So you’re starting an e-commerce project? Part 1

Like any project, proper planning, thinking things through and discovery is vital to success. No, correction – it’s vital to making it past the development stages and at least getting to a public launch of some sort. In this series, I’ll be covering a broad array of topics related to the e-commerce industry. Nothing too technical, as I am targeting an audience who most likely do not have any platform development experience.

Rule #1, Nothing Guarantees Success

You read that right, all of the planning, research, studying and perfecting of your e-commerce platform will never guarantee you any degree of success. The same can be applied to any category project / start-up. However, if you take time to plan things through, evaluate your needs, and develop a stable and bug free platform, then the likelihood of you opening the website up to the public is fairly high. With that in mind, let’s discuss a few options you have for selling your products online, be it digital or physical.

Option A.) 3rd Party Hosted Platforms

If your needs are simple or common to existing online stores, you might be fine with using a 3rd party hosted solution. These solutions often sacrifice customization and flexibility in exchange for extremely secure, well tested, and consistent updates from the development team behind them.

Some examples of 3rd Party Hosted Platforms:

  • Shopify
  • 3DCart
  • Volusion
  • Even SquareSpace

What are common needs you may ask? Guest checkout / registered checkout, multiple categories, payment gateways, social media sharing, back-end reporting tools, inventory management, shipping handlers are all common features of an e-commerce platform that any decent 3rd party hosted solution should (and will) contain.

Option B.) Self Hosted Platform

Let’s say your needs are still common, or fairly simple but you desire to have full control over things or keep everything under your explicit control. You’d be looking into self-hosting a pre-built platform, this means finding a hosting provider, registering the domain yourself, and installing / having someone setup the platform on your own server. This also gives you the benefit of being able to modify the platform to better fit your needs, while still operating and existing within a ‘box’ so to speak.

Potential Self Hosted Platforms Include:

  • OpenCart
  • Prestashop
  • Magento (sluggish and massive learning curve)
  • Even WooCommerce*

With either self-hosted or a 3rd party hosted platform listed above, you’ll be setup for basic and even semi-complex operations for your e-commerce store. Each have their own pros, cons, and feature sets, this is where your effort to research and figure out which is best for you comes into play.

* A word on WooCommerce is that it sits on top of WordPress, a popular blogging / hybrid CMS. While this works for a fair amount of use cases, WordPress isn’t designed to be a good, stable, secure e-commerce platform. Keep that in mind should you have complex product variations or are concerned with performance and growth.

Option C.) Custom Platform

If having something like Shopify run your store, or hosting a pre-built solution isn’t ideal for you, then building your own e-commerce platform (or hiring someone to build it for you) is a good option. I’m personally a big fan of custom e-commerce platforms, but they have a huge entry barrier that require massive time investments in getting it right; bug free, and stable enough for customers to use. The best thing about relying on option A or B above, is that there are seasoned developers and communities that have spent thousands of hours fixing things, adding things, and securing loose ends, something that usually chews up a ton of budget for many start-ups. However, the benefit is that you get to fully control your features, how things work, and the flow of your system (assuming the development team, or you, possess the development skills).

If you are brave enough and dedicated enough to build your own platform, some things you’ll need to take into consideration are:

  • Payment processing APIs: Paypal, Stripe, WePay, Venmo, etc… There are a lot of options, research!
  • Shipping APIs: EasyPost and Shippo come to mind, there are others.
  • What type of back-end will power your website and the various tools / reporting features you’ll need.
  • Coupon/ Discount system, inventory logic, user registration, checkout flow, communication with the various APIs (payments and shipping) just to name a few.

What option is best for you?

It’s hard for me to funnel you, the reader, into a specific option without learning more about your needs, desires, and future growth plans. However, I’ve done my best to put together a few bullet points that may help.

  • If your okay with someone managing things for you at the loss of the look, feel, and functionality – Go with Option A.
  • If you want to modify a few things, and feel comfortable managing the initial hosting setup – Go with Option B.
  • If you have the time AND budget (and developmental skills), and have some precise needs – Go with Option C.

 

This is the first article in my planned series of e-commerce articles. I will be covering various topics and subjects to help you build, discover, and launch your platform to the public.

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