From Click to Ship: A Detailed Dive into Ecommerce Platforms



I have been surrounded by fashion entrepreneurs for well over a decade now.  I have noticed that the key driving force that motivates them is a dream. In order to make that dream a reality, it takes hard work and constant focus on the goal at hand. As my teacher once said, “A yard seems hard but inch by inch is a cinch!” Whether you are starting an online boutique or fashion brand, there are many different elements (and emotions) that come to play. Eagerness to get to the next step is important, but throughout the years I have learned that the key to keeping your “roller coaster” of emotions in check and on track, is to have a clear vision of your business goals and a relentless understanding of all the details it takes to run your business — especially in today’s digital retail reality.
The Devil is in the Details
In today’s digital reality, the ability to access information and have access to goods and services is infinite. Customers are able to demand what they want, when they want, from anywhere, all in seconds with a couple of clicks. Technology has changed the way buyers and sellers interact with each other forever. Understanding this reality is important for retailers today. Retailers have to make sure they account for a customer online and offer the best possible user experience to that same customer. Setting up your branded site with seamless functionality is standard and detail is critical. If a retailer “cuts corners” on the details to save money or time, it will come back to haunt them in the long run and ultimately cost the brand more money.
From “Click to Ship”
The customer exists in 2 realities – real life and online. Businesses, now more than ever, need to account for both the customer at a physical retail location, and the customer online. This is critical for doing business in the 21st century. Today, the key for selling online (Ecommerce Retailing) is to have an ecommerce platform in place where you, the business, are able to meet the customers needs, “anywhere and everywhere.” To do so, there are critical steps to be considered for those starting out (small brands), for those selling other brand’s products (multi-brand boutiques), for those looking to grow (small brand goes big) and for those looking to maintain (Big-Brand-Been-Here-For-A-While). I have laid out some key points that should be considered when choosing an Ecommerce Platform, respective to your current business status and future business goals.
There are 2 types of platforms you will have to choose from for your business:
Opens Source Self Hosted Ecommerce and Hosted Ecommerce Solutions
With an open source platform, you are building a customized site exactly how you want it. It is important to hire a great developer at this stage because that person or team is responsible for your site running properly. With an open source hosted site, you are essentially purchasing the licensing software to run the site and have free range to design a website with no limitations. SSL Certification (security), storage and bandwidth are something that you must take care of separately. Although this way might take longer, it will give you the flexibility to create a custom site suitable for your needs, and the ability to redesign or move hosting if necessary — according to growth and your company’s life cycle.
Companies that offer an open source platform: Magento,LemonStandMiva MerchantosCommerce
hosted platform is a site that already has a built in infrastructure where all you have to do is make adjustments and buy add-ins (apps) along the way.  Hosted sites come with a list of templates to customize the look of your store — the code for the site can also be adjusted slightly by a developer if need be. It also can be a great solution if you need to get your business up and running quickly. Storage, bandwidth and SSL Certificate are included in the pricing and truly are an all-in-one solution. Hosted platforms work on a pay per month system with additional fees depending on storage space, transaction fees and additional plug-ins like payment systems, SEO marketing and more. If you are a small to mid-level brand, a hosted platform will allow you to scale in order to have room to grow into a much larger business.
Companies that offer a hosted solution platform: Shopify,BigcommerceVolusionBig Cartel
So which company are you? SMB Market (small-mid business) or big business market (BB)?
Having worked with different ecommerce platforms in the past, one of the lessons that has come up is making sure the platform you choose is exactly what you need (and can handle) for the size and goals of your business. Your goal is to have the ability to distribute the “heart” of your business effectively, exceed their expectations and have them turn into repeat customers. If you are a small business, you are slowly discovering who that customer is and what needs they want met (the heart). If you are a big business, you have a loyal customer base and following, presence in the market and a multichannel business set up (offering customers more than one way to buy “brick, click and flip” services).
That being said, finding the right ecommerce solution is not a simple one. There are many platforms to choose from, each offering a great array of services. To illustrate, I have narrowed the SMB and BB ecommerce needs down to the 2 top ecommerce platforms — which one you choose depends on the size of your business: Magento and Shopify.
(Companies using platform include Ford Motors, Samsung and Toms):
Magento is an open source platform that is completely customizable with serious web development. Aimed at larger ecommerce sites, it offers powerful reporting features and can be integrated into important areas of your business like stock control and accounting. They offer 2 versions of their software — Community Software and Enterprise Software, which is for even larger — you guessed it, enterprises. There is a community forum where users and developers offer advice and plug-ins; however, Magento offers no support, so a development team is necessary.  Without the right team of developers, Magento might be too complex and potentially complicate the running of your site. To make the right decision, you will have to ask yourself what you really need for your business and what is most cost effective. Ultimately, a great site is one with optimal user experience, so keep that in mind before you get caught up with the bells and whistles. Magento is a great site with complete flexibility, but it requires a team, time and a good amount of money upfront to get your site up and running.
In general, before committing to any platform, there are important questions every business owner should ask themselves, which I have included here for you.
“How much capital do I have?”
(How much has been budgeted for the development of your e-commerce?)
Magento has two options for business solutions.
– Magento Community is open source software that can be downloaded for free.
– Magento Enterprise starts at a minimum of $15,000
“Am I able to set aside a budget to employ a developer dedicated to my site customization?”
Magento does not come with support, so if there is an issue with functionality, your developer or team of developers are the ones to call. There is a huge pool of Magento developers and agencies out there dedicated to user experience design, so there will not be a problem finding one. However, it is important to point out that the relationship you have with your team is an important one. Like an artist, they are creating, and in creation, the vision and passion has to be shared along with a great mutual understanding of your brand. Everyone must see eye-to-eye in the vision and messaging of your brand for the site — if not, it will take a lot longer than expected to launch.
“What is my timeline like? Do I see this as a long term investment for growth, or a short term quick sell?”
A lot of factors go into this question like the intricacy of your site, functionality and special features. Ultimately, Magento is for a large established business (average $1m/yr in sales) and one that is definitely on solid ground for a long-term investment.
“Content Management Systems — How much content/product will I have on the site? What organizational tools will best suit those needs?”
This question also depends on whether you sell specifically online or if your ecommerce space is an extension of your freestanding brick & mortar spaces. With Magento, you can have as little or as many products to sell on your site. Since it is an open source platform, you can create a custom CMS system that is easy to use, giving you the ability to create, track content, and integrate inventory tracking combining both your free standing space and online site. This is a developer’s platform, so the possibilities are endless.
“Customer Relationship Manager — How will I be tracking sales, analytics, marketing and SEO?”
Magento offers a great amount of plug-ins or third-party integrations to build onto your site such as email and social media marketing, some of which are free. Being able to analyze data is essential to a successful business. With these tools a company is able to make quick decisions on better strategies, improve customer relationships and scale on inventory, which allows for lower costs and competitive pricing.
Overall topics to be aware of:
– Customer Fulfillment amd Checkout Page (will you be selling overseas) — There are many plug-ins to choose from to create a foundation that your developer can customize and build upon.
– Fraud Protection/ Security and Encryption Tools (PCI) — Magento does offer plug-ins for an additional fee, but, ultimately, your team will need to program or install what will work best on your site.

– Mobile Compatibility — Yes
– CC fees and Monthly Payments — No
– Plug-Ins and Apps — Definitely
– System Integrations — Yes
– Support — No
Recommendation for SMB and Big Business:
SMB – Not recommended as a starter website. Although the basic Magento software is downloadable for free, the amount of money you will spend on hiring developers, paying for plug-ins, hosting and security on your site will surpass what you could potentially pay for in a hosted site that is all-inclusive. Your time and money cannot be tied to just the building of your website, focus on the big picture.
BB — The ability to create a seamless site for your brand with no restrictions is every business owners dream. With Magento, you are able to grow and transform your site throughout the life and evolution of your company with ease. The team you hire is crucial to your site, so look for developers with experience on ecommerce business that can give you advice and have a solid track record.
Now on to our next platform,
(Companies include Bliss and Amnesty International):
Shopify is rated as the top platform for the small to mid level business. It is a hosted ecommerce platform, which means the essentials to an online business such as hosting, payment gateways, security, bandwidth and storage are all included. Within hours you can pick one of the many dozen themes, upload product and have a fully functioning site. If starting your ecommerce site is an extension of your original free standing business, Shopify now offers Point of Sale integration where you can run both stores through the same system. Shopify has an abundance of features you can add to your site, allowing you to focus on the other aspects of your growing business. Any troubleshooting questions can be answered 24/7 and if you want to learn every aspect of growing a business, as a true entrepreneur should, Shopify has an eCommerce University were they offer a vast selection of educational services on many topics from SEO, business law, marketing, to succeeding in the market place.
And now onto our first question.
“How much capital do I have?”
(How much has been budgeted for the development of your e-commerce?)
Shopify can charge on a month-to-month basis, upfront for a 1 year contract (10 percent discount) or 2 years upfront (20 percent discount). There are different monthly payment plans depending on your needs, whether you are selling online, instore or both. Minimum payments are as low as $14 per month for a starter plan, and if you sign up for their Shopify Payments credit card processing system, transaction fees are waived. Here is more information on pricing:
“Am I able to set aside a budget to employ a developer dedicated to my site customization?”
Shopify uses independent designers to create its themes and the selection is always growing. With free to premium themes to choose from ranging from $80-to-$180, the need to hire a full time developer is no longer necessary. You can easily customize your own theme with or without an in depth knowledge of web design.
“What is my timeline like? Do I see this as a long term investment for growth, or a short term quick sell?”
Shopify can serve both purposes for you in this question depending on your timeline and growth span. If you need an easy, good-looking site quickly, you can have it ready in a couple hours if need be. If you are investing in a long-term business, it is an amazing platform where you can learn about your customer and what areas need improvement or expansion. With attractive modern themes readily available, you will give off a great first impression with an optimized customer experience. Your easy to navigate site, which also allows for customer reviews, will definitely aid in customer retention. Also, with built-in analytics, you are able to track your progress and make decisions for a long-term investment.
“Content Management Systems — How much content/product will I have on the site? What organizational tools will best suit those needs.”
Part of the beauty of having a hosted site is the freedom you have to make changes when necessary. Shopify makes it easy to import product through a CSV format from your spreadsheets. It also lets you drag and drop the order of your product in the store for ideal merchandising. You can track sales and inventory easily, which is one of the most important functions of your business. Not being able to properly make an order fulfillment can truly hurt your brand, especially for a new ecommerce site. Reputation is key, and being organized from the beginning will save any headaches, time & money in the future. Shopify now offers its own POS system that allows you to track inventory and sales from both your freestanding and online store. It’s the ideal solution for brands who also want to try out a Popup space.
“Customer Relationship Manager — How will I be tracking sales, analytics, marketing & SEO?”
Shopify offers built in SEO & analytics features where you can choose from about 67 social media apps and 148 marketing apps (numbers keep growing), some at an additional cost. Shopify can also fully integrate with Google Analytics in order to create the best strategies for your market.
Overall topics to be aware of:
– Customer Fulfillment and Checkout page (will you be selling overseas) — Shopify offers Shopify Payments, an in house credit card processor which will lift transaction fees, and if you want to add a second cc processor like Paypal, its free. If you already have one in place, Shopify is compatible with over 50 gateways, allowing you to get orders from around the world. The downside for some might be the lack of a one-page checkout. Shopify redirects the shopper to its domain page, which at the moment, cannot be customized. It can also easily connect with warehouse fulfillment services.
– Fraud Protection/ Security and Encryption Tools (PCI) — Built in, Level 1 PCI compliant and the shopping cart also includes an SSL certificate that uses (industry standard) 128 bit encryption technology.
– Mobile Compatibility — Yes. Shopify offers free built in mobile ecommerce features.
– CC fees and Monthly Payments – 2.9 percent + 30 cents (same as Paypal) down to 2.25 pecent + 30 cents depending on your plan and whether you will be selling online, in-store or both.  Also, there are no transaction fees if you use their payment processor.
– Plug-Ins and Apps — There are a ton of apps to choose from with topics such as marketing, SEO, reporting and more. Not all of them are free, so if you get “app happy,” get ready to see those charges add up.
– System Integrations — Also many to choose from.
– Support— Support will come from many directions using Shopify. There is a 24/7-customer service line, live chat, email and a customer forum.
Recommendation for SMB and BB:
SMB — The perfect solution. From themes to apps, to support, this is the all in one smart choice. Their dedication to making sure you are knowledgeable and also profitable is apparent as they are constantly improving and adding new features. Shopify will give you the freedom to explore the different avenues of expanding and growing your business without being stuck in troubleshooting or chasing down a developer.
BB — Unlimited bandwidth is a plus, but Shopify is limited on how they handle product variations (Ex. 1 ring, 3 different metals and prices) with their POS system, which could affect inventory and tracking for large businesses. Also, not being able to fully customize a one page checkout and custom checkout URL might be a deal breaker for an established business.
When choosing the right ecommerce platform do not forget to have the customer experience in mind. Don’t get stuck on what a platform can offer, or the technology of a platform. Your main objective is an ideal user experience design that is cost effective. Focus your attention on strategies to build your growing online market because new software is “new today and old tomorrow.” It is important to know what your options are so you do not end up spending more due to lost sales and poor functionality. Your shopping experience must run smoothly from “click to ship.” Being cost effective is smart but do not cut corners on a cheaper platform that will end up hurting you in the long run. I would suggest doing your research on what is out there, testing out their free trials and making an educated decision on what will work best for you.
Now go out there and sell!



Reprinted by permission.

Image credit: CC by Shopify

About the author: Aliana Galan

Aliana Galan is the Senior Account Manager at The Lionesque Group.

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