If you’re reading this, you’re probably all too aware of the dazzling array of eCommerce software solutions on offer to small businesses.
While you realize the need to invest in this technology, the language used to sell it is confusing and the thought of making an expensive mistake is intimidating. But customers are unforgiving of clunky sites and slow delivery times.
Luckily, once you get past the technical language, the solutions themselves are not that hard to understand.
We’ll walk through the main eCommerce solutions for small businesses, providing you with a guide that will help raise your eCommerce game.
What is an eCommerce Solution?
Simply put: An eCommerce solution is a piece (or several pieces) of software that allows you to sell products online.
Behind this deceptively simple definition lies a complex and involved world of platforms, packages, stacks, and kits. We’ll get into the details of this later on, but for now, it’s helpful to think of online retailing as having two main parts:
- The part that the customer sees – Your site, mobile app, etc. This is sometimes referred to as your storefront or the frontend.
- The behind-the-scenes plumbing that makes your site function (the payment processing, catalog record keeping, etc. Often this is called the backend).
An eCommerce solution is the totality of these behind-the-scenes, backend processes.
These backend functions can be further broken down:
- The services that facilitate on-site eCommerce (cart, payment, etc).
- The services that deal with the logistics of goods delivery (order management, routing, shipping, restocking, etc).
Just as the companies selling their products online range from giants like Home Depot and Target, to sole traders selling their homemade products through a Wix site, eCommerce solutions range in scale and scope.
All of the following can be considered eCommerce solutions:
- Plugins – Many small-scale merchants (and some larger ones) use a plugin like WooCommerce (built for WordPress sites). It will provide you with basic functions like secure payments and some shipping options for free, plus premium features as add-ons. It can be added easily to your site and is a good solution if you want to get up and running quickly.
- Online Shop Provider – From Shopify to Shopware and WordPress to Wix, there are plenty of ways to get your online store up and running quickly. These platforms provide an easily accessible entry point to the world of eCommerce, and have become incredibly popular due to their low bar for technical know-how. You can easily move around and swap out content until you and your customers are happy. These quick online stores are great to get you up and running, but will not provide you with all the shipping, order management, inventory, and administration functionality you will need if you’re serious about scaling an eCommerce business. Once you’re out of the starting blocks you’ll need to complement your online store with more advanced software.
- ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) – If you’re looking to scale significantly you might need something a bit more advanced than a simple plugin to handle payment processing. eCommerce solutions don’t just facilitate onsite order processing, their remit extends to order management, inventory management, and making decisions about which fulfillment centers to ship goods from. Good ERP software can automate many of these processes – saving you time and money.
eCommerce vs eCommerce Solution: How Do The Two Work Together?
eCommerce is the general term given to any activity that involves buying or selling over the internet.
An eCommerce solution is a tool or set of tools that will help an online store achieve its goals, scale, and advance its brand, the less you use the leaner will be your work and scalability. For example, if you’re planning an advertising campaign that will bring you 10x the amount of site visitors each month, you’ll need an eCommerce solution that can handle the increase in volume and will stop your site from crashing under the weight of traffic.
An eCommerce solution will also help you sell across different channels and marketplaces. If you have a website and mobile app but also sell through Amazon, a solution that gathers all your sales and inventory data together in one place vastly reduces the time you have to spend keeping track of them.
Why Are eCommerce Solutions for Small Businesses Necessary?
Even solopreneurs with a DIY website need some kind of eCommerce solution to be able to sell goods through their site and keep track of where, when, and how many products they are getting through.
If you’re a small business that’s expanding fast, you’ll have likely noticed that trying to keep track of your inventory using a patchwork of spreadsheets is a surefire way to drive yourself mad, but won’t help you achieve your business ambitions.
Small Business Pain Points
Running a small business has never been easy, and running one in today’s multichannel, multi-marketplace environment can be harder than ever. Operating in several different places online, and maybe with a physical store too, generates a huge amount of data. Keeping track of it all can be a problem.
And then there’s the problem of getting set up online in the first place. You want to show your best face to the world with an immaculately designed, fast, and responsive site that’s also optimized for mobile, but you don’t have the budget to hire a team of frontend developers to create it for you. How do you make sure your store looks and feels fit for purpose without breaking the bank?
Some common issues are:
- Creating unique customer experiences – You need a frontend that can provide memorable and consistent experiences to your customers, whether that’s on your desktop site, on mobile, on social media, or via email retargeting. Getting your hands on a solution that can deliver outstanding customer experiences across channels can get very expensive very quickly, with enterprise-grade platforms being beyond the means of many small businesses.
Luckily, eCommerce solution providers like Shopify or WordPress provide easily customizable themes alongside essential backend eCommerce functions that let you create beautiful and responsive online stores.
- Choosing the right hosting option:With eCommerce solutions, the sky’s the limit – Especially when it comes to pricing! And with so many options to choose from, all with their own technical specifications and jargon, it can be easy for costs to spiral out of control. But as long as you do your homework before you commit to a particular solution, you’ll be able to find one that aligns with your budget and your ambitions.
- Self-hosted means you host and manage the whole eCommerce solution yourself – Either for on-premises servers or through a third-party provider. A popular example of a self-hosted eCommerce solution is Magento, an open-source eCommerce platform. Hosting everything yourself gives you greater control and visibility over your tech stack, but you will have to put in the hard eCommerce yards yourself. Also, it doesn’t necessarily mean a reduced cost – the development, hosting, and management costs associated with going it alone can soon mount up.
- Cloud-hosted means you pay for someone else to handle the hosting and maintenance headaches. By far the two biggest and most popular cloud hosting options are Azure and AWS. For small businesses, the advantages of letting another provider take your hosting requirements off your hands are obvious. But while you remove a lot of logistical headaches, you still have to pay for a license in addition to your hosting costs.
- SaaS – A popular subdivision of cloud-hosted solutions, Software-as-a-Service eCommerce providers not only take care of your hosting requirements, they also offer you a broad range of eCommerce functionality that will be very useful if you’re looking to scale your business. See the section on retail ecommerce solutions for a more detailed look at SaaS providers.
- Accounting and managing finances – While not the most exciting of activities, making sure your books are in order is essential to all businesses, large and small. But while sizable firms can afford whole accounting departments, small businesses sometimes find themselves having to divert precious resources to this essential but time-consuming task.
You can get around this problem by integrating automated accounting into your eCommerce solution. Automated accounting not only speeds up the accounting process, getting reports directly from the front line of your business gives you a more accurate and up-to-date picture of your finances.
So now we have an overview of eCommerce solutions for small business, it’s time to take a more detailed look at some of the solutions available.
eCommerce Shipping Solutions
If you’re selling products on different marketplaces, as well as on your site, and in-store, it can be hard to know which of your warehouses is best placed to fulfill orders. When a customer makes a purchase in one of your stores, a good ecommerce solution will be able to see where the item is in stock and route the order to the warehouse that can fulfill it fastest.
Retail Ecommerce Solutions
Some online retailers sell solely through third-party marketplaces, many make a great income that way. But if you want to establish yourself as a retail brand, at some point you will need to set up a fantastic-looking site with robust backend ecommerce services.
The best way to do this is to use an online shop provider that combines a page-builder, CMS (Content Management System), and backend eCommerce functionality. There are some very powerful CMSs available today, even on the most modest of budgets. All these providers offer integrated CMSs and drag-and-drop page-builders that let you easily move content around, helping you design amazing-looking sites. They also have extensive backend eCommerce functionality:
- Shopify/Shopify Plus
- Shift4shop (formerly 3dcart.com)
ERP eCommerce Solutions
ERPs used to be the preserve of huge, enterprise-level corporations but today, much smaller online retailers are taking advantage of modern, slimmed-down ERPs to connect their inventories and order management functions to their online stores and marketplaces.
Xentral ERP can save you time, money, and hassle by automating many of your eCommerce processes. It offers a centralized hub for shipping, product, inventory, customers (with an in-built CRM), and warehouse and logistics.
Bringing together all of these essential business services in one place and connecting them to your site, physical stores, Amazon, and anywhere else you sell – as well as being able to link up with other eCommerce solutions like Shopify and BigCommerce – takes a huge logistical burden off your company’s shoulders.
eCommerce Website Solutions
A number of the solutions that we’ve already talked about – BigCommerce, Shopify, WordPress – provide website themes that will get you set up with a very impressive-looking site in a matter of minutes (or maybe hours, depending on your skill level!). Shopify offers a wide range of customizable themes and even the option to build a theme yourself if you’re feeling adventurous.
How to Pick The Right Solution for Your Business?
Hopefully, this introduction to the world of eCommerce solutions has given you an idea of what kind of solution will work for you. When evaluating the different options, the best place to start is to assess where you are as a business; what are your pain points and ambitions?
Try to answer these questions:
- How technically sophisticated are your teams? If you have a great team of developers who want to take complete ownership of their eCommerce solution, then building and hosting your own tech stack could be for you.
- Where do you sell the majority of your products? If you operate mostly through Amazon or another marketplace, it might not be necessary to create a perfect website to showcase your products. The resources would be better spent on integrating an eCommerce solution that can keep track of your orders and inventory.
- How critical is content to your brand? If you’re in an industry like fashion or jewelry, having a frontend capable of creating fast, unique, and memorable customer experiences is going to be central to your ability to scale. Working out which CMS and eCommerce platform(s) to build your site on will be a valuable investment.
How complex are your warehouse and fulfillment requirements? If you package and ship all your products from one location, there’s little point investing in complex order management software. If, on the other hand, you’re selling in several different places online and using lots of different fulfillment methods, a modern, flexible ERP will significantly reduce the time and resources you have to devote to inventory management and logistics. If you think you might fall into this category, book a demo with Xentral to see how they can help you scale and take your online business to the next level.