What is Important When Starting an E-Commerce Store

Getting Started

To get started with e-commerce, it’s often nice to get a leg up on the process. The more pre-packaged the solution, the easier it is to get the store up and running without forgetting a key aspect. A good platform will not only blend seamlessly into your marketing website but be more than just the purchasing interface for customers. A good system will guide you through the entirety of the sales and fulfillment process; because a sale isn’t really finished until the customer is using the product.

Here are a few aspects that your chosen platform should help you set up:

  • Product Descriptions and Images
  • Inventory tracking
  • Storefront organization and catalog layout
  • Payment methods
  • Shipping charges and methods
  • Sales tax handling
  • Customer Support

Supporting Growth

Whether your store already fits into a complex selling model or you expect someday to have resellers, partners, and other sales channels in addition to the standard direct-to-consumer options, making sure your chosen platform can support that is essential. The last thing you need to worry about when your sales take off is migrating your online storefront to a new platform because the old one can’t keep up. When evaluating your options, it’s good to consider how you will extend the capabilities of your platform over time to keep your business growing at the pace of your plans and goals.

Consider:

  • Can this system provide wholesale pricing
  • Can this system handle customer specific pricing
  • Can this system work in multiple currencies and international shipping implications
  • Can this system fulfill from multiple warehouses or fulfillment channels
  • Can this system adapt to bulk freight shipping needs in addition to direct fulfillment

Evolving Needs

No off-the-shelf solution is going to be a perfect match to any business’ needs. Businesses either make accommodations for the gaps through importing and exporting data from one system to another or build bridges to automate. The bigger your store gets, the more those bridges become essential for your sales operations. That means your store will need customization to make the square pegs fit round holes.

Ask yourself:

  • Are there existing extensions that can help me connect my sales and accounting systems
  • Are there good options for customized development
    • Is there a big community of developers for the platform
    • How specialized is the technology (i.e. will it be costly to find an expert developer)

The Options

There are certainly a lot of options for e-commerce platforms that can support not only the start-up digital storefront, but also mid-sized companies with multiple channels. We limited our coverage in this article to those found in a nice review done by g2.com. G2 did a pretty good job surveying users of the 4 platforms and getting a sense of how they stacked up against each other in terms of capabilities and overall satisfaction.

The thing that really stood out to us was the fact that the 4 systems ran pretty neck and neck throughout the survey. To us this is very notable for the following reason: cost is not an indicator of capability. The costs of running these systems vary widely from as little as a few hundred dollars to several thousand per month, yet the ability for the platform to meet the business needs are fairly consistent.

This is where we decided to take a different view of what makes a difference in selecting a good platform.

Basic Features

Ease of InstallationInstallation wizards and available paid consultations ranging from $499 to $2,999. Independent consultants also available.Documentation and wizards. Independent consultants recommended.Documentation and wizards plus a community of consultants. Pricing varies.
Documentation and wizards plus a community of consultants. Pricing varies.
Available Extensions1000+ apps and extensins4000+ apps and extensions7000+ apps and extensions4000+ apps and extensions

Scalability

Wholesale / Dynamic PricingYesYesYesYes
InternationalizationNoYesYesYes

Customization

Multi-site managementNoYesYesYes
Available APIs and Documentation to Aid Custom DevelopmentYesYesYesYes
Cost$360 - $240,000 per year1Based on volume - Starts at $200,000 averages $280,000 and 670,000 annually2$348 - 480,000 per year3$100 - 15,000 per year4

1 pricing estimates from this article: https://ecommerce-platforms.com/articles/bigcommerce-enterprise-review

2 pricing estimates from this article: https://cynoteck.com/blog-post/salesforce-pricing-for-e-commerce/

3 pricing estimates from this article: https://www.veeqo.com/us/integrations/shopify-plus/shopify-plus-pricing

4 pricing estimates guided by this article: https://www.websitebuilderexpert.com/wordpress/woocommerce-pricing/

Cost and Adaptibility: A Clear Winner

To us, there is a clear value in WooCommerce. It was only a short time ago that WordPress plugin powerhouse Automattic purchased the plugin. Since then, they’ve kept the successful plugin true to its flexible core while adding a lot of great on-boarding automation for new store owners. They’ve done this without making cost an obstacle from the store launch phase all the way through a mature e-commerce ecosystem. Since most of the available platforms we looked at are fairly capable of providing the technology needed to support a scalable store, the cost becomes a very important factor.

The basic reasons we think Woo is the real winner are:

  • It is easy to add to any WordPress site for free
  • There are numerous plugins that allow individual business to get exactly the functions they need
    • accounting system integrations
    • shipping and fulfillment provider APIs
    • numerous Payment Method options
    • Tax calculation APIs
  • Adding extensions is relatively inexpensive
  • It’s modular, so your store isn’t bloated with features you aren’t using
  • The costs scale as your needs scale (the hosting resources you need to keep up performance can be upgraded as you need without changing the storefront)
  • The framework is friendly to developers when customizations are required and the pool of available developers is deep.

There are also some drawbacks to WooCommerce that we’d like to consider here. No system is perfect. Otherwise, there would be no need for this post in the first place. Some of the complaints that people note about WooCommerce are very relatable to us. Overall, though, we feel it comes down to having a good partner who knows how to minimize the aggravations and make the management of the store easier for you.

Some of the most frequent complaints we hear are:

  • You have to provide your own web hosting for WooCommerce
  • The add-on plugins cost money and can add up quickly
  • WordPress is “less secure” than other platforms

These complaints are all valid, but we don’t think they should be deterrents to using Woo. Having a good technical partner is key. Since WooCommerce is the platform behind about a quarter of all e-commerce stores, you can be sure to find numerous options for such partners (*cough*TwoRowStudio*cough*).  A good technical partner will provide great hosting for you and make sure the site is kept up to date and secure. As for the costs adding up? Our experience is that the cost of the plugins only add up to a few hundred dollars a year in the most extreme cases. Compared to a platform like Shopify plus which starts at $2000 a month, we still think it’s a steal.

What are your thoughts? Do you think there’s something you wish you considered when setting up your store that you now regret? Is there somethign you find to be an essential feature that you wish you found sooner? Post a comment and let us know!

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