Similar to a brick-and-mortar retail location, ecommerce websites are virtual storefronts where consumers can go to buy a product or service of their choosing. Online merchants can list just about whatever they have in their current inventory. The ecommerce market has grown exponentially over the past decade thanks in part to its convenience and accessibility, and future projections have its valuation increasing even more.

For those unfamiliar with the nature of ecommerce platforms, it can be easy to misunderstand the complexity of the software. Simply put, an online retail platform is a series of software technologies that allows interested merchants to build and host a digital storefront soliciting a specific set of products or services. A growing number of brick-and-mortar retailers have already implemented ecommerce platforms in their business models to help supplement their current operations and move additional inventory. There's no one-size-fits-all solution available to interested business owners, which is why merchants must understand what types of resolutions are available to them.

What options are there?

For those just starting out in the online retail game, there are a few options that you have when it comes to ecommerce platforms. For example, some vendors offer fully integrated software, which seamlessly merges with your customer relationship management software or any other back-office applications you may have, including inventory management infrastructure, for instance. This type of solution is nice for any sized company because it can drastically improve production and connects a business' resources together. Another option business owners have is to implement a pre-integrated solution, or one that can be plugged in to external systems with very little developmental effort.

A number of ecommerce platform providers typically take care of the programming background for business owners. However, it could be useful to understand what type of programming language your website is made up of. Listed below are three:

  • Java
  • PHP
  • .net

Javascript is becoming the most popular programming language to build ecommerce platforms because it is object and standards based nature.

How are they built?

Again, depending on the provider, most software platforms don't have to be built by a small-business owner. But for the sake of full transparency, here are a few tools, frameworks and processes provided by the ecommerce platform:

  • Application programming interface
  • Data models
  • Business logic
  • Development environment
  • Server side scripts
  • Integration framework

How is it hosted?

When a software provider refers to hosting, there are two basic options that ecommerce business have. The first is called on-premise hosting, or when your business "hosts" the website on a server physically located in the confines of your own building. The benefits of this option include more control over your online retail platform, greater visibility of your own data, and a better understanding of data security. On the other hand, scaling can be a challenge in terms of hardware and expenses.

The other option businesses have is called on demand, or hosting in the cloud. Companies can set up their platform at a low price point and any system maintenance or upgrades are left to the vendor to take care of. Also, scaling is much easier in the cloud. The main drawback is with regard to data security issues, but major server providers often have robust data protection infrastructures, so companies can still access their information at any time and from nearly any location in a secure manner.

How will it benefit my business?

In addition to scalability and protection of your data safely, ecommerce platforms, whether hosted on premise or in the cloud, offer a handful of operational benefits and business tools. These include:

  • A product management suite
  • Merchandising
  • Pricing
  • Promotions
  • Search capabilities
  • The ability to personalize sales and services to your liking

Ecommerce platforms offer businesses the ability to customize product information and how it's solicited to best fit their own online retail needs, which can be a mutual benefit for both the business and its customers.

Keep an eye out for these things

In terms of growing with your ecommerce website, there are a number of things that your business should keep an eye out for in the near future. Social media is driving ecommerce click through rates and conversions, so having a strong online presence connected to your new ecommerce platform is best practice.

What's more, the rapid growth of mobile technology is connecting consumers in a way like never before, so developing a corresponding mobile application could significantly help drive revenue to your ecommerce website. The benefit of running a hosted website in the cloud is that scalability, or adding features to your website, is much easier this way. Cloud-based systems are becoming the preferred method of ecommerce platforms because of their ability to scale properly. In terms of mobile growth, applications are heavily reliant on the cloud as well, so consumers shopping from a portable device can access your products or services from nearly any location that has a viable Wi-Fi connection. With the ability to buy from wherever they can, your bottom line could see a significant boost in capital gains.

Bigcommerce is the leading ecommerce platform for growing and mid-market retailers.

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