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How To select The Best Platform for Your New Online Store

Updated on July 30, 2013

Can You Really Build An Online Business With A Free e-Commerce Package?

There are many ecommerce building solutions on the market and they’ll all do most, if not all, of the basics so what then do you need to take into account when making a choice? Which one is right for you. could a free one fit the bill or do you need to pay for a higher specification product?

Another thing to consider is that, although some are free to download, the ongoing maintenance, support and updating functions may not be so let’s look at the longer term picture as well.

What Is An E-Store Application?

The answer isn’t as obvious as it might seem. One size most definitely does not fit all when it comes to selecting and implementing an e-commerce solution .

When writing this I just refreshed my memory as to what is out there as I haven’t written on this subject for a few months. The truth is, there is a bewildering array of e-commerce, e-store packages out there. Some are free, some cost a little bit, others are hugely expensive. It is, as is often the case, a question of balance.

Let's face it, you don’t want to pay a lot of money for features that you will never need but, on the other hand, you don’t want to invest months and months into building an e-store only to find that the package you have chosen cannot deal with all the variations and quirks that exist within your online business.

There are a number of things to check for when considering which package to use.

Here are just a few of them:

  • Do I need to be able to offer variants and multiple options within a product? For example, a pair of shoes that is available in 6 different colours, all the same price or different prices for different sizes.
  • Do I need to offer the customer a choice related to the product, e.g. matt finish or gloss finish?
  • Does the price change for larger quantities ordered and can the proposed package deal with multiple discounts etc?
  • Can the package deal with non-shippable products, the most common of these being music downloads, e-books etc?
  • Does the package enable cross-selling, i.e. “you’ve purchased this – why not add one of these”?
  • Can I do product comparisons with the proposed package?
  • Can the customer add items to a wishlist?
  • Can the system display product reviews?
  • Does the package manage my inventory too?
  • Can the package link to eBay for inter-platform promotion and sales?
  • How about shipping, are there enough options to deal with weight, distance, delivery urgency etc?

Those are probably the main ones but take a few moments to think about your business, does it have any unusual or non-standard requirements?

Great Store, All I need Now Are Customers!

When all of the above questions have been answered satisfactorily you can then make a start on designing your new online store. Remember this is going to be an online store and before you sell anything, people are going to have to be able to find it. You can buy traffic by using Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising such as Google’s AdWords system but bear in mind that traffic purchased through that channel can be relatively expensive and you may not be able to make it cost effective on small, low margin items.

The longer term view is that you are not selling a widget but acquiring a customer who, if you look after them and market to them regularly, will spend much more over the lifetime of their relationship with you as a supplier. When you’re just starting out however, such long term strategies are often victims of short term cash flow requirements.

Yes, PPC can help but you have to go into this with a view that your website need to feature in the “natural”, i.e. free, search engine listings whenever people search for your products or services. To do this the e-commerce package that you use has to be search engine friendly and facilitate optimisation at the product description level.

Summary – What’s Next?

OK, that’s quite a checklist to be going on with but the object of the exercise is to get it right first time and avoid spending a lot of valuable time populating a web store with products and then finding out that a vital feature is missing or inadequate.

It is perfectly possible to do all of the above with a free shop builder package provided that you are able to put in the necessary time. Alternatively you could enlist the services of a specialist support company who can help you make the correct choice and then keep your store running smoothly for you on an ongoing basis.

Do the research, view the sample stores, download the demos where available,visit the vendors websites, and get it right for your business – first time!

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