5 often overlooked items that set ecommerce platforms apart.

Apr 05 2019 | PayPal editorial staff

Whether you're just starting to think about selling online or looking for ways to scale your business, learn what makes an ecommerce platform the right fit for your online store.
One of the biggest decisions you'll make as an online business is picking the right platform to build and manage your website and online store. Fortunately (and unfortunately), you've got optionsA boom in ecommerce—online sales totaled an estimated $513.6 billion in 2018, a 14% increase from the year prior1—means that dozens of solution providers are ready to help businesses like yours. The million-dollar question is: Which ecommerce platform is the best fit for your business? To help answer that, we'll walk you through some often-overlooked items that set solution providers apart.

Industry and product specializations. 
Look for an ecommerce platform that fits your type of business. Some specialize in helping businesses sell specific types of products, from handmade items to software to electronics. 
Others are tailored to businesses selling
 products vs. services or digital goods vs. physical goods. For example, if you're selling e-books, you'll need an ecommerce platform that allows online shoppers to download materials from your site after submitting payment. If you're selling personalized jewelry, you'll need intuitive product page templates that show off your work and allow shoppers to customize products. Looking at your competitors' websites to see if there's an ecommerce platform they commonly use can help you identify specific options.

Preferred payment methods. 
Giving online shoppers choices at checkout can be the deciding factor in whether they go through with a purchase, so it's a good idea to make sure that your ecommerce platform is compatible with various payment options.
Some ecommerce platforms let you promote consumer financing options like PayPal Credit2, which lets your customers know that they can buy now and pay over time. This can be especially important for converting sales of higher priced items like auto parts or luxury apparel. With PayPal Credit, you get paid up front with no additional cost to you. In fact, a recent study showed that 42% of PayPal Credit users would not have made their most recent purchase if PayPal Credit wasn't offered.3
Choosing an ecommerce platform that includes preferred and commonly used payment methods can help you close more sales. 
 
Compatibility.
Payment processing won't be your only compatibility checkpoint. If you're looking to streamline several areas of your business—social media, email, SEO, inventory management, marketing, accounting, analytics, shipping—into a single location, you'll need to make sure that each solution provider plays nice with your ecommerce platform via an application, plug-in or API. Don't make assumptions; take a look at solution providers' websites and reach out to sales reps with your compatibility questions.

Customization and control.
An important choice you'll have in picking an ecommerce platform—the software or framework you'll use to 
create the front-and back-end of your online store—is whether you want to go with an open-source or software as a service (SaaS) platform. With open-source, you build from scratch exactly what you need or want in an online store. With SaaS, a third party hosts a series of applications and makes them available to you on a subscription basis.
To figure out which is best for you, start by answering the easy question: Do you have extensive coding experience or technical staff? If you do, take a look at open-source platforms. They give you control over the underlying code so you can customize your site to your heart's content. Just keep in mind that an open-source platform comes with greater responsibilities—you'll also need to take care of hosting, security, and software updates, which may require hiring a developer.
If not, SaaS models can provide design, hosting, storefront setup, payment processing, promotions capabilities, security features, and more, all in one solution. Best of all: You don't need to have any coding experience.

Scalability.
If you're selling casually and intend to treat your store as a hobby, you may not need to worry about scalability. But if you want to make your ecommerce business a full-time gig one day, go with a solution provider that can support your business's growth. Specifically, look into inventory capabilities (and pricing), plug-ins, and global expansion.

If you're selling several hundred SKUs, keep in mind that some platforms are priced according to the number of product listings. High volumes of product listings can also slow down some platforms and lead ecommerce websites to return poor search results.
In addition, think about all of the places you'd like to list your products. Many solution providers specialize in scaling business to specific platforms, including social media, marketplaces, and mobile messaging apps. If your goal is to sell globally, make sure your ecommerce platform can help you optimize for different languages, currencies, and tax rates.

A solution that's right for your business.
Ecommerce platforms help businesses like yours get products to market quickly and cost-effectively. In addition to the items above, keep in mind that prices and access to customer service vary widely across platforms depending on the components you piece together to create a streamlined ecommerce experience. Once you're up and running, you'll be ready to reap the rewards of your investment, like less stress, higher sales, and happier customers.

The contents of this site are provided for informational purposes only and are solely our opinions.   The information in this article does not constitute legal, financial, business or investment advice of any kind and is not a substitute for any professional advice. You should always obtain independent, professional accounting, financial, and legal advice before making any business decision. 

1. Source: U.S. Department of Commerce. Quarterly Retail E-commerce Sales 4th Quarter 2018. March 13, 2019.

2. PayPal Credit is subject to consumer credit approval.

3. Online study commissioned by PayPal and conducted by Logica Research in November 2018 involving 2,000 U.S. consumers, half were PayPal Credit users and half were non-PayPal Credit users.