COVID-19, like any natural disaster, caused a major disruption to small businesses. These businesses forced them to close up shop and wait out the quarantine period. For some retailers, the spring of 2020 has been a time of dabbling with selling goods online. With reports of COVID-19 resurging in the fall, now is the time to prepare your small business to withstand more social distancing and quarantines orders.
Four Platforms for Ecommerce
There are more than four platforms for ecommerce but I’m only going to address four of the most popular and useful.
- Magento Open Source
- WordPress WooCommerce
Each of these platforms come with pros and cons which I will discuss.
Magento is a massive ecommerce CMS that runs many online stores. Magento Commerce offers a powerful shopping experience that can be customized to meet all your needs. The framework allows for robust content marketing.
Magento is open-source. Open-source platforms means there is a lot of independent developer support for it. This means you are not locked in with a specific company to do development work on your website.
SEO friendly. Putting your store on the web is the first step. Getting your store found online is the next step. Magento is one of the most SEO friendly content management systems available.
Large store solution. If you have a lot of products to sell online, Magento’s import features allows you to set up the products efficiently.
Price. Magento Open Source is free. There is a paid version, Magento Commerce, but has a significant cost.
Not a quick solution. You will need a developer to get your Magento retail site up and running and it will take awhile to get it launched. If you are looking to get your site running sooner than later, this may not be the right solution.
Cost to adapt. Each new item, new way of marketing that wasn’t originally set-up will need a developers help. Developer do not work cheaply.
WooCommerce is a plugin for WordPress. This makes it a part of one of the biggest communities of web developers, web managers, and webmasters. WooCommerce is an ideal platform if you have a small inventory of items you want to put on the web and are already running a WordPress website.
Development Speed. WooCommerce running on WordPress will allow you to spin up a website and begin selling quickly. Some developer/designer work might be needed, but a lot of the work can be done using online tutorials.
SEO Friendly. WordPress is one of the best content management systems for search engine optimization. Getting your website up and running will be quick, and getting your online store found in search will also be quick.
Price. WooCommerce is free which makes it extremely cost effective if you already have a WordPress website for your business. Adding WooCommerce and getting some products listed will be quick and easy. Making changes to the site template and some functionality of WooCommerce might require a developer, but there are hundreds of free and low-cost plugins already built out for it making the initial forays into customization pretty easy and cheap.
Community Support. Because WordPress is so widely used, if you have an issue, a quick Google search will usually uncover the answer as other people have experienced the same problem or wanted to accomplish the same thing.
Not a True Shopping Cart. Because WooCommerce is a WordPress plugin, out-of-the-box it lacks a lot of features you expect from a shopping website, like being able to remind people they have items in their shopping cart. These features can be added but come at the price of website speed. Each plugin added can have a detrimental effect. And since these plugins are developed independently, they don’t always play nice with each other.
Manual Updates. Keeping WordPress and WooCommerce up-to-date requires constant vigilance. There are people out there always trying to exploit weaknesses in WordPress which means the updates to WooCommerce, WordPress, all the plug-ins running on WordPress, your site’s webserver, database server, and even the version of PHP on the server all need to be kept up-to-date.
Speed. WooCommerce running on WordPress with a lot of different plugins to create a truly custom shopping experience can cause the website to be slow. A slow website is not good for a user experience and not good for SEO.
Squarespace is a solution that provides the hosting, the shopping cart, and an easy to use website building platform.
Ease of Set-up. You do not need a web designer or developer to get a Squarespace site up and running. Squarespace makes it easy to get a site up in a minimal amount of time.
Content focused. Squarespace allows you to easily build out multiple pages of content as you need them.
Marketing tools. Squarespace comes with some marketing tools you can use to promote your online business and allows you to add on others, like email marketing if you need. This is a great option if you are just starting out so you don’t have to bother setting up a MailChimp, ConstantContact, or ExpressPigeon account.
Built-in SEO. Squarespace guides your SEO with fields that point you in the right direction in terms of best practices.
Price. Squarespace is one of the more costly solutions for an introductory website.
Building on lease land. As you build up your site, you are really just building it on Squarespace’s website. It may look and act like a regular website, but you don’t control the servers and any issues at Squarespace need to be solved by Squarespace.
Bad blogging. Squarespace is not a blogging platform. Blogging is one of the best ways to demonstrate expertise and authority in order to attract natural backlinks to your website. By making blogging difficult, Squarespace hampers your website’s growth potential.
Shopify is an out-of-the-box solution that will provide you with a secure and integrated shopping cart. It is easy to use, easy to setup, and allows you to easily manage your online inventory.
Easy to Setup. One of the quickest ways of setting up a web store, Shopify walks you through the process of doing everything including getting your first products up on the web.
Secure and Reliable. Shopify is first and foremost a shopping cart with a focus on providing secure transactions.
Integrated Payment Platform. Shopify also provides one of the easiest integrated payment systems, reducing the friction of making a purchase.
Not the Best SEO. Shopify SEO isn’t the worst out there, but the templates aren’t always ideal for the best on-page SEO optimization.
Building on leased land. You don’t own the website. So what happens on Shopify needs to be fixed by Shopify. If Shopify decides to go out of business or pivot to something else, you lose your store.
Price. Shopify is a costly solution. It is the price of getting an all-in-one solution for your online store.
Deciding on Which Platform is Right for You
How do you choose? The first step is to identify your actual needs. If you are a small store and want to put only a few items online, then you don’t need a massive Magento level platform. If you are putting a massive inventory of products with lots of different options onto your online store, then you will need something like Magento. If you have a low number of products, a low amount of available capital, but a little DIY gumption, then a WooCommerce solution could be right.
Just want to get a store online today, no matter the cost? Squarespace is the right choice. Care more about a nice seamless checkout experience as well as getting a store online in a short period of time then Shopify is the right option.
You need to look at all the variables. Look at online demos of each of the platforms and see which one feels right to you.
I can sit here and dwell on each of the platforms and fixate and this aspect or that in terms of which one to use, but the truth is, there isn’t a wrong decision. If you’ve made the decision to start selling your store’s products online, then anything that gets those products online is a good thing. Having a web based store will allow you to keep some level of revenue coming in, even if your city shuts down, or if you take a vacation day.
Marketing Your New Online Store
Once you have your store up and running online, you will need to market it. Just like you put signs in your store windows, run ads in the local paper, put up flyers, join your local chamber of commerce, and maybe hire a dancing banana, you need to promote your website. SEO, social media, email, paid advertising are all channels you can use to promote your website.
These are things you can easily pass onto someone else. They are time consuming tasks that do require some level of expertise knowledge and creativity.