How to Choose an Ecommerce Platform for your Online Shop
When looking at Google results for “best ecommerce platform” you will be spoiled with pages of detailed posts comparing the latest platforms among the industry’s biggest players such as Shopify, BigCommerce, Magento, Woo Commerce, Volusion, Amazon, and even Alibaba. With over a hundred different solutions out there for building an online shop, it’s no wonder why we’ve had clients in Hong Kong coming to us to simply ask “which ecommerce platform should I choose”.
As an agency that works with online merchants in Hong Kong and globally, in our view, there’s no simple answer as investing in the right ecommerce platform for your business shouldn’t be reduced to choosing a platform with quantifiable metric such as the most features or the lowest price.
In this post, we hope to share what we believe are key considerations when selecting an ecommerce platform for building your online store. Of course, the solutions that we mention below are not a definitive list of all of the good solutions out there, but rather reflect the platforms that we at Wave Commerce are familiar with, which we hope merchants in Hong Kong that are exploring selling online will find helpful.
What Would the Shopper Want?
Your online store is for your customers, so we always like to start by asking what are the critical experience, design and usability factors that your customers would want to see for the type of product that you are selling. The store should be designed for the shopper first and foremost, and so we’d start by asking, can the ecommerce platform you’re evaluating deliver for your shoppers:
- well-designed online storefront which often includes high quality photos, a clean layout and clear visuals, and mobile responsive interfaces for an integrated brand experience for desktop and mobile browsing
- great shopping experience that includes details such as local payment options, easy checkouts (such as for non-registered guests), notifications for order processing and shipment dispatches
- vibrant community content such as online reviews, testimonials, and integration into social media networks such as Facebook and Instagram
What are some of your most positive online shopping experiences?
What to Look For on the Merchant Side?
A great ecommerce platform not only delivers an exceptional experience to shoppers; it also has to have the appropriate backend support for your business. Just as shoppers would like to shop with convenience, merchants should also pick a platform that is easy to use, customizeable where necessary and is able to scale with the merchant’s business. When building your online store, we suggest looking for a solution with:
- rich storefront templates that are also customizeable to be appealing to customers, while also adaptable to your brand visual identity
- platform features, or third party apps & integrations that support your operations that can help you deliver standardized, high quality service for customer satisfaction without creating more work
- a platform that has a robust ecosystem so there is on-going design and development community support or support from the platform’s customer service
- long-term business viability to ensure that the platform your choose will be around for a while and that they will continue to evolve their product offering.
Responsive Theme Templates and Design Flexibility
Setting up a beautiful website or online store has never been easier. It is no longer a must to hire a web designer to do design and a front-end developer to build your website from scratch; instead, the most popular ecommerce platforms come with online store templates that have responsive web designs to ensure that your website layout adjusts to shopper’s screensize on mobile and desktop. Many platforms also have active designer and developer communities that share templates that can be used, downloaded, or modified.
Also note that ecommerce solutions can come in many forms. For example, some merchants may find eBay a convenient place for clearing stock ad hoc. For handicrafts, the niche-specific ecommerce platform Etsy not only gives makers a customized domain, it also where potential customers go for product discovery. Finally, some companies may want a brand website with some simple shopping cart and checkout features may consider Squarespace or Wix.
Does the Platform You Are Considering Have Most of the Following?
- visually impactful designs (beautiful galleries, feature images, has thumbnail features)
- responsive themes (designs adjust to fit both desktop and mobile browsing)
- customization options (code injection if necessary for your brand needs)
- easy to update content (admin console is user-friendly for text or image updates)
- media file handling (in addition to photos, can upload or embed videos and other media)
User Experience from Check Out to Delivered Order
In addition to choosing an attractive website design, merchants should consider the full customer experience from online store visit to a customer receiving their shipped product. Considerations for your online store include payment gateway options, e-mail automation for order confirmations or abandoned cart e-mails, newsletter integration for marketing campaigns. For reference, check out how to set up an order notification from the admin console from Shopify and BigCommerce respectively.
Many ecommerce platforms have tools that assist merchants to process orders and keep customers informed. Sometimes the deciding factor between two great platforms can be a key function that is critical to your customer experience in your specific target market, such as local payment gateway options supported by BigCommerce and Shopify.
Does the ecommerce platform have solutions or apps for the following?
- payment options or gateways such as Paypal or Stripe (available in your market, such as Hong Kong)
- automated notifications for order confirmations, shipment notifications to the user
- automated notifications notifications to the merchant so that they can process orders
Native Features for your Online Shop + Platform Ecosystem
A polished online gallery and seamless shopping experience are essential for delighting shoppers. Equally as essential are the features that help convert your website visitors into shoppers. What additional features you need depends on the nature of your business.
For example, some types of customers prefer to see customer testimonials and product reviews before deciding while others. A more mature ecommerce platform will offer apps, APIs, integrations, extensions, or plugins that can help your business operations or sales. The benefit of choosing large platforms is the availability of specialized tools, such as adding a currency converter to your website, SEO for your images, or a ticketing service for customer support.
Some ideas for notable features that can help conversions include integrated product reviews into the website, social media integration, and loyalty programs.
Does the Platform Have These Features or Tools in Their App Store?
- Social sharing features for products and Facebook store integration (Shopify)
- Discounts and coupon creation and tracking
- Specialized tools for product sourcing, marketing, sales, shipping, inventory, customer service, accounting, reporting.
- We suggest you check out the app stores and marketplaces for Shopify, BigCommerce, Magento, and WooCommerce to see what features are available on each.
Service Provider’s Long-term Business Viability
While online solutions have made opening an online store more accessible than ever, the online store you create is also dependent on the platform you choose. This makes choosing a mature platform that has an established track record and long-term business viability will mean a more secure future for your online store.
Shopify is a listed company on the New York Stock Exchange, BigCommerce has raised multiple rounds of venture financing, Magento is a part of eBay, a listed company, and WooCommerce was acquired by Automattic, the team behind WordPress.com. We’re certainly not saying that a smaller company with less financial backing can’t deliver a great ecommerce solution. Given how quickly ecommerce continues to evolve, we’re simply recommending any merchant in Hong Kong evaluating an online shop solution to do due diligence on service providers because ecommerce is a long-term strategic business investment. We would look for a service provider that has a history of introducing new features frequently, providing great customer support, and having a growing ecosystem of third-party plugins and apps for merchants.
One More Thing: Cloud Solution vs Open-source Software
Some platform considerations are client-facing, such as website theme offerings, while others may be based on technical requirements, such as shopping cart features. By taking into account technology-level considerations early on, you may be able to avoid the cost of moving platforms in the future.
One of the main considerations for choosing an ecommerce solutions is whether to use a cloud solution or open-source platform. Cloud means that merchants do not have to invest into building or maintaining costly infrastructure, such as setting up and hosting your own servers. Instead, merchants can focus on client-facing features such as website design and move quickly with getting the online store launched. The trade-off with cloud solutions is that some features or customizations may not be available on a specific platform (and you won’t be able to tweak the code yourself) and that an online shop’s data is stored in the platform’s cloud servers, rather than chosen by a merchant. Shopify and BigCommerce are considered cloud solutions while Magento and WooCommerce are considered open source solutions.
The Cloud vs. Self-Hosted solution can make for a great debate (longer than the intended scope of this article). Perhaps we can get around to exploring this topic further in the future.
Before diving into comparing specific platforms to set up your online shop, it is important to know your business priorities. The most popular ecommerce platforms will have many shared features, such as a variety of website themes that are mobile and desktop friendly, and many useful apps on the platform marketplace. The right ecommerce platform should be able to delight your clients through a store that represents your brand on the front-end, while also seamlessly supporting your business operations on the backend.
If you would like a deeper dive into assessing which platform is suitable for building your online shop in Hong Kong, please get in touch!
Wave Commerce is a BigCommerce and Shopify partner and may receive affiliate revenue from merchant subscriptions to these platforms.