Will an “off-the-shelf” eCommerce website be right for me? Or should I get a custom built eCommerce website?
Pretty much the only people nowadays commissioning true custom eCommerce websites are very large corporates. Every other company uses pre existing “modules” or packages of code to make at least 80% of their website and customizes the rest.
“Off the shelf” eCommerce websites can sometimes provide 100% of what is needed requiring no code customisation at all.
I believe the amount of customization is dependent on the expected extra sales or cost savings for a business. The larger the business, the bigger the benefits, and therefore the larger the development budget.
For a small company any customization may prove uneconomic and a website that is 99-100% off the shelf is an option
In a continuum based on purchase price eCommerce options may look like this:
> Really honestly free (e.g. x.wordpress.com)
>> Simple software with simple built-in customization (e.g. Yahoo, Volusion, Joomla VirtueMart)
>>> Software that requires not so simple customization (e.g. Magento, specialist wine eCommerce software)
>>>> Software that requires a programmer to build your website out of various pre existing modules (e.g. .NET, web developers)
>>>>> Custom Built software.
What particular software you choose will depend on your “requirements”
If your requirements are, post wine reviews and new releases for customers to see online, and buy in-store, then the x.wordpress.com may be sufficient.
If you require,
- live integration with your stock, point of sale, accounting systems, suppliers for drop shipping and customers for CRM
- complex price promotions, loyalty schemes, truly heavy website traffic, trade and retail pricing
- plus all the normal eCommerce features such as shopping cart and catalog,
then you’re likely to have some significant customization.
The trick is to decide what requirements are “Must Have” vs “Should Have” vs “Nice to Have”
Then look at the software websites to see how many offer all your “Must Haves” and what’s the price. Chances are you’ll have to contact them with your list of requirements so you can get an accurate quote.
Once you’ve collected the quotes you’ll have a minor heart attack as to how expensive your requirements are. Then you’ll have a glass of wine and reconsider just how Must your “Must Haves” really are. Here’s a good way to do this.
Refine your requirements into three or more stages
Must Have’s are probably basic eCommerce catalog, content pages, shopping cart, shipping, email and payment processes.
A key decision you’ll need to make in Stage I is whether you can accept just your logo and brand colours on the website or whether you want a custom design. Sometimes there is a happy medium of being able to choose from a number of different designs (called “templates”) for no or little cost. In a corporate role I’ve insisted on full custom design, in a small business I’ve been happy with just the logo as long as website looks professional.
Note, for a small business, integration with other systems will be “Nice to Have”. Instead of integration you will probably upload inventory using a spreadsheet file, use PayPal not your own merchant account, and use simplified shipping quotes e.g. flat rate or by the case. For a medium business you’ll probably save money by having this integration so it’s a worthwhile “Must Have” assuming you have the budget.
After a couple of months (or years) of use, experience confirms that you really do need some features you discarded in Stage I as too expensive. Perhaps the software restricts your online promotions and marketing, or you’ve had negative customer feedback about something. So add some of the “Should Have” and may be even “Nice to Have” features to your website.
Your online business has really taken off and can now increasingly justify “Should Have” and “Nice to Haves”.
Controversial Alternative to Stage III
Frankly when your online business has grown to Stage III, I think you should comprehensively redo your requirements list as you’ll have a lot more experience with what you need.
And the eCommerce market is moving very swiftly so new solutions may now be available at more affordable prices than when you last checked.
You’ve done the hard yards of creating content for product listings, legal statements, shipping and return policies, so you can just upload this into the new system. There maybe some Google issues but these can be resolved (with something called a “301 redirect”) without losing Google Ranking. You can now afford to have a web developer add in lots of payment and shipping options.
I use to think you should start with a clear roadmap
You would know what and how you were going to increase the functionality of your website. Perhaps you start with eCommerce ‘bronze’ edition knowing that you can upgrade to ‘silver’ then ‘gold’ in the future.
But as the speed of eCommerce development picks up with new or updated eCommerce software coming out every month, I reckon you should choose what software suits you now and then look to move to new software every 6-12 months.
This will be sacrilege to some – and would have been to me a couple of years ago!
But two years ago there was no Magento, WordPress was just a blog, Google shopping products were only just being launched, customer reviews were unlikely and social media was for geeks and hippies. Outsourcing to India was for corporates, selling to China was for optimists or fools, and expecting a guy from Croatia to provide sensible comments on a technical forum in good English: oh come on!
Since then the whole landscape, or “webscape”, has changed. All those things have happened plus much more. Why wait for the current provider to upgrade their software when you may be able to get a better eCommerce website at half the price with new functions that hadn’t occurred to you 12 months ago.
So the key task is deciding what requirements are Must Haves, Should Haves and Nice to Haves. And then reconsidering, reprioritizing and requoting these every 6-12 months based on cumulative experience.
What do you think a small wine retailer’s “Must Have” requirements are? (see my next post on wine ecommerce requirements)