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Five-step guide to choosing the right e-commerce platform

Katy White
Katy White
Principal Digital Consultant, Design & Technology
6 min read
15 April 2021

The acceleration of e-commerce throughout 2020 was impossible to ignore. According to the ONS, almost 28% of all UK sales were made online last year, a figure that is forecast to surpass 32% by 2024. Companies that have many years’ experience selling online are rethinking their strategies to optimise performance and quickly implementing direct-to-consumer offerings, while new entrants continue to enter the market. In what is already a crowded space, platform architecture is the cornerstone of successful e-commerce operations.

Choosing the right commerce platform can be a daunting task. And simply opting for the market leader can lead to trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. With many e-commerce newcomers opting to go with MACH architecture, one of the key decisions your company will make is whether to buy or build its e-commerce platform; both of which have advantages and disadvantages. This guide provides you with an approach to ensure you find the right solution for your business, no matter which route you take. 

Step 1: feature discovery

Choosing the right e-commerce platform is reliant on a clear understanding of what your brand or business needs, and an even deeper understanding of how each option fits (or doesn’t fit) the aims of your company. To define those aims, companies need to first and foremost collate the functional and non-functional requirements of all business units or stakeholders.

For marketing, this might mean that the technology is future-ready and that all user interactions can be tracked and evaluated. Whereas for the tech team, it may mean that the right platform is headless or cloud-hosted, with a maximum load time of 200ms. Your pool of requirements will be vast, and some business units’ priorities may conflict with others. Therefore, the most critical part of this discovery stage is to prioritise the required features, considering what is absolutely essential and what could be developed at a later stage. This will enable you to establish goals connected to your prioritised requirements from the very beginning. 

Step 2: research, research, research

Once you’ve defined your aims and functional requirements, you will be in the best position to explore potential e-commerce platforms. Be sure to conduct your research thoroughly, reading recent reports and material published by each potential platform, and starting conversations with vendors and possible partners. 

There will be a pool of willing experts available to offer advice on your project, not just from the platform provider, but from system integrators and partner agencies. Explore the technology vendor’s partner network, and see who has worked together on projects that are similar to your own. For example, DEPT® promotes its technology partners and recent work to share our experience with prospective clients. We are also happy to share our expertise, recommend the best solutions and guide you to finding an approach to suit your business’ unique needs.

Step 3: consider the costs

While price is paramount for some companies, others are stretching their budgets to ensure they have the right commerce platform that will grow with their business. In any case, price is a critical factor of platform selection; the key is to calculate the total cost of ownership at the earliest possible stage. 

While licence costs provide a good baseline, whether you’re looking for an ‘out-of-the-box’ solution or plan to build a composable commerce architecture, looking at these costs alone may not depict the true financial investment required. Licence and price models differ in complexity and vary from vendor to vendor and market to market, with some outlining annual fixed costs, while others take a share of sales and others charge per sales channel or country. It’s essential to take a thorough approach to price comparison, uncovering any potentially hidden costs such as for administrators, hosting and security. Be sure to understand costs for the initial development, continued support, and any future development of the platform in order to weigh up the cost-benefit ratio.

Step 4: preparing for proposals

It’s common for enterprise platform projects to strictly follow a request for proposal (RFP) procurement process, but this isn’t always the case and some companies are taking a more agile approach. Whatever route is taken, the fundamentals are the same. 

Firstly, you will need to review and digest all of the information you have gathered in the discovery and research phases; comparing features, technical details and pricing models to create a shortlist of potential e-commerce platform providers. DEPT® recommends a maximum of five to best manage the labour intensity of this task. 

You can then share your RFP or invite the providers to present their e-commerce platform. At this stage you can learn more about the provider, their vision and the advantages of their solution in specific relation to your problem or project, and get answers to questions relating to any concerns or challenges regarding different providers. 

Step 5: the (optional) MVP

If a clear front runner cannot be determined through the RFP process or presentations, ask the top two (possibly alongside an agency partner) to participate in a test project to develop a minimum viable product (MVP). This will enable you to gain further information about how each solution can fit your brief, as well the provider’s adaptability. 

Sourcing and setting up a new e-commerce platform requires significant investment from your business, and therefore demands significant time and resources to ensure the right decision is made. The right approach enables the right platform decision to be made, which will support your company’s growth in the long term. 

There is no single ‘must have’ platform, nor is there a one size fits all solution. Providers in the space are continually innovating and evolving, creating a marketplace that is vast yet highly specialised. DEPT® takes, and recommends, a tech agnostic approach to platform selection, making it possible to match the individual needs and aims of businesses with the varying benefits offered by different vendors. Get in touch with our experts to talk about your e-commerce project. 

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Principal Digital Consultant, Design & Technology

Katy White