How to choose an ecommerce platform in 2021

Choosing an ecommerce platform might make you feel like a kid in a candy store. With several feature-rich options on the market, picking one over the other can be challenging — at least until you know what to look for.

If you’re a small business looking to test an idea, you don’t need to think too hard. Just choose the most popular one in your industry and go from there.

But if you’re looking for a platform that will give your business everything it needs to succeed, we’ve got you covered.

In this article, we’ll introduce you to the most popular types of ecommerce platforms on the market today and give you a list of all the features you need to consider when you’re choosing an ecommerce platform in 2021.

There are three primary types of ecommerce platforms on the market today:

  1. Open-source ecommerce platforms
  2. Software as a service (SaaS) ecommerce platforms
  3. Headless ecommerce platforms

Open-source ecommerce platforms

The term ‘open-source’ means that the software’s source code is publicly available for scrutiny, use, and modification. Open-source ecommerce platforms are licensed for everyone to use, modify, and distribute for free.

The lack of a price tag and control over the website code makes open source ecommerce platforms extremely lucrative. Leading ecommerce technologies in 2021 include open-source software like WordPress, PrestaShop, Drupal, and the Magento ecommerce platform.

However, open-source software has its downsides. The user is usually responsible for hosting, securing, and maintaining the software. This can be intimidating for individuals with insufficient technical skills, limiting their ability to use the software.

SaaS ecommerce platforms

SaaS is a licensing and distribution model where a business hosts software and licenses it on a subscription basis. Unlike open-source software, the source code of SaaS software isn’t available for public scrutiny.

The advantage of using a SaaS solution like Shopify, BigCommerce, WiX, and Squarespace is that it provides those without technical backgrounds access to a platform hosted, maintained, and secured by a third party.

The disadvantage of using a SaaS ecommerce platform is that you only license the software and have no control over the website code. This can be restrictive and may even limit your ability to modify the platform and website to your business needs.

Headless ecommerce platforms

Headless commerce is a new and emerging trend in the ecommerce industry. In a headless architecture, a website’s frontend is detached from the backend ecommerce platform. This provides greater design flexibility while still ensuring powerful commerce functionality.

A headless implementation provides business owners with the best of both worlds — open-source and SaaS ecommerce platforms. They can choose a SaaS-based platform like Shopify or BigCommerce for the backend commerce functionality and implement a frontend using an open-source technology like WordPress.

However, headless commerce implementations have a significant downside: they’re expensive. When you’re starting a new venture, the last thing you want is to blow your entire budget on a headless ecommerce solution.

Top 10 features to consider when choosing an ecommerce platform in 2021

Here are the ten essential features you should consider when selecting an ecommerce platform for your business.

1.   Design

An attractive design is vital to creating an engaging shopping experience and ensuring your website converts its visitors into customers. Therefore, you should ensure that the ecommerce platform you choose provides you with complete control over your website design.

Most ecommerce platforms offer several ready-to-use themes and allow you to customize your website appearance easily. A SaaS ecommerce platform offers easy customization with drag-and-drop builders, but it can also limit your website design to the confines of its tools.

Open-source platforms like WordPress and Magento provide greater design flexibility and granular control over website appearance. It helps to have a vision for your website design before you choose a platform so that you can ensure it’s capable of achieving what you need.

2.   Integrations

Running a successful ecommerce company requires several business departments like accounting, warehouse, sales, and customer service to operate in unison. This is only possible when all your systems and business processes are integrated.

Start by identifying all existing software and systems you use or will potentially use for your business. Next, look for the API technologies used by each software to ensure the ecommerce platform you choose can support those technologies.

Open-source software like Magento can support popular API technologies like GraphQL, REST, and SOAP. However, if you’re using a SaaS like BigCommerce, you might be limited to GraphQL and REST.

3.   Customer, catalog, and order management

Customer, catalog, and order management features are vital from an administrative point of view. Suppose you have a customer that calls in to follow up on their order. In that case, a good order management system will help your service staff identify and address their query faster and improve their experience with your business.

You might not need an advanced inventory management system for your business, but ensuring your website has a good catalog management feature will simplify the process of adding and updating products.

Look for a platform that offers the following features:

  • Support for multiple product types like simple, configurable, virtual, bundle, and grouped products.
  • Bulk CSV product upload.
  • Streamlined product creation workflow.
  • Customer account management.
  • Managing orders, invoices, shipments, and credit memos.

4.   Marketing and promotions

Issuing coupons and offering sitewide discounts are a great way to increase conversion and inspire customer loyalty. Therefore, you should consider the marketing and promotions capabilities when you’re choosing an ecommerce platform.

For example, Magento allows merchants to offer unlimited discounts and promotions using a set of price rules triggered at the catalog and cart levels. Similarly, WooCommerce supports issuing coupons for discounts through the admin panel.

In contrast, SaaS platforms like Shopify limit the number of products and variants that a discount code can be applied to.

5.   Security

Ecommerce platforms process sensitive customer data like payment and customer information. Therefore, you should ensure the platform you choose employs multiple security measures to safeguard your store and customer information from hackers.

While SaaS platforms handle store security for their customers, open-source platform users must manage their website security themselves. However, it’s worth mentioning that even SaaS platforms suffer from vulnerabilities occasionally and can be compromised through user error.

Look for features like two-factor authentication, SSL support, 256-bit data encryption, and control over the content security policy of your website to defend your store from card-skimming exploits.

6.   Performance and scalability

When you’re choosing an ecommerce platform, you should ensure that it’s capable of delivering top-notch performance and scaling with your business needs. Failing to do so will leave you struggling with a sluggish platform and force you to re-platform during your growth phase.

Therefore, look for a platform that’s capable of scaling horizontally instead of vertically. Horizontal scaling allows you to incorporate microservices into your business operations and makes it easier to upgrade your website performance based on demand.

7.   SEO-friendliness

Unless your website ranks on Google’s first page, you’re going to have a tough time driving traffic to it. While paid ads can help, an SEO-friendly ecommerce platform can help you drive traffic organically.

Here are some SEO-friendly features you should look for in an ecommerce platform:

  • Control over the site and product metadata
  • Custom robots.txt
  • Sitemap
  • Control over site URL structure
  • Canonicalization
  • Pagination

8.   Mobile-friendliness

Mobile retail is projected to account for 73% of all retail sales globally in 2021. This means, if your ecommerce platform isn’t mobile-friendly, you won’t be able to reach your audience and build credibility in their minds.

A responsive design allows websites to scale based on the device screen size and creates a consistent browsing experience across all devices. Therefore, you should look for a platform that comes with a responsive theme out of the box to help you reach mobile users without any extra costs.

9.   Costs of ownership

Whether you’re choosing an open-source or a SaaS platform, you should carefully evaluate the total costs of ownership. While open-source software might be free to use, it still costs money to host and manage.

Similarly, although most SaaS platforms display a flat recurring subscription fee upfront, some may charge additional fees per transaction or have expensive themes and extensions, which you may not realize until after you’ve invested a significant amount into the platform.

Therefore, establish a monthly or annual budget for operating your website and consider all the costs of running a website on each platform before settling on one.

10.    Ease of use

The ease of performing daily administrative activities like catalog, customer, and order management can help increase productivity and improve your operational efficiency. Therefore, you should ensure the platform you choose is easy to use.

However, ease of use isn’t limited to daily activities. You should also consider routine tasks like updating and upgrading the software and troubleshooting errors in the event of downtime.

It might seem like SaaS applications have the upper hand when it comes to providing ease of use. However, it’s worth pointing out that a lack of access to the source code can restrict your ability to troubleshoot issues and resolve errors when things go wrong.

Choose wisely

Considering each of these aspects and having a clear understanding of your business requirements will help you choose an ecommerce platform capable of supporting your business. The right platform will make it easier for you to run your business and give you an edge over your competition.

Although it might seem impossible to choose one, laying out your options and grading each one using the above factors will help you make an informed choice by comparing the strengths and weaknesses of each platform.

Are you still struggling to find a single platform that can meet your business needs?

Staylime’s team can customize the Magento ecommerce platform to suit your needs. And if you need a future-proof solution, they can help you build a headless website with an attractive design backed by robust commerce functionality.