If you’ve been like the vast majority of businesses, chances are that you’ve had to make a lot of adjustments to cope with the prevailing pandemic. COVID-19 threatened to stall many crucial business operations, and ensuring business continuity became even more important than ever before. This had to be addressed from many different aspects, ranging from customers to employees. While employees had to be shifted to their homes to carry out their daily duties, customers were left to discover new means of shopping for necessities. Although ecommerce was a norm well before such a pandemic hit, it was now faced with multiple challenges due to lockdowns and social distancing.
For businesses that hadn’t yet stepped into ecommerce, this unprecedented time proved to be a gamechanger in terms of finally hopping onto the online bandwagon. As for customers, finding alternative means to purchase items that they depended on was now troublesome, especially when it came to things that were bought in-person from a store. This made both customers and businesses flock to the web, to leverage access towards products while keeping the supply chain running as usual. It is at this point that ecommerce became even more imperative than before.
During such an economic climate, ecommerce platforms were now the providers of a highly versatile business mix that stayed on par with social distancing guidelines, as well as ensuring the steady supply of goods and services. On top of that, starting small was also an option, with easily scalable plans available at the click of a button. This was further streamlined by ecommerce website vendors, as they began to offer some of their premium services for free in the wake of this pandemic, during a limited time period.
Thanks to most SaaS solutions that are based in the cloud, even the smallest, home-based businesses now had the ability to take their products and services to the world. But for many who were not familiar with the nitty-gritty of what makes an ecommerce site, this was still overwhelming. This guide therefore focuses on the basics, with the aim of providing insight on what businesses need to look out for, depending on their unique circumstances. This requires a bifurcated approach i.e. inspecting mainstream ecommerce website vendors, as well as the programming languages that help power such websites.
As a product owner, you know that your online presence needs to not only reflect your brand, but also how it can offer true value to your customer. In other words, form and function need to work as one, over your website. Understanding each facet, whether it’s internal (such as your requirements) or external (such as a vendor’s feature offerings), determines the overall success of an ecommerce presence. Read on to know more!
Some of the most popular ecommerce website builders.
A prime choice among boutique businesses, Shopify offers a great starter kit for making sales on a small scale. The average SMB will have everything they need, even if they need to expand their operations. Consisting of multi-channel ecommerce, sellers can integrate their eBay, Amazon, Walmart and Facebook accounts to offer a journey that a user can select based on where it is most convenient for them to shop. Add to this the ability to consolidate digital marketing campaigns, by including a blog and SEO tools.
While Shopify offers the convenience of its very own payment gateway, it also has a POS application that can be run in physical stores for offline sales. As ideal as this may be for smaller businesses, Shopify’s capabilities saturate at that point, more or less. Many features are only subject to the template or theme that is being used, rendering little choice for larger businesses with more complex offerings.
Just like Shopify, Wix can be placed in a similar league. However, there are certain pros and cons associated when a side-by-side comparison is done. While Wix is also small business-friendly, it offers a wider array of features that are also easy to apply on your own website design. It provides commission-free transactions, as well as a robust suite of digital marketing integrations for leveraging your sales potential.
Although Wix could take the award for being the easiest ecommerce website builder so far, it does have some limitations. Ecommerce isn’t a forte, which means that the features available are more attuned to non-ecommerce websites. A native POS system isn’t readily available either, thus lessening the scope for sales outside the online medium.
Another favourite among small businesses, Squarespace integrates a gamut of features that go beyond just ecommerce. This may end up being an advantage or disadvantage, depending on what your business specifically needs. For example, its limited focus towards ecommerce websites per se may subsequently render an equally limited number of features. On the other hand, it may be the ideal combination for a small business that wants a little more than ecommerce under one roof – such as digital marketing and analytics.
While Squarespace provides great value for money by having zero transaction fees, it again saturates in terms of a feature offering. Multi-channel selling is also limited. As a result, businesses with a complex set of product offerings and/or businesses that need to rapidly scale up may find this to be a setback.
Owned by Adobe, Magento Commerce has been the ecommerce application builder of choice for businesses operating at a larger scale. It’s feature-rich offerings provide ample potential to customize, which can be done with custom coding at the hands of a developer. When it comes to software development in Sri Lanka, many agencies offer Magento as an ecommerce website builder owing to these reasons. Sure, it may not be suitable for use by the layman due to the level of coding that’s required, but the vast variety of features offered makes it worthwhile for businesses that are well established in terms of their sales figures.
In turn, this also provides value to having an experienced developer onboard. Many post-implementation aspects such as bug fixing can also be attended to, this way – thereby making Magento a good choice for mid-market to enterprise level businesses. The wide assortment of features also extends over to an in-built business intelligence tool, so that you can make the most of your sales numbers by gaining actionable insights.
Some of the most commonly used programming languages for building ecommerce websites.
PHP is a server-side scripting language, which means that it processes requests made by users, on servers. Popular for its ease of access and overall use, PHP is only required in the servers hosting web applications. This way, there’s no need to install it in users’ devices – only a web browser is enough to interact with a website. Due to its popularity, it is also of prime focus to a community of developers who are always offering insights into how PHP can be used to better the quality of web applications. Also, it’s open source – which means that it is free to download and use.
Another great quality pertaining to PHP is its ability to interact with database management systems (DBMS). It works fluidly with MySQL and Oracle, among others. Its cross-platform capabilities render it usable in any leading operating system as well.
Python may be a multi-purpose programming language that can be used for building many different types of applications, but this hasn’t lessened its reliability and robustness. Especially in the arena of web development, Python covers a lot of ground by facilitating syntax that’s easy to understand as well as scale. Add to this a massive suite of frameworks and libraries that constantly receive contributions from fellow developers, to make coding easy and quick.
In turn, this leads to faster turnaround times for even the most complex web applications, since long lines of code need not be written from scratch. Again, the easily comprehensible syntax makes it convenient for multiple developers to work on the same code. This also applies to transfers; if this code needs to be handed over to another developer for continuing the development process, a syntax that closely resembles the English language goes a long way in making codes more coherent to future developers.
Another general scripting language that is easy to learn and understand, Ruby is still in use for a few very good reasons. Although not as popular as PHP or Python, Ruby possesses a few key characteristics that render it extremely versatile in the wake of constrained ecommerce website development. In other words, Ruby is great for website development projects that are hard pressed for time, since its many frameworks and libraries (also known as ‘gems’) provide a plethora of features that can simply be replicated into your own system for use. A vast and thriving community of developers once again makes this possible, thereby proving that Ruby is still a language that is vastly relied upon in the developer community.
What’s more, Ruby’s many gems are exclusively focused on shopping cart website development. This makes it an ideal option for building the very same. Ruby is sufficient for websites that experience small amounts of traffic. Therefore, it is ideal for smaller businesses that also operate on a smaller scale. This closely ties in with the requirement for getting every business (especially SMBs) an ecommerce presence that leverages their sales pipeline. The combination of faster turnarounds and high-performance web applications provided by Ruby is highly useful, in this case.
Summing it all up…
The pandemic either brought many things to a standstill – or completely transformed the way things are run. The very same applies to the business world, as many establishments were compelled to switch to remote work environments. Additionally, supply chain and sales pipelines were also negatively impacted, as social distancing guidelines made it hard for businesses to reach their customers, and vice versa.
So what was the solution? Turning to the digital landscape of today has been the most effective for circumventing such issues, thus far. Powered by the cloud, SaaS solutions have skyrocketed in popularity, as businesses scramble to maintain operational continuity. The same applies to ecommerce websites, as mainstream vendors offer easily scalable plans that are packed with features – with some even offering free trials or free plans to begin with. Options range from the very basic to the most complex, with several capabilities/limitations in between. While many budget-friendly ecommerce website builders are ideal for SMBs, they’re limited in terms of features. Other feature-rich platforms require the expertise of a web developer, thereby making them good options for larger businesses that receive higher traffic.