The Ecommerce Breakdown: Online Stores for Businesses


So you have an awesome product. What’s next? You want to reach as many online customers as possible, building a website or utilizing an existing marketplace to maximize your sales potential, but what is the best ecommerce solution for you and your business?

Hiring a web development company can be intimidating; doing it yourself can sometimes be more so; knowing when to sell your products on an existing marketplace or to sell them on your own can be a bit of a mystery. It’s frustrating, we know, but understanding your options and what makes them unique can help.

Online Store Possibilities
Which online store is right for your customers and your business?

1. Existing marketplaces—ebay, Etsy & Amazon

If they have already built it and the people have already come, why shouldn’t you take advantage? There are more online marketplaces out there than could fit in the confined spaces of this blog, so we’re focusing on just three: eBay, Etsy, & Amazon.

Selling online doesn’t get much easier than eBay. Individuals can sell their shoes. Businesses can sell their products or their old furniture.

  • eBay Pros: Simplicity, well-established audience.
  • eBay Cons: Lack of brand awareness, sharing a percentage of profits, built for individuals and singular sales not businesses with diverse products and large inventories.

Etsy is a marketplace for creative artisans and small businesses. Arts, crafts, fashion accessories, home décor, wedding accoutrements, and unique gift ideas are their core.

  • Etsy Pros: Simplicity, well-established audience, basic brand marketing (businesses can build their own “shop” page and shoppers can bookmark favorite shops), analytics supplied via Google Analytics.
  • Etsy Cons: Narrow product focus, sellers share a percentage of profits, limited flexibility in design, limited communication possibilities with buyers (this isn’t a place to grow your email newsletter).

And of course, you cannot think of online shopping without Amazon. The once humble online bookseller has disrupted the retail industry.

If your goal is product sales—not brand recognition—and you don’t mind losing a percentage of the profits, Amazon might be the solution you’re looking for. In addition, Amazon is valuable as a place to dip your feet into the online retail waters, a test-market for new products or business ideas, or a channel partner to complement your other online sales.

  • Amazon Pros: Extensive audience, detailed analytics, product descriptions can include pictures, videos, and text.
  • Amazon Cons: Lack of brand awareness, no flexibility in page design, limited communication possibilities with buyers (this isn’t a place to grow your email newsletter or social media connections), customers are often looking for free shipping, strict seller guidelines.

2. Social Media Shops—Facebook

Social media networks have embraced ecommerce in the past few years, making buying easier than ever. Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and others now allow users to buy products without leaving the social media websites’ pages, and now retailers can create their own Facebook Shop, displaying their full listing of products.

By using apps from Ecwid, SocialShop (via BigCommerce), ShopTab, StoreYa (integrated with Magento), and Shopify (just to name a few), your products can be on the market and ready to buy.

  • Social Media Shop Pros: Extensive audience, some analytics, versatility (product descriptions, layout and checkout processes vary by app), a strong channel partner possibility to enhance sales on a business website or other marketplace, a strong possibility for retailers with a smaller number of products.
  • Social Media Shop Cons: Limited brand personalization (working within the design confines of a Facebook page), minimal product searchability across Facebook shops, possible perception of weakened credibility (businesses that rely on social media pages and do not have a website often lack “street cred”), lack of robustness for shops with greater numbers of products, minimal monthly fee (though sometimes free in a trial period or if selling fewer than 10 products).

3. Website Builders—Weebly to BigCommerce

When it comes to building your own website, which not only enhances your professional credibility but also strengthens your brand identity, expands your trackable analytics, and enables you to keep a larger share of the profits, there are two major schools of thought: you can use a website builder or you can build your website on a customizable framework. To understand the difference, think of a brick-and-mortar store. You could occupy a rental property, or you could own the building. Website builders are your rental option (commonly charging a monthly fee).

Weebly, Wix, GoDaddy, and Square Space—among others—are strong rental options for small to medium-sized online retailers. Other website builders, like Shopify and BigCommerce, are focused purely on ecommerce and are designed with more advanced features for medium to large retailers.

  • Website Builder Pros: Smaller upfront cost than custom-building, only basic technical knowledge required to build a sleek website, hundreds of professional template designs to choose from, easy social media and newsletter integration, fairly extensive ecommerce tools (with Shopify and BigCommerce).
  • Website Builder Cons: a self-service model without a lot of technical support, limited personalization, limited scalability; the monthly rate might surpass the cost of custom development over time.

4. Custom-built Ecommerce Solutions—WordPress & Magento

The beauty of the open source world means that frameworks like WordPress and Magento are fully customizable, fully scalable, and non-proprietary—meaning that you’re not renting this online store. It’s yours.

While website builders have their limitations, custom-development has none. If you dream it, it can be done. That being said, these frameworks often require a development partner, providing full-service support through the initial stages of construction, but after it is built, a business can make every decision on their own. Hosting providers are not limited to any specific company; SSL certificates can be purchased from any reliable source; ecommerce affiliate marketing programs are easy to manage; promotion flexibility is unlimited.

WordPress is more complex than some website builder options but is still relatively easy to manage for a general user. Combined with ecommerce extensions, WordPress can provide an all-inclusive, powerful, and versatile online store perfect for small to medium-sized merchants.

  • WordPress Pros: Professional, fully customizable, versatile, scalable, robust ecommerce extensions, easy social media and newsletter integration, easily maintained by general audiences with basic technical knowledge.
  • WordPress Cons: Professional development assistance commonly needed in its construction, moderate initial set-up cost.

Where BigCommerce and Shopify offer ecommerce solutions in a “rental” option for large businesses, Magento is an open source development framework that offers everything a medium to enterprise-level store could ask for. Side-by-side comparisons, coupon codes, inventory management, shipment tracking, channel partner integration, point of sale (POS) integration—you want it, Magento can deliver.

  • Magento Pros: Full ownership of your custom-built store, a top level ecommerce application without any limitations, enhanced customer conversion and retention, easy integration with Google Trusted Stores, the ability to have the development “Pro” of every option above without any of the “Cons.”
  • Magento Cons: Professional development assistance usually needed, heftier price tag.
Ecommerce Solutions
Your goal is to make your online store as easy as possible on your customer, utilizing every tool that makes sense for your business. Are you living up to your ecommerce potential?

Still overwhelmed? Perhaps. But now at least you have the basic breakdown at your fingertips. Do you need the basics or do you need the best? Every business is different. It’s for you to decide.

As for us, let us know what we can do to help. Contact us to talk more about ecommerce strategies today.