As the eCommerce sector continues to grow, more and more businesses are taking their business online. In this article, we explore the software options for building the perfect technology stack for your online store.
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eCommerce has never been more popular. Although it was a staple arm of the retail industry before the COVID-19 pandemic, online shopping came into its own in 2020 as quarantines and closures made in-person shopping all but impossible for long periods.
While overall retail sales dropped by 17.9% between February and May 2020, eCommerce sales were booming, according to Statistics Canada. They hit a record CA$3.9 billion in May of that year —99.3% higher than in February and 110.8% higher than May of 2019. By December 2020, sales had climbed further to US$3.82 billion (around CA$4.7 billion).
The opportunities for entrepreneurs are clear. Canadian eCommerce platform provider Shopify said in February 2022 that the number of merchants using its service was nearly twice as high as 2019 levels.
If you’re interested in selling online, you might be wondering what technology stack you need to get started. In this article, we break down the essential eCommerce software and other tools you need to build an online store and grow your business.
Did you know? Technology stack is a term used in the tech industry to describe the tools necessary for a particular business or function. A tech stack is not just a simple collection of software that a business uses, its components should be integrated and work together seamlessly.
Businesses that can set up their technology stack to allow information to flow with minimal human intervention waste less money on manual processes and have easier access to all their data in one place, allowing them to make better business decisions. At a time when SMEs are struggling to fill roles, this makes good sense. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business found that a third of respondents to a 2021 study had invested in some form of automation technology in the past year to deal with staffing shortages.
Get online and start selling
Let’s start with the fundamentals. As its name suggests, eCommerce software allows businesses to sell products —including physical goods, virtual goods, services, or experiences— online. Core features include the ability to create product listings, take payments from customers, and notify customers about the progress of their orders. As well as handling the mechanisms of running a virtual store (known as the ‘backend’ in web development), many eCommerce platforms also help businesses develop the web pages that customers will actually see when browsing the store online (the ‘frontend’). There are also features to help calculate shipping costs, handle returns, manage discounts, and more.
Some eCommerce software includes more advanced features that small businesses might find useful. These include:
- Marketing tools, which integrate into a store’s existing social media or marketing platforms.
- Customer relationship management (CRM) functionalities, so stores can intelligently track customers, build up a profile of them over time based on what they buy, and market to them appropriately.
- Inventory management, so that stores can track stock levels, order replacements ahead of customer demand, and ensure they never miss a sale.
But the above features are also available as standalone packages, so it’s up to you to decide whether the features provided in your eCommerce software are enough for your needs, or whether you want to incorporate additional components into your tech stack yourself.
Manage your money and accounts
Taking payment for your goods and services can be surprisingly complex, especially when selling internationally. Many eCommerce packages handle payments, but many SMEs use payment processing software because it has components and a pricing structure that suit them better. Typical payment processing features include credit card authorizations, settlements, and administrative functions. If your eCommerce store does expand into bricks and mortar in the future, many payment processing solutions also work in the physical world. In this case, they would integrate with point-of-sale software, which allows you to scan barcodes, keep track of sales, and manage inventory.
No business —large or small— will succeed without a firm grasp of the numbers. While some small operations make do with a spreadsheet, accounting software offers a big step up in functionality and performance. Manually tracking sales —which can number in the thousands, even for small eCommerce stores— quickly becomes impossible, so an accounting package that integrates with your eCommerce software is a sensible choice.
Using accounting software can be a good way for a small business to save time and money through automation. Integration with eCommerce software, for example, means that transactions are recorded accurately and, in most cases, immediately. This can apply to both sales and purchases, giving a real-time view of cash flow and general financial health. Not only does the automation save money from an operation point of view, you can also save on accountant’s fees, too.
Finally, having accurate, up-to-date records in your accounting software makes it easier to comply with any tax or auditing requirements you may have.
Attract and retain customers
Having a store is no use unless you can guarantee the traffic that will lead to sales. And loyal customers that keep buying from you are more valuable than one-time buyers.
Small businesses today have access to several tools —including customer engagement software, email marketing software, and customer relationship management software— that help drive people to your store front and encourage them to return once they are a customer.
It is possible to market your online store without buying specialist software, but there are several tools that can integrate with your existing software to make your marketing more intelligent and effective. It’s often said that companies used to waste half their marketing budgets on ineffective tactics —they just didn’t know which half. With marketing analytics, the ability to measure performance means that each dollar spent should be trackable against a return.
Customer relationship management (CRM) software, allows businesses to maintain a database of customers and their purchases. It also stores a history of their other interactions with your company, such as which emails they receive and whether they have contacted you or your customer service teams. Knowing more about your customers means you can better meet their needs and retain them long-term as a happy purchaser.
For a web-based business, social media marketing software simplifies and automates this often complex task. Given that 87% of Canadians are active social media users, and spend nearly one-and-a-half-hours a day on social media, there is a huge potential pool of customers that are just a post and a click away from your storefront. Social media software lets you automate the management of your various channels. You can simplify posting and advertising across channels and monitor your channels to make sure you stay on top of trends. You can also see how your campaigns are performing and redirect your budget to where it’s most effective.
Should I use cloud-based software?
A large proportion of software today is sold as ‘cloud-based’ or ‘in the cloud’. This means that you don’t need to install it on your own computer or on a remote computer (‘server’) that you might operate to run your store. The cloud model means that the vendor runs the software using their own computers. You pay to use the software or integrate it into your technology stack, usually on a per-month basis.
The advantage for small businesses is that you don’t need to worry about running the tool or maintaining it —you just pay for it and use it. If you don’t like it, you can stop paying and try something else. Many website providers, as well as providers of the cloud computing services that people use to build their own websites, have marketplaces where you can get a huge range of cloud-based software to ‘plug in’ to your tech stack as needed.
Whether you just use the features in your eCommerce software, or whether you choose to add other components, a properly integrated technology stack will help your online store operate more efficiently, intelligently, and profitably.
The tools covered in this article are just the beginning. Cybersecurity software is always a sensible early investment, and customer support software will help you handle enquiries as you grow. Once your store reaches a certain size, you could look at tools for analytics and business intelligence to monitor growth and performance .