E-commerce platforms are never one-size-fits all, the solution you choose is always dependent on your unique situation and business goals. From custom development, to popular pre-built solutions like WooCommerce each option has its pros and cons.
We’re going to break down what e-commerce is, what options are available and when and why to consider exploring a custom developed option.
What is E-Commerce?
An e-commerce website is a website infrastructure that allows the display, purchase and promotion of products and services.
These infrastructures can be built through custom development or you can purchase ‘out-of-the-box’ solutions, which we will talk about in more detail.
Therefore, at some point (ideally early on), you have to decide if you want to be:
- A builder.
Do you want to have customization options within your site’s infrastructure? Is there a specific functionality or user interface (UI) that you desire? These are all valid concerns, but it is important to note that a custom solution will most likely require a more active hand within the website, as well as more ongoing maintenance.
- A buyer.
Will you be content with a more static interface and out-of-the-box online shopping experience? This is certainly the most common route for e-commerce solutions, and while there is not as much customization available, these sites can still look beautiful and perform efficiently with less maintenance and upkeep.
Now, let’s break these options down further.
There are hundreds, and we mean HUNDREDS, of CMS solutions out there. To keep things brief, we’re going to highlight three of the more well-known and highly-utilized ‘out-of-the-box’ offerings.
A subscription based SaaS model that does not require any existing website to set-up. You can build and manage your online store through their CMS.
Shopify possesses what is likely the largest market share for out-of-the-box e-commerce solutions across the board. For this reason, the Shopify community provides a large bank of resources and support. Similar to the likes of Squarespace, Shopify is the go-to solution for spinning up a professional grade e-commerce website quickly and with little to no development and design experience.
Going hand-in-hand with being easy to set-up, Shopify offers a library of built-in features for online stores. Additionally, Shopify regularly proves to have the best site loading performance amongst its out-of-the-box competitors.
On the other hand, Shopify’s easy to use infrastructure does come with constraints.
After pulling in costs for additional fees and app/plug-in costs, Shopify ends up being one of the most expensive options on the market. A step further in terms of costs, if you wish to use a payment processor other than Shopify Payments, you will be caught spending additional money. This is also true for more creative and advanced themes.
Another thing to consider depending on the size of product offerings, Shopify has very limited custom functionality, therefore, scalability can become a concern.
Lastly, this platform is locked down. If there ever comes a time where you want to disassociate with Shopify, you will only be able to download a .CSV report of your inventories and sales, leaving you with a complete rebuild as your only option elsewhere.
- Platform: $299/month or $147.78/month with annual commitment*
- Plug-in SEO: Monitor and manage your sites SEO – $20/month
- PushOWL: Tailor and schedule push notifications for abandoned carts, sales, etc – $19/month
- Form Builder: Create and integrate forms throughout your shop – $10/month
*Pricing as of October 2022. Subject to change. Includes variable transaction fees.
- Easy to use
- Large bank of resources & support
- Site load performance
- Additional fees
- Limited scalability
- Limited customization
- Costly to move platforms
One of the first things to note is that there is somewhat of a paywall when looking at pricing for BigCommerce, therefore it is best utilized for enterprise-level companies looking to scale their efforts with large and complex inventories.
As a SaaS-based e-commerce solution, the all-in-one dashboard makes it easy to manage and update your online store, however, the CMS as a whole is less intuitive than Shopify.
Unlike Shopify, BigCommerce comes with no additional fees and it allows you to integrate your store with an existing site, if you wish to build your site on a more supported platform such as WordPress. If not, you can still create a webstore from scratch using BigCommerce.
Additionally, the BigCommerce platform comes with sales reporting and customer reviews at no additional costs.
One big con for BigCommerce users is the annual sales limit. As your online sales revenue increases, so does your payment to use the software, period.
Furthermore, out of the three CMS options we’re discussing here, BigCommerce has the least amount of apps available for integrations.
As is the case with all of these platforms, the custom functionality is limited and additional themes require purchase.
Lastly, one thing to note from a security standpoint is that BigCommerce offers no ability to block IP addresses that are causing malicious activity (ie: spam).
- Platform: 299.95/month*
- Rewind Backup: Essential plug-in for data backups – $39/month
*Remember that this is a starting cost, as your store’s revenue goes up, so will this price.
- All-in-one dashboard
- Far less additional fees
- Integrates with WordPress
- Built-in sales reporting & reviews
- Higher price point
- Annual sales limit
- Limited functionality
- Prone to malicious activity – spam
A personal favorite of our team here at VSG, WooCommerce is a customizable, open-source e-commerce platform that is designed to be integrated directly with WordPress.
A big perk of WooCommerce is that it is the easiest solution to add functionalities and plug-ins too. For this reason, it is the most widely used CMS on the internet. A popular feature in regards to its plug-in accessibility is that it has no limitations on payment processors and additional extensions are fairly inexpensive and avoid monthly subscription fees.
All in all, this platform is extremely expendable and highly customizable with a large library of custom functionality options.
Similarly to Shopify, WooCommerce has a very large library of resources and support due to its popularity and open source approach.
An outstanding feature of WooCommerce is the ability to conduct an in-site search function for all content. Moreso, just like BigCommerce, WC offers built-in sales reporting and customer reviews.
However, just like every platform, WooCommerce comes with its fair share of constraints.
Nevertheless, due to WooCommerce’s adaptability and ability to apply integrations and customizations, the all-in-one platform is not as intuitive for folks who do not have a general knowledge of design and development. This is the trade-off that comes with having more customization.
Moreover, another downside is that your site will require more manual maintenance, again, this has to do with the freedom that this platform allows, mainly the integration of a variety of independent plug-ins.
- Platform: FREE
- Jetpack Backup: Save store activity in real-time – $119.99/year (after $59.99 for the first year)
- Product Add-Ons: Includes product customization and other special features – $49/year
- Product Bundles: Allows you to offer bulk discounts and personalized bundles – $49/year
- Advanced Cancel Order: Allows users to submit cancellation requests – $49/year
- It’s FREE (for the base solution, add-ons cost some money)
- The most customizable and scalable out-of-the-box solution
- Integrates with WordPress directly
- No limitations on payment processors
- Built-in sales reporting and customer reviews
- In-site search functionality
- High customization leads to less intuitive platform for inexperienced users
- Requires manual maintenance to keep up-to-date and efficient
While it requires more hands-on work (and by proxy, money) for all parties involved, at VSG and Spindustry, we definitely prefer a custom developed solution. However, going custom is not right for everybody, it depends on your specific company and goals.
Some scenarios where a custom developed e-commerce website is viable might include:
- You desire a certain functionality that does not come with an out-of-the-box solution
- You require a higher level of security and guaranteed compliance
- You have a large number of SKUs that won’t scale with pre-built options
- You have integration needs that fall outside of the out-of-the-box capabilities (custom APIs)
- If the shopping process is part of a larger experience, a seamless customer journey is best achieved with custom development
- You want a team of qualified, experienced professionals to help you create, manage and promote your ecommerce store
As you might have gathered while reviewing that list, custom development has some serious perks, and most of them have to do with implementing and managing constraints that come from the uniqueness of a product, company or experience.
When it comes down to it, the largest benefit of pursuing a custom developed e-commerce experience is that it comes with (hopefully) a team of qualified and experienced professionals. A team that does not spin-up your web store and disappear, but a team that is familiar with the store from the ground up and has the capability to manage, train and optimize your site.
Moreso, along with your web solution, a custom developed site comes with personal consulting from your chosen web partner. Consulting obviously varies depending on the partner’s experience and industry, however you can expect to learn things related to set-up, management, regulation and promotion.
On the downside, with a custom CMS option, you are often left with less compatibility for APIs should you require them.
The options for plug-ins and additional open-source tools can be limited due to the custom nature.
The bottomline for going custom is that it will often be more expensive to develop up-front and it will take longer to complete than an out-of-the-box solution.
Note: always ask your web partner about their timelines and processes.
- Custom means fully custom!
- A unique solution for your unique needs
- Cater your web store to your market and offerings
- A dedicated team of professionals
- No hidden costs
- More costly (time and money)
- Limited API integration
- Limited library of plug-ins/tools
There are things we love about both out-of-the-box solutions and custom developed platforms.
Every option has their pros and cons, some more than others, but you are guaranteed to run into some roadblocks regardless of what solution you choose – therefore, it’s all about the team you assemble to support this technology.
On the whole, while selecting a platform is surely a big decision in regards to your approach to e-commerce, the reality is that there is a lot of strategizing and planning that should go into your set-up before you choose an e-commerce direction. Spindustry CEO, Michael Bird, spends a few minutes touching on some key points of this reality at about the 4:12 mark of our webinar recording.
No matter where you find yourself in your e-commerce set-up we invite you to watch our webinar here, and reach out to our experts! We would love to have a conversation with you about your current situation and future goals.
Visit our contact page to submit your inquiry today!