Originally published on September 2, 2016, updated January 13, 2020
Have you ever built something small? A backyard deck? A shed? A children’s play house? You might have used a few hand tools: a saw, a drill, a hammer, etc. Now what if you wanted to build something bigger - much bigger? You would probably need more powerful and sophisticated tools.
When your eCommerce business is ready to move beyond the start-up phase, you face the same growing challenges. You need better tools. How do you choose them?
If you've managed to get traction on the Amazon marketplace, chances are you did something right to make it happen. You had a great idea. You worked hard. You might have had some good luck too (along with the bad!). But you also probably started out with the basics: spreadsheets, paper invoices, a cell phone and a checkbook. But when things grow, it's hard to keep pace. You need more robust software tools to do the heavy lifting - which will give you the additional time and energy to stay efficient and strategic.
Let's take a look at five steps to consider as you select a software vendor for your growing business.
Every business is unique, but there are many commonalities: pricing, inventory management, customer support, suppliers, marketing, etc. So while your products and style may be your own, you can leverage software that addresses common features. You want to choose a product that is the right fit, technically and in terms of capabilities. Is the software built on a strong technology platform? In other words, is it newer technology? If not, stay away - it will not be easily upgraded, if at all, and custom modifications will cost too much.
Does it have the features that you need today, and maybe tomorrow, as well? A software vendor that does not have a clear vision for what its product can do and the advantages it offers may not have an eye for the future of the product. And that could leave you out in the cold. Ask the vendor those questions - you'll learn a lot about a company based on where they see their value in the market.
Is the company in the position to support the product - and you? If you are signing on for a longer-term commitment, ask for referrals. What have others done with the software? Does the vendor offer support to help get you started quickly? Has the company clearly shown it is going to be around? Is it making constant improvements to its offerings? If you don't feel confident that the company is going in a positive direction, it's time to consider another.
History may be an indicator of what the future holds. But so many software companies are fairly new. Don't let that scare you off – it may even be a good thing! It really pays to ask questions: How big is the company? How are its products implemented? Why are they better than others?
If a vendor has a stand-alone solution that requires installation from a disk, be warned: trouble ahead. That is a strategy that has been tossed in the digital recycle bin (i.e. written to /dev/null). Rather, you want to integrate with services in the cloud. The benefits are numerous. For starters, you don't have to worry about which version of the software you have, keeping up with upgrades, patches, etc. The vendor will keep their software up to date in the cloud. They manage it, not you. Remember, you want to pay to use the software, not to own the headaches.
Using cloud software is also much easier since you just point to a service and go. There may be some personalized configuration, but you don't have to worry about compatibility with OS versions, and other technical difficulties that in the past kept many customers up at night - literally!
Another benefit of cloud-based services is that when the vendor upgrades their software you should be able to take advantage of that with little to no effort on your part. They may charge additional money for enhanced functionality, but you won't have to do the hard work of the technical upgrade. In short, choose a vendor that provides their products as cloud-based offerings.
Integration is often the most difficult and frustrating part of software. Choose a vendor that has adopted industry standards. That can mean using cloud services as an integration medium, or a standard for converting data. If you have started out on spreadsheets and are ready to move to a better digital solution, find out how the vendor will help you with that transition. If you have your data in a pile of trash, don't expect miracles. But assuming you have sales and customer data stored in spreadsheets, or a small database, how will they help you get that data into a usable state?
As your business expands, is the vendor able to support your growth? Can they offer better throughput (performance)? Can they offer more features? Maybe even some custom development to meet your specific needs or the ability to work with other systems? If they aren't progressing, then they won't help you to do so either. The market is constantly evolving. The solutions need to evolve as well, and even anticipate a little bit.
Finally, we come to price. But what is the real price? Because if you get a superior product that is well-supported, integrates with your business and has the potential to meet your growth, then your total value will be great. But if you purchase a product with limited capabilities, weak customer support, and no plan for the future, then you may have wasted every dime. In other words, the price in mere dollars will not reflect your total cost.
Pricing should be clear. If it’s not, you will surely be surprised by the bill. The vendor should have a pricing structure that clearly shows what you get for a given dollar amount, and if it’s done well there should be a path for additional features with additional cost. On the flip side, some vendors work on a teaser model where prices are very low to get you in the door, then spike them when you are invested in the product. Others almost give the software away, but charge heavily for support. Find out from your vendor what the prices are before you jump in. It pays to know.
Call vendors and ask questions. Have them address these topics. Ask them how the features of their product will add value to your business. Ask them to describe how other companies have gone through this process and had success. Also, ask them to give you a demonstration, or even better, a free trial. Time spent in evaluation will pay tenfold when you have the right tool in your technology stack.
Find out more about eComEngine's software products for merchants on the Amazon marketplace.
Originally published on September 2, 2016, updated January 13, 2020
This post is accurate as of the date of publication. Some features and information may have changed due to product updates or Amazon policy changes.