Today, eCommerce retailers face more challenges than ever before. Consumers demand faster, more engaging
shopping experiences on desktop, mobile, and tablet devices. Internal stakeholders want platforms that keep up with competitors’ functionality and make promotion, merchandising, inventory, and order management as easy as possible. A shopping cart platform that seemed great just a few years ago may now be extended beyond its potential and could be hampering your business. If you’re considering a new shopping cart solution, here are some key decisions for you to think about as part of your planning process.
One of the first decisions you will have to make is if you will be hosting your own cart or using a SaaS solution. The answer is not an easy and depends on your team (do you have the staff to handle your own hosting and development), cart requirements, future plans, and budget.
SaaS Based Cart
SaaS carts come with many conveniences and certain shortcomings. Some of the key elements to consider when looking at a SaaS based cart integration include:
- Billing Model: Does the cart charge you by the amount of products listed, revenue share, code access, data usage, order volume, access to features or a combination of several factors? You should consider your cost not only during the year, but specifically during your peak times such as the holidays.
- Ecosystem: When using SaaS based carts, your development can be accelerated or potentially throttled by the cart’s ecosystem of partners, developers, or certified applications. Make sure to deeply investigate SaaS cart apps and developer communities to make sure you aren’t losing key features and that the offerings are as forward thinking as you are with your store vision. You will also want to factor in any additional costs of the third party add-ons.
- Design: Many SaaS-based carts will limit you to certain templates with paid access to more customized templates. Some carts will also require an upgraded subscription plans to grant you and your site designer access to customize your own CSS, PHP, or HTML.
If you are considering hosting your own cart, many shopping carts offer installed solutions, allowing the retailer to host it on their own web server and perform in depth customizations for a very unique buying experience. Key elements to consider when looking at an installed solution include:
- Server Performance: One of the biggest headaches customers face with installed solutions is server maintenance. If you don’t have enough server performance and bandwidth, page load crawls and conversion rates drop. Having accurate, accessible site logging at your fingertips to diagnose potential server problems is a must. Not only do customers hate slow loading websites, Google’s indexing could rank you below your competition due to page loading speeds.
- Hosting Providers: Many providers such as Rackspace, AWS, and GoDaddy offer hosting packages with various levels of support, access, and bandwidth. Just like with the SaaS carts, it’s worth your time to take into account service levels and billing so that your needs will be met and you can scale when you are growing.
- SSL Certificates: You can shop around for these and with any installed shopping cart, you’re going to need one. These certificates allow your customers to securely checkout on your store.
- Design: Many installed solutions come with stock, editable templates and likewise, templates for hosted carts can be purchased from many online shops. In order to make a hosted solution work for you, some light familiarity with design languages such as PHP, CSS, and HTML can go a long way and help you avoid costly consultants.
Regardless of which type of cart you go with there are three more important topics to keep in mind ahead of any re-platforming discussions.
1. Managing SEO Strategy.
When you’re moving from one cart to another, you are taking years of Google index and rank data, and trying to move it from one platform to another. Without a great plan in place ahead of time, you could be setting yourself up for a significant drop in SEO traffic.
2. Combination vs All-in-One
When searching for a new cart, consider looking for a combination of a few best of breed solutions versus one platform that does everything but in a mediocre way. There are a number of solutions that will integrate into your shopping cart to deal with shipping, order management, e-mail marketing, or other needs that you identify in your operation. Remember, the number one functionality of your cart should be to make the merchandising and shopping experience the best and easiest for your customer. Your shopping cart is your marketing and promotion tool. Don’t settle for a cart with substandard customer facing features because it has more back-office management tools.
Google Analytics will be your best friend through the transition process. Make sure you know and track your current key metrics such as conversion rates, time on site, bounce rates, site speed, percentage of new sessions, and compare them to the new site after the launch. This will help you identify any hidden issues with the new platform.
Deciding on SaaS vs. hosted is only the first step in narrowing down the choices for your next platform. Make a list of functionality that’s important to your business, circulate that among the different departments to get feedback and make sure everyone’s input is gathered and then use that as a the basis for an RFP or a cart search.