How many things have you or someone you know purchased online in the last month? The last year? The process of shopping online is becoming increasingly prevalent in today’s world, where brick-and-mortar stores are not only no longer the only option, but they’re not the preferred option for many consumers who enjoy the convenience and ease with which they can now buy products right from their homes. But how does someone set up shop online? If you own a business, this could be an important or even vital question to understand. Well, we’ve got a brief guide here for you, as well as some options to hopefully help get you started.
What Is E-commerce?
E-commerce is, simply, buying and selling goods and services online. For the modern business, online transactions have become not only hugely profitable—but often even necessary for the survival of that business. It has become the shopping experience of choice for millions of customers. In fact, electronic shopping has become so prominent that in 2014, according to eMarketer, it brought in a whopping $1.316 trillion dollars—accounting for 5.9% of retail sales worldwide. That number is only increasing each year, and will account for an estimated $2.489 trillion in retail sales by the end of 2018! With those numbers, businesses quite literally can’t afford to not at least think about setting up some method of online transactions for their own business.
But how does one go about setting up online? Well, while it’s possible to set up by yourself, it’s a complicated process—which is why so many business owners opt for using an e-commerce platform, as they already have the necessary tools and setup.
What Is an E-commerce Platform?
It’s a basic package that provides the necessary tools and services for business owners to conduct business transactions online. Without these tools, or without a custom website building team, business owners would need to set up their own online shop by themselves. This can be a long, complicated, and often not very cost-effective process of IT setup and constant maintenance, as well as storing specialized software at the area of business.
Specifically, aside from taking care of these requisite nuts and bolts for you, e-commerce platforms let you display, price, and manage what you have for sale on your website, as well as provide a system for the customer put in their payment information. This is known as a shopping cart. Some will also provide analytics, manage your content, manage customer orders, and a slew of other services.
Before we get into the platforms themselves, it’s important to stress that, while they’re useful for filling preliminary needs, there are some limitations to keep in mind. For example, while many provide customization tools for your site, it can be a difficult and time-consuming process to get your website looking slick, easy to use, and attractive—a necessity if you want to sell things online. While you can certainly pursue low-cost options if that’s what’s best for your business, it can be beneficial, if your budget allows, to work with professional teams who will help you build your site to be a fully realized and professional representation of your brand. Additionally, even if you pay monthly for hosted solutions to improve your site, you’re merely leasing it. This means that if you switch providers, or the provider shuts your website for any reason, you may end up losing everything.
So What Are Some Platforms?
There are a lot of platforms available, each with their own unique strengths and weaknesses. It can be difficult at first to decide which is the right choice for your business, since every business has different needs and strengths and every option offers something different. To help you make your decision, we’ve compiled a list of what we feel are some of the best deals for you to check out, as well as some pros and cons for each.
Among all of the e-commerce platforms out there, WooCommerce is the most popular and the favorite for many business owners, having hit no less than 7 million downloads as of April 2015. WooCommerce, like many great services, is known for its simplicity. With lots of customization options, as well as useful analytics tools and app extensions, this sleek WordPress plugin stands out as a great choice. This is a particularly good option for businesses with a limited budget and are trying to build their site alone. Keep in mind, though, that because WooCommerce is WordPress-based, it may prove to be a headache for non-Wordpress based site owners. Additionally, there are some fees associated with the shopping cart.
Magento is one of the most respected names in e-commerce, and for good reason. With the long list of extensions, ability to market your products across multiple websites, tools for SEO, enjoyable shopping experience, and many other features, Magento is the service of choice for tons of enterprising business owners. It also boasts a large, vibrant team of developers, and the fact that it’s written in PHP makes it quite easy to add new features and scale. Like WooCommerce, this platform is also ideal for site owners who are looking to be economical. Magento is easy to manage, secure, and especially ideal for large businesses; however, keep in mind that effectively running a business with Magento does require some programming skill (which, as we mentioned before, is why professional web-building teams can be a good investment).
Shopify is one of the oldest and time-tested e-commerce platforms out there. Plus, it’s pretty popular. Shopify offers great web hosting, security, a formidable array of marketing tools, visual appeal, and customer service that is widely praised as world class due to their 24/7 live support and helpful FAQ. Shopify also offers website owners a slew of useful SEO tools. Prices range from $9/month for the very simplest services to $179/month for the most extensive packages. Keep in mind going in that Shopify’s shopping cart isn’t as customizable as some other options and you won’t actually own your website (you’re leasing it).
With all the essential bells and whistles, BigCommerce will get you a good shopping cart site complete with customizability and excellent customer support. It also offers easy introductions to newcomers and people with little website-building and programming experience, if you’re looking to build the site yourself. Prices range from $30/month to $80/month. If you’re looking for a complete package that is right next to Shopify in terms of quality, and you have some cash to spend, then BigCommerce is the way to go. But again, with hosted solutions such as BigCommerce, you’ll be leasing, not owning, your website and there are limitations on what customizations you can make.
5. 3D Cart
Provides a great package to market and sell effectively, has a good selection of designs, is secure, and also boasts pretty good customer service. Comes with SEO tools, supports coupons and gift cards, and has great customizability for your shopping cart. Helps make your site mobile-friendly in search engines, which can be a useful benefit now that Google and other search engines have prioritized mobile-friendly sites in their results. Prices range from $9.99/month to $99.99/month, or $30.59/year to $84.99/year.
So How Do I Know What’s Right for My Business?
One of the most important things to think about, as any business owner knows, is budget. Once you’ve decided how much you’re willing to invest in your online business transactions, pick the option that will get you the best deal. If you’re on a low budget and have the time and energy to invest, trying your hand at creating a website with the already low-budget WordPress plugin WooCommerce, or Magento, can be a good option—though be aware that many newcomers who go with this option without experienced professional help can end up investing a lot more time into creating a site that isn’t up to their standards. Also keep in mind that if you pay, for example, $80/month on a paid service like BigCommerce, you’re paying $2,400 over 3 years for a site that you don’t own and run the risk of losing. By contrast, you could create a custom site with the help of a website design team that you can work with who will help you update and upgrade your site to suit your vision. This option is generally $2,500-$3,000.
Each business has its own unique niche and challenges, so it’s best to pick the option that best suits what you’re selling, your audience, et cetera. Identify your business’s strengths and weaknesses, and pick the E-commerce platform that best brings out those strengths and helps remedy or solve those weaknesses. Like all the steps of a business venture, it’s a balancing process of allocating resources and optimizing for the best success.
Best of luck!