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What are eCommerce Platforms?

November 20th, 2022 12 min read

Having an online presence is essential for businesses of all sizes. Whether you’re a small business or a retail giant, eCommerce can help you expand your horizons and improve business outcomes.

eCommerce Platforms are best for small businesses and medium-sized companies. The tools and resources provided by vendors in this space can help you reach a wide audience with limited technical know-how. This software can also help level the playing field, allowing your online business to compete against larger players.  

What is an eCommerce Platform?

eCommerce Platforms enable you to market your products on the internet, even with limited resources to start. They allow you to create a website to display the products you want to sell. Aside from your online storefront, you can also process orders, manage your inventory, and receive payments. 

There are 3 types of eCommerce software that business owners can use for web hosting to sell online. 

  • On-premise
  • Open source
  • SaaS cloud-based platforms

To build your site on-premise, you’ll need an IT department with developers or third-party contractors to design and maintain it. This option provides greater flexibility and a more unique user experience. Due to greater technical challenges, it tends to be limited to larger companies. 

For those with basic web design knowledge, free tools like Magento Open Source are available to help. WordPress can also be a great tool to build your site at a relatively low cost.

eCommerce platforms are out-of-the-box software solutions for direct sales to consumers (B2C). The following vendors were identified by TrustRadius as the most popular in this space. 

These platforms enable you to set up more than one store and run a multi-channel business from a central location. For those who lack coding experience, these products offer user-friendly template-style storefronts to get your business up and running fast. 

Essential Considerations for Your eCommerce Website   

There are some universal factors to consider when you enter the world of eCommerce. The buying cycle should be quick and convenient, from product discovery to checkout. Here are some key points to keep in mind.       

Customer Experience

The customer journey on your site should be straightforward. It should be easy for users to find what they’re looking for in your product catalog. The browsing experience should also include personalized content and messaging. You can use customer behavioral data for product and content suggestions or even targeted email campaigns.   

Leverage Your Social Media Presence

With more and more people using social networks, your business needs to maintain a strong presence on social media. This is crucial for customer engagement, helping you stay in touch with your customer base and seek out new business.      

Social media is also a powerful asset that anyone can use to increase online sales. With so many people spending long hours on social media, many are open to shopping while they browse or interact with others. Social networks like Facebook and Instagram have created social commerce tools that tailor to this market. This means you can set up a storefront right on your social page, allowing users to buy products without even visiting your website.            

Boost Engagement with Customer Accounts and Loyalty Programs                   

While it is convenient and most welcome to have users create an account on your website, making this mandatory can slow down the sales cycle. It can even lead to an increase in bounce rates, with buyers deciding to look for another store to find what they want. To feed new emails into your contact lists, offer new users some free useful content or a one-time discount for products on your site. 

Establishing a loyalty program based on points is a great way to keep loyal customers happy and incentivize new signups. You can offer discounts for scheduled purchases and create partnerships to diversify benefits. Another great way to keep customers engaged with your brand is to send emails with special deals to your contact lists. This can also help you clear out any inventory that’s been piling up.       

Scalability for eCommerce Growth

Your platform should adjust to the growth rate of your eCommerce business. As your sales increase and your activities expand, your platform will need to adapt to demand without any loss in workflow efficiency. This includes the ability to handle many storefronts at the same time from a single account. 

As your business grows, you may find it useful to invest in a Headless eCommerce Platform. You can use APIs to deliver digital and personalized content to storefronts across many different devices. It enables a greater degree of UI customization without compromising backend data integration. This gives you more flexibility when it comes to multi-channel platform expansion. The downside is it requires more technical skills to make your custom changes.

Platform eCommerce Features

eCommerce platforms can make your life a lot easier when it comes to online sales, especially if you’re a small business or start-up. An online store that plays to your strengths will boost your sales and expand your market share. Here are some key features to look out for when searching for the best eCommerce solution.  

Website Builder

Not everyone has the staff or budget to build their website from scratch. eCommerce platforms offer convenient no-code solutions. These can include drag-and-drop tools, built-in store themes, or WYSIWYG editors. The biggest drawback to this template-style approach is the added difficulty of making your site and brand stand out with an original UI.

Search and navigation should be clean and simple. Make sure to group products into appropriate categories and collections. Presenting packages of related or complementary products can also increase your sales.

Shopping Cart Software and Checkout Tools

Shopping carts are indispensable for online sellers. Selected products are grouped in a virtual cart, along with total costs that include taxes and shipping according to the buyers’ zip code.     

Another key feature is abandoned cart recovery. This functionality has elements of email marketing. Automated messages are sent to users who select products to buy but don’t complete the transaction. To entice customers to take that extra step, it’s not uncommon for vendors to include special one-time discounts to close the deal. Most vendors treat this as a premium feature so it’s usually included in pricier packages.        

Tools to Personalize Your Customer Interactions

Personalization helps you ensure a brand-specific experience at any point of sale (POS), catering to customer preferences. eCommerce Personalization Software provides tools to recommend related products that the buyer might be interested in based on browsing patterns and past purchases. Customer behavioral data can be pulled from your database or from across the internet to create personalized content, navigation, and messaging.   

CMS tools enable enhanced content personalization for online shopping. This helps you optimize the customer experience through audience targeting for ads, emails, and messages.    

Customer Support

Customer support is one of the main benefits of eCommerce software solutions. Some platforms may offer 24/7 phone, email, or web chat. Other useful tools to look out for include AI-based chatbots and live chat capabilities for your sales and support reps. Premium plans may also offer API assistance, customer success management, and specialized consulting.   

Mobile Compatability

With so many online shoppers using their cell phones, mobile apps, and tablets to buy things, your website should be compatible with all these devices. This will help you ensure a smooth buying experience for your customers. Your platform solution should also offer an app with remote access to performance metrics, allowing you to manage your site on the go. Ease of use should be a key concern, especially if you’re a small business and have to do a lot of the work yourself.  

Digital Marketing Capabilities

Digital marketing is indispensable when it comes to getting noticed online, even if your product line is highly original. Built-in SEO features help you get your site indexed on search engines like Google and Bing, making it much easier for customers to find you. With SEM tools, you can also manage paid search campaigns to allocate your online marketing budget more efficiently. 

eCommerce Analytics and Reporting

Analytics and reporting dashboards provide insights into customer behavior, enabling you to spot bottlenecks in the customer journey. You can also access financial performance metrics like revenue, conversion rate, added order value (AOV), and return on ad spend. These indicators can be visualized either on the home page of your eCommerce management suite or in a separate tab.          

Platform Integrations for eCommerce

There are a few integrations you should consider when looking for an eCommerce platform solution. Here are some important integrations to look out for.  

  • Payment gateways
  • Inventory management 
  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
  • Content Management Systems (CMS) 
  • Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
  • Third-party messaging tools
  • Integration and migration tools     

Payment Gateway Integrations

Some software may offer built-in systems to process payments. Others offer integrations with Payment Gateway Software that ensures customer payment processing. Online payment should be secure, since you’ll be dealing with various payment options, even in foreign currencies. 

Be sure to include security features like an SSL certificate and PCI security standards. This will give buyers the confidence to leave their credit card information stored with you and will speed up future purchases. 

Automatic processing lets you spend more time and energy on marketing and customer needs. Great examples of this type of software include Stripe and PayPal. Analyze the different transaction costs, payment methods, and billing terms to find the best solution for you.

CRM for eCommerce

CRM integrations allow you to leverage customer data to improve interactions and personalization. This helps you keep track of customer account history, spot accounts that are at risk, and identify your biggest customers.

Inventory and Order Management Tools

Inventory Management Systems help track inventory and fulfill customer orders. They also help you identify backorders and set up automated reordering flows. This software can also leverage automation to ship orders and reorder items if your stock levels drop too low.     

You can avoid dealing with inventory altogether by adopting a dropshipping business model. This can reduce costs significantly in terms of storage fees. On the downside, you may become overly dependent on supplier stocks and availability. Depending on the products you plan to sell this option may not be available, as it’s usually restricted to what wholesalers have in stock.      

ERP Integrations

For larger organizations, Enterprise Resource Planning Systems can unify data across several departments. This software can help you process and ship out customer orders. It also streamlines resource planning and financial reporting related to your sales channels.  

Messaging Integrations

Messaging apps like WhatsApp have gained popularity as a business tool. They can be a very helpful and cost-effective way to communicate with customers, provide support and make sales. The platform you choose should have smooth integrations with the messaging tools your target audience uses the most.  

Integration and Migration Tools for eCommerce

eCommerce Integration and Migration Tools can sync real-time backend data across your channels. They can pull this data from both third-party platforms and in-house data storage. This can be information about customers, products, or sales history. This gives you the ability to migrate key data to a different platform.  

Alternatives for your Online Product Listings

There are many ways to sell your products online outside your web platform. Some online sellers prefer doing business through a third party for the convenience this provides. For some SMBs, this can be useful to complement direct sales and increase brand exposure. Most will find that this business model cuts into their margins far too much to be a mainstay eCommerce strategy. Here are some of the alternative options you have to sell your products online at scale.     

Online Marketplaces

Another way to sell directly to customers is through online marketplaces with a large user base. This includes vendors like Amazon and eBay. With Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA), you can list and sell your products without taking on inventory. Amazon then ships the product to your customers after you make the sale.     

FBA gives you access to a wider audience than most businesses would be able to engage with on their own. In any case, you should consider the monthly subscription costs and transaction fees for business customers. Storage will also usually come at a cost. If you choose this path as a main source of revenue, it could get a bit expensive for most businesses.

Wholesale eCommerce

Wholesale Marketplaces cater to B2B customers. This software connects wholesale operations with retailers looking for discounts on bulk purchases. It also includes features that enable the negotiation of terms and conditions. Examples include customizable price configurations or segmentation by industry or company size.         

Leveraging eCommerce Software to Grow your Business

There are many types of eCommerce software you can use to boost your sales and scale your business. On TrustRadius, you can read through hundreds of reviews from verified eCommerce platform users. This wealth of user feedback can help you pick the best platform solution for your needs. 

If you’ve used any of these products, let us know about your experience by leaving a review! By providing feedback, you can help buyers choose the best eCommerce software and vendors to improve their products.       

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