So you’ve decided to start selling your products online but you already have a website. You want it to look great, you want to give your users a great experience, and you don’t want to break the bank.
When deciding the best way to integrate ecommerce into your site, you have a few options.
- Purchase an add-on to your current content management system;
- Build your store on an ecommerce platform and integrate it with your current site as best you can; or
- Take this as an opportunity to rebuild your site, integrating ecommerce at ground level.
Below, we explore some of your options for e-commerce integration. This list is by no means exhaustive, but rather an overview meant to introduce you to the e-commerce landscape.
Add-ons (Plugins, Modules & Extensions)
Add-Ons integrate with the Content Management System (i.e. WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, etc.) of your current website. Once purchased, they introduce some, often limited, e-commerce functionality. Depending on the CMS, these may be referred to as Plug-ins, Modules, or Extensions. Because the transaction occurs on your existing site, organizations that utilize add-ons are responsible for hosting and security.
Popular add-ons include Cart 66 and WooCommerce for WordPress, Eshop and Joomcommerce for Joomla, and Drupal Commerce for Drupal.
Why you might choose an add-on:
- You’ve already invested in custom design. Add-ons allow you to work within the design options of your CMS. This often gives an organization the ability to skin the add-on to match the existing design (whereas users of other e-commerce products are usually confined to limited themes).
- You’re working within a limited budget. Add-ons are often the most affordable ways to integrate ecommerce into your site, but the price discrepancy between an add-on and integrating with a platform could be quite small, so do your research.
Platforms are software technologies that provide the suite of services needed to set up an online shop.
There are countless platforms available, and most fall into two distinct categories: commercial products and open-source softwares. Commercial products are ideal for small businesses just getting started with ecommerce, especially if your growth plans are limited or unclear. Open-source softwares provide greater flexibility (almost unlimited customization) but absolutely require development skills to successfully implement, making them a good fit for businesses with lofty growth goals, internal development teams, and large, complicated inventories.
Popular platforms include the commercial products offered by Shopify and Magento, an open-source software and community.
The biggest benefit of third-party platforms is functionality. Regardless of whether you choose an open-source or a commercial product, the feature offering is going to be far more robust than that of an add-on.
Why you might choose a third-party platform:
- You have a very large product catalog. Your inventory might be too unwieldy to manage using an add-on.
- You want a wide variety of purchase/shipping options.
- You want worry-free security. The platform is responsible for ensuring secure transactions
- You are looking for other special features like sorting, inventory, or hosting.
When choosing a platform, consider:
- Cost: every platform has a unique pricing structure, often dependent upon product number, storage, and features. Carefully compare the pricing to choose what makes the most sense for your organization.
- Design Options: While some platforms are famous for their themes, some offer more limited options.
- User Interface: Some platforms are more user-friendly than others.
- Development complexity: Some platforms are plug-and play, others require a breadth of development knowledge to operate. Make sure you have the skills needed to both setup and manage your store.
Rebuild Your Site
If you envision a seamless ecommerce integration, now could be your opportunity to start with a blank slate. Chances are, if you’re integrating e-commerce, the user journey of your site is about to change dramatically. Redoing the site will give you the opportunity to organically weave shopping into both the UX and the design. This could potentially include the use of add-ons or third-party platforms, or it might involve a custom approach. There are several ways to add ecommerce without redoing the site, but it’s never going to have the same seamlessness in experience and aesthetics as a complete refresh.
Why you may want to consider rebuilding:
- Your site is outdated – it was designed and developed 2+ years ago.
- You expect e-commerce to be a priority for your users – they will spend most of their time on the site shopping.
- You have relatively flexible timeline and budget.
We strongly recommend considering a full rebuild first – it will give you the most options for design and integration, will result in the most polished and user-friendly product, and in many cases will not be dramatically more expensive than utilizing add-ons or platforms to your current site.
Like many aspects of the web development process, the “best” solution will be the one that is the best fit for your budget, goals, timeline, web development skill, business plan, and priorities. Depending on these factors, any of the three options outlined above could be the right choice for you and your organization, so do your research and consult with your web development provider before proceeding.