E-Commerce Technology Basics: Part Three – Dedicated E-Commerce Platforms

By Nathan Huppatz | 19 Jun 2013

To truly build a brand online, retailers will at some point need to consider creating a dedicated e-commerce channel with a dedicated platform, writes Nathan Huppatz.

The e-commerce technology landscape changes rapidly, with evolving platforms, products and services each year. So choosing the right technology for your business can look a little daunting. However, if you focus on your requirements you can certainly navigate the range of product options and arrive at a good solution.

So, where to start? Small-to-medium business (SMBs) will be better off looking at small – perhaps hosted – solutions, giving enough flexibility to grow their business over the coming years. Lots of great products exist in the market to help smaller businesses get online and market themselves in many channels.

Larger businesses need to consider things like integration, scale, fulfilment and perhaps international visibility.

That being said, many of the fundamentals remain the same regardless of the business’s size. Let’s have a look…

Helpful Tips for SMBs

To find the right e-commerce platform, have a look at what you really need now, as well as for the coming two-to-three years.

Hosted solutions are often a great place to start as they’re cheap, you don’t have to worry about managing a server, and many platforms have lots of integrations available ‘out of the box’ or for a cheap monthly fee.

Some of the (currently) popular options are:

These products all offer a monthly fee (that grows as you grow) and they can integrate with channels like Google Shopping, Comparison Shopping sites, eBay, as well as customer relationship management (CRM) services such as MailChimp among others.

UrbanBaby online retailer

UrbanBaby, a retail site dedicate to infant apparel, is built on the eCorner Stores platform.

On top of this, styling and design can be done in a DIY fashion using built-in templates and ‘point and click’ edits to themes. Should you need extra help, there will be plenty of designers and developers on odesk.com and freelancer.com who know the platforms and can assist in making small changes.

It is also worth mentioning that integrations with marketing and sales channels should be high on your list as a small retailer. eBay in particular is a huge marketplace in Australia, and an eBay store can give you a big boost in sales to help you get started.

With a good business model and a good head for retail, it may be that you leave behind this initial platform in a few years’ time. Until then, develop the platform of your choosing to grow with your sales base.

Considerations for Larger Players

Once a business has scaled to the point where there’s a clear need to manage purchasing and inventory by using an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, it’s usually time to begin looking at more robust and flexible platforms that offer scale and performance, and can be modified for your own (perhaps unique) business requirements.

Many digital agencies and developers can scope and quote site builds in various platforms, the most popular of which include Magento (Community and Enterprise), hybris, Demandware, and Intershop.

ASOS fashion and apparel pureplay

ASOS is one of hybris’s best-known pureplay retail clients.

These platforms may require dedicated or cloud hosting (look at Rackpsace and Amazon AWS – they both have Sydney-based data centres), and can offer a much more flexible solution than a hosted product. Virtually anything can be modified in these systems. For example, Magento can run anything from a flash sales website to a deal-a-day platform with the right modifications.

Ideally, you will want to find a development partner that is a qualified representative of the product you are looking at. Don’t be afraid to spend money up-front in order to develop a good scope, wireframes and functional specification. Believe me, this can save a lot of time, headaches and expense later on during the development process.

Also, be sure to enumerate all integrations required, including connections to warehouse management systems, purchase order/ERP systems and marketing channels. Some of the larger platforms might look competitive enough as a base product, but costs can escalate when you start adding in all those connections that you need. In most cases there are multiple agencies that will quote on work.