You’ve made a solid product line, you have great branding, your first hundred sales is under your belt, you have your Etsy shop up and running, a presence on Facebook and in local stores, and you are ready to grow.
You need your own e-commerce-enabled website. But what software do you choose?
Assess Your Needs
Your shopping cart software will be with you for years to come–and it will either make you and your customers happy, or both of you miserable. It will pay off to give some thought to what you truly need.
List Your Current RequirementsMake a list of your “must-have” requirements, and your “would-be-nice” requirements. If you have no idea where to start, do more reading about ecommerce and selling jewelry online. If you aren’t at the point where you have some idea what you need, then it is too early for you to be shopping for software.
Consider the FutureImagine 2 years, and 5 years down the line, and see if any other “must-have” requirements show up. Switching software can be a huge pain, so it’s worth it to think ahead to your future requirements.
Scope Out the CompetitionMake a list of 5 or so sites that are similar to your goal, and spend some time using them. Take note of any features you want in your software. And here’s a trick: sometimes you can figure out what software they are using by using your browser’s “View Source” tool.
Think About The Company Behind The SoftwareSoftware has features, but so do companies. These are things like 24/7 customer support, regular releases, an active development team, responsiveness to customer suggestions, and ability to export your data should you need to move. The vendor you choose will be like a partner in your business–you need to be able to trust and rely on them to care about your business.
Evaluate Your Pricing LimitsPricing for software can vary widely, but as in everything, quality costs more. Sometimes companies cut costs is in the support department, since you don’t necessarily see it up-front like you see the feature list. Good support is expensive, so keep in mind that however the software is priced, that is how much support you can expect. And support isn’t just answering questions–it’s fixing bugs quickly so they don’t cost you time and customers.
Keep in mind however, that the better the software, the easier it will be to make money. In the early days of the web, ecommerce was dirt cheap to set up. Now the software is more and more expensive. Why? Because companies realized that it’s a hard problem to solve well, there are a lot of moving parts, and people who are in business will pay for quality software that works well, helps them move product, and is well-supported. Consider what you could do with the best software you can afford, given the current stage of your business.
Narrow the Possibilities
Do initial research comparing your list of must-have features to each cart’s website list of features. Write down a list of carts you want to test further.
Create a Big List of Possible Shopping CartsYou may already have some vendors in mind. Start a list, and then add at least 10 different solutions. You can try searching on Google, seeing if anyone has recommendations on the Etsy Forums, or check out our recommendations. You may already be in love with one, but sometimes software is more hype than substance. You don’t have to extensively test each one–we’ll weed them out in the next step.
Compare Each Cart Against Your Must-Have ListCompare your list of must-have features to each cart’s website list of features. Make special note of any features that each cart has that aren’t on your list but sound interesting.
Narrow Your List to Under Five for More TestingBased on your feature comparisons, eliminate any carts that don’t have your must-have features or considerations.
You will want to put any potential software through its paces to make sure it works for you.
Create Some Demo ProductsWrite down several product examples that you will attempt to add to each cart’s system. Make a few variations that match what you sell. For example, if you sell a necklace in multiple colors, make sure that you test how to set up product variants by having a product with multiple options. Make your demo test as realistic as possible. Gather photographs–they can be fake ones, just have several for each product.
Write Down a List of TestsYou will be performing these tests in each cart’s demo, to see how it performs. On the backend, think about how many times a day you may be doing these tasks, and evaluate how steamlined the interface is. On the frontend, think about what your customers need to evaluate your product–as well as what marketing features will bring them back for more. Here are some ideas of things to try out in the demo:
Demo Each CartJust go through each test one by one. Take notes on what you like and don’t like about each cart–you may think you’ll remember, but you’ll start to go cross-eyed pretty soon doing this kind of testing, so write it down.
Check For Red Flags
At this point you may have found a clear winner that you enjoy using, or you may have a few that you like. It’s time to see if there are any red flags you should be worried about.
Search for ReviewsHead over to Google and search for reviews of your top contenders. If you find ones that are 100% glowing, or full of fluff, move on…they are either affiliates or newbies. Look for in-depth comparisons, expert reviews, and see what people have to say about their support. One caveat–take really angry reviews with a grain of salt. The loudest voice isn’t necessarily representative of the whole customer base, and some people have unrealistic expectations.
Do Recon on Their ForumClick around on their support forum and see how staff respond to problems. Are there a lot of posts with no replies? Does the staff have a good attitude? Do bugs get fixed in a timely manner? Do people seem happy?
Look for Signs of Happy DevelopersSoftware developers are who actually code the product. Are they hidden somewhere behind the corporate curtain, or are they an active part of the company culture? In general, younger and more savvy companies will put their developers front-and-center. Look for developers writing blog posts, a feature voting tool, and developers responding in the forums on tricky issues.
Of course, you want them to spend most of their time writing code and not doing support, but it’s a good sign if they spend at least some of their time being in touch with actual customers, and that they seem happy about it. Happy coders make good code. Not every software company makes these things public and that’s OK–but you need some way to get a feel for how responsive they are to customer needs, and how active their development is.
If any worries come up, add them to your research document. Remember though that everyone’s needs are different, and what may not work for someone else may not bother you, and vice versa.
Make the Decision
If you have several carts in front of you that all are great, then start looking at the prices and run the numbers. Look especially closely at per-transaction fees, because they can add up, and in some ways they penalize you for success. On the other hand, it means that the biggest stores in the network are paying for the bulk of development and support, and that’s not a bad deal.
That should get you started. Leave your questions in the comments!