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5 Points to Consider on Choosing an E-commerce Platform

Technology has reached unfathomable heights in the last two decades, and with it, the competition between industries has grown exponentially as well. Advertising, for example, has grown from the depths of print ads and the classic radio spots to the automated messages that your Google search query generates. Lo and behold, the world now has e-commerce affecting every facet of daily life for the majority of the planet.

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For any e-commerce entrepreneur – even a blogger or an online magazine host – finding the best content management system (CMS) is of high importance. Often, people just simply jump on the most famous ones without knowing what should be the best for them or their goals for their website. Without a clearly defined set of standard, you can be seduced by fancy functionalities that you never actually needed, or be attracted to dozens of themes without the features that match your requirements.

If you’re searching for the criteria that you should be looking for in an e-commerce platform or CMS, here’s everything that you need to consider.

Functionality

Content creation, especially for e-commerce, is more than just creating, deleting, editing and organizing pages. Most people assume that all content management systems just do all these basic tasks so much so that they would take functionality for granted. While almost all content management systems out there provide the foundation of those features, they don’t guarantee that such functionality may be presented in a more usable way.

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Case in point: not all blogging platforms allow the owner to manage and organize pages in a tree hierarchy. Instead, individual “posts” are automatically organized only by minimal criteria, such as date and category. In some cases, this limitation is acceptable and can actually keep the interface simple and easy to understand. Most of the time, however, this limitation is too much of a nuisance for most e-commerce managers.

Therefore, in opting to choose an e-commerce platform, you should consider first the basic functionality you need. For example, even if you do not require the ability to structure and organize pages now, you may still need to do so the in future. Be wary of any system that does not allow you to complete basic tasks. Also, ask yourself how easy it is to complete these tasks in the first place. There are literally hundreds of content management systems on the market, the majority of which offer core functionalities. However, they vary hugely in usability. Always test the system for usability before making a purchase.

Customizability

Many CMS developers have not adopted best practices and have created systems that produce horrible coding that puts unreasonable constraints on the design; in short, most CMS are too in deep with their own signature that they have destroyed the idea of customizability.

Every e-commerce developer need a content management system that allows flexibility in the way content is retrieved and presented. Ask yourself these questions and see if the CMS can answer with a yes: Can you retrieve news stories in reverse chronological order? Can you display events in a calendar? Is it possible to extract the most recent user comments and display them on the home page?

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For example, if you’re already choosing between the two CMS providers, say Volusion vs Shopify, you might want to consider whether they have almost the same prices, same functionality, but one of them (Shopify) offers more customizability in almost all its features. While Volusion can provide more themes, there’s not much customization you can do with them.

Editor Interface

Another important feature that you should pay attention to is the Editor interface. The majority of content management systems have aa WYSIWYG editor (What You See Is What You Get editor).  A WYSIWYG (pronounced “wiz-ee-wig”) editor or program is one that allows a developer to see what the end result would look like while the interface or document is being created. What you see is what you get, pretty much.

The editor is the interface through which the content is added and/or amended. Traditionally, it has also allowed the content provider to apply basic formatting, such as font and color. However, developers have recently moved away from this type of editor. For example, some CMS already has its predefined font, and you need to learn HTML or CSS coding just to change it.

Then again, there are a few dangers of traditional WYSIWYG editors. First, content providers are given too much control over the design. They are able to customize the appearance of a page so much that they undermine the consistency of the design and branding. Secondly, in order to achieve this level of design control, the CMS mixes design and content.

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The new generation of editors, like the recent version of WordPress, takes a different approach. Content providers use the editor to mark-up headings, lists, links and other elements, without specifying how they should appear.

Make sure that your list of requirements when choosing the CMS to use includes an editor designed on this principle and that does not give content providers control over the appearance. At the very least, look for content management systems that allow the “editor” role to be replaced with a more appropriate solution. The editor should also be able to handle external assets, including images and downloadable files.

Roles and permissions

As the number of content providers on your website increases, you may want more control over who can edit what. Having to manage roles and permissions across content providers and editors is important when choosing the CMS to use.

In cases when one group may need to be able to post job advertisements but not add content to the home page, the content management system should be able to support custom permissions. Permissions normally allow you to specify whether users can edit certain pages or even entire sections of the website, but sometimes, you need something more than that.

You could expect the number of content providers – from writers, editors, and social media experts – to grow. Because of this, you may require one person to be able to review content being posted to ensure accuracy and consistency in tone. Sometimes, content may be inputted by a junior staff member who requires the approval of a more senior manager before making it live. In both cases, you need a CMS that supports multiple roles. This can be as simple as having one “Editor” and one “Approver” role, or a more sophisticated system – e.g. Higher Editor Role with editor and approver permissions – with customized roles and different levels of permission.

Management of Assets

Management of images and files is badly handled in some CMS providers out there. Badly designed systems can surely frustrate users because of their poor accessibility and usability.

Particularly, not all CMS can handle images as good as others. Ensure that the content management system you select forces content providers to add attributes to images such as captions or timestamps. Some CMS’s would even force you to strictly follow a dimension restriction, and this is not what you might want.

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You may also want a CMS that provides basic image editing tools, such as cropping, resizing and rotating. However, finding one that does this can be a bit of a challenge.

You might also want to consider how the content management system deals with uploading and attaching PDFs, Word documents and other files. Have a closer look if their displays are pleasant to end users. It would also be good if descriptions can be attached to those files, as well as a search function to properly index every file you upload.

About the author

Kenneth Roberts

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