E-Commerce Platform Selection – Painting by Numbers
The development of a successful digital channel involves many critical decisions. Chief among them is the selection of a mature, scalable, highly configurable e-commerce platform. Though a digital channel is composed of many elements – online marketing, operations, fulfillment, a contact center, security, and IT infrastructure to name a few – the core technology of the e-commerce platform is undoubtedly the glue that holds the other elements together.
The unfortunate state of e-commerce technology is that there are few, if any, one-size-fits-all systems that can handle the budgets of both the small- and medium-sized businesses (SMB) as well as Enterprise organizations. Due to this wide variation in platforms, trade-offs in feature-set and scope must be made if you wish to match your needs. A mature e-commerce platform is generally composed of four primary systems – a content management system (CMS), a catalog, order management system (OMS), and customer relationship management system (CRM).
The platform selected should be the end-result of your organizational planning and not the starting point. With each organizational need and with each feature a platform offers, a complex set of dependencies emerge. Knowing your own organization is paramount.
The purpose of this document isn’t to answer exactly which platform to buy or to discuss individual e-commerce providers in detail. Our purpose is to raise important discussion points to guide you in the selection process. A mistake in platform selection can be disastrous for your customers, your bottom line, and your brand. Answering the questions posed below will allow for much greater accuracy in selection and success post-implementation.
The available e-commerce platforms can be best described in four primary categories:
SAAS Model – SAAS (Software as a Service) providers typically trade the ability to customize and integrate with other systems for predictability in cost (typically a pay-as-you-go monthly fee), a speedy onboard process, and a transfer of labor to the individual organization. While certainly not sexy, they are the platform of choice for many SMBs. Generally, these sites are considered “starters.” You or your organization will typically do 100% of the setup and management of this platform. These systems tend to do one thing very well – allow for e-commerce – and may not have a mature feature-set in CMS, OMS, or CRM.
(Examples: Shopify, Volusion, BigCommerce, Magento Go)
Open Source – Typically free (or low-cost) and community-sourced, there are both positives and negatives to absorbing an Open Source platform. Open Source platforms can be mature or immature and can come in a variety of languages. With any Open Source platform, you’ll typically need to arrange the majority of the platform infrastructure yourself or through a vendor, and be intimately involved in the community created around the open source project to gain support. You’ll need development resources of your own (vendor or in-house) capable of maintaining the system with as much help as can be garnered from the platform’s community. Many times, such Open Source platforms begin life as a CMS and are later paired with a well-developed Catalog/OMS to make a complete e-commerce platform offering.
(Examples: Drupal + Ubercart, Joomla + Virtuemart, DotNetNuke + SmithCart, Umbraco + TeaCommerce)