When does your business need a custom e-commerce website?

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With online services like Shopify or SquareSpace, it is easy to start an e-commerce store in a couple of days. It will have all the basic functionality required to sell online. Homepage with featured products, category page, product page, and a complete checkout process. You can get all this for about $30/month, no coding skills required. So, why then would you need a custom developed e-commerce website? I’m going to explain when it is worth spending money on a tailor-made solution.

You want a high conversion rate

All the eCommerce SaaS platforms provide basic and even advanced design templates. You can peak from myriads of free and paid themes. Templates usually provide basic optimization for a higher conversion rate. But at the end of the day, you might want your website to look unique. Also, your marketing team will request many customizations along the way. Sooner or later you will need a developer who knows HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Someone who can convert your marketing ideas into the real code.

At some point, after all the customizations of templates, you will find no original code there. Everything was rewritten to meet marketing and conversion optimization needs. This is where comes the problem. All these HTML/CSS/JavaScript templates were often changed in a chaotic way. With no systematic approach. The maintenance of such a codebase is a nightmare. New changes are very hard to introduce. Bugs and issues appear more and more often. And single developer no longer capable of keeping the website in a working condition.

If you run a small eCommerce store this problem may not arise ever. But a bigger store will always come to the point when templates no longer fit its needs. Or maintenance of poor code of templates does not match the pace of business processes. In this case, you need a custom made frontend for your website.

Yes, only a frontend. All big eCommerce SaaS platforms have a comprehensive API that you can use. It often includes products, users and orders management. You can continue editing products and fulfilling orders in your Shopify backend. While the store’s frontend website will run a custom-made web app. You can host such a web app independently from Shopify.

squarespace ui
SquareSpace provides clean and simple backend UI for managing inventory stock

Your store needs unique or complex functionality

SaaS platform can provide you with the functionality required for running a typical online store. Inventory stock, orders, even your customers’ database management. But what if you want custom features like, for example, GEO targeted search? Let’s say you need a product list that depends on the customer’s location. This is important when you have physical stores where customers can pick up their orders. When someone searches for a product you want to bring up a closest to the customer physical store. You can’t do this with an eCommerce platform out of the box. Moreover, there are no ready-made plugins with this functionality. Implementing it on top of predefined templates is a nightmare. Thus the only option here is a custom developed eCommerce solution.

Another example is a store that has a complex structure of products catalog. The implementation of exotic product variants on top of SaaS stores may be a problem. A good example is a store that sells customizable products, let’s say the bicycles. While buying a basic variant your customers might want to change different parts of it. A steering bar, or a seat, not to say color. One can’t achieve such customization with a SaaS store.

You have overgrown SaaS solutions

Of course, this happens not to every store. When your sales grow up or even skyrocket you start operating on a big amount of data. Customers, inventory stock, orders fulfillment, marketing and so on and so on. You also start meeting problems that are specific only to your business. These can be issues with your warehouse or nuances of your shipping providers’ way of work.

Moreover, time constraints become even tighter. Working with a lot of data will definitely need automation and analytics. You need to know what happens in your store, and you need to react as quickly as possible. So you will need a dashboard. It will start as a small web app but soon will grow up to a decent CRM tailored to your needs. With lots of modules and tools that one can barely find in other software. It will solve your problems, not someone’s else problems.

Finally. As I mentioned above when you grow up the same happens to your data. You know who buys what and buys when. By using methods of statistics and data analysis you can do forecasts of sales trends. Trust me — you don’t want to share this data with someone else. In the modern world, data is gold, and there is no reason why you should share your gold with anyone for free. So if you want to have full control over your data then you need to keep it in your own DB, not in the DB of SaaS stores. In a perfect world, you would even get your own datacenter. By the way, renting a server’s rack is not that expensive nowadays!

asos metrics
Just to give you an idea of how much data owns a big size eCommerce store (ASOS, 2019)

authorSoftware engineer, founder of ottofeller.com

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