Choosing the right eCommerce platform can be very confusing. There are a number of great options out there, so you have to carefully weigh the pros and cons of each one before making your decision on the best platform to help you maximize your commercial operations. It largely depends on the size of your business, the level of technical knowledge you have at your disposal, and what your needs are in terms of integration and flexibility. By the time you have read this article, you will be well placed to start making one of the most important decisions you will ever have to make as an eCommerce business owner.
Features of an Enterprise eCommerce System
An Enterprise eCommerce System is complex software that will enable advanced merchandising capabilities through the integration of the various departments that help your business to operate most effectively. A good Enterprise eCommerce System will allow a decent amount of flexibility, numerous integrations, and a high level of security. This will be an essential for a growing business.
Your business will need to make use of tailor-made eCommerce software in order to maximize reach when it comes to customers, both in terms of marketing activities and building lasting relationships with existing customers. It will offer you greater flexibility on all levels, ensure the best exposure for your brand, and allow you to integrate with other platforms to ensure your operations are most effective.
When replatforming, your decision should be made based on the exact needs of your business. Factors such as budget, integrations, mobile optimization, and the level of outside support required are all important to think of. Before conducting your research, you should think about what you are looking for in a platform; then you will be well placed to discover one that best suits your individual needs. You should be thinking not just about your current needs but how these may differ from the long term.
When choosing the best eCommerce platform for your business, you should think about the considerations that will be explained in this article. Your options can be quickly narrowed down based on the level of digital know-how required, the costs involved, and the degree of flexibility on offer. You should always keep in mind the size of the operation you are running and which platform will enable you to make the best of your activities based on this.
Does B2B, B2C, or D2C best describe your business?
When choosing an eCommerce platform for your business, the best option will be that which fits the type of business you are conducting.
Business-to-business (B2B) platforms will have different features than Business-to-consumer (B2C) or Direct-to-consumer (D2C) platforms as they are less about the customer experience. B2B platforms are likely to have more complex features as they require enterprise business procedures that the consumer would be less likely to know about. If you are not a B2B enterprise, then does your company manufacture and ship products straight to the consumer (D2C), or do you go through a third party (B2C)? These latter platforms tend to be more user-friendly and straightforward to use as they require far less complex interactions. B2B platforms will usually allow someone who is accessing the site to speak to you directly, while B2C and D2C platforms are more likely to use chatbots and FAQs.
To choose the best eCommerce platform for your online business, you have to think not just of the here and now, but what additional features might help you carry out your five-year plan most effectively. You may think the platform can just be adapted later on to fit your changing needs, but this is likely to feature additional costs and can be very time-consuming. It is important to try and get things right early on and spend the time working out which will be the most critical features going forward.
Involving All Departments in Your Decision
Running an Enterprise Commerce Platform successfully depends on a smooth process for everyone involved. This is why it is important to involve all of your stakeholders in the setup and ask them the right questions so you know everyones’ requirements can be met.
The IT department will want to ensure there are no unnecessary performance issues so that you can concentrate on meeting your business goals without constantly having to call on them for help. You may want to ask some of the following:
- How will the system integrate with software to ensure eCommerce functionality and complete control, including with the payment processors?
- Will this platform be able to meet our business requirements going forward?
- Is this an intuitive platform that will enable us to allow access to all who need it while still being secure?
Questions for the Marketing Team
Integration is also hugely important when it comes to marketing and business. For digital commerce to be effective, you need an enterprise plan that allows a seamless experience for both you and the customers. Some important considerations include:
- Does this platform have design flexibility so we can meet our needs both now and in the future?
- How easy will it be to set up an online catalogue with multiple product categories?
- Can we add special offers, and will this platform make recommendations to consumers based on their purchase history?
Thinking About Costs
When taking into account a pricing model for enterprise platforms, factor in each extra cost that may have an impact and essentially figure out if it is something you can afford. There are different pricing plans available, some of which charge a flat fee per month, while others calculate the cost based on how many different services you use. When figuring out your budget, make sure you are factoring in all likely expenses, from the initial setup to security, SEO optimisation, and any license costs that will enable you to keep the platform running as it generates income.
The key to making sure the impact of these is minimal is to anticipate them and budget accordingly. The total cost of ownership, or TCO, is working out the cost of the entire operation, from the setup and consultant fees early on to hosting, licensing, and all of the ongoing running costs that you will encounter. Here are some of the factors you will need to consider:
The best choice for enterprises like yours when it comes to a platform will depend on the features that are most vital to the user experience. Whether there are significant development costs going forward will depend on where you see your business going. As with all factors to consider, it is crucial to spend some time figuring out what you need and the most cost-effective solution for this.
Will you go for a self-hosted platform developed by your own IT department, or will you look to outsource this work in order to save time for your own team from what can be a very exhaustive process? It can be very expensive to use a third party, so the most important consideration is whether or not the benefits will outweigh the costs. This could be one of your largest outgoings and is something you should think very carefully about.
Customer experiences should be central to your thoughts about website design. You are looking to make the process of navigating your site as straightforward as possible, and so you again have to consider whether your in-house IT department or a third party would be best placed to deliver, in terms of cost and time. Paying someone else to do this can be an expensive option, and you have to consider very carefully the best way to meet your enterprise requirements.
When migrating data to a new platform, you should not be looking to cut corners in terms of budget as this can be a complex business where poor security could lead to a serious breach of confidentiality. This can reflect very badly on your business, and so you need to ensure seamless integration with your new platform with no security issues.
A consideration that could easily be overlooked is ensuring your platform is easy for customers to find in the first place. Poor SEO migration could mean plenty of advanced features that lead to a fantastic customer experience but few customers actually being able to have that experience. Once again, the SEO replatforming can be done by a third party but, as always, you need to think about costs.
Every machine requires maintenance; many car owners dread the annual service, but as long as you plan for any financial outlay, it does not have to be such a stressful experience. This is the same when considering ongoing costs associated with your platform. Will any third-party integrations have extra costs to ensure they operate effectively? Is there a monthly cost, or will there be occasional extra outlays at times when issues crop up? When making your budget, it is not just important to think of the setup costs, but arguably more so to consider what you will have to spend going forward.
When contemplating the cost of your platform, you will also have to factor in the various features you will need in order to satisfy your customer base. For example:
Will the payment gateways have to allow for different currencies, and will the site overall have to be available in different languages?
Will your platform offer personalized recommendations to consumers based on their purchase history, and will the site have chatbots, pop-ups, and other built-in features that may increase the cost to you?
How many different integrations will be required in order for your platform to run most effectively, and what are they?
You must put plenty of time into considering the mobile experience for your customers as this is how many people will browse your site nowadays. Without effective mobile optimization, your site may look very strange on someone’s device, which will most likely make them look elsewhere. Some platforms will offer a mobile app as part of their deal, which is a popular feature nowadays and is worth considering. Digital experience platforms without an impressive mobile view are just not relevant in the current climate.
Your website can have the best merchandising features and be amazing to look at, but if its performance is poor, the consumer will have little patience. The days of dial-up internet are long gone, and if your site takes too long to load, the customer of today will think there is something seriously wrong with your website. You must also have assurance that your site will be able to handle the spikes in traffic that may accompany holidays, different seasonal increases, and other such considerations. Your site is inundated with visitors? Fantastic! Not so much if the increased traffic crashes the system.
You are hopefully getting an idea of what is involved in setting up an eCommerce platform and the kind of things you will need to think about. Now let us take a closer look at the different kinds of eCommerce business solutions:
- On-Premise business models refer to those which are developed and maintained by your own in-house IT department. The obvious advantage of this is that you have creative control and the setup costs may not be too significant; but on the flipside, you may have to factor in more money when it comes to maintenance. There will not be any hidden costs as you can factor everything in based on your future goals, but the additional maintenance required may really eat into your technical support team’s time, and this could impact upon other areas of your business performance. If control is the most important factor and you have a trusted IT team, then this solution could be the one for you.
- Cloud Technology is sometimes a good option for businesses that are starting up with a limited budget. Everything is handled by the provider, from security to performance, and a lot of the stress is taken out of the process. However, it is also worth considering whether the provider will develop new software that may require expensive and time consuming redevelopments going forward. There may also be significant licensing fees, and you will have considerably less control. If control is low on your list of priorities, then this could be a good option.
- Open-Source solutions are those that have already been developed and are available to all in order to customize to fit your own marketing activities. You will need a knowledgeable IT team in order to make this work, but it may save you a lot of money on setup costs as a lot of the information is already there. Some drawbacks are that you will have no support in dealing with issues because the platform is not linked to a specific company with a customer service department, and for this reason it may also become obsolete, leaving you with a huge redevelopment issue. However, if you are looking for a solution that will enable you to get started quickly and require less input on your part, this is worth considering.
- SaaS Platforms are the best choice for someone who does not have their own IT team but is looking to develop their own platform without specialist knowledge required. There is little flexibility with this option, and you are basically guided by what the platform already provides, but in terms of ease of use and minimal stress, this has to be a great choice.
Headless platforms allow you to add different features without a huge overhaul of the website each time. They are a much more flexible option than SaaS platforms and are still relatively easy to use, but you will require an IT team able to dedicate plenty of time to maintenance.
It is very important to choose the right platform for you, and to recap, some features you might be looking for are:
- Multi-store management features, enabling you to sell various products across different platforms seamlessly.
- Integration with all relevant departments such as marketing team, IT, and other faculties.
- Enhanced customer journey with recommendations being given based on a consumer’s purchase history. This is all part of leading to a greater level of customer satisfaction.
What Are the Different Enterprise Platforms?
Magento is a great option if you have the technical expertise to make the most of its many features, or have an IT department who can do this for you. If your experience in this field is limited, then you would be better going for a platform that is more beginner-friendly. There is no dedicated customer support team, but there is a community of developers who help each other with any possible issues. There are numerous costs involved in getting started also, and you will need to have the budget for these.
Essentially, Magento offers arguably the greatest flexibility of all of these platforms and is an excellent option, but in order to make the best of its capabilities, you will need some level of coding knowledge within your team.
If you own numerous online stores, then it could be worth considering Salesforce Commerce as your best option; you will need at least five eCommerce stores in order to use this platform. The main drawbacks are in terms of the cost; to use Salesforce will mean at least around 1-2% of your sales, which can amount to quite a lot of money. You will also need some IT expertise within your team in order to make the most of its capabilities. On the flipside, the customer service is excellent; you will have a consultation prior to getting started so you can ensure you are getting the best out of the platform, and if you run into any issues, there is a dedicated team who will offer support. Salesforce is excellent for running reports that can help you analyze customer behavior and maximize sales.
Salesforce could be the option to go for if you are selling across multiple stores; you can sell through your social media channels, online store, and even physical store all from the same location.
BigCommerce is an option that can be used by anyone, regardless of technical expertise. It is quite hands-on with a dedicated account manager to help you through the process, and it works with numerous payment gateways so it does offer a degree of flexibility that some of the simpler platforms will not. However, this can be an expensive option as how much you pay depends on your volume of sales—the more you earn, the more you can expect to pay.
BigCommerce will be a good option if your IT resources are limited and you are looking for a no frills way of getting your eCommerce website up and running.
Being a fully hosted platform, Shopify is a great option for anyone who is just getting started out and is looking for a custom design that they can work from rather than starting everything from scratch. The main plus points are almost identical to the drawbacks in that there is limited flexibility, but this may be what you are looking for. You will pay a fixed fee each month, which can be in the region of $2,000 or more, but this is often still a lot more cost-effective than having to pay an IT department or third-party consultant to establish and maintain your website. As a comparison to BigCommerce, there are less plug-ins available; but in terms of ease of use, you cannot really beat Shopify.
This is the option to go for if you are looking for basic eCommerce functionalities that are easy to use; essentially, Shopify is very beginner-friendly.
SAP Hybris allows you to integrate a multitude of different departments, meaning your sales, marketing, customer support, and basically everything can all be in one place. This platform integrates with Salesforce so everything can be easily automated once it is in place. One of the main cons is the cost, which may be prohibitive for any business without a large budget, but this has to be balanced against the potential benefits of reaching many potential customers through the multi-channel marketing capabilities.
This could be the option to go for if you are running a large operation with multiple channels and have the budget to make best use of the features on offer.
IBM Websphere is a great option for larger enterprises with complex business needs and is known for its excellent customer support. However, unless you are running a multi-faceted and expansive business with a huge reach, then there are almost certainly better platforms to suit your needs.
This is the option to go for if your business is already well-established and you have complicated requirements that will require outside support.
Recently, HCL became the full owner of IBM’s Websphere products. So, you can find more information by looking at HCL and their product lineup.
Oracle is similar to SAP Hybris in terms of what it can do for your business, but it offers a far superior mobile experience, which is an important consideration in the modern day. It allows you to manage everything centrally, but in terms of integration with some of the prominent online marketplaces such as Amazon and Ebay, it is definitely not the right platform should you want to use these.
This is a very adaptable option for a growing business and so could be worth considering.
As we have seen, there are a number of options available for hosting platforms, and this can be confusing in terms of which one you should go for, but essentially it boils down to some simple considerations:
- What are my business needs, and which platform will help me to meet these most effectively?
- How important is flexibility, will I be looking for multiple integrations, and what is my budget?
- Will I need extensive customer support, or can I be quite autonomous once set up?
When choosing the best platform for you, it would be wise to contemplate these questions and narrow the above options down to a short list, researching each one you are left with in a little more depth before making the right choice. It is important to choose right, so spend some time doing your research and shopping around. With the right platform, your commercial operations will soar, and over time you can be a major player in the eCommerce market! Choose wisely.