How much does an eCommerce website cost?

Ah the age old question of cost! It can be quite the mystery as to what the hell an eCommerce website will cost you. Today we take a look at what key factors will influence the cost of your eCommerce website.

It’s about time. Mostly.

The biggest determining factor for how much your eCommerce website will cost is time. How long will the project take? Who needs to be involved? How much does it cost to employ the necessary people for the duration of the project? Answer those questions and you’ve established a huge aspect of eCommerce website costs.

The In House eCommerce Team

If you’re hiring an In House team to build your eCommerce website you’ll probably need a minimum of 3 people (but potentially many more depending on the scale and scope of the project).

  • eCommerce Project Manager (PM) – a jack of all eCommerce trades. This person ensures the project gets done on time and within your budget. They will often also be Lead QA, Lead BA, Content writer and will often get their hands dirty with code if required/allowed. On bigger project the PM will recruit and manage individuals for these specific disciplines.
  • Lead Developer – the main person responsible for producing the code – either 100% bespoke (not recommended for about 80% of projects) or on top of an existing eCommerce software platform (see below). On bigger projects there could be at least 2 or 3 additional developers led by the Lead Developer.
  • Lead Designer – in this definition the Lead Designer is the person taking the initial early Visual Design/branding stage straight through to the low level HTML/CSS/JS. On larger projects it’s likely that you would have a number of frontend developers who are solely responsible for frontend engineering.

So you’re looking at a team of a minimum of 3. But very quickly you could require a team of 9-10 people if your project scope requires it. So how much does that cost? The job market for people with eCommerce expertise in 2015 is about as red hot as it’s been in 15 years so you’re probably looking at an average of $100,000 per person per annum.

So a team of 3 will cost you in the region of $300,000 per annum. A team of 10? In the region of $1 million per annum. WHAT? Yip, good eCommerce people ain’t cheap folks 🙂

Your mileage may vary depending on your location in the world but $100,000 per person as an average all things considered including healthcare costs, employer taxes, office/hardware etc. is pretty reasonable. If you’re based in San Francisco or New York it’s definitely considered cheap!

There’s been a pretty seismic shift happening in the web agency world of late where large well known agencies have been gobbled up by big organisations who now believe it’s not smart to rely on an external agency for what is now a critical part of running any business with big ambitions in 2015 – design and software engineering excellence. But for many businesses their scale and revenue cannot justify the investment an in house team requires.

My recommendation would be that a full eCommerce In House team should only be considered for businesses who are turning over in excess of $3m per annum.

Why $3m? At that point you can hire a team of 3-4 people and your costs will be in the region of 10% of turnover. Before reaching this point my recommendation would be to rely mostly on external agencies as they should be able to provide many of the benefits of an in house team at a lower price point. (NOTE: We’re specifically talking about an eCommerce team here – NOT the entire team required to run your eCommerce website. You’ll also need to think about the people you need to manage order fulfilment, shipping, accounting, stock etc. but that’s for another day!)

The one person I would not outsource to an agency from day one is the person responsible for the commercial success of your eCommerce website. This could be you! As you grow, this is going to be an eCommerce manager who will most likely manage your agency/freelance team and eventually your in house eCommerce team.

So your maturity as an eCommerce business is vital to determining how best to go about building an eCommerce website.

The stages of eCommerce maturity

The first thing to consider is where you are at in terms of your own eCommerce experience. We’re not talking necessarily just about technical skills here. We’re talking about your own personal experience when it comes to owning and operating eCommerce ventures. This is incredibly important when it comes to determining the costs associated with building you an eCommerce website.

Why? A wide range of skills are required to run a successful eCommerce operation; world class sales and marketing expertise, top class branding and packaging, a 6th sense for customer price sensitivity, excellent customer service and fluency in digital marketing and how eCommerce management systems work.

For those who’ve never run an eCommerce website before, this list can seem intimidating. Well it should be! Running a successful eCommerce operation is not easy and it takes time to acquire these skills. If you’ve gained them already through running your own eCommerce websites or by working for another eCommerce website you’ll already be ahead of the game when it comes to talking to building a new eCommerce website.

If you’re entering into the eCommerce world without experience in these areas, be prepared to spend a lot of time learning the ropes. If you’re considering working with an agency to build your eCommerce website, a good one will want to know what level of eCommerce fluency and expertise you have as this incredibly important to almost every aspect of building the website. Typically if you’ve less eCommerce fluency things can take a lot longer as there will be a steep learning curve for you during the project. The agency will also most likely have to factor in a longer lead time for training and post project completion support as you get to grips with running an eCommerce website.

For those who have extensive eCommerce experience it’s usually possible to get to the root of exactly what is required much quicker which can help reduce the time required to complete the project – thereby reducing overall project costs. We can determine your eCommerce maturity be using the following framework.

eCommerce Maturity Framework (EMF)

This maturity framework is really just a high falutin way of establishing where in the grand scheme of things your eCommerce business is. Are you a multi million dollar eCommerce operation with a big team in place who are looking to increase conversions by 5% per annum? Or are you a one man operation who can just about turn on a computer who wants to start selling your beloved hand painted sea horses online? These are 2 very different types of situations requiring very different approaches.

eCommerce Maturity Framework

eCommerce Maturity Framework (EMF)

  • Small – You’re probably just getting going. You may be a one or two man operation. You probably don’t know a lot about eCommerce. You can benefit a lot from the guidance of an external agency. Your budget (or lack thereof) also prohibit you from building an in house team.
  • Medium – You’re a pretty successful eCommerce operation with revenues in excess of $1m per annum. You’ve developed some pretty sharp eCommerce skills to get to this level but you still need the assistance of an external agency to help drive your business forward.
  • Large – You’re an eCommerce business turning over in excess of $5m per annum. You’ve reached a point where it now starts to make sense to build an eCommerce team internally. You can still keep working with an agency if you wish (particularly for one off specialist projects), but you should definitely give consideration to building a team in house.
  • Enterprise – You’re an eCommerce juggernaut with revenues in excess of $10m per annum. You NEED an in house team just to keep up. You’ll likely have a ton of projects that you need to execute on an ongoing basis to continue to grow the business. At this level, an in house team is a necessity to realize long term benefits of having a team of people focused just on your business.

Using the EMF to help make decisions about how to build your eCommerce website

Simply put, you can use the EMF to assist you make decisions about when is the right time to build an in house team. It doesn’t make financial sense in general to build an in house team for SMALL and MEDIUM sized eCommerce websites. But once you go beyond $5m per annum it starts to look like a more compelling option. LARGE and ENTERPRISE eCommerce websites are in a enviable position where they can start to build a team to work on long term, visionary projects that require significant investment that’s just not possible for smaller operations. In this situation you will want to build that kind of expertise in house as it becomes a source of sustained competitive advantage in your business in the long run.

So what about Small and Medium sized eCommerce websites?

So you’ve determined you not ready for an in house team just yet. What are your options? The good news is that you have tons of them – if anything, too many! Here’s what I would recommend.

Newbie eCommerce Website

For anybody who is a newbie to eCommerce your objective should be to spend as little as possible in the beginning. The harsh reality is that the vast majority of eCommerce entrepreneurs will fail. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. It may mean though that you will attempt this eCommerce thing a few times with different ideas and products in different markets before you start to build some traction.

For Newbies, CommerceGurus Recommends: Shopify

Shopify is about as simple as it gets. You don’t need to worry about your own hosting or servers. You won’t have to worry about software and server upgrades, server security, ssl certificates, order emails and so on. Shopify take care of all of this for you.

Shopify pricing

Shopify pricing

From as little at $14.99 per month you can be up and running with your own eCommerce website in a matter of minutes. That’s hard to beat! What’s more, Shopify is designed to scale with you as you move up through the different stages of the EMF. There are many enterprise eCommerce websites with sales in the millions that continue to use Shopify. If you have no existing website (and associated hosting costs) then Shopify is a no brainer, particularly if you don’t want to go down that road at all. On top of your monthly costs, you are also likely to spend money on how your eCommerce website looks (which is what is known as Shopify Themes). Themes typically costs between $100 and $200 for Shopify.

Shopify Costs for a Newbie eCommerce website (per annum)

  • Starter Package on Shopify: $179.88 per annum (14.99 * 12)
  • Shopify Theme: $200
  • Domain Registration: $15 per annum

Total: $394.88 

So for under $200 per annum and a one off $200 for your theme you’re getting a world class eCommerce platform.

Custom Shopify Theme Design

As you get more and more traction you may wish to consider creating a custom theme for your store. A custom theme will differentiate your store from others that use your previous “off the rack” Shopify theme. A custom Shopify theme will cost considerably more than the off the rack one you might have previously purchased. Custom theme design prices will be based primarily on 3 factors:

  • The complexity of the design you wish to implement.
  • The scope of the project.
  • The expertise of the agency/freelancer you choose.

The third variable, agency expertise, is perhaps the most important. Typically a well known, experienced Shopify expert who create custom theme designs full time and who is based in a Western country is going to cost considerably more than a new expert based in a developing economy. You will need to choose an Shopify Design expert that’s right for your project. A good indicative cost for a custom Shopify theme would be in the region of $2,000 – $5,000 for a small eCommerce website. Prices for medium, large and enterprise eCommerce websites can be significantly higher (e.g. $20,000 – $50,000).

So if Shopify is so damn amazing why isn’t every eCommerce website in the world just using that you may ask? Shopify is what is called a Software as a Service (SASS) product meaning that you do not have direct control over the software – which is fine and dandy – as long as the software provides all the functionality that your business needs. For most conventional eCommerce businesses, Shopify should be more than sufficient. But for those that need something that Shopify doesn’t provide what alternative options exist?

For intermediates and experts, CommerceGurus recommends: WooCommerce

Regular readers of this blog will know we are especially fond of WooCommerce. In a few short years WooCommerce has become one of the most popular eCommerce platforms in the world. If you already have a WordPress site in place and have experience managing websites running WordPress, WooCommerce is an excellent starting for both Small and Medium eCommerce websites with intermediate and expert eCommerce fluency. If you’re a small, newbie eCommerce website with little or no prior WordPress eCommerce you would be better sticking with Shopify unless you’re prepared to spend a good bit of time and money to figure out how to use WordPress, setup your own hosting, payment gateway and so on which can be intimidating if you’ve never done it before. (HINT: DON’T go down this road if you’re just looking to get something up and running quickly).

But if you’ve already figured out WordPress you’re in a great position to jump into WooCommerce quickly.

WooCommerce costs for a typical intermediate/expert website (per annum)

So your annual costs for running a typical WooCommerce powered eCommerce website will be between $735 and $2000. This is a bit higher than the entry level Shopify plan (although the entry level Shopify plan is quite restrictive for all but the simplest eCommerce websites). When you go the self hosted route you will have a multitude of costs which you’re most likely paying to different providers.

Even if you already have WordPress hosting, it may not be suitable for running an eCommerce website. You’ll also have a myriad of additional costs for things like SSL certificates that Shopify would previously have looked after for you. You will also most likely need some commercial WooCommerce plugins which will vary in price (there are also plenty of excellent free WooCommerce plugins but we’re focusing on costs for now). A typical WooCommerce plugin will cost between $50 – $200.

In our experience it’s common that a typical WooCommerce website might end up using between 5 and 10 commercial plugins. Each of these plugins will typically have an initial cost plus a renewal an annual fee for future upgrades and support. (Find out where to find the best WooCommerce plugins).

Custom WooCommerce Themes

Just like with Shopify, there is a massive ecosystem of WooCommerce experts creating a wide range of WooCommerce themes and plugins. In fact it is this ecosystem which makes WooCommerce so compelling. Chances are there will be a plugin out there for the majority of use cases that you as an eCommerce website owner might think of. And if there’s not, you can either build it yourself or hire a WooCommerce expert to build it for you. This removal of constraints is a key differentiator from Shopify. If the nature of your eCommerce business requires something a bit different from the general shopping cart experience, it could be that WooCommerce gives you a platform that you can shape to meet your needs.

What does a custom WooCommerce theme cost?

In our experience, when we create a custom WooCommerce theme for a client, we’re generally doing a lot more than creating just the theme. We’re usually leading an eCommerce implementation project from start to finish. In this scenario, you’re typically talking about the following:

  • Requirements Gathering/Discovery – this starts with establishing your eCommerce maturity using the EMF framework we revealed earlier. We then move on to define the goals of the project, including defining the scope, features and deadlines for delivery. For larger projects this will extend to creating high fidelity prototypes of all aspects of how the shopping experience will work. When we work with SMALL eCommerce websites, this is typically a 3-5 day exercise. With MEDIUM and LARGE eCommerce websites, this is typically a 15-20 day exercise. For ENTERPRISE eCommerce websites this process can take 2-4 months to complete.
  • Design – The Design Process typically splits out into 2 distinct sub phases.
    • Visual Design – The client and the designer work together to agree the overall visual design concepts for the new eCommerce website. Traditionally, client concepts were created as pixel perfect concepts in Photoshop and refined ad infinitum based on scope constraints to signoff. Nowadays it’s much more common to design within the browser to produce rapid HTML prototypes to fully consider the multitude of different types of browsing devices.
    • Frontend engineering – Once the Visual Design has been agreed, the frontend build is completed. This used to be a reasonably straightforward task. With the evolution and advancement of frontend frameworks, responsive design,  javascript frameworks, pre-compilers and linters, the frontend engineering phase has become critical to delivering highly innovative and engaging eCommerce user experiences.
  • Development – The development process will typically involve the following:
    • Install and configure WooCommerce
    • Install and configure all required WooCommerce and WordPress plugins
    • Implement any custom features and functionality as per the agreed project scope
    • Developer QA and Testing
  • Testing
    • Beta release and UAT test cycle
    • Performance testing
    • Cross browser testing
    • Code Freeze
  • Handover and Training – it’s at this point that once the code is frozen, all products and associated content are loaded for production use. Typically for SMALL eCommerce websites, we expect and recommend the customer do this. Typically this is possible for smaller eCommerce websites as there might only be a handful of products.
  • The cost of imagery – this one is not to be underestimated. We talked before about the importance of your product imagery on eCommerce websites. If you don’t already have great product imagery, you might need to set aside a separate budget for product photography ($500 – $2,000 would be typical for a small eCommerce website with a limited product range).

A typical budget for a WooCommerce custom eCommerce project would be between $10,000 and $20,000 for SMALL to MEDIUM eCommerce websites. Scope and eCommerce maturity will significantly influence which end of the scale a project will fall into.

How much for Large and Enterprise Websites?

As you can see, there are a ton of things to consider just for Small and Medium sized eCommerce website – never mind the larger ones 🙂 We think that deserves a blog post of it’s own which we’ll be working on very soon so make sure to sign up for our newsletter to be notified when it’s published.

Further reading!

WPBeginner has a great guide covering How Much a WordPress website costs in 2017 – it covers WordPress in general as well as WooCommerce – go check it out!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Curation in eCommerce

Curation is a hot topic lately, with numerous brands using celebrities to hand pick their favorite items from a collection. One of the biggest was the actress Jessica Alba and the extraordinary $1 billion valuation placed on her natural baby products ‘Honest Company’, a large part due to her own reviews of the items.

With so many products often available on each site, curation has become a valuable tool to showcase what a celebrity or an expert would pick as the best of the bunch.

curated

Curation is not however out of reach for smaller companies who can’t afford a Kardashian.

Take an eCommerce site that sells nutrition products as an example. How about heading down to a gym and reaching out to a trainer for advice? Someone who wants to lose weight would be ideal as an example profile and you could feature a curated list of the best products to achieve that goal.

Likewise, for someone looking to gain muscle, a profile and their favourites would be ideal for a collection. This adds personalization as a customer can empathize with a particular profile and what items they suggest.

Even general staff picks could feature in a curated list, from books to t-shirts depending on what you are selling. This is an area that is increasing in importance and focuses on the next wave of eCommerce, built around a new model of discovery and entertainment.

Remember you can purchase our WooCommerce theme Captiva today over on themeforest. If you’re a WooCommerce newbie we also provide a free installation service to get you up and running with your own WordPress powered online shop in no time!

Why so serious? 10 examples of crafting a humorous identity

It has become more and more of a challenge for companies to form a distinctive voice online amongst competitors and peers.

Frequently they are turning to humor, employing wit and surprise to engage with customers and shedding a stuffier image in favor of one which is more human.

It helps increase a customer’s relationship with the brand and can make your site more memorable compared to the rest.

From smart copy to small details here are 10 examples of companies and individuals employing humor online.

1. PayPal

Paypal

With good copy, personalized language and a concentration on “you” PayPal does a good job of connecting with the user while the photo employed presents a humorous tone.

2. RJ Metrics

RJ Metrics

Some firms do a good job of displaying their staff personalities. On RJ Metric’s about page, rolling over an image reveals a funny face.

3. Mint.com

Mint 404

Mint.com has a clever 404 page. The concept is simple but they make sure to direct you to potential solutions underneath.

4. Louis CK

Louis CK

If you forget your password you’re presented with a message in a typically Louis CK sarcastic tone. Obviously we wouldn’t recommend you call your users idiots, Louis gets away with it though.

5. Mailchimp

Mailchimp username

If you enter a username that already exists Mailchimp suggests that you might have an evil twin.

6. Ben & Jerry’s

Ben & Jerrys

Ben & Jerry’s brought some humor when tweeting about the legalization of marijuana in the State of Colorado.

 7. Projecteo

projecteo

When shipping to a UK address Projecteo presents an “English gentleman” style prose for the heading.

8. Turntable.fm

turntable.fm

On adjusting the slider setting on Turntable.fm the monkey icon gets happier as the value rises.

9. Zapier

Zapier

Zapier’s sign up form uses humorous placeholders on the first and last name fields.

10. Modcloth

modcloth

This page is not only cute, but it has a strong call to action and can direct you to all of the best places to find the clothes you’re looking for on Modcloth’s site.

 

4 Great Customer Service Ideas

eCommerce is one of the most unforgiving areas if you fail to meet basic requirements and customer service is high on the list. How many times has a story gone viral after a customer interaction goes horribly wrong?

But lets focus on the positive. Stories abound on the insane lengths the retailer zappos.com go to for their customers. Examples include:

  • A 10 hour customer service call to resolve an issue
  • Sending flowers to a woman who ordered 6 different pairs of shoes due to medical issues
  • Overnighting a free pair of shoes for the best man who had arrived at a wedding shoeless.

Now zappos is an enormous business, with a turnover in excess of $2.2 billion. What about small businesses, what can you do to improve customer support?

1. Fast email response times

Email Response

Many large companies are painfully slow at responding to customer emails. For an eCommerce site slow responses equal frustrated users and a cancellation of orders.

Since small merchants cannot afford a call center they rely on email as the primary form of communication. This is fine as long as the response is rapid.

Draft an internal response rate time for your company. For some medium sized businesses it might be ten minutes for others an hour. Review monthly your response rates and if you’re hitting the target set.

Consider having an email tab open all day, when a query comes in treat it like an alarm and deal with the problem right away.

2. Consider live chat

Live Chat

Live chat is an increasingly popular method for customer engagement, the overall experience is quick and simple. Customers can enter order numbers into the chat box and continue to browse the store while speaking to the representative.

It provides immediate access to help and means you can resolve problems far quicker than conventional email.

We’ve even added the  Screens Live Chat Plugin (see pic above) to our Captiva WooCommerce theme so you can see we hold this form of customer interaction in very high regard.

3. Really good FAQs

Zappos breaks the questions down into convenient headings.

Zappos breaks the questions down into convenient headings.

You can prevent a host of issues by spending time on a really strong questions and answers page. Firstly, it reduces the load on your support team. A good FAQ page can solve a host of simple question asked by customers daily such as:

  • What is your returns policy?
  • What are the delivery costs?
  • Do you deliver internationally?
  • Do you offer overnight delivery?
  • What is the after sales service?
  • Is there a warranty included?

Also, an oft overlooked aspect is that a strong FAQ page can provide rich SEO content that is unique to your store.

Make sure that it’s easy to access these FAQs from every product page – the answers may be crucial before the all important ‘Buy Now’ button is clicked.

4. Treat good customers well

American Airlines sometimes include a discount code after booking

Another simple technique that works well for small online retailers is the idea of treating loyal or new customers well. Zappos for example often upgrades frequent customers to next day shipping.

Including a discount code in the confirmation email that can be used on subsequent visits rewards first time users and encourages them to visit again.

(Main image ref: The Connected Company)

5 Fundamentals to a Great eCommerce Site.

So you’re thinking about launching an online business. You’ve seen others do it and you’re wondering about what you need to do to make your store a success.

Well we’ve compiled these five key fundamentals on what makes a good online store a great one. Let’s get started!

1. Keep things simple.

Complexity hurts conversions. Use straightforward language when describing your key categories. Hollister for example used to use “dudes” and “bettys” as their main navigation labels. This has been since changed to guys and girls.

The navigation labels on Hollister now are limited to just guys, girls, jeans and clearance. It’s key that they are one or at most two word labels with no ambiguity about where they lead to. These open up on hover to reveal subcategories but by containing them within important top level labels it lends to a much cleaner, easier to navigate site.

Hollister

Hollister – it’s for beautiful people

2. Use great product descriptions.

We’ve already written about how important good product descriptions are to a store’s success but it’s a point worth reiterating.

The UK retailer, John Lewis does this particularly well, breaking up the technical descriptions of items such as the TV below into bite sized, descriptive morsels; Vivid display, Football mode etc. It allows for easy scanning of the page to pick out the key features.

Further down there are more technical details including delivery and returns information so you never have to leave that page.

John Lewis

John Lewis

3. Make it fast. Really fast.

We’ve talked before about optimizing images in WooCommerce to improve sales. Speed is incredibly important when selling, even a delay of a few seconds can cause customers to lose patience and abandon the process.

In addition, Google has in recent years put more and more value on fast loading websites so there are massive implications for your SEO rankings.

Some wonderful research from KissMetrics has highlighted the value of a speedy site to improve conversions.

Every Second Counts

Every Second Counts

In future blog posts we’ll be describing in detail how you can choose a super-fast host, and use a variety of caching plugins to shave seconds of your site’s loading time.

4. Work on your Search.

An oft forgotten area of the online shopping experience is that of search. A fast, precise and forgiving search tool can lead to increased conversions and happier customers.

It would be very useful to take a close look at your traffic logs and study the search terms people are entering. Are they misspelling a common item? Is the search smart enough to redirect them to the right place?

With this in mind, you can create and refine an auto-suggest system. Perhaps you need more obvious tags and the categorization of your items could be reviewed.

It’s always a good idea to look at the big players in this area. Ebay’s search is as expected, excellent.

eBay's Search Tool

eBay’s Search Tool

It helps a user spell any awkward words and you can click on suggested link before you have finished typing (I’m curious already what refrigiwear could entail).

By keeping a close look at your search logs you can garner an insight into what your customers are looking for and perhaps cannot find. A search for a cronut on a bakery website would surely have elicited no results up to very recently but might have hinted at potential demand.

5. Test and test again

A little secret that the big players use is a system called A/B Testing – this allows a store to present say two different options to each half of their visitors.

Would an orange button convert better than a green one? Would a left sidebar be more obvious to the user than a right one? We can hypothenise on which might be better from a design standpoint but by installing some basic A/B we can quickly find out and discover the metrics.

A/B Testing

A/B Testing. Image Credit from Optimizely.

A/B Testing is a very valuable tool for store owners to improve conversions. The advantages are enormous and we’ll delve deeper into this area in future posts.

What is the most popular eCommerce platform in 2014?

There’s never been a better time to get started with selling online. In 2014, it’s possible for just about anyone to get an online store up and running in a matter of minutes. As an old man in internet terms this was simply unthinkable 10 years ago. Even 5 years ago your options were quite limited. Today you have almost too many options to choose from.

Today I want to take a quick look at the most popular eCommerce platforms in use in 2014. It should be noted that any online statistics regarding platform popularity should always be taken with a large pinch of salt given how hard it is to produce reliable metrics for measuring platform popularity. They do however act as an excellent barometer for which way the wind is blowing in terms of platform trends and should help us understand which platforms store owners are moving towards.

Builtwith.com tracks the internet at a macro level to determine what platforms are in use to power websites. Thankfully they produce an eCommerce segment which is a veritable goldmine of information about what is happening in eCommerce today.

The top 10 eCommerce platforms in the world*

* The top 10 eCommerce platforms in the world are measured by builtwith.com. We’re also looking at their numbers for the “Entire Web”. Builtwith.com aslo produce stats for Top 10k, 100k and 1 million sites.

Number 10 – Amazon Webstore

It’s no surprise to find Amazon Webstore in the top 10. The only surprise is that it’s not higher up the list. For many people Amazon is eCommerce. Amazon Webstore basically allows you to leverage the massive infrastructure Amazon has built to create your own shop. Big brands like Samsonite, EA Sports, Fruit of the Loom, MTV, Black & Decker and Spalding use Amazon Webstore. At first glance one might think the whole world should be using Amazon Webstore, so why is it not more popular? I think there’s 2 key reasons. First, it’s a hosted platform, and for a lot of businesses that’s a non-runner for a myriad of reasons (hosted vs. self hosted is something we’ll come back to another day). Second, it can get quite expensive quite quickly. It’s $79 per month along with 2% of each transaction for Small businesses. One significant benefit of using Amazon Webstore is the ability to get your products seamlessly displayed on Amazon.com and offer Amazon Prime to your customers. For many store owners the costs are small compared to the benefits that come with it.

Number 9 – AspDotNetStorefront

This is one we were surprised to see in the Top 10. AspDotNetStorefront has been around a long long time. It’s a commercial piece of software written in Microsoft .NET (c#) so naturally it will appeal to those looking for a self hosted platform on the Microsoft stack. Prices start at $797 for the express version (100 product limit and a smaller feature list) and go up to $4,794  for the Enterprise version. It certainly boasts an impressive feature list but I must say I don’t like that the Express and Professional versions are seriously hobbled in terms of restricted feature lists. I also think that the visual aspect of the platform could be significantly improved compared to others on this list.

Number 8 – Magento Enterprise

Magento, the 1,000 pound gorilla of the open source eCommerce world, makes it’s first entry in the Top 10 here in it’s Enterprise form. Magento has pretty much dominated a significant chunk of the eCommerce market since it first appeared in 2007. Magento Enterprise (EE) provides an expanded and enhanced feature set from the community (free) edition and also provides the comfort of an enterprise support team which big brands demand. But that comfort comes at a price. Until very recently Magento displayed their enterprise pricing on the enterprise website but they seem to have removed them recently. As of June 2014, Magento Enterprise costed around $15,000 per annum. We’ll talk a little bit more about Magento later but suffice to say, Magento Enterprise is squarely aimed at store owners doing serious annual turnover online. On top of the $15,000 per annum license, you’re probably talking anywhere between $100,000 – $200,000 in implementation costs aswell.

Number 7 – Miva Merchant

Miva Merchant has been around nearly as long as the world wide web itself. It started life back in 1996 as the HTMLScript corporation and has undergone several acquisitions and buy outs in the intervening 18 years. Miva is a hosted eCommerce platform written in it’s own proprietary scripting language called Miva Script. Featured stores include Taylor Swift’s store, Screens.com, ScotteVest.com and  Skiphop.com. Miva Merchant pricing ranges from $49.95 per month to $129.95 per month depending on the size of your business.

Number 6 – Yahoo Store

My guess is that had I made this list 10 years ago, Yahoo Store probably would have been in the top 2. In 2014, Yahoo Store is still an incredibly popular eCommerce platform and one of the oldest eCommerce platforms still in existence today. It started life as Viaweb which was founded by the legendary Paul Graham who sold it to Yahoo in 1998 when it was renamed Yahoo Store. Having used Yahoo Store many years ago I can vouch for the platforms biggest strength – it’s simplicity. Yahoo Store pricing is quite sensible and transparent, starting at $10.95 per month for up to $12,000 per month in sales and topping out at $254.95 per month for more than $80,000 per month in sales. I suspect that with the Yahoo brand stagnating significantly over the past 10 years that we’ll continue to see Yahoo Store slip down the Top 10 over the next few years unless Yahoo breath serious new life into the Yahoo Store brand.

Number 5 – Volusion

Volusion is another of the old stalwarts of eCommerce platforms. Founded in 1999 it is unlike Yahoo Store in that it continues to rapidly grow in popularity in 2014. The company has grown from 135 employees to over 450 employees in past four years alone. In the same time, it’s customer base has grown from 18,000 stores to 40,000 stores – that’s serious growth. Flagship customers include Intel, 3M, Kingspan and Combi. Pricing ranges from $15 per month to $135 per month with staggered feature sets depending on the level of sophistication you need. Volusion do an excellent job on their website marketing and have clearly put a lot of effort into identifying where they think their platform is superior to competitors like Shopify. I’m impressed by Volusion.

Number 4 – Ubercart

Ubercart is one of the most popular eCommerce platforms that integrates directly with Drupal (one of the most popular open source Content Management Systems). Ubercart faces stiff competition from Drupal Commerce which has the backing of Commerce Guys who recently raised $7.3 million in funding. Clearly there’s a big market for Drupal based eCommerce platforms! Ubercarts high placement on the top 10 is probably a reflection of the fact that for a long time it was the best Drupal eCommerce option. I’m not so sure if that is the case today. I also think that their less polished website probably doesn’t help convince some store owners that Ubercart is the right platform for them. Nevertheless, it’s continued high placement on the top 10 means Ubercart needs to be given full consideration.

Number 3 – osCommerce

Ah osCommerce, how do I love thee? osCommerce was started back in 2000 and was my first eCommerce platform way back then. For a long time, osCommerce was pretty much the only option a web developer had in terms of open source PHP eCommerce platforms. While osCommerce is still actively being developed I think that it’s somewhat stuck in the past. Certainly from a marketing perspective and in terms of the user interface used to power both the frontend and the backend. I think osCommerce makes it into the Top 3 purely based on the fact that it’s been around for so long and I reckon every single PHP developer has at least one instance of it installed somewhere. I would not recommend using osCommerce in 2014 unfortunately. Here’s to hoping they up their game in the next year.

Number 2 – Magento (Community Edition)

Frankly it’s a big surprise to me that Magento didn’t take the number 1 position! I guess the fact that it occupies 2 of the top 10 slots should be some form of consolation! When Magento was released in 2007 it really did change the game of open source eCommerce platforms. Up to then osCommerce was what most open source eCommerce developers used. Magento was different. It was one of the first open source projects to have a really polished feel to it that simply didn’t exist with open source software up to that point. It was a real breath of fresh air for eCommerce developers. I also think that the company behind Magento, Varien Inc. were also instrumental in showing other developers how to go about commercialising an open source project. Varien was eventually fully acquired by eBay in 2011. Simply put, Magento is a monster of an eCommerce platform. It’s used by hundreds of thousands or store owners to process probably hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars of online orders every year. Yet, it’s not a platform I typically recommend anyone just getting started in eCommerce. Why? Magento is a complex beast. It’s feature set is vast. With such a vast feature set comes a lot of complexity. Moreover from a developers perspective, the process of implementing custom design and functionality on top of Magento is not a trivial one. Magento implementation projects typically run to well over $100,000 despite the fact that the Community edition is free. I generally recommend that unless you’re doing over $1 million in sales per annum online and have at least 1-2 people who know Magento very well you should avoid it for now.

Number 1 – WooCommerce

Now that was a surprise! When we started creating this list we assumed WooCommerce would feature somewhere in the top 10 but never guessed it would now be the Number 1 eCommerce platform in the world! It’s been a bit of a stellar rise for WooCommerce given the platform was only released in September 2011. For those who’ve never heard of WooCommerce before, it’s an open source plugin for WordPress (the most popular open source Content Management System in the world). WooCommerce had a bit of a baptism of fire as it’s 2 main developers at the time Mike Jolley and Jay Koster were previously the developers of Jigoshop which was forked to become WooCommerce when WooThemes hired Mike and Jay. Once under the WooThemes banner, WooCommerce rapidly emerged as a really powerful but simple eCommerce platform. As a WordPress plugin, WooCommerce inherits the principles and ethos of WordPress in terms of it’s general user interface simplicity while still providing a core feature set that competes with any of the other platfoms listed here in the Top 10. There are numerous reasons why WooCommerce has risen up the Top 10 list so rapidly, but I think the biggest reason is it’s seamless integration into WordPress. I also think the extensive marketplace of themes and plugins for WooCommerce means it can compete with the likes of Magento without the significant resource and implementation overhead.

Also rans who didn’t make the Top 10

  • Zen Cart – A very popular fork of osCommerce. A bit surprised to see no trace of Zen Cart even though it’s definitely showing it’s age a bit. 
  • Shopify – I was sure to see Shopify in the Top 10. It does appear as Number 1 in the Builtwith.com Hosted eCommerce list, but not in the overall Top 10 – while Volusion – a hosted platform – does. Weird, we’ll reach out to Builtwith.com and see if there’s an issue with their overall Top 10. If Shopify was to appear in the overall Top 10 it would be coming in around number 4 which would make much more sense 🙂
  • Prestashop – Prestashop is an incredibly popular open source PHP eCommerce platform. I can’t believe there’s no trace of it whatsoever in the Top 10.
  • BigCommerce – Another big hosted platform that’s been doing very well recently. Perhaps next year we’ll see them on the list.

 

 

Problems with eCommerce design: the lack of product information

It’s probably the biggest issue out there. You can go into a bricks-and-mortar store, pick up an item, feel it, open it, gauge the weight, the texture, the shape. You can read the labels, the manufacturer information, talk to a store owner about it.

Let’s compare that experience to what happens online. How many times has there been just a line or two of text? No detailed description? No guidelines for storage or for washing if the item is a piece of clothing?

So do something about it!

Go through your site, product by product and improve the descriptions. It won’t be easy or fast especially if you sell many items but over time you’ll see the rewards. Here are some of the details you can add:

  • Measurements: Width, height, length – overall dimensions.
  • Make sure all color and size variations are clearly displayed.
  • A size chart: Does the fit match global sizes or does it differ?
  • Care instructions: How to store it properly or what temperature to wash it in.
  • More information about the brand or the designer.
  • Links to press cuttings or reviews of the item. Don’t just take our word for it!
  • Is there a virtuous side to the brand? Does a percentage of the profits go to charity or good causes?

Study the language you use

Be sure and write according to your audience. Avoid overly technical phrases in the product description and use more descriptive terminology. You can always have more specific information in a ‘Technical Details’ tab for example.

Let’s look at how you can put more descriptive language into action.

Say you have an eCommerce store selling laptops. On one you mention the processor and graphics card in bullet points:

  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 650M

But how does this differ to other graphics chips? Is it right for me?

  • NVIDIA GeForce FTX 650M – Ideal for gaming, video editing and Photoshop

But what if all those product details just don’t apply to me?

Granted we don’t all sell designer t-shirts or hipster coffee beans excreted from a Kopi Luwak so how do you improve copy if you sell say hardwood floors or seeds for the garden?

The key is to write around the customer.

For hardwood floors think about the busy professional who doesn’t have time to keep their home clean. Proclaim the advantages of being able to run a mop once a week around it compared to other flooring. Think of the family with kids that have less to worry about from dusty carpets.

For the seed company think of the environmentalists who would like to grow their own organic fruit and vegetables. Think of the flowery window boxes on display in downtown apartments.

Once you take a step back and think about the people using your products you should be buzzing with ideas on how to improve your store’s copy.

Kickstarting Potato Salad when the Chips are Down

In the past week a potato story dominated the airwaves not since freedom fries made their brief appearance over ten years ago. (A valiant attempt to rechristen Guinea pigs “Freedom pigs” unfortunately never took on).

The story made waves as the creator, Zach Brown managed to raise an extraordinary $50,000 on the eponymous kickstarter.com for such a culinarily inexpensive, simple recipe.

What this story tells us about the Internet age, where a flippant story can provoke much mirth and sharing as well as far too many copycats (bacon cupcakes anyone) is  a topic for another day.

It does raise the interesting question however of what makes a business and perhaps more critically what skills do I possess to make my own business?

And the crucial word here is skills. More and more people sell services online, from painting walls to mowing lawns to providing math help or music lessons.

These kinds of business require little or no capital to get started but the rewards can be huge.

A Real Life Example – Threadless.com

threadless

One company that started with just $1000 in a garage in the US was the (now) t-shirt giant threadless.com. Visitors would vote on a favorite design and the winning t-shirt would be printed and sold in small batches until the stock ran out.

This created exclusivity (quick, buy one before they’re all gone!) and prevented a large and costly stock overhang for the founders at the beginning.

Businesses like this interest us. At CommerceGurus we want to focus on how you can get up and running with minimal cost and avoid expensive start up mistakes.