Here be dragons
When First 10 get approached by clients who want an online shop, I know that pretty much the first thing we’re going to have to do is scare the crap out of them. Which isn’t something we generally like doing at First 10, because we like our clients, lots.
It’s a fact, though isn’t it. E-commerce, when you get into the details, is terrifying. It’s an area that just reeks of complexity, of acronyms, of bank managers scaring you silly when you try to obtain a merchant account to sell your products online. It’s what technology was like in the “old days”, where the power lies with the people that know and everyone else hasn’t the foggiest. Let’s try to redress that balance with a series of posts about the topic, starting with the vital first component – which platform is best for you.
It’s all about your products
Not too much of a surprise, is it? How you sell your products online depends an awful about what those products actually are. There are lots of different E-commerce platform out there, varying massively in terms of features and complexity, and which one you need (and the budget you’ll need to get one off the ground) depends a lot on how complicated your products are;
- Simple products are standard with no options, like a particular grey t-shirt, or a cuddly toy.
- Complex products on the other hand are generally configurable. They have options. Like when you buy a car and you get to choose seat fabric, trim colour and whether you want bigger alloys. Complex products can also be “bundled” in nature - products that are made up of several products in their own right.
Got your product “type”? Also think about your answers to the following questions;
- How many products do I have?
- Do I have products in different categories?
Depending on answers to the above, we generally favour either of two platforms for our e-commerce clients;
If you have simple products and less than 50 of them, then WordPress might be a candidate for you. There’s many reasons why we love WordPress and funnily enough, the fact it can be used for simpler e-commerce sites is one of them. Once you add the rest of the superb features it offers (see here) it makes for a quality package. There are a fair few decent e-commerce plugins out there for WordPress, but our favorite is the most featured and expandable that we’ve found – WP-Ecommerce.
- generally cheaper than a fully fledged e-commerce solution
- easier to configure and get off the ground
- comes with all the other stuff that makes WordPress so great
- nowhere near as configurable as full e-commerce solutions
- limited when it comes to complex features like bundling of products, shipping rates, etc.
If you have complex products and more than 50 of them, we’d generally recommend Magento. It’s the big daddy of the open-source E-commerce world. Offered in a number of flavours from a completely free ‘Community’ edition right the way through to the $13,000 a year ‘Enterprise’ edition. Which one you’d need depends on your individual circumstances, but in the vast majority of cases the Community edition will fit the bill.
- very, very powerful – will do everything you need and a lot you didn’t realise you needed
- very well supported, especially if you choose to pay for Professional or Enterprise
- a true enterprise class E-commerce platform for bigger online businesses
- with power comes complexity – will cost more and take longer to configure and launch
- much steeper learning curve when it comes to managing the platform yourself after launch
- doesn’t lend itself very well to easy content management of other areas of the site outside of products
Once you’ve got your platform, the next thing to do is decide how you’re going to take payment for your products. While both WP-Ecommerce and Magento support many different payment methods, choosing one can be complex. In the next post in this series we’ll look at the differerent options available to you, and the things you’ll need to consider in making a choice.