Chapter 4
Building an Ecommerce Website

You are here: Home The Ultimate Guide to Ecommerce Building an Ecommerce Website

Chapter summary

The choices you make at this stage will inform the experiences your customers have as well as how much your website costs to maintain and the flexibility of your site as your business grows. In this chapter, we’ll explore some of the options available to ecommerce website developers.

Ecommerce Platforms

Choosing an ecommerce platform

Your ecommerce platform is an extremely important element of your ecommerce planning stage as it will dictate much of the functionality of the site once it’s built and how much control you have over its content.

By this stage, you should have documented your products and categorised them accordingly, so you’ll have a good idea of the size of website you need and at least some elements of the functionality you’re going to require (such as cross-categorisation).

There are two main types of platforms to consider:

  • Managed (hosted) ecommerce platforms
  • Content management systems (CMS)

Managed (hosted) ecommerce platforms

A managed ecommerce platform is hosted on a server you don’t own and can’t access. The benefits of using a managed ecommerce platform are:

  • Shared costs, potentially making it cheaper to use a higher quality server because the cost is spread across all users
  • Decreased need for development expertise to build the site
  • Access to high-quality technical support (usually) when choosing a well-known platform

This option is usually preferred by ecommerce businesses which lack internal development resource and seek a more simplified approach to shop building and management.

Common hosted ecommerce platforms include:

Shopify

Shopify is a really simple platform for anyone just starting an ecommerce business. You’re invited to select a template from hundreds available (the majority of which are really nice looking designs) so you can very quickly setup your shop and start selling.

The templates can be customised and Shopify sites are all hosted on a secure hosting platform. Shopify integrates with a wide range of payment platforms, including PayPal, which means you can start taking payments right away too.

The benefits of Shopify include:

  • Integration with large number of payment platforms
  • Hundreds of usable templates
  • Secure hosting

Ideal for: new ecommerce businesses or larger businesses with limited design and dev resource

Not ideal for: businesses that want to host their website on their own server

Big Commerce

Big Commerce claims to provide more promotional functionality than any other ecommerce hosted platform, integrating social media marketing, email marketing, multi-channel marketing and promotions and vouchers into their mix.

Over 51,000 websites worldwide use Big Commerce (from builtwith.com). It also has the Big Commerce University which is a platform for website owners to learn more about the capabilities of the platform.

The benefits of Big Commerce include:

  • Integrates with tools such as Mailchimp, Facebook and Zendesk
  • Lots of resources to help you learn more about the platform
  • Responsive themes

Ideal for: ecommerce businesses looking for an integrated approach to promoting their website

Not ideal for: businesses that want to host their website on their own server

Content management systems (CMS)

A content management system (CMS) is usually an open source platform upon which you can build your website. It will sit on a server which you choose and pay for.

Common ecommerce CMS include:

Magento

This is perhaps the best known and most widely used ecommerce CMS, used by over 12% of all ecommerce websites (according to data from builtwith.com). The Magento Enterprise Solution is specifically designed for large and growing ecommerce businesses and supports a host of advanced functionality which make it as easy as possible to manage big online stores.

According to their website at the time of writing this guide, Magento powers around 240,000 online shops. The platform is flexible and offers the scope to add more functionality as your needs progress.

Some of the benefits of using Magento include:

  • Ability to tailor the back-end to suit your business needs
  • Hundreds of available extensions to add
  • Open-source to allow you to add your own functionality
  • Integrates with other ecommerce solutions
  • High-quality support service and quick response staff
  • More SEO-friendly than most other ecommerce platforms

Ideal for: large and growing ecommerce businesses

Not ideal for: small ecommerce businesses with limited server capacity

WooCommerce on WordPress

WordPress is another CMS you’ve got to have lived under a rock not to have heard of. WordPress itself is used by over 16 million websites worldwide (according to builtwith.com) amounting to just under 25% of the total websites in the world (from w3techs.com).

The WooCommerce plugin is an addition to the basic WordPress functionality used by ecommerce businesses. It is included in a large proportion of available ecommerce themes on WordPress and as such is widely used.

Some of the benefits of using WooCommerce include:

  • Easy set up and ease of use – WordPress is highly intuitive and many digital professionals are already familiar with it
  • Does not have powerful server requirements as it runs on WordPress
  • Wide range of available add-ons to increase functionality
  • Open-source with good community support as WordPress is so widely used

Ideal for: smaller ecommerce businesses looking for an easy to manage solution

Not ideal for: much larger ecommerce businesses looking to sell thousands of products

OsCommerce

OsCommerce was one of the earliest CMS for online stores and still powers an estimated 11% of all ecommerce websites (from builtwith.com). It also has a large network of support, being a well-established open-source platform as it is.

The functionality of OsCommerce is extensive but there are some potentially outdated elements, so you’ll need to review any additions to your site carefully. Some of the benefits of OsCommerce include:

  • Easy to install and easy to use back end interface
  • Large open-source support base
  • Extensive range of additional functionality in the form of plugins

Ideal for: smaller ecommerce businesses looking for a really simple back end

Not ideal for: larger ecommerce businesses or those which want to scale

Open Cart

Open Cart is a powerful open-source shopping cart platform used by just under 300,000 websites worldwide (from builtwith.com).

Open Cart is known for having an easy to use yet comprehensive admin area, which enables shop owners to have complete control over their online store. That said, its support systems are not as extensive as other CMS listed here.

The benefits of using Open Cart include:

  • Simple, easy to use admin area
  • Lots of additional plugins for added functionality

Ideal for: businesses that want complete control of their online store

Not ideal for: businesses with limited resource to manage the site

Drupal Commerce

Drupal is the second most used CMS after WordPress worldwide and their ecommerce offering is also very popular.

The main benefit of using Drupal as a CMS is the in-page editing options, which make it really simple for anyone who’s not familiar with working in the back-end of a site. Other benefits include:

  • Seamless integration with the main Drupal CMS, meaning it’s easy to add a blog and content marketing function
  • SEO functionality

Ideal for: websites already using the Drupal CMS

Not ideal for: larger ecommerce businesses

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