In a previous article, one of the trends that I wrote about was the upcoming surge in online transactions. Naturally this will require companies, both big and small, to either develop or upgrade their digital infrastructure and become eCommerce enabled.
With the Covid-19 lock-down, companies have rushed to setup their online sales channels to end the dry spell they’ve been experiencing. Between developing their online presence, setting up their logistics for fulfillment and reorienting their marketing efforts towards this operation, they have had to make a lot of critical decisions. Those with an eCommerce operation in place have had a head start and could focus on building these online channels. However, traditional brick & mortar outfits have had to choose between working with marketplaces (like Amazon, Noon) and/or social platforms (like Instagram, Whatsapp or the upcoming Facebook Shops) and/or setup their own online store fronts.
I believe getting the website (your store front) right is critical to building a successful online business. Some have chosen to develop bespoke experiences, which comes with longer lead times. Others have adopted ‘off-the-shelf’ eCommerce solutions for a quicker turnaround of two to three weeks.
Given the significance of this step, it’s important to understand the pros and cons of both approaches and select what’s right for your business.
Off-the-shelf (or Out-of-the-Box) platforms for building your website come with pre-built integration and templates. They’re ready-made and sold to a mass market to benefit as many users as possible. However, there are limits in terms of customization and upgrades. Magento, Wix, Shopify, Big Commerce, Presta Shop, Volusion and Square Space are some of the leading eCommerce platforms.
A ready-made solution can certainly appear to ease the transition to eCommerce as it ticks many boxes in one go:
- Fast setup: The platform will usually include helpful standard features. You can install a theme and have a website up and running in no time. The basic set-up of a website can be done with limited technical or creative abilities.
- Cheaper: Since the same platform is sold to numerous companies, purchasing a template is a cost-effective way to create an online presence.
- Basic SEO included: Some of the platforms come with basic SEO plugins, which cover keyword density, title length, alt text and more. This will help you get started in the process of on-site optimization.
- Support: Users can rely on customer support as well as online forums to answer their questions about the platform and solve any issues. As a lot of companies are already using the platform, many of the bugs and issues have already been addressed.
However, the convenience of off-the-shelf does come with some baggage. Here are some of the cons:
- Limited design flexibility: There are very few customization options in terms of design or experience, largely limited to colors and fonts.
- A sense of déjà vu: As these websites are all built on a limited range of templates, they tend to look and feel the same, making you part of the herd rather than helping you stand out.
- Reduced scalability: It’s also important to note that upgrades cost time and money and could require plugins which risk causing your site to run slow or possibly crash. Future readiness and updates are at the discretion of the platform owner and the timing of their release may limit your business ambitions.
- Not business centric: The platform may not connect well with your other business systems, limiting the ability to benefit from an integrated data and tech setup, which is critical to any eCommerce business.
As the name suggests, bespoke sites are tailored to a company’s specific business goals. They are built using the latest W3C HTML and CSS coding standards, aligned with your processes and personalized in every aspect, from your designs to your eCommerce and other back-end systems.
Going custom certainly has its advantages:
- It’s yours: One of the biggest advantages of having a bespoke website is that its unique design will build your individual identity in the market. Your business is different from all others out there and, with a bespoke design, your website will be unique too.
- Business centric: It’s been built keeping your business operations in mind so it has stronger social and internal system integrations enabling a more effective eCommerce architecture.
- SEO optimized: Given that the website is built from scratch, the SEO requirements can be implemented from the start. There will be no additional plugins or fees to implement.
- Ready to scale: You have more flexibility to scale and adapt to changing needs. Your business may evolve over time and of course you plan to grow, so your website should be ready enable it, not hinder it.
That said, there are some downsides to bespoke sites too:
- It’s not cheap: The most notable drawback is the initial investment required to design and develop a completely tailored experience. It’s certainly going to cost more than a ready-made template.
- Slow to market: Given that everything from design to execution will have to be worked on from scratch, it’s going to take much longer to go live.
- Misuse of creative freedom: The journey to design a unique experience can sometimes lead to creating something that your customers are not looking for or are familiar with. Whether you achieve success or meet failure will depend on the designer and developers’ expertise.
After reviewing the pros and cons, it’s safe to say that there is no single right (or wrong) option. The choice between an off-the-shelf or bespoke solution depends on your goals and business needs.
An off-the-shelf platform may be enough to get you started. If you’re looking to go live quickly, don’t have a budget and can find a standardized template that meets your business requirements, then why struggle with bespoke?
However, if your business is centered on providing a unique offering to the customer and you plan to scale, then a bespoke solution is probably the way to go. You will stand out from your competition and develop a system that can be upgraded as you grow. In my view, bespoke is an investment for the long term and will pay its dividends in due course.
What choice have you made and how did it work out? Your insights will help your peers in making their decision.