Diary of a Start-Up Part 2.2 – How to Choose an E-Commerce Solution

In order to complete Diary of a Start Up Part 2, you’ll need to know how to choose an e-commerce solution.  There are a number of options to sell online and here are some of the  most common:

1. Use an existing service like eBay.

You’ll pay fees to list your products as well as a “Final Value Fee”, which is a percentage of the sale price. If you’re selling old books or clothes, eBay is a great solution. Many businesses also sell on eBay, however costs can get high and there are limitations on what you can do.

2. Buy open source online shop software.

Then have a developer build a store and find somewhere to host it.  There are pros and cons to using open source and contrary to popular belief, it isn’t free. The initial costs may be lower but the long term costs of maintenance and management can be high.

3. Get your “friend’s friend” – yes the web developer – on board.

You could ask this person to build you a website and shopping cart.  However, this is failure waiting to happen and is the least recommended solution.

4. Use a fully hosted e-commerce solution (SaaS).

There are many to choose from and a quick Google search on “hosted ecommerce solution” will find many companies that offer a package.  If you’re based in Australia or New Zealand, then my tip is to make sure that the hosted solution is in the same country as you and not in the USA or Europe.  Usually, hosted solutions are based on some proprietary software but the setup and maintenance is much easier.  In general, these systems are also upgraded in features and functions for free within the hosting environment and with a maintenance agreement, if in a dedicated server.

The decision on what technology to use should be based on your capabilities to work with and manage the solution if you’re doing it yourself i.e. based on size and capabilities.

Most SaaS providers will allow free trials for e-commerce solutions, so start a few and make a list of what you do and don’t like.  Many will also come with some pre-built templates, allowing you to easily change banners, colours, navigation areas and items. So consider starting with a basic design and see how you go. Your view on site look and feel will change in the first few months, however keep this in mind at all times: design should always follow function.

Functionality is really important and payment and shipping are the two key areas that need to fit your business processes. Where your orders are shipped to will affect the store  processes – merchants want to sell worldwide but end up getting 99% of the orders locally, so planning is really important. Multiple currencies and international shipping are not difficult to implement and need to be factored in as part of the requirements.

Decisions on payment and shipping should be based on business rather than technical aspects, as cost depends on the average value of the order, expected number of orders and your established margin.

Finally, what you sell will also have an influence on requirements, and what style of online store you need.  Functionality for digital product downloads or multiple variations for clothes and fashion, will have very different design and implementation requirements.

Functionality check list:

  • Support for multiple languages (including Asian – UTF8)
  • B2B or B2C
  • Support for multiple countries and currencies
  • Newsletters and coupons
  • Cross sell and up sell (manual and auto)
  • Product comparison
  • Portals – eBay, Getprice, Shopping.com
  • How variations are handled (e.g. size, colour etc)
  • Define resources and sell services
  • Image processing – auto resizing and multiple images
  • Rich content – video, flash
  • Handling analytics like Google Analytics
  • Business reporting for orders, shopping carts, content
  • User account capability (ie login for customers)
  • Price lists and discounts (and by customer groups)
  • Ability to add attributes to customers, products etc
  • Ability to bundle products
  • Search in store content by category and price
  • Import / export for orders, customers, content
  • Support for XML files and web services integration
  • SEO capabilities – Titles, Meta tag, Image alt tags etc
  • SEM integration – like Google conversion tracking code
  • Social networking integration and gadgets
  • Shopping cart and functions like gift wrapping
  • Security – SSL and PCI
  • SLA and support costs – should be 99.5%+ availability
  • ability to easily add html, CSS, Flash and JS
  • Upgrade path to grow with your business and roadmap features (i.e. new releases etc)
  • Cross browser capability IE, Safari, FF, Chrome etc

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