In the internet's infancy, setting up an eCommerce website wasn't an easy proposition and its reliability and functionality were hit or miss. Luckily, the internet has evolved and so have the options for setting up an online store that works smoothly. But if you haven't researched the topic in some time, you may be surprised to learn about some of today's best eCommerce platforms that make it easy for any entrepreneur to sell goods and services from his or her website.
What to Look for in an eCommerce Platform
You want to sell things online, right? That's a great start, but there's more involved. For one thing, you could choose to go with the eCommerce platform provided by your web hosting service - but that's usually not the best choice unless you simply don't want to be bothered with doing your own research and setup. Then again, you could opt for open source software, which is free, but it can be difficult to install and customize. For most applications, using a hosted shopping cart is best. Yes, you will have to pay for it, but you get much greater functionality and the ability to customize it so that it matches your online branding and looks like part of your website.
There are certain key factors that you should be seeking when you go shopping for the best, most robust, eCommerce platform for your small business. Here are some of the most important:
Security - you want to ensure your customers are completely comfortable doing a transaction on your site and the chances of their data be stolen are slim.
Integration - most entrepreneurs use WordPress or a similar CMS (content management system). While it's easy to find eCommerce software compatible with WordPress or other blogging platforms, not all of them play nice together. If you sell on eBay or other such sites, it's important that your shopping cart works there, too.
SEO -your shopping cart software should be optimized so it can rank highly on searches for the products or services you sell.
Support - where can you turn when something goes wrong? If you've got an upset customer due to some glitch in the ordering process, you need answers right away. Look for an eCommerce platform that includes 24/7/365 support via phone.
Size - can the platform you are considering accommodate all your items? If you have a large selection, you will need to incorporate a large catalog, along with options for each item. Some of the simpler and cheaper programs can't do this.
CRM - how easy is it to send communications to your customers and follow up with them after the sale? A good eCommerce platform allows you to suggest related items and send after-the-sale messages based on demographics, past buying behavior, etc.
Most Popular eCommerce Platforms
So, what do the majority of entrepreneurs prefer for a shopping cart on their websites? Here are some of the most popular:
Magento - Open source platform is available but for most uses it will require paid plugins and the services of a developer to customize and integrate all features. Full functionality, but can be difficult to integrate, update and use. In a word: clunky.
Highwire - this platform includes hosting of your shopping cart on their servers. Customizable and reasonably priced; monthly fee.
Shopify - best ecommerce services also includes hosting and a blog integrated into the eCommerce platform. Premium templates to better integrate with your site are reasonably priced, as is the monthly fee. Good choice for mobile applications.
Volusion - hosted, all-in-one eCommerce solution. Mobile-ready and customizable, although custom templates are pricey.
BigCommerce - mid-priced, fully functional platform that syncs easily with eBay and Facebook and allows for hundreds of products. Includes inventory management.
While this is just a brief list of the options available, it's a good starting point for researching an eCommerce platform perfect for your business.
Don't forget that just because you build it, doesn't mean customers will flock to your site. After your online store is up and running, you'll need to market it - so do budget for an internet marketing consultant as well as a developer (if you aren't comfortable with coding). Just remember - the sooner you get your eCommerce platform working with your website, the sooner you can start making big profits online!