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How to choose an ecommerce website builder

TechRadar logo TechRadar 2/17/2022 Mirza Bahic
A person working on their ecommerce website. © Provided by TechRadar A person working on their ecommerce website.

Although it feels somewhat strange to share a success story during a pandemic, we can’t ignore the ecommerce business boom that happened with it and because of it. Within months of traditional brick-and-mortar stores being closed and almost half of the world’s population being under some form of lockdown, physical stores started to shift their business online to reach their customers and new ecommerce stores were launched. Therefore, whether you’re looking for a way to stay in business by building an ecommerce store or are launching an ecommerce start-up, this is the perfect time.

So, what are the characteristics of an online store that will lead customers to do business with you? First of all, it should benefit from eye-catching yet easy-to-use and responsive design, a well-sorted checkout process, a variety of payment options and tracking, solid shipping, good-looking images, a detailed product description, a customer review section for savvy self-promotion, some sort of customer support (when in doubt, choose live chat), social media buttons, and the list goes on. While all this sounds good in theory, how can we put it into practice?

An ecommerce storefront-builder provides the simplest way to create an online store as it offers ease of use of an ecommerce site but without the need for having your own site since you could be selling your products on ecommerce marketplaces (such as eBay, Amazon, and Etsy). However, this implies you’ll never be the true owner of your storefront, which is never good news. You can go in the opposite direction and opt for an extravagant end-to-end ecommerce solution, but it won’t give you much more power over your online store compared to ecommerce marketplaces.

The only way to break free is to have your own site and find fitting tools to help you turn it into a full-fledged ecommerce store. With an ecommerce website builder, you can turn your existing site into an ecommerce store, or build it from the ground up. Either way, if you choose the right site builder, it will supply you with all the tools you need and let you customize your store to your heart’s content without the need to understand lines of code. They are superb solutions for individuals and small businesses alike, but choosing the right ecommerce site builder can be a challenge, especially for new users. To make things a bit easier for you, we’ve made a checklist for an ecommerce site builder you should check out before making your choice.

Recognize your needs and desires

To be able to find the ecommerce solution you’ve been searching for, you first must know exactly what you want to find in an ecommerce site builder. This knowledge will help you get a clear picture of what to look for while picking through piles of ecommerce site builders available on the web. Some of the questions you should ask yourself deal with how much experience you have had with web design and what level of complexity, flexibility, and customizability you want to master. Also consider what kind of media you wish to include in your ecommerce site (such as blogs, maps, photos, videos, and audio galleries), so you don’t end up with a website builder that can’t support it.

Since all ecommerce sites are expected to be mobile-friendly nowadays, you should check out how a site builder holds up to those criteria, too. Would you rather use a site builder that offers tons of themes, templates, and patterns, or will you settle for a smaller collection but one which can be customized to suit your vision? No matter what it is, before taking a decisive decision you should have a more detailed idea about the ecommerce site builder you want and what it can do for your online store.

Consider the cost

Before getting the ball rolling, you’ll want to set the budget for your ecommerce store. For a start, consider the total cost involved in the creation of your store such as domain name registration, web hosting services, and (finally) the ecommerce site builder.

Ecommerce-powered site builders can cost anything from $5 to $50 per month, but most popular web hosting providers tend to throw some sort of novice-friendly site builder into the bundle with their hosting solutions (such as HostGator, DreamHost, and SiteGround). This can be a strategy to bring down the cost a bit since you’ll be paying for the hosting solution in any case.

Not all ecommerce site builders are created equal though and with more complexity costs also grow as well. If you’re going for a simple store, you should expect to get a free SSL certificate and the essential ecommerce features (shopping cart, checkout, and currency converter) at a minimum. On the other hand, if you’re working on a more complex project, this will require more features which will affect the cost.

Besides paying attention to the entry price tag, check out transaction fees (where they stand after the promotional period ends and as your business begins to boom) since ecommerce platforms are sometimes sneaky about that subject.

Ease of use

As an ecommerce site builder is a tool that is typically made with ease of use in mind, it should feel straightforward to use, even for non-tech-savvy users. However, although these site-building tools generally require no coding skills, with different builders you’ll get different levels of simplicity. The first thing you’re likely to notice on a site builder is its user interface (UI), and since you’ll be spending plenty of your time on it, make sure it’s as clear and as simple as it gets.

Some of the common traits that user-friendly site builders share are a drag-and-drop functionality, and an intuitive editor, which won’t only make the site creation and customization simpler but also a lot faster. You should also check out the range of ready-made templates, available themes, and check if there are plenty of resources for site customization in general.

It’s also a smart strategy to turn to user reviews, since most people who come to consider an ecommerce site builder have a similar level of understanding and site-building skills as you do. This makes them a superb source of information about issues and concerns you’ll likely confront while creating your online store with a specific site builder.

Themes, templates, and overall customizability 

While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, you’ll probably want your online store to satisfy the aesthetic criteria of even the most nit-picky visitors, at least to some degree. Without falling into the trap of thinking that quantity is more important than quality, we must highlight the importance of having a wide variety of themes to choose from. To bring a sense of originality to your online store (and make it stick out among the competition to boot), you should find a suitable theme, set the color palette, and create a captivating mood.

Ecommerce site builders come in all shapes and sizes, but most of them won’t allow you to go beyond web design and basic customization, so don’t expect to get something like access to the theme's source code. So, if you wish to customize the code, you’re better off choosing one of the open-source ecommerce platforms like WooCommerce (a plugin for WordPress), Magento, or PrestaShop. One of the biggest benefits of using open source software stems from the commitment of their communities which are bending over backward to create new plugins, extensions, themes, templates, and even offering support to other members of the community.

However, if you’re starting with a small and simple online shop without a large number of products, then a proprietary ecommerce site builder will do the trick. In any case, check whether the templates are mobile-responsive since most people shop on the go on their smartphones today, so if your store isn’t optimized for mobile it might drive away potential paying customers.

Checking out the checkout process and payment options

Given the fact that more than half of shoppers will get off your online store at the cart, the checkout process should be made simple (and short) to convince them otherwise. That's why you should check out how hassle-free the checkout process is with the ecommerce site builder of your choice, and whether you can customize it. Bear in mind that the best checkout pages usually come with an order summary, so that customers are reminded of products they’re purchasing. With open-source site builders, you’re likely to get a greater level of customizability while proprietary site builders are likely to tone down customizability for the sake of stability.

Also, be sure to check what payment options are offered since some customers don’t feel comfortable leaving their credit card data and would rather pay via payment gateways such as PayPal, Apple Pay, and Stripe. As reported in research by PPRO, 42% of consumers from the USA would stop an online purchase in case their preferred payment method wasn’t available, which is something to consider when looking into available payment options.

Mastering marketing

Once you finally set up your online store, because of the crowded and strongly competitive environment it can take a while before your store gets to shine and sales surge. This is where ecommerce marketing can come in handy, so be sure to check if the ecommerce site builder you’re considering supports some of the crucial ecommerce marketing tools. If you’re not entirely sure what ecommerce marketing is, let's go through its critical points.

In short, ecommerce marketing consists of all marketing efforts that have a mission to promote an online store and generate sales. It covers everything from site optimization, SEO-friendliness, and mobile responsiveness to content marketing (such as blogs, videos, and infographics), email marketing (like a welcome email, an abandoned cart email, and newsletters), social media marketing (or hanging with your customers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and so on), search engines advertising (like pay-per-click, Google shopping, and banner ads), affiliate marketing, partnerships, public relations (PR) and building brand awareness, and so forth. 

So, make sure to choose an ecommerce site builder that will help with marketing through optimizing your site, allowing third-party marketing tools (such as Google Ads, MailChimp, and Google Analytics), and simplifying sharing your content through social media.

Staying safe and smart on cybersecurity

If you want to make it big in the ecommerce business, you’ll have to bulletproof your online store from all types of cybercriminals. On one hand, you want to make sure your customers' data is in safe hands (and that they know it), while on the other hand, you’ll want to take all security measures against DoS and DDoS attacks, brute force attacks, SQL injections, malware, spamming, cross-site scripting, e-skimming, bots, and all that.

To keep your online store safe and sound, make sure that the ecommerce builder you choose comes with an SSL certificate, which is something you can expect to receive with all reputable web hosting providers. However, we should note that choosing a site-creating tool with an integrated SSL certificate can’t guarantee the complete safety of your site at all times, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

Also, for your sake and the sake of your customers, ensure that your site builder is PCI compliant, which means it follows a set of requirements that are needed to make sure that processing, storing, and transmitting credit card information stays in a secure environment. Of course, there’s a lot more you can do to safeguard your online store, but we’ll talk about that at another time in another article.  

Solid customer support

No matter which ecommerce site builder you choose and how extensive the experience you had with similar tools, expect to invest a chunk of your time figuring out how the system works. The more features the site builder has, the steeper the learning curve shall be. Therefore, before picking out the site builder, explore the customer support channels it offers to its users and whether there are enough self-help options for you to figure things out on your own.

It’s a godsend to be able to get in touch with the support staff round-the-clock and have them straighten things out for you, but since sometimes that’s not an option (particularly with pocket-friendly site-builder packages considering they have to cut corners somewhere), you’ll have to make use of a service’s FAQ section, video guides, and written how-tos, so make sure they're offered.

While we’re on the subject of customer support, we should also bring up the support options you’re going to offer to assist your shopper with any issues and concerns they might have about your products and services, payment, shipping, refunds, and such. To put it simply, you should offer no less support to your customer than you are hoping to get from the support staff behind the site builder you’re using, so choose your site builder wisely.  

Choosing your ecommerce website builder

Now that we’ve gone through tips on how to choose an ecommerce site builder, perhaps you feel more ready to pick out the right one for you? Every ecommerce site builder has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, so make sure to choose the one that combines full ecommerce functionality and ease of use without making compromises on the three S’s (security, support, and stability), and it will work wonders for your online store. Also, don’t forget to check the price tag, as you wouldn’t want to blow your budget at the very beginning of your ecommerce experience.

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