Choosing a starting point – Your e-commerce platform.
In general there are three options:
1. A site hosted and created by a company for example Shopify
2. A site created for you but it is hosted on your own server space for example Cubecart
3. An Open Source Shopping Cart such as Oscommerce
Proís and Cons:
1. For option one, you donít have to worry about updates, support is probably available and you never have to worry about complex code, and for most of the time any code. They do have you over a barrel though, so you need to make sure it is a company you can trust and get data out of if you need to leave. They hold your sales information, customer details, design, images etc and they can shut you down. This option is best for the new e-commerce business if you are running it from a non technical point of view.
2. Hosting your own Webstore. Unless you pay said company to do so you will be responsible for security updates and any downtime will be up to your hosting. This option is my favourite for the adventurous. Its all your, the data, the site, but you will come up against it sometimes. There is paid and community support with most systems. You will pay less in subscriptions etc, but all the data is yours and you are in full control.
3. Open source. Its free, usually heavily supported by a community, you have full freedom with your store. The downside is the code editing. Unless you want to pay ( and you might as well choose one of the other options if you are going to do that) you will have to edit the code yourself and learn a lot on the way. It can be a heartache as support is not guaranteed and totally voluntary, but it is also FREE!
Next to consider is the functionality and features you NEED:
Inventory management – Import, export and sort inventory (bulk uploads and updating methods for inventory crucial for large catalogue) You will need to be able to sort, search and filter your inventory.
Image Hosting ( option 1)
Manageable sales data and order processing- Sales and various stages of orders. You will need to also be able to export sales for accounting purposes.
Inventory based shipping AND flat rate shipping – the most basic of shipping methods which can be used to fit a variety of models
Space for Meta Data – somewhere for you to edit your site html title, keywords and description for search engines
Basic statistics – either space for Google Analytics integration or home grown basic statistics
Customer Data – ability to send a newsletter and export customer data
Secure Payments – SSL and a secure payment method for credit cards for example paypal payments pro or cybersource integration.
Paypal – its too big to ignore. make sure you can accept paypal standard transactions with your secure credit card processing.
Multi tier Category Management – you will need sub categories to manage your user experience.
SEF URLs – Text based URLs for your products.
Currency Conversion – a website need to be international so Dollars, Euroís and Pound Sterling at least.
Inventory Quantity by Attributes – you want drop down attributes on your products for the various options, for example shoes in their various sizes and colour combinations, with quantity attached.
Ability to cname if not hosted on your servers ( option 1) – you need to be able to make sure the site íseemsí hosted and you have better urls for example http://www.yourdomain.com/redshoes and not http://www.randomcompany.com/yourcompanyname/redshoes or http://yourcompanyname.randomcompany.com/redshoes
Newsletter Function – to send basic marketing emails.
Functions you will WANT but you donít necessarily need to survive: (next bit coming soon)
This will be updated as the industry changes and I have time to write more. I am not going to list all the available e-commerce solutions as there are plenty of sites to do that. This is the most organised one though:
If you need advice on any of these you can contact the authors of the blog (see at the bottom of the page) or myself as I will review any of these systems for you on my blog: