#2. How easy is it to customize the design?
All platforms offer a certain level of design control, where you can access the template files directly to make changes to the HTML and CSS.
Some systems, like ekmpowershop, provide a WYSIWYG editor for the templates, but really this is something that should be done by a designer, and you should get on with growing your business!
So, it’s important to choose a platform that lets you access a good network of designers. Magento and Shopify lead the way here, the former being more costly due to the extra complexity of a Magento template set.
Ecommerce template capabilities nowadays are all similar, however. There are principles that have been proven to work, and as long as you can apply a certain amount of branding to a high quality pre-designed theme, then you should probably focus efforts elsewhere, such as marketing the site. For the more popular platforms, there are a huge range of these themes available from just $50; a quick Google search will bring you what you need.
#3. Will it integrate with my other systems?
Very rarely does a business operate with just one ecommerce system, and even then only for a short while until they launch further websites. Most likely your business will have a number of different sales channels, which could include ecommerce stores as well as retail outlets, telephone sales, wholesale and so on. In order to stay with the competition, you need to be multichannel.
This means that your ecommerce platform needs to fit into the multichannel software ecosystem with which you run your business – inventory levels need to be synchronized, orders aggregated, and customers updated when their orders ship. If you’re running a retail outlet, selling to wholesale customers, or selling on eBay or Amazon, then you need to consider how these interactions work with your ecommerce platform, if at all.
The best setup is to have a central business management system (not your ecommerce platform), which acts as the master database for product information. Your ecommerce platform then integrates with this system. Orders and customer records are downloaded into the central system, where you process, invoice and extract information for reports and accounting.
#4. How is inventory management dealt with?
We’ll assume that you’re connecting your ecommerce platform to a separate inventory management system, which means the ecommerce store needs to have a suitable data structure to interact with it. It also means that features such as warehouse locations and purchase ordering are not relevant to your choice of web store platform.
As far as inventory management goes, the main difference between platforms is the way that variants such as size and color are handled. If your product range doesn’t have many variants, then this won’t be too much of a concern for you. If you sell clothing, or similar products with many variants, then make sure you set up some complicated products on your test store to see exactly what’s involved. It’s essential to be able to create products with unique SKUs for each variant. Ideally, the ecommerce store will prevent you from duplicating SKUs across your product set, but you can also handle that with diligent data management.
Bundles, kits and assemblies
A great way to expand your product range and attract more web traffic is by adding kits, assemblies or “bundles” of other products. When you sell a bundle, the inventory levels of all the components must be updated - you can’t just have the bundle as a separate, simple inventory item, otherwise you’re going to have a lot of manual work updating inventory levels. If you’re using a good back office system in parallel with your ecommerce platform, then you can manage your bundles easily from the back office.
If you sell products that need to be customized for each order - perhaps with an engraving or printed logo, make sure the ecommerce platform you choose supports this in a way that will keep your inventory manager happy too. Say you sell a mug that can be printed on the front or on the back; you’d have a drop down menu on your store with “Print on front” or “Print on back”. Make sure that both options result in the same SKU being added to the cart, and that the customization (front or back, and possibly a logo upload) transfers to your back office system as expected.
#5. Can I sell internationally?
If you are happy to sell your products internationally, then make sure you choose an ecommerce platform that helps you do this. All platforms have some level of currency configuration either at the core or at the display only level.
If you want to have dedicated foreign currency prices for a certain geography rather than just on-the-fly converted base currency prices, then you'll need to handle it with a separate storefront and/or a separate customer group or price list.
Also consider how you want to charge for shipping, and check that the store you're considering supports that shipping structure. Most platforms have enough flexibility to get pretty close to what you're after - and remember that a complex shipping structure is going to be hard for the customer to understand, and hard for you to maintain.
Here are the 8 questions you need to ask yourself before launching your products into new markets.
#6. Will it cope with retail and wholesale?
Many retailers also sell to some customers at a wholesale price, and many wholesalers also have a retail component. Sometimes both are under the same trading name, in which case you may want to try running both in one ecommerce system.
If you're selling to different types of customers under different trading names, or have different product sets for each customer group, then multiple ecommerce stores may be a better option. B2B stores have different requirements from retail stores, such as the ability to pay on account, hide prices behind a login barrier, and no need to attract new visitors.
With two separate stores managed by a central multichannel system, you can tune each store for the perfect experience for each type of customer.
#7. Can I get access to my data and produce reports?
Your store isn’t just there to sell your products. You need to be able to extract sales information in order to make decisions – such as what to restock, which marketing spend is working and so on. Very few ecommerce systems have more than a basic level of reporting built in, and none of them will be a holistic report that covers all your business.
Reporting is best handled by an external system, (the multichannel system we talk about above), that pulls data from all your sales channels, including multiple ecommerce systems. For this to work well, it needs to be automatically downloading sales from your ecommerce software using an API.
You also need to make sure that the ecommerce system you choose can be setup to have the same product structure – at least at the SKU level – of the rest of your system, which will allow multichannel inventory management and order aggregation. Without a common SKU across all systems, integration is very difficult.
#8. How is tax handled?
One of the most important things to consider when choosing an ecommerce platform integrated with a back office system, is how tax is handled. Since an ecommerce platform is designed primarily just to sell items to customers at the right price, tax can be oversimplified, and recorded in a manner that makes it hard to integrate with accounting or tax reporting.
In the best setup, all prices should be stored excluding tax, and then tax added only when the customer and product combination requires it. You should be able to choose whether a price is shown including or excluding tax on the website, depending on whether you are selling to individuals or businesses.
Sometimes the ecommerce platform will have idiosyncrasies in the way that it handles tax, which prevent you from using certain numbers, or will give strange results with large quantities of very low value items – but you can check for these pretty quickly when you evaluate the system.
In the UK (and other VAT based countries), the tax you charge is generally based on the type of product you sell, and all customers are charged one of a few rates of tax – currently 20% for standard rated items. Other products (such as children’s clothing and some foods) are exempt or zero rated. In the scenario where you are selling to a VAT registered EU business outside the UK, you don’t charge tax.
These sales will need to be recorded separately on your VAT return, so if you trade online to EU VAT registered businesses, your ecommerce store needs to handle it.
Many ecommerce platforms originate from the USA, and so only support “taxable” and “non taxable” products, but you can always set them up with the right tax rate – i.e. 20%.