Pedalling backwards: choosing the wrong e-commerce platform

Here's why it's important to select an e-commerce platform that makes sense for both your business and its customers.

According to a recent report by Forrester, 6 out of 10 companies are not happy with their current platform and are hence looking to migrate.

How do so many companies end up choosing a platform not suitable for their business?

Every e-commerce company desires a feature-rich, scalable and intuitive platform. They realise that a robust e-commerce platform will empower their teams to provide modern customer experience, increase internal productivity and ultimately help them reach sales targets.

However, companies often succumb to the deceptive sales tactics of e-commerce platform vendors. This is because platform evaluation is difficult and if due attention is not shown to the assessment. Likewise, without an understanding of intricate features and functionality, businesses can end up with an unfit solution that doesn’t meet their needs - nor their customers - for years to come.

It’s no secret that platform decisions are made through shady internal negotiations between platform sales folk and business owners/IT teams. Sales reps are always trying to woo clients with discounts and complimentary offerings to close deals, even though a platform may lack significant core features and functionality.

It’s like a salesperson telling you that they can give you 100 apples for $1, but then revealing that you cannot eat the apples without buying 500 mangoes for $1000.

Platform providers are clever, their pitches are meant to be intriguing, with use cases tailored to your specific requirements - leading you to believe that the platform is capable of everything. In reality, that’s not the case.

Making platform decisions, based on price discounts and makeshift product demos can result in serious consequences, and businesses will be left pedalling backwards from a hefty – and potentially wasted – investment.

Four things to consider when evaluating e-commerce platforms

Avoid falling into the “price” and the “wow” factor trap. There are platforms out there that are deceiving, they may have a lot of capabilities, but are they right for your line of business? That’s often the catch.

Some platform vendors will tell you that a certain capability you need does not exist natively, but it can be achieved through a minor ‘configuration’ — this is common, deceptive, terminology used by platform vendors.

A ‘configuration’ can sometimes mean ‘not possible’ in their language. Next time you hear ‘configuration’ - ask what exactly they mean by that, do they mean enabling/disabling a certain feature through their backend interfaces? Or, is it as complex as developing a completely new custom module? In either case, you should ask to see it working before signing on the dotted line. Why not go a step further and ask them to provide a proof of concept to gain assurance that the platform can really do what you want.

Based on this, here are five things e-commerce platforms need to do, to meet your needs.

1. Supports multiple commerce models

Gone are the days where companies used e-commerce platforms as a single entity, enabling end-to-end customer experience.

Businesses want to leverage their existing enterprise systems for core business functions like content management, marketing etc. and use e-commerce platforms for ordering capabilities.

Clients need to understand and evaluate whether the platform under consideration is capable of supporting models like headless commerce and micro-service etc. Investing in such platforms might be beneficial in the long run and stretch your investment whilst delivering a better CX.

2. Enables experience driven commerce

Thriving in the e-commerce space requires foresight, and the ability to predict customer experience trends – this means you need to look at a platform that is futureproof.

Even though the platform may not immediately support cutting edge next-gen technologies, a solid product roadmap is a good indicator.

At the same time, platforms should also be capable of integrating with other platforms seamlessly. This will allow your e-commerce solution to scale over time - whilst making sure they play well with others.

3. Built for all business models 

Today, you’re a B2C provider, but down the line you might focus on B2B or even have a marketplace business.

Your platform evaluation process should include a checklist about supported business models in the platform – i.e. if you needed to switch, could you?

4. Supports a rich feature set & has unlimited scalability

Honestly, “there is no complete e-commerce platform”. However, the expectation that the platform has modern capabilities and can support hassle-free customisation without depending on third party solutions, is reasonable.

While you can ask specifically for vendors to demonstrate customisation capabilities, make sure no more than 5–10% of your platform requires customisation.

5. Trust practical application

Word of mouth is a good start, but seeing live examples and understanding how they apply to your business is integral. Looking at live examples also gives you clues about how not to implement. 

There are businesses out there who have done or are doing things presuming it’s the right way with the wrong platform holding them back – this exposes flaws when you look below the surface. These flaws give you clues about what your business needs and what good implementation looks like.

Wrapping up

When trying to find a platform, learn from your mistakes. Show an eye for detail when considering; the feature set you need for your business and your customers, support for future e-commerce trends, and the business models the platforms supports. Then base your decision on practical examples not crafty sales techniques.

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