Why are custom ecommerce sites so expensive?

We build ecommerce sites. They are big undertakings and almost always more complicated that anyone can ever imagine at the start of the project. Why are they so complicated and expensive? Two big reasons:

  1. Ecommerce sites have a lot of moving parts and third-party vendors
  2. Consumers have different ways of shopping and you need to address them all

Moving pieces of an ecommerce site.

Every ecommerce site has these three pieces. Sometimes we build a shopping cart to a client’s specifications, though that can get really expensive. Most carts are third-party and charge a monthly fee. They have varying levels of sophistication and customization. So sometimes one of our clients will choose a cart that works really well with their fulfillment process, but it is a coding nightmare and extends our development time into the future by a factor of X.

Gateway: The payment processor. This is the thing that takes payments and puts them into a bank account. Authorize.net is a popular one. So is PayPal. We can recommend others and sometimes Shopping Carts have deals worked out with Gateways and market them as “preferred.” This fee is usually a percentage of the sale, around 3%.

Shopping Cart: The site utility that collects items, deals with shipping, and handles other custom items like gift cards and custom messages. This utility sends the orders to fulfillment and the credit card details to the gateway. It’s usually a monthly fee.

Fulfillment: The place that processes and ships the orders. This can be you, or a huge distribution centerand some are better than others. This will cost you time, money, or both.

Of course there are off-the-shelf sites that will let you run your store from their platform. There are lots and i haven’t found any that I would recommend to any serious small business owner who wants to control their site, grow their business and own all of their files.

Ecommerce site components

Now, think about the variables in the store, like:

  1. How are the products categorized? Are there main categories with multiple SKUs? And then what are the options associated with each of the SKUs?
  2. What shipping options will you offer? Flat USPS, parcel post, UPS, FedEx? Can you Shopping Cart handle those and multiple ship-to addresses?
  3. How will your customers track orders? Do they need to create an account? How robust is the set of tools associated with that account?
  4. Will you have a separate members-only wholesale checkout?
  5. What about sales tax?
  6. How does your fulfillment center receive and process orders? Will they receive an XML feed, XLS, or something else? What about encryption?
  7. How will you manage inventory?

Head spinning yet? This stuff is really important. Think long and hard about it.

About Customers

First of all, have a great idea of who your customers are. If you have a hearing aid site, your customers are not only the senior citizens looking for hearing aides who may not be so trusting of online payment or very web savvy, but also their children and grandchildren making the purchase for them. If you have a product line with more mass appeal, we’re talking more of a type of personality than the traditional age, location, gender profile. Actually, we can mostly throw that away now.

There are four main types of shopper or user profiles on the web. Each one searches and processes information differently and most sites speak to one or two primary types in order to make sales faster and more often. We won’t get into them in detail here, but they are: Competitive, Spontaneous, Humanistic and Methodical. I’ll write about those more in another post. It’s truly fascinating. Here’s a snapshot.

Competitive: Wants fast information, craves great organization. Makes quick decisions and judgements. Reads Headlines and price.

Spontaneous: Loves the new thing, loves action and friendly, intuitive design. Reads Calls to Action, looks at galleries, likes to be surprised with something awesome.

Humanistic: Wants to make a personal connection and know that this product has positively impacted others. Likes to see the people behind the prodct. Clicks on people, reads testimonials, will write a review.

Methodical: Wants detailed information. Makes slow decisions and comparisons. Reads absolutely everything, especially loves comparison charts.

The big idea here is simple: give users access to the kinds of information they want in the way they want it. Here are five easy-ish things to do that are easy to make your shopping site less annoying right away:

  1. Create an internal search. Some people walk into a physical store and ask for help right away. Some people try to find their item themselves. Help them both.
  2. Consolidate the checkout. Make the checkout into clear 1, 2, 3, 4 steps or make to one page. And don’t ask for too much information.
  3. Don’t get fancy. Name your categories and navigation something that makes sense to a USER. Not your industry friends; a user. Users!
  4. Write good headlines. This might be the only thing a user reads beside the price. It has to be great.

And one more thing:

Please install web analytics and spend some time configuring for ecommerce. In the long run, it’s not too expensive and will give you great information about if and where people are abandoning your checkout process. Valuable info, right?

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