Choosing the right ecommerce platform for your microbusiness

This is a guest post by Steven Chappell.

No one can deny that the Internet has radically changed the way we do business in this technological era, and practically every business today from the small company to the huge enterprise recognize and utilize this powerful medium to sell their products and services.

The influence that the world wide web has had on economy in recent years is incredible. According to The IMRG Capgemini E-retail Sales Index, over £46 billion was spent online in 2007, with around £15 billion of that amount during the holiday season alone (Nov 1 to Dec 31), marking a 19% increase over the previous year.

This growth of online spending makes it crucial for you to choose the right e-commerce platform for your business in order to have a competitive site for your customers. There are many different platforms available at varying prices, but the choice can be a little bit overwhelming for the inexperienced.

Some of the most important features of any platform that have to be considered are, security, scalability, reliability, and support. When choosing an e-commerce platform it is vital that you take these aspects into account as you not only want to make it as easy as possible to accept payments from your customers, but you want them to feel assured in the knowledge that their transactions are completely secure. It is also important to evaluate the different costs associated with each platform.

Let’s consider three e-commerce platforms that are well established, and how you might decide which one is best for your business.

Open Source Ecommerce Options

With open source options you have amazing flexibility at your disposal, as you are not restricted to the limitations of the code as you are with proprietary software. An open source shopping cart can be compared to a custom built car, in other words, it can be designed to suite your needs and preferences.

Some examples of the best open source shopping cart solutions are, Prestashop, Opencart, Cubecart, and Zencart. These are robust, professional, and powerful e-commerce solutions that offer great flexibility.

However, although open source software is free, it does not come without any expense. In order to obtain the flexibility and customization that many prefer, open source solutions have to be built from scratch, which can take much time and effort. Another factor to consider is installation. Many open source shopping cart solutions can be incredibly difficult to install and use, unless you have a degree in IT.

Another thing to consider with open source solutions is that there are no free upgrades and no support. The lack of support may well be the determining factor as to whether you chose the open source option or not.

Finally, any company that accepts, processes, or stores credit card information needs to comply with the standards set by the Payment Card Industry. That being the case, you will need to submit your site to a PCI scan four times a year in order to remain PCI compliant. This process can be expensive and time consuming resulting in your annual costs being thousands of dollars.

Hosted E-commerce Solutions

The advantages of a hosted solution are many, eliminating a lot of the headaches associated with some open source solutions. There is no installation or administration required on the part of the business owner, you don’t need to know how to resolve security issues, how to install patches or a myriad of other technical operations that most business owners would rather not have to deal with, allowing you to focus your energies on your business without being distracted by the technical aspects of it.

A hosted solution ensures quick implementation and turn around. You get scalability, reliability, security, 24/7 monitoring, full support, regular and automatic free upgrades, a maintenance free environment, easy data management accessible from anywhere in the world and a generally more robust system.

Some of the best hosted e-commerce solutions available today are, Internet retailer, Pinnaclecart, Ekmpowershop, and Volution. Prices vary between $30 and $70, so it is a good idea to take your time and choose the hosted platform that best suits your business. When choosing a hosted solution, be sure that your provider is CISP certified and on Visa’s approved list in order to avoid any risk associated with non-compliant solutions.

In summary, a hosted solution is perfect for most small to medium size businesses, without having to invest in their own IT departments. It can also prove to be the cheaper, easier, and least risky solution for your business.

Licensed Ecommerce Solutions

Licensed solutions can be a blend of both open source and hosted solutions in the one package.
As with open source options, many licensed solutions offer great flexibility, allowing you to modify and customize the system to suit your needs. The ability to integrate third party solutions as your business grows can prove to be very useful in a competitive market.

A licensed shopping cart is portable, giving you the ability to host it where you like, and move it if you want. The expense of a licensed solution depends on the amount of features and support you require. Overall the cost is less than a hosted solution, although the initial start-up cost is higher.

One aspect that may hold you back is that it does require some skills to install a licensed cart and integrate it with your website. However, if you are a web designer or you have a web designer who builds and maintains your website, then installing the licensed cart will be no problem.

Some licensed solutions that you could consider are, Purenet, Openmindcommerce, and Xcart. Prices can vary between $200 and $600, so once again, consider the needs for your business.

In conclusion, when it comes to deciding what e-commerce platform you will chose for your business, consider all your options carefully. Work in line with your budget, and choose the platform that best suits your needs. Write down the features that are most important to you. Search online for testimonials for any given solution. This will help you to make sure that you choose the right e-commerce platform for your business.

Steven Chappell is an Internet Marketer from the North East of England. He is an owner of MyInternetBusiness and writes about various marketing strategies on the MyInternetBusiness blog. He is also a member of the Mentors 4 U team, dedicated to using cutting-edge marketing technologies and helping people to become skilled Internet marketers.