Six Questions to Ask before You Choose a New eCommerce Platform
Choosing a new eCommerce platform can be a daunting experience. Aside from the cost and time involved, you and your team likely have many questions to answer. What’s the best platform for your business? What’s the most cost effective? What trends should we pay attention to and which ones should we ignore? These are just some of the broad-based questions that will (and should) come up in discussions about replatforming.
Nestled inside these broad questions are six specific questions you should ask before you choose a new eCommerce platform.
We can’t stress the word before enough.
If you answer these questions after the fact, you might discover the platform doesn’t serve your needs in the way you’d originally hoped and expected.
Question 1: Why Do You Want a New eCommerce Platform?
Any eCommerce redesign is well served by knowing exactly why you’re redesigning in the first place. Is there a function of your current website that’s inherently broken or not working correctly? Maybe your platform can’t handle the breadth of your product offering or it reduces merchandising flexibility for your internal teams.
Whatever the reason, be sure it’s a clear, valid one. Slow site speed (pdf), competitive pressure, nonresponsive design, poor conversion rate, and sluggish AOV are all valid reasons to choose a new platform. These types of performance issues have a direct impact on your sales and revenue so they’re common, worthwhile reasons to replatform.
Why are they good reasons? They boost profitability, sure, but they’re also tied to specific, measurable goals. When replatforming, make sure you have concrete reasons for doing so.
For example, if you want a new eCommerce platform simply because it’s been a couple years since your last redesign, this alone isn’t a good enough reason. What aspects of your current design do you want to improve? How will a new platform solve these problems? Unless you can answer these questions with factual data, “Just because!” is not a valid reason. Similarly, if you see a flashy presentation from a new vendor and think they have cool technology, this is also not a great reason to choose a new platform.
When it comes to replatforming, don’t be afraid to dig deep, drill down, and find specific reasons for replatforming.
Question 2: What Do You Want Your Website to Do?
Before you choose a new eCommerce platform, consider the features and functions your website needs to have. Your new platform should of course address concerns from your answers to our first question, e.g., slow site performance or merchandising flexibility.
But beyond the challenges of your existing website, what does your new platform need to be able to do? Think about it from both a business and customer perspective. Your new platform should satisfy the needs of your internal teams as well as shoppers who visit your website.
For retailers that have both an online and a brick-and-mortar store, maybe your new platform needs a ship from store feature or allows customers to pick up merchandise from a retail location. As omnicommerce and the endless aisle gain steam, you might consider what features your new platform needs to support this.
On the customer service end, what capabilities do you want from your new platform? Depending on your industry and products, you might require 24-hour support or allow customers to chat with representatives both online and via phone.
Other considerations might include features to improve customer engagement. Many eCommerce retailers incorporate social media into their websites or maintain communication with customers over long periods of time, even after they’ve made a purchase. Different platforms offer varying features for enabling customer engagement, so you should understand and outline your needs.
Question 3: How Will You Measure Success?
Thankfully we live in a world filled with tools that track and measure website performance. From conversion and bounce rates to traffic, AOV, and sales, there’s a wealth of information to help you understand how your site is performing.
Before you choose a new platform, define what metrics you’ll measure your new site against. Are they the same ones you use now? If so, do they apply to your new site in the same way, or do they need updating?
Any metrics you define for your new platform should align with the business goals from your answers to our first question. For instance, if you’re a new eCommerce business and your goal is to gain brand awareness, key metrics for your new site might be social mentions and web traffic. Conversely, if your goal is to increase year-over-year growth, an important metric could be AOV rather than number of customer reviews.
Once you’ve defined success metrics, think about what aspects of your site contribute to those successes. How many tasks does it take for customers to perform certain actions? What actions did they perform that led to a successful outcome? (e.g., adding a product to the shopping cart, subscribing to emails.)
Question 4: Should You Choose a Hosted or Cloud-Based Application?
When choosing between hosted or cloud (also called SaaS) applications, cost, customization, security, design, and support are some things to consider.
With hosted applications, a third-party vendor hosts and manages your data and content. It’s important to understand your vendor’s capabilities in disaster recovery, infrastructure design, systems monitoring, capacity planning, development support, and other hosting/support aspects that keep your site up and running 24/7.
Many retailers prefer hosted applications because they offload the headache-inducing application support to a knowledgeable, trusted vendor. This can be both a plus and minus, depending on whether your vendor has specific expertise in your chosen platform. Hosted applications can also be more customizable and scalable than cloud solutions, but they require more technical support and capabilities, so this is an important consideration.
Cloud applications license the software to your company. Your data is hosted in the same servers as all other companies that license the software. This means you can’t customize the software as much since those customizations would also affect the other companies that license the software. One benefit of cloud-based platforms is they are much easier to upgrade or update, which means you’ll have more time to focus on other things like product merchandising.
Choosing between hosted and cloud applications depends on your business’s needs. If you require a high degree of customization and have a robust IT support team internally, a hosted application may be best for you. If you want to upgrade or update your software more easily and don’t need tons of customization, then cloud applications become an option.
Question 5: What Platform Should You Consider?
Before you choose a new eCommerce platform, it’s critical to, again, understand that the platform must align with your business goals and success metrics. Even if you have prior experience with a specific platform or software suite, your eCommerce efforts could seriously derail if the platform doesn’t meet your predefined goals.
As an eCommerce digital agency, we’ve come to conclusion that the best platform completely depends on your business. Your size, industry, product selection, and goals will determine the best platform for you. A globally recognized apparel brand will have completely different needs than a B2B industrial distributor new to eCommerce.
Other key considerations include how a platform meets your growth, scalability, customization, integration, and mobile commerce needs.
Question 6: Who’s Going to Perform What Tasks?
Once you have goals, metrics, and a chosen platform you’ll need to figure out who will be responsible for what. Do you have a dedicated eCommerce team in place? If not, what department owns the eCommerce effort? What departments are involved? Depending on your company’s size and industry, several departments and dozens of people might be on this list.
Establishing owners and participants enables you to take a holistic approach to eCommerce. What IT does with hosting and support has a direct impact on how marketing deploys your design, user experience, and merchandising strategies. Before you choose a new eCommerce platform, think about how these elements connect to and affect one another. It’ll save you serious headaches (and time and money) down the road.
If you engage with a third-party agency to manage your eCommerce design and implementation, it’s equally important the agency take a holistic approach as well. Your agency should be well versed in eCommerce design, marketing, and technology, or have the ability to co-develop and co-design with your internal teams.
Don’t Forget to Document Your Findings
Now that you know the six questions to ask before you replatform, don’t forget to document your answers. You’ll be able to reference them as you move through the replatform process, which will help solve differences of opinions or reinforce why certain decisions were made in the first place.
What other questions have you run into when choosing a new eCommerce platform?
Steve Susina is the marketing director at LYONSCG. He is an engineer by education and a marketer by choice, leading LYONSCG’s demand generation, thought leadership, and branding initiatives.
Brooke Seldin is a marketing content specialist in LYONSCG’s Chicago office. She is a writer, an editor, and a content strategist who specializes in eCommerce, technology, and digital marketing for B2C and B2B organizations.