Today I am going to cover the different platforms that you can use for your store. I am assuming that you have already figured out what niche you will pursue, and also your general plan for rolling out your shiny new e-commerce business. It is great that you have come this far.
I went through the same process and I decided that I would plan for a pretty large scale business. There are a number of niches I was interested in, and although I knew it would take some time, I felt confident that my plan would work to open a total of 20-25 total stores.
Think big, huh?
Note: A Facebook support page for one of our stores called ReVa 5-Star Shop
One of the most powerful tools you have is your creativity, and the above image shows what you can do with a bit of that…Use these skills also in the researching and selection of your platform too…Think about your needs now and in three years…
Selection Of Your Platform
Which platform to use? There are so many options out there, and in my research, I looked at a number of comparison sites and posts that informed me about the top 20 platforms in use to see which might suffice for my needs.
Having a WordPress background as a result of my affiliate marketing business, I really was pulled right out of the gate with the WooCommerce platform, as it is based on WordPress and also is free to install. That is a plus! Another thing that attracted me was the wide variety of plugins and add-ons that have been developed.
Here is a list of the top 20 platforms for you:
(1) Big Commerce
This is a top rated platform based on much of the research I did, but there were things that did not work for me…More expensive, less control, and although the Mercedes of platforms, too much for my budget and me needs…
I looked at this and have had some experience with them, but I do not like the limited variety of free themes, and the ones that are at cost seem to be priced 3-4 x what I could get with a WooCommerce platform. Remember with the eventual goal of having so many stores, these costs would be multiplied by 25!
Here are the rest, but after review of each, they fell off the radar for one reason or another. Do have at look at them, however, as each has their strong and weak points. All are doing pretty well and have their advocates…
(3) 3d Cart
(5) Ultra Cart
(6) Spark Pay
(7) Core Commerce
(13) Yahoo / AABACO
(14) X Cart
(16) Open Cart
(17) Jigo Shop
(18) ePages / 1 & 1
(19) Cart Cafe
(20) Big Cartel
Rather than add 5,000 words here explaining each of these platforms, I want to send you to a site that will dig into each platform in depth and provide you enough information to narrow down the top 3-5 platforms that you can then drill down on even more…
Here is a great post that explains the advantages and disadvantages of each: Best E-Commerce Platforms for Startups
What To Look At When Selecting Your E-Commerce Platform
There are some basic considerations you need to keep in mind as you do your research. These are the same ones I used and they certainly helped me decide on WooCommerce (although it is NOT rated highly overall on the review site above – it has a middle of the road ranking)…
Here are the criteria I used:
(1) Up Front Cost
In my case, knowing that I wanted to build an array of stores, some general and some niche, some focusing on the Internet Marketing niches and sub-niches and even some video support websites, I knew that I needed to use a platform that was not going to be charging me $20 – $50 USD a month for each.
(2) Time Required to Go Live
Time is money is the old adage that here also holds true. Knowing WordPress as I do, I knew that the learning curve would be short-lived to get a store up and running with WooCommerce versus some of the other platforms…
(3) Site Loading Speed
This was a tricky decision on my part, as there are other platforms that in general have a much faster loading speed than the Woo platform offers in general. But I also knew that there are ways you can quicken the load times easily if you know what to do.
The reason this is so important is that customers want to have fast loading pages and sites. They will click away and you will lose a lot of business if your site is slow, and the slower the load the worse it gets. In my case, I knew that I had some of the best hosting available, plus some other plugins I will talk about later…
(4) Ease of Navigation for Customer
This was a wash for me, as the platforms all have easily navigable stores that can be created these days. They all are in competition with one another for customers so they do keep abreast of how they can draw in store operators…
(5) Add-on Costs
This was a big one for me. Many of the platforms offer a low entry price and as your business grows, so does the cost. To a degree, this is understandable and expected, as you are using their resources to a greater degree too as you start selling more. But I found that over the long haul, my costs would be considerably higher with so many stores with all but the WooCommerce platform.
(6) Versatility of Themes
In this arena, most offer a large variety of themes that work with their platforms. Also, there are developer markets where you can buy themes that have been specially designed for that particular platform. In my case, I wanted to stick with a few basic platforms so I could quickly make changes to all stores. That has turned out to not be the case, as I have 4 themes I am using…
As I stated above, initially I knew that a few stores would be started, and over time, I would grow to the 25 store figure. So I needed something that would grow with me. WooCommerce has proven itself to me to be scalable and using the add-ons and plugins I can easily grow sales to $100 – 150k USD a month. That also happens to be my target for the next 18 months!
(8) Must-Have Features
Here are the ones I considered to be most important:
- A secure site (SSL, Dedicated IP, PCI compliant back-end)
- Possible to add in reviews and star ratings
- Fast web hosting
- Good SEO tools (yes SEO IS important even with stores)
- Fuzzy and exact product search capable
- Ability to send email sequences out for abandoned carts, sales, newsletters, etc.
- Ability to add subscribers, automatic account details added for repeat customers (convenience)
- Mobile friendly
- Quick one-page checkout possible (with a plugin)
- Tracking for shipments/orders
- Coupon/Sale support
- On-site tracking for Google Analytics and a Facebook Pixel
(9) Nice-to-have Features
These were features I considered to be nice-to-have but not essential:
- Drop shipping and print on demand friendly
- Customizable pages
- Fulfilled by Amazon
- Google Shopping capable
- Ability to add other plugins or services
(10) Ease of Use for Store Owner
I did not want to have a platform that was going to be hard to deal with. Due to the number of stores I will have I need to be able to work with them all and get things done and done fast. I do not want to have to take a course on how to get my store open and selling.
After a couple of days research, I narrowed my possible platforms to two – WooCommerce and Shopify. I did an analysis of my overhead costs having 10 stores, 20 stores, and 25 stores. In every case, my costs were double (or more) with Shopify.
Of course, over time as you sell more, these costs will come down no matter what platform you are using, but for me, the idea was to minimize initial start-up costs. Here are some examples of my costs:
- A 10 license pack of Themegrill eStore themes – $197 USD (1 year)
- Super fast hosting with SiteGround hosting services – $158 USD (1 year)
- WooCommerce theme – Free
- Plugins, various – $600 annual cost (approximately)
- Autoresponder – $10 a month
- Various IM Support Tools – on hand, no cost
Altogether, I started with an investment of less than $1000 and was able to stand up 4 stores quickly. Compare that to the cost of opening 4 brick and mortar stores!
Of course, there is much more detail that I will not go into here, but these are good guidelines for you to compare with as you go about deciding which platform to use.
Right now, I am at 10 stores, 7 are open and selling, while 3 more are ready to publish and start with sales. In the pipeline, I have the next 5, and behind that, domains and niches for the rest.
A Hint For You About Hosting…
One hint on the hosting: If you go with WooCommerce or other self-hosted solution, make sure you secure a three-year agreement for the level of hosting you will need when starting. I made the mistake of only getting a one-year agreement.
That was a mistake because now I am faced with having a 4x jump in expense for the high-speed hosting I have now after the first year is up. I could have locked in an even lower price had I gone for the three-year plan. As things have expanded, I have added a second hosting account with another provider. With this one, I went for the three-year plan (and it cost me a little more than the one year plan for the entire three years!)…
Now you can look at the options using the page link I have added above to see which platform may be right for you. You hopefully can understand why I went with WooCommerce over other options, but in your case, that platform may not be the best.
Many of my e-commerce colleagues swear by Shopify (that is the platform most are using if not Woo) but for me, it is not a solution. The little costs add up quickly, and some of the product solutions they offer results in most of the profits going to the middlemen, not in your pocket…
OK, this is a brief post today, and the intent is just to give you some insight as to what the process is that I used and one that you can emulate for deciding on a platform for your e-commerce store. There are such a wide variety of platforms, each having a lot of features you may or may not need.
It is important that you understand what you will be doing with your stores, who your market is (audience) and make sure that you go with the platform that best fits this. Additionally, of course, you also need to be able to work with that system.
Be sure to also think long-term, as in what services will I need in a year, in two years, etc. Most certainly you will want to grow your online e-commerce business, and you do not want to have to switch after you are well into the game. Better to have a platform that can fit your growing needs right from the start.
In the next post, I will cover the process I went through to get the stores designed, products propagated in each of the stores, and will even let you know about some shortcuts that I used to expand quickly. There is much more too as we go along that will be of interest to you, such as the social platforms and how you can use them to build your store visibility and sales…
If you do have any questions about what we covered today, please add then below in the comment section. I will get back to you asap. Also, please let us all know about your own experiences with starting an e-commerce business. I am sure there are some good one out there!
This is a place to come to where you can learn to make money online. E-Commerce is certainly a good way to do just that. If you look around the site, you will see other ways as well if you are figuring that e-commerce may not be your cup of tea.
Affiliate marketing is what comes to mind when I add this, as that is an easy way to start. You can create content much as I am doing, and then promote products and earn a commission as you get conversions. Everything is possible online, you just have to figure out the proper way to go about it!
If you missed the first two posts in this series on my e-commerce journey, here they are (links opens in a new page):
Cheers until next time!
Dave : )