It is estimated that this year, e-commerce sales will reach 19.5 percent of retail sales worldwide. No wonder that interest in online sales continues to grow, and ever more entrepreneurs are trying their hands here. However, before you deal with marketing, branding, analysis, and using omnichannel capabilities, you have to make a key decision at the very start - commission the design and implementation of your own platform or buy a ready-made solution. If you choose option number two, it’s worth knowing what opportunities and limitations you have to face when using the most popular e-commerce platforms. Our developers know them inside out, so the knowledge from this article will definitely help you make the right decision that will allow you to consciously guide your e-commerce business in the coming months or years. But not to be too easy, in the end, you will also find the advantages of self-created online stores and a few non-obvious case studies straight from bPol. Enjoy reading!
The e-commerce market is constantly developing. Naturally, the number of customers buying online is growing along with it. It’s estimated that there will be 2.14 billion global digital buyers in 2021! This is almost 28% of the world's population! Figuratively speaking - more than 1 in 4 people we pass on the street are consumers buying online. Competition in the sales platform market is growing, so the acquisition of customers or the abandonment of shopping carts is often determined by nuances or inconspicuous amenities. Therefore, knowledge about the limitations or distinguishing features of individual e-commerce services may turn out to be very valuable. First, you need to do your homework - think about what your needs are. The more details your brief, business plan or vision of an online store has, the easier it will be to advise you on a tailor-made solution.
Here are some of the platforms that are most popular with users. Our clients did not always have a full picture of their functionality when they made their choices during their e-commerce debut, so we often receive orders for modifications or the introduction of new options that are the result of the first months or years of operation in the e-commerce business. We hope that after reading this article, making the right decision will be easier for you and will allow you to choose the most optimal solution on the first attempt.
Let's start with a solution that may appeal to undemanding people who are taking their first steps in the world of e-commerce. If you don't have too much budget for your online store, or you want to check if you will find yourself in the world of online sales, subscription solutions such as Shoper, Shopify or Shoplo can be a good start. In their cases, you do not need to install the store engine and various add-ons on your own server. In return for the subscription paid every month, you get a complete set of functions and integrations, and the service provider takes care of hosting, updates, backups, and everything that is needed for the e-commerce business to function properly. Intuitive interfaces, a short initial configuration and implementation time, as well as a relatively low investment cost, make many amateurs choose just such ready-made online stores, so as not to waste time learning how to use engines that are installed on their own servers. Depending on the subscription plan, the seller can also often receive integration with additional tools, such as Google Analytics, support for various payment options, cooperation with companies responsible for deliveries, price comparison websites, and many others.
It sounds good, but such solutions have many limitations. The first is that you don't actually own the store, you just rent it. In practice, this means one thing: the store will stop working when you stop paying the subscription. It should also be remembered that by choosing ready-made SaaS software you do not have access to the entire store code. In practice, you are dependent on the default solutions offered by the platform. If you want to make changes, extend the possibilities of the online store beyond your subscription or use better add-ons - you always have to take into account the increase in the subscription price.
Here are some of the most important advantages and disadvantages of popular subscription e-commerce platforms:
People who value independence and ownership may find it difficult to accept ‘renting a store’ from an outside company. Despite the low initial costs, it must be remembered that as long as you want to run your e-commerce business, paying the monthly subscription fee will be an inherent cost of the business. SaaS online stores can be compared to Spotify or any other music streaming service. And as we all know, despite unlimited access to millions of albums, there are people who prefer to buy CDs and not worry about internet access or an unpaid subscription. For the issues discussed, our physical album will be a metaphor for an e-commerce business built on an open-source platform - without having to pay monthly, but with a higher initial cost. Someone will ask how it is possible that the price is higher here. If it's open-source, it should be cheaper! Yes, as long as you can configure and install everything on your own. And here begins the challenge in which companies such as bPol most often assist.
If you anticipate a dynamic development of your store, it is worth considering using an open-source platform, which will give you much more independence and allow you to choose between thousands of theme templates, as well as plugins extending the possibilities and functions of the online store. Such a solution makes the business more scalable and enables further development in terms of new implementations. You will also gain greater influence on optimization and better preparation of the platform in terms of SEO. Of course, you have to remember that open-source platforms are associated with many new obligations, and hence - expenses too. If you do not have the appropriate knowledge or do not have time to learn the secrets of implementations for weeks, you will most likely have to pay for the implementation and configuration of the store created on the e-commerce platform available in the open-source model. You will have to provide hosting, and this involves buying your own server space. You have to keep an eye on updates and procedures related to backups, as well as take care of all legal aspects, such as regulations and documents related to GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). The multitude of plugins can also turn out to be a trap. If you want to handle the store yourself, it will take many months before you make the appropriate diagnosis and choose the ones that work best and meet your needs - often you will also have to pay extra for them. Choosing this model of running an online store is definitely a better solution for long-term projects. In the beginning, you spend more time and money getting to know all the mechanisms, but over time everything starts to work on its own. Only from time to time do you need to update something or think about improvements. The important thing is that you are not tied to a subscription. Here are popular open-source store engines that you may be interested in if you are considering using such a solution. Pay close attention to our short case study, which will appear in a few paragraphs. The story mentioned by our backend developer shows how important it is to thoroughly analyze your needs and confront them with the vision for the future. Remember that we are ready to advise and provide you with full support at the level of implementation, operation, or personalization of any e-commerce platform.
Already have a website? Was it created on WordPress by accident? In that case, you can simply use a plugin that will integrate the functions of the online store into your existing dashboard. This is how WooCommerce works, which allows you to transform your website into an e-shop with a wide range of functions. It is worth noting that since 2011 the plugin has been downloaded almost 83 million times, which means that stores running on the WooCommerce engine constitute over 40% of all e-commerce websites!
Choosing this solution allows you to administer the website and the store from one panel. Before we move on to the advantages, however, let's start with some obstacles. What challenges await a person who decides to create a store created with WooCommerce? There are a few limitations - the main one is that it is not a separate store, but only a WordPress plugin, so development opportunities will always be limited in some way. You have to remember to update the engine regularly, but also all installed plugins. Only in this way can we be sure that everything will be compatible with everything else and that the non-updated components will not start to crash. It’s worth knowing that managing a large store from WooCommerce can be complicated from the WordPress panel. If you have a lot of products in different variants, this is unlikely to be an option for you. Forget about extensive reporting options and in-depth sales analysis. You'll only get these things at a basic level. What do you get in return for these inconveniences? First of all, a very good SEO adjustment. WooCommerce works well with Google algorithms. Shops based on this engine are also characterized by good responsiveness, which means that they look good both on the computer monitor and on the smartphone screen. It should also be praised that everything is very intuitive here. You don't need to know any programming skills to install WooCommerce on WordPress. Who is this solution for? First of all, owners of small and medium-sized stores, preferably those who have previously dealt with blogs or portals based on the WordPress ecosystem. If you are planning long-term development - be aware that WooCommerce may at some point become an insufficient solution.
If you need a more extensive store with a large number of products, it is worth considering creating it on the basis of the Magento platform, which has been developed by Adobe since 2020. It has very large expansion possibilities and an active community involved in creating extensions, which are often available for free. It will also be a good option for those who want to manage multiple stores from one admin panel. Like all the solutions discussed today, Magento also has its strengths and weaknesses. It is worth noting that this is a very demanding platform in terms of server parameters - it is a heavy load for them and uses a significant part of resources. If you are using a virtual server, memory and CPU usage limitations can make it difficult to work with Magento. Before starting work in this ecosystem, you should also test the demo. There are people for whom the dashboard is too complicated here, as well as introducing any modifications.
If you have your own hosting and your own domain, PrestaShop is another solution that will allow you to create an online store yourself. Admittedly, the ready-made free templates are not particularly impressive here, but for someone who wants to be on their own without spending too much money, this may be a sufficient option. Remember, however, that you can always order a custom theme that the hired developers will adapt to your needs and vision. PrestaShop is an engine that will offer you some extra solutions such as export to auction platforms, warehouse management, newsletter, currency or language change, as well as support for various payments. A person managing an online store created on this platform can use a huge number of plugins (both paid and free). All add-ons and extensions allow you to expand your store with new options. However, you have to take into account that an e-commerce business that grows to huge sizes on PrestaShop may later require expansion-related support, which can turn out to be costly. The story you will read in the next paragraph shows that sometimes even the right set of extensions may not be enough...
Some time ago, we had to move our client's store from PrestaShop to Sylius. It's not that some solutions are good or bad. It's all about knowing your needs and choosing the right tools. Our backend developer, Mateusz, explains why good business analysis is the key to avoid such situations where the entire store engine needs to be changed:
“Betafence is a market leader with over 140 years of experience in the field of integrated security systems, detection, and access control systems. When the company created its online store, they were primarily concerned with simplicity, so the developer who carried out the project offered them PrestaShop. Over time, the e-commerce business began to develop and the need to personalize some services emerged. Unfortunately, the limitations of PrestaShop did not allow us to introduce the desired improvements. This time we have carefully studied the client's needs in order to choose a tool that will meet their expectations and will work for many years to come. After appropriate interviews and analyses, the choice fell on Sylius. The platform offers a solid application core, but also an almost unlimited possibility of modification in accordance with the best programming practices. This software has everything that has allowed us to develop all-new functions on the Betafence store.” - Mateusz, Backend Developer @ bPol
Since we are already on the topic of Sylius, it is worth devoting a few words to the presentation of this often underestimated platform, which did not even get to the statistics that we mentioned in the WooCommerce paragraph. Sylius is a platform that is perfect for large and often non-standard e-commerce businesses. It has great flexibility when it comes to building unusual user experiences, as well as easy integration with other popular tools. Sylius is also worth praising for the use of solutions in the field of test-driven development and behavior-driven development. It will be appreciated by people who do not like to waste time looking for errors in the code. That is why the developers themselves love this framework so much. It was created keeping in mind the tests, quality code, flexibility, and comfortable work from the backend level. Sylius also has full documentation, which certainly helps in solving problems related to irregularities in the operation of the store based on this engine. Remember that working with this platform requires a lot of programming knowledge or cooperation with a qualified developer. If you hire someone to create a store on Sylius, you can be sure that you will be able to achieve the intended effects or create something out of the box!
After analyzing many different options, we have one more solution worth discussing, which is an online store created from scratch. As you can already see, the e-commerce platforms available on the market have their limitations. Resources often have to be presented in a certain way, and some integrations are pre-imposed or impossible to perform. If you have your vision, budget, and precise plans for development, creating an online store from scratch is the solution for you.
By choosing an e-commerce platform built from scratch, you are guaranteed that you make decisions related to its unique character and imagined vision, without being limited by the technology of ready-made solutions. You also gain great flexibility. By sharing with programmers’ assumptions related to the development of your business, everything can be prepared in such a way that the store gradually grows with new solutions. A self-built platform is a guarantee that you'll never hear ‘this can't be done with these tools at your disposal (unless you let your imagination run really wild, of course). It is obvious that it will cost more and you or your employees will have to master the backend of managing the store created from scratch. Each option must be carefully considered, choosing a solution that fits the budget and is the most optimal in terms of current needs and further development.
“A huge online store we’ve created for one of our clients immediately comes to mind. PSO is one of the most important businesses in the Polish tire industry. If a company has thousands of variations of different tires and rims, it needs reports, its own statistics, and synchronization with its invoicing system, then a custom-made personalized shop, which we will adapt to its needs from the beginning, seems to be the most reasonable solution. And that's what we decided to implement for the client in this case. We got exactly what we needed and everything worked as planned from the beginning, without having to bend over backward to make use of ready-made algorithms prepared by other programmers. A store created from scratch does not force us to use the database structures imposed by the platform. Custom solutions allow developers to solve problems immediately - when someone participates in the creation of a product from the very beginning, he knows how to navigate the code. Ready-made solutions often require contact with other programmers to learn what to do in an emergency. With our proprietary projects, knowledge is available immediately, and time often plays a key role in business, right?” - Łukasz, Backend Developer @ bPol
Regardless of whether you are just opening your first online store, looking for a way to develop an existing platform, or want to expand your business with specific solutions, we are here to help you choose the best options that will allow for dynamic development and planning in line with your budget. Call us or write to us and make an appointment. Let your e-commerce business receive the right solutions based on modern technologies, contemporary trends, and our many years of experience.