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Finding a platform for growth – how to choose your next website provider

One of the brilliant effects of the internet is that you don’t need a premises to kick off a business, or a till, or even a market stool. All you need is your product, some determination, and a website – and many of the most successful e-commerce brands started off with just that.

GENERAL MERCHANDISE

Finding a platform for growth – how to choose your next website provider

There are some fantastic open source tools out there for small businesses and startups kicking off activity. But as your business grows, your website needs to upgrade with it, and that means choosing a website platform with more than the basic tools. With lots of options out there, what should growing retailers be looking for from their new web platform provider?

A platform for expansion
For many businesses, the choice to upgrade their web platform comes as a result of business expansion – either in terms of targeting new markets or offering new goods and services. Plug-and-play web solutions might be easy enough to use when retailers are offering one or two product lines, but how about when they grow to have multiple products and departments, all aimed at different audiences?

Retailers need to identify a web provider that has the capacity to match their business growth. For many, this means multi-site e-commerce – different web pages aimed at different audiences under the same brand umbrella. They should be looking for a provider who has the architecture to simplify the process of setting up multiple sites, and deliver tailored content on each page.

Another reason businesses may begin to look to a more comprehensive e-commerce platform is if they’re expanding beyond their own shores into international markets. If this is in your business plan, you’ll need to be looking out for some key features.

Firstly, multi-lingual capabilities – does the platform provider support translated web copy, and will it also translate the back office of the platform to help local website management teams control content? Secondly, multicurrency features – will customers in Germany be able to pay in Euro, customers in Norway in Krone, and customers in Japan in Yen?

Lastly, what alternative payment methods does the platform support? Different geographies have different payment habits – for example, “bill me later” services are very popular in Germany and the Netherlands. By taking into account these different behaviours and presenting customers with payment options they are familiar with, a new retailer can quickly establish trust.

New marketing and content functionality
As a retailer’s services expand, they should also be looking to make their site more sophisticated. The best online retailers use their website content as an extension of their sales team, and this requires more than the basic functionality, and a level of detail control not available from plug-and-play web solutions.

Retailers should be looking for a content management system (CMS) with rich and easy-to-use marketing tools that give them absolute control over the content on their pages. With the right tools in hand – gift cards, e-vouchers, store finders, stock checkers and more – the sky is the limit for inventive promotion to attract and keep the attention of customers.

It’s also important that social tools are integrated with existing marketing efforts and communication with customers in the website platform. Features such as image uploads, integration with off-site social media, reviews, customer forums and webchat can make an online site as personal as a physical store, increasing customer trust and engagement.

Behind the scenes
Customer facing features are hugely important, but retailers also shouldn’t neglect the back-end systems that hold the whole shop together. For many retailers, particularly those with a high-street presence, the ideal set-up is “omni-channel” retail. This means the merger all of all sales channels, both online and offline to gain a single view of all customer activity – and requires a comprehensive and connected back-end support.

The benefit of the omni-channel approach is that it provides customers with the same user experience, products and service regardless of the sales channel or touchpoint through which they engage with a retailer. It's even been seen in reverse with pureplay online retailers now opening physical stores to take advantage of the combination of “bricks and clicks”.

In order to achieve this gold-standard of service, retailers need to be looking out for “click and collect” or “click and reserve” features – meaning they need a web provider who offers integration with stock management systems.

A trustworthy provider
Perhaps most important of all, retailers need to be selecting a platform provider they can trust to keep their data and their customer’s data safe, and help them in their development.

The easily accessible nature of open source tools is the reason that many online businesses use them to design their website in the early days. However, often a weak point to the platforms is cyber security. The very nature of open source means that the code is out there for everyone, including the hackers.

Moving to a web provider with closed code will automatically improve the security of a retailer’s website, but they should also be looking out for signs of Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DDS) compliance.

Ideally, retailers should be looking out for a provider that can offer as complete a package as possible. Some web providers try and pass off third party products as their own. Not only does this often mean that solutions don’t fit together as well as they should do, but there is also an issue of product ownership. If something should go wrong with the third party product, who does the retailer call, and who is responsible for fixing it?

One of the benefits of using a web provider rather than a “do-it-yourself” website is access to a support team. This needs to be on-hand at all times, with a named contact who is available to help with website development and maintenance. When third party integrations – such as with a payment gateway – are necessary – customers should be a looking for a close integration and, again, a named contact to ensure the process runs smoothly.

Customer case studies are a great indicator of a web provider’s quality, trustworthiness, and whether they are the right company for your business. Look on the website or ask the sales team for customer stories in your sector – if they have happy customers set up with a similar web solution to the one you want, it’s a good bet they are the right fit for you.

Secure Trading work in partnership with a number of ecommerce solution providers, such as Red Technology.

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