What enterprise clients identify as the most important features in a long-lasting eCommerce platform

 

Evaluating Software as a Service (SaaS) vs. Off-the-Shelf options

eCommerce platform decision makingFor enterprise companies, selecting an eCommerce platform is a very big decision, one with implications across the entire business that will reach far into the future. The need for an option that is affordable up front is balanced on the other side by the need for stability and longevity with the new platform. There are of course other factors, and a wide range of stakeholders who will all have varying priorities for the project, but it is key to make a focus of the search and evaluation process the product’s ability to facilitate and not limit growth as your business evolves and develops new needs.

One way to look at this decision is to compare Software as a Service (SaaS) platforms to off-the-shelf options. SaaS options can be appealing because they tend to be cheaper (at least up front) and may have a faster deployment time. However, SaaS is inherently less customizable to your business. Any updates to the software apply to all of the service’s customers, so not only are you not able to make changes to the code, but you aren’t able to avoid unwanted changes in updates either. You may be able to revert or stay at an older version of the software if you do not wish to update, but this doesn’t bode well for your business. The ability to adjust, grow and evolve are key in enterprise eCommerce, and we often see clients who have decided that the platform they implemented in the recent past is just not capable of doing what they need it to do.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t options and workarounds for a lot of the limitations that SaaS platforms have. SaaS has matured a great deal, and many have modules for extensibility that can address some of the concerns inherent in using this model, but you will want to be very thorough when vetting platforms to be sure the one you choose works for your business now and in the future.

When looking to make the switch to an eCommerce platform with that will last, we have found that clients are in need of:

Advanced SEO

Ranking highly in search engines is always near the top of the list for online businesses. SEO is not just about optimizing page elements, keyword targeting and checking metadata for problems. For enterprise businesses, more advanced features like automatic URL rewrites are crucial. If you have a lot of products, you will have a lot of product pages. You need to know that your URLs are being handled properly without requiring much of your employees, with 301 redirects being maintained permanently and the right pages canonicalized. This feature can save you major headaches.


Custom Reporting

eCommerce platform with custom reportingReports are key to running any eCommerce business, and the right platform can really make a difference by allowing for the export of exactly the data you need. SaaS platforms tend to have limited reporting capabilities, and you have to use the available API or export the data and manually (or through additional programming) create the required reports. This doesn’t make running your business any easier.

With customized reporting options, you can get the information you need without any hassle and focus on putting the data to work for your business. These reports can answer questions like what is the cost to process per item? How did a specific discount affect margins? What products should be featured items on the site? Answers to these kinds of questions can help provide answers to the bigger question: how can you adjust your operations to maximize margins and ultimately profits?


Custom Workflows

If you need even a very simple customized workflow, you may be out of luck with a SaaS platform. This comes back to the simple fact that there is not a version of the code specific to your business. Changes to the workflows would affect all customers, so even adding something like a unique field to the checkout process can be impossible. As an example, Clarity once had a client that needed the checkout to function as a course registration system that registered the student’s information. This unique workflow was made possible because our off-the-shelf solution is truly customized, not just with modules that may not fit your needs exactly, but down to the code. Having particular discount or promotion code requirements, unusual structuring product data, or legal requirements like age verification would all require custom workflows that may be impossible in SaaS platforms.


Multi-Store Capabilities

You may want to have multiple stores running on your platform. For example, if you supply medical instruments you may wish to have a separate store for dental items in order to make shopping simpler for those customers. SaaS platforms tend not to support robust multi-store capabilities, although they may have workarounds for the issue. This is because there are intricacies in code logic that don’t carry over well in a SaaS framework. Slight changes can break the whole system because it is not intended to be customized for multi-store workflows.


Shipping Integration

eCommerce platform decision makingShipping integration is crucial to many businesses, and it can get complicated, especially for B2B or distributors. You may need to provide a shipping estimate at checkout based on various factors such as quantity, weight of items, location of inventory, etc. Freight and cargo prices can be fluid based on things like gas prices, which can make intermodal freight integration appealing. Intermodal integration allows your system to compare or combine shipping methods like air, rail, ground and ships. For freight, companies like Old Dominion, YRC Freight and FedEx Freight offer an API for integration purposes.


Analytics Tracking

Many eCommerce platforms, both SaaS and off-the-shelf, don’t necessarily track all the relevant analytics data that could give you valuable insight into visitor behavior. If your eCommerce platform can tell you what pages or other products a customer looked at before making a purchase, you can use that data to see trends that will inform everything from your sales funnel to promotional events. When you can see exactly what customers who abandon their carts did leading up to them leaving without making a purchase, you can try to influence their behavior towards conversions. But the first step is collecting the data, and not all platforms enable you to do so.


Inventory Management

If your eCommerce system does not have a method of tracking inventory, it can be very difficult running day-to-day operations. Real time inventory systems let you know what you have on hand available to customers so that you always know when you need to bring in more, or alternatively, what items to offer sales or promotions on to liquidate some excess stock. A sophisticated system will also allow for the import and export of inventory data, allowing you to move items from one list to another when needed. Even sophisticated systems will need some hands on management.


Clarity Can Help

For an eCommerce platform to succeed in working for an enterprise business, a powerful API integration layer is hugely important. The ability to push and pull to and from other systems is what makes all of the above possible.

At Clarity, we get a lot of potential clients coming to us after becoming frustrated by the limits of their eCommerce platform. Doing a “rip and replace” of a system that was probably implemented not that long ago is painful, especially considering the investment made in money, time and effort. Starting all over is never ideal, but we regularly hear that at a certain point it becomes obvious that clients’ existing platforms are just not taking them where they need to go. If you’re lucky, this isn’t you. But if it is you, know that it doesn’t have to happen again.

Do thorough research and comparison between potential platforms, and remember that cost should only be a part of your decision. Your eCommerce platform will impact every facet of your online business. Going with a cheaper platform now can cost you in the future. At the enterprise level, you will probably require some development and customization, so be sure to evaluate the company you will be working with in addition to the platform they offer. Clarity offers the full range of services required to pull off an incredible eCommerce implementation. Contact us today for a free quote, demo or consultation!

 

Enterprise eCommerce

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