You might have read our top ten checklist for choosing an e-Commerce platform. Now it’s time for the other side of the story – when things go horribly wrong. In this post, adapted from our FREE e-Commerce eBook, Neil Paterson looks at four common challenges facing new website builds, and what you can do to prevent them…

1. Your web development budget goes bye-bye

If you’re unfamiliar with managing a web build, it’s really easy to under-budget. No two businesses are the same, so when it turns out that your ‘one-size-fits-all’ e-Commerce solution could do with being a couple of sizes bigger, your budget might not stretch to fit.

Extra-small clothing tag

Source: Taz at Flickr.

Bespoke features cost money, and the later you realise your web developer needs to implement a crucial customisation, the more you’ll have to shell out.

Here’s a real-life example. We worked with a company that had been using IBM Websphere, and had been quoted outrageous prices by their web development agency to implement extra features and technical SEO fixes.

Case in point: they received a four-figure bill for MailChimp integration. A simple add-on. Not cool.

The firm could have saved themselves lots of time and many headaches by asking a simple question to begin with: “How much do you charge for changes or consideration of new developments, technologies or plug-ins?”

The company in question is now moving to Magento, and enjoying the customisation benefits an open-source platform brings.

2. The world of e-Commerce changes, and you’re left behind

For e-Commerce and marketing managers, keeping pace in the rapidly changing world of e-tail is part of the job. But just because we’re prepared for the next big change on the horizon, it doesn’t mean your e-Commerce platform is.

Technologies improve. Market dynamics shift. Users become more sophisticated. And your platform needs to be flexible enough to cope with changing demands and expectations.

Contortionist striking a pose.

Source: Charlie Marshall at Flickr.

If it isn’t, there’s a real risk of your competitors racing ahead – leaving you lagging behind and ‘locked in’ to a platform that doesn’t meet the needs of a modern marketplace.

Again, open-source platforms are a good way to safeguard against this. With their committed development communities, new features can be requested and worked on at any time – often, popular features will come complete with the next core upgrade, or quickly offered as a free or affordable add-on.

3. Search Engines and Users Hate Your Site

First impressions count for a lot. But don’t let yourself be blindsided by sleek designs, when there may be underlying technical issues that prevent your site from competing in search engines.

Kermit the Frog, overawed at a computer.

Source: Fernando de Sousa at Flickr.

Often, these challenges are only discovered when its too late, making life very difficult for your digital marketing team. Remember: A site without proper SEO integration is like a sportscar with its engine stripped out – you won’t go anywhere. Aesthetic prowess counts for nothing when customers can’t find you.

Skin-deep attractiveness can also conceal serious usability issues. If you present a poor user experience, expect complaints and a loss of customer loyalty, these problems often aren’t easy to fix.

4. Your products are too complicated for your platform to handle

A real deal-breaker for us when helping clients choose e-Commerce solutions is the way a platform handles complex product attributes.

For some, a simple approach to product attributes works without problems. You want to buy a t-shirt? Fine – just choose your size and away you go.

Woman selling t-shirts.

Source: Garry Knight at Flickr.

But go any more complex than this, and many e-Commerce platforms start to struggle.

Let’s say you’re selling a t-shirt in three colours – red, blue and green. Only the red ones are available in extra large, but the green shirts come with an optional logo on the back.

This is where conditional attributes come into play. A platform that supports conditional attributes will let you select these options from the same product page. It will understand that once a customer selects a red t-shirt, it should allow for selection of the ‘extra large’ option. If they select a green t-shirt, it will know to let them choose to have the super-cool logo printed on the back. And if they select a blue t-shirt, it will know not to display any additional options.

These situations arise more often than you might think. Consider your product range – it’s likely there are at least a few items that need this extra level of customisation.

But if you choose a platform that doesn’t allow for conditional attributes, you’ll find yourself having to implement mind-bending workarounds like creating several product entries for what is, essentially, the same item. Not ideal for usability or SEO.

How to stop these awful things happening

Prevention is always better than cure. Ideally, you should think about and address these problems before you’ve even started working with an agency. Then you’ll be in the best position to avoid budget, usability and flexibility issues.

Similarly, if you’re already working with an agency, you should make sure they’re aware of these concerns and do everything you can to steer the build in the right direction.

If you’re in the unfortunate position where your site is live and you’ve already encountered challenges like these, your best bet is to engage third-party web development specialists to make amends where they can.

Our free guide to choosing an e-Commerce platform contains lots more advice to help you prevent these problems. Download your copy today and protect your business!

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About the author:

Neil is ClickThrough's Web Applications Manager. He is usually found fiercely interrogating an API or forcibly manipulating data into ways you never thought possible. Ouch!