Shoe for sale online
Creating an e-commerce shop means choosing a platform that will allow you to conduct sales transactions. — Getty Images

As demand for online retail sales continues to grow, many businesses have taken their sales efforts online. Some have turned to third-party sites like Amazon or Etsy, but others have turned their once simple websites into e-commerce platforms. If you’re considering doing the same, you’re probably already aware that the available choices can be downright daunting.

Obviously, you’ve got a business to run, so putting in endless hours of research likely isn’t an option. So, how do you successfully determine which e-commerce platform is best for your company today but can also grow along with your business? We’ve put together a guide on what to look for and consider as you review some of the e-commerce products available on the market today.

To start, though, let’s take a quick look at exactly what e-commerce is.

What is e-commerce?

In a nutshell, e-commerce is very simply any kind of business transaction conducted electronically. It can be a retail purchase made by a consumer, or a transaction between companies, banks, governments or any combination of the above.

What’s the difference between a website and an e-commerce site?

Simply put, an e-commerce site is a business website that allows your customers to purchase your goods or services digitally. In the past, it was usually necessary to build a new website or go through a third-party marketplace to sell your products or services if your existing site wasn’t built using a company that offered e-commerce solutions. Fortunately, that’s no longer the case.

Turning your standard website into an e-commerce site isn’t particularly difficult, but it does require tools provided by e-commerce platforms. These tools can be very basic (some are even free), or can come with a variety of features — some of which are even customized for particular types of businesses.

Determining exactly what you need and how much you can or are willing to do yourself is really the most difficult aspect of choosing an e-commerce platform. Some platforms provide templates and apps that can make the work of building and maintaining your site fairly minimal. Others will require that you have some coding knowledge or have the funds to hire someone who does.

Determining exactly what you need and how much you are willing to do yourself is really the most difficult aspect of choosing an e-commerce platform.

What to consider in choosing an e-commerce platform

As you begin to compare the various platforms available, these are some of the top considerations to keep in mind.

Cost: Any e-commerce platform worth its salt will not, unfortunately, come free of charge. Each platform has its own price, but most charge a monthly usage fee. Most also come with different tiers of services, so check each platform’s pricing structure so you know precisely what your monthly costs would be. Most e-commerce platforms make it easy to find their roster of payment plans and offers.

Ease of build: As we mentioned earlier, some e-commerce solutions allow you to add components to your existing website that seamlessly allow you to begin selling goods and services quickly and easily. Others require rebuilding your site. The best option for you may largely depend on the nature of your current site, how much traffic it can handle and whether you’re happy with your existing design.

Ease of use: Designing an appealing e-commerce site that also provides intuitive and simple navigation for your customers doesn’t have to be difficult. If you’re going for a new build, look for software that features simple, easy-to-use design tools, such as function blocks that can be dragged and dropped onto a site page. Picking an easy-to-use platform will make it simpler, not just for customers to use, but also to address any website problems that might crop up later.

Security: This is an obvious one. Customers won’t frequent your website if they feel that their information isn’t being protected. Many e-commerce and website platforms feature built-in security features, so there’s little need to worry about fending hackers off by yourself. Nonetheless, there are a few security tools that you’ll want your e-commerce platform to feature. These include SSL verification, which tells the internet that your company processes card information securely, as well as tools like firewalls. Always check for features like these when searching for an e-commerce platform.

Mobile optimization: The e-commerce revolution is driven by customers who purchase everything on their phones, so finding a platform with stellar mobile optimization is a must. Keep an eye out for e-commerce software that stresses effective mobile optimization and, better yet, provides visual examples of how sites designed with their software look on a smartphone. Mobile optimization is no longer a snazzy luxury; it’s a dire necessity. Invest accordingly.

Customer service: The only thing worse than a site outage is being unable to reach someone who can fix it. Read user reviews while searching for an e-commerce platform to verify if it provides quality customer service. User reviews divulge far more information than accolades on a website and can do a better job of helping you make an informed decision. Quality customer service can make a huge difference should your site suffer any problems.

How to build your e-commerce site

Each platform features a different site development process; but it can be helpful to find a product with a straightforward setup, especially if you don’t have an employee dedicated to building and maintaining your site. Simple setups can include, but are not limited to, drag-and-drop interfaces or tools that allow you to pick a template and plug it in. There are a few principles that are good to keep in mind as you design your e-commerce page.

Consider your audience: Who are you trying to attract with your e-commerce page? The answer to that question plays an important role in your website’s design. No matter what your company offers, you’ll want your e-commerce site to accurately represent it to the internet. Pick colors and designs that match the products you offer and don’t be afraid to use a pre-built template (especially if time is of the essence). Spice up your store with well-written product descriptions, too.

Information: Be sure to put contact information where all of your customers can see it. Email addresses, support lines and more can go a long way toward building a good first impression with new customers. Displaying that information lets them know that you care about their user experience and that you welcome opportunities to engage with them. It never hurts to include links to social media and product reviews, either.

Ease of use: The fewer buttons between your customer and a transaction, the better. Customers tolerate only so many hoops in this age of one-click purchases, and the best way to circumvent that impatience is by consolidating web pages wherever possible. You don’t have to cram everything onto one page, of course, but take care that your site’s transaction process doesn’t eat up too many “next” buttons. Your customers will return that expediency with purchases.

Points of purchase: Ensure that each product or service on your e-commerce page has a functional purchase button. Additionally, make sure that all of the purchase and shipping options you want to include are consistent across the appropriate products. Implementing third-party payment options will also help make your storefront a hit.

Maintenance: Keeping your site updated and running smoothly is important to the continued success of your e-commerce site. Outdated information, technical issues and other factors can turn away customers quickly. Fortunately, all of these issues and more can be avoided with regular website maintenance. Keeping your information updated keeps these problems at bay.

Search engine optimization (SEO): Many e-commerce platforms come standard with SEO tools to heighten your site’s search engine rank. Think of the keywords that you want customers to associate your business with and insert them into both the copy on your site and the appropriate fields in the SEO utility. You can also purchase keyword accessibility through exchanges like Google Adwords.

The bottom line

Like all things tech, there’s a learning curve to get through with creating an e-commerce site, and hashing through the different offerings and pricing structures of the numerous platforms out there will take some time. Don’t rush your decision. Ensuring you get the right solution in place will save you numerous headaches down the road and allow you to focus on the primary aspects of your business.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

Watch Now: CO— Blueprint, 9/23

Check out the video from our CO— Blueprint event that took place Wednesday, September 23, 2020, where the panel discussed everything you need to know about recruiting and managing cohesive teams remotely.

Published February 25, 2019