By Plato Wai
Now more than ever, anything that is done offline can be done faster and more efficiently online–be it completing a course or finding a pair of limited edition sneakers.
Against this backdrop, companies are scrambling to build an online presence. Whether you already have an offline store and getting online seems like the natural next step, or you’re keen to set up an ecommerce business to ride the wave of digitization, it’s essential to choose a platform that’s right for your business.
With a myriad of platforms available, making a decision comes down to your unique needs. Get a good understanding of the features that different ecommerce platforms offer, weigh the pros and cons, and choose the right platform based on your requirements.
Setup and design
With a fully-featured ecommerce platform, you simply need to make an account and choose a package to get started. These platforms make it quick and easy to launch a store, and usually offer fixed-price packages that you can upgrade to access advanced features as you grow.
If you want to start from scratch and design an online store with total flexibility, a developer can help you build a custom store. In such a case, be mindful of the fact that maintenance costs can add up quickly, and should be accounted for when budgeting.
Analytics and online to offline (O2O) integration
Most ecommerce platforms offer some analytics, but the type and quality of data will vary. Basic metrics to optimize a store include those relating to web traffic, sales performance, and customer behavior, which should be available across most platforms.
Advanced data such as comparison graphs or live views can make it easier for you to get an idea of a customer’s purchase journey, compare sales performance across periods, and identify top-selling products and categories. But not every platform will offer these features.
Payment and delivery options
It’s important to consider a platform’s partnerships with major payment providers and logistics companies. Even though PayPal and major credit card providers are commonly available, we’ve seen a drastic increase in localized payment options, such as Venmo. Choosing a payment gateway based on the geographical distribution of your target audience can help customers save on international transaction and shipping fees.
Connecting the operations of a physical store to an online store may also be relevant to your business. Ecommerce platforms that offer Point of Sale (PoS) solutions can help you manage and view data from an offline and online store in one centralized platform, providing a truly integrated O2O shopping experience.
Marketing support and customer care
Marketing solutions go a long way toward reaching your target audience and attracting customers. Some platforms offer tools to create coupons, send automated emails and messages, and target users through partnerships with major social media platforms, which can reduce your social media marketing load.
In terms of organic traffic, a platform with integrated SEO features–such as the ability to independently control page URLs, metadata, or a blog function–can do wonders to improve search engine rankings.
While most platforms provide self-help resources and an online community to crowdsource tutorials and bug fixes, others go above and beyond, offering multilingual customer support and even consultants to help maximize sales. This support can be valuable for entrepreneurs delving into ecommerce for the first time.
To sum up, platforms are plentiful, and the possibilities within each are immense, so it all comes down to prioritizing your needs and narrowing down the list to find the right fit for your ecommerce startup.
Plato is General Manager of SHOPLINE Hong Kong, a global smart commerce enabler.
About the Author
Plato is General Manager at SHOPLINE Hong Kong, a global smart commerce enabler. Prior to SHOPLINE, he worked at Lehman Brothers and Nomura Holdings. Equipped with extensive experience in the startup scene, Plato regularly shares his insights on The Stand News and StartUpBeat.