The E-Commerce Column

Ultimate Guide to Choosing Your Next E-Commerce Solution

Woman Leading E-Commerce Meeting

Some things just are not easy.  Have you ever tried replacing your own oil?  How about throwing a surprise birthday party?  When was the last time you tried to build a fort or a tree house?  These are all simple examples of things that sound simple on the surface, but in practice, they each require thought, planning, and solid execution to do well.  If you skip or shortcut anything, you undoubtedly found yourself regretting it to some degree.  Finding and selecting your next e-commerce solution is no different.  We’ll spend the next few minutes diving into some tips that are sure to make your life easier.

Order Is Very Important

When you go through each of these steps, please know that they’re not just ordered chronologically or logically in the order that you should do them.  They’re also ordered in such a way that reflects their importance and the amount of time you need to spend on each step.  I submit to you, if you find yourself spending more time in the final step versus the first step, then you’re definitely going to find more than your fair share of surprises when you go to implement your new store.  When it comes to e-commerce, sometimes even the most innocent-looking shortcut can cost you the most money.

What Do You Need?

Before you can make a single move, you’d be wasting a lot of your very own valuable time if you didn’t spend some time thinking about and documenting what your needs are.  In fact, this is the step where nearly every e-commerce project fails.  If you don’t know what you need, how could you be successful?  Did you ever see those videos of people diving into lakes or rivers, only to hit the bottom before their body even begins to get submerged?  It’s kind of like that.

You need to spend as much time as necessary interviewing everyone that’s a stakeholder in your online store.  Everyone that has something to gain or lose – at the very least, the relevant department heads of your company.  You could definitely do this in a single shot by having a group meeting, and you should.  However, you’ll find the real magic occurs when you follow up with personal one-on-one meetings with everyone that was in the meeting.  There are many questions and details that will simply be entirely too unproductive to go over in a group setting.

When you’re in your follow-up meetings, ask questions like, “Joey said that the product pages needed reviews.  What do you think about that?”  Other good questions include, “You said that checkout feels clunky.  Can you walk me through any individual observations you have?”  Walk into your follow-up meetings with loaded questions like these at the ready, but ask them in a pointed manner to discover what the true need really is.  You may even want to go as far as embracing the “5 Whys.”  You may discover that the need has nothing to do with your store at all.

The final thing to note here is that you really need to make sure you distinguish between things that your store needs, versus things that you and your team want.  Being an essentialist in this stage will be critical to your success (and budget).

Finding Potential Solutions

Finding potential solutions that can meet your needs is like finding a needle in a haystack of needles.  You don’t have to trust us because we’re one of the needles.  Remember, we have to sort through our own haystacks for solutions too.  This search isn’t going to be easy, and it’s not going to happen quickly.  You could of course do your online searches.  In fact, that may be how you found this article.  The unfortunate thing about searching for anything online is that you’re only seeing the results of the most savvy marketing departments, and not necessarily the ability of e-commerce solutions to meet your needs.  Don’t stop searching online though.  It’s still part of the process.

Another thing about search…  Many search results tend to be stale.  Even some of the comments engines like Quora tend to have questions that at best are outdated by many months.  Keep this in mind when you’re evaluating your search results.

Another part of the process should be looking at your competition.  See what they’re using.  Tools like BuiltWith and Datanyzer are great for this.  They can help you dive into the technologies driving your competition.  Don’t stop there though… You should do the same with some of your favorite online stores.  See what e-commerce platforms they might be using as well. 

During this process, be sure to keep a running list of notes about what you love, like, and hate about each.  This will help you articulate it to your design and development teams later.

Finally, hit up your network. You almost certainly have some friends and colleagues that have direct or indirect experience with various platforms.  Get to know what they know.  Take special note of anything that what went extremely right or wrong.  In fact, do this with your LinkedIn network too.  You’ll be surprised at how useful and time-saving this step will be for you.

Does it Have the Goods?

In the previous step, you should have ended up with a long list of potential e-commerce platforms and solutions.  You should be able to easily point back to something or someone specific that compelled you to put it on the list of viable e-commerce options.  Now, you can take that list and begin looking for anything that might help you eliminate each immediately.  Basically, you should treat this like your first e-commerce platform date.  Find any deal-breakers you can.  If you can find even one, cross it off and move on.  Then end of this process should result in no more than five e-commerce solutions for you to review in more detail.

How you do this is quite easy.  Let the individual vendors eliminate themselves.  Look through their respective websites and online materials for anything that they absolutely can’t do for you.  Review.  Cross off.  Repeat.

No, But Does it Really?

Now you finally have your short list.  This is a great place to be at.  At this point, you’ve put in many 10’s or even over a hundred hours of work yourself to make sure that your short list isn’t an accident.  This part of the review process is two-tiered.

First, put the e-commerce vendors on the line.  Reach out to each of them and ask them for a demo and sales material.  Pay attention to the responsiveness and quality of their response.  During the demo, ask any and all questions that come to mind.  Investing in an e-commerce solution is a long term commitment.  Leave no stone unturned.  If you feel it’s needed, schedule one or more follow-up calls with the vendor and your technical team so that any technical issues can hopefully be discussed before you get too far along to turn back.

It’s pretty safe to assume that the sales demonstration went well.  However, everyone goes off of some kind of script.  Even the best demos where you feel that you kept them on their feet usually are easily explained away as repetition and salesmanship.  Now it’s time for you and your team to see if YOU can do this.  Ask the vendor for a demo environment and put your hands on the platform.  Try configuring it, and adding products that resemble your own.  Get the rest of your team to do the same.  Simulate the customer experience.  Is that what you want to put your customers through?

Throughout this step, do your best to try to evaluate just how much time (and money) you might be saving by using this solution (or not).  Try to put each through benchmarks.  Is any single e-commerce solution saving you more time over others?  Does your team enjoy one over the others?  This makes a difference in their productivity, so don’t overlook that.  Most importantly, can your technical team implement it?  We know from experience – no e-commerce platform is created equal.  The technical part of your evaluation will be the most revealing.

What Does the Support Look Like?

Depending on the nature of the e-commerce vendor, you may have the opportunity to deal with their support team.  If you can, use it.  Submit questions and problems and see how long it takes to get a response, and grade the quality of the response.  Above all, make sure that support exists, and you have some kind of SLA to fall back on.  After all, if something goes wrong with your online store, you’re almost guaranteed to lose money.  Keeping this in mind, you may even be able to grade the response on a money scale.  How much money did the support just lose you, if this were a real support scenario?

Making a Decision

You’ve done it!  You went through the monotony that is finding and evaluating your next e-commerce solution.  You went through the time-consuming process to make sure you didn’t leave any questions or concerns on the table, and did your best to ensure that everyone’s needs are met.  Finally, you put the vendor through the wringer to ensure that you’ll be on solid footing if you choose to jump to their platform.

It doesn’t feel like it, but you’re now on the easiest part of the entire process.  You get to decide which one solution best meets your needs.  Let’s be realistic though.  No solution will fit your needs as neatly as you’d wish.  There’s going to be a small percentage of things that you’ll need to do differently or have built.  This is the nature of online commerce.  The key here is, which solution is going to allow you to do the most with the least amount of budget allocation, but still have the highest potential of success in growing your online business?

We go through this every single day with clients, and we don’t envy your decision.  We know just how difficult this decision is to make.  However, if you need some more help, feel free to leave a comment below and we’ll do just that.

About the Author

Will StrohlWill Strohl

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