyond native or even semi-native solutions. You may need a custom design, as well as features and functionalities that are entirely personalized based on your specific industry and business model. In this case, the team at Adchitects would work closely with you to create a personalized e-commerce platform. The only limitations here are your budget, timeline, and imagination.
As with anything custom-made, there are many exciting benefits you won’t enjoy with the first two platform types.
- Built for you – The more individualized and specific requirements you have, the less likely it is that existing solutions will be able to meet your needs. A customized platform enables you to work with your web and design partners to create a site that offers everything you could ever want. It will match your brand voice, identity, product, and shopping needs.
- Scalable – A customizable web and mobile solution isn’t just built for your business as it is today, but it’s also created with your future expansion and eventual needs in mind. With this model, it’s less likely that you will ever need to re-platform.
There are also some factors you need to consider before you opt for this platform type.
- Longer development process – As with any custom project created from scratch, the timeline is usually longer than with an out-of-the-box solution. You sacrifice quick development time for greater control and customizability.
- Can be more expensive – The budget for this type of solution depends on your requirements, so it’s not necessarily more expensive than other options. However, most of the companies that opt for this e-commerce platform do so because they have highly specialized needs. As you might imagine, the more complex features you need, the higher the costs to fulfil those demands will be.
The benefits of headless technologies
From native to bespoke, the options discussed above may be a perfect fit for a number of different businesses. They’re easy to implement because they can function on headless technologies. It means that they allow you to combine the content management system you are already using with additional features and customization options. As a result, you get to surpass the limitations of other e-commerce platforms.
If you choose to add in headless technologies, the front-end of your website will be able to independently fetch and display data from various sources to create a more valuable customer experience. That could include your Shopify CMS, for example, as well as other places, such as your company’s mobile app or a Bluetooth-connected device.
By choosing headless technologies, the entire platform can reach above-average performance levels. The headless model allows you and your development team to:
- Increase page speed
- Support complex animations
- Improve plug-in performance
- Combine best-of-breed solutions
Keep in mind that while the limit is truly your imagination, this technology is still relatively new. Despite the ongoing innovations, this also means that some plug-ins may not be compatible with your desired setup just yet.
Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with these options, which e-commerce platform would be best for an e-commerce business like yours?
Which option would be best for you?
This likely won’t come as a surprise, but there’s no easy answer to this question. It all depends on your business’s needs and limitations.
Still wondering which e-commerce platform you should use? To make an informed decision, you need to carefully consider your needs. For example, if you want a completely unique, never-been-done-before online store, you’ll need a more customizable solution. In that case, a bespoke solution is your best bet, or at least a semi-native platform.
However, even a native solution may be able to satisfy most of your requirements. It all depends on the specific features you want, and whether any of the available platforms have that built-in functionality you're looking for.
Beyond that, you’ll likely need to consider a few other things.
If you have a limited budget or aren’t looking to make a significant investment at this stage, a native solution is a safe choice, especially because you can get it up and running in a flash. But keep in mind that every option out there is going to cost you some money. It’s important that you add all of these costs up prior to spending the money and think about whether you can afford to cover them.
Past e-commerce experiences
If you already have an online store, you probably have a list of business and customer requirements that you absolutely need to address, as well as a list of features that you’d like to implement. This provides a solid baseline for narrowing down your options.
Applying the latest technologies will translate into superior on-page performance and Google rankings. But this can also increase labor costs, especially if there are no ready-made solutions available to implement, test, and adjust.
It’s important that you think about your team before making a final selection. Who will be managing your online store? You want to make sure they have the technical aptitude to maintain and edit the platform type you end up choosing. Ideally, your e-commerce platform should make their job easier, not harder.
With some of these options, you will also have to select a hosting server. This decision can be every bit as important as the platform itself, as your e-commerce solution can only operate on a functioning server. Ideally, you want a host that will provide, 24/7 technical support and daily data backups, as well as robust physical and digital security.
When it comes to conceptualizing, creating, and launching your online store, you can take your chances with one of the dozens of e-commerce platform options available and hope that you find one that works for you. Or, you can make it easy on yourself and ensure success by turning to a company that has built its name crafting effective, intuitive, and stunning websites with custom e-commerce solutions.
At Adchitects, we build custom digital products that help businesses flourish, from mobile and web apps that reflect your business’s specific needs to online stores that capture your unique brand identity.
Unlike DIY e-commerce solutions, we offer a dedicated team of creative, experienced developers and designers who will work one-on-one with you to ensure that your online marketplace accurately reflects your vision and brand, all the while effectively converting website visitors into loyal customers.
Looking to get your virtual store off the ground?
Contact us today, and let us help you create the best e-commerce platform for your business. In addition, you might want to check out our past projects to see what we’ve been able to build for clients just like you.