Whether you are new to e-commerce or are an online merchant that has been around the block a few times, you know that after your product and your brand, your e-commerce web site is your third most important investment. With so much competition between e-Commerce design agencies and e-commerce software providers – there is a dizzying array of offerings with a wide range of features and price points. Polar Design has been on both sides of the fence – as a vendor and a consumer of e-commerce design services; this post shares important lessons we’ve learned on how to choose eCommerce software or solutions.
E-Commerce solutions generally fall into a few categories, which we’ve outlined below. In a later blog post we’ll discussed the pros and cons of each. For now, we’ve included a short description followed by a checklist we feel will help you choose the right path.
- Template Based E-commerce
- Software as a Service E-commerce
- E-Commerce Products
- Custom Designed E-commerce
- Hybrid Solutions
When deciding which solution is right for you, try to avoid falling into the trip of comparing price versus features. Most new e-commerce businesses do not necessarily need advanced features. Focus on solutions that can deliver the greatest return on your investment (ROI). Here are a few key determinants of success in your choice of an e-commerce solution:
1. Design and Branding
An attractive and easy to use design makes all the difference in helping smooth a visitor’s path to purchase. Sites lose roughly 20% of visitors with each click, so minimizing clicks is important. When considering out of the box solutions, evaluate how quickly and easily a user can check out products and process payment. If you are considering an agency be sure to look at their e-commerce portfolio and compare the overall appearance of sites that are similar to yours in concept – for example, if you plan to offer pet products, ask the agency for examples of similar product sites they have created. Chances are, the style and quality of design evident in the agency’s past work is what you’ll gain.
You can also evaluate professionally the agency’s work. Beyond getting family, friends’ or partners’ opinions, you can look to a third party company to give an objective analysis to ensure you choose the right company. Affordable third party services also exist like the Five Second Test where you can affordably obtain feedback from dozens of strangers on how well a potential vendor communicates their clients’ products.
2. E-Commerce Site load time
This often neglected factor is critical in reducing bounce and exit rates of visitors, which has a direct impact on how many sales you generate from your visitors traffic. The more established your business is or the more you have budgeted for advertising and marketing, the more important this becomes because it directly affects the ROI of your advertising and marketing expenditures as well. For example, every additional 1 second delay in page load time can increase bounce rates by up to 20% – this often repeated statistic is one we witnessed first hand when we redesigned a client’s marble cleaning e-commerce site (see the related e-commerce case study).
Test at least three examples of e-commerce sites developed by the company or on the technology platform that you are considering with one of several free speed tests. Free third party services like Pingdom or LoadImpact are a great way to do this and allow you to compare site speed between different vendors. Be sure to test the cart pages as well as the home page.
3. Expandability / Scalability
The objective here is not to seek an e-commerce platform that is infinitely scalable or that has every imagined feature under the sun. For example, if you want to sell products that consumers purchase once, like a unique gift, you don’t need a solution that provides you recurring billing and features like re-marketing are less important than features that help your site’s SEO.
On the other hand, if your budget is limited and you see yourself needing a fully featured site in the future, but can’t afford that at this time, look for a solution that allows you to add on features, whether by purchasing a module or having it developed and added.
Remember, too, that simply naming a feature as being present or offered doesn’t mean that feature will meet your exact needs or is even well built out.
A good approach is to create a wish list of features and capabilities and divide them into three equal groups that include critical, important and nice-to-have features. Then, focus your initial evaluation on the critical features – write out exactly how they should work and contact prospective vendors to be sure that’s what you’ll get by speaking with each vendor personally. You may find the list of feasible solutions narrows quite quickly with this approach.
4. Budget Wisely
This does not mean “budget cheaply”. However, if you are a new venture, you should budget at least as much if not 2X more for marketing and PR as you do for your web site. Don’t budget for a Mercedes and forget about setting aside funds for gas and oil changes. We’ve seen many companies with great ideas fail for lack of serious marketing and promotion.
On the other hand, don’t treat your investment in an eCommerce site as anything else – it is an investment, not a cost. What this means is that focusing on value is more likely to ensure business success rather than attempting to find a solution with as many features at the lowest possible cost. Many low cost, entry-level solutions are deficient in the areas noted above, from load time to design, which means lower conversion rate, fewer sales per ad dollar spent, and thus a lower return on investment. That doesn’t mean that an inexpensive solution isn’t the right fit – just be sure you’ve vetted any solution you consider to ensure you’re choosing one that will get you the most results per dollar spent.
5. Have Fun!
E-Commerce is still a new, exciting arena with continuously evolving possibilities, from social media integration to mobile commerce. There is much to learn and so many niches still left open for companies to capture and profit in. Choose a niche that evokes your passion. Enjoy the journey and have fun. You will make mistakes along the way – don’t be disheartened by them; learn from them and you’ll attract success in no time.
What have been your eCommerce experiences with software and out-of-the-box solutions? If you’re in need of some assistance, contact our e-commerce website experts.