How to Choose the Right Ecommerce Platform for Your Business
Are you currently considering a new ecommerce platform for your business? If so, you'll know it's a big decision. The costs, resources and timescales involved in replatforming can be daunting. That's why the decision-making process should be diligent and strategic.
In this blog, Space 48's Ecommerce Evangelist, Tom Robertshaw, discusses the approach to choosing the right platform for your retail business, outlining the key criteria for assessing platform suitability and building a business case for replatforming. Tom has also created a really comprehensive guide for merchants, which explores platform selection strategy and outlines the key benefits and functionality of top ecommerce platforms, Magento, Shopware and Shopify. It's a must read! You can download this free ecommerce platform evaluation guide here.
Choosing an ecommerce platform that's suitable for your business
When selecting an ecommerce platform, you need to have very clear business objectives scoped out, combined with extensive research about your personas. To judge which platforms will be a good fit for your business, don't just consider the now, think about your business in 3-5 years' time. You need a lasting and scalable platform solution for your business.
Don't be blinded by the bells and whistles of the most feature-rich ecommerce platforms, as your businesses may never see the benefit of many of these features. The best platform fit will be the one that matches your requirements, ambition and customer needs.
Don't let your budget spiral out of control because you want the most innovative features. There will be invisible costs of implementing a feature-rich and customisable platform, where the possibilities seem endless. This is where your planning and research is so important, as you'll be able to compare your priorities with what your prospective platforms offer.
A badly-chosen ecommerce platform and development partner can really cause problems for your business in the future, leading to further costs to fix issues an unmanageable ecommerce store. Brand reputation is crucial and can be easily damaged by a platform that doesn't suit your business. Ultimately, there's no one-size-fits-all ecommerce platform. Different platforms offer different benefits, features and specialisms.
Building a valid business case for replatforming
Every retail website reaches a point where it requires a refresh, to accommodate a change in brand strategy, bring it up to speed with changing technology or meet changing customer needs and expectations. When you reach this pivotal moment, you may understandably consider a change of ecommerce platform. But don't dive into a replatforming project before you've outlined a valid business case for replatforming.
There are usually a number of contributing factors to this decision. Motivators may include an ageing design or technology, a breakdown in vendor relationship and confidence, or simply outgrowing the platform feature set.
If you feel you're spending too much time fighting fires and maintaining the site, you may feel that a platform migration is inevitable. But as our Managing Director Jon Woodall hammered home in his recent blog about debunking the myths of replatforming, moving ecommerce platforms is not always the answer and won't suddenly solve all of your issues!
I've outlined some key considerations when building a business case for replatforming:
- Predicted Benefits
- Value of new features
- Value of improved customer experience
- Predicted Costs
- Time to see a return on investment
- Opportunity cost of not replatforming yet
- Time and financial cost of firefighting
- Time and financial cost of bloated development times.
- Lost opportunities due to some features or designs not being achievable
- Damage risk of security breach
- Failed project
- Sub-optimal platform
- Sub-optimal agency relationship
Consider all of these factors and properly outline the pros and cons of replatforming, before starting down the road with a platform migration project.
Criteria for assessing platform suitability
If your conclusions lead you to a replatforming project, your attentions will turn to which ecommerce platform will be most suitable for your business. This is no quick or easy decision and requires extensive research, assessment and planning. In order to establish which platforms are best suited to your brand, there are a number of different criteria for doing a measured platform comparison.
Here are just some of the key factors to consider when assessing ecommerce platform suitability:
What are your key business objectives? Have they changed significantly in recent years? What are your most important requirements from a new platform, which your existing platform cannot fulfill or is faltering with? Without a clear set of objectives, you're vendor selection process will be flawed from the start.
It's important to have an idea about what budget you have for a replatforming project, otherwise costs could soon escalate as you start to explore the various benefits of different platforms and learn more about the integrations and support required. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- What budget do you have for a build?
- How much of this budget will be consumed by the platform and technology license fees?
- How important to your brand is being able to provide unique experiences?
- How crucial is R&D and technology for your business?
There's no magic formula for calculating the budget for a replatforming process, but for established businesses your budget may fall into the 2% to 10% of annual online revenue range. Also, for a comprehensive financial plan, it's a good idea to budget for the post-launch maintenance period.
Ecommerce replatforming is a lengthy process. From crafting an effective RFP and tendering for your project, to the discovery phase and website build itself, you need to be prepared for an extensive and time-consuming project experience. This is why you need to have a good idea of the timescales you need to work to and be realistic about them. If you're trying to work to a very short timescale for a replatforming, you need to strongly consider whether it's the right decision and the right time to carry out a website migration.
Team experience and resources
Assess the level of experience in your ecommerce team and the resources you have to pull on for your replatforming project. Not only for the project itself, but for the ongoing management and development of the new platform you end up selecting.
Do you have in-house developers? What experience has your team got for working on certain platforms? What level of support will your team require from your chosen platform and development agencies? These questions will have an impact on your platform selection and the recruitment and third-party relationships you'll require.
Current challenges for your customers
This is the factor that many retailers forget about and this is a huge mistake! In fact, putting customers first should be a priority for every ecommerce business and merchant. Matching the capabilities of your platform and ecommerce store to your customer needs and expectations is to the key to creating a winning user experience.
You'll need to do extensive research and delve into your data to fully understand what makes your customers tick, what challenges they're experiencing on your website and what UX (and other) factors are causing barriers to purchase, bounces and cart abandonment. These customer insights will help you find a platform which can solve these problems and challenges.
Limitations with your existing ecommerce platform
The work you do on understanding your current behaviours and challenges, will help to pinpoint the limitations of your existing platform. Outline the problems (both technical and strategic) your key teams are having with your current platform and how it's holding back your business growth, then add the limitations of your existing platform in delivering a good customer experience to your checklist for platform suitability.
We recommend using ecommerce website monitoring tools, such as Hotjar and FullStory, which offer granular analytics about the full picture of what's working and what's not working in your site's user journey.
Features, Integrations and compatibility with other systems
List out the functionality that your new website will need and try to evaluate features required, based on customer value rather than pre-existing functionality or the latest trends. An ecommerce website feature that doesn't provide genuine value adds unnecessary complexity to the customer experience. Think about the areas of the business which are going to be the biggest contributors to growth. These are likely to be customer-experience focused.
Consider the following questions:
- What features do you have now?
- How many of these provide value to the customer and the business?
- What areas are you looking to add or improve on in order to unlock growth?
- What technology partners are you considering?
Don’t forget to consider functionality that will require integrations through partnerships with third-party solutions. List all third-parties and integrations that you currently work with or are looking to bring on board, so that when evaluating platforms the availability of integrations can be assessed.
Consider scalability in your platform evaluation and the demand that certain platforms can handle before performance is significantly impacted. Don't just think about current demand, think about the future growth of your business in the next few years.
Carry out benchmarking and get a hold of case studies for the platforms under consideration. For self-hosted software, the quality and size of the hosting setup is going to dramatically affect performance and scalability. Whereas hosted cloud-based platforms, which support automated scaling, can offer an advantage in providing high scalability out of the box.
Platforms that are built with scalability and flexibility in mind, such as Magento 2, are also likely to have advanced caching methods and will deploy technologies, such as Varnish. It may seem obvious to choose a platform that's flexible and won't limit business growth or potential future business pivots, but there's no real scientific measurement for the flexibility of a platform.
However, when assessing platform suitability with scalability and flexible in mind, consider open-source platforms, the marketplace and the modular architecture of different platforms.
Support from platforms and ecommerce agencies
Some platforms offer more support than others, from available resources and tutorials, to 24/7 live support and technical customer services operatives. It will often depend on the version and product level of your chosen platform, which your business decides upon. You may require enterprise-level platform products in order to get extensive support.
The level of support your development agency can provide is another key factor. This starts with your RFP, where you can outline the support you require from your chosen agency, for the website build and post-build maintenance and enhancement.
Space 48's ecommerce platform evaluation guide
As mentioned earlier, I've been beavering away on a new downloadable guide for merchants, to offer extensive guidance around selecting the right platform for your business. The ecommerce platform evaluation guide is available to download here: The Complete Guide to Choosing the Right Ecommerce Platform.
I hope you found this blog helpful and that you understand the range of considerations and processes involved in selecting a suitable ecommerce platform and planning a replatforming project. As an experienced website development agency and ecommerce consultancy, we have a wealth of experience and expertise to help retailers chose the best solution for their business requirements and customer needs.
Want to speak to our experienced ecommerce development experts and get a free ecommerce platform suitability assessment? Arrange your assessment now!
Space 48 is a leading UK ecommerce consultancy, based in Manchester. We specialise in website development for Magento and Shopware platforms. If you need help with your ecommerce strategy or advice about selecting the right platform or integrations for your business, get in touch with us or book a free consultation with our ecommerce specialists! We'll help you to pinpoint your growth opportunities and recommend the best approach to improve your brand's performance.