What to look for in an eCommerce Platform?

Posted by Paul on July 22, 2011

If you want to sell on the Internet through your own website, one of your first and most important decisions will need to be which eCommerce platform to use. That is assuming of course that you're not going to have a bespoke system built from the ground up, in which case your budget will need to be substantial.

If you're planning to sell internationally, you'll need to consider whether or not the platform supports multiple languages, currencies, shipping options and tax rules. The best carts will support all of these in a way which is easy to edit and update.

Search Engine Friendliness
While it's true that "content is king" from a search engine's point of view, there are plenty of technical features that an eCommerce platform should include to ensure that it's as easy as possible for that content to be found. Very high on the list are the URLs. It's far better if your product pages are accessed as yourshop.com/yourproduct rather than yourshop.com/?productID=12. It looks nicer too. You'll also need control over the "meta" tags which are hidden elements on the page that search engines will look at.

Your products need to be displayed appropriately which means excellent photography displayed at an appropriate size and with as many images as needed. It's also beneficial to be able to configure product options such as colours/sizes. If your products are quite specialist, the ability to customise the shopping cart with additional description fields is beneficial.

If you're selling a digital asset or downloadable product such as eBooks, it's worth choosing a platform that supports this, rather than paying later to have it added.

Special Offers, Discounts and Featured Products
It's likely that you'll need to be able to mark products as featured, on offer, or offer discounts at some point. It's better to make sure this is supported from the outset rather than once considerable time and money has been spent on the project.

The speed of your website is extremely important. Even a wait of 5 seconds is frustrating to most users and we would say unacceptable. The webserver you're hosting your website on will have an effect on this but the actual shopping cart platform itself will have the biggest effect. Choose a fast one!

The ability for customers to automatically review your products on your website will provide some assurance to customers on the quality of your products and your service. However as these appear on your own website, it's obvious to customers that you may remove bad reviews. This is still a feature worth considering.

Ease of Use
It's extremely important that it's easy to buy from your website by eliminating unnecessary steps for the user and making sure the design is intuitive.

Also important is that it's easy for you to administer your products and categories in the "administration" area of the website. Most eCommerce platforms have an online demo available online. Make sure you've tried it out before you decide on a platform and make sure that you found it easy and intuitive to add/edit products, categories and text on the website.

Read our review of the most popular eCommerce platforms here.