When it comes to ecommerce, not all platforms are created equal. Some might be incredibly user-friendly, while others require significant developer support; some might be best for small merchants while others are designed for enterprises.
It goes without saying that every aspect of your ecommerce site is critical to keeping your business thriving - and that makes your choice of ecommerce platform incredibly important. But your ecommerce platform doesn’t just help you process orders. It also helps you track your performance over time, so you can understand how you’re doing and identify opportunities for growth.
Think about it - when you log into your ecommerce platform, the first thing you probably look at are your daily sales and traffic numbers. But there’s a lot more data that goes into keeping you informed about your sales, your customers, your inventory and your overall business health. And, as you’d expect, each ecommerce platform varies in terms of what data and analytics capabilities they provide to their users.
In the first chapter of our guide, we’ll do a deep-dive into ecommerce platform 101, go over the pros and cons of some of the biggest players and explore what they offer in terms of ecommerce data.
Before diving into all things ecommerce, it helps to know what exactly an ecommerce platform is. If ecommerce is the buying or selling of things on the internet, an ecommerce platform is the software that manages that process. Typically, an ecommerce platform is a SaaS-based online platform that manages the back-end of your ecommerce site.
Common functions of ecommerce platforms include a main dashboard for store management, along with sections that allow you to edit your website, manage and track orders and customers, manage and edit inventory, send basic email notifications, create content and report on performance. Some ecommerce platforms may include additional functionality like social media scheduling, order fulfillment or advertising - or they may make those features available through external apps.
Ecommerce platforms are typically built with a specific user in mind. Some are ideal for small, independent merchants, while others are ideal for large enterprises that sell online and offline. The platform that’s right for you will vary depending on your business and needs. But one thing you want to be sure of, no matter what kind of business you have? High-quality ecommerce data and analytics.
Any analyst will tell you that it’s important to keep track of data and analyze performance for your orders, customers, products, marketing channels and more. It’s easy to focus on sales and revenue alone, but the truth is that mining more granular data for insights can help you identify opportunities and make adjustments to grow your business.
Let’s say you notice a drop in revenue month-over-month. You take a look at your data and realize that your site traffic has shifted to include more mobile users. Using that data, you can determine what action will have a positive impact on your bottom line - like further optimizing your site for mobile devices. While you can never have too much data, there are some metrics you’ll want to focus on:
Ultimately, the more data, analytics and visualizations your ecommerce platform offers, the better.
Understanding your ecommerce data can provide you with the insights you need to make smarter decisions for customers, marketing, inventory, promotions and more - especially if you know how to put it to use. Let’s take a look at a few use cases:
When you have easily accessible information on all of your customers and the purchases they make, you can find powerful insights about their behavior - and segment them into relevant groups that help you better target your communications, promotions and more. You need to be able to distinguish between your repeat customers and your occasional shoppers, identify full-price buyers versus bargain hunters, and tell who your most valuable customers are - so you can acquire more customers like them.
One of the biggest areas where ecommerce analytics can provide a leg up is your marketing strategy. Analytics like customer demographics, best-selling products, return on ad spend and LTV allow you to target ads to the right audience, promote products and allocate ad spend more effectively. Plus, data provided by your ecommerce platform can help inform virtually any marketing campaign, from email marketing to social media.
Is one of your products selling hot this month? Your ecommerce platform will tell you. This allows you to not only shift ad spend effectively, but also restock as needed and make smart pricing and product placement decisions. On the other hand, you can also see which products aren’t selling so well, so you can try to move them off the shelves faster.
The most basic metrics your ecommerce platform provides are also some of the most critical: your revenue, your product costs, your profit, and your margins. Staying on top of these metrics helps you understand your true performance and cash flow - as well as where you can cut costs, if necessary.
While there are tons of options for ecommerce platforms, there are a few big players in the space: Shopify, WooCommerce, and Magento. How do they stack up in terms of ecommerce analytics and reporting?
Shopify is a popular platform for small to medium-sized merchants (it also offers Shopify Plus for larger merchants). Shopify is extremely user-friendly, so someone who’s an expert at their craft but not necessarily at sales or marketing can still set up a store with little trouble. In terms of ecommerce analytics and reporting, Shopify focuses on the data that gives direct insight into a merchant’s bottom line: orders and revenue.
Pros: Shopify knows that its merchants are looking to grow revenue, and they focus their analytics and reporting on several KPIs designed to help merchants grow. These include:
You can also access more granular reports on hot and cold products, customers over time, marketing performance, inventory and more.
Cons: If you’re a larger company with more products, more acquisition channels, and more complex marketing strategies, you’ll likely need more detailed insights into your inventory, financials, customers, product performance, marketing attribution and more. If that’s the case, the standard reporting offered by Shopify may fall a tad short for you.
For example, the inventory reporting section in Shopify only offers three reports: percent of inventory sold, average inventory sold per day, and a month-end inventory snapshot. If you wanted to know specifics regarding what products were typically purchased together or which ones were popular among which customer groups, you’d need to use another reporting solution (which you can integrate with in the Shopify App Store).
WooCommerce is another big player in the ecommerce platform world. (Since WooCommerce was built for Wordpress sites, merchants who are used to using Wordpress will likely find it easy to use). While WooCommerce has a leg up on other ecommerce platforms when it comes to its low barrier to entry and large number of integrations, it falls short when it comes to data and analytics.
Pros: WooCommerce provides the critical data necessary to run a small or medium-sized ecommerce site - but not much more than that. In your WooCommerce account, you can report on four primary areas of your business:
You’ll be able to track basic performance metrics like total sales, sales by product or category, coupons and discounts, inventory levels, and taxes - but you won’t fund much advanced reporting functionality, especially around customers. However, while WooCommerce’s ecommerce analytics are a bit underwhelming, it does offer integrations with other reporting tools.
Cons: WooCommerce’s main downside is that its native analytics and reporting are fairly limited. Additionally, setting up WooCommerce integrations can be involved and not particularly user-friendly, often requiring developer expertise - not always possible for small and medium-sized merchants.
BigCommerce is another major player in the ecommerce space - they provide a headless ecommerce platform designed to meet the needs of larger, more established merchants. Because of that, the features are a little more robust than some of the other entry-level ecommerce platforms, and their reporting and analytics are, too - particularly as you advance to the more expensive plans.
Pros: BigCommerce offers analytics and reporting through 11 built-in reports, from inventory to customer behavior. BigCommerce’s reports include:
Like both Shopify and WooCommerce, if you want access to more reporting and analytics functionality, you can work with additional platforms through BigCommerce’s Apps Marketplace.
Cons: BigCommerce targets larger merchants and brands - so if you’re a smaller operation looking for a wealth of data, expect to pay for it. In fact, many of BigCommerce’s more premium features - including more advanced analytics and reporting - are included in their more advanced plans, or as premium add-ons.
Magento, the last major ecommerce platform on our list, is similar to BigCommerce in that they target larger-scale ecommerce operations. Their platform is one of the most robust and customizable, allowing you to add vast amounts of code to your site, configure product pages, track invoicing, access large amounts of data, and more - but that also makes it one of the more unwieldy, complicated and expensive ecommerce platforms to use.
Pros: Magento is a powerful ecommerce platform, and the same can be said for its reporting and analytics as well - they even have their own business intelligence product, Magento BI. Sold as an add-on for Magento subscriptions, Magento BI provides several out-of-the-box dashboards that allow merchants to report on metrics like average order value, customer lifetime value and retention. You can also use it to connect additional data sources and create custom reports and dashboards.
While some Magento Plans (and Magento BI) are intended more for large ecommerce businesses, Magento does have a lower-cost product specifically designed for small businesses (although with fewer features and less support).
Cons: Magento is a powerful ecommerce platform. However, one of the things that makes it great is also one of its downfalls - it’s much more complicated to set up and use than its more user-friendly competitors, as well as more expensive. Developer resources are required to create and maintain a Magento store, which can add on significant costs. It's also self-hosted, which can add to costs, storage requirements and bandwidth.
The same is true for Magento’s analytics and reporting offerings. Although Magento BI provides a lot of possibilities for reporting, it can be tough to set up and navigate on your own, and Magento lacks the robust online resources and communities of other ecommerce platforms.
Before we move onto chapter 2, here are a few key takeaways to remember:
The bottom line? It’s hard to find everything you need in a single ecommerce platform. That’s why just about every platform provides the ability to integrate with third-party tools for marketing and advertising, shipping, fulfillment, subscriptions, and - yes - ecommerce analytics and reporting. Just check out Shopify’s App Store, BigCommerce’s Apps Marketplace and WooCommerce’s Extensions to see the hundreds of technologies you can add on to your store.
Don't forget - Glew integrates with Shopify, WooCommerce, BigCommerce, and Magento - along with many other ecommerce platforms - to provide an all-in-one business intelligence solution that connects your data sources and provides hundreds of calculated metrics and prebuilt dashboards for store performance, customers, products, orders, subscriptions, inventory and more, along with the option to create custom reports.
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