E-commerce is undeniably huge, with online spending hitting $5 billion in a single day on Black Friday 2017, and 96% of Americans making online purchases regularly. 80% of them have shopped online in the past month alone, and millennials now do the majority of their online shopping.
As a general rule, we can define an e-commerce platform as any type of website software that allows you to sell products to customers via the Internet. Most e-commerce platforms work similarly to content management systems (CMSs) like WordPress, enabling website owners to add and modify products and categories and to track sales from the website’s dashboard.
Now that we have that definition of an e-commerce platform in mind, we can crack on with taking a look at just a few of the basics that you’ll need to know before you get started with e-commerce. Let’s go ahead.
Types of E-commerce Platforms
Because e-commerce is such a lucrative industry, there’s no shortage of providers out there who can help you make money selling products online. The real challenge is identifying which platform is the best solution for you. Just a few of the most common e-commerce platforms include:
Magento is one of the most popular e-commerce platforms, with a grip on 11% of the market. It’s famous for a good reason – thanks to the proliferation of themes, it’s easy for you to design a professional-looking store in minutes.
This solution is Magneto’s big competitor, and while it is a little younger, it’s quickly established a solid reputation. It’s a particularly popular choice for people who want a fast solution that doesn’t put the server under too much strain.
- Zen Cart
This solution is built with MySQL and PHP, languages that most developers are already familiar with. There’s also a massive library of third-party plugins that you can tap into for added functionality.
This one is one of the most accessible solutions for you to get started with. It’s most notable for its large community including its huge support forum and the full availability of third-party themes and plugins.
The Benefits of Cloud-Based vs Self-Hosted
Self-hosted e-commerce websites are typically installed on either shared or VPS hosting and basically mean that the company itself is responsible for hosting the company via a hosting provider of their choice. Some companies even host websites internally via their own servers, although this is more common amongst the financial and healthcare industries where regulations require a certain amount of server security.
Cloud-hosted e-commerce sites are necessarily the next step up, relying on the power of the cloud to ensure that the website performs at its best at all times. Unlike self-hosted e-commerce stores, cloud-hosted stores are distributed across the cloud so that if one server goes down, the site will keep running. And if you start to run out of storage space and processing power, cloud hosting makes it easy for you to upgrade your setup, too.
Both approaches have their pros and cons, but cloud-hosted e-commerce is generally the best setup to go for if you’re just getting started and you want a versatile hosting plan that can grow with you as your business grows. Some cloud hosting providers even offer ready-to-go e-commerce packages and other bonuses like one-click installers, so feel free to shop around before you make a commitment.
Important E-commerce Platform Features
Different e-commerce platforms come with various features, and the platform that you choose will depend upon which of these features you’re looking for. Just a few of the most common features include:
- SEO Tools
Search engine optimization (SEO) is all about helping you to get found on search engines. Some e-commerce providers bundle in SEO tools to help their users build websites that people are more likely to find.
- Inventory Management
If your e-commerce tool doesn’t include any built-in inventory management tools, then you’re going to find yourself juggling multiple systems with different data points.
- Security Features
Different tools offer different levels of security. Security is always crucial for e-commerce managers, but some industries require more advanced security than others.
We’ve just scratched the surface of the features that e-commerce providers typically offer. If you’re looking for something that isn’t on this list, shop around and see what you can find!
Now that you know just the basics of working with e-commerce platforms, you’re ready to start learning some of the most advanced elements of e-commerce and put your dream of making money online into practice.
Remember that simply setting up an e-commerce store will only get you so far, and you’ll also need to think about everything from marketing to inventory management and more. You can solve some of those problems and remain scalable by setting up a dropshipping company, but that creates an entirely new set of issues and challenges.
Still, with the information that we’ve shared in this article, you should be off to a good start, and the good news is that you can pick up most of what you need to know on the job. Just remember that every day is a learning experience and that you’ll never know everything there is to know about running an e-commerce store. Luckily for all of us, that helps to level the playing field. Good luck.
From 2017 as a CTO at Magento development company Zfort Group, Andrew concentrates on growing our customers’ online businesses. Being a CTO Andrew doesn’t give up programming himself because it is critical for some of the projects Andrew curates as a CTO. From various kinds of IT hobbies, Andrew prefers data science-related stuff.