Being an entrepreneur when you have no previous experience in entreprise creation can appear to be quite a challenge, especially if you already have a good position in a company, a decent salary and your family with you. This, and the great growth of the sector (+36% of sales in Asia in 2014), can lead a few people to go for the not too risky type of business, which is eCommerce. I am saying so because of the limited initial investment, the absence of space to buy or loan, the opportunities in eCommerce in Asia and the fact that customers will already know your products.
In this article, we will only discuss about the technical and marketing aspects of eCommerce company creation. Discussing about the legal and financial requirements would, unfortunately, need several publications. We are about to showcase your 3 main options when it comes to creating your online store. As you will see, your choices should then be guided only by your budget and, even more importantly, your belief in your project.
Self-hosted online platforms
There are quite a few platforms available on internet that allow you to create your shop for free - or little money. Etsy is one of the most known; this website allows you to create a "mini-store" online where you can showcase and sell your products. This website is mostly used for custom handmade products but can be also a platform to start your activity. The shop creation leads you through various options on how to present your products and let you publish it within minutes.
Another solution, a bit more customized, is Shopify. Unlike Etsy, Shopify allows you to have your own URL leading to your boutique. It also comes with more customization options and several themes that will not exist in Etsy. The drawback is that you have to pay a monthly fee in order to maintain your shop. Additionally, the transaction fees can be seen as quite high.
These two solutions are perfect if you expect little business on your eCommerce site and if you want to create your platform quickly, on a budget. These can be a really good start for entrepreneurs-to-be who can't fully involve themselves in their project yet.
"Generic" CMS with cart plugin
If you quit your job in order to start your eCommerce activity, you should at least start with your own platform. And this, for several reasons:
- You will be able to keep your costs low, even if your business grows. Indeed, your transaction fees will be much lower with your own platform, especially if you work with online banks such as Paypal - fees of 50 cents + 3.9% of the item price as of 27 February 2015.
- You will have more options to make your business grow: Looking for a special promotion on Valentine's Day? Go to the back-office and create a voucher; you now just have to advertise about it! Out-of-the-box, your own platform should offer you more customization options than any free platform.
- Your platform will evolve with your business. A major drawback of the free eCommerce solutions are that they are very difficult to modify. The source files are usually non-editable and it will not fit the needs of a larger online store.
- Your business will look more professional. Your clients will notice the confidence that you have in your business and it will definitely help you.
- Your business can be unique. As you won't rely on a template that is proposed to thousands of other free clients, you will be able to offer a very unique experience to each of your customers.
If you are confident enough with your business to acquire your own platform but you want to keep your budget as low as possible, an option that is offered to you is to use a CMS-based platform with a special cart plugin. Several websites are developed under Wordpress with a specific plugin for instance that allows the admin to sell products directly from the Wordpress platform. These plugins offer a bit more flexibility with several options that would play a part in your business (vouchers, languages, currencies, orders management, carriers...).
As these platforms are less effective than fully dedicated eCommerce CMS, you can develop your website at a lower price. This solution is particularly used by digital marketing agencies who have little knowledge in development and who will just have to buy a plugin and make a theme for Wordpress.
Fully dedicated eCommerce platform
If you are fully sure that your business will take-off and you are ready to make the move for it, then you should definitely opt for a professional website with an eCommerce CMS. These CMS are dedicated for eCommerce websites and cover the full panel of options that you might need for your company. They also offer you all the flexibility that you want with a website and let you manage your costs accurately.
Magento is currently the most used eCommerce CMS. It is a very powerful web application with thousands of settings and it can adapt to many different types of shops. Whilst it was more flexible than PrestaShop in the last few years (notably with the possibility to have several shops under a single platform), the gap is getting very narrow and both products are very close to each other. Magento is however slower than PrestaShop - which could have a little effect on sales - and its back-office is more complex.
PrestaShop has been created in the late 2000's. It is a very strong challenger to the existing solutions as there has been a good number of updates in little time. With its latest version (1.6), PrestaShop has joined the club of the best eCommerce CMS. Indeed, this marked the introduction of fully responsive eCommerce store, additional options and a better flexibility for developers. This platform is faster than Magento and the back-office is easier to understand. Simplicity does not mean laziness - you will still be able to edit thousands of settings (cart rules, automatic currency rates, tracking systems of carriers, free wrapping...) with just a few clicks.
When starting your eCommerce business, you should measure your involvement level. If you still have a job or if you are not sure about the outcome of your idea and want to make a test, it would be wise to opt for an Etsy shop. If you want to keep cost at the lowest - especially if you do not expect large sales at first - a Shopify shop is a good choice for you, it looks good and will help you show a bigger level of commitment than with an Etsy shop.
This solution however has numerous shortcomings and, if you business grows, you should soon find yourself looking at eCommerce-oriented CMS. This is also true if you have a particular idea of user-experience for your clients right from the start of your project. Both Magento and PrestaShop (and a few others) will offer you a wide range of possibilities and will give you the opportunity to easily track your stocks - which is key in this field of activity. When you are ready to make the move, feel free to contact us and we will be more than happy to assist you with your project.
The CMS with plugins solution is something you should avoid at all costs. Despite this solution being cheaper on the short-run, you will encounter limitations quite fast and you would then need to choose an eCommerce-oriented CMS, requiring a greater budget to switch due to your existing business activity.