15 / 12 / 2021

Choosing an e-commerce solution


Grace Partington




E-commerce is huge, and only getting bigger. We’ve seen an average growth rate of over 25% in e-commerce sales from 2014-2019 and this continued to rise during the periods of covid lockdowns during 2020. We’re also seeing more commerce channels emerging through social media apps. In turn, this has lead to lots of new e-commerce solutions appearing to cater to the increased demand.

Many of these solutions are what we would term “off-the-shelf” or ‘out-of-the-box”. These are typically ready-to-use solutions (often hosted) aimed at the mass market. These e-commerce applications target a wide audience and they usually come with a range of pre-built features and templates and sometimes offer a plugin or extension type infrastructure to enable users to expand functionality further. You just bring your product inventory and content, and you’re ready to go!

Being able to jump right in and getting a solution up and running quickly can be a huge boon to some businesses, particularly in highly competitive environments, where time-to-market is critical. As many off-the-shelf solutions are designed to provide exactly this, you can save the time and costs associated with the typical research and development of a bespoke e-commerce application. With many of the hosted solutions, you don’t need to worry about security, performance, domains, SSL certificates, etc. All of this is handled by the vendor. Many off-the-shelf e-commerce solutions have a strong customer service offering (although this can sometimes be an additional cost). Where you can get in touch with the vendor directly if you are encountering any issues.

There are several big players in the hosted e-commerce solutions market, including Shopify, Wix, Square, BigCommerce, and Adobe Commerce. While each offering is slightly different they all offer these advantages. There are also a lot of self-hosted out-of-the-box solutions available too such as WooCommerce, Magento Open Source, PrestaShop, OpenCart, and many more. Some of these are designed to integrate into existing CMS solutions and essentially act as a bolt-on e-commerce functionality. For many businesses that already have quite a strong web presence based on one of these content management solutions, this can be an attractive proposition.

However, when choosing an e-commerce solution, it’s important to consider the potential downsides of an off-the-shelf solution too.

The first is the question of ownership. In most of the hosted solutions, you are building on an existing platform owned and maintained by the e-commerce vendor, and this can limit the amount of control you have over your sales infrastructure. If you need to make changes to your application to meet customer expectations or to react quickly to industry changes, this is very difficult on a platform you don’t have any control over. You also need to be aware of the vendor making changes to their platform as many of these platforms are evolving all the time and new features get introduced as they try to meet the demands of their user base. Although these may provide new benefits it could also harm your operations if customer journeys or the user experience gets changed or altered. So it’s important to consider the entire project lifecycle on a hosted solution. With a self-hosted out-of-the-box solution, you will have a bit more freedom to maintain and even tweak your application, updates will be published by the platform vendor and you can choose when and how you want to apply them to your application. However, you will need to keep your application up to date, particularly from a security point of view, so you will need to take on the responsibility of patching and upgrading your application, which would otherwise be taken care of on a hosted solution.

The second issue to consider is that of costs. Many of the hosted platforms have quite flexible pricing plans, some offer a subscription model, in that you pay an amount each month to run your e-commerce application on their platform or a percentage or amount gets taken from each transaction. This model helps businesses avoid a lot of the up-front costs associated with e-commerce application development, and spread the cost over the lifetime of the project. However these aren’t the only costs associated with the hosted solutions, some add-ons or extensions require their own subscriptions or one time purchases, and there is always the potential for these fees to be changed by the vendor, which you will need to absorb if you are reliant on that particular plugin or extension to provide functionality for your e-commerce application. Over the long term, the costs associated with an out-of-the-box solution are less predictable.

Having the freedom to create an experience that pairs with your brand can be challenging when using an out-of-the-box solution. This is because your application will need to fit in and around the pre-existing frameworks, templates, and customer journeys that are particular to that platform. Most applications will have a series of ready-built templates that can be customised to a degree. But they usually lack personality and individuality and tend to reflect a more all-purpose, utilitarian look and feel, which may not compliment your brand. Whilst it is possible on most of these platforms to build a custom front end, it can involve some costly bespoke development. It’s also worth thinking about what would happen if you wanted to move off that platform one day. Is all your data exportable? How easy is it to migrate to another platform?

If you’ve found yourself looking at e-commerce platforms and wondered which one is the right fit. Then bespoke development may have crossed your mind. While bespoke developments have a higher up-front cost, there are scenarios where they might make more sense over an out-of-the-box solution.

One of the main reasons to consider bespoke is integration. You may have a platform that you would like to integrate, or you might use other marketing services or payment gateways that you prefer, particularly if you are already invested in them. In this case, bespoke development would allow you really tailor your application around these other services. As your e-commerce requirements are unique to you, it’s very difficult to achieve full requirement coverage with an off-the-shelf solution. Sometimes the compromises can be worth it and you can make the platform work for you. But a bespoke solution would give you 100% flexibility to develop these integrations that help to give you the edge. And, whilst there are some higher initial costs, the budget can be focused on developing only the features you need, you are not paying for features that you aren’t using.

If you are looking to create an experience that tightly aligns with your brand, then a bespoke e-commerce application can give you the blank canvas to do that. With no pre-determined pathways or structure, you have the freedom to really tailor the experience. This is particularly important for brands that are looking to launch an innovative new concept.

With a bespoke project, you will have full ownership of everything. This means you have greater control over the project lifecycle, and can avoid recurring subscription fees and you aren’t susceptible to platform changes. This makes bespoke e-commerce solutions a good choice when looking for a system that plays a critical role in your sales infrastructure and brand presence. You also have the freedom to chose your own hosting platform.

Both off-the-shelf and bespoke solutions have their advantages and disadvantages, and both can be very effective. You may find that your own requirements help you to determine which development pathway is best. It’s important to consider how the solutions out there will deliver the greatest value to you over the long term.

At Absolute, we’ve developed bespoke web solutions for organisations across a wide range of industries. Each client is different, and we tailor solutions to suit their needs. If you are looking for e-commerce solutions to help you achieve your business goals then get in touch with us today. Explore our range of services and see our latest work to see how we grow and develop brands as a digital marketing agency.

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