Prior to the Covid pandemic, most, if not all, businesses were considering some form of eCommerce to bolster their sales channels. Once the pandemic hit it became a more urgent move and, for some businesses, a lifeline!
If you don't currently offer online sales, then I’m guessing you’ve thought about it? For product-based retail stores it's an obvious move. However, even project-driven businesses (like smart home installers) can use ecommerce to quickly take payments for service calls, maintenance plans and all sorts of other smaller transactions.
So, how can you add eCommerce to your website? There are three typical ways to achieve this for small-to-medium businesses, each with pluses and minuses. Here's our take on the options, based on years of experience building online stores:
PayPal Style ‘Buy’ Buttons
If you have a PayPal business account, and only a handful of products, this can be the easiest of all the options. You need to setup each ‘product’ in your PayPal account and that will give you a small piece of code to add into the product’s page on your website. The code generates a ‘Buy’ button when the webpage is viewed, and the costumer uses that button to buy the product. As the shop owner, you get an email when a customer pays for their order, outlining the order details.
This option is simple, quick, and cheap to implement. However, every product needs to be setup in PayPal first, then added to each product page on your website separately (the code is unique to each product). This can take a lot of time to setup and maintain. Also, these buttons offer little or no flexibility for adding shipping costs, discount codes etc.
Costs to the owner are a percentage of each transaction, plus a smaller per-transaction fee.
If you have a website already then, an add-on ‘Cart’ system is a great way to go. We use a service called Snipcart for this and are happy to be a registered Snipcart developer. Snipcart is a standalone service which deals with orders, transactions (via payment gateways such as PayPal, Stripe etc.), discount codes and shipping costs.
Your website developer will add some code to your current website pages that adds a ‘Buy’ button and tells Snipcart the details of the product when the button is clicked. Once the customer has chosen the items they would like to order, Snipcart does the rest.
For the customer, the service looks nicely integrated. Your developer can add a ‘cart’ button to the header of your website too, so that the order can be reviewed by the customer as they shop.
This sort of system is ideal for businesses that are predominantly face-to-face but would like to offer some products or services for online sales. For example, high-end HiFi shops often sell their main product catalogue via in-person demonstration in their store. However, they might also choose to offer accessories like cables, styli etc. via an online store. An add-on cart is ideal for this.
Costs include the initial integration by your developer, a small subscription to the cart service (normally a small percentage of each sale), plus payment fees for your chosen payment gateway (again, a small percentage of the sale).
There are several options here, but Shopify is probably the largest. We are registered Shopify developers as we have found them the best option for our customers over the years, so we’ll use them as our example here!
A ‘Hosted’ solution means that the service supplies the hosting for the online store and the website framework on which your complete website is built. They have their own programming language so that developers such as us can customise your shop to meet your specific needs. Additional ‘Apps’ can also be used (some free, some chargeable) to extend the basic shop functionality to cope with more complex needs, like automatic shipping calculations, tax for exports, extended product display features, social media integration and SEO management.
Costs include a variable monthly subscription to the service depending on the feature set you need, a build-cost charged by your chosen developer, and payment gateway fees. Shopify has its own payment gateway (based on Stripe, PayPal’s largest competitor) and their transaction fees reduce with their more costly monthly subscription options.
Adding eCommerce is, on the face of it, quite easy. However, as you can see from the above detail, there are some interesting aspects to consider and it's always worth going through these with your chosen developer before taking the plunge. Remember, not having a developer do this for you means you’ll need to choose, learn, integrate, and maintain whichever option you choose.
PayPal type ‘Buy’ buttons are simple, but they take a lot of maintenance and transaction charges are high. Add-on carts are a little more involved, but offer much more in terms of flexibility, and transaction fees are lower. Hosted solutions are a great option for businesses that sell predominantly online and offer lower transaction fees but also require a monthly subscription.
If you need help choosing from these options, please feel free to get in touch for a no-obligation chat. We’ve been building online stores for many years and are happy to share our experiences.