ecommerce platforms,When starting your online business, one of the biggest decisions you’ll make is choosing an ecommerce platform that will ensure scalable, long-term growth.
Understandably, this decision has wide-ranging implications:
- Helping customers that are engaging with your brand reduce friction while they’re getting the product they need.
- Ensuring your employees have what they need to implement campaign strategies.
- Protecting your bottom line in terms of sales growth, in addition to the cost of maintenance and installation.
Why Use an Ecommerce Platform?
The only alternatives to an ecommerce platform are:Building one from scratch, which is out of the question for most businesses — and only justifiable for multimillion (or multi billion) dollar companies.
Using a plugin, which isn’t ideal if you’re looking to build and grow a legitimate business — even a small one.
Whether you’re expanding a brick-and-mortar store, looking to find an enterprise-level solution or even starting a business from scratch, your ecommerce software has a huge impact on the profitability and stability of your business.
What is an Ecommerce Platform?
An ecommerce platform is a software application that allows online businesses to manage their website, marketing, sales and operations.
Platforms like BigCommerce offer powerful ecommerce features, while also integrating with common business tools — enabling businesses to centralize their operations and run their business their way.
What Are My Ecommerce Solution Options?
There are three main ecommerce platform options:
- SaaS (software-as-a-service).
- Headless commerce.
Open-Source Ecommerce Platforms.
Hosting environment: cloud or on-premise, though all patches and platform updates require manual implementation across the board.
Open-source ecommerce platforms are solutions in which you can modify all aspects of the code.
This type of ecommerce platform is popular with development and IT heavy organizations who want control of their ecommerce environment.
Using an open-source ecommerce platform means you — the brand — are responsible for:
- PCI Compliance.
- Hosting (depending on if your open-source solution is on-premise or cloud).
- Manual patch and update releases from the platform provider.
- Security issues.
- QA for all additional applications, often including integrations with:
- The building of net new tools for the site, often including:
For many brands, open-source ecommerce platforms are too cumbersome, expensive to maintain, and require too much technical knowledge.
As such, there has been a massive movement to the two other types of ecommerce platforms:
- Headless commerce.
In fact, open-source ecommerce platforms hosted via the cloud (i.e. not on-premise) are today only 46% of the consideration set for large ecommerce brands.
SaaS and headless commerce can help brands get to market quickly.
Because on average, open-source ecommerce platforms and sites have a 6x annual cost of ownership versus SaaS or headless commerce models.
And we live in an incredibly competitive environment, where a slowdown to beautiful and innovative UX, product, or backend optimizations can give your competition the leg up.
SaaS ecommerce platforms.
Hosting environment: cloud.
SaaS ecommerce solutions remove much of the complexity from running an online business. Instead of building and developing a custom solution or an open-source solution (which is often developed upon so much as to be custom), you essentially “rent” the platform.
When factoring in development cost, this is a vastly cheaper option than open-source solutions.
Product updates, security, hosting, PCI compliance, and every other task that comes with managing your own software are managed by the SaaS provider.
Marketing and growth teams at ecommerce brands are often the internal cheerleaders for SaaS ecommerce solutions at their organizations. With a SaaS solution, you’re able to go-to-market quickly and affordably.
IT and development departments are often concerned about a lack of flexibility and customization due to the closed-off portion of code on a SaaS solution. APIs help to ease this concern, as well as non-proprietary coding and staging environments for UX build outs.
Platforms that meet the above criteria are often referred to as “Open SaaS.”
Headless Commerce platforms.
Hosting environment: cloud.
Headless commerce is a version of Camas ecommerce in which the shopping cart is decoupled from the CMS.
In these use cases, brands often use a design experience platform (DXP) such as Adobe Experience Manager and Bloomreach or a content management system (CMS) like WordPress or Drupal. Then they plug in a decoupled ecommerce shopping cart solution.
SaaS technologies are also often used here in place of decoupled carts due to their low total cost of ownership and high API flexibility.
Hence, Historically, with on-premise hosting, open-source platforms or proprietary platform builds, IT and development departments at large brands have been controllers of the business.
However, due to the high cost of monolithic technology stacks and need for speed and innovation from a marketing standpoint, SaaS and cloud hosting disrupted the model.
Headless commerce alleviates this pain point by allowing for faster go-to-market with significantly lower total cost of ownership.
Using APIs, plug-ins, and occasionally decoupled technology, brands can maintain their single source of truth monolithic systems on the operations end.
Other decoupled solutions a Headless Commerce provider works with include:
- Content Management System (CMS), for building pages and blogging.
- Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), such as data collection.
- Email Service Provider (ESP).
- Product Information Management (PIM), to sell through various sales channels.
- Order Management System (OMS), which includes inventory management.
- Point of Sale (POS) to cover your payment processors.
- Marketplaces like Amazon or eBay.
On the presentation layer, SaaS APIs allow for a modern SaaS technology stack, including ecommerce SaaS platforms as well as everything from ESPs and even lighter weight ERPs like Brightpearl.
The best analogy to give here is like IKEA furniture.
The individual pieces of the item are the microservices and, when put together, they create a final finished project.
For many ecommerce brands, the first step toward this microservice architecture is being done via headless commerce.
DTC furniture brand, Burrow, uses a custom frontend built to bridge content and commerce. By using a headless configuration, they have been able to create the kind of shopping experience they want their customers to have.
As Burrow Co-Founder and CPO Kabeer Chopra explains:
“Along with operational functions, being headless has empowered us creatively as well; we use a headless CMS to drive modernization of our platform and to create a great digital experience across multiple channels.”
Let’s look back at our IKEA example and take the classic IKEA nightstand.
If you replace the top piece of the nightstand with their new wireless charging enabled top, you’ve done headless commerce in a way:
Using a different front-end piece that gives you an updated take on the original, but still with the same foundation and utility (e.g. drawer = cart/checkout).
What Are The Benefits Of Self-Hosted vs. Cloud?
There are two ways ecommerce sites can be hosted:
Neither of these two options are platforms in and of themselves.
They are merely how the site itself is hosted, with machines on-site (literally in a room that your IT or development team control and manage) or off-site and managed in a warehouse (think Amazon Web Services, for instance).
Self-hosted ecommerce platforms.
Self-hosted ecommerce platforms require ecommerce store owners to find hosting, deal with installations and oftentimes perform updates to the software manually.
Running an ecommerce website using self-hosted ecommerce software requires developers to maintain and update the website, which can get quite costly and time-consuming.
An example of a self-hosted ecommerce solution is Magento Open Source, which is free to download but will require hosting somewhere. You can choose to host it on-premise or pay a hosting provider. In fact, most open source ecommerce platforms can be deployed on-premise or through a third-party hosting provider.
WooCommerce, a WordPress plugin for WordPress, is also an ecommerce solution that is often hosted through a third-party hosting provider, although it can also be hosted on-premise on your own servers with some technical know-how.
The benefits of this option include more control over your online retail platform, greater visibility of your own data, and a better understanding of data security.
While this route makes sense for some extremely complex businesses, it usually results in higher expenses and lower revenues.
Cloud-hosted ecommerce platforms.
Cloud-hosted ecommerce platforms offer hosting for their customers via off-site solutions like Amazon Web Services.
This means the cloud platform manages uptime for the brand. Cloud ecommerce platforms like BigCommerce manage 99.99% uptime annually.
The advantages of choosing a cloud-hosted ecommerce platform is its lower cost since you don’t have to fund the servers nor any related maintenance or updates. You’ll also receive support from the hosting service provider, as needed.
There are some disadvantages to using cloud-hosting, including having to pay a licensing fee in addition to the cost of hosting. You also have less control over the servers and can’t tailor them to meet specific needs. As for security, you’re in charge of that, too.
At last, Not all cloud-hosted ecommerce platforms offer automatic installations of patches, updates or upgrades. Only SaaS and headless commerce solutions do that.
Things to Consider When Choosing Your Ecommerce Platform
Although you might be lured into an especially affordable plan that meets some of your criteria, it’s important to do some research before you commit. You can change hosts at any time, but migrating your site can be a hassle for you and your customers. Consider the following:
You could pay anywhere from $10 to $10,000 to build and host your ecommerce site. Even though ecommerce hosts offer competitive packages, you have to understand what you’re getting to decide whether or not they’re actually cost-efficient.
Paying more doesn’t always give you the best experience.
However, choosing the cheapest option will usually leave you looking for add-on capabilities from somewhere else. Piecing together fees from various providers is usually the most expensive way to go.
Before you choose an ecommerce host, decide on our budget for:
- Web design.
- Programming and functionality.
- Monthly hosting.
- Custom app creation.
If you choose standalone web hosting, you’ll have to research the costs of these services from other providers. But if you look at all-in-one hosts, you’ll often find that you can select a premium package that includes all of these features and stays within your budget.
2. Target audience.
Advertising to social media users is a must if you want to capture a massive and engaged audience, so looking into a platform’s marketing features is smart.
Facebook alone boasts more than 2.7 billion active monthly users. That’s a lot of potential customers.
BigCommerce offers built-in integrations with Facebook and Instagram, so you can market to users directly in their news feeds or main accounts.
With the advent of Buyable Pins, Facebook Shop and Shopping on Instagram, you can even sell directly to users without them needing to leave their platform of choice.
3. Number of products you have.
Maybe you offer a wide assortment of physical products, or perhaps a significant number of variants for your basic product line.
If you have a large catalog and need several product pages or plan to grow your business, choosing a platform with low SKU limits essentially restricts the upside of your business.
4. Room for growth.
It’s important to consider a web host that can grow with you. It’s a better idea to choose the best web host off the bat so that you can familiarize yourself with them as you scale up.
How much traffic do you expect on your site? If you’re just starting out, it’s understandable that you might not need a host with high-traffic capabilities. But if you’re focused on your growth, your ecommerce business could scale rapidly.
Will your host be able to handle traffic demands now and in the future?
What could happen if you run a promotion or campaign that goes viral? Your hosting infrastructure needs to be flexible enough to handle traffic surges without crashing your site.
Cloud hosting is one of the best options for ecommerce sites because it can keep up with traffic. Because a network of machines handles your site’s hosting needs, you have almost unlimited growth capabilities.
What Are Important Ecommerce Platforms Features?
Every online shop has unique needs, and choosing the right ecommerce platform is wholly dependent on the platform’s ability to solve the day-to-day challenges inherent within your organization.
There are, however, some basic things you should find out about prospective providers.
Important ecommerce solution features:
- Hosting environment, domain name, year-over-year uptime and bandwidth.
- Unlimited API call volumes.
- Website builder with free, user-friendly site themes in non-proprietary languages.
- Extensive application marketplace or app store full of pre-built integrations with best-in-class service providers.
- The mobile optimized site, checkout and full experience (out-of-the-box) and fully customizable.
- PCI Compliance mitigation.
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) features and fully customizable URLs throughout the site to help you rank higher on Google, Yahoo!, Bing, etc.
- Built-in basic ecommerce functionality features, including promotions and discounts, analytics, catalogue management, WYSIWYG editors, etc.
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