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eCommerce websites 101: is X an option for beginners?

This article explains the fundamentals of how to build an eCommerce site using many methods accessible for entrepreneurs. Becoming acknowledged with these available options will let you make an informed selection. Hence, you would be able to choose the best-suited approach without beating through the bush.

To get a more profound comprehension, we will go through a detailed comparison of each of these options multiple aspects. Further, considering the pros and cons of each, we would be able to make a wise decision within a dedicated budget and confined set of resources.  

Aspects of comparison

  1. Technical skills: What are the skills required to develop, setup, and manage the site?
  2. Hosting: What kind of web hosting is supported by these options?
  3. Scalability: Can you extend your site for a large-scale business?
  4. Customization: Can you customize code after development?
  5. Cost: How much do you need for development and maintenance?
  6. Time: How much time is required from development till going live?
  7. In-house/Outsource: Do you need an in-house team?
  8. Multi-vendor eCommerce/Inventory: Does it support multi-vendor marketplace model?

4 ways to build an eCommerce site  

Considering the previously mentioned aspects, there are four possible methods to set up an eCommerce business:

  1. Coding your site from the scratch
  2. Customizing an open-source eCommerce CMS
  3. Subscribing to a SaaS/ PaaS eCommerce platform
  4. Purchasing an open-source custom eCommerce platform
  1. Coding the site from scratch

This approach suits best to the eCommerce entrepreneurs with a large-scale website in mind. With that, if you need unlimited customizability and scalability, this option will give you some better degrees of feasibility. You can enjoy full control of the development and manage your site the way you want.

You can either be a full stack eCommerce developer to code your eCommerce site or can invest some large capital to outsource your project. In either of the cases, the developer should possess the required technical skills.

 

  • Technical skills

 

The developer needs expertise on a competent tech stack. It would be a complete set of different technologies required to develop, deploy and manage a web application/software. Most of the great eCommerce sites we see today are made on one of the following tech stacks eCommerce development:

  • LAMP. Linux (operating system), Apache (web server), MySQL (database), PHP (programming language).
  • Python-Django. Based on the Python programming language, Apache web server and MySQL database, Django framework, which is also written in Python.
  • MEAN. MongoDB (database), Express.js (application framework), AngularJS (front-end framework), Node.js (runtime environment). This stack has developed some of the biggest eCommerce sites on the Node.js shopping cart technology.  Ex. Amazon.
  • MERN. It makes MongoDB, Express, React/Redux, and Node.js. Considering the popularity of React. JS in front-end development and Node.JS in back-end development. It is a modern form of Node.js eCommerce development.

Framework: Each of the stacks has its own frameworks and MVC structures. After selecting a tech stack, you need to choose a corresponding framework to develop your eCommerce site from scratch. Here is an example of a few popular programming languages and their popular frameworks:

Scripting: Besides the programming frameworks for server-side programming, you will need a script to design both the front and back-end UIs. HTML, HTML5, CSS, JavaScript, etc. are few of the popular designing scripts, which you can use with popular designing frameworks like Bootstrap, Foundation, and Skeleton for front-end; Symfony, Laravel, and Zend for the back-end.

Additional tech stack: Besides the development tech stack, you will need some other knowledge of the tools and implementations for the shopping cart technologies. Few of them are as follows:

  • Payment gateway APIs.
  • Content Delivery Network.
  • Testing tools for Quality Assurance.
  • Shipping services APIs.
  • Email marketing APIs.
  • SMS API integration ex Twilio.
  • Google Shopping API.
  • Currency and Time-zone API etc.

 

  • Hosting

 

While developing your eCommerce site from scratch, you possess complete ownership of the source code. You can upload this source code to any web-server of your choice. Any web-server that supports your tech-stack is suitable for going live.

 

  • Scalability

 

The option to choose your own tech stack and complete access to the source code gives your site unlimited scalability. Depending on your tech stack, you can upscale your website to handle large features, massive website traffic, and any number of products.

Tip: You can choose MEAN or MERN stack to develop a Node.js ecommerce. With asynchronous coding and non-blocking, I/O model Node.js shopping carts are fast and highly scalable. Most significant sites and web-apps like Amazon, Alibaba, Netflix, and PayPal are based on this tech-stack.

 

  • Customization

 

You get the maximum customizability to modify your code and add as many new features and design elements. You can always edit source code or override it to add customization to your online store.

Tip: Adopt a modular framework to add new features as add-ons, modules, and extensions. Doing so will let you customize the code without breaking the base code.

 

  • Cost

 

You can never be assured of the cost required to do everything from scratch. The final cost of your website will include all the cost required to buy a tech stack, pay the developers, hosting provider, API vendors, and much more. Generally, you need a very high budget to develop a website from scratch. It might go beyond the $100,000 budget to just develop the base code.  

 

  • Time

 

Doing everything from the beginning takes a lot of time. You need a lot of time to complete each phase:

  • Research on vendors/ tech stack
  • Out-source/start by yourself
  • Project feasibility test
  • Implementation
  • Testing
  • Hosting
  • Setup

It might take over 6 months with a team to come up with your final base-script for a medium-sized website.

 

  • In-house/Outsource

 

Depending on your budget, technical skills, and time, you can hire an in-house team or can outsource the whole project to a software development company.

 

  • Multi-vendor eCommerce/Inventory

 

Depending on your business requirements, this approach is capable of building both the inventory-based or multi-vendor marketplace sites.

  1. Customizing an open-source eCommerce CMS

There are various popular free eCommerce platforms in the market. These platforms provide open-source code access with minimal built-in eCommerce shopping cart features. Besides that, various third-party developers also sell ready-made/ customized modules to add new features to the base platform. In short, these are special CMS for eCommerce website building.

Most of these platforms are based on PHP’s LAMP stack.

Example: Magento Community Edition, PrestaShop, OpenCart, WordPress Woocommerce plugin, Drupal Commerce Add-on, etc.

  • Technical skills

Almost all of the popular eCommerce CMS in this category are built on PHP stack. PHP being a popular technology makes development quite easy. Most probably, you too possess the basic PHP skills. If not, you can always find an affordable PHP developer or a development company. In short, you need enough knowledge of any of the platforms and their development frameworks.

For example, if you choose PrestaShop website builder, you will need the knowledge of LAMP stack, PrestaShop MVC, Symfony framework, BootStrap, JQuery, HTML, and CSS.

Bottom line: The platform comes ready-made with all the necessary features. Besides that, you can customize the code in the prescribed framework with the little coding requirement as compared to the previous approach.

 

  • Hosting

 

You get the source code. Hence, you can install and host your eCommerce CMS on any server of your choice.

 

  • Scalability

 

The scalability of your platform depends on the eCommerce platform scalability. Generally, these PHP based platforms are competent enough to handle small-to-medium sized websites. Magento offers the best scalability among all the open-source eCommerce platforms in this category.

 

  • Customization

 

Customizability is dependent on the platform. Most of these platforms give you great customizability in the prescribed coding style, framework, and tech stack. The only limitation is, you are limited to specified coding methods and cannot customize the codes without overriding the base code. Otherwise, the customization will be lost once you update or upgrade the platform version.   

 

  • Cost

 

The cost depends on the platform you are choosing. Almost all the platforms are free, but their customizations in the form of modules and extensions are paid services from third-party developers. Besides that, you will be paying to buy the modules from third-party developers.

Alternatively, you can also ask your in-house team to develop the modules.

 

  • Time

 

Most of the basic features come built-in. However, you will need some time to set up your site and customize it. Besides that, it takes a few hours to host, setup, install plugins, and themes. However, the required time is generally lesser than the approach for coding from scratch.

 

  • In-house or Outsource

 

You can hire your own team or outsource the development as there is no shortage of affordable PrestaShop, OpenCart, Magento, WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla developers in the market. Most of the time, you can buy and install a ready-made plugin to your website.

 

  • Multivendor eCommerce/Inventory

 

Except for the Magento, all other platforms are inventory-based by default. However, you can customize them to adopt the multi-vendor eCommerce model. Alternatively, you can purchase and install a multi-vendor marketplace module or extension to convert your inventory site to a marketplace site in few minutes.

  1. Buy a SaaS /PaaS eCommerce platform

Similar to the open-source eCommerce platforms, there are various SaaS or PaaS based eCommerce solutions in the market. The only difference is that they are paid, closed-source, and pre-hosted on a cloud server. You cannot customize the codes; neither can you choose a custom server to host. However, you do get GUI-based set up to build your site instantly and start selling on the go.

Example: BigCommerce, Magento Enterprise, PrestaShop cloud, Shopify, Volusion, etc.

 

  • Technical skills

 

No coding skills required. You can use GUI to set up your site.

 

  • Hosting

 

Pre-hosted on a cloud server. You don’t need an extra server for hosting.

 

  • Scalability

 

Limited scalability. Suitable for small to medium-sized business.

 

  • Customization

 

No customizability. Closed source architecture makes personal customization impossible. Will have to buy paid modules to add new features.  

 

  • Cost

 

You will be paying monthly recurring subscription charges that include the rent of software, maintenance charges, hosting charges, payment processors charges and other miscellaneous costs.  You final package cost depends on features, server capacity, and other add-on services you choose.

 

  • Time

 

They offer ready-made websites. Only time required is for setting up, personalizing, and uploading products on the site.

 

  • In-house or Outsource

 

No need to manage your own team for development or maintenance. Vendors will cover that for you in the same subscription cost.

 

  • Multi-vendor eCommerce/Inventory

 

Both types of solutions are available in the market. You can purchase the corresponding packages depending on your business model.

  1. Buy an open-source custom eCommerce platform

These are custom eCommerce website builders with open-source code access. They offer a mix of readymade sites and eCommerce CMS. The customizability is significant and similar to that of development from scratch.

It is a more flexible, scalable, customizable, and competent option to create small as well as large scale eCommerce sites.

For example: ShopyGen

 

  • Technical skills

 

You don’t need to possess any technical expertise. You can buy a self-hosted custom eCommerce platform and set up your site on the go.·        

 

  • Hosting

 

As you get the source code. You can host the site on the server of your choice.      

 

  • Features

 

They come inbuilt with advanced eCommerce features. In-built features may differ depending on which vendor you choose.

 

  • Scalability

 

Most of the custom solutions are highly scalable. You can choose a platform with competent tech stack to get more considerable customizability. For example, you can select a Node.js custom eCommerce platform for better up-scaling of your site in the later stages.

 

  • Customization

 

Accessibility to edit the source code makes it easy to customize the built-in features. You can also ask any third-party developer to customize the platform for you.·        

 

  • Cost

 

Most of the custom eCommerce platforms are paid. If ready-made features are not enough, you will need to hire developers or ask the original vendor to add custom features with additional cost. The total cost depends on the characteristics you prefer on your eCommerce site.

 

  • Time

 

The time required to develop your project is comparatively lesser than the scratch approach. You just need a few hours to set up and go live with your site. However, if you intend any customization in the base code, you have to add that time, which will, of course, be lesser than developing the whole site from scratch.

In short, this approach takes lesser time than the scratch method but more time than SaaS in case of customization requirements.

 

  • In-house or Outsource

 

Both the options are accessible in this approach. You can hire a team which will do the setup and customization of your purchased script. You can also outsource the development to the same or third-party developers.

 

  • Multi-vendor eCommerce/Inventory

 

Most of the custom build eCommerce platforms give different options to select the business model. Generally, they offer both the features by default. Besides multi-vendor marketplace software, some of the platforms also give custom solution for other business models such as on-demand service marketplace, food delivery site, grocery delivery script, taxi-hailing site and many more.

Conclusion

You can use any of the ways mentioned above to get your own eCommerce site. I would recommend sparing some time and researching each of the aspects. Scratch method is least favored and highly impractical when you can do the same with other solutions. Make a list of your requirements and tally them with the popular solutions in the market. Select a customizable, flexible, scalable, and open-source code solution for big projects. However, you can go with SaaS solutions to get your site in lesser time if you don’t plan on scaling your business. At last, I would recommend an excellent initial investment so you won’t have to suffer from the limitations in the long run.  

Author

Byline:

I am a professional blogger, guest writer, Influencer & an ecommerce expert. Currently associated with ShopyGen as a content marketing strategist. I also report on the latest happenings and trends related to the ecommerce industry.

Follow me on Twitter @Jessicabruc (https://twitter.com/Jessicabruc).

 

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