Starting an online business can be exciting but overwhelming, especially as you design your website and navigate the many specific tools you’ll use to promote your store. eCommerce software makes opening and running an online store as fast and trouble-free as possible. With marketing, shopping and administrative features, these applications have the tools you need to set up and run a successful online store.
The best eCommerce software walks you through every step of creating and stocking your online store. Even if you are unfamiliar with HTML and don’t know how to put top-notch security measures into place, you can use eCommerce software solutions to get your online shop up and running. This type of application should help you design your website, upload and manage your inventory, connect to a shopping cart, and provide secure payment options to your customers.
Before you get started, peruse our articles about eCommerce software and tips for creating and managing a successful online business. Also, don’t forget to check out the reviews of our top three products: Volusion, Shopify and Shopping Cart Elite.
When choosing the best eCommerce platform, seek out those that offer the features your business needs: plenty of storage, bandwidth and flexibility to grow with you. Most of the products we reviewed are strong, basic programs suitable for most online stores. Everyone’s business is different, however, so to make the best decision, know your specific needs as far as the reports you want, where you want to sell and what customer benefits you want to offer.
Below are the criteria we used to evaluate these applications. We focused our research on applications that encompass all aspects of creating and maintaining your website. If you need a simpler shopping cart to add to an existing website, check out our shopping cart software reviews.
Hosting & Website Tools
The best eCommerce solutions include tools that assist with hosting, web design and search engine optimization (SEO) integration. If you are unfamiliar or not completely comfortable with HTML, choose an eCommerce software solution that offers a large number of website design templates and customization tools so you can design a website that's unique to your business.
Storage space and bandwidth offerings vary by product. Storage space, as the name implies, is how much information you can store on the product's servers. That encompasses not only your inventory, but also photos, videos, downloadable products, blog posts, press releases and anything else you put on your website. Bandwidth refers to the traffic your site gets, which includes customers clicking around the site but also your employees uploading new inventory. eCommerce companies that offer large amounts of online storage space, plenty of bandwidth, eCommerce hosting and a website builder are ideal. If you have a large inventory, look for bulk upload and bulk editing features, which can save a lot of time.
Finally, keep in mind that not all eCommerce software programs let you sell downloadable items such as music, eBooks or software applications, so if you have downloads in your stock, be sure the eCommerce solution you choose supports downloadable products. Some eCommerce plans also limit the number of items you can sell.
Managing any business is time-consuming, but with the right tools and features, eCommerce platforms can save you time and frustration. Look for low-inventory alerts, the ability to handle back orders, in-house credit card processing and merchant gateways for payments. If you want to use the same software to run your physical store, look for eCommerce solutions that provide point-of-sale systems, as well.
Using marketing analysis can help your business grow. If you do a lot of analysis, seek out a product that enables you to create a wide variety of custom reports. Obviously, you'll want reports that show your sales daily or over a specified time, but most eCommerce software can go further: for example, tracking the most popular items, letting you know which items are the most looked at but least bought, even what keywords customers use to search for your products. Many eCommerce software packages integrate with Google Analytics, which provides easily understandable statistics on the traffic coming to your site. Most also offer accounting reports, but if you prefer QuickBooks, look for eCommerce solutions that integrate with it.
A pleasant online shopping experience keeps your customers coming back, so look for features that help people feel good about the purchases they’ll make at your store. Customer-focused features like image zoom, product reviews and product comparisons help shoppers make decisions with confidence; coupons, discounts and loyalty programs bring them back.
Some eCommerce software automatically simplifies your storefront to make it easier to view and navigate on cell phones or tablets. Such mobile-friendly stores are becoming vital, as more and more people are making their purchases using their phones, even after visiting a physical store.
Your website will do you no good if customers don’t find their way to your store, physical or virtual. Many of the best eCommerce solutions offer marketing tools to attract customers and keep them coming back for more. Popular marketing tools for eCommerce software include affiliate programs, which let third-parties advertise your store or sell your products for you; search engine optimization capabilities, such as product tags and individual page URLs that are more likely to show up on Google or other search engines; and strong social networking tools, including options that make it easy for customers to like or share links to your products with others via Facebook or other social media.
Upsell and cross-sell capabilities increase sales by suggesting additional products. Daily deals and promotional emails bring customers back to your store, and abandoned cart notifications can help you to close a sale when a customer backs out of a transaction without buying.
Many eCommerce software packages go a step further, letting you sell your products directly on Amazon, eBay or Facebook.
When you're working with online payment options, you need strong online security. All the sites we reviewed are PCI compliant, meaning they meet the Payment Card Industry's standard for secure transactions. Choose an application that offers fraud protection and Secure Socket Layer protection. SSL is a special encryption for secure transactions, a must for credit-card transactions, but some eCommerce software companies expect you to purchase this feature separately.
Many services include a feature requiring customers to enter the CVV2 code from the back of their credit cards. Some eCommerce solutions provide fraud scores, which alert you to potential fraud risks before a sale is completed, whereas others expect you to rely on your credit card company for that protection.
Help & Support
Questions and concerns are bound to arise while you're running an online business. The best manufacturers provide several options for reaching a customer service representative: telephone, email and live chat. Look for companies that also provide a variety of additional resources, such as extensive FAQs, user guides and a knowledgebase. As a bonus for entrepreneurs, especially those new to eCommerce, some services provide community forums for sharing ideas and even education centers with webinars and articles on the latest features and trends in online business.
With the right eCommerce software, you can get your business online and taking orders in no time. The software eliminates much of the frustration you might experience with the complex process of setting up and running an online store, and it provides the tools you need to make your online business a success. Knowing what to look for and what you need for your business can help you make the best choice in eCommerce software.
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