The Ultimate Guide to Ecommerce Web Development
Building an eCommerce business can be easy, but you have to make many upfront decisions before you begin. Our thorough guide will help you make choices that will lead to the growth of your eCommerce shop or platform!
eCommerce continues to grow as customers are spending increasing amounts of time online and value the range, speed and ease of use of eCommerce platforms. Americans spent almost $800 billion on eCommerce in 2020, a 32% rise from the $600 billion spent in 2019. One only has to look at the success of Amazon to see the importance and power of eCommerce development.
How to Get Started Quickly
In 2021 a business can start selling their products online within hours. This is possible through online marketplaces such as Amazon or eBay, subscription platforms that help you build your own e-stores such as WYSIWYG platforms like Wix or Shopify or standalone/content management systems such as WooCommerce and Magento. eCommerce platforms combined with eCommerce website development can give businesses an edge in online sales. Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of the different eCommerce platforms.
Online marketplaces work just like traditional brick and mortar marketplaces, except your stall is virtual. The market is located online, and your customers visit your store through their phones, tablets or computers. The advantages of online marketplaces are the immediate access to large user bases, a global audience and the ability to create an account and start selling your products within hours. Online marketplaces also require zero eCommerce web development.
Amazon is the king of online marketplaces with over 300 million users and revenue close to $400 billion. Selling on Amazon gives businesses access to buyers from 180 countries. Businesses can also let Amazon handle the logistics of shipping through its fulfillment centres.
eBay is also a well-established marketplace with over 180 million users. eBay is considered Amazon’s little brother. While Amazon is the preferred marketplace, eBay does offer slightly lower seller fees, its auction format can drive demand, and it gives businesses the ability to build their brand more effectively than Amazon. Many businesses choose to sell on both platforms.
Etsy is another popular option with close to 40 million buyers. Etsy focuses on handmade goods and arts and crafts but, in recent years, has expanded its products. Etsy has a dedicated customer base and pays its sellers instantly, whereas other marketplaces can make sellers wait for weeks.
There are also local marketplaces that are popular in certain countries; examples are Rakuten in Japan or Avito in Russia. Depending on your region and the products you are selling, local online marketplaces are definitely worth exploring.
Disadvantages Of Online Marketplaces
- Fees — All online marketplaces charge fees. Typically they will charge a listing fee, final value fee and closing fee. For example, Amazon will charge a $0.99 listing fee and 10% of your sale value. If you are selling a high volume of products, this can really hurt your profits.
- Lack of control — When you sell on an online marketplace, you have to play by their rules. You could have your account suspended or banned for not following guidelines or have payments cancelled/delayed. An online marketplace could suddenly raise their fees or ban your products from their platform. For this reason, a business should not be overly reliant on online marketplaces.
- Difficulty building a brand — Online marketplaces will always promote their brand over yours. Amazon is notorious for impeding sellers from branding. They want customers to feel like they are purchasing directly from Amazon. Amazon even hurts its sellers by studying their data and then, based on those results creating its own branded products.
- The limited usefulness of analytics — Online marketplaces only provide businesses with basic analytics. While this may be suitable for small businesses, mid-size and large businesses often require more extensive data.
Subscription Platforms for eCommerce
If a business wants to create their eCommerce store to more effectively build their brand, save on fees, have access to in-depth data and take full control over their online sales, they can use one of many subscription platforms. Businesses can use these subscription platforms to set up an eCommerce store themselves, or they can hire an eCommerce website development company. Combining subscription platforms with custom eCommerce web development is a winning strategy for businesses looking to ramp up their online sales game plan.
There are two main types of eCommerce subscription platforms WYSIWYG and stand-alone/CMS. The most popular WYSIWYG platforms are Squarespace, Wix eCommerce and Shopify. At the same time, popular stand-alone/CMS platforms include WooCommerce, Magento and NopCommerce.
WYSIWYG eCommerce Platforms
WYSIWYG eCommerce platforms are focused on helping businesses without technical skills create fast and high-quality eCommerce stores. These platforms make use of templates and drag and drop editors, bypassing the need for coding skills. Let’s look at the most popular platforms.
Squarespace supports over 1 million websites and eCommerce stores. Squarespace has some of the best templates of any eCommerce platform that, even if you have no eCommerce website development skills, you will be able to create a sleek-looking store. Squarespace is also relatively cheap, with prices from $26 to $40 per month and no transaction fees.
Downsides of Squarespace are:
- Lack of payment gateways
- Lack of integration with Amazon, Google Shopping and Facebook
- Limited marketing capabilities
Squarespace is best for small businesses who only sell limited products and on limited channels but falls short if you are looking for custom eCommerce development.
Wix is a major eCommerce platform similar to Squarespace and is home to over 600,000 online stores. Wix features an easy-to-use drag-and-drop editor with some aesthetic templates making it easy for businesses to create a professional-looking online store. The prices range from $23 to $49 per month. Wix has over 30 payment gateways and is more mobile responsive than Squarespace.
Downsides of Wix are:
- Transaction fees of up to 3%
- Lack of custom eCommerce development, such as the inability to alter confirmation emails
Shopify is the most extensive WYSIWYG eCommerce platform with over 800,000 online stores and the opportunity to work with Shopify-approved web design agencies. Shopify has just as many templates and cool designs as Wix and Squarespace. Still, it has the added benefit of integrating with Facebook, Amazon and Google Shopping, making multi-channel selling easy. Shopify also has extensive marketing integrations that neither Wix nor Squarespace can match.
There is a strong ecosystem of Shopify development companies, also known as Shopify experts, who have to be approved by Shopify to sell their services on the platform’s marketplace. It makes outsourcing Shopify eCommerce development simple and easy.
Businesses can hire Shopify development companies to create an entire store for around $500 or work on specific features for $100 to $200. Shopify website development is much cheaper than traditional custom development, which can cost thousands. And the fact that Shopify approves web development companies makes it easy for businesses to find reliable and high-quality developers.
If you aren’t satisfied with the stock templates, you can hire Shopify experts who are specialist developers who can perform custom Shopify theme development for your business. Shopify experts can also give you strategic advice on your store by leveraging their experience with the platform and set you up for long-term success.
Downsides of Shopify are:
- High fees. Unless you use their payment gateway, you will be hit with transaction fees.
- Pricey extensive features. If you are looking for extensive features, you will have to pay for Shopify website development services.
Shopify’s Advanced package costs $266 per month while their enterprise solutions start at $2000 per month.
- Extremely fast start — With a WYSIWYG platform, you can have your online store live within a few hours. WYSIWYG platforms are ideal for businesses who are looking to get their products online as quickly as possible.
- No technical knowledge required — With these eCommerce platforms, no coding or technical skills are required. Using their drag and drop editors and templates, you can create a store that looks like it has been designed by a custom eCommerce development company.
- Perfect for small businesses — While these platforms lack features that large businesses require, their simplicity and low cost make them perfect for small businesses. Small businesses often don’t need custom eCommerce web design. If a business is on a budget, does not require multiple selling channels or extensive marketing integrations, then these platforms are perfect.
- Accumulating costs — While the initial low monthly fee may be appealing to businesses, costs can quickly skyrocket when you account for transaction costs which can be as high as 3%. If you are a business making millions in sales, these costs can become astronomical. These platforms also charge for add-on features and custom solutions which can quickly raise your monthly subscription fees.
- Limited flexibility — WYSIWYG platforms often only have basic features and limited integrations. For example, the basic Shopify storefront is fairly limited. While you can hire Shopify development agencies to provide custom theme development, they are still limited by the confines of the platform. Trying to run advanced marketing campaigns, do a deep dive into complex analytics or incorporate unique features into your store is impossible with standard WYSIWYG platforms.
Standalone Platforms and CMS for eCommerce
Standalone platforms and content management systems differ from WYSIWYG platforms in that they are self-hosted plugins that connect to your existing website. It means that a business will have to find a hosting provider, purchase a domain name and handle the site’s security. For intermediate to advanced online businesses, this is no problem but may be intimidating for companies new to eCommerce store development.
Standalone platforms are typically free to install, but then custom features designed by eCommerce software development companies can cost hundreds or even thousands every month. Standalone platforms offer much higher levels of customization but require eCommerce web developers to build and administrate. There is no easy drag-and-drop editor, and coding skills are needed to build online stores with standalone platforms.
Who Should Use Standalone Platforms?
Standalone platforms are ideal for mid to large businesses who run complex online stores, need high levels of customization and have in-house technical skills or the budget to hire eCommerce website development services. Let’s look at some of the most popular standalone platforms.
WooCommerce is an eCommerce WordPress plugin. The plugin aims to give WordPress users the ability to convert their sites into advanced online stores. The WooCommerce plugin is open-source and free to download. However, custom WooCommerce plugin and extension development will cost users.
Currently, WooCommerce users can take advantage of over 50,000 plugins. The prices vary based on the features and the particular eCommerce web development firm chosen. For example, WooCommerce custom theme development will cost anywhere from $500 to $25,000.
With WooCommerce custom development, there is really nothing you can’t add to your online store. WooCommerce:
- Integrates with Amazon, Google Shopping and Facebook and marketing tools such as MailChimp and Hubspot.
- users can incorporate all the sale features you can think of thanks to powerful WordPress and WooCommerce development,including one-click pay, abandoned cart, discount codes and unlimited products.
- WooCommerce does not charge transaction fees when you use a third-party payment gateway. Many WYSIWYG platforms charge as high as 3% per transaction.
WooCommerce gives users the ability to create a truly unique online storefront with much higher customization levels than WYSIWYG platforms. However, while the platform itself does not limit users often the technical skill requirements, the time investment or the eCommerce site development budget will.
Magento is similar to WooCommerce as it is also an open-source free to download eCommerce platform. Magento’s customization abilities are only limited by one’s imagination. Unlike WooCommerce, it is standalone and does not require WordPress to run.
Magento users will have to purchase their domain names and find a hosting provider. Some web hosting companies do not support Magento. If businesses use Magento, they need to double-check that their web host supports it. Magento users also do not have access to dedicated support. They have to rely on user guides which may be suitable for Magento development agencies but not for non-expert businesses.
Limited Templates and Out-of-the-Box Features
Magento gives users access to some basic themes. However, professional Magento store development requires access to paid features. Many of these paid features are often inbuilt on platforms like Shopify. Magento also has fewer out-of-the-box features than WooCommerce.
The prices for plugins and themes can vary widely depending on which Magento eCommerce development company designed them. While businesses may be enticed by Magento’s free download, they need to carefully budget how much they are willing to spend on Magento web development services as costs can quickly skyrocket.
Enterprise Solution Option
If businesses are looking for more out-of-the-box features and higher levels of support, they can look into Magento’s enterprise solution. This is aimed at large businesses with prices starting at $2000 per month. The enterprise solution is ideal for a company with an in-house technical team who wants to partner directly with Magento and not rely on 3rd party Magento agencies or website development companies.
Not Beginner-Friendly — Requires Coding
Magento is not as beginner-friendly as WooCommerce and certainly not as simple as Shopify or other WYSIWYG platforms. To build an online store with this platform, you will need to hire Magento eCommerce developers. There is no escaping that to use Magento, you need to know how to code. Businesses can either use in-house programmers or hire Magento eCommerce development companies.
Lengthy Set Up Process
When using custom Magento development, businesses need to be aware that their online store won’t be live within days or even hours if they were using a WYSIWYG platform. It will take weeks or months before the store is fully completed and live. While the finished product will be more robust and highly polished, the waiting time may not suit all businesses’ plans.
Ideal For Scaling
Where Magento really shines is in its scalability. Magento eCommerce development allows your online store to grow and adapt alongside your business. If your business is highly flexible, then Magento may be the ideal platform for you. The great thing about the Magento platform is that you can always use Magento website development to alter your online store to cater to the ever-changing needs of consumers. If consumers start demanding a certain feature, you don’t have to wait for a WYSIWYG platform to build it. With Magento web and design development, you can quickly have this feature added to your store.
By hiring a Magento web development company, businesses can create a bespoke and unique online store. Magento web development is a proven way to create a world-class online store.
Benefits of using Magento:
- The customizable themes and features are endless
- Hundreds of marketing and sales plugins — from email marketing to one-click refunds
- 100s of payment gateways
Magento is ideal for businesses who sell in many markets, run large and complex stores with many products and want total control over their store, including the ability to perform completely custom eCommerce store development. When using Magento, businesses need to keep in mind the need for coding and professional Magento eCommerce development services.
nopCommerce is another standalone open-source, free eCommerce platform similar to Magento and WooCommerce. nopCommerce runs on Microsoft’s ASP.NET and is available on both Windows and Mac desktops. There is currently no cloud or web version.
nopCommerce, like other open-source eCommerce platforms, requires coding skills to create and build an online store. To hire a nopCommerce developer, you can find a list of certified 3rd party developers on their site. To become a certified nopCommerce developer, applicants must take an exam and show extensive front-end skills, nopCommerce design and development prowess and knowledge of .NET Framework and ASP.NET MVC.
Other options to hire nopCommerce developers include freelance sites such as Upwork or Fiver or independent eCommerce web development firms.
nopCommerce Vs Magento
One key difference between nopCommerce and Magento is that nopCommerce uses ASP.NET while Magento uses PHP. ASP.NET. ASP.NET is much faster than PHP. ASP.NET, which helps businesses reduce hosting costs. On average, nopCommerce’s out-of-the-box features are more extensive than Magento, and the plugins are more reasonably priced.
With the right nopCommerce developer, there is no limit to what features your online store can have.
nopCommerce Vs Magento features:
- Both are free with no subscription costs
- Both require self hosting
- nopCommerce has cheaper plugins
- Code — nopCommerce is written on ASP.NET, Magento is on PHP. ASP.NET
- nopCommerce has more out-of-the-box features
- nopCommerce has a more in-depth support forum than Magento
- nopCommerce is PCI compliant, Magento requires a costly plugin
With nopCommerce development, all businesses can create the online store they deserve.
Advantages of Standalone Solutions for eCommerce
- Fully 100% customizable — With standalone eCommerce platforms, there is no limit to what a business can add to their online store. Whether they want a particular design or unique feature, it is all possible as standalone platforms are open-source. Standalone platforms can also integrate into a broader range of payment gateways and sales, analytic and marketing tools than WYSIWYG platforms.
- Can grow with your business — Standalone platforms are designed to scale and adapt to your business needs. With their open-source platform, you can make both small and large-scale changes effortlessly as your business develops — whether that is opening a new store, adding different products, improving the design of your store or integrating to the latest tools. This is why so many large and international businesses with vast product lines choose to use standalone platforms.
- Cheaper in the long term — Once you have invested in your online store, the total cost over the years can actually be more affordable than WYSIWYG platforms. With WYSIWYG platforms, you will be paying a monthly fee + monthly fees for add-on features + transaction fees. Whereas once you have set up your store on a standalone platform, the ongoing monthly costs are minimal.
- Requires technical knowledge OR hiring developers — Unfortunately, with standalone platforms, there is no simple drag-and-drop editor, and users are not spoiled with hundreds of out-of-the-box features. Users need coding skills to bring their online store to life. To bypass the need for technical knowledge, businesses can hire an eCommerce site development company.
- Higher upfront cost — When building an online store on a standalone platform, you will most likely have to hire an eCommerce store development company. The price will often start in the thousands. Whereas with a WYSIWYG platform, you can create a store yourself or hire an eCommerce web design agency for under $1000. Also, many of the features available on standalone platforms require one-off payments, which can quickly add up.
- Lengthy start-up process — If a business wants a quick and basic online store that can make sales within a few days, then standalone platforms are not the best choice. To create a well-functioning store using these platforms is going to take weeks or months based on the size and complexity of the store.
- Handle your own security — With a standalone eCommerce platform, you are expected to handle your own security and hosting. WYSIWYG platforms take care of this for customers. While standalone platforms do offer security plugins, they are an additional cost and complication. In general, open-source programs have been less secure than closed platforms.
PHP — The Back End of Every eCommerce Solution
PHP is the most common coding language used by eCommerce platforms, and it is used by both WooCommerce and Magento.
The Importance of PHP for eCommerce platforms
PHP powers not only eCommerce sites but also 79.2% of websites, including Facebook, Yahoo and MailChimp. If you are planning on using WooCommerce or Magento and hiring an eCommerce web design and development company, you better ensure they are dedicated PHP developers and programmers.
Using PHP for databases
Databases store important information and allow websites to access this data. Ecommerce stores use databases to store payment details, catalog products, track orders and for non-product information such as blogs.
PHP is often used for databases because of its extensive options for connectivity. PHP connects to essentially all databases including MySQL and MongoDB making it perfect for eCommerce sites.
Cost of PHP developers
The cost of hiring a PHP developer or programmer depends on where they live, their experience and the complexity of your project. Luckily, in today’s world, it is easy to save costs by outsourcing PHP development.
When businesses are looking at PHP outsourcing, they often first turn to Asia. Asia has significantly lower average wages than Western countries but also has a tech-savvy local population with a strong programming ecosystem. India and China are the leading Asian countries when it comes to hiring a PHP developer.
The cost for PHP development in Asia ranges from $18 to $40 per hour. The range is based on the experience of the programmer, the difficulty of the project and the deadline of the project. Businesses can find bargains by finding experienced offshore PHP developers from smaller Asian countries such as Bangladesh and Malaysia. They are often cheaper than PHP outsourcing companies from China and India.
When hiring a PHP developer from Asia, businesses need to be aware of these potential problems:
- Different time zones — This can cause serious delays in the building of your eCommerce store, especially if crucial conversations are being delayed and emails are taking days to be responded to.
- Culture clash — Different cultures have different ways of doing business. If you are not clear with your expectations, there may be some unexpected conflicts over business style.
- Language barrier — While many programmers in Asia are well versed in English, many are not. The language barrier can lead to misunderstandings resulting in poorly done or incomplete tasks.
Before hiring a PHP developer from Asia, businesses need to determine if the potential cost savings are enough to justify the potential problems of outsourcing. If a business can find an experienced and reliable team of developers, then typically, it is worth pursuing.
On average European PHP software, development companies charge a lot more than their Asian counterparts. However, Europe is filled with many different regions, with certain countries being able to compete with Asian countries based on price.
PHP developers from Eastern European countries such as Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Slovakia, Romania, Moldova, Latvia and Estonia charge between $20 to $50. These prices are similar to what you will find in Asia.
The cost of hiring a PHP developer from Western European countries such as the UK, Germany and the Netherlands will be 2.5 x to 3 x the cost of hiring an Eastern European developer. This is caused by the higher cost of living and tax/pension liabilities.
It does not make sense to outsource PHP development to other European countries as the prices are too high and the skill level is not enough to justify the higher costs.
Like with outsourcing to Asia, when dealing with Eastern European developers, Businesses are met with:
- Time zone conflicts
- Different cultures
- Language barriers
These problems can be overcome by working with programmers who speak English, are willing to work to your hours and have experience working for Western businesses.
Hiring a PHP developer in North America is not cheap. A junior PHP developer in the US earns $80,000 per year, while a mid-level developer earns $120,000 + per year. For a senior developer, you could end up paying over $200,000 per year. If you are hiring by the hour, expect to pay between $60 to $250.
These high salaries often make PHP development outsourcing to Eastern Europe or Asia very enticing for businesses that are on a budget.
A Brief Guide to Using Open-Source eCommerce Solutions
Let’s look at how to best use open-source platforms such as WooCommerce, Magento and nopCommerce to create the perfect online store for your business.
Skills/Developers You Will Need
Theme design — 38% of online store visitors will leave a site if the design is unattractive or confusing. When developing an online store, spending a lot of time on the theme is extremely important, it could literally cost you millions. If you lack a combination of coding and design skills, it is worth hiring an eCommerce web development agency.
The ideal online store theme is:
- Fast — Customers will leave an online store if it takes too long to load. 53% of mobile users will leave a site if it does load within 3 seconds. A fast site keeps customers engaged and ready to purchase your products.
- Mobile optimized — 54% of online store traffic comes from mobile phones, with 33% of purchases being made from mobiles. Businesses can not afford to alienate such a huge customer base by having a poorly designed theme that is unoptimized for mobiles.
- Aesthetic — Ugly online stores lose customers. It is simple as that. Customers are looking for welcoming colors, inviting pictures and easy-to-navigate layouts. An attractive website puts customers in the mood to buy.
Trying to compose all of these elements into your perfect online store theme is not easy. That is why it makes sense to reach out to an eCommerce development company with experience making successful themes.
- Back End Development (PHP or C# for NopCommerce) — Backend development is all about the behind the scene actions on your site, such as when a customer clicks on different products or goes to checkout. This communication between the database and server is governed by backend development. Backend developers also write code to ensure your online store integrates with payment gateways, analytics programs and marketing tools. Backend development is critical and is best left to professionals,we recommend businesses hire an eCommerce web development company.
- Front End Development (CSS, HTML, JS) — Front-end development skills are critical to ensure your online store looks pretty, pages load rapidly, your images are optimally sized/placed, and the overall code of your website is well designed to keep the site lightweight and responsive.
Theme marketplaces — If businesses do not want to go down the road of having a bespoke theme designed by an eCommerce website development agency, they can purchase a premade theme. eCommerce platforms often have their own marketplaces where themes can be purchased. These themes may not be as customizable, but they have been optimized to win customers and are much cheaper than having one built from scratch.
How to Find/Hire Developers
Most businesses who use open-source eCommerce platforms will have to hire developers and eCommerce app and web development services. Here is how to find talent:
- Fiverr & UpWork — Freelance sites such as Fiverr and UpWork are great for finding cheap developers, particularly from India, who are great at performing simple tasks and creating basic online stores.
- Outsourcing — For a large-scale and complex online store build, it is recommended businesses approach professional eCommerce development agencies located in Eastern Europe or Asia. They will be able to manage the entire project and have a team of experienced developers working to build your perfect online store.
With everyone talking about eCommerce and so many platforms offering solutions navigating the current environment can be challenging. We recommend that small companies that are looking to build a fast and easy online store utilize WYSIWYG platforms. While for mid to large businesses we recommend they opt for standalone platforms and hire technical experts to build a truly customized eCommerce store.
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A Brief Summary of eCommerce in 2021
In 2021 businesses can not afford to ignore eCommerce as online shopping continues to grow and expand. In 2020 in the US, 21% of retail purchases were made online. Businesses need to have a well-thought-out eCommerce strategy to position themselves to win increasingly online-focused customers.
Online marketplaces such as Amazon can be very powerful for businesses. These marketplaces give companies:
- Instant access to an international audience of millions
- Allow companies to use the logistics of the marketplace operators to ship their products to their customers
Downsides of marketplaces:
- Make branding difficult
- Charge large fees (10% + on sales)
- Force businesses to play by their rules, which always favor the marketplace
While marketplaces can be a good start for businesses looking to develop an online presence, any serious company is going to want to create its own online eCommerce store. By creating their own online store, companies can increase profit margins, develop their brand and control their customer’s journey.
When creating an online store, companies have two main choices, WYSIWYG platforms such as Squarespace and Shopify or standalone platforms such as Magento or WooCommerce.
WYSIWYG platforms work based on a subscription model and utilize a drag and drop editor, which allows companies without technical skills to build an online store. They come with lots of out-of-the-box features, and within a few days, companies can have a solid basic online store. WYSIWYG platforms are best suited to companies that do not require extensive features or high levels of customization and lack the budget for a technical team.
Most mid to large companies opt to build their online stores using standalone platforms. While standalone platforms do require coding skills and are more expensive to initially create, the level of customization and the number of integrations make it worthwhile for most mid to large businesses. Companies will often hire eCommerce website design and development experts to help them create the perfect online store.
Outsourcing eCommerce Development
Finding the ideal eCommerce software development company to help a business create its online store is not always easy. Fortunately, there are a number of companies based in Eastern Europe and Asia who can design and build your entire store at prices for a fraction of what you would pay if you hired locally.
WYSIWYG V.S. Standalone
While the initial investment in building an online store on a standalone platform will be much higher than a WYSIWYG platform-based store after it is built, the ongoing costs are minimal. Whereas WYSIWYG platforms continue to charge monthly fees and transaction fees on all purchases.
Standalone platforms also give you complete freedom to adapt your store as you make changes in your business or the needs of your consumers shift. This is far more difficult and sometimes impossible with WYSIWYG platforms. Based on the saving over the long term and complete customization freedom, we recommend mid to large businesses use a standalone platform.