The Ultimate Guide To Selecting an eCommerce Platform

By Will Wigram

 

Thinking of building a new eCommerce store or replatforming an existing one?

 

We’ve put together the ultimate guide to choosing an eCommerce platform to help your store get off to the best possible start from the get go.

 

1)        Getting Started / Business Objectives

 

So, what are the key considerations or questions you should ask yourself? Well…

 

What are the reasons behind the re-platforming? What are the key business objectives form this project?

 

Perhaps its your global growth ambitions that is spear-heading this, or potentially to reduce costs and management overheads.

 

Whatever the reasons are its key to make sure that these have been discussed, considered and that everyone is in agreement.

 

What are the key success metrics of the website?

 

Increasing overall sales is probably up there but what other metrics can you attribute to the success of the website?

 

Knowing these is extremely helpful for both you and us when we take on a project as we can link back all of activity and proposed work to these to make sure we are achieving these initial goals.

 

 

If applicable, how is the current website failing?

 

What are the current pain points? – This could be user experience / navigation issues, it could be inflexibility with scaling or a dated look and feel.

 

Whatever they are, it is imperative they do not crop up again and therefore need to be made clear from the get go.

 

But also think about the successes that we can develop even further going forward.

 

What are the main features and functionalities that you want?

 

Of course you will refine this as you go through this process (and we’ll discuss this more in a minute) but its useful to lay everything out on the table to start with. From here you can try to organise them into must haves and nice to haves.

 

Knowing what the priorities are is really useful as it can help point us to the most appropriate platform, and in cases where there are budget limitations, it can help us put together a phased project plan.

 

There are a huge amount of factors that can and will consider in this process, but beginning with the four points above will get you off to a good start.

 

I think one of the most important takeaway’s here is to make sure you involve all departments in these initial discussions. As you go through the process it won’t always be necessary to have all departments involved, but including everyone at this early stage is only going to result in a much more rounded view of the needs and objectives.

 

2)        Product Make Up

 

At the core of any eCommerce website are the catalogues of products. Again on the surface this may seem quite straight forward – items for sale, different colours, different sizes, prices, descriptions and images. But actually, the make-up of these catalogues can be quite intricate and there may be certain limitations on some platforms that could prevent you from running your business effectively.

 

Some of the SaaS platforms (like Shopify & Bigcommerce) are more suited to less complex catalogues than the likes of Magento. For example the number of variants a product can have cannot exceed 100 on Shopify. There are ways around this but it involves customisation and/or the use of a third party app.

 

In isolation this is not that much of a problem but if this type of customisation is needed throughout your product offering, it can become a bit of a pain to manage.

 

So, to alleviate the risk of this happening here are some of the the product questions you should be asking yourself:

 

  • How many products do you want to sell online? Quantity in isolation is rarely an issue but it’s good to know this nonetheless as it will have implications in various ways such as design and site speed optimisation.
  • How many categories and sub categories will you have? This could be quite small to begin with and then grow, so future ambitions is good to also bare in mind at this stage.
  • How Complex is your product taxonomy? Think about the number variants each product will have – colours, sizes, types etc. Will these be presented as single products or as SKUs within the products
  • Is there a requirement to be able to group / bundle products? This has implications for stock management so it’s good to know
  • Will products be sold on a subscription basis? If so, what are the rules here? What does this model look like?
  • Is pre order a requirement? If so should this be triggered automatically when a product is out of stock or manually? Can pre order be managed through other channels such as by phone?
  • Do you have a BTC and BTB product offering? How do these differ and should they be set up completely separately?
  • How will your product make up change and grow over the next few years? Linking back to what I mentioned earlier, what are the ambitions for all of the above?

 

Ultimately it is preferable to choose a platform that can accommodate as many of your requirements as standard features of the platform. Of course, one of the great perks of many of the eCommerce platforms out there, is the vast range of third party apps/plugins that are available that you can bolt onto the website to enhance functionality (we get to this later).

 

However from experience, it’s not advisable to have heaps of plugins as this can have a negative effect on overall site performance and speed.

 

If the majority of the functionality of your website comes from third party plug-ins, it’s probably a pretty clear sign that you are not on the most appropriate platform.

 

This is why it’s important to have all of this detail clearly available when selecting a platform, to alleviate the risk of choosing a one that restricts you and does not allow you to create and evolve in a hassle free manner.

 

3)        Content Requirements

 

Content is at the core of every website and different platforms offer different solutions to the variety of different elements that you may or may not require, some making it easier that others.

 

Types of Content:

Ediorial – Blog, News, Press – archives

Campaign – Projects, Case Studies , Look Books

Brand – About, Philosohy, Process / Craft, History,

Social – integrating 3rd party content

 

Again, try to think about how this will evolve as well as what you’re launching with. How often are you going to be adding new content to the site?

 

If this is regularly (as, of course, it should be to help your SEO rankings) it is so important that it is an easy to do, otherwise it will cause such a headache to whoever has this job, wasting their time going through a tedious process or even worse deterring them from adding any new content.

 

WordPress, is a great option for content rich sites as there is no real limitation from a creative or management point of view. We have historically connected this with WooCommerce to offer a powerful eCommerce solution for our clients – and this is definitely a combination we still recommend.

 

Bigcommerce has recently developed a WordPress integration that creates a really powerful solution giving you all the benefits of WordPress, but weaving this into a very capable and solid ecommerce platform.

 

Shopify is also improving as a content management system and whilst it used to be tricky to manage editorial style content, this is no longer the case.

 

4)        Technical Requirements/Integrations

 

You will find that a lot of the more common integrations are easily achieved with ready made plug ins available. These include:

  • Connecting to email marketing platform to capture newsletter sign ups
  • Connecting to Payment gateways – to allow a seamless check out experience
  • Feeding your instagram account onto the site to offer fresh and dynamic content

 

But it’s not always this straight forward. The recommend approach therefore is thinking about which integrations are going to add value for your customers and your business, rather than going off what you have on the existing site or copying current trends.

 

Once we have this list we can start to evaluate how these can be executed on different platforms, and what level of integration is needed.

 

As mentioned, on the one hand you don’t want to be in a position where you are having to completely customise and bolt on hundreds of apps to achieve your desired offering

On the flip-side you also don’t want to buy into an expensive enterprise level solution when you actually only need 2% of what they offer and are therefore hugely over engineering the situation.

 

We’d be here all day if I was to attempt to list all of the different types of integrations that could be incorporated into your site, but these are some of the potentially more complex but really useful ones that definitely need consideration, and will really help with the seamless running on your business:

 

  • Stock Management
  • Accounting
  • ERP Systems – he
  • Taxes and Duties
  • Multi Currency Check Out – internationalisation
  • Multi Language
  • Fulfillment / Shipping

 

Internationalisation especially, is often one of the biggest factors that will shape platform choice. Giving your customers a local shopping experience, and allowing your business operations to work efficiently on a global scale is essential.

 

Up until now we would only have suggested the more enterprise level platforms – like Magento or Shopware, for this type of requirement.

 

This said a lot of the SaaS platforms are now getting up to speed with this.

 

For example, implementing Shopify to target several countries around the world was always the biggest deal breaker as the only option available previously, was to clone the store in order to enable check out in another currency. However now, multi currency checkout is available through their premium offering -Shopify Plus. In 2019 the road map for Bigcommerce also has Internationalisation at the top of its agenda.

 

As the capabilities of every platform is constantly evolving, it is really important to think about what your technical requirements are and what integrations are needed so that we can help pair you with the a platform that’s the best fit, now and in the future.

 

5)        Costs and Timings

 

And last but by no means least – money! Ultimately one of the determining factors in this process is going to be the available budget and deadlines.

 

The time (and therefore cost) it takes to build an eCommerce website will vary hugely based on the size, complexity and platform you are using.

 

Whether you choose to disclose your budget with your agency at this stage is up to you – from our point of view this is helpful as we can tailor an appropriate solution.

 

Either way, though, it is just crucial to have these figures worked out in good time.

 

So, there are two key factors that must be considered and budgeted for:

 

  • The initial cost of the build of the website
  • Ongoing costs to keep the site running.

 

This initial cost can include:

 

  • Discovery costs – could be UX, brand work, concepting, SEO
  • Design and build costs
  • Data import
  • Content creation – copy writing and photo shoots
  • Third-party integration costs,
  • SEO Set Up

 

Once the implementation is completed, you have to account for the ongoing cost. Items included in this are:

 

  • Maintenance and support retainers,
  • Ongoing host fees,
  • Platform licence costs
  • Payment gateway related fees,
  • Third-party apps / plugin subscriptions
  • Ongoing SEO and marketing

 

Depending on the type of platform you choose, some of these costs might not apply which might be a deciding factor for picking one platform over another.

 

So, there we have it. Once you have a good idea about all of the above points, let’s organise a time to sit down and discuss which eCommerce platform will help propel your business forward.

 

 

A List Of WordPress And WooCommerce Plugins For a Variety of Uses

WordPress came to life on May 2003 and few technological inventions in the internet age have become as ubiquitous as WordPress when it comes to website Content Management Systems (CMS).

 

This is what the WordPress home page looked like back then:

Old WordPress home page screen shot

 

And this is what it looks like now:

 

current wordpress home page screen shot

 

The rise of WordPress and WooCommerce as a CMS has mainly been due to 2 main factors: ease of use and scalability.

 

As a CMS, WordPress is an extremely versatile and easy to use CMS with a learning curve that is much less steep than say Joomla and esp. Magento.

 

Scalability has been made relatively easy due to the myriad number of plugins that have been built for it by WordPress and third parties around the world.

 

If you have a WordPress site there’s a good chance you have at least a few plugins installed already. However, the list of available plugins and their potential uses are almost too vast to count thus making WordPress even more functional and scalable.

 

In this post, Diffusion Digital will talk you through some of our favourite plugins for a shipping and SEO. Bookmark this page as we’ll be updating it with more plugins next month!

WooCommerce plugins for Shipping

 

Flexible Shipping for WooCommerce

 

Flexible Shipping for Woocommmerce

 

Download: 20,000+

 

First up, we have the Flexibility Shipping for WooCommerce which claims to be the most advanced shipping plugin for WooCommerce and whilst we’re not sure we believe in that claim, it does offer quite a wide range of features and customization options to choose from.

 

There isn’t much that the plugin can’t do and is an ideal solution for WooCommerce sites in the medium to high competition sectors where offering a wide range of delivery options is a must.

 

In addition to allowing the calculation of shipping costs based on cart total, you could also do so based on weight. Plus, it also offers COD (Cash On Delivery) shipping options which is something most other shipping plugins do not.

 

Additionally, you have options to integrate insurance options which again, could be a way to add a USP to your WooCommerce site.

 

The plugin comes in 2 flavours: the free version which gives you the tools that should be sufficient for most small retailer and a paid option for more advanced Ecommerce businesses.

 

For a full list of features and the differences between the free and paid version, check out their official site.

 

WooCommerce Delivery Time Picker for Shipping

 

WooCommerce Delivery Options

Next up, we have the WooCommerce Delivery Time Picker which is a good option to consider if your WooCommerce store offers shipping based on time slots.

 

Successful Ecommerce stores know that one of the ways you can increase sales is by reducing the amount of ‘friction’ between the user and the buying process and it is usually a good idea to offer as many shipping options as is possible.

 

This plugin is more like an ‘add-on’ to your existing setup, adding the functionality of allowing users to select when to receive their purchase, giving control to the user on both, the day as well as the time.

 

Of course, not all courier companies offer this feature so it’s a good idea to check that yours does.

WooCommerce Weight Based Shipping

 

Woocommerce-delivery-options-table

 

No. of downloads: 20,000+

 

Being able to calculate shipping charges based on weight isn’t exactly a unique feature by any means but the WooCommerce Weight Based Shipping does have a super-useful way of offering this option.

 

There’s a section for adding multiple shipping rules and you can set further conditions based on when certain rules should or shouldn’t apply.

You can also configure your shipping rates based on total order weight, price or a combination of the 2 and although most companies will probably end up using either one it’s a good feature to have.

 

WordPress Plugins for SEO

 

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is to a website what the engine is to your car. Without it, no matter how amazing your product is, no one is going to see it.

 

The popularity of SEO has meant that this is area of plugin development is one of the most popular for WordPress which means there’s literally thousands of WordPress SEO plugins to choose from.

 

A thing to bear in mind is that no matter how good the plugin, they only offer you the tools to have the basic on-page SEO in place. If you’re hoping to attract a wide audience for your WordPress website, you will also need to undertake an off-page SEO campaign that encompasses important traffic-driving techniques such as link building and content marketing.

 

Yoast SEO

 

Yoast - SEO for everyone

 

No. of downloads: 5+ million

 

First up, we have the Yoast SEO plugin which is by far, the most popular SEO

plugin for WordPress around.

 

Yoast SEO comes in 2 flavours: the free option which offers you the basic functionality around keyword optimisation, page previews and duplicate content checks whilst the premium (paid) option offers you all of that and much more.

 

Here’s a snapshot of the comparison but for more on this head over to https://yoast.com/wordpress/plugins/seo/.

 

Yoast price guidelines

 

At the time of this writing, the paid plugin costs £79 plus VAT.

 

If you’re asking “is the premium (paid) Yoast plugin worth it?” then our answer is going to be annoying yet inevitable: it depends.

 

For small WordPress sites in non-competitive sectors and where you don’t need to drive a ton of traffic to the site, the free option might be just fine. Or, if you have a professional SEO company who is looking after your site, both on-page and off-page as well.

 

However, if you want to do it all yourself and don’t plan on a link building and content generation campaign or traffic isn’t all that important, you may find the paid plugin adds a little bit of value.

 

All In One SEO Pack

 

All in One SEO

 

No. of downloads: 3+ million

 

The All In One SEO Pack is another WordPress plugin for SEO and just about as useful as Yoast.

 

All In One has a useful XML sitemap submission feature for those who don’t know how to work with Google Search Console or Bing (or simply aren’t inclined to).

 

AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) is becoming increasingly common-place on the mobile web and All In One has integration and monitoring capabilities for those 2.

 

Which is better, Yoast SEO or All In One?

 

The differences between the 2 are subtle and in many cases, comes down to your personal preference.

 

For example, whereas the various functions of Yoast are laid out on different tabs, All In One has then all listed on a single page (think of a multi-step checkout process compared to one where you enter all your info on the same page).

 

Another example is Social Media – Yoast does tend to offer a few more options for Social Media monitoring and integration than All In One.

 

WordPress Plugins for Marketing

 

Welcome back to part 2 of our list of essential plugins for your WordPress or WooCommerce website.

 

This month, we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the best plugins around to help you super-charge your marketing efforts.

 

The popularity of WordPress has meant that there are thousands of developers around the world building plugins for it for pretty much anything you can think of.

 

From a marketing perspective, WordPress is designed for small to medium sized growing businesses which means no matter what your skill set when it comes to marketing, there’s sure to be a plugin that is right for you.

 

CAOS

https://wordpress.org/plugins/host-analyticsjs-local/

No. of downloads: 10,000+

 

First up on our list is the CAOS plugin built to make the task of Google Analytics integration easier.

 

If you’ve got a website, you’ve most likely have an analytics programme installed too which gives you data about how many people visit your website, where they come from, actions they take and so on.

 

Google Analytics (GA) is one such platform and perhaps the most popular one for most small to medium sized websites.

If you’re considering adding GA to your site, you should know that GA only works once you’ve added the GA code to all pages of the site and often you will need to get your web developer to do it.

 

This is where CAOS comes in. it is a plugin for Google Analytics which allows to you connect to it without the need for any outside help.

 

The plugin is natively compatible with WordPress which means that installing it on your site is going to be seamless and hassle-free.

 

What’s more, once you have this in place, it can also show you the basic info from GA right into your WordPress dashboard saving you a lot of time and clicks having to bounce around from once platform to another.

 

MailChimp for WordPress

https://wordpress.org/plugins/contact-form-7-mailchimp-extension/

No. of downloads: 100,000+

 

Mailchimp is for email newsletters what Google Analytics is for website analytics so it’s no wonder that we have a bespoke plugin for MailChimp available.

 

MailChimp is one of the most popular newsletter software around and until the arrival of this plugin, it wouldn’t be too uncommon to find your email subscriber data separate from the signups from your website which means each time you had someone signing up to your newsletter via your website, you will have to manually add them to your MailChimp database.

 

With the MailChimp for WordPress plugin however, all of that is history.

 

Once installed and connected, not only can you automatically sync your newsletter and website subscribers but you can also carry out some advanced functions such as offering the ability of people who make an enquiry via your site to sign up to your newsletter directly via opt-in checkboxes.

 

This is not only a great time saver but will also go a long way in enhancing the size and quality of your subscriber list.

 

OptinMonster

https://ps.w.org/optinmonster/assets/banner-772×250.png?rev=1145863

 

https://wordpress.org/plugins/optinmonster/

No. of downloads: 800,000+

 

Speaking of increasing your email subscriber list, another tool that is designed precisely for that is the OptinMonster plugin for WordPress.

 

Your website’s conversion rate is one of the most important Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and offering multiple ways for a conversion (aka call-to-action) to occur is a must.

 

For example, even though your most important call-to-action is going to a sale if you’re selling something or an enquiry if you’re a service business, secondary call-to-action such as a newsletter signup or to download a white-paper or brochure can also be very valuable in the long run.

 

OptinMonster offers the ability to create several different types of forms such as popups and light boxes and even ‘exit-intent’ light boxes which can help you increase the number of page/views, increase conversions and ultimately make your website work better.

 

Drip Marketing Automation plugin for WordPress

https://wordpress.org/plugins/email-marketing/

 

No. of downloads: 9,000+

https://ps.w.org/email-marketing/assets/banner-772×250.png?rev=1817747

 

If your website’s subscriber count is in the triple digits, you need to have a marketing automation CRM in place if you don’t have one already and Drip is one such option.

 

In addition to collating all your signups and subscriber info from a variety of signup sources, a software like Drip can also automate certain marketing tasks that you carry out on a routine basis.

 

For example, Drip will allow you to send out an automated email notification to a a visitor who signs up via your blog each time you publish a new blog post which is not only a great time saver but also helps you improve your return visit levels.

 

Or, you can create lead nurturing emails which are designed to gradually move your user from the ‘cold’ to ‘hot’ stage of the buying funnel. In the long run, this can mean more sales for relatively less effort.

Bespoke Vs Template Website Design

An online presence for businesses no longer remains as simply an invaluable asset, but rather, it is now an absolute essential. In many cases it will be the first point of contact that a customer has with your company or organisation, and therefore it is important to present a professional image that is in line with the identity of your business. This is something that helps build a positive relationship with your clientele by establishing a certain level of trust.

When deciding that you want a new website, whether that is in WordPress or Shopify, there are often two routes that you can choose to go down – template or custom design. Both of these have their pros and cons, which I am going to detail below…

 

Template Design

Effectively a template design is a ‘generic’, pre-built site that is based around a set of pre-defined boxes in which you can place your content. These are available for anyone to purchase, and the owner can tweak the colour palette, add logos, and can usually move around the content in a sort of square, puzzle-like format. This is done either with the help of a developer and by using an in-built Content Management System (CMS). In most cases, these pre-built designs are not very flexible, and you are limited to the parameters set by the template.

The main positive of these limitations is that template websites are cheaper to create because they have already been built, and therefore setting them up is much quicker. However, this also brings with it several drawbacks. As the customisation is very limited, it is difficult to consistently apply your brand image and identity across the site. Alongside this, the layout functionality and the navigation of the site may not be perfectly suited to the purpose of the site, which can have a detrimental effect on the overall user experience.

Another problem that resonates more with the success of your business is that many of these templates are built using outdated, and often substandard code. This can have a negative effect on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) because finding and indexing the keys words search engines like Google use is made substantially more difficult. These issues can also have an effect on the sites compatibility with browsers, which in turn can increase the lading time for specific pages – something that can be infuriating for the user.

To summarise:

Pros:

  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Can be built quickly

Cons

  • Difficult to find a template exactly matching your needs.
  • Can be negative for SEO purposes
  • Potentially slower loading times

 

Custom Design

A custom, or ‘bespoke’, designed website is one which has been tailor-made to your businesses specific demands and needs. Your requirements will be carefully analysed by designers and developers, who will interpret your brief, and work with you every step of the way to ensure that the design is totally unique to you and your business. This will enable the identity of your business to remain consistent throughout the site, whilst also retaining an overall positive user experience. The control over your online presence will be total – from design to functionality.

The website developer will specifically set aside time to ensure that the website works on all the main browsers, as well as the design appearing as it should in multiple formats, including both mobile and tablet devices. Alongside this, an agency such as ourselves will be on hand to make any cosmetic changes, whilst also keeping on top of any urgent technical problems that may arise.

Another bonus of a bespoke website is that it can be designed with the future of your business in mind – mainly its growth and development. The expansion of your business will be a key element in the design, making changes to the website as seamless, and with as little hassle, as possible.

Custom designs are inevitably more costly, and in turn, take longer to implement then a template. However, along with your bespoke website, you have an agency such as Diffusion who are able to supply you with a wealth of experience, advice and information to make sure that your online presence is as you intended it to be. This is partially what you are investing in when you pay a bit more for a bespoke site.

To summarise:

Pros

  • Focus the design and functionality around your business model and needs.
  • Fully customisable
  • Have agency support to ensure you get the most out of website.

Cons

  • More expensive
  • Takes longer to setup

 

Summary

Whilst template websites may be cheaper, and can provide you with a quick and easy way to establish an online presence for your business, in the longer term, it is worth making an investment in a bespoke website so that you do not compromise on the quality, usability, or your professional image. Ultimately, you really do get what you pay for.

 

Read more about how Diffusion Digital can help customise your website and help you bring your brand to life online and drive more quality traffic to your site.