Choosing the right e-commerce system or platform is almost as important as choosing your domain name. A good e-commerce web site is going to cost a bit, and it should last you for at least 2-3 years, so deciding on the right platform (or framework) that the website runs off could not be more important at the outside of the task.
Of course, if you choose the right web developers, they will know which systems are good for e-commerce websites and those to be avoided. We're not going to name and shame in this article as that is unprofessional, but good e-commerce web developers will know the ones to avoid!
Strangely, there is not as much choice in this area as you might expect. Budget will limit your choice still further with some systems costing in excess of £ 100,000. Of course, this may well not be expensive for a blue chip multinational, but if you run a small to medium sized business in the UK, you will probably want to spend a little less. Your e-commerce developer will be able to advise on price options.
So let's start with the features of a good e-shop system and why each of them is so important. We'll start not with the website itself, but with the search engines (which really means Google!). Many cheaper e-selling systems are rarely even search-engine-friendly, some even run in frames from the parent provider (and that really means that SEO is hard on the Richter scale at all). A good web developer will want to use a platform where he (and the SEO guy) can take complete control of the HTML code from the beginning to the end on all pages. This allows the developer or the SEO expert to add meta data tags to all pages, including products and catalogs (which are often not pages at all but purely database records which are displayed on a web page according to the user's actions). Many e-store systems do not allow such access, since they are not favorable for most businesses (unless you do not wish to be found on Google).
Next we require a system or platform that allows mass upload of products, product data and image paths and prices. Imagine if you sell 10,000 different products having to create each one manually! The best e-commerce systems will let you generate a spreadsheet (.csv file in Microsoft Excel) and upload these at the click of a button. Make sure it is easy to use and reliable. Do not choose a online store system that does not offer this!
Lastly, let's think about the intelligence of your online retail system: what will it tell you about your visitor habits? Where they are coming from, where they live, which products they like best etc. Some systems do not support all of these features and you are then left having to use Google Analytic reporting, which it has to be said is not 100% reliable. Far better to have your own e-commerce system deliver this information directly from the web server, rather than to rely on client-side scripts which can be turned off in the browser settings.
Your new e-commerce website is going to be around for a few years, so it's worth spending a few minutes to make sure you choose the best e-commerce system available that will best suit your needs.