There are a wide range of different e-commerce solutions available, from off-the-shelf "one size fits all" products to bespoke services that are a seamless part of the overall website offering, developed specifically to match your requirements, and everything in between.
Trying to decide which solution is right for you can be a daunting task, so we've come up with 10 things to keep in mind when looking for an e-commerce system.
#1 - Security, build trust
This is a huge topic in and of itself, but the key aspects to consider are whether the visitor-facing site is protected by an SSL certificate, particularly on pages where the visitor is required to enter personal information. This shows visitors that you take information security seriously and helps to build trust.
#2 -Payment gateways, provide flexibility
A payment gateway provider is a third party who actually handles the process of taking money from your customers bank, and sending it to your merchant bank account. A good e-commerce solution provides different payment gateway options. This gives you the flexibility to choose a payments provider which meets the requirements of your business.
#3 - Site search, increase engagement with streamlining the search functionality
Reducing the number of steps between the visitor arriving on your website and finding what they're looking for is important to increase engagement; no one wants to be browsing around numerous categories trying to guess where what they want is hidden. A good search allows visitors to go directly to what they want. Site searches can be augmented with additional functionality that improves their usefulness, such as spelling suggestions, auto-completing, suggesting alternative searches when there are no results, and overriding searches with relevant content when a particular search term is entered. Make sure that the search does what you need it to.
#4 - Visitor purchase process, make sure the visitor journey is easy to grasp
Keeping the visitor's experience on your site simple and straightforward should be a key priority, as sites which have overly long or complicated registration and purchase processes generally have lower conversion rates. The fewer pages a visitor is shown, the better. If you use a third party payment gateway, you should ensure that they allow for branded payment pages which match the design of your site, to keep a consistent user experience. Finally, a great feature you should keep an eye out for is allowing visitors to purchase without registering. While almost all the information captured this way is the same as if they had registered, sites which have this option generally experience higher conversion rates.
#5 Discount vouchers, incentivise repeat customers
Running sales and promotions is a common tool for many companies, and customers will get frustrated if the same offers your provide outside of the web are not also available online. Look for an e-commerce solution which provides you with the ability to relevant discount offers to your customers.
#6 - Shipping costs, avoid hidden costs
Delivery costs can be quite volatile and you don't want to be lumbered with a fixed set of delivery options. A good e-commerce solution allows you to not only control the cost of delivery, but also to have different shipping options (such as next day delivery), and geographically sensitive pricing (some regions, such as the Highlands and Islands in the UK, are more expensive to deliver to in a short timeframe, and you may wish to pass these costs on to your customers).
#7 - Accounts integration, make your business back office easier
Once your website is selling your products and services, the next thing you need to think about is accounting. Manually entering sales into your accountancy software, such as Sage Line 50, is usually a no-go. Look for a solution which provides an export of the correct data, which can then be automatically imported into your accountancy software.
#8 - Stock control, make sure your online stock is up to date
One of the most frustrating parts of running an e-commerce site is having customers order products which aren't available, as there's an overhead in getting back to the customer to let them know the situation and offer them an alternative or a refund. Any good e-commerce solution should have the ability to display an "out of stock" message to customers, preventing them from purchasing it. This can be extended to allow estimated "back in stock" dates to be shown. Another step is to integrate the site directly with your stock management system, so as soon as the last product is sold the website is automatically updated to show as being out of stock. If you don't have one, look for a solution which includes basic stock tracking.
#9 - Order fulfilment, there are ways to integrate the order fulfilment into the back office of your site
The customer successfully placing an order is only the start of your business process; now you need to fulfil that order (e.g. pick, pack, and ship the correct products to the correct address). Many e-commerce solutions focus on just that initial sale, but great solutions help you the whole way through, providing functionality to help you process and fulfil orders. It's difficult for generic solutions to provide this sort of thing, as your processes will be specific to your business. Look for an e-commerce provider who listens to what you need, and can develop a system which will complement and improve your business, rather than forcing you to fit into a particular process.
#10 - Customisation and flexibility, make sure your site fits your purpose
It's vitally important that you find an e-commerce solution which not only is able to meet your requirements and work around you and what you do, but is able to be customised and extended in the future. An inflexible solution is not only less likely to deliver what you need now, but can prevent you from expanding in the future.