E-commerce for small business


24th July, 2019

How to choose the right e-commerce platform for your small business

Whether you’re selling frocks or furniture, if you want to sell online then chances are you’ll need an e-commerce platform to help you do it. Here’s what you should look out for.

At this stage, any business that sells products, offers services or simply thinks it spies retail opportunity has little reason not to dip a toe into the e-commerce ocean.

No physical premises required, no intimidating startup costs, and little risk involved – just start setting up some listings and see how things play out. Worst-case scenario: it’s a flop, but you don’t lose much.

It’s a great time to be in e-commerce. Firstly because of the overwhelming adoption of online shopping by the general population, but also because modern e-commerce platforms have made some significant advancements in recent years that makes getting set up cheaper and easier than ever.

Using smart software has become a transformative force, taking most of the work out online retail. But, that’s only if you use the right software.

The truth is, not all e-commerce platforms are equal. If you’re going to succeed, you need to pick the e-commerce tools that are right for your small business.

How will you get it right? Start with the following guide.

1.  Prioritise cross-system integration

The first thing to think about is your existing software suite, or ‘stack’ and how a new e-commerce platform might integrate with it.

Software integration should be a primary concern, particularly in the age of automation. That’s because data needs to flow seamlessly between all the various tools you use in order to remove the need for human influence (and associated error).

This may require you to think not only about the software you’re using, but also the hardware and how it’s used in your situation.

For example, a hospitality retailer maintaining a café shopfront that also sells niche coffee products online may consider the following tech stack:

This small business owner wouldn’t want to manually process every item sold from inventory to POS or out through their e-commerce platform, so they either need a software package that can handle as many of these elements at possible or create a stack of systems they integrate themselves.

READ: Why point-of-sale systems are a café owner’s best friend

In short, you’re looking to add to your overall operation, and your e-commerce toolkit won’t function in a vacuum.

2.  Balance current and prospective needs

Picking the right software is a delicate matter, and it requires you to take a pragmatic, long-term view.

If you go solely by your current needs, then almost any tool will be sufficiently powerful, and you’ll want whatever’s easiest to use. But if you achieve enough success to scale up, you might find that your choice is no longer adequate.

Alternatively, if you get too fixated on what you’ll need when your business reaches the level you expect it to reach, you can waste money on software far more complex than you require — and that added cost may even damage your chances of growing your business to that point.

In the end, you want something simple enough to start with while still giving you the potential to grow.

This is particularly vital for your content management system (CMS), because it will serve as the hub for your operation and migrating from platform to platform is always an awkward process.

READ: How to create a website for your small business in 2019

It’s better to stick with one platform for the duration of the store.

For the average seller, I suggest using the Shopify store builder — the Shopify cloud platform scales well with multiple pricing tiers, and it’s fairly intuitive. Alternatively, there’s the WordPress route, which entails extending a standard installation with an e-commerce plugin (WooCommerce isn’t the only option) and you’ll have a solid, low-cost setup.

3.  Consider relevant long-term costs

Cost is the first thing most businesses look at when considering the software they need to pick up, and that’s sensible enough.

The problem is that keeping costs low isn’t as simple as picking whichever tier has the lowest price. This is due to a variety of things, including pricing structures changing over time, different tiers being more expensive, and attractive introductory rates only lasting for a short while. But that’s not all, because you also must consider training costs.

There are plenty of intuitive tools that can easily be picked up quickly, but there are just as many programs with a lot of power and functionality but confusing and idiosyncratic user interfaces. If you opt for something from the latter group, it may be the best option for your business in the long run, but you will need to factor in the required learning curve.

READ: 5 often-overlooked costs of starting a business

How important is a given type of tool to the overall course of your e-commerce business? If your brand has a strong visual identity, you might want to invest in a top-notch tool for creating product marketing materials. Given the value of your time, you might otherwise end up spending more on doing things manually.

Costs are complicated – don’t rush when figuring them out.

4.  Determine the level of support needed

With software (particularly SaaS), you’re not generally paying simply for the utility itself – you’re also paying for some level of support from the developer.

Sometimes the support offered is extremely basic (if you email them, they’ll get back to you, but not within a set amount of time), and sometimes it’s broad and high-priority (you can email, use live chat, or call, and you’ll get a reply within 24 hours or a comparable period of time).

This is reasonably important for any type of business, but it’s even more so for e-commerce.

The bigger your store gets, the more damaging even a brief interruption to functionality will be. In the event that your store goes down, you’ll need to have some way of taking action, which is where support from your CMS provider enters the equation (be sure to read a lot of comparisons, and search for support testimonials to see what people say).

You should also look at community support. For any given piece of software, check to see if there’s a user forum (official or unofficial), and search on Reddit and Twitter to see if there are any experts worth following.

You can achieve a great deal by seeking support from a user community, and it can make up for a limited official support system – just remember that it won’t be something you can rely on in an emergency.

To recap, then, here’s what you need to do: look for software that will fit neatly with your existing systems, suit your current needs and be viable for the future, think carefully about long-term costs, and factor in the immense value of a strong support system.

No matter which tool in you’re looking for, this process will help you decide.

Want to know how you can build your e-commerce tech stack with MYOB? We work with over 300 add-on apps and software suppliers to cover every possible business need. Browse our full list of add-on suppliers and integrators today.