e-Commerce Website Development: The Only Guide You’ll Ever Need
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In the past decade, the world has seen meteoric growth in the e-commerce sector. In 2021 alone, global retail e-commerce sales amounted to nearly $5 trillion, and the number is expected to grow by a whopping 50%, reaching $7.4 trillion by 2025.
As digital commerce proves lucrative and profitable, merchants of all kinds swarm the online space. Numerous individuals open online shops as their side hustles, entrepreneurs build companies with digital business models, and brick-and-mortar sellers start developing online sales channels.
All these give rise to one big trend: heightening demand for e-commerce website development.
It’s against this backdrop that this guide is born. Following, we’ll discuss the essentials of website development for e-commerce, covering the options, steps and considerations for creating an e-commerce website. Let’s get started!
3 options to create an e-commerce website
e-Commerce website development is the process of building and designing an online store from which customers make purchases. Creating an online shop used to require extensive coding and technical expertise, but that’s no longer the case today.
This section discusses three options you can use to create an e-commerce website, which are:
1. e-Commerce website builders
e-Commerce website builders are no-code or low-code platforms designed to help users create online shops.
With customizable templates and drag-and-drop tools, these SaaS solutions are easy to use and quick to set up, making them ideal for merchants who want to get their online stores up and running at speed.
Another advantage of using online store builders is that they usually come with extensive pre-built or add-on capabilities, such as online payment processing, order management and inventory management.
For instance, merchants using Shopify, an e-commerce platform, can easily collect payments from customers who use credit cards, Google Pay or Apple Pay. The platform also has its own inventory management system to help users track and manage inventory.
e-Commerce website builder examples:
2. Open-source software
There are plenty of open-source software built for e-commerce. While these platforms give you complete control over the source codes and are highly customizable, they’re generally more difficult to set up and maintain. You’ll need to take care of issues like hosting, security and PCI compliance too.
Given the complexity of managing an online store built on open-source platforms, this option is best suited for businesses that have the support of software development specialists.
Open-source e-commerce software examples:
- WooCommerce (on WordPress)
- Zen Cart
3. Custom e-commerce website development
Custom e-commerce sites are typically built by experienced web developers or companies.
Building an e-commerce store from scratch no doubt requires considerable amounts of time and money, but the finished site would be unique to your brand. It can be tailored to the exact needs of your business as well.
To illustrate this, multilingual sites can be built for global brands, the checkout process can be customized based on your product offerings, and the front- and back-end designs can be made to your specification. The possibilities of a custom e-commerce site are virtually limitless — or limited only by your imagination.
5 steps to build an e-commerce website from scratch
Now that we’ve explored some options for creating an online store, let’s dive into the steps of building an e-commerce website from scratch.
Broadly speaking, the process of e-commerce website development can be broken down into five steps:
Step 1: Define business goals
No two online stores are ever the same, as an e-commerce website is built to meet the needs of the business it represents.
The digital storefront of an online cake shop, for example, would be vastly different from a store that sells books. The former provides more options for customization (e.g. size, flavor, message tag, etc.), whereas the latter tends be more informative on the product pages:
Therefore, it’s crucial to ask the wh-questions for your business before building an e-commerce website. Below are some questions to help define your business objectives:
- Why do you need an e-commerce store?
- What products are you going to sell?
- Where do you sell — locally or globally?
- Which business model will you use — B2B or B2C?
- Who are your target customers?
- How many SKUs will you have?
Step 2: Perform market research
Once you’ve settled on the business goals, you can move on to market research.
This step essentially involves surveying other e-commerce shops in your niche, so that you’ll have an idea of how to structure your site, what features you need and how to best present your brand online.
Step 3. Devise the intended shopping experience
Next, think about the kind of shopping experience that customers would like. This can be done by putting yourself into the shoes of online shoppers. Below are some features and case examples to illustrate this.
(a) Search bars and filters
In real life, it’d be unrealistic to expect visitors to browse every single item at your online store, especially when you have a lot of SKUs. That’s why search bars and filters are important. They help visitors navigate your site and quickly find the products they want.
Regarding the use of filters, here’s an example from Lululemon’s online store:
Lululemon also provides a search bar for users to find desired product items:
(b) Product comparison
If you’ve bought an iPhone before, you’ve probably experienced the dilemma of choosing between two phone models (usually the newest model vs. a cheaper but older alternative).
In this kind of scenario, a product comparison feature would be useful. Below is an example from Apple Inc.:
(c) One-page checkout
In an attempt to streamline the checkout process and reduce cart abandonments, some online stores use one-page checkout instead of multiple pages. An example is Under Armour:
Step 4: Choose a web development vendor
After devising the ideal shopping experience, it’s time to turn your thoughts into reality with the help of a reliable web development vendor.
Depending on your personal connections, budget and requirements, you may work with a freelance web developer, an agency or use your in-house team. Alternatively, e-commerce platforms like Shopify and Magneto are easy places to start.
Step 5. Test, deploy and launch
Last but not least, make sure you test-drive your e-commerce site before launch.
Check that all links and payment integrations are functional. The site should be responsive, working well on devices of different sizes. Also look for missing texts, products or images.
Most importantly, walk yourself through the entire purchase process — from product browsing to checkout — to make sure nothing is faulty.
8 considerations in e-commerce website development
Lastly, we’ll talk about some considerations to be kept in mind when developing an e-commerce website. These considerations are categorized into three major aspects, and explained in detail in each subsection below:
1. Core features
1.1 Order management
Customer orders lie at the heart of an online store, so an e-commerce website is fundamentally valueless if it doesn’t have an order management system.
In its simplest form, the order management dashboard should give an uncluttered view of all orders placed at an online store. This includes information like order number, date, customer name, order value, payment status and shipping status.
A dashboard that is clean and easy to use will allow digital merchants to view, track and act on customer orders efficiently, hence optimizing the e-commerce fulfillment process.
1.2 Inventory management
Inventory management capabilities are essential to any online business selling physical goods.
For starters, admins should be able to view, track and amend stock levels in the backend of the website. Low-stock alerts, reports and analytics are desirable features too.
Depending on the nature and scale of the business, an e-commerce website may also need to provide tools for tracking product variants, arranging stock transfers or managing multi-channel inventory.
1.3 Checkout and payments
Making offline bank transfers is the old way of paying for an online order, used mostly by those who are technologically illiterate nowadays. The vast majority of online purchasers, on the other hand, expect a smooth, if not seamless checkout process on-site.
Translating words into data, research revealed that more than half (58%) of consumers would quit if the checkout process is too complicated. Another conversion killer is the absence of customers’ desired payment methods, with 42% of online shoppers posting this as a reason for cart abandonment.
So, here’s the takeaway.
Building an e-commerce website isn’t only about writing codes that work. It’s about optimizing workflow, creating positive user experiences and maximizing revenue for digital merchants. These are key considerations to be kept in mind when creating an online shop.
2. User experience
2.1 Responsive web design
Responsive web design (RWD) refers to a web development approach that makes a website adapt to different screen and window sizes. In other words, web content would automatically fit into whatever device (mobile, desktop or tablet) that the user is viewing it with.
Considering that 72.9% of retail e-commerce sales are now made on mobile devices, having a responsive website is crucial for meeting the needs and behavior of new-age consumers. It’ll not only boost usability, but also reduce bounce rate and help improve e-commerce conversion.
2.2 Loading speed
Ideally, a website should load within 2 seconds or less. When the page load time increases from 1 second to 3 seconds, the probability of bounce increases by 32%, found a study by Google.
That’s terrible news for e-commerce businesses. Visitors don’t even view your products after entering your store.
To optimize a site’s loading speed, below are some actions that can be done:
- Minimize HTTP requests
- Minimize external scripts
You may also read our blog on e-commerce best practices for the complete checklist on site performance optimization.
3. Marketing and growth
3.1 Content management system
A content management system, sometimes abbreviated as CMS, is an application that helps users create, edit and manage digital content. An example that involves the use of a CMS is the publishing of blogs on a website.
Why does an e-commerce website need a CMS?
The answer may not be immediately apparent to those who are new to digital commerce, but rest assured that content marketing is conducive to business growth.
In a survey conducted by Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs, a vast majority (79%) of respondents suggested that content marketing had helped them create brand awareness. Around two-thirds (63-67%) of marketers also successfully built trust, educated audiences and gained customer loyalty through content creation.
So, content marketing may not rank first on the to-do lists of small and new e-commerce businesses, but it’s certainly beneficial to business growth in the long run. The importance of incorporating a CMS in an e-commerce store, therefore, should not be overlooked.
Source: B2C Content Marketing 2019: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends — Content Marketing Institute/MarketingProfs
3.2 Search engine optimization
Simply put, search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving a website’s ranking and visibility on web search results, such as those on Google, Yahoo! or Bing. Done well, it could drive traffic (i.e. visitors) to your e-commerce website, broadening the pool of people who may buy from your store.
From a web development perspective, below are some best practices that would lay a solid foundation for technical SEO:
- Keep the site architecture simple
- Secure the site with HTTPS
- Improve the site speed
- Make the site mobile-responsive
- Use an SEO-friendly URL structure
- Add structured data
3.3 Dashboards and analytics
While they’re not essential to running an online store, analytics tools are definitely good to have. They’ll give insights on product sales, customer behavior and other aspects to inform business growth strategies.
Taking Shopline as an example, the e-commerce platform provides insights into the conversion funnel at online stores:
Utilizing this data, digital merchants will be able to identify where they lose visitors, and take corresponding actions to reduce cart abandonments and improve conversion rate.
Some last words
With the abundance of easy-to-use e-commerce website builders nowadays, creating an online store has become much easier than before. That being said, an e-commerce business is easier started than maintained. You can create a digital storefront in a few hours, but spend months or years mastering the science of running an e-commerce business.
We hear you, and Choco Up is here to help.
Being a global technology and financial services platform, we not only offer revenue-based financing — a type of flexible, zero-equity funding — for digital merchants and startups. We also provide a wide array of how-to articles and business growth solutions for our clients.
Whether you’re just starting out or trying to grow an e-commerce business, Choco Up can always be your trusted funding and growth partner.
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