Choosing the right E-commerce solution for your business

Soon after you decide to add E-commerce to your small business, you may find yourself suffering from a touch of sensory overload. There are a lot of E-commerce engines, shopping cart systems and hosted storefronts vying for your attention. How do you sort through all of that to find the solution that best suits your business?

Finding the best solution is largely a matter of asking the right questions. Today I’m going to arm you with a few good questions – along with some related ‘thinking points’ – that should help you sort through all of the information and make the best possible decision. Here are five key considerations:

1. Does the E-commerce engine you’re looking at provide a first-rate shopping experience? This is the first question to ask because it’s all about your customers. The people who do business with you should be your most important concern when you start to compare E-commerce solutions. Put simply: If your web site doesn’t deliver an excellent shopping experience to your customers, nothing else will matter. Regardless of the rest of your grand business scheme, if your customers can’t find what they want, see it in detail and pay for it without pulling their hair out – chances are your site will be a flop from day one.

2. Is system management as straightforward as possible? You and your staff shouldn’t have to battle your E-commerce engine just to perform the daily tasks of online business. Not so many years ago, affordable shopping carts for small business included only very basic functions. They couldn’t track inventory, couldn’t manage quantity discounts, couldn’t handle multiple product options – some didn’t even organize products by categories. The industry has come a long way in a short time, however, so systems that provide full store management capability are now the standard.

3. Is the E-commerce engine flexible enough to accommodate changing requirements as your business grows? Right now you may only want to sell 10 items. But what happens in six months when you want to expand your online inventory to 500 items, include apparel items with multiple size and color options and offer a series of downloadable e-books about how to grow better garden vegetables? In that case, you’ll need to make sure your system can handle complex option sets and paid digital downloads. Otherwise, you may face additional development expenses just to add fairly common features to your web site.

4. Are you getting more than ‘just’ a shopping cart? This is a theme that I’ve knocked around before. It’s not so much that your E-commerce engine should have every conceivable business and marketing feature built in – but it should be able to share your valuable customer data with whatever CRM, accounting or marketing software you want to use. In addition, it should include customer loyalty tools that help you build a solid base of repeat buyers.

5. Do your business plan and your budget fit together? This question is more about controlling your own expectations than anything else. In the world of E-commerce, you usually get what you pay for. If you want your site to display a large inventory, sell customized boxes of widgets, feature separate pricing for retail and wholesale customers, give your customers reward points, perform well in the search engines, offer multiple levels of quantity discounts and ship from three different warehouses – well, you need to realize that all of those things aren’t happening on a shoestring budget. Ask questions and be a realist as you develop your business plan and your project budget side-by-side and it’s much more likely that you’ll be happy with your new E-commerce web site.