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As a retailer or business owner transitioning from brick and mortar to online, choosing which online shopping cart will best fit your eCommerce store needs can be an overwhelming process. Are you a small to medium-sized retailer in the process of identifying which eCommerce platform is right for your business?

Hear what Kathleen Plate, the founder of Smart Glass Jewelry, had to say about her experiences choosing her first eCommerce shopping platform.

What made you decide to bite the bullet and start exploring eCommerce platforms?

I knew that I wanted to redo the website — that had been looming over my head for a while. There was no denying the front end of my website could also use a bit of a “spruce up” before the holidays. As far as the back-end functionality, my proprietary platform didn’t provide a smooth user experience. I was spending a lot of time making manual updates on a clunky, outdated system.  So, I was eager to move from a proprietary platform to a pre-built template platform — surprising, I know! With the speed of technology updates, I was driving myself crazy trying to keep the old platform current. I needed to find a platform that would automate a lot of the manual labor so I could focus on areas I’m really passionate about and scale my business.

That’s when I started researching which eCommerce platforms were best suited for small businesses like mine. The amount of information out there is so overwhelming, but the same common names kept popping up in my search.

What was the evaluation process like? Were there certain platforms that really stood out to you?

There really isn’t a one-size-fits-all platform, which means the evaluation process should be taken seriously.  I didn’t think I was tech-savvy enough to make a decision on my own. One night I had dinner with a friend who suggested I hire someone who specializes in building eCommerce websites. That’s when I was introduced to Natasha Murphy and her team at Nicely Built. Together, we identified three key questions to ask when evaluating each platform to help determine which would best fit my needs.

  1. Do they charge a flat monthly fee, or will there be additional charges due to things like plug-ins, transactions or server storage?
  2. Do they provide technical support? How often?
  3. What hosting options are available?

We reviewed and analyzed so many different platforms — a lot of really awesome ones like MagentoBigCommerce and PrestaShop. I definitely didn’t have a huge budget to start with, so we also explored affordable options like WooCommerce and other plug-ins. Overall, it was a pretty overwhelming process. I have no background in technology — I knew I needed to rely heavily on an expert opinion. After a thorough analysis with Nicely Built, I ultimately decided to go with Shopify and have been pretty pleased with my decision so far.

What were the must-haves for you? Why did Shopify check off all of the boxes?

I was looking for something that provided that wholesale functionality, so it was a pretty natural decision to choose Shopify.  I was really impressed with their established ecosystem. For example, with WordPress, sometimes the plug-ins aren’t vetted or approved. That made me a bit nervous. One thing that really stood out was that Shopify seemed to be the only platform that had a native content management system (CMS) functionality built into the admin dashboard.

What surprised you the most about all of the capabilities out there?

Well, the good surprises were how much of what we were doing manually could be automated through software integration. The bad surprises were realizing the strong direct-to-consumer bias of most web platforms. It seemed to me the wholesale capabilities of different platforms were somewhat secondary to direct retail. I suppose this makes sense and reflects the breakdown of the current marketplace, but I had been spoiled by some pretty robust wholesale capabilities in the past.

Was there anything that made you nervous or hesitant choosing a platform?

To be quite honest, change is what scared me the most. Learning a new technology system is always a challenge when you’re a busy entrepreneur. I also don’t have a dedicated developer on staff, so finding a third-party platform that had a solid ecosystem and support community was extremely important.

What advice do you have for other SMB merchants who are curious about adopting an eCommerce platform solution, but don’t know where to start?

Don’t rush the decision process, and do your research. If there is one thing you don’t want to skimp on, it’s the platform. This is a huge investment for your online business. Do your own research and prepare questions before reaching out to the sales department of each platform you’re evaluating. For example, if having a strong support system is important to you, make sure you ask how often technical support is available for customers. Stay focused on what’s important for your business and the problems you’re looking to solve.

Curious to hear how Kathleen’s Shopify installation process went? Stay tuned for more questions and answers from one SMB merchant making the transition to eCommerce.