E-commerce Solutions for Small Businesses

If you own a small business and want to sell products online, you may be wondering where to start. Should you build an e-commerce website? Or work with what you’ve got, adding a shopping cart and checkout?

Begin by asking yourself a couple of questions. How happy are you with your existing website? What do you need your site to do? If you’ve invested heavily in your site, and it meets your needs other than the sales aspect, it may be worth building basic e-commerce functionality on top of your existing foundation. If you are lukewarm about your site, and/or require sophisticated e-commerce capabilities, building anew may be better, and cheaper, in the long run.

Adding E-Commerce

WooCommerce Screenshot

If your current website is powered by WordPress.org, consider WooCommerce. It’s the most popular WordPress plugin for e-commerce. You can install it onto any existing WordPress theme.

For businesses selling only a few items, companies like Shopify and PayPal provide payment solutions in the form of “Buy Buttons”. For example, when customers click the Shopify Buy Button on your site, they will be taken to a Shopify checkout screen. Once the transaction completes, the customer will be given the option to return to your site.

Shopify Buy Button Screenshot

If you need more functionality than a Buy Button, several companies offer “shopping cart” add-ons, including: FoxyCart, Ecwid, and Snipcart. These can be added to your site using some basic coding.

Ecwid Screenshot

Online Marketplaces

Another possibility is to sell your products through an online marketplace. This can be done in addition to, or instead of, selling through your own site. Some online marketplaces foster engagement and community, and cater to specific categories. For example, Etsy and ArtFire focus on hand-crafted products. Others, like Amazon and Ebay sell everything under the sun, and are more price driven.

Online marketplaces often attract huge traffic, exposing your products to large, and sometimes targeted audiences. However, aggregators feature your competitors too, and it can be difficult to differentiate yourself.

Etsy Screenshot

Purpose Built E-commerce Sites

Other than WooCommerce, which provides fairly robust e-commerce functionality, the above options are recommended for either light e-commerce users, or those who have recently invested in creating a website. They can also serve as a transition between a regular site and a full-on e-commerce store.

However, if a true e-commerce experience is the end goal, building a new website specifically around e-commerce best practices may be the best option.

Who’s Hosting?

Shopify Screenshot

There are two main types of purpose built e-commerce solutions: hosted and self-hosted.

Hosted platforms are often preferred by small businesses because in addition to hosting your site on their server, they come with technical support. They are also generally easier to set up and maintain. Shopify is one of the most popular hosted platforms; competitors include BigCommerce and Volusion.

Self-hosted solutions allow more flexibility and customization, but require developer and/or designer expertise. Two common self-hosted choices are Magento and WooCommerce.

Magento Screenshot

There are many factors to consider when picking an e-commerce solution. Luckily, with so many products available, there is bound to be one that suits your needs. If you would like to further explore your options, feel free to reach out to us.

Photo credit: Maria Elena