Choosing the right ecommerce platform is a complex decision that generates many concerns, such as cost, time-to-market, usability, reliability and customization. No software solution — whether off-the-shelf or custom-developed Software-as-a-Service platform — provides everything your business needs. Off-the-shelf platforms maybe have custom modules that allow for the necessary customization, but you are beholden to the developer to maintain and update those modules going forward and to create new ones as needs arise.
While SaaS developers tend to push frequent updates to respond to the market’s changing requirements, any changes to the software necessarily affects all customers on the platform, leaving you with little control or ability to customize as needed. Operating costs, ongoing maintenance expenses, website development and the ability to act quickly to leverage emerging business opportunities are major considerations in any digital transformation at the enterprise level, and you can't underestimate how difficult it may be to satisfy the dissenting outlooks of decision-makers and stakeholders. That's why the best solution isn't always the cheapest.
Choosing a robust, scalable and customizable ecommerce platform — while more expensive than hosted or cheaper ecommerce solutions — can actually save money in the long run by ensuring that your platform helps grow your business, without your business outgrowing your platform.
Your website is your most valuable ecommerce resource,and you'll probably need a new website for any ecommerce platform if you want to fulfill your marketing and sales goals. You need to create a functional website that adjusts for mobile devices, distinguishes your business and integrates seamlessly with your ecommerce platform. While many platforms have existing design templates that can be implemented to your store, this is inadequate for most enterprise businesses, which have specific requirements that should not be bent to fit existing designs. Custom development gives you the necessary flexibility to meet the needs of enterprise businesses, clients and stakeholders.
Integrating with Other Platforms
SaaS software tends not to work well with other platforms because of inherent limitations that might require major retooling to integrate with your systems. Off-the-shelf products routinely require some adjustments and customizations. Choosing one of the cheaper SaaS or off-the-shelf versions is likely to require ripping and replacing your platform in just a few years if it cannot be tightly integrated with your business systems and tailored to meet your business’s needs. The problem with Saas or limited software is that you'll experience major headaches when trying to integrate ecommerce with your website, manufacturing operations, distributors and other stakeholders.
A platform that operates at the center of your business allows your ecommerce needs to fuel your business model. Instead of using standard themes and modules, customizable software gives you the tools to integrate plug-ins, templates and modules that reflect your unique image but still integrates seamlessly with manufacturers, affiliates and customer smartphone technology. Custom development offers these advantages when integrating with other systems:
- Connect with third-party tools and your existing ERP and CRM systems.
- Save time by automating routine processes.
- Reduce unnecessary human errors.
- Empower your customers to serve themselves.
- Improved overall digital experience.
- Customer specific pricing.
- Optimize websites for personalized customer features.
- Provide solutions that fulfill your budgetary and customer needs.
- Integrate interactive searches on your website with SEO by generating automatic URL rewrites without requiring lots of time from employees.
- Design forms that remember each customer's ordering preferences.
Beneficial Components of Custom Development over Saas
Even the smallest changes in your ecommerce website need to integrate with your core business systems and could generate big problems when using a SaaS ecommerce platform. Data needs to update in both directions across all of your business systems, and because SaaS platforms have only one version of the code that applies to all customers you are unable to make updates to the platform yourself. In the United States, online business is expected to grow from $349.2 billion in 2014 to $398.8 in 2015. In Europe, online retailers are expanding in 2015 at 14.2 percent faster rate than regular retail outlets, and forecasters predict 18.7 growth in European online sales for 2016. Growth in online sales in China has grown by at least 12 percent each year since 2003, and Latin America Internet sales have grown from $1.6 billion to $43 billion in the past decade. More than 50 percent of customers search for goods and services on their mobile phones, so website redesigns, intuitive SEO features and changes to business workflows are inevitable for ecommerce success. Custom development delivers the following advantages over using hosted SaaS platform:
- Custom Reporting
- Custom developments facilitating import and export the data you need for custom reports, comparisons and market opportunities. SaaS platforms tend to only provide limited reporting options.
- Workflow Challenges
- Even the simplest custom workflow architecture tends to be specific to your business, but changes affect all your customers. If you need to add a unique field at checkout, a Saas solution might not be able to integrate the changes. Customizable software doesn't just use modules that might fit your business but rewrites the code specifically for your needs.
- Shipping Integration
- Few areas of ecommerce are more essential to growth and customer satisfaction that shipping integrations. Your business might be marketing to customers in dozens of countries, and you'll need to integrate local sales taxes, weight, location of inventory, cost of various shipping methods, currency conversion rates and other custom information to ship successfully. Intermodal integration allows you to combine shipping methods, compare prices, assess taxes, automatically produce and deploy tracking information, and ship with confidence.
- Multistore Customizations
- You might have multiple websites that market different product catalogs, sell products on your website and at retail locations or market medical instruments with a separate store for dental items. SaaS systems can seldom handle the intricacies of code logic that are needed to integrate these separate but related business platforms. The smallest changes can wreak havoc with the system unless your platform can customize the code logic for multistore workflows.
- Relevant Analytics
- Analytics abilities don't always track everything that you want to know about customer behavior. Both off-the-shelf and SaaS platforms might not follow everything that a customer does before buying or leaving your website. This information could prove extraordinarily valuable for refining your sales funnel.
- Managing Inventory
- Managing inventory and ordering can be difficult if you don't have a method to track and integrate inventory with manufacturing and ordering. Real-time inventory figures allow you to automate ordering processes and offer discounts or sales on slow-moving products.You'll also have to integrate any automatic system with human oversight. Developing a custom system allows you to control multiple product lines with different criteria for automatic ordering and different touchpoints that trigger staff involvement in the process.
- Custom Dashboards
- Developing a custom dashboard can optimize your business in countless ways by providing access to every department, such as sales, manufacturing and marketing.You can use custom dashboards with different levels of access for authorized staff, affiliates and customers who need to access certain information. Custom dashboards will keep proprietary business information secure while allowing authorized users convenient access to information.
-  RetailResearch.org: Online Retailing: Britain, Europe, US and Canada 2015
-  BuiltIn.com: E-commerce and Development
Author bio: Kyle Funk works for Clarity Ventures, a web and software development company offering the full suite of services including integrated ecommerce for enterprise businesses.
Feature image curtsey of Sebastiano Guerriero