Choosing The Best Ecommerce Framework
Choosing an appropriate framework for the needs of an up and coming web storefront is more than just a question of ticking boxes in a checklist. There are three categories of evaluation points:
Features are those parts of the system that make it stand out from other offerings. Necessities are the core functions of the framework that enable it to do its job; lose one of these and it becomes difficult to argue for a particular framework, despite any features it might otherwise have.
Luxuries are those items which need not be there, but which make the case for a framework that comes at a premium price. The luxury components expand the system so that if feels worth the extra price paid to be able to take advantage of them.
Typically, a small business framework will have some basic core functionality, no luxury add-ons, and features will vary between packages on offer. When a small ecommerce venture is starting out, money will likely be part of the decision making process, and as such, those systems (like CRELoaded) which offer free versions will always appeal.
Once the store is established, and the vendor becomes more sophisticated, one of the for-pay versions can be purchased, and the extra features taken advantage of. The free version supports all the core functionality one would expect:
– Checkout and cart management
– Content template system
In addition, the for-pay versions add features such as credit card blacklisting, encryption for credit card details, the possibility to manage special offers by category, and multiple product support built-in. These features make the for-pay versions attractive, because they take some of the manual work away from the site creator.
Search engine optimization features might fall into the luxury category, but the framework should at least support content management in a search engine friendly way. The bare minimum should be URL rewriting and image tag customization, to allow descriptions in image tags.
For those with a larger cataloge, more customers, and sophisticated requirements, something akin to the BV Commerce package will be more appropriate. Besides a similar core function offering, these packages add modules for marketing, loyalty, affiliate management and powerful design features.
Generally speaking, given that the client base, product range, and business volume will be higher for larger ecommerce sites, ecommerce frameworks in this category need to take almost all the manual processing away from the site owner. If they do not, then the tasks associated with order management (returns, shipping, tracking, etc.), and basic site maintenance, will quickly become unmanageable.
Subsequently, those items which are luxuries for small ecommerce site owners become features, and even necessities once the site in question grows much larger. The potential for larger ecommerce sites is much higher and so the site owners will want to offer affiliate schemes and the like to their visitors.
Marketing modules are of more importance in a large ecommerce framework, because the site has to be able to generate income to offset the purchase price of the framework. Of particular note are the features which make the site search engine friendly, coupled with cross-selling possibilities.
The cross-selling aspect is important, because it allows the system to suggest companion products to the customer. These will be suggested at the time of purchase, either when adding an item to the cart, or when the cart is being checked out. A framework that allows automatic and manual cross-selling should be seriously considered, even when some other features might be lacking.
So, the three most important points to look for in any e-commerce framework are:
– Template management
– Core framework functionality
– Search engine features
The framework needs to be adaptable enough to be able to cope with future evolution of the site and market, whilst making this as easy as possible. The functions must be able to support existing business, as well as take away as much of the manual processing as possible.
Without good integration with search engine optimization functions, the framework will not create content that will be suitable for direct submission to search engines. Subsequently, the site creator will spend valuable time preparing submission pages, time which would be better spent creating extending the site itself.
So long as the balance between cost and benefit can be kept, it is worth paying the extra fees to have a framework that takes all the grind out of maintaining the infrastructure and processing payments. The end result is profitability, as expensive manual work is taken out of the loop.