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The past several years have seen the growth of eCommerce popularity all over the world. Statistics and forecasts show large growth potential in the eCommerce sector:
In 2015, the average eCommerce customer spent an estimated $1,800 in the US and $1,600 in the UK.
The next year, 53 percent of internet users (approximately one billion people!) made an online purchase.
B2B eCommerce sales are expected to outgrow B2C sales, reaching 6.7 trillion USD by 2020.
In the US among those 18-34 years old, 40 percent of males and 33 percent of females say they would “ideally buy everything online.”
Current eCommerce sales account for just 8 percent of retail sales in the US and 14 percent in the UK.
eCommerce marketing technology (“MarTech”) has proliferated accordingly, and as of 2016 over 3,500 different types were already available for online stores.
Mobile platform expansion has brought with it some new possibilities and channels for online sales: Nowadays, only 11 percent of users access the internet via desktop only. Most users are using multiple devices.
Statista, a data science and statistical forecasting firm, found that US eCommerce sales reached $396 billion in 2016 and predicts them to grow to $684 billion by 2020. With such growth predicted, it’s no surprise that offline-only businesses are increasingly making the leap into the eCommerce world.
Don’t know where to start? You’ve come to the right place.
The first step is choosing the main platform for eCommerce website development.
eCommerce Platform Options
Choosing the right eCommerce platform can be crucial for building a successful online store. There are many choices, but the most widely used are Shopify and Magento.
The main difference between them is scale. Daily sales, products, attributes, customers, and third-party integrations are all factors in choosing an eCommerce development solution.
A store with less than a thousand products, a few orders per hour, and without complex third-party integrations can use a self-hosted or cloud-based eCommerce solution like Shopify. They save time and development costs compared with custom platforms, where every detail of the complete structure needs attention.
But integrating with external services, ERP solutions, or external data providers requires a level of customization only eCommerce platforms like Magento allow.
Since Magento is the most popular, we’ll focus on it for the rest of this article, but all eCommerce platforms require very similar steps.
eCommerce Developers and Consultants
First-time eCommerce merchants are often unaware of the real complexity of “building a web store” without prior consultation with eCommerce experts. Taking the project for granted can cause budget issues even in its early stages.
For example, merchants post job descriptions like “Magento developer needed for building Magento site,” wanting a single developer with all possible web development skills (back-end and front-end) to finish in a month.
Unfortunately this is not a realistic timeline. Actual eCommerce website development includes platform (Magento) installation and configuration, installation of third-party modules, development of custom modules, new theme development, and speed optimization, to name a few of the steps.
Building an online store from scratch requires at least two (we recommend at least three) people to handle all the challenges successfully. Further, you can expect the project to take at least two months.
The complexity of eCommerce development means splitting it among back-end and front-end developers. It is often the case that eCommerce experts specialize in one or the other, so searching for an eCommerce developer should be extended to at least one of each.
We highly recommended looking for developers with previous eCommerce experience. Certification in eCommerce platform(s), in this case Magento, is definitely the advantage you should look for.
Hosting providers often declare their service as eCommerce- or Magento-optimized, but this is not always true.
Unfortunately, there have been a lot of cases in practice where a hosting provider has sold their non-optimized hosting package to a merchant prior to the merchant’s consultation with the developer/consultant. That leads to performance issues no matter how much the code is optimized and improved.
Early-phase consultation on hosting service setup with an experienced eCommerce developer is the best way to go for any project—but it’s equally important to include a system administration expert in the discussion if possible.
Wireframing the eCommerce Website
While working on wireframes for the project, we recommend including the default eCommerce platform screens and functionality as much as possible. Most eCommerce platforms’ screens are already user experience (UX) optimized.
Changing the functionality on the front end drastically harms the UX and therefore your conversion rates.
eCommerce Theme Design and UX Optimization
Some designers are less familiar with eCommerce UX optimization.
It can happen that a designer removes an important part of the front-end functionality, counting only their artistic impression and forgetting the functional aspect of the site.
Again, this can harm conversion rates. We highly recommend connecting the designer with an experienced eCommerce expert in the design phase of the project to avoid functional mistakes, or finding an eCommerce-specialized website designer to begin with.
Designs for the most visible front-end elements should be as detailed as possible. Otherwise, a front-end developer will need to figure out the design of particular elements on their own, and you may not like the result.
This is one of most important things to take care of: Online store conversion rates highly depend on site speed. In 2015, 39% of users would ditch a site that takes too long to load—and it’s doubtful that consumer patience has increased since then.
Supplementing a quality host with a content delivery network (CDN) is recommended. Such services often drastically improve loading speed because they also provide automatic script compression and optimization, image optimization, and caching for static content.
After hosting quality as we mentioned above, there are several other aspects of eCommerce website optimization that need to be covered, starting with custom code quality.
Custom Code Quality
Quality here will definitely be higher from experts with experience on large-scale eCommerce websites. When it comes to coding, they will know best practices as well as speed and maintainability optimization techniques.
Building and Optimizing Integrations (If Applicable)
First, use the built-in features you have available for your eCommerce platform, and only turn to third-party modules to avoid reinventing the wheel in custom development.
Every module adds complexity to your project, so choose them carefully to keep your store stable and responsive.
Site Search and Layered Navigation
These are some of the most important aspects of an eCommerce UX, having a direct impact on conversion rates. They need to be functional, usable, and fast.
But their speed is very sensitive to custom modifications. Without careful profiling and optimization, there is a chance that conversion rates are going to drop.
When talking about search capabilities, the default search results and therefore conversion rates could be dramatically improved by using third-party search providers or engines like Solr, Elastic Search, or commercial providers like Algolia and Klevu. (The advantage commercial providers offer is simpler and faster setup and configuration.)
Checkout is often an underestimated part of the eCommerce website. Further, there is no generally accepted best method online due to differences in products and target customers.
Below are the most successful types of checkout pages used on eCommerce platforms:
One-page checkout—The default checkout implemented in Magento v1. Several steps are loaded sequentially within the same page as the customer populates the requested data: Billing and shipping addresses, selection of shipping method, selection of payment method, and order summary with a “Place Order” button.
Two-step checkout—The default checkout implemented in Magento v2. This is similar to the above, only several steps are aggregated together: Shipping and billing addresses alongside selection of shipping method, selection of payment method, and order summary are included in the same view.
One-step checkout—The third-party checkout option available on multiple eCommerce platforms. This slightly AJAX-overloaded checkout option keeps all input fields on the same screen at a time, constantly updating required portions of the screen based on customer input. It does more HTTP requests to the server than the above options and therefore could cause a longer time to complete, depending on the customer’s input actions. (Users with less-than-ideal internet connections may be especially annoyed.)
External checkout options like PayPal Express—Redirects the customer to the third-party URL out of the store and returns back to the main store upon completion. It is easier to implement, and all the risk of credit card data theft is transferred to the third-party provider.
The impact on conversion for each type of checkout is often company-specific. The general rule is that checkout screens should be built with a minimalistic design. Remove all elements of distraction, like the main menu, header elements, and even the footer. This forces the customer to focus on finalizing the purchase.
If attackers inject malicious code into an online store, they can steal private information like credit card data without the merchant even knowing.
Coding best practices, avoiding custom files in the webroot, forms protection, and proper setup even on the hosting provider’s side are crucial for preventing attacks. Updating your store immediately whenever new versions and security patches are published is just as important.
Unexpected slowdown? Weird admin accounts appearing in the back-end? Audit your platform and custom code.
For Magento in particular, MageReport is a great online scanner for detecting security-related issues. Run a tool like this regularly. Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks in particular can be countered with CDN services like CloudFlare.
Ready to Ride the Wave?
Hiring eCommerce experts and building a quality online store is not an easy task. The booming eCommerce industry is waiting for you—and with some careful selection and planning, you can be a part of it too!