Choosing an Ecommerce Platform

Many businesses are looking at today's challenges and examining their business models. Some businesses have moved very quickly into online selling. Others are asking how to move to online.

Discovery Process

The best way to get started is to embark a discovery process. Doing this will help you plan out what you need now and in the future.

Ask questions and make lists. Generate ideas and write them down. Don't worry if some of you ideas are a bit crazy. You can cross them off or they may lead to other inspiration.

How many lines of stock do you have?

A small boutique with a few dozen items will need a different solution to a large catalogue with hundreds of thousands of items.

How many sales channels?

Are you selling from a shop? Maybe you are also travelling to markets. Selling on your website? Are you selling on other platforms such as Ebay, Amazon or Kogan. Keeping a central database for all the different sales channels makes sense. You can keep control of your stock.

What other features will you need?

Maintenance

Who is going to maintain the updates?

How much is your time worth?

Budget

It all comes down to evaluating the needs of your customers and potential customers.

SEO and Ranking

SEO comes in two forms: Optimising your site for users and search. The other is marketing your site.

Understanding how search works helps with optimising. Search engines break down to 3 steps:

  1. Finding your site.
  2. Indexing your site.
  3. Showing search results

Search engine algorithms change. Don't focus on gaming the algorithms but focus on quality. Search engines are striving tom make search better for users. That makes it easier for the to sell advertising. Things that help improve quality will ultimately benefit your site.

Focus on things like:

Two Broad Types of Commerce Solutions

There are 2 ways to set up an online store.

Both are equally valid. No one solution is better than the other. It is simply what is the best solution for you. Investing time in a discovery process will help make it clearer which one suites you.

Managed Solutions

Hosted solutions are the ones with the software already installed and ready to go. The largest player on this field is Shopify. Shopify templates can customised. It uses a templating language called Liquid. Liquid is open source and is used in Jekyll. It is similar to Handlebars and Mustache templating languages behind the scene. This means a business owner can take the time to learn Liquid can make some individual customisations to their sites.

Neto is an Australian based solution that competes with Shopify. They have a solid reputation and offer different plans to Shopify.

Pros

Cons

Links

Self Hosted Solutions

A self hosted solution is where you have a server. You are responsible for installing and maintaining the site. This is the best solution if you want to control costs and make your site unique. These break into two broad categories.

A dedicated solution is designed from the ground up to be an online shop. That is its primary focus. A mixed solution is where you site has other purposes. It serves as an online store may also be a blog. It could have other purposes.

Mixed Solutions

WordPress

WordPress is a mixed solution. It is not an ecommerce platform by itself. It was originally built as blogging software. WordPress can be extended using plugins. There are a number of options to bolt on a shop. The most commonly used one is WooCommerce. WooCommerce is developed by Automaticc, the same people behind WordPress. The WooCoomerce.

WordPress runs on about 40% of the web and has quite a large ecosystem of plugins. If you want a particular functionality, then you can add a plugin for that. This makes it a very popular choice. A word of caution. Don't use too many plugins. Too many plugins can slow your site down dramatically.

A WordPress/WooCommerce setup gives you the basics to set up a shop. You will have a shop where you can add products, a payment gateway based on Paypal, and options to set up basic delivery charges. This will give you a cart and a check out process. This will work for most businesses but often a key function is missing. For example, you may be selling wines and can only process orders containing multiples of 6 bottles. WooCommerce can't handle that natively. You will need to install a plugin or write some code to handle that. In most cases there is already a plugin that handles the feature you want. However, there is a danger of bloat. Adding more plugins will slow your site down.

Be careful of building a Frankenstore. WordPress has over 50,000 plugins that extend its functionality. This is both a blessing and a curse. More plugins mean more features. More features mean a slower site. Slower sites can cost because it reduces your SEO and requires more powerful hosting services.

Recommended for small to medium shops.

Drupal Commerce

Drupal is widely used in government and enterprise but is also very suitable for small to medium businesses.

Drupal Commerce is a distribution of Drupal with commerce baked in. Being based on Drupal makes it a lot more flexible than WordPress. Drupal supports custom content types and fine grained permissions out of the box. This could make Drupal a better option than WordPress if you want to add a lot of customisation.

Recommended for small to large shops.

Dedicated Ecommerce Solutions

These are built as shops first. For that reason alone they are an excellent choice.

OpenCart

OpenCart was launched in 2005. It is a dedicated commerce platform. Because it is designed as a shop, it can be a very good solution. It supports multiple stores. Products can be customised.

It comes with a nice intuitive backend for processing orders and products.

It is simple to set up and install. It comes with it's own install script. Many Cpanel host will have an option to perform an automated installation.

There are tons of themes available, both free and paid, for giving your store a slick, attractive, sales-worthy look. You’ll never be short of options, regardless of the types of products you sell.

Low Running Costs: On an ongoing basis, it doesn’t require any ongoing development costs to keep OpenCart ticking over. For small to medium sized online store, this makes it a great option for keeping a lid on costs.

OpenCart can be more difficult to customise compared to other software. OpenCart is confined to the product as-is. However, there are a lot of pre-made modifications available which you can use to add to the site, short of hiring a developer and going totally custom.

Not as SEO-Ready as some of it's competitors. This means it won’t be automatically performing in Google in the same way as other e-commerce sites might, and you will need to approach this issue separately to get the right results in search engines.

It can be slow: The script can run at a reasonably slow pace, especially on larger sites, which can make for a frustrating shopping experience after a while.

Pros and cons

Recommended for small to medium businesses.

PrestaShop

PrestaShop is an open source shop. It is very similar to OpenCart. It comes with a simple follow the directions install script. It's backend is very easy to use.

Recommended for small to medium businesses with more than a 1000 lines of stock. PrestaShop also comes as a cloud service if you don't want to set up and maintain a website yourself. Personally I find PrestaShop to be a better option than OpenCart. But that is more personal preference. I'd recommend trying out both and see which is better suited to your needs.

Pros and cons

Magento

Magento is the dominant player in ecommerce. It is open source but was bought by Adobe in 2018. In 2019, it accounted for around 30% of commerce sites. It also comes as a cloud service

It is aimed more at large and enterprise organisations. It is highly flexible and has a large developer community. Highly developed ecosystem with lots of pluginswhich means it could also be suitable for small and medium businesses.

It does have a reputation for having a steep learning curve. Takes a lot of work to get it working but could be well worth it. I'd recommend hiring a developer to this one.

Magento

Aimeos

Aimeos is an open source platform for ecommmerce. It claims to be very fast. It can render up to 1 billion items in 20ms. That would make it faster than magento It is design for shops plus B2B connections. It competes in the same space as Magento.

Aimeos integrates with Laravel, Typo and Symfony. It also used to support SlimPHP.

Takes a lot of work to get it working it working. I'd recommend hiring a developer for this one.

Conclusion

The is no best solution. It is a case of what suits your needs. That's why a discovery process is important. It helps to set goals. Remember the Pareto Principle applies to many of these solutions. You can get 80% there with 20% of the work. The remaining 20% takes 80% of the work.

Posted in Thoughts on Jan 13, 2021