Exceeding Your Website's Functionality
Whenever we meet with a client, we always assess the client's business requirements to define which type of website and functionalities the website should have. Sometimes, clients don't realize they need a large build such as an e-commerce site or a social network. While they all look like websites to the untrained eye, they are very different behind the scenes. Conversely, numerous times we have offered a smaller system than they asked for after realizing that they don't need something excessively large. And the most common approach is always, "start small and if you grow, you can expand accordingly". This reduces the initial overhead and makes the project more affordable since you will be paying for something when you need it and not too far ahead of your needs. But what happens when you have exceeded your website's capabilities and need to expand? How do you know you need to expand your system to allow for growth? Keep reading and hopefully, we can get to answer these questions.
Launching your website for the first time should be a task that focuses primarily on educating your market and audience that you are a new player in town and another option to consider. Unless you are strictly an online business, your website should focus on driving traffic and conversion to your brick-and-mortar location. There is hardly ever a need to create complicated account systems, e-commerce platforms, or anything of that magnitude. Instead, you should plan on building the product line and your service procedures meanwhile your website is working on making your clientele grow. For the sake of keeping this blog simpler, we will stick to the e-commerce example since it's the most common nowadays.
After your website has run for a period of time and driven sufficient traffic to your brand, you may be thinking of the possibility of offering your product line on the website and start generating online sales. This is a big undertaking but very much worth it. In today's technological world, many people would rather buy online than to drive somewhere to purchase something they are already familiar with. I cannot think of one retail business that doesn't have an online store and there is a reason for that. Even those businesses that are not retail have an online shop offering novelty items of their brand for customers who are willing to support them. This is when your website will require an upgrade. It has served its marketing purpose and it is continuing to do that job. But now it is about to be responsible for a whole new system of operations that it cannot handle at its current state. It needs an e-commerce platform.
Can't I Just Ask For A PayPal Payment?
This may work in very particular cases but it is not going to be very helpful when you need to offer more complicated products. Say, for example, you are a personal trainer and you decided to sell a workout download program. You could simply add your source for the program (MP4 file or PDF file, etc) and have a PayPal button to request payment. Or have a PayPal button asking for payment and you send the file later via email. This can work! But if you were selling shoes, and you carried more than one style. Each style in 10 different sizes. And each style also has 3 color variations; you have complicated the options in such a way that your website will not be able to provide the ability to buy any unpredicted combination of those options without making the design very convoluted. It will eventually drive the customer's cognitive friction very high and cause unnecessary frustrations. You could end up having an unsuccessful try that will discourage you from growing further. Not to mention some investment loss.
Although a PayPal button is the main feature that speaks to you when you are thinking of selling online, it is not the main feature when selling online. PayPal is a payment processing service. Not an e-commerce service. There are more moving parts that need to be in place, that will eventually lead to the PayPal button
What Do I Get In An e-Commerce Website?
Some of the most useful features you will have in a full e-commerce platform are:
- Inventory Management - On the admin side of your e-commerce website you will find a section where you will have all your products. When you set up your product, you will be able to define all of its variations (color, size, gender, etc), a photo for each variation, a specific tax rule, dimensions to be calculated in shipping, and more. All of these variations allow your e-commerce front-end to display your item once and along with it, the choices for users to pick the combination of size and color or gender, etc that they want. This organizes your catalog so that you are not offering 20 or more PayPal buttons for each possible combination of variations
- Store catalog - If you sell more than one item or item category, you can organize your catalog in a way that makes sense and it's easy for the users to find what they need. In addition, your products are searchable and the user can find it by using the search box usually located within the store pages, the header or the footer of the site.
- Shopping Cart - e-Commerce websites come with a cart that the user can use to collect the items they are most interested in and buy them in bulk with one payment. Even if your items come from different suppliers as it is the case for direct shipping sellers. This makes everything much easier for the user rather than completing several transactions on every PayPal button click.
- Sales and Discounts - Many modern e-commerce platforms have the ability to offer discounted rates, free shipping, flash sales, coupons, and more.
- Account Management - Every user has the option to create an account or buy as a guest. This helps them review the status of their order and history in case they want to repeat a purchase but can't remember which size they bought. Among other uses such as leaving reviews and sharing a product which can be activated by the admin
- Tax Calculations and Customization - By far the most difficult thing for your programmer to do and probably the most important for you as a business owner is making sure that the taxes are calculated correctly. Not only it is illegal to collect too much or not enough tax, but it also illegal to ignore it and evade it. This alone should be a determining factor. An alternative and less expensive option are to factor your tax into the product. Not entirely illegal, but very hard on your accountant since all that your accountant will see is the final sale price and not a price with tax included.
- Shipping Rules and Services - Most e-commerce platforms come with FedEx, UPS, and USPS integration that you can acquire separately for a yearly fee of $80 on average. By having these integrations, you can calculate a tax anywhere in the world your customer lives and it will match your carrier's charge. This helps with ensuring you will not overcharge in shipping or lose money by not charging enough. Not to mention, you will be able to print your own shipping labels are a discounted price and have a carrier pick it up or drop it off without standing in line after a long day of work to ship your item
As you can see, the features are invaluable and the convenience it provides is far too great to overlook. But there is one more question left! Can you just add this to my current website without rebuilding my website on an e-commerce platform? Of course, it can be done! In fact, many large scale corporations are this way, such as Target, Walmart, and Kohls. However, building something like this from scratch will require a full staff of developers, thousands of hours of design, development, data modeling, security implementations, and many other aspects that e-commerce platforms already have under-the-hood and ready to use with reasonable modifications. They are not always as easy as turning a button on or off. In many cases, it still requires hours of programming, but it is significantly less effort than building everything from scratch.
Business requirements often surpass the capabilities of their websites and that is a good problem to have. It is evidence of growth. As much as it pains us to invest in it, it is a necessity. After all, you have been caring for your website this whole time and the website has been good for you that it brought you that growth. It would be a shame to deprive it of an honorable and suitable upgrade that will potentially provide you of more growth! Have a conversation with your design and development company if you have any other concerns. They have the answers and know these platforms better than anyone.