Electronic commerce or “e-commerce” is the process of selling goods online. As opposed to a “display site,” e-commerce websites allow visitors to add items to a cart, enter shipping and billing information, then process a checkout. A simple e-commerce website might sell a single product, while advanced platforms might include a scheduling component, customizable products, and more.
What type of e-commerce is right for my business?
E-Commerce is far from a “one size fits all” endeavor. The type of products or services you sell and the current technology you use are the best place to start your e-commerce roadmap. If you are already using a platform like Square or Clover to take payments and manage inventory, a good e-commerce website will be able to seamlessly integrate that platform and keep your information in one convenient location. Through the use of an API (application programming interface), data can be shared between your online and offline store to keep them in sync.
The all-around champ: WooCommerce
At Range Marketing, our favorite platform for building e-commerce sites is WooCommerce. If you already have a WordPress website, you can install the WooCommerce plugin and immediately start displaying products, assigning prices, managing stock levels, offering discount codes, and much more. As an open-source platform, WooCommerce integrates well with PayPal, Stripe, Square, Apple Pay, and just about any other service you might have. If you have a simple business model with standardized products that go through the mail (such as a tee shirt store), WooCommerce is easy to learn and will work well for you out-of-the-box. However, if you sell complex products or a unique business model, you will need a professional website developer to customize your WooCommerce installation. Much like WordPress itself, WooCommerce can be tailored to your needs through hand-coded functions where almost anything is possible. WooCommerce was built with developers in mind and provides “hooks” for them to tie into and customize absolutely any aspect of the products and checkout experience.
Best for DIYers: Shopify
Shopify is a much less flexible platform than WooCommerce, but that rigidity ends up making it much simpler for business owners to configure themselves. If you are looking to test out a simple e-commerce concept, this is a great place to start. Included with your paid subscription to Shopify, you get a basic template website and a nice reporting dashboard to monitor your sales. Using their simple website builder software will have your website up and running in a few hours. If you know basic HTML and CSS you can edit certain aspects of the site, but that isn’t necessary. Most businesses will eventually outgrow Shopify and require more customization, control over their data, and opportunity for SEO (search engine optimization), but it is great for proving a concept. Shopify will even let you sell digital products, offer dropshipping, and integrate a small number of third party payment processors.
Honorable Mention: Wix
Wix has competitive offerings for template and semi-custom e-commerce websites, plus their platform now allows developers *some* access to the backend for further customization. Wix has a negative stigma attached to it from several years ago that is no longer deserved. What was once a really sloppy platform that Google all but refused to index has become a suitable competitor to Shopify and WooCommerce. Their technology has come a long way and they now enable their customers to setup a high quality site at a very low cost. Wix just falls short of Shopify as a no-code solution and cannot compete with WooCommerce’s flexibility for professional developers.
High-Tech Kudos: Magento
For large-scale websites processing millions of dollars in revenue, a worthy consideration is Magento. This platform can be difficult for non-technical folks to use, but it is highly streamlined for handling large numbers of transactions. From a processing efficiency standpoint, Magento is arguably the best platform available today. You might need a computer science degree to edit it, but the end product is fantastic.
Which payment processor should I use on my website?
No matter which platform you use to display your products, you will also need to decide which merchant services provider you want to use for processing the transactions. If you are using a smaller credit card processor for offline payments, you will likely need to choose a different merchant service for your website. Processing credit cards online requires high level data security and technology, so it’s best to integrate a large-scale vendor that is advertised as being compatible with your e-commerce platform. Most e-commerce platforms include a built-in payment processor, but can also work with third party vendors like Stripe, PayPal and Apple Pay.
After I launch my e-commerce site, what’s next?
It may come as a surprise, but launching a website that can receive transactions is a very small component of an e-commerce endeavor. It’s natural to assume that post-launch you can sit back and watch the transactions roll in, but the internet is an extremely competitive place. Unless you have a high profile brand or a significant social media following, you will need to turn your focus to a full-scale internet marketing plan. A combination of paid and organic marketing will be crucial for putting eyes on your new online storefront. Depending on what you’re selling, you might see better results from social media promotions or search-based advertising.
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