So, you’ve decided that you need a new eCommerce platform and the lure of a hassle-free Cloud experience is very appealing. But with the many cloud-based platforms available, how do you know which one is right for your business? It comes down to comparing what you need with what’s available. So, the question becomes, how do you know what you need? Glad you asked. Here are the essential factors to consider when evaluating Cloud-based eCommerce solutions.
Right off the bat you need to determine if the cloud solution you are considering will integrate with your existing architecture.
If integration requires a patchwork of workarounds, manual processes, and workflows you aren’t looking at a solution to your problem: you’re looking at a whole new set of problems. The data from your eCommerce solution must flow freely to your ERP, WMS, CMS, chatbot app and other business solutions you already have in place. And the data should flow back to the eCommerce platform just as easily. If it doesn’t you are looking at a potential nightmare.
It’s common for Cloud-based solutions to offer a suite of products such as ERP and CRM in addition to the eCommerce platform. The family of solutions will work well together but that doesn’t mean that they work so well with solutions outside the family.
So, make sure that only the solutions that integrate with your existing architecture make it to your short list. And of the solutions on your short list, evaluate their ecosystem of APIs, add-ons, plug-ins, and themes. Otherwise, you may find yourself recreating existing integrations. For example, if you currently use MailChimp for marketing, make sure the Cloud-based platform integrates well with MailChimp. Otherwise you’re stuck implementing a new email marketing system as well as a new eCommerce platform.
Cloud-based eCommerce platforms may be based on proprietary code or open source code. If the code is proprietary (SaaS), your ability to customize may be limited.
That might not be a problem if the solution provides about 80% or more of the functionality you need right out of the box. But if you need much in the way of customization, make sure it is possible. Look for features like modular design and workflow engines to support customizing the solution.
This is another place where open source code has an advantage. Proprietary code is like a trade secret or intellectual property; you just don’t have access to it. Without access, there’s no way to really customize.
On the other hand, open source code is available for view and modification. And chances are someone else might have already developed the customization you need. That’s why it’s important to investigate the themes and plug-ins available.
User Friendly Front and Back-End
It’s easy when evaluating Cloud eCommerce platforms to get caught up in the long lists of features that allow you to provide a fantastic user experience to your customers on the front-end. That’s completely understandable because after all, your customers should be at the core focus of your eCommerce business.
But that doesn’t mean you should ignore the user experience on the back-end. The employees that utilize the back-end deserve a great user experience as well as the customers using the front-end.
So, when evaluating your Cloud solutions, make sure both front- and back-end are fully responsive for mobile and work with any browser on any platform. Also look for dynamic content widgets as part of the content management system. Make sure it is easy to create text blocks, call to action buttons, and product snippets.
Your landing pages and web pages should provide a great experience for the customer and creating these pages should be a great experience for your employees. Don’t hamper creativity and design ambition with a clunky backend. Enable it with a solution that provides an easy-to-use and intuitive interface.
Today you want a Cloud solution but, in the future, you may want to move your eCommerce platform in-house.
Is that possible with the Cloud solutions you are considering? Before you sign on the dotted line, make sure you aren’t signing away any flexibility you need.
See if your solution can deploy in-house as well as be hosted on the Cloud. While Cloud-based solutions free you from the worries of hosting and security, you do give up control. And at some point, you might want that control.
For example, with some Cloud-based eCommerce platforms you do not own the website you create, and you cannot decide to move the site to your own in-house server. With other Cloud eCommerce platforms, you own the website you create, and you can move it on and off the Cloud at your discretion.
If flexibility and control are important to you, make sure you fully understand all deployment options.
Cloud Services Included
Another key comparison when evaluating Cloud-based eCommerce solutions are the support services that are included.
Every Cloud platform will include basic functionality and hosting, but what else can you expect? Are you responsible for site monitoring and incident reporting? The Cloud is supposed to free you from these tasks, make sure it does.
Look into the monitoring and response procedures and standards for performance. It’s not enough to promise to act, know in advance how quickly your vendor will act.
Is all maintenance included? What happens if routine maintenance causes problems? How quickly can a backup be restored and how often will the site be backed up? A site/server crash during your busiest season isn’t the time to find out that backups are monthly, recovery can take days, and your business isn’t the vendor’s top priority.
Total Cost of Ownership
Of course, you must consider the costs to set up the site. But there’s more to total cost of ownership than just a license fee. And for some Cloud-based eCommerce solutions, these additional charges can add up quickly.
In the implementation phase, how much will you pay for developer costs, consulting fees, and initial licensing. Once you are ready to go live, will you pay for support? What type of support is available and are there additional training costs involved? What does the license fee cover?
Do you pay a cost per transaction or an additional fee based on the value of the transactions? If you operate a high-volume business or sell high value items, these types of additional fees add up quickly. So, identify them in advance and factor them into your return on investment calculations.
Do Your Research
Before making this important decision, gather as much information as possible. Look at independent sources such as the IDC Marketscape Report and talk to companies that use the vendors you are considering.
Remember, you’re looking for a platform that will grow with your company and provide an eCommerce solution not just for today, but for the years to come.