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Creating a Modern eCommerce Website


In the early days of eCommerce web design, a perfectly-matched domain name (such as shoes.com or toys.com) was thought to be an important factor in the success of the website. But the extraordinary success of eCommerce giants like eBay and Amazon proves that what a website sells doesn’t necessarily need to be tied to its domain name.


Modern eCommerce Website Compared to a brick-and-mortar-store


Successful modern eCommerce websites requires a plan, and they need to function as efficiently as possible. In many ways, an eCommerce website must function like a brick-and-mortar store that has a strategically-placed, visually-appealing merchant rack or well-organized stock room...on an eCommerce website, the features that drive sales need to be just as strategically placed. So how do you make your eCommerce website perform in a way that will make it successful?


Whether purchasing an item in a brick-and-mortar store or purchasing an item online, the entire process must be organized around the transaction. In a brick-and-mortar store, you take your new item to the checkout counter with cash or debit/credit card in hand, complete a payment transaction with the cashier, then exit the store with your new purchase in hand. The major difference with making an online purchase is that you won’t handle or see your purchased item until it has arrived at your shipping address.




So What is eCommerce Exactly?

In the September-October 2017 issue of the International Journal of Advanced Research in Computer Science, Computer Engineering Professor Prathamesh Churi defines eCommerce aselectronic commerce” that “caters to trading in goods and services through the electronic medium such as internet, mobile or any other computer network.” In other words, eCommerce is the buying and selling of goods on the internet.


eCommerce Basics

When a website is accessed, a request is passed to the web server where MyWebsiteSite.com is hosted. Typically, the web server houses the files within a database that are hosted on the site. Programming languages determine what’s present when the information is sent back to the browser.


When an eCommerce website is accessed, a request is passed to the web server where MyEcommerceSite.com is hosted. However, a web server for an eCommerce website manages the online storefront and has the ability to process transactions. An eCommerce database is more robust than a non-eCommerce website, because it can record and track items in stock and continually update its database as users make purchases. Ideally, this database should send alerts or notifications to the seller that supplies of low stock items must be ordered. Finally, a dispatch system should be connected to the online warehouse in a way that allows for instant identification and rapid shipping to the customer.


If you’re not a web developer but you want to create an eCommerce store, the easiest way to accomplish this goal is to use a software application to manage and create the content stored on these files; this is known as a content management system (CMS).  A content management system for an eCommerce website is also known as an eCommerce Platform.




Issues to Consider when Creating an eCommerce Website

Although there are different types of eCommerce websites (i.e. Business-to-Business (B2B), music portals, auction websites, financial management websites, etc.), this discussion will be limited to eCommerce retail selling for the sake of simplicity. Here are the primary issues and design elements that must be considered as you create your own eCommerce website:


1. Visual Appearance

According to research by 3M, learning can be improved by 400% with visual aids, and all humans process visual information 60,000 times faster than text alone. The conversion optimization platform Justuno notes that the single most important factor in the purchasing decisions of 93% of online consumers is (drum roll, please) visual appearance! For eCommerce websites, visual appearance is related to any and every single visual design element that is featured on your websites. This includes a color scheme that compliments your products as well as high quality product photos.


2. Cost

All eCommerce platforms come with a price. Whether or not you’re charged a monthly flat rate, you must consider all costs in your business model, which could include transaction fees, the maximum number of products you can sell, loyalty programs, gift cards, the ability to create free shipping, etc.


3. Ease of Use

Strongly consider how you’re going to manage your eCommerce business. If the goal of your eCommerce platform is to sell products to consumers, then the interface needs to be easy to work with. From the home page to the checkout page, a practical, meaningful, and valuable user experience is one of the most important conversion factors. Focus your efforts on creating an enjoyable online shopping experience.


4. Payment Gateway

A good payment gateway with solid features like guest or customer login, a straightforward  checkout process, and dynamic payment options such as the ability to use PayPal, a credit card, or bank account is critical to a successful eCommerce website.


5. Security

Security is an essential part of eCommerce. If your website accepts credit cards, you should have a SSL certificate (https://) at your checkout page. To help build trust with your customers, this should be installed throughout your site.


6. Hosting

Hosting must be fast and reliable. Note that with the exception of Magento, most open-source platforms usually require self-hosting. The alternative eCommerce platforms that come at a monthly cost are usually SaaS-based (Software-as-Service) and provide their own hosting.


Last but not least, do your homework: thoroughly research every eCommerce platform that interests you. Contact their support teams, reach out to eCommerce platform user communities, and ask questions BEFORE starting your website design project. What are all of the search engine optimization features? How many products can you feature and upload? What payment gateway's do they offer? Be sure to understand exactly what you’re signing up for and that your platform of choice provides the eCommerce design and functionality that your business requires.


modern ecommerce website platforms


Which eCommerce Platform is Right for My Business?

One of the most critical decisions that you’ll need to consider as you develop your eCommerce site involves which eCommerce platform is best suited for you and your business. An eCommerce platform has many functions: it’s not only similar to a brick-and-mortar company’s storefront, but it also provides the software necessary for your customers to purchase your products and services, and for you, the owner, to manage the operations of your online store.


There are literally hundreds of eCommerce platforms, and each of them offers different features and functions that may or may not be right for your business. Here are some of the most popular eCommerce platforms available:


  • WooCommerce is the world’s most popular e-commerce platform among its competitors. It’s written in PHP, free to use and known as the most customizable platform for eCommerce out on the market today. Because WooCommerce is built on the WordPress engine which is the world’s most used content management system, security should be your #1 priority.


  • Squarespace is a Software as a Service (SaaS) eCommerce platform. If you’re looking for a basic site and have only a couple of products to sell, you may want to consider Squarespace. If you're looking to sell across multiple channels like Amazon or eBay, with robust marketing and functionality, you should look elsewhere.


  • Shopify is another SaaS that’s written in a unique template language called liquid. If you want to make major customizations over time, you’ll have to hire a web developer with liquid programming skills. Even with a liquid developer, the source code is proprietary. However, it is designed to allow anyone to sell products online with ease.


  • WixStores is a cloud-based SaaS that features drag-and-drop template editing that makes setting up your eCommerce store easy. But note that once you’ve chosen your template you can’t change it later. This means that you’ll have to rebuild all your content if you’d like to start with another template. Multi-channel selling is also limited.


  • Magento has 2 unique platforms: Magento Open Sources is a free open-source eCommerce platform. Magento Commerce has an on-premises version or a platform-as-a-service version that’s not free, but has much more flexibility and support than the free version. What’s impressive about Magento is that it can support up to 500,000 products and thousands of transactions in an hour. However, the license fee starts at $18,000 per year to get performance updates, additional flexibility, and support.


  • MonsterCommerce was acquired by Network Solutions in 2006. Among Network Solutions eCommerce plans, only the premium version at $19.95 per month offers bulk management. However, there is a special note regarding the company’s current plans: “Limited time offer of $7.95 on Starter, $9.95 on Standard, and $19.95 on Premium packages. Promotional pricing applies only to the first billing cycle, after which current retail price would be applied. The current retail rate for the Starter is $29.95 per billing cycle, Standard is $54.95 per billing cycle, and Premium is $99.95 per billing cycle. Customers on a monthly billing cycle are billed every 4 weeks. Transaction fees and set up fees may apply. Offer is good for new purchases only with any monthly term. Cannot be combined with any other offer. Discount applied in shopping cart.”


  • PrestaShop is another free open-source eCommerce platform written in PHP that can support companies that offer a couple thousand products. SEO optimization has been noted as an issue though and unlike WooCommerce, the number of templates and plug-ins are limited.


  • Weebly eCommerce is an all-inclusive drag-n-drop builder marketed towards creatives and small businesses with zero experience or interest in web development. The platform is good for businesses that are focused on lead-generation or are informational but interested in selling just a few products. It’s important to note that there is no ability for a customer to login, their marketing tools are basic, and migrating your URL and content is difficult, to say the least.


  • OpenCart is yet another open-source eCommerce platform written in PHP. At the time of this writing, their website states that the OpenCart marketplace offers over 13,000 themes and modules to start and scale one’s business. Updating to a newer version of the platform can be challenging without a developer documentation and community support is also limited compared to WooCommerce.


  • VirtueMart is an open-source eCommerce technology written in PHP, and developed as an extension of the CMS Joomla! so you must have Joomla! to use VirtueMart. Joomla! has lost its popularity recently to WordPress and so VirtueMart has experienced an equal drop in popularity as well.


  • BigCommerce is an all-inclusive SaaS eCommerce platform marketed towards established and growing online companies looking for a user-friendly solution. At first glance, the pricing seems fair, especially since there are no transaction fees for any plans. However, if your online website earns more than $50k per year in sales, you must choose the Plus Plan at $50 per month. Also, if you're looking for advanced options such as priority support, advanced filtering options and the ability to host a sagging environment for development, you could easily be spending up to $500 a month.


So What’s the Secret to a Successful eCommerce Website?

Ultimately, the secret to creating a profitable eCommerce website is to build enough trust in your brand over time that customers are automatically driven to purchase from your brand’s website. Explore some of the most successful eCommerce businesse and take note of the common overall design elements: clean design, strong call to actions, organized categories, close up photos, beautiful imagery, detailed product information, multiple payment options... put yourself in the mind of the consumer, plot out the customer journey, and use this guide to develop your modern ecommerce website.