How to start building your e-commerce site: Control Shift

How to start building your e-commerce site: Control Shift

Over the weekend, a family friend at a wedding asked me for a recommendation as to how to get started with an e-commerce solution for her business.

Of course, choosing the right e-commerce platform for your business is a more difficult proposition than it first appears. The right solution for you will vary depending on your industry, as well as the scale of your business.

Likewise, the recommendations you will receive will likely depend on who you ask. Ask a web developer, and he will tell you how you need a content management system with a shopping cart plugin.

Ask a systems integrator or IT consultant, however, and she’ll sell you a comprehensive CRM (customer relationship management) or ERP (enterprise resource planning) system that integrates with a web or mobile front end.

Ask a mobile developer and she’ll tell you about how you should go mobile-first with native apps for iOS and Android.

So where should you start? Here are some of the options:

I just want a basic website – and I’m not planning on selling anything through it

The most fundamental question is what you want to use your website for. Do you want to take orders through your website, or do you simply want a website to tell the world about your business?

If you’re not planning on selling anything through your website, what you’re probably after is a web developer who can set up a content management system (CMS), along with a hosting company that will do the work of making it available on the web.

A CMS such as WordPress, Drupal or Joomla will allow you to add new pages to your site without needing to bring in a web developer each time you want to update your site. In the case of WordPress, there are also online marketplaces such as Envato’s Theme Forest that allow you to download pre-designed themes to update your website design.

Likewise, design marketplaces such as 99designs, Canva and DesignCrowd can take the hassle out of designing graphics for your site.

I want an entry level e-commerce system – I don’t need it to integrate with my accounting systems or point of sales

If you do want to sell products online, but don’t need your online store to integrate with your other business systems (for example, if MYOB or Xero serves you well with e-commerce), there are a few options to choose from.

The first is to take a standard CMS (such as WordPress, Drupal or Joomla) and add an e-commerce plugin to it, such as Woo Commerce or Drupal Commerce.

The second option is to look at a dedicated e-commerce system such as Bigcommerce, Shopify, Magento, Volusion or Demandware. As with standard CMSes like WordPress, a platform like Bigcommerce offers customisable themes and plugins, but with the added advantage of being purpose-built for online shopping.

What about smartphones?

As I’ve discussed before, we now live in a mobile-first age. And when it comes to smartphones, there are two key decisions you need to make. The first is whether you want a mobile-specific version of your website, or a responsive design that automatically adjusts to the screen size of the device the user views it on.

The second question is whether you’re satisfied with just a mobile website, or whether you want to have extra features (such as notifications, ability to access a users’ camera, etc.) that would necessitate a native app for iOS and Android.

Whichever e-commerce platform or provider you choose, it’s absolutely essential these days that mobile is part of the discussion from day one.

My business is getting bigger and the paperwork is piling up – why can’t my systems all work together?

As your business grows from a small to a medium business, installing a company-wide customer service (CRM) or business management (ERP) system can be an appealing option.

Basically, the idea with an ERP system is that instead of having separate pieces of software or services for things like inventory management, e-commerce, payroll, accounts, etc., all of these functions are handled by a single system.

Likewise, with CRM, instead of having separate systems for point of sales, e-commerce, billing, call centres, etc., you have one system that does it all. Again, it’s a point I’ve discussed previously.

The big players in this space are SAP, Oracle, Microsoft Dynamics and – for CRM – Salesforce, but there are other options aimed at smaller businesses, such as Odoo/OpenERP or MYOB’s new EXO platform.

The key with these is to visit a systems integrator or business analyst who is a partner of one of the well-known platforms.

Final thoughts

The right answer when it comes to e-commerce will be as unique as your business. The best thing to do is to look at what other businesses in your industry are doing, and know what you’re after before you start looking at developers and ecommerce providers.

So what is your business using? Leave your comments below.


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