In the first episode of our eCommerce Tech Series, Robert Giovannini, CEO of IronPlane, gives an overview of various eCommerce platforms and offers key insights to help companies choose the best platform for their business.
In this series, we look at the broader question of how do you choose a platform? Maybe you're on an existing platform, looking to migrate to something new, or you've never been in eCommerce, and you're starting to tip your toe in those waters.
Choosing an eCommerce platform can be daunting for most eCommerce store owners, and it's difficult to know where to start. Watch the first episode of the series to help you determine the best platform for your eCommerce store.
Today, we're starting a new series that looks at the broader question of how do you choose a platform? Maybe you're on an existing platform, and you're looking to migrate to something new. Or you've never been in eCommerce, and you're starting to tip your toe in those waters.
The question can be daunting when you first start to look at this. Because, well, let's say you go to G2 or clutch, and you type in "eCommerce platforms" - hundreds of logos are going to pop up, and a lot of them are quite good. So then, you can find yourself quickly, sifting between various technologies and tools, some geared to specific industries, some broad-based, and the problem becomes this, where do you begin? How do you even begin to narrow down whether or not you should stay within the current ecosystem you're in, or if you're not in an ecosystem, how do you pick one? Right?
eCommerce Tech Series - List of Episodes (01:49)
So, the questions that we're going to look at during the course of the next few videos in the eCommerce tech series are:
Episode 1: Choosing a Platform
How do you even start? Choosing a Platform - which is the subject of this video.
Episode 2: Buy vs. Build
We're going to look at Buy vs. Build, and this is not always as clear-cut as it might seem for organizations. And a lot of it depends on what you're trying to accomplish, how fast, budgets, and all those good things.
Episode 3: SaaS vs. On-Premise vs. PaaS
Then we're going to look at, very specifically, the difference between SaaS vs. On-Premise vs. PaaS, or in this case, it could be in the cloud, but we use on-premise to indicate where you have full control over the application and the code itself.
Episode 4: New Tech vs. Established Tech
In our New Tech vs. Established Tech video, We'll take a quick look at whether or not you should be going with the latest and greatest - the newest technology, or do you go with the tried and true? And, we have a bit of a framework that can help you start to answer those questions.
Episode 5: Mobile eCommerce - Native Apps vs. PWAs
Beyond that, we will go into another part, which is Mobile eCommerce - Native Apps vs. PWAs. It's a little bit of an offshoot, but because mobile is so vitally important to any eCommerce venture. Whether your customers are starting their journey on mobile and finishing on a desktop, or starting on desktop and finishing on mobile, or just doing everything on mobile, you're going to find that it's a big part of the equation. You want to think that through at the beginning. And, we're going to look at just the very high level, but the differences between what's called PWAs (progressive web apps) leveraging responsive web design, which many are probably familiar with, or do you go full on and build a native application using the operating system of the mobile device?
Narrowing Your List of Platforms (03:39)
Hopefully, as you go through this series and go through all these various considerations, it will help you narrow that list of a hundred+ platforms down to a manageable three to five. Let's say, from there, you get into your demos, and you get into really kicking the tires to see what might make the most sense for you.
Emergency Room vs. Paradise Island (4:04)
Okay? So within this first video, we want to talk about how do you even begin? It's interesting, a lot of times when people call us, they either have a system or they're thinking about going to a system. And they tend to fall into two major buckets. There's what I consider to be the "emergency room" where nothing is working the way they hoped, nobody's happy in their organization, their customers are not happy, and they just want help. They don't know if they need to scrap what they've got. Can they fix what they have? Do they need to go to something completely different? The first step there, of course, is to really dive in and see what the real core issues are.
The other scenario we have is what I call paradise island. These are people who have seen what could be. They have a vision of how it often comes together, and their internal ERP systems are going to talk beautifully with their web eCommerce platform, which is going to talk beautifully to the in-store retail POS system. And the customer's 360-degree view is gonna just magically appear. And of course, we've all been working toward that, but the reality is often very, very different.
Core Things and Internal Audits (5:12)
So, we start to dive into what are the core things that the organization is looking for. And then, what are they thinking, let's say a year or two years down the road if everything is working exactly as they hope. So, that's going to help guide the discussion, even before it gets to us.
The ideal scenario is where somebody, the person that's responsible for pulling together these plans, has done an internal audit and inventory, if you will. And I think you can keep this simple. In fact, we'll put a link to a spreadsheet you can use. But it's not that hard. What I want you to do, is put in three or four columns on your spreadsheet.
The first one is your direct users. Who are the people that are going to directly interact with the website? Maybe it's your end consumers. It could be your vendors or your distributors. Maybe it's your sales rep team. Whoever has a direct reason to interface with the website - they go into column one.
Column two is your indirect user base. Maybe this is a call center where the information needs to flow from the platform to another piece of software. This could be your ERP partners. This could be the accounting department. Whoever is in the indirect, you want to list all those stakeholders also.
Then you've got, we can loosely term, the bosses. This could be the executive team. It doesn't really matter. But anyone who has overall budgetary authority over the website, but also a vested interest in how it's going to perform. And what it's going to do for the business and how it fits into the overall business. Because these people have a key stake in that website, even if they're not looking at it on a daily basis or using it on a daily basis.
eCommerce Website Features (7:08)
So once you've got those three big buckets in place, then down here, you're going to list every single feature you could possibly think of that you might want in a platform and who it's relevant for: highly relevant, irrelevant, not applicable, whatever you want to use. But this way, you'll start to get a sense of what the expectations are around the website, around the e-commerce platform, specifically.
Then, once you've got this in hand, of course, you're not going to necessarily share this with everybody - this is a working document. You're going to go sit down with each of these stakeholders and listen. Just listen to the issues that they talk about. You're not looking necessarily for technical solutions; in fact, completely the opposite. You want to hear - what are the frustrations?
Is it that inventory doesn't update when I expect it to on the website, and we're constantly overselling. Or, it's showing inventory that doesn't exist, and we're losing great opportunities to sell more often, right?
Anything you hear, all the business problems, these are what you want to note down, and then get a sense of how big are these. Cause we all have our dream list, but then, if they had to rank the top three things that would help fulfill the business goals and objectives. These are the things we want to understand. And then there's the wish list. Then there's the, okay, now if we could solve these, what would be the next most important thing that would help us get to our overall business goals over the next 1, 2, 3 years.
All the Moving Parts - (08:42)
Once you have that picture, now you have a sense of what everybody is looking for in the website. And it's not just being driven by marketing. It's not just being driven by the IT department, right? Or just by accounting? You're really going to have a business sense of what all the moving parts are because there are going to be necessary trade-offs at the end of the day.
And it could be because there are system limitations within existing ERP, for example. There's going to be security considerations. There's going to be ease of use and who can sustain and support all these features that you're putting into place. So you must have a clear understanding of that.
Now we could start to look at the platforms that exist. And if you have your list of must-haves. Like these, without a doubt, we have to have these features, and the platform doesn't have those features. Or there's not an "easy" way to build that feature or an "appropriate" way to build that feature. Well then, the platform is off the list, right? So there's no reason to pursue it further. So if these are the must-haves, then that goes down (on your list).
You're going to find yourself very quickly narrowing the list into a workable, manageable set of tools. Then, at that point, you go to the next level, which is demos: trying them out, talking to other users, and figuring out not necessarily what it can do. Because almost everybody will tell you it "can do" just about everything, but you want to know what it "can't do" - you really want to dive into the limitations.
For example, if you have a tremendous number of integrations with third-party systems and they're calling, they need to talk to that website constantly and quickly and without delay. Well, you've got to have really strong APIs. You have to have the ability for those applications to talk to each other in a way that's not going to stifle either one or break consistently.
So there are certain platforms that are far more geared to those kinds of integrations than some other platforms, which are maybe more geared to marketing tools or a really easy-to-use content management system. And this is where you're going to start to find the trade-offs.
But as we dive into this, we'll start to highlight where those trade-offs exist and how you may work around them. And sometimes you are going to pull together multiple systems. But always the goal, at least from my perspective, is you want a system that you can grow into. But it's not so big that you're never using more than 5% of it - that that's not worth the bloat either, and that, most importantly, can fall to the background. You don't want the technology to dictate your day. You want to be able to leverage the technology, to grow your business, and to run the day the way you want to.
So often, we get into these situations where it just feels like a constant struggle. You feel like you're always dealing with this technology, and that shouldn't be the case, and in the ideal world, it isn't. We've often seen where with just a little bit of preparation and discipline, the technology can fall to the background, and you can count on it. Just like you can count on getting into your car and, as long as you maintain it, it's going to do what you expect. It's going to get you from A to B, and hopefully, with a little bit of style along the way.
As always, if you have any questions, or if you want to reach out to us to continue this conversation, please reach out to me, Robert Giovannini on LinkedIn. I'm happy to connect, and we're always posting new content. This 5-part eCommerce Tech Series will explore each one of these pieces we've talked about today. And, of course, you can reach out to us to schedule a free consultation if you have more in-depth things you want to talk about. Thank you very much, and I look forward to connecting.
IronPlane is a full-service eCommerce agency specializing in platform design, development, and digital marketing. Our team of certified Adobe Commerce / Magento and BigCommerce developers designs and builds eCommerce solutions balancing client vision and functional requirements with business goals for a concrete return on investment. We have the expertise and resources to manage eCommerce migrations, upgrades, new site builds, custom integrations, managed hosting, and ongoing support. Connect now to schedule a free eCommerce consultation.