Deciding to take your store online is a big decision – but choosing how to get started can be make-or-break. Do you need a custom-built solution? Or would an off-the-shelf solution do 95% of the job for a small fraction of the cost and time?
In most cases, the most important step to building a successful e-commerce business is to prove the concept. Far too many businesses taking the e-commerce leap fail to ask themselves the critical questions – is there really a demand for your offering, and are you capable of tapping it? Without this, investing heavily into building a long-drawn and expensive development project is often a poor way to utilize limited budgets in the early days.
In fact, for most businesses aiming to take sales online, in our experience an off-the-shelf platform is most often the ideal starting point. Here are four reasons why.
1. Low investment barrier
The first question you need to ask yourself is why you are getting started on this journey. Is e-commerce your primary or entire business model? Or are you experimenting with online sales to support your existing retail business model?
If it’s the latter, an off-the-shelf solution would work well. Customizing an existing platform is low-cost and much faster to take to market. That’s because the platform itself already exists, and relatively, very little custom development is required. So if getting started with the e-commerce experiment is the most important thing, off-the-shelf will work for you.
Shopify, Woocommerce and BigCommerce, for instance, do away with the difficulties associated with development and infrastructure associated with a proprietary, self-hosted application. Since their admin interfaces are fairly intuitive, and there is extensive written and video documentation available on how to utilize these systems, it’s much easier and faster to launch an e-commerce site through an off-the-shelf platform.
2. Less tech and maintenance issues
With development and hosting managed when you choose an out-of-the-box hosted e-commerce platform, technical support – in the form of security, hosting and scaling to meet traffic demand – is managed by the same platform. Your technical involvement is therefore very low, meaning you can keep your focus on the business side of things and prove your concept.
Issues with hosting or server speed also fall into the ambit of the customer support teams at these solution providers, usually available 24×7. E-commerce stores don’t just host impatient customers who are eager to see a faster website. They also deal with sensitive customer information like credit card details. A major advantage of a hosted solution is security. The solution provider arranges for SSL certificates, PCI compliance, timely server maintenance and upgrades.
3. Customizability (though limited)
Taking your e-store mobile – adding a loyalty rewards program – integrating a CMS – each of these is a major exercise when it comes to proprietary development. With a hosted solution, each is just a plugin that needs to be integrated. In fact, mobile responsiveness is a default.
In terms of design and layout, too, these solutions offer a wide range of designer templates that look good and can easily be adapted to suit almost any branding.
4. Analytics and marketing support
Being able to sell online is a wonderful thing, but if you aren’t getting customers onto your site, or if you don’t know what your customers are interested in – what’s working and what isn’t – you’ll soon find your online business in trouble!
That’s why it’s so useful that these platforms provide comprehensive traffic and usage analytics. Analyzing the data provided, you can learn almost everything you need to know about your audience and your business.
But here’s why a ready-made solution may not measure up:
A lack of complete control
The major downside to the off-the-shelf platforms we’ve been discussing is the lack of complete customizability and control that a custom solution would give you. This includes theme and template customization on the front-end, and often more importantly, functionality customization on the back-end.
Whether it’s automating specific operational processes, setting up complex custom integrations, developing functionality that does not exist out of the box, or moving to your own infrastructure – what custom-built e-commerce solutions do brilliantly is to put you in control of your empire.
So where does that leave you?
Getting back to where we started – is custom development worth the time and cost? If you have proved your model and are looking to build a platform that sets you up for large-scale growth and incorporates the processes and functionalities that set your business apart, then the answer is yes.
But if you are still testing the waters, do not expect to deal with huge transaction volumes, or do not need highly complex custom functionalities built out, then an off-the-shelf solution will probably deliver all that you need, while helping you go to market faster, with more money in the bank for marketing!
Our experts at CloudNow are equipped to partner with you on your digital transformation journey, with our experience in e-commerce solutions of all kinds. So whether you are looking to customize an off-the-shelf solution or to develop a proprietary custom solution, contact us today for a no-obligation consultation.