Over the last few years, ecommerce has been a topic of discussion amongst almost everyone I know. People are always talking about starting online businesses such as dropshipping ones, and this has led to the market now offering a ton of ecommerce development platforms that make the entire online store creation process easy and straightforward. However, once you launch your first store and you start operating as a business, you will often find that you cannot scale on your own, and you will need to make your store a lot more customized so that it keeps attracting new customers.
In this article, we will go over everything ecommerce development-related, from what it is to how you can start and all the ins and outs you need to know about before you decide to take on the ecommerce journey.
Let’s get started.
What is Ecommerce Development?
If I had to give you the quickest, most straightforward definition of ecommerce website development, it would be this: It’s the process of developing the technical aspects of an online store – how it accepts payments, how it responds to a user action, how it functions, and the way it looks.
Some consider ecommerce website development to be complex, and while that might be true to some extent, it doesn’t mean that it has to be complicated as well. There are a number of factors you need to consider, with the most important ones being website performance (its speed, accessibility, and reliability) and the user experience (is it intuitive to use? Do people enjoy spending time on it?).
That’s why finding a good ecommerce development company or independent developer is key. However, finding the right fit is often a long one, and it often presents a variety of complex challenges, such as
- Determining the right functionalities and features for your store.
- Understanding which ecommerce framework might work best for you.
- Integrating ecommerce into an already existing website or site template.
What are the Differences Between Ecommerce Development and Normal Website Development?
Standard websites that are used for blogging or just sharing information about a business are relatively easy to make. However, you have to remember that sites always vary in complexity, and the thing that makes ecommerce website development more difficult is the functionalities that an online store has to be able to offer. Unlike a regular website, where you just go back and forth enjoying videos, images, and text, ecommerce websites have to store entire databases while making navigation user-friendly. Along with that, any ecommerce store has to be able to accept payments online and have integrations with tons of apps, which makes the creation process more complex and time-consuming.
All of this simply means that you cannot create a fully functioning, aesthetic, responsive ecommerce website just by using a particular platform’s integrated builder – you need a specialist that is able to make the necessary modifications and take your online store to the next level.
The Three Stages of Ecommerce Website Development
When it comes to the process of website development, you have to know that it usually takes time and continuous improvement in order to get the desired end result. You can’t want something to change and just have it done with the snap of your fingers (well, you can, but in very rare cases). Ecommerce website development has three main stages that it needs to go through in order to be successful. They are planning, designing, and developing. Let’s take a look at what each one entails.
In this first phase, developers need to plan out the structure and concept of the website. It’s about learning what pages and subsites it needs and how they link to each other. The developers and the client need to work closely together to ensure the website suits the business’s needs. Frequent brainstorming sessions are required to do good site mapping.
Along with that, here, it’s vital that you consider both your needs and the ones of your clients. Developers should have an idea of how the clients will navigate the website, and if you have insight into their preferences, that will be very helpful as well. In the planning phase, developers also need to know what functionalities your website needs: online payment options, app integration, etc.
Most people refer to the second phase of website development as web design. It’s the time when the overall style and aesthetics of the website are set. Here, you usually pick the right font, colors, structure, photos, and many other aesthetic aspects. In the planning phase, you find the answer to the question of what, and in the web design phase, the answer to the questions of how and where.
In order to do the design part well, developers need to understand the industry and the business, as well as the target user group. That knowledge will give them an idea of what the site should look like, and it’s your job to present your company and your target audience as well as you possibly can. For example, if you have an online store dedicated to baby care, the designers will know that they have to use lighter, more pastel colors instead of darker ones. In the end, these small details are what give the website its unique feel and style.
Мost website developers will tell you that this part is the most tedious part of the process. This is also the phase that takes the most time and effort, as it involves vast programming skills and knowledge of more than one programming language. Although this part of web development obviously requires a lot of technical know-how, it still requires the client’s involvement as the website has to be created so that it serves both the business owner and the target audience.
The Role of the Ecommerce Developer
As we already established, ecommerce web development is vital to the success of any online business. With that said, web developers play a crucial part in ensuring that potential customers enjoy the store, find it easy to navigate, and have fun browsing around. Web developers’ efforts are also needed to ensure that the website is fast and secure and payments and checkouts happen in a straightforward manner, without errors or lagging.
In order to build a fully functioning, good-looking website, you need both front-end and back-end developers or people that are able to work on both aspects of website creation. Front-end developers are focused on creating an excellent user experience design (UX design). Their main job is to make the website aesthetic and attractive and thus give customers a reason to keep browsing it for long periods of time. UX design is often what converts viewers into customers when it comes to online businesses. On the other hand, back-end developers are responsible for all the work we don’t see. They’re responsible for server-side web application logic and the integration of the work that front-end developers do.
As we can see, a lot is being asked of ecommerce developers. They have to work with a range of skills such as back-end and front-end programming and web design. Their responsibilities also vary depending on the store they have to work for. That’s why when you look for a developer or a team of developers to work with, they have to be able to
- Design your ecommerce storefront to be equally stylish and functional.
- Make it user-friendly – your potential customers should be able to navigate through the site easily, find what they’re looking for, and filter each product by size or price.
- Help you decide on which features to have and which ones you might potentially want to integrate in order to make the website even better.
Along with that, given that you will need both back-end and front-end developers, it’s a good idea to pick an ecommerce development company that has both sets of specialists and a solid, proven background of previously made websites.
How To Choose the Right Custom Ecommerce Website Developer
By now, you know what an ecommerce developer has to do and why his or her skills are vital for the creation of a terrific website. That also means that you understand that finding the right fit for you and your business is also a key decision you will have to make.
Typically, the best way to ensure that a web developer or a company that offers such services is a good fit is by checking out their previous work. You always want to hire people that have tons of experience and are proven specialists in their field, and if they happen to have worked with other companies in your industry, then even better – the knowledge of the industry will further help them create an excellent website for your business.
If you search well, you will be able to find custom ecommerce development services that follow the best practices in the business and know all the current trends – a blend of experience and creativity is precisely what every incredible new website needs.
Here are two things you should pay attention to whenever you start looking for developers to work with.
Take a Look At and Understand the Strengths of Different Developers
It’s hard to find a person that’s good at everything. When searching for developers, you should be aware that some are great at creating a unique shopping experience and bringing your brand and its feel to life with a beautifully made front-end. In contrast, others are excellent for when you need technical implementations and back-end customization.
When you evaluate developers or companies that offer ecommerce development services, make sure to ask what they pride themselves on and where their strengths lie. Then, depending on what you need – back-end support or front-end customization – you can pick the company that best suits your needs.
Think of What You Need
It’s easy to pick a developer or a company that offers development services based on their reputation and the previous work they’ve done. But our advice is not to let yourself get swayed by good reviews and what the company could do for its other clients. When it comes to choosing a development company, the first thing you need to be certain about is what you need. Before you start your search, you have to know what you want your store to have, how you want it to look, and what possible skills might be necessary to make it come to life. It’s also vital that you understand how your website works now. For example, if it uses an ecommerce solution with an open-source framework, then having reputable back-end developers will be more essential than hiring a bunch of UX experts. However, if you’re using a SaaS platform, there’s a chance that you will be in greater need of a terrific front-end designer, rather
than someone who’s a pro at working out the details in the background.
With that said, there’s also the possibility of you wanting to re-do the entire website and create a new one from scratch. In that case, you will need a good team of both front-end and back-end developers who can work together and produce a stellar finished product in the end.
Don’t forget that your input and dedication to these efforts are vital no matter what scenario you fall into. You’re the person who will need to guide the development team and help them understand your niche, your audience, and the goals you hope to achieve. You can’t do that without first knowing what you need and then considering it from the start.
Choosing the Best Ecommerce Platform
What kind of developers you will need and how good your website can become depends largely on the platform you choose to use for your business. That’s why at the beginning of this journey, it’s vital that you select an ecommerce platform that will ensure long-term, scalable growth. With that said, let’s now take a look at what you need to consider when deciding which ecommerce platform to use.
What are the Ecommerce Solution Options?
As far as ecommerce platforms go, there are three main options that you can go for:
- SaaS (software-as-a-service)
- Headless commerce
Open Source Ecommerce Platforms
Open source platforms are solutions that allow developers to modify all aspects of the code. That’s why these types of ecommerce platforms are very popular with companies that want to have complete control of their ecommerce environment. Typically, by using an open-source ecommerce platform, you become responsible for the following:
- PCI compliance – This acronym stands for payment card industry compliance, and it refers to the operational and technical standards that companies have to follow to secure and protect credit card data that are provided by customers and transmitted through card processing transactions.
- Hosting – It depends on whether you choose to have an on-premise or a cloud solution. If you select a cloud solution, your hosting environment will be managed by your provider off-site, while with an on-premise solution, you have to manage your hosting locally, on your own servers.
- Manual patches and updates from the platform provider
- Any security issues – By using an open-source platform, you have to be able to set up proper security that can fight cyber-attacks (which are happening more and more frequently) or work with a developer that is well versed in cyber security.
Open source ecommerce platforms give companies more freedom to craft a truly unique online store. They allow you to manage all aspects of the website and to change it as it suits your needs. Open source platforms also give you an opportunity to choose the hosting you want to have and to set up the strongest security measures needed for your business.
However, because open source ecommerce platforms offer more freedom and flexibility, they come with a host of additional choices to make. If a business is not prepared to make those decision or hire a prefesisonal to help, they may choose from the other two types of ecommerce platforms:
- Headless commerce
Those two types of platforms make it easier to get your brand to the market quickly; however, they aren’t that great when it comes to scaling and growing the business, as you’re unable to make specific modifications and updates. Another drawback to consider is that a business built on these platforms is entirely dependent on their tech solutions’ performance and subject to the platform’s terms of service, which can change at any time. If your store no longer fits the accepted model, it could be suspended or removed without advanced notice.
SaaS Ecommerce Platforms
This can essentially be thought of as “renting” a platform as it removes all the complexity of creating and updating a custom or open source solution. Here everything from product updates, hosting, security, PCI compliance, and all other website-related tasks is managed by the SaaS provider.
SaaS platforms initially look like the best possible deal for most entrepreneurs – they’re cheaper than open source ones, easier to manage if you don’t have the necessary technical knowledge, and make it fast and easy to launch an online store. However, once the company starts to grow and owners begin to want to scale it, the necessary changes to take the website to the next level can’t be made on a SaaS platform. Proprietary platforms also tend to have fewer developers that support the platform, so finding support for customization and updates can be more challenging.
If you choose to use a SaaS platform, you have to consider both the pros and the cons and then determine whether it works for you both in the short- and long-term.
Headless Commerce Platforms
Headless commerce is a solution that delivers, stores, and manages content without a front-end delivery layer. When using this kind of solution, you essentially get rid of the front end, which usually is either a theme or template. Headless commerce platforms allow developers to use different APIs to show products, blog posts, or customer reviews to any device. In contrast, front-end developers have to work on how to present that content visually. All in all, with headless commerce platforms, everything from blog posts, banners, and pictures can be programmatically managed.
Basically, with headless commerce, you get to separate the front end from the back end and create an entirely customized experience that can be completely different for each brand, as well as for users and admins. Many consider headless commerce platforms to be the future. However, they’re still rarely used and can be quite expensive.
What are the Benefits of Self-Hosted vs. Cloud?
Self-hosted Ecommerce Platforms
If you choose to go with self-hosting, you have to know that you are responsible for developing and maintaining the hosting services, as well as dealing with installations and software updates. All in all, you get all the freedom, but also all of the responsibility. The main benefits of going with this option include more control over the platform you choose to use, better visibility over data, and more opportunity to control and improve security measures. We would recommend this approach for more complex businesses, as it usually leads to more considerable expenses.
Cloud-hosted Ecommerce Platforms
Cloud-hosted ecommerce platforms offer off-site hosting to their clients. Its biggest advantages are the lower cost and the support you receive from the provider – you don’t have to deal with maintaining and updating servers. However, there are also disadvantages to this method. One is that you have to pay a licensing fee and the second is that you have less control over the servers and can’t really tailor them to your specific needs. It’s also important to note that not all ecommerce platforms do automatic updates or installation of patches. Only SaaS and headless commerce solutions are able to do so.
Things To Consider When Choosing an Ecommerce Platform
Now that you know more about ecommerce platforms and how they differ, it’s vital that you know the most important things you need to consider when choosing one for your company.
Getting a website made can get expensive. It could cost you anywhere from $1000 to $100,000 to build and host a website. Paying more doesn’t always lead to the creation of a better website, but the cheapest option will often leave you with fewer customization options, lackluster performance, and limited control capabilities. In order to get a perfect mix of a reasonable price and functionality, you have to know your budget ahead of time.
Before choosing an ecommerce development host, decide how much you want to spend on the following:
- Web design
- Monthly hosting
- Custom app creation
That way, you will be able to filter your options better and make the best decisions for your company’s online store.
Type and Number of Products/Services You Offer
What kind of platform you choose also depends on the number and type of services you offer. If you happen to have a wide variety of items and a significant number for each product, then you will need a platform that handles that. Typically, companies with a more extensive catalog or ones that plan on offering many different product options need to opt for a platform with high SKU limits and plenty of customization options that won’t restrict the growth of the business.
Opportunity for Growth
A website hosting has to be able to grow with you, so when choosing an ecommerce platform, you have to consider if it will enable you to upgrade the store as you scale the business. It’s vital that you ask yourself questions like, “What traffic am I expecting?”, “How can I grow website traffic as a new store?”, “How much do I think it will grow?” and “Am I capable of running a viral promotion campaign?”
Your hosting infrastructure has to be stable enough to handle significant traffic surges without crashing so that new product launches or promotions can be conducted with ease and not cause frustrations to potential customers. The ecommerce platform should also be customizable so that it can change as your business develops.
To summarize, choosing an ecommerce platform requires you to think about what you can afford, what you might need in the future to scale the business, and what will allow you to create a website that is catered to your target audience.
Functionalities an Ecommerce Website Should Have
Now that you know what you should look for in an ecommerce platform, let’s talk about possible features and functionalities you need to consider when developing an online store based on your company’s unique needs.
You have to base the functions you require on your goals for the future. All features have to be aligned with your customer lifecycle. For example, if you have a local store, you may not need to support multiple currencies on the site; however, if you plan to sell internationally, this feature will be crucial for the company’s success.
Finding out what features you need is not difficult. You just have to ask yourself a few key questions. Imagine yourself in your customer’s place: what you will want to see on the website, what functionalities will make the experience better, and think of what extras will make it stand out from the competition. Then prioritize them from crucial features that drive revenue to a handy add-on that just makes the store a bit more efficient. That way, when you have to decide what functionality to keep and what to cut, you will be able to do so based on your prioritization.
With that said, let’s now check out some of the most essential features every online store should have.
Nowadays, most people use their mobile devices to browse the internet. Having a website with a responsive design is more critical than ever before. The goal here is to be able to provide an outstanding shopping experience, regardless of whether your potential customers shop through their laptops or phones. In fact, mobile ecommerce is predicted to keep on growing in the future and will soon reach almost 50% of total ecommerce.
When it comes to working with an ecommerce development company, you have to be sure that they have sufficient SEO knowledge. The developers should know how to make your website SEO-friendly, as search engine optimization is a crucial factor in the success of any online store.
Being able to rank high on Google searches will help drive traffic to your website and thus bring in potential new customers. Furthermore, organic SEO enables you to reach larger groups of interested users, even ones outside your target audience, which means that it can potentially be beneficial for generating higher revenue.
We want everything to happen quickly. No one likes to wait, and a slow website is likely to turn off potential customers. Not only will it make it more unlikely for people to browse on the website for longer periods of time, but it will also probably cause them to not visit it again with so many high-performing ones already existing on the market. Along with that, fast websites are also boosted by Google since one of the factors for a higher ranking on the search engine is loading speed.
When starting to work with an ecommerce development team, you need to ensure that there are developers capable of optimizing your store so that it’s not only aesthetically pleasing but also fast.
It’s very unlikely that you will ever find an ecommerce platform that has all of the features you want from the get-go, which is why you will want to find one that allows you to customize it and tailor it to your business’s specific needs. One of the ways to make that happen is through the use of apps and plugins that offer the solution you require. One of the most crucial integrations is the payment gateway one. However, there are many more.
Many companies connect their ecommerce website to their back-office applications, so they need to integrate their ERP, OMS, PIM, or CRM systems. Along with that, when it comes to digital marketing campaigns, a lot of them also need integration with the online store – that includes connecting it to the company’s social media platform, SMS marketing, and using the data from it to run more successful advertising campaigns in the future.
Launching an online business, an ecommerce one specifically, is a complex task. That’s why the platforms you use are vital for it. You can start by using a complex platform or a more user-friendly solution, but no matter which route you take, there will come a time when you will need some extra ecommerce development help so that you can take your company to the next level.
Hopefully, this article helped you get an understanding of the role of custom ecommerce website developers and how they might help you not only launch but maintain and upgrade your ecommerce platform.
Remember, the partner that you choose for this task can’t be just anyone or any company. If you want to build a long-term partnership, you can only do it with proven experts who align with your company’s values and with whom you work well. Don’t fall for good advertising; instead, spend time looking for true professionals that focus on providing long term value for your business.
Ecommerce Development Frequently Asked Questions
It’s the process of developing and updating the technical aspects of an ecommerce website: the way it functions, the speed it loads at, how secure it is, the user experience it offers, and how it looks.
All in all, ecommerce development is every aspect of designing and building an online store, which potential customers can use to purchase a brand’s products.
The biggest challenge is often complexity - some websites need more features and functionalities, which make them harder to develop.
Each ecommerce brand is different, and so the website that’s needed also tends to vary in complexity. While some companies only require the most basic functions, others want to have a ton of different features, add-ons, and extras, which can make the development of such stores a lot harder. Along with that, creating an online store is always more complex than just creating a simple website. That’s because it needs to be able to accept online payments, and it needs to have better security measures as it works with personal data.
The process of ecommerce development has three main stages: planning, design, and development.
During the planning stage, you work with a team of developers to plan out the concept and structure of the site. Here, it’s vital that you, as the client, collaborate with the team in order to help them understand how you want the site to work and what kind of site mapping will be needed. In the second phase, design, you need to consider the website's aesthetic - which colors, fonts, and photos you want to use and what feeling you wish to provoke in viewers. It’s good if you know this in advance so that you are able to give the developers clear directions. The last stage, development, is where the hard work happens. According to developers, this is the hardest and most time-consuming phase as it requires a lot of programming work.
The types of features and functionality you will require for your company’s online store depend entirely on its unique needs and business model.
Nowadays, you can choose from a variety of apps and integrations, and it’s possible to have a ton of different features integrated into the website. However, that doesn’t mean that you should just present your customers with endless apps and functions. Instead, you need to consider what your customers’ needs are and the lifecycle they go through while on your website, as well as whom you plan to sell to. For example, a local store doesn’t need to convert currencies or be able to calculate shipping prices to places all over the world, and so these functions won’t be necessary. However, if you plan to be an ecommerce store that sells and ships worldwide, then those two things will be vital for the company's everyday operations. With that said, in most cases, commonly required functionalities include responsive design, SEO capabilities, fast loading times, and integration capabilities.
The best answer here is - it depends. If your ecommerce platform is an open-source one, then having a good back-end developer may be more vital. However, it’s still likely you will need both. If you’ve chosen a SaaS platform, then you probably require someone who’s able to do more of the front-end work. However, you will still need a person capable of building APIs since even SaaS platforms need to be handled by an expert if you want to do more complex customization.
All in all, if you genuinely want to create a unique website, it’s likely that you will need to work with both front-end and back-end developers or with someone capable of doing both on a high level.
Currently, some of the biggest ecommerce platforms are WooCommerce, Shopify Plus, BigCommerce, and Magento. The latter three are also the ones that get heavily marketed on Facebook and Google. Businesses that heavily rely on content marketing also like to use WordPress as it allows them to combine both content and commerce.
With that said, our advice is not to choose an ecommerce platform based on its popularity. Instead, try to focus on whether it’s the best fit for your company - not just right now, but in the long-term. Often, the ones that look like the best solution at the start turn out to have massive roadblocks when you start growing the business and needing more functionalities. In fact, if you don’t have a website already, the best thing to do is consult with your development team before deciding on which platform to use. Based on your feedback and their knowledge, they will be able to choose the best option on the market that will be suitable for when you’re just starting out and when you want to expand the store.
In order to find the best ecommerce developer or the best ecommerce development company you have to first figure out a few details. You need to be clear on your requirements, have set goals you want to achieve, know which features you must have and a budget you can use for the work. After you know all these things, you can start searching for potential developers to work with. During your search, you should check their portfolio - have they worked on such projects before, what do their clients say about them and what kind of development can they do. Once you find several people or a company that have all the technical skills you require, you can start interviewing them until you find the one you think you will enjoy collaborating with the most.
There are several reasons why your website should be made responsive for mobile devices. The first one is that as smartphones get better and better, more and more people use them for all their technological needs. People browse on their mobile devices, perform Google searches, and most importantly do online shopping. This is why any ecommerce business needs to have a responsive design, in order to maximize the number of orders they get. The second reason, why you need to optimize your website is SEO. Nowadays, Google’s bot crawls your website and if it is responsive, there’s a chance to get a higher page ranking.
Starting an online business is relatively simple. There are several steps you need to follow, in order to start your own ecommerce company. Here they are:
- Do market research.
- Figure out what products or services you will want to sell.
- Identify your target customers.
- Develop your own advertising strategy.
- Begin researching for an ecommerce platform you’d like to sell on.
- If you need help, turn to a developer who will provide you with insight on which one might suit your company best.
- Build an online store.
- Start selling.
Most customers, no matter whether they’re old or new, like to have a variety of payment methods. Along with that having multiple payment options will make it easier for you to appeal to a larger audience, as it will be more convenient to shop from your store.
It’s the one thing you can do that will both open up your business to more clients, while simultaneously improving the customer experience. Furthermore, it’s not difficult to implement and won’t take a ton of time and effort, which automatically makes it an easy gain you should definitely take advantage of.