If you are a business planning to go digital with your sales, you need a platform on which to launch your online storefront. There are many considerations to take into account before you can settle on an optimal solution. In what places do you plan to sell? What features do you need your online store to have in order to successfully operate your business? How will you handle online payment processing, inventory management, marketing analytics, communication with customers, and so on?
You inevitably will have to decide whether to build a customized ecommerce website, or sign up to an established platform like Shopify. For many, the answer is the latter. Some reports put the number of merchants on the online sales platform just south of a whopping two million, making it one of the biggest ecommerce platforms on the planet.
However, there may be drawbacks to taking that route. So here, we make a shopify vs custom website comparison, going through some of the top areas of consideration, and seeing what each alternative has to offer.
The look and feel of your storefront – the front-end – is extremely important. It is the customer-facing side of your store that gives clients their first impression of your business and sets the tone for the quality of service they can expect. Naturally this should be a primary concern when planning for your ecommerce website. Apart from aesthetic and branding concerns, the design of your ecommerce solution should also account for technical aspects such as how long it takes pages to load, how user-friendly they are, and how well they work on mobile devices. These play a key role in the search engine ranking of your site, and more importantly, the experience your site visitors get.
The biggest advantage of going with your own solution is the amount of control you get over the design of your interface. Shopify will offer you the ability to customize templates, but with a custom website, there are literally no limits. You can still choose a theme and modify it to your requirements, or simply start from scratch and build out your own design. This means you can implement one-of-a-kind designs that will make your storefront memorable and stand out from the rest. The caveat is that this will typically take longer to implement, and takes a lot more effort. But in the end, you can get your site looking just the way you want it.
With Shopify, there is no shortage of themes to choose from. They are all designed to load quickly and look good on different screen sizes. Shopify talks up how customizable the themes are, but this customization is, of course, still within the confines of the templates and the capabilities offered by its page builder. This will serve for most purposes, though some elements will be fixed. This means your pages will not look completely unique since the elements and themes will also be used by many of two million or so merchants on the platform. You could look at this as a downside, but one positive is that it gives your store visitors a sense of familiarity. This makes your storefront more user-friendly so that even new customers will have no trouble getting comfortable with your user interface.
Even after launch, your ecommerce website will have to move with the times and adapt to the needs of your clientbase to stay relevant, aesthetically pleasant, and keep the shopping experience engaging. Customizability is therefore a crucial consideration to bear in mind as you plan your solution. The design you launch with will not be cast in stone. At one point or another, changes will have to be made. The process should be relatively painless to implement without disrupting your online business.
With a custom ecommerce website, you have free reign to make whatever modifications you want to whichever part of the website you choose. The upside is that you have the freedom to implement your own vision without any design restrictions. The caveat is that these changes have to be made manually, might take time and will certainly require some web development expertise. If you want additional functionality, there is the option to incorporate third party solutions, although you cannot guarantee, as the number of these addons accumulates, they will not negatively affect the performance of your site.
Shopify offers no-code, drag-and-drop solutions to customization. There is an extensive library of design features for the most common use cases. Unless you have very unique requirements, your customizations can be up and running in a very short space of time. These could be simple design changes, or additional functionality that you wish to introduce onto your platform. There is also the added benefit of knowing that the elements you integrate into your website are made or curated by the same vendor and are designed to play well with each other. They won’t slow your site down, or make for a glitchy experience.
Optimization for Content and Visuals
A crisp, clean, and modern-looking interface is a big part of a positive customer experience on your website. Designers go to great lengths using animations, media assets, and clever scripts to make websites’ interfaces engaging and nice to look at. It is one of the ways to get visitors to spend more time on your website. However, the fancy bells and whistles come at a price if they are not properly implemented. All the hard work is undone if, behind the scenes, the content is not optimized to ensure your ecommerce website loads quickly and functions smoothly. Given that images are the way you present your products to clients, their optimization should be a top priority.
There are general guidelines and principles for content optimization that if implemented, should make search engines happy. Your site should have a logical, readable structure. Use hierarchical categories for your content, with logical names and titles for all your page assets like titles and internal links. The site should be easy to navigate, with the home page not much more than one or two clicks away, wherever you may be on the website.Images should have filenames that can be read, and are descriptive. The images should also be lightweight. They should have as small a file size as possible without compromising image quality as large files are the number one culprit for slowing down websites. All of these are practices that you can abide by to ensure your site’s content and visuals are all optimized.
Shopify offers guidelines to help merchants ensure their storefronts perform optimally. Guides will run you through everything from image names and alt attributes, to file types and compression, and their effect on file size. Guides will also give you pointers on image aspect ratio to ensure that everything looks good both on desktop and mobile platforms, and even tips on what pictures and angles of photography to use to best depict your product.
If you are selling clothes, you want customers to be able to choose things like colors and sizes. Flower bouquets come in different combinations and sizes, and you can choose to add things like cards. You can choose to wrap gifts, add delivery notes, the list of things variations of products is endless. Product options are the parameters that give control and flexibility to your site visitors. They also help you raise the order value of your products as a business. It is essential that your online store enables you to do this.
For a custom ecommerce website, you will have to develop your own solutions for how you present product options for your clients. If you are operating in a niche, this could give you the freedom and customizability you need for your unique product. You also have control over their design to ensure it fits in with the rest of your website. Again, this will need expertise to develop and may take some time. You can also turn to third party extensions, but as you have no control over their development, you cannot be assured of their quality or the continuation of their support in the long term.
Shopify offers plugins that you can use to provide you customers options for various types of products. These offer various elements you can use, like dropdown menus, checkboxes and radio buttons, color swatches, and more. You can add these options to your page using a builder and apply them for different products, collections, or your entire store if they are things like special shipping options, promo codes, and the like. These addons are available in the Shopify App Store. A key thing to take into account is the total cost of ownership. Usually the use of these plugins is billed monthly, and over time, those charges add up.
The total cost of your ecommerce platform is probably one of the first concerns a business owner will have before they even begin planning their solution. Whether you choose to work with a custom solution, or to use Spotify, your calculations should factor in the possible costs over the long term. In both cases, how much you end up spending depends on the scope of the features you plan on implementing.
The total cost of ownership of a custom solution begins with the initial setup costs. And even here, there will be some variation depending on your approach. There is the cost of developing the site, which may start with a business analysis, where an evaluation is made of the needs of your business before you start the actual development of the site. You might, for example, need to integrate your online store with existing ERP software, or some CRM system that your business is already using.
Once you’ve determined your needs, there is the cost of development itself. This will depend on what features you need, with more complex functionality costing more. Finally there are the setup fees – a domain name, local servers if you so decide, and content creation, and p
Shopify pricing is split into three feature-based tiers. At the time of writing, the basic plan costs $29 a month, the middle plan – called Shopify – costs $79 a month, and the Advanced plan will set you back $299 every month. The basic plan covers most of what’s needed for an online business but with lower limits on things like the number of staff accounts, inventory locations, and types of reports. The middle tier offers everything in the basic plan but throws in more advanced reports, better shipping discounts, and ecommerce automation features. The top plan additionally offers features like custom pricing for different international markets, tax and duties calculations at checkout, and more. You may also have to figure in monthly payments for any addons you decide to add to your site.
In many cases, your ecommerce website will be part of a larger technology stack on which your business runs. Integration is necessary to ensure data flows between your different systems without a glitch.
Getting your ecommerce platform successfully talking to your other systems will depend on what those systems are. In most cases, those systems have APIs and SDKs that provide the means for your developers to build functionality to receive and send data to those platforms. Implementing third party integration for custom ecommerce systems therefore requires advanced software development skills.
Calling itself a plug-and-play platform, Shopfiy boasts easy integration with major systems like Microsoft, SAP, Netsuite, and more. For those systems for which Shopify does not provide native integration, Shopify recommends trusted partners that can help you with integrations, migrations from other systems, and custom extensions to your ecommerce website’s capabilities.
The Last Word
All in all, the choice you make will depend on the resources you have available. If you want a ready-made solution, that is based on the needs of the majority of online merchants, and you don’t mind paying a monthly subscription, Shopify is a good bet. You may decide to build your own solution if you want a custom-made platform that is uniquely suited to your requirements and lets you stand out from the crowd of mainstream platform subscribers.