At the beginning of 2020, there were 16 billion eCommerce sites worldwide. By June 2020, this jumped to a massive 22 billion. The pandemic played a huge part in this rapid increase in eCommerce, but what might have been less predictable is the ongoing success of eCommerce. People are still shopping online in huge numbers despite the ‘end’ of the pandemic in 2023.
This is partly because big box stores and other major retailers finally invested in eCommerce in ways that served customers. For example, Walmart invested in online grocery sales, with delivery and pickup options that saw the company increase sales by 97% in the second quarter of 2020. While such figures are somewhat deceptive because of the cherry-picked data set, it is still important that eCommerce merchants recognise the desire of customers to access online services.
To launch an eCommerce site, merchants have two main options;
There is also an option to combine both custom and off-the-shelf, which can prove to be a cost-effective solution for growing businesses.
For established business owners and entrepreneurs launching an eCommerce site, there are a few key questions to answer to determine which solution is best.
And while these elements are essential, the functionality of the site is also important. You also need to consider the following:
- Do you have a solid business plan?
- How much could your business change or grow?
An initial off-the-shelf solution is an inexpensive way to launch a new business or grow an existing business to have an online presence. This also gives you time to A/B test elements of your site, determine what your customers want and how traffic interacts with your online store. This information can be used to inform your decision about selecting a custom build, off-the-shelf or hybrid solution.
A custom solution can seem like a costly investment, especially for a startup. There are many pre-developed solutions from reputable developers that can be tweaked to offer your brand a unique, secure and profitable site.
However, if your business plan includes a rapid growth phase that includes increased traffic, a box solution might not have the capacity you require. Limited storage and server access can be damaging to your reputation, which could cost more than building a bespoke website. For many international businesses with large teams working in phases of various projects, backend capability provided with off-the-shelf solutions is insufficient. Smaller operations with a local or regional reach or operations that offer a simple service can often use box solutions for a long period of time without upgrading systems as their requirements remain stable.
This is why having a clear business plan with verifiable numbers and expectations will help you decide the type of eCommerce solution you require.
If you intend to rely on integrations, out-of-the-box solutions can handle a variety of CRMs, ERPs, inventory management systems, etc. This can be a massive advantage for small businesses. Integration with an ERP system enables you to optimize operations, while CRM integration empowers your customer experience with personalized experiences and tracking capability.
However, using custom CRM, ERP, or other business systems could be the deciding factor between a custom or off-the-shelf solution. Integrations can take a long time if the code is closed source and your IT team is installing an existing solution.
A custom solution has unlimited flexibility regarding integrations, so it is easier to develop a custom site and maintain the efficiency of your existing operations.
If you are ready to launch, an off-the-shelf solution will be far more beneficial to your bottom line. You exclude research, development, and testing phases from the development process and enter the market within a few days, depending on your upload requirements. This option appeals to startups and small businesses as the costs tend to be minimal, but that also means your site looks the same as all the other Wix, WordPress or Shopify sites using similar templates.
A custom solution requires more investment in time and money because you are building every aspect of the site. This process can take the better part of a year when it includes development, testing, reworking and launch. A unique solution or an integration with a custom ERP, CRM, or BI system takes time, but the payoff is a longer-lasting system with a robust and efficient design that support your business ambitions without compromise.
As discussed, off-the-shelf solutions provide users with one of hundreds of templates. This means that your brand is not offering a unique UX. This is often not an issue for businesses offering smaller selections of goods or services. The problem begins when the brand needs to start going deeper with descriptions, images and information.
A custom solution allows you to create a site that appeals to your specific customer identity, emphasizes your brand identity and attracts traffic. This bespoke design is more important for brands dealing with international business or specialist products or services. If your catalogue is vast, you might also require a custom solution. Big box brands rely on speed, design and flow to close sales. Taking time to research these sites and determine what elements you think are applicable to your site will also help you understand if an off-the-shelf or custom solution is best for your business.
Payment and Delivery Solutions
It is important to take the time to do a cost-benefit analysis for your payment gateways, delivery options and reach. If your product is only to be sold in a specific region, using an off-the-shelf solution is likely to serve your needs. Most offer payment and delivery solutions at a basic level and require you to pay more for advanced services.
If you are building a solution, it is easier to create solutions for customers in multiple regions. If you export a service online, knowing how you deliver online content in certain markets is important. If you are sending physical goods, this requires a legal knowledge of the limitations of sending packages internationally – which information needs to be made clear to customers. This is additional work that takes time and due care on your part as an online merchant.
Off-the-shelf solutions make access to marketing activities on social media, issuing discounts and coupons to customers, and email campaigns easy. It pays to select the solution that is adaptable for your market. If you operate in Asia, you should consider integrating your solution with WeChat, while most regions of Europe use Instagram.
A custom solution is a better option if you use specific marketing campaign tools. If your journey builder prevents the delivery of personalized experiences at every step of the customer lifecycle, you might have developed a clever way to motivate traffic through the sales funnel that is unique to your brand, in which case a custom build is better for your branding and marketing strategy.
Business Intelligence Solution
Built-in BI solutions, such as Magento BI, allow you to run RFM (Recency, Frequency, Monetary) analysis for customer segmentation. Other popular ready-made software such as Magento and Shopify can be easily integrated with the most popular BI tools such as Power BI, Tableau, and Qlik. These solutions provide real-time information about your customers, marketing, and sales processes.
A custom solution is a better fit if the BI system you plan to incorporate into your eCommerce software is customized. If you want custom dashboards with specific data tracking and analytics capabilities, a ready-made solution is not a good fit. The metrics you choose to follow and use to inform your business decisions are important. Deciding how these metrics are extracted and presented is important for your growth. Smaller and simplified businesses can manage well using an off-the-shelf solution that provides detailed, quantifiable reports on traffic, purchasing, cart abandonment and more. For businesses that are seeking in-depth and specific information from their platform, a custom solution can be a better return on investment.
An off-the-shelf solution is not as capable of offering multiple or personalized pricing solutions. While you can personalize blocks such as product recommendations according to the customer’s age or based on the products in the same category and price range, you can’t create more specific offerings.
A custom solution is the best choice if you want to establish a category of regular customers and offer them special pricing and personal discounts. You’ll also need a custom solution to provide customers with services such as order tracking and delivery reports of all orders made in a given period. This is important because 80% of online consumers are more likely to buy from a site that personalizes the buying experience.
An off-the-shelf solution requires you to have a developer or knowledge of site-building. For technical issues, you’ll rely on limited customer service providers connected with the provider, and this can, at times, be frustrating. Your site speed and security will also depend on your vendor, so tasks such as testing SEO-related aspects, website functionality for various user scenarios, security, performance under high loads, and integrating solutions often take time because your request is qued.
A custom solution gives you greater control of all aspects, from development to vendor maintenance and support services. If you want to manage your site in-house, you need to ensure that the vendor’s developers have completed a knowledge transfer to your IT team so they can manage your site.
If you are still undecided, it is best to err on the side of caution. Off-the-shelf solutions for startups and smaller businesses are a good investment.
A customized solution is a higher investment and more suited to businesses that are established or have a very defined plan.
A combined vendor-supplied solution with customization makes the most of both options. This means you can adjust aspects of the site to suit your goals.