Choosing the right eCommerce platform for your business can be a tedious task. Once you picked a platform, it will become harder to back out and switching to new platform will cost you a lot in terms of development charges, so deciding on an ecommerce platform can make or break your business. As there are too many options available, it is easier to fall in the trap of choosing a popular platform rather than choosing one that meets your needs. In fact, choosing a popular eCommerce platform for building an ecommerce store might not always be the right choice since each platform will have its own pros and cons. So, it is critical to your business that you choose the right platform that best matches your needs. In this article, we’ll guide you how to choose a platform that best suits your needs. #1. Choose a platform based on your goals Needless to say, there are a lot of factors you should consider while choosing the e-commerce platform, and obviously it depends upon your goals and requirements. So before jumping in to choose one, write down your ecommerce business goals and write your feature expectations from a platform. After the brainstorming process, compare the available solutions with each other. This tactic will help you to come up with a better choice that fits your requirements. While brainstorming, you will need to consider these factors. The total budget you can afford for the platform design Features you’d be interested in Availability of extensibility/plugins Support Takeaway: Use a recommendation engine. Indeed, there are too many ecommerce platforms to pick from. If you’re confused about choosing one, you can compare different features using a recommendation engine like Webappmeister. It allows you to compare different goals like pricing, design, features, marketing, statistics, hosting, security, extensibility and support. You can visit the Webappmeister for comparing different platforms based on your goals. #2. Easy eCommerce platform integration There’s an old saying: “if you build it, they will come”. This can be great advice for some, but from a business perspective, especially for an ecommerce store, this advice can prove disastrous. These days, with all the technologies available out there, building a store from the ground up is not at all a tough job. In fact, the hard part is to grow a customer base from scratch. That being said, if you have already grown a massive following online either on your blog, or on social media, you can start thinking about monetizing your user base by integrating an ecommerce shop. For example, Nautilus has successfully integrated a storefront into their website. As they provide great content, people visit the site on a regular basis. They promote the Nautilus store to their regular visitors to purchase merchandise that mirrors the type of content they love. Such integration can be a great idea because your new storefront can be easily branded to blend into your website, and it allows you to easily market the store to your existing follower base as well. If you are a WordPress blogger, you may consider using plugins like Woocommerce. If you built a huge fan base on Facebook, you can choose Facebook apps like Shopify. Takeaway: Try demos of different ecommerce store apps that are available on your CMS. For example, if you are on WordPress, you can test drive different WordPress plugins on a local WordPress ecosystem. #3. Choose based on the products you sell Unlike selling physical products online, selling digital products is much easier. For selling digital products, you don’t necessarily need all the bulky features that advanced ecommerce platforms like Magento have to offer. In such cases, you can use simple platforms such as E-junkie or SendOwl, which are specifically built for selling digital products. Alternatively as a WordPress solution for digital products selling, you may consider using Easy Digital Downloads. The best thing is it is a free plugin and it is even bundled with all the basic functionalities you’ll need. You can also buy a pro version if you’ll need more functions. Takeaway: While choosing a platform for selling digital products, here are a few things you should consider. Total number of products you’ll be selling Total number of downloads you’re expecting per month Check whether you need feature like affiliate management software The above checklist will help you to compare the platforms head to head and choose the one that is most appropriate and profitable for your business. For example, if you’re just getting started with selling on WordPress and you’re not an authority in your niche circles chances are you won’t need an affiliate management software. You can use Easy Digital Downloads plugin that will cost you nothing. #4. Brainstorm by analyzing competitors’ websites Spend a significant amount of time on walking through your competitors’ websites. Write down every usability features you’ll need and check if those features can be easily added to your store with the platform you’re choosing. At the beginning, even though you’re starting your store with fewer features, writing down the features you may conceivably need in the future can help the development process to be streamlined and focused in the long run. You’ll also need to talk with different development teams who are specialized in working on different platforms. Ultimately, the idea is to choose a platform that won’t cost you a lot for further development and offers you more convenience in the long run. In addition, analyzing your competitors’ website will not only help you to come up with the features list but it will also be helpful to make your brand unique and special. The following process will help you come up with the features list by conducting an audit of your competitors’ store. At first, make a list of your competitors. Rather than simply googling you may also use services like SEMrush. Research your competitors’ websites and make a features list you’ll require. Once you got the list of features, make sure you prioritize it. Even if you don’t need all the features at the beginning, prioritizing the list will give you better focused on the development process in the long run. Let’s take a look at how the above brainstorming process will help you. For instance, if you’re planning to use the Woocommerce plugin, you can check out how much money you should be spending for buying add-ons in order to add all those features to your store. In fact, adding a lot of plugins might slow down your website, which may adversely affect your business. In such cases, ask yourself if choosing another platform would be more profitable as well as convenient. Takeaway: Talk with different development teams that work on different platforms. Discuss the feature list with them and ask if they can make it all in order to make sure the whole development process is streamlined. Take a note on how much it would cost for the development process in the long run. Ultimately, you’ll need to choose a platform that is more profitable and convenient not just at the beginning but in the near future. #5. Choose based on affordability Maintaining an ecommerce store can be costly. While it makes sense for a larger business to choose a platform that offers premium functionalities, a smaller business may need to look at a lower cost option that is affordable and that will also allow them to manage their customers and products in an easier way. Just because some apps offer premium functionalities, it doesn’t mean that you could not get those additional functions with a low budget. For example, the Enterprise Edition of the popular ecommerce app Magento will cost you around $15,000 to $20,000 per year. Because the name Magento is well known in the industry and the Enterprise Edition comes with a lot of functionalities out of the box, with no doubt it became a popular choice for big business. On the other hand, if you couldn’t afford that much just to maintain a platform, Spree Commerce can be a better choice for you, rather than Magento Enterprise Edition. As Spree is an open source platform, not only does it cost you nothing for the platform, but it also provides almost the same features (with the necessary add-ons) and more importantly, the same scalability that is offered by Magento Enterprise Edition, which makes Spree Commerce a superb choice for an ecommerce startup with low budget. Takeaway: Choose a platform that fits your budget. Prepare an estimate for a year of spending for your store. Designate how much you can afford for implementing a platform. You will need to calculate server cost, developer charge and every other fee you got to pay for maintaining your ecommerce store. This will help you choose a platform that fits your budget. #6. Decide between self-hosted or hosted platform Self-hosted shopping carts are hosted on servers that you procure through a hosting provider. If you’re running a store using self-hosted solutions, you’ll need to source and set up the storefront from the ground up and manage the hardware infrastructure yourself. Some examples of self-hosted shopping carts are Magento Community Edition, Spree Commerce and Woocommerce (for WordPress). A hosted or ‘managed’ or SaaS ecommerce solution is hosted on a server that you don’t have access to. In fact, with a hosted solution, it is easier to set up a store. Examples of managed e-commerce solutions are Shopify, Volusion and BigCommerce. Here is when a self-hosted version is the right choice for you: When you require more customization When you need full control Here is when a hosted version is the right choice for you: Reliability– A quality SaaS provider is reliable in handling heavy traffic with less down time. PCI compliance– It ensures a secure environment for processing, storing and transmitting credit card information. Ease of use- You don’t need to train and maintain internal staff to set up and run the store, since it is easier to use. Takeaway: Once you have decided whether you need a hosted or self-hosted version, you can go through the top 10 list of both hosted and self-hosted versions of ecommerce stores and decide which could be a right choice. #7. Choose based on the backend features Usually, most webmasters are super conscious about the frontend design and frontend features of their store but they often ignore those of their backend. In fact, the features and usability of the backend are as important as the frontend; since you’re spending most of your time on the backend, it can not only affect your overall work productivity, but chances are it’s going to reflect on your frontend and ultimately, your customer’s user experience as well. According to your work preferences, users will have different expectations and requirements. For instance, Magento offers many options to backend users as core functions out of the box. While having many options might be great for some, some users may prefer having fewer options especially those who are fond of minimalist design because too many options makes the backend cluttered and overwhelming. In contrast, platforms like Shopify and Spree are built around simplicity. Compared with Magento, these platforms have fewer tabs. However, it doesn’t mean that these platforms come with less functionality and options, just that the options are well organized. Takeaway: Before jumping in, take a look at the backend features each platform has to offer and get familiarized with it yourself. What is your favorite ecommerce platform? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section. 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