In ecommerce, there are times where a “one size fits all” approach just doesn’t work. Even for niche brands and products, oftentimes customer bases are too diverse to apply a single strategy that adequately meets their target audience’s needs.
That’s why custom, bespoke development is sometimes needed.
Custom ecommerce website development involves creating a unique solution — be it frontend, backend development, or a third-party integration. This is required when, for example, an out-of-box solution is missing a key component that your customers are looking for.
Custom development acknowledges that not all audiences are the same and some have specific needs.
One study found 42% of users will leave a site due to poor functionality. It’s important to get design right and give customers what they want, how they want it. Custom development helps do just that.
Developing a custom ecommerce website
Building a custom ecommerce website isn’t simple. It can be time- and resource-intensive. Done correctly, the return on investment and increased conversion rate can be significant.
These steps are a good order of operations to follow:
Identify the business processes and requirements.
The process starts with taking a deep dive into your own business model and what you can — and cannot — do. You should have a full understanding of what your customers want and expect in their ecommerce experience and map your website to that.
Design an intuitive user interface.
An attractive UI that makes online shopping a breeze and makes it easy to navigate your site reduces friction in the purchase path.
This connects users to products easily and quickly, reduces frustration, and leads to increased sales. This extends to the content management system, which should be easy for content owners to use.
Unique functionality may include personalization or payment gateways that accept digital payments such as PayPal.
This kind of additional functionality helps a platform stand out in a crowded ecommerce market and gives customers more reason to make a purchase. Specific ecommerce software development may be needed.
Test for quality and efficiency.
Quality assurance is typically the penultimate step before deployment. Here, you’ll proofread content, stress test the site under heavy use, and ensure that security standards are met.
Execute the deployment process.
At last, it’s time to unveil your online business. Hopefully, all of your hard work put in prototyping and building the site has paid off, your deployment is smooth, and a user-friendly customer experience positively impacts the bottom line.
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Key features of custom ecommerce websites
Versus all-in-one solutions, custom online stores are more malleable. They provide more options, both on the frontend and backend.
No licensing fees.
Pre-built solutions or templates carry with them annual expenses. Think WordPress and its massive library of plugins. Licensing fees will be a permanent expense as long as you use the platform and become a baked-in expense.
Unique brand identity.
Custom sites aren’t tied to a specific platform, enabling developers and designers to make them however they wish. This freedom can be an extension of the brand and allow it to have a heavier influence on design.
Ecommerce solutions are often reliant on the vendor for help in scaling a site up or down. With a custom approach, this control is in the hands of the owner.
Custom ecommerce website challenges to keep in mind
Compared to all-in-one options, the freedom that comes with custom sites may be enticing, they offer some unique drawbacks as well. You should be mindful of this when exploring a custom option.
Significant upfront cost.
SaaS options have little upfront costs, while custom sites are the complete opposite. They require significant resources in money and talent to launch, although the monthly costs may be lower.
Longer time to market.
Development takes time, especially compared to out-of-box solutions. BigCommerce enterprise clients often launch in under 90 days. Custom solutions will take much longer.
The burden of maintenance and hosting for custom sites falls on the builder. If you need an upgrade or security patch, you must do that yourself. You’ll also need to retain talent that understands your system.
Sourcing developer talent for an ecommerce website
There are sources to draw from, however.
Creating or leveraging an internal team.
If you have the in-house team to build a site and the resources to support them, then it is wise to hand the development process over to them. They have a better understanding of your tech ecosystem and how to best fit an ecommerce site in it.
Hiring freelance professionals.
There are numerous talented freelancers with accomplished portfolios that offer custom ecommerce development services. They may be able to deliver an excellent custom ecommerce platform, although they may have competing priorities that may slow the project.
Professional agencies or dev shops.
There are creative agencies and development companies that specialize in high-quality web design and ecommerce web development. They may be costly, however, and ongoing maintenance should be considered.
Custom ecommerce development costs
There are going to be two buckets of expenses: the cost to build the site and the cost to keep it up.
These can vary wildly based on business needs as what a startup requires is very different from what a large enterprise does. Being able to maximize the return on your site investment means more resources can be used elsewhere.
Initial build cost.
The initial build of custom ecommerce software and websites includes design, development, and deployment. Depending on the complexity of your site, you may spend up to low five figures to initially stand your site up. Additional custom software development may also be necessary.
Ongoing maintenance expenses.
An ecommerce site is never finished and requires constant maintenance and optimization. This may include security, content updates, search engine optimization (SEO), or licenses. Smaller sites may run around $6,000 a year. Larger sites will reach mid-five figures.
Depending on the size of your site and where it’s hosted (SaaS versus self-hosted), you can expect to pay up to $250 a month. Massive enterprise sites such as Amazon will be much higher.
Investment in integrations.
The best way to add new functionality may be through third-party APIs, like a customer relationship manager (CRM) or an enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution.
Features such as payment gateways, customer support, optimized checkout processes, automated workflows, or omnichannel selling may be best done through outside systems.
There’s also the need to consider mobile devices with mobile apps that meet the same quality of the desktop version. These bring with them monthly expenses.
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The final word
Building a custom ecommerce solution may or may not be your best solution to meet your business needs. The pros (added control, freedom in design) may outweigh the cons (more complexity, longer development time).
Take a deep dive into your problem and your organization to fully understand your business goals and what the best course of action is.