E-commerce platforms are competing for your company’s business. Here’s how to make the right choice

There was a time when choosing the right eCommerce platform for your business was a relatively easy task. Back in the mid-2000s—a lifetime ago in the world of digital commerce—there were only a tiny handful of platform providers to choose from. Think the likes of Shopify (which launched in 2006) and Magento (that made its debut in 2008).

BigCommerce would launch a year later, followed by a plethora of platforms that catered to both business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B)-focused organizations. Now, the choices for eCommerce businesses are vast. WooCommerce, SAP Hybris, Oracle Commerce Cloud, SalesForce, commercetools and other competitors have joined the likes of those early eCommerce trailblazers.

Organizations now have more choice than ever; that also means headaches when attempting to assess each platform’s utility, customizability and applicability to their business model.

Indeed, the highly-documented ‘eCommerce platform wars’ have been raging for years, with no single vendor able to completely outflank and defeat their industry rivals in the way that Google or Facebook have managed in the search and social media sectors, respectively (and whatever other technology field they happen to be trying to invent or dominate as of the publishing of this article).

But organizations and their IT and marketing departments are wise to rise above the fray as they make a choice that could effectively make or break their eCommerce business. Today’s consumers are savvy and demand an optimal experience when interacting with any company online, particularly when it comes to purchasing goods or services. Your choice of eCommerce platform will not only define your customer service experience when making purchases, it will also largely dictate ongoing customer and community engagement.

No second chances

If there was a core truism in the digital era, it’s that consumers rarely afford companies the opportunity to make a great second impression. Their first experience with a platform will inevitably dictate their willingness to give it a second try. Many organizations choose an eCommerce platform because it seems easy to implement, but the complexity of merging incompatible applications and then ensuring effective use and adoption across internal departments, can often sink their chances of success soon after launch. In those cases, customer engagement fails to gain traction and sales suffer as a result.

Needless to say, this is a very expensive lesson to learn. We’ve encountered several organizations that have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars cycling through multiple eCommerce platforms, with no end in sight to their digital dissatisfaction or bottom-line woes. That’s why we recommend taking a 360-degree approach to the eCommerce procurement process. It’s only possible to choose the right platform if you understand exactly how it will be deployed across your organization, what your core eCommerce requirements are in the first place, and whether the platform can scale and offer the resiliency needed to address your ongoing operational requirements. Most importantly, is it the right platform for your customers today, as well as in the future? That’s an important brand question that needs to be explored with your marketing, sales and operations departments.

Implementing a new eCommerce platform that best serves your company in its current form, therefore, is a mistake. The focus should instead be on choosing a system that’s best-suited to supporting your company’s long-term growth objectives.

Breaking up is hard (and expensive) to do

Remember that for many organizations—and possibly yours—an eCommerce platform is the very foundation of its business model. A platform needs to be able to help manage everything from inventory and pricing to customer and product information—more on that later. It should complement existing technology in use across the business and provide a cost-effective, efficient solution for managing all eCommerce activities. It should also provide enough functionality to ensure the consolidation (or elimination) of legacy technology that’s outlived its usefulness. If the platform’s functionality ticks all of these boxes—be it BigCommerce, Magento, Shopify or whichever other system you might test-drive—then you have a winner.

Regardless, make sure that the system you choose also comes with a parachute. Consider it your eCommerce prenup. As any good divorce lawyer will tell you, the best way to enter a marriage is to have an exit strategy. While that may be a highly unromantic way to look at what might otherwise prove a blissful union, it makes sense—especially when it comes to digital technologies. Once your business is built on an eCommerce foundation, it’s very difficult (in some cases virtually impossible) to switch systems.

Ensure that you have a backup plan should the eCommerce marriage fail, or better still, make the right choice of partner in the first place. Does the vendor have a strong industry reputation for providing effective support, with relevant industry experience serving businesses the size of yours—and with a strong business model of their own—to ensure the longevity of the relationship? These are all important questions. And remember, involving team members in key departments such as IT, marketing, sales, finance, operations and senior management in the decision-making process is critical to choosing a platform that makes sense for your company.

A focus on flexibility

Above all else, the eCommerce platform war is largely being won by providers that can provide a client-centric experience and flexibility to users of its technology. It’s important to consider any eCommerce platform engagement as a partnership. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you won’t need other partners to maximize the return on those investments. You’ll likely want to centralize product information to manage multiple SKUs across platforms and across different languages and currencies, with the aid of product information management (PIM) software.

Ensure that any eCommerce platform you select has the flexibility to support a robust PIM system. A PIM platform will allow your team to centrally manage attribute data and publish to various channels and marketplaces, then aggregate all order information back to the PIM. Retailers, for example, can manage product pricing changes and sub-brands across channels without the need to edit information across platforms.

Here’s the important takeaway: as eCommerce platform providers compete for your organization’s business, remember that taking a strategic approach to procurement is key to making the right decision. Take your time to choose the right provider and do your homework before signing on the dotted line.