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Digital Business Articles for the Outdoors Industry

"I NEED TO UPDATE MY ECOMMERCE WEBSITE. SHOULD I CHOOSE WOOCOMMERCE, SHOPIFY.....?”

WHY YOU MIGHT NEED TO CHANGE?

When it comes to choosing a new ecommerce platform for your outdoors equipment business, the decisions are probably harder to make than they are when you first start out. After all, you and your team have got used to a particular way of working and understand the benefits and limitations of your current platform. You've also got a lot of data in there (products, customers, orders, media files, etc.) and you may well have integrations with accounting systems, live chat services, courier companies and the like. In fact, you need a really good reason to change at all!

However, even with all the hassle, cost, planning and risk, the average time in the UK between major ecommerce upgrades is only 3 years. Why is this the case?

  • Changes in technology, customer expectations and competition. Unless you operate in some specific niches where customers are more forgiving than the average outdoors enthusiast, customer expectations for B2C and B2B ecommerce are changing rapidly, largely driven by new technologies and also the ability to integrate additional services. At the same time, your competitors don't stand still, so there's always a kind of sector-specific 'arms race' going on - you can modify and hack your existing platform for a while, but a replatforming is usually necessary eventually.

  • The nature of the market for ecommerce solutions changes rapidly. This has less to do with new technologies and is driven more by big brand or retailer developments and updated product offerings from ecommerce providers. Moving to a platform that better suits your own business needs and/or resources and skills is often the most powerful argument for change.

  • Cost. As the more fundamental building-blocks of ecommerce such as hosting become commoditised, but newer technologies carry premium price-tags, it's easy to find your business paying over-the-odds for legacy services and less able to afford the shiny new services that a competitor has. Updating those fundamental building-blocks often provides the scope for faster websites at lower cost and the ability to invest in the clever kit.


SHOPIFY, WOOCOMMERCE OR SOMETHING ELSE?

There are a plethora of ecommerce platforms to choose from and, for the purposes of this guide, I'm going to ignore the enterprise level offerings like Netsuite, Episerver and Magento Enterprise, although Resonant has several years' experience with Magento Enterprise clients and it's a good, cost-effective option for businesses with £5m+ website revenues.
Below this level, there are still many options with all manner of strengths and weaknesses. Resonant works with Magento for larger clients and Shopify and Woocommerce for smaller clients because, unlike most typical web agencies that will offer a specific platform, our goal is find the right platform for the client. Shopify and Woocommerce represent the best-developed platforms for the two major ways of buying ecommerce functionality. These are the 'one box' hosted solutions (Shopify, BigCommerce, SquareSpace, etc.) and the 'two box' self-hosted solutions (Woocommerce, PrestaShop, OpenCart, etc.).


HOSTED VS SELF-HOSTED ECOMMERCE

If you're reading this article, you probably already know that you can either opt for a 'traditional' infrastructure where you build an ecommerce website using a free or paid software package and then buy a hosting package separately OR you opt for a SaaS (software as a service) solution where the hosting and website building tools are combined in one package. Woocommerce is a leading example of self-hosted and Shopify is a leading example of SaaS.
Now, if you're looking for a definitive 'this is the best way to go', I'm going to disappoint you! It all depends on your needs as a client. However, here are some of the key differences and they probably explain why Resonant doesn't offer a single solution to clients:

  • Hosted solutions are generally less flexible but usually offer a faster route to launch, whilst self-hosted packages often allow you to achieve exactly what you want, but will require significant modification and extension from an in-house team or agency.

  • Hosted solutions have more or less effective app stores (widely-used services, like Shopify, have good app stores because there's a lot of users to sell to). However, you may be limited in choice for a specific functionality, but you will know that the app is certified for use. Conversely, self-hosted packages, especially Woocommerce, have lots of similar add-ons for most functionality and it's largely up to you or your developer to decide which ones to use i.e. there are no guarantees that it will work well in your environment.

  • In general, a poor developer can wreak more havoc with your site using self-hosted packages, simply because there's a lot that can be tailored and changed in the code. However, if you have a good developer and relatively complex requirements, a self-hosted package will usually be the only option (and will likely work out cheaper in the long run, as additional functionality is often charged monthly for services like Shopify.


PROBABLY THE EASIEST WAY TO MAKE YOUR CHOICE IS TO THINK ABOUT 3 RELATED ASPECTS OF YOUR REQUIREMENTS.

  1. If your requirements are relatively straightforward and don't require lots of additional functionality and integrations, a SaaS package will be quicker to build and easier to maintain, but accept that there are limits to what you can do. If you need customisation and have a specific idea of the architecture that will be most effective, you'll need more expertise, time and money and a package like Woocommerce, coupled with fast hosting, will work well and be reasonably flexible for future change.

  2. If you're looking for low-cost solutions, either because it's a new venture or an additional website, a self-hosted solution will be cheaper over time, although you'll need to understand Wordpress and Woocommerce site builds if you're to avoid developer fees, which can be substantial (and should be, if they're any good!). Woocommerce sits on top of Wordpress (a very popular content management system) and can be hosted on a good platform for under £50/month if necessary.

  3. Most fundamentally, if your outdoors business is wanting to use ecommerce as a channel and is really focused on marketing and customer acquisition, then a hosted solution avoids the need for lots of tech resource (internal or external). Updates and maintenance are handled by the solution provider, such as Shopify, leaving you to think about copy, Google feeds, photography and the like. If ecommerce is core to your business, then you probably already have the internal skills to use a self-hosted solution effectively and more cheaply.


Moving ecommerce platforms is a big decision and the process is NEVER as easy as developers with a vested interest will suggest. If you want to understand the real benefits and risks of migrating and which platforms are likely to suit your needs best, just get in touch for a conversation here.

Andrew AtkinsResonant