Introduction to e-commerce
According to the report by Casaleggio Associati on e-commerce, the percentage of Italian SMEs selling online increased from 9% to 17.2% in the past year (2020). As an agency, we confirm a surge of interest, often accompanied by many questions. In this article, we aim to summarize the most typical questions in the design, development, and implementation process of e-commerce.
We want to provide a guide to navigate the launch of an e-commerce and evaluate the most suitable solution for the company and the products sold. We introduce some fundamental concepts.
E-commerce SaaS or Open Source?
In every online shop, we have a series of typical functionalities that would not make sense to develop from scratch each time. For example, the cart page, the buttons present on the product pages, the checkout pages, the organization of products by categories, filters, characteristics, customer management, and order management.
That’s why we usually use a CMS, which stands for Content Management System software; there are some specifically designed for e-commerce that have all the functionalities listed above (cart, checkout, etc.) already developed.
There are e-commerce CMS available both as SaaS and as licensed software. In this case, we distinguish between Open Source and proprietary ones.
SaaS stands for Software as a Service. Until a few years ago, when we needed any software, the most typical procedure was to purchase a one-time usage license to install the software on our PC or on a server. In recent years, the possibility of using the service provided by the software without purchasing the software itself has become widespread, but by paying a fee based on the service actually used.
Open Source, on the other hand, refers to the set of software for which programmers have decided to make the use free and usually make the code accessible and modifiable.
There are also proprietary software, that is, solutions that programmers decide to sell with a license. They will not be discussed in this article as they represent niche solutions.
The role of web agencies and developers in e-commerce
So, we have a starting point, but of course, a good e-commerce website is always designed specifically for the company, both in terms of graphics and navigation and functionality.
That’s why, even though there are already usable CMSs, companies need developers, professionals, agencies that can:
- choose the best solution/platform/CMS
- design the graphic project and structure of the e-commerce website
- install the e-commerce platform
- create the e-commerce website’s graphic theme or customize an existing one
- develop functionalities not present in the chosen CMS
- install and customize functionalities developed by third parties (add-ons, plugins, modules, etc.)
- publish the website
- promote the e-commerce website online and offline
The graphic theme, from scratch or purchased from a Marketplace?
We have clarified that the CMS or content management system is the platform that includes functionalities such as product management, prices, cart, checkout, etc. However, each of these functionalities can have an appearance designed for one’s own business or company. Therefore, what is called a Theme, theme, skin, or frontend, etc. needs to be designed and created. We are talking about two aspects of the same activity, the design and the implementation, where the former has a predominantly graphic and aesthetic character, while the latter is purely technical (involves creating HTML with characteristics of speed, performance, etc.); aspects that therefore involve different professional skills, such as the Web Designer and the Web Developer.
Theme purchased from Marketplace
The most economical solution is to use a graphic base, a theme already created and available for purchase on marketplaces, and then customize it. The risk is to create solutions similar to others already present on the web. However, the time saved in development certainly turns into an immediate economic advantage.
Theme created by the agency
If, however, the customization we want to make is very extensive, if the website we are targeting must be original and unique, the agency can create the theme from scratch, starting from a creative and visual approach not conditioned by an existing theme.
Most Used E-Commerce CMS Platforms
According to Wappalizer, the most popular e-commerce platforms are:
- WooCommerce 41%
- Shopify 35%
- Prestashop 5%
- Magento 4%
In the remaining 15% of cases, there are solutions that use other platforms, which individually have very low numbers.
Let’s analyze the 4 most adopted solutions. We will also indicate hypothetical costs, based on our agency experience. Obviously, on the market, players can be found in more or less high brackets and with different characteristics, so prices are to be taken purely as indicative.
It was born as an extension of WordPress, one of the most popular CMS on the web in managing websites. It is the most economical solution but also the most suitable for sites with not excessive traffic or number of products. It is an excellent solution to start a shop that wants to test the market without risking too important investments.
Indicatively, the costs for creating an e-commerce in WooCommerce vary between a minimum of €7000 up to €14000 (not considering non-standard functionalities).
These are some examples of websites made with this platform.
This is a SaaS solution that allows the company to immediately start with a ready-made and set up platform, on the supplier’s server. It is important to clarify that in this case, the company uses a third-party service and does not create a project of which it is the owner. The advantages are certainly the ease of implementation and the presence of services already provided, such as the gateway for online payments. It is a solution with low start-up costs, the platform provides a monthly subscription and percentages on the products sold.
In recent years Shopify has grown a lot and has also provided tools to customize themes and functionalities.
In summary, the pros and cons of the SaaS solution must be evaluated. The advantages are a constantly updated and performant platform that benefits from optimizations on hundreds of thousands of sites and agreements made by Shopify with other players in the sector (Google, Facebook, etc.). The disadvantages, or rather risks, are that the company doesn’t actually build a proprietary infrastructure but is hosted in someone else’s home. Although with minimal risks, it is still a third-party service with its own policies, market ups and downs, and decisions made without consultation with the company using the service.
PrestaShop was introduced in 2005. It has a good number of paid plugins and themes. It can be an excellent solution even with a high number of products and users. The language and market management is very good.
The average cost for the project and implementation of an e-commerce site in PrestaShop is around €11,000 to €21,000.
Some sites built with PrestaShop:
On the market since 2007, it is a solution that requires advanced skills for development and customization. For this reason, it is suitable for companies with a high number of products and an expectation of very high traffic (over 2,000-3,000 visits/day), but above all revenue objectives capable of supporting the project and the necessary changes over time.
The cost for the project and implementation of an e-commerce site in Magento can range from €17,000 to €35,000.
Some sites built with Magento: