The boom is back, and small Irish businesses are thriving.
Your eCommerce business can thrive in today’s conditions regardless of your location. It doesn’t matter whether you’re working out of Silicon Dock in the heart of Dublin city or enjoying the salty air of the Wild Atlantic Way. All you need is the perfect platform with all the right features and great support.
To help small businesses weigh their options among the best eCommerce platform for startups, we put together a short guide to learning how to choose them.
Do you know what goes into settling on an eCommerce platform? Here are three massive decisions to make during the process.
As an entrepreneur on the hunt for a home on the Internet, you’ll need to set out a series of priorities that will whittle down the choice between platforms.
The most important factors in any eCommerce platform include:
Out of these, the decision that will best inform your journey is the one between cloud eCommerce platforms and self-hosted options. So, let’s start there.
The primary difference between cloud platforms and self-hosted solutions is the amount of DIY involved.
For some, limiting the technical work required is a positive thing. You’ll get your store up and running faster without waiting for designers and developers to do their job.
At the same time, you’ll give up some of your freedom and find the experience limiting, particularly if you intend to scale quickly or have a list of key features in mind.
There’s a fair bit to cover, so we’ll start by breaking down the overarching differences:
A cloud eCommerce platform is like a caravan: it comes already set up, but it’s up to you to make it your home.
Each cloud solution includes essential features for a store already built in. You need minimum technical know-how and only a small investment to get started.
If you shop online, you’ve likely already used one of the most popular platforms:
Upon signing up, you’ll get access to templates, page layouts, and helpful guides for putting together a complete site. It’s simple, or at least, it appears that way.
The benefits of choosing a cloud eCommerce site include:
You’ll also find some disadvantages depending on your business type:
It’s possible to overcome these issues.
But if you intend to scale quickly and include custom branding and other features, it’s often easier to start with a custom solution rather than trying to migrate your site later.
A self-hosted eCommerce site is one you design yourself or commission from a designer, developer, and engineer. You’ll also need an eCommerce software license to run the site as well as an Internet Service Provider (ISP).
Self-hosted solutions come in several forms, from eCommerce plugins to fully-fledged custom-built stores. What you choose depends on your vision for your store and your anticipated needs.
Before you start your store, you’ll find you have several more decisions to make. Your first port of call is to find a host, and although it’s the first step, it’s the most important.
The right host optimises your site’s performance and provides better security. These two aspects aren’t just for looks; they dramatically impact sales.
A one second delay in response cuts your conversion rate by seven percent.
After 10 seconds, 38 percent of Irish/UK shoppers abandon the website completely.
Speed up your load time from eight seconds to two, and you’ll see your conversion rate soar by as much as 74 percent.
This way, you have your work cut out from you. But choosing the perfect host offers an advantage over your competition.
In addition to your host, you’ll also need security certificates (ex: SSL certificates) and a domain name. Those are easier to come by, and your development team can take care of that.
Then, you have the issue of software. The key players range widely from simple plugins to enterprise level software including:
You’ll find you recognize these from the sites you already shop, and none will steer you wrong. Dedicate time to checking out their demos and giving them a test run to find the apps that work best for your needs.
Already, it’s clear there’s more to self-hosted solutions than cloud-based options. What are the pros and cons?
The advantages of self-hosting include:
If you’re a startup, consider these drawbacks:
In other words, self-hosted systems are expensive even if you choose free plugins like WooCommerce. It requires both upfront investment and continuous maintenance.
The features offered by your eCommerce platform will directly impact how you can grow and change.
Before looking through page after page of features, sit down and come up with your unique requirements.
What are the features that matter most to your business?
What features do you see becoming the essential parts of your website in six months or a year from now?
In addition to looking at features generally, drill down on how those features work. Two platforms may support promotions and vouchers, but that doesn’t mean they work the same way.
The platform you choose needs to have a minimum of eight critical features built into service.
First on this list is a high-quality search function. While SEO and plugins grab headlines, search should be your first priority because how your site handles keywords directly determines how many sales you make.
If customers can’t find what they need on your site, they’ll get it from your competitor.
To that end, you also need a website with a useful product management system. In addition to finding the precise item your customer is after, intuitive merchandising shows off other products they will also like and helps them keep tabs on what they love.
Content management systems are another feature that means more than many startups expect. Your CMS needs to be nimble to allow you to react to customer data in real time. Without it, you’re already behind your competition.
Your order management system also plays a critical role. It impacts how long it takes to process each order and promotes accuracy, quick delivery, and inventory management and visibility. Integrating it with your shopfront takes your store to a new level.
Amazon provides an excellent example. Visit Amazon’s site, and you’ll see how long it takes to deliver a product to your door.
Business intelligence is your management and analytics tool, and it’s your best friend. You grab data from a huge number of sources. Using a quality system allows you to make the most of your data and see new opportunities in the numbers.
Third party plugins open up a world of customisation opportunities designed specifically for your business needs. Integrations allow you to add specific features that you won’t find in any standard platform package.
Ireland has an incredible 90 percent smartphone penetration, and the Irish are some of the most enthusiastic mobile phone users in Europe.
Moreover, we love shopping online. We rank ninth in the EU for spending money online.
That means that mobile integration for your site is critical. Your website needs to look good and function well on mobile devices, or you risk missing out on visitors using their phones to find information about your goods and services.
A beautiful site draws customers in, but a secure website encourages them to stay. In addition to basic security like SSL certificates and PCI compliance, you want added protection like fraud prevention and DDoS monitoring.
Another reason that site security is so important: the GDPR. If your site collects any data, you’re obligated under EU law to fulfill your obligations to protect that data. If you don’t, you risk massive fines.
The eight features described above are some that your site can’t operate without. But there’s more where that came from.
Some of the other features that boost sales and confidence include:
There’s no end to other nice-to-have features, particularly once you start digging through the unending pile of third party plugins. Take your time when finding the features you find most valuable to ensure they work with your chosen platform.
Support is critical for your store because issues like downtime and slow loading times destroy businesses.
Many of the statistics apply to huge businesses, such as Tesco, Debenham’s, H&M, and other retail giants. But small and medium-sized businesses aren’t immune to huge losses as a result of downtime.
U.S.-based statistics show that a medium-sized business can lose $1 million per year as a result of downtime.
Recent surveys show that downtime is a rare occurrence for European businesses, but other errors plague us. For example, small businesses that encounter ‘timeout’ errors send customers running from the page.
Whatever happens, you want an eCommerce platform that offers the support you need to optimise your page and win customers.
At a minimum, you need support 24 hours a day and seven days a week, including and especially during high-traffic periods like public holidays.
Keep an eye out for timezone restrictions.
For example, WooCommerce offers general support hours on South African Standard Time (GMT +2) and only between 08:30 and 17:00, so if your shop goes down at 17:00 GMT, you’re out of luck until their offices open again the following day.
Ideally, you’ll get support for:
Few platforms perform support for third-party extensions and integrations. They’ll refer you first to the third party before submitting a ticket. Be wary of any platforms that refuse to help or support extensions at all.
Finally, ask about theme support. Your chosen theme may be on track to be discontinued, and you want to receive help even when it’s no longer available.
Sometimes the best support available isn’t from the platform itself, but other users. Do a search for support services for your preferred platform to see what’s out there.
No platform will endorse a third party support service, but you might find they answer a greater number of questions and provide more support services faster than your platform itself.
Your eCommerce platform is more than just a hosting service. It’s the difference between turning a profit or barely scraping by.
The best eCommerce platform for startups is one that offers the essential features you need – like security and business insights – without boxing you into a cookie cutter site.
Are you considering the self-hosting route? Do what you hope all your customers do – shop locally. Get in touch with Ireland’s local web host today to learn more about your hosting options!