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The “best” e-commerce platform depends on your needs

This post is guest-authored by Herb Guenther, vice president, Lanex

You need a new e-commerce platform. Perhaps your current solution isn’t working for you anymore, or maybe you’re selling online for the first time.

There’s a lot to think about. The two most important considerations, we feel, are choosing the right platform and finding the right development partner.

We suggest that you choose the partner first. Ideally, get a referral from someone you know and do research online.  Your partner should have a proven track record of successfully designing, implementing and supporting e-commerce sites with features similar to those you require.  You will wish to talk to two or three potential developers, then to customer references when you’ve narrowed your choice.  Once you’ve made an agreement, your partner will help you with platform evaluation.

One of the most important considerations, believe it or not, revolves around the location of your online store. Will you have a separate e-commerce site, for example, or will you incorporate your web presence with your store as in

If you want to have a single site for both your website and store, it is likely you will need to create a new website at the same time. This is because you will need to choose the e-commerce platform and therefore its hosting needs will come first, then choose a content management system (CMS) that will work on the same hosting platform.  An example of a dual use e-commerce/web platform would be WordPress for the CMS and Woo Commerce for the store.

Here are some things to consider in choosing your e-commerce platform.

What You Are Selling?

Some platforms are built to handle both digital and physical products, while others are only set up to handle one or the other. Some platforms will allow you to have unlimited products, while others have limitations related to the number of products and product categories.

Product considerations:

·       Physical, virtual, or both types of products

·       Customized products (size, color, etc.)

·       Product bundles

·       Shipping options

·       Will you track product inventory

Other considerations:

·       What payment options will you offer?

·       Will you use coupons?

·       Will there be different pricing levels?

·       Will there be quantity discounts?

·       Will you be integrating with an accounting or other system?

After you have answers to the questions above, you will be able to eliminate the e-commerce options that don’t meet your criteria.

Hosted site, or your own site?

Your e-commerce site has to live somewhere.  Broadly speaking, you have two options. One is to use an online store provider. The second is to create your own site on a server using an e-commerce platform that meets your specific needs.

A hosted e-commerce solution may enable you to get up and running more quickly, but usually at the cost of less flexibility. Hosting your own store will give you more flexibility in design and integration options, but will require more custom development.

Lanex believes that hosting your own e-commerce site is often the best as it allows you more flexibility.  Popular platforms such as WordPress / Woo Commerce or Magento Community Edition offer powerful e-commerce features that can be implemented within a reasonable budget and provide the support and flexibility that meet most needs.  Both of these platforms are popular, supported by a robust community and have a wide range of plugins or extensions that can be used to extent the base functionality of the platform.

It’s also important to choose a platform that is popular and secure. In effect, you are choosing a horse to ride in the e-commerce race, and you want it to be healthy and well-fed.  This means you will want to choose a platform that is mature, popular and supported. Lanex recommends that you stay away from version 1.0-type products.  You will also want to look at the activity level on its support site, as well as its popularity.  Do not choose a platform that has a sub-one percent market share, or you could be left as behind as standards change and security updates are required.

Once those decisions are made, you can really focus on what matters to you most: selling your products and services online.

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Matt McCoy is the co-founder and president of Lanex, an award-winning Milwaukee-based website design, development and hosting company, serving a wide range of industries.

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