How to Choose an eCommerce Package
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Published on June 18, 2007
Whether you’re a freelance designer looking for a solution for your latest client, or a new company preparing your first online store, choosing an eCommerce package can be a daunting decision. The industry’s rapid growth over the last few years makes it difficult to immediately determine whether a specific package suits both your present and future needs, but there are a few things you can keep in mind to help you through the process. Below, I’ve outlined the top eleven things to consider when choosing an eCommerce package, considering everything from your company’s growth, your store’s integration and checkout needs—right down to the kind of eCommerce firm you want to work with. By considering the following key areas, you can have a stronger understanding of what your company—or client—needs in an eCommerce package.
As your client or your company grows, your eCommerce infrastructure should be able to grow with you, supporting more customers, products, and traffic as needed. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always occur, which is why scalability is such an important element in any eCommerce package. Look for a company that treats your online store as an important long-term investment, and can make appropriate adjustments for growth when changes in technology or customer volume inevitably occur. These priorities will keep you and your site up and running—whether your order volume is five a day or five thousand—without skipping a beat. Remember, an eCommerce company or product should support the total growth of your business, not limit it.
There may come a time when you need your site’s structure to be able to work well with third party applications (shipping, payment, fulfillment, inventory, EDI, accounting, API, etc.), both internally and externally. Integration is a key to retail success, and especially to eCommerce success, so ensuring that your site can successfully implement the right applications to meet your business’ needs is a must. Consider what your site needs to do, and what it may need to do in the future. Can your eCommerce package provide a site that can work well with the tools that can make these a reality? Are there APIs to make the process easier? Can you extract your previous database and integrate it with your new site? Make sure the eCommerce package you choose accounts for this need for integration and that it’s a system that can work well with the other solutions you need to keep your store—and business—functioning continuously at their highest levels.
When managing an online business, you should be able exert control over both your store’s site and your product catalog with relative ease. Content management is something many take for granted, but it’s one of the most important elements of a comprehensive eCommerce package. Catalog management systems can be complicated, so do your research. How long does it take to find products? To edit them? Is it easy to add extra fields for your products, such as a warranty? Also, make sure you consider how the catalog system works with your site design. Can the company or package you choose handle the requirements of your design? If someone else is designing the site for you, can you make changes easily to things like your landing page? Seek a package that offers you the flexibility to extend these changes consistently throughout the site. Remember, this is your store, and your site. If you want a smiling pumpkin on your landing page during the holidays, you should be able to place one there with relative ease.
In order for your site and your business to grow, you must be able to track conversions, abandoned carts, what potential consumers are adding to their carts, and other site statistics clearly and easily. Streamlined analytics can allow you to see what’s working in your advertising and your pages, which in turn enables you to make the necessary changes to develop and expand your business. An analytic tool is rare to find in an eCommerce package, so make sure it is easy to integrate a third party application, such as Google Analytics, that can track the statistics important to you or your client’s business. These pieces of information are essential to the growth and success of your online store, and your system should make easy access to said information a priority.
Promotions and Discounts
Sooner or later you will want to provide returning customers with a special discount, or use a coupon as a promotional device. Does the eCommerce package allow for that contingency in your checkout? Can you easily generate creative marketing content and integrate it into the site’s infrastructure, or does the system seem limiting? Coupons and other promotions can be key conversion tools, so make sure your eCommerce package allows for this kind of marketing flexibility. Remember, promotions and marketing tools can make a difference in the crowded online marketplace, and can help set you apart from others with similar products to offer.
Any online retailer will understand how important customer service is to maintaining the success of a business. In choosing an eCommerce package, you’re the consumer, and customer support is just as important. Make sure that your eCommerce package provides you with the elements you need to keep an online business operating at its peak level at all times. Does the vendor offer notifications regarding product updates or enhancements, personalized service, and technical support? Is there an option for live chat? Keep in mind that your eCommerce package provider should offer you the same individualized service that you would give your own customers.
In the same vein, you shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to get someone to aid you if there is a problem with your online store—so make sure you can deal with experienced, reliable technical support within the company, and that they are committed to fixing a coding error or bug quickly. Quality counts; be assured that your eCommerce package has people behind it that are as committed to quality and the customer experience as you are.
As I mentioned previously, convenience is paramount to the online shoppers that will be browsing your store. Customers don’t want to search frantically for a view cart button, or encounter a clunky, confusing checkout page after finally locating the perfect item. The checkout process should be a smooth, streamlined one, a process that your consumers literally shouldn’t have to think about. Look at sites that have used the same package or vendor, and study their checkout processes. Do they force shoppers to search for options that should be upfront and easy to find? Can customers choose from a variety of options for payment and shipping, or are they forced to make unsatisfying decisions? Are they able to condense the process into a one-page checkout? Your eCommerce package should make this an easy, flexible process for customers. Checking-out is the last impression that they get before leaving your site; make sure it’s a good one.
Identity theft is a concern for anyone who puts his or her information online. As an online retailer, customers put their trust in you to keep their credit card numbers, addresses, and purchase records safe. Your chosen eCommerce package must give you the means to keep that trust intact. The security procedures and systems must remain up-to-date throughout the site, and server, email, and checkout systems should be checked consistently. Find out if your eCommerce package includes regular security updates for your system. This commitment to site security should be one of your highest priorities when choosing an eCommerce package. Problems resulting from a poorly designed security system can permanently tarnish your reputation.
Examining the Open-Source Option
Choosing open-source eCommerce solutions for your online business is becoming a popular option, especially for companies seeking greater flexibility. If you decide to pursue an open-source application to manage your store, make sure to thoroughly research and examine your options. Is the project continuously updated, or has it been stagnant for a long time, with very few updates on the project and very little news as to where it is headed? Several open-source solutions are released every year. However, very few have the longevity that you will need to be used as a foundation for your online store. Examine the programmers behind it, and others who use the program. Will you be able to integrate your catalog, products, and orders into it successfully? With some research, open source could be exactly the eCommerce solution that you are looking for, allowing, in some cases, a flexibility you cannot find anywhere else.
Company and Community
Finally, look at the company that’s behind your eCommerce package. What have they done in the past? Are they a growing enterprise, likely to continually make improvements to their firm, and pass on those benefits to you? When considering a package, make sure that the company you are dealing with is credible, with a solid reputation to back up any claims. See where your customer and technical support will come from. Is it in-house or out-sourced? Do they have a solid, supportive community in the form of a forum, blog, or network of satisfied eCommerce businesses? Examine the philosophy behind the company. Email others who’ve used their services in the past, and see what they have to say about the different aspects of the company you may be working with. These are the people who are going to help you build your business and make it a success; choose wisely.
By keeping these eleven factors in mind as you search for an eCommerce package, you can help yourself avoid issues in the long run that could affect your store or your reputation. Know that no solution is perfect, and a little bit of work may be required to get exactly what you want. Always keep the individual needs of your company in mind when searching for an eCommerce package, and remember that it is their business to keep you doing business—make sure that they’re the right ones for you.
- Cart Compare
- Choosing a Hosted eCommerce Solution
- Varien’s eCommerce Cache blog
- Ten Tips To Help You Choose an eCommerce Solution
Related Topics: E-Commerce, Business, Content Management Systems (CMS), Community
Shannon Watters is the Content Manager at Varien in Los Angeles. When she’s not writing for their blog and getting excited about Magento, Varien’s upcoming open-source ecommerce release, she’s usually geeking out over indie comics or driving out to San Gabriel for dumplings. She thinks you’re nice.