Motivated by the pandemic, retail business has sped up the process of digital transformation. A series of lockdowns and the fear of spreading or contracting the virus has not only changed consumers buying patterns but made it impossible to trade in bricks and mortar stores. Building an ecommerce site has become crucial for every retail business. Moreover, only those who implemented an ecommerce strategy and launched online stores years before Covid-19 have been able to meaningfully grow their businesses during the pandemic. 

By providing consumers with 24*7/365 availability of goods and helping sellers reach the wider market, ecommerce expanded by 46% in 2020 compared to data from 2019, according to the ONS. And in the future, we already know that digital sales will keep growing and strengthening their position in global retail. Well-structured, easy to access ecommerce platforms have been a key factor in this growth. Although you can build your ecommerce website from scratch, an ecommerce platform will definitely make it easier. 

What to consider before choosing an ecommerce platform 

Choosing the most suitable ecommerce solution for your business is one of the most important decisions for you to make, and it’s not an easy one. A well-set up ecommerce website should support your business and secure your company’s scalable, long-term growth, it should be easy to maintain, and cost-effective. With an abundance of options and an entire range of factors to consider, business owners often feel overwhelmed and confused when making this choice. 

Before picking the right platform for your business it’s worth asking yourself: 

  • What are your ecommerce objectives? 
  • How many products do you sell online? 
  • What’s your budget? 
  • What’s your capability, for example: 
  • How much do you know about e-stores? 
  • Are you tech-savvy? 
  • Will you need help setting up your ecommerce business? And finally: 
  • Will you manage your e-shop yourself or rather hire someone else to do that? 

Answering those questions is a good way to establish which ecommerce platform option is more suitable for your business. 

What is an ecommerce platform, and do you really need it? 

Setting up a digital store isn’t the same process as establishing a physical retail business. As it not only requires a set of business skills but also IT knowledge, sellers will have to prepare a proper online strategy before diving into the ecommerce biz. One thing to bear in mind is that a comprehensive ecommerce platform should make it easy for anyone to start their e-store, as it’s nothing more than a software application that supports a business in managing online sales, operations, and marketing activities. 

In simple terms, an ecommerce platform is software that helps you manage your online store. That includes buying and selling products, payments, inventory, and customer service. And yes, you need one to sell online. The only alternatives to this ecommerce solution are either a plugin, considering that you have a website with CMS in place, or building your online store from scratch using 3rd party services if you have time and resources. At this point, the benefit of an ecommerce platform is that it gives you ready-to-use ecommerce solutions. All of that depends on which platform option will you choose. 

As a retailer, you can choose between various type of ecommerce platforms, including open-source platforms or SaaS. The choice should be based on how much control you want to have over your online shop and how much support will you need with its maintenance, based on your tech skills. 

What is a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) ecommerce platform?  

The SaaS platform is a subscription or licensed service, where the user pays for the software, cloud hosting and web security. It’s considered not only a cheaper option than the open-source platform but also a suitable solution for those who aren’t tech-savvy and don’t want to spend too much time developing and maintaining the website. Intuitive interfaces and ready-to-use solutions, like website themes or payment options, make the digital transition very quick and affordable. 

IT support is a huge advantage of SaaS ecommerce. A team of dedicated specialists resolves all the tech issues and help with website maintenance. Within the SaaS platform, you can also keep all the operational services in one place, and they are automated. 

But there is also a downside to the SaaS solution: a lack of flexibility or ownership. As you rent the platform, you might not be able to fully customise your e-shop because most of your website is hard-coded. Before choosing a Saas platform solution it’s also worth checking if a particular service supports integration with any other external software that you’ve been already using to manage the business. 

What is an open-source ecommerce solution?  

Open-source ecommerce solutions give sellers greater flexibility when establishing their online store. Yet, you either must know how to build a website or have IT experts in place to help you out. With an open-source ecommerce platform, you can create a unique online store and you will have full control over its appearance and functionality, but you will also have to take into account factors such as updates or security. It is recommended that you hire a dedicated team to look after the technical side of your e-store. Many open-source platforms have a free version, but overall maintenance costs are higher when choosing open-source over a SaaS solution. 

Open-source gives you full control over the integration process, but to integrate solutions like PCI Compliance, your website will not only have to meet certain standards, but you will also have to pay for the integration, whereas when using the SaaS platform, it will already be included in the subscription fee. So, in a nutshell, the open-source package comes with more flexibility yet more responsibilities and requires significant financial outlays. 

The decision is yours… 

To summarise, for those who aren’t tech-savvy and would like to expand online without worrying about the technical side of the ecommerce platform, the SaaS platform seems to be the most sensible choice as most of its costs are already included in the subscription plan and can be adjusted on the go. Retailers going for this solution will have to live with a lack of choice when it comes to choosing the unique appearance of their store or customised features. Those with a bigger budget, who want to have more flexibility to choose the appearance of their online store and plan to grow should consider an open-source platform. 

This business choice isn’t easy and there is a lot to think about before picking the right solution. No matter which ecommerce solution you go for, it must work for your business and make digital transformation a smooth process for you. Making this decision based on what your business needs and what your future goals are, is the best approach. 

About the author

Weronika Kuzior

Weronika Kuzior

Business Researcher