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Creating a Modern eCommerce Website

Online shopping eCommerce web design concept


In the early days of eCommerce web design, a perfectly-matched domain name (such as shoes.com or toys.com) used o be an essential factor in the website's success. 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 require a plan, and they need to function as efficiently as possible. In many ways, an eCommerce website must work like a brick-and-mortar store that has a strategically-placed, a visually-appealing merchant rack or a well-organized stock room. On an eCommerce website, the features that drive sales must be just as strategic. 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, organize the transaction process. 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, and then exit the store with your new purchase hand. The noteworthy 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.



eCommerce website sales page concept


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 the 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 passes to the webserver of MyWebsiteSite.com's host. Typically, the webserver houses the files within a website's database. Programming languages determine what’s present and the server sends the information back to the browser.


When an eCommerce website is accessed, a request passes to the webserver of MyEcommerceSite.com host as well. However, a web server for an eCommerce website manages the online storefront and can process transactions. An eCommerce database is more robust than a non-eCommerce website because it can record and track stock items 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 connect to the online warehouse 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 develop the content stored on these files, known as a content management system (CMS).  A content management system for an eCommerce website is also known as an eCommerce Platform.



Online shopping design concept with purchase items credit cards delivery courier


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), this discussion will be limited to eCommerce retail selling for the sake of simplicity. Here are the primary issues and design elements to consider as you create your eCommerce website:


1. Visual Appearance

According to research by 3M, memory improves 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 most crucial factor in the purchasing decisions of 93% of online consumers is (drum roll, please) visual appearance! For eCommerce websites, visuals relate to every graphic design element featured on your websites, including a color scheme that compliments your products and high-quality product photos.


2. Cost

All eCommerce platforms come with a price. Whether a monthly fee flat rate, you must consider all costs in your business model. At the very least, think about the transaction fees, the maximum number of products you can sell, loyalty programs, gift cards, and the ability to create free shipping.


3. Ease of Use

Strongly consider how you’re going to manage your eCommerce business. If your eCommerce platform's goal is to sell products to consumers, the website interface needs to work smoothly. A practical, meaningful, and valuable user experience is one of the most critical conversion factors from the home page to the checkout page. Focus your efforts on creating an enjoyable online shopping experience.


4. Payment Gateway

A good payment gateway with standard features like guest or customer login, a straightforward checkout process, and dynamic payment options such as using PayPal, a credit card, or a 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 an SSL certificate (HTTPS://) on your checkout page. To help build trust with your customers, install the SSL throughout your site and BEFORE you start developing the website to prevent mixed content issues.


6. Hosting

Hosting must be fast and reliable. Note that except for 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 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 precisely understand the website platform 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 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 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 solution 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. WooCommerce is an e-commerce plugin for WordPress, the world’s most used content management system. So WooCommerce security should be your #1 priority.


  • Squarespace is a Software as a Service (SaaS) eCommerce platform. If you’re looking for a simple 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, you should look elsewhere with robust marketing and functionality.


  • Shopify is another SaaS that’s and features an open-source template programming  language called liquid written in Ruby. If you want to make significant customizations over time, you’ll have to hire a web developer with liquid programming skills. Even with a liquid developer, the front end language is mostly PHP based. So it would not hurt to look for a liquid developer that has a programming background in PHP. However, Shopify's 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. In other words, 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 two unique platforms: Magento Open Source 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 per hour. However, the license fee starts at $18,000 per year to get performance updates, additional flexibility, and support.


  • MonsterCommerce was acquired by the technology company and a subsidiary of Web.com, Network Solutions, in 2006. Among Network Solutions' eCommerce plans, only the Premium plan 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. The Starter's current rate 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 receive a bill every four 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 [the] shopping cart.”


  • PrestaShop is another free, open-source eCommerce platform written in PHP that can support companies that offer several 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 suitable for companies focused on lead-generation or is informational but interested in selling just a few products. It’s important to note that you have to pay for the highest plan to have PaPal as a payment option and does not integrate with Amazon, eBay, Google Shopping, or the social media platform Facebook for two-way sync.


  • OpenCart is yet another open-source eCommerce platform written in PHP. Their website states that the OpenCart marketplace offers over 13,000 themes and modules to start and scale one’s business at the time of this writing. Updating to a newer version of the platform can be challenging without 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 it would be best if you had Joomla to use VirtueMart. Joomla has lost its popularity recently to WordPress, so VirtueMart has experienced an equal drop in popularity.


  • 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, suppose you're looking for advanced options such as priority support, advanced filtering options, and the ability to host a sagging environment for development. In that case, 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 to drive customers to purchase from your brand’s website. Explore some of the most successful eCommerce businesses and note the standard overall design elements: clean design, strong call to actions, organized categories, close up photos, beautiful imagery, detailed product information, full product pages, and multiple payment options. Put yourself in the consumer's mind, plot out the customer journey, and use this guide to develop your modern eCommerce website.