by Kayleigh Alexandra of Microstartups.org
We live in a time of professional flexibility being more important than experience or even expertise. It’s all about adapting to fresh challenges — being comfortable trying new things, and being willing to completely overhaul your approach if you realise that you’re not currently achieving all you want to achieve.
And though web design is a rock-solid career choice (people will always need websites, and with standards consistently rising, it’s more important than ever for them to be impressive), the ecommerce world is a tempting option. Whether it’s building a business to run in your spare time, or designing a store for a client, you can certainly profit from dabbling in online retail.
But when you do so, which ecommerce platform should you pick? What will suit your specific needs as a web designer? Let’s take a look.
Convenience versus configurability
The first thing to note is that there’s no such thing as a perfect ecommerce platform that ticks all the boxes in every scenario. This is most evident when it comes to the sliding scale between convenience and configurability:
- On one end, you have the platforms that are seamless cloud-hosted closed-source packages, such as Shopify or BigCommerce. These platforms are incredibly convenient, but they provide limitations on what you can do (you can’t dig in deep and create something completely custom).
- On the other end, you have the platforms that are self-hosted open-source installations, such as OpenCart or Magento Open Source. Using such a platform gives you an immense amount of control over what you accomplish, but it demands a lot of time investment to get everything working as it should.
As a web designer, you likely have the skills to get extremely granular with a complex open-source system — but do you want to do that? It really depends on how you expect to benefit from that level of involvement. If there’s no specific reason to think that a hosted solution will be insufficient, then that route is likely to be a better choice.
Intuitive interface design
Some ecommerce platforms are easier to use than others. Some, like OpenCart, have very sparse and utilitarian designs — they’re simply enough to navigate, but lacking modern aesthetic flourishes. Others, like Magento Commerce, are all about power, and getting in enough features to accommodate the most demanding users.
How much this matters to you will depend on how heavily you’re going to be involved with using the platform. If you’re designing a store for a client, then you’ll need to cater to their level of expertise, because you won’t be the one using it. Speak to them about what they’re looking for in a CMS — you might ultimately prefer to work with a different platform, but it’s ultimately their decision, and you’ll need to go along with it.
If you’re designing a store for your own use, though, then it’s once again a matter of time. When you’re juggling your standard workload with your side ventures, even spending an evening trying to get an update working is going to disrupt your schedule. That’s assuming, of course, that you’re not planning to embrace ecommerce as your new career — if you’re giving up the web design to go into online selling, then you might as well pick a platform that will allow you to fully benefit from your web design skills.
Quality of support
Regardless of the type of platform you want, support is something that will become necessary at some point. Even if you learned everything there is to know about your CMS and opted to take complete control of the installation, you’d inevitably encounter uptime issues, or bugs that you couldn’t resolve locally — and it would be something of a problem if you couldn’t get the assistance you needed at that time, because downtime is incredibly damaging for online sellers.
Every platform offers a slightly different level and range of customer support. This is really one of the main factors that separate the hosted solutions from their self-hosted rivals: when comparing Shopify and WooCommerce, for instance, Shopify’s widely-praised 24/7 cross-channel support structure is a huge selling point for that platform. WooCommerce is a slick platform, but there’s no compelling official support, which can present issues.
This is all the more important if you’re planning to pass a store to a client, because a lack of comprehensive customer support from the CMS company will likely cause problems for you. You don’t want to box off a project and move on, only to have the client get back to you several months later expecting you to help them because they can’t get official support.
Having looked at the main contributing factors of convenience, interface design, and support, which platform you should choose will depend on your circumstances:
- If you want as many features as possible, go with Magento — Open Source if it’s a side venture for you, or Commerce if it’s for a client.
- If you want maximum convenience and support, choose Shopify. It’s easy to use, and will make your life a lot easier.
- If you’re passing a site to a client familiar with WordPress, use WooCommerce. It may lack official support, but it’s intuitive and has a large user community.
That said, you should always do some research and weigh options based on your exact needs. While you can migrate down the line, it’s likely that your first choice will stick for a long time, so make sure you choose carefully.