E-Commerce Platform: Custom Development or Ready-Made

There are many ways to launch an e-commerce website; the best way comes down to your personal circumstances.

By Wadih Antoun

About 6 min read . May 28, 2020Web Design & Development

We’ve written quite a few articles on our blog about how businesses are moving online and what you need to get started. One topic which deserves an in-depth review is the actual platform you use to develop your website on. On a top level, there are two ways: Custom Development or Ready-Made.

Custom Development: This means you are building a website almost from scratch to cater to your needs. This houses a couple of options using open-source frameworks like WooCommerce or even completely custom libraries of code – but we won’t get into this here.

Ready-Made: You’re basically using a platform that is built for e-commerce over a subscription basis such as Shopify or Ecomz.

As in most cases in business, it’s not really a question of which one is better for an e-commerce website in absolute terms. They’re both powerful, but markedly different options if you’re looking to sell online. And if you’d like to skip to the result, well, which one is right for you will depend on your personal circumstances.

Let us do a more detailed comparison.

Criteria #1 - Features:

We started with the tough one. Arguably, a custom developed website can house any feature you might think of – because you’re fully in-control. However, having features built-in with a low cost and ready to use makes platforms like Shopify more accessible. Important features like abandoned cart recovery are vital to any big business and that’s something you get from the get-go. In the end, we’ll think of this as a tie between both options although you can more freely do this with Custom Development!

Criteria #2 – Time to Build:

This point goes to any ready-made platform by far. The key features are ready to use and the available themes just need to be populated with your content. The timeline can be days or a couple of weeks. If you’re building an online store from scratch via custom development, then you’re likely looking at a timeline of weeks and sometimes a couple of months depending on complexity.

Of course this is not factoring in data-entry, photography and content creation which is needed for both options.

Criteria #3 – Cost:

It’s a tricky criteria and can be misguiding. On the surface of things, Shopify’s basic monthly cost of $29/month makes it hard for a custom developments’ 3 or 4 figures of a cost to even compare. As an initial investment, custom development is a whole lot more demanding on the wallet.

The trick actually lies in looking at things long-term and weighing the cost of the control and limits you have. Shopify will charge you a percentage commission on every order. You’re also likely to accrue additional costs from third-part plugins or apps. And this adds-up. With custom development, you do have to accommodate for on-going hosting and maintenance costs as well.

There is no clear winner for this criteria and it comes down to the size of your business and concerns.

Criteria #4 – Maintenance & Updates:

The ready-made platforms takes this one. These platforms are dedicated to e-commerce and their huge technical teams are on top of updates, security fixes and overall general maintenance and feature additions. You can relax as your store grows because you know it won’t crash under the increased traffic and sales volume. Shopify is a scalable ecommerce platform because it can deal with any growth your store experiences. And although your custom development can of course accommodate this, it comes at a higher cost.

Criteria #5 – Design:

Custom development rules here. You’re totally in-control of the platform from the ground-up and the overall fluid experience across your website sections and e-commerce pages cannot be more seamless. Whether you’re using it for educating or enticing your customs or even up-selling for more sales, you’re free to do whatever you want and respect your overall brand communication style along the way. With a ready-made platform, there is some customization you can do, but you’re more or less stuck to what a theme and the platform processes ultimately allows.

You’re here for a quick answer, and you probably still don’t have it. That’s because this decision isn’t an easy one and requires a bit of reflection to better understand your needs, your business offering and what you can actually afford.

But we’ll make it easy for you…

If you’re starting out for the first time and you’re a small to medium sizes business, then a more intuitive platform like Shopify is a good option.

It's relatively cheap to launch and it's an excellent way to test your products, market, and clients. Later on, you can easily work on developing your custom website to accommodate what you feel is still lacking or to be more in-control.

Still not sure how to go about this? We’d be happy to chat about it some more and see what works for your business. Just get in touch to schedule a call.

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