The Myth of Building a Simple eCommerce Website


How many times has a client asked you to build a “simple” site involving eCommerce? I’ve heard it myself on a number of occasions. At first, you may think that the project really will be simple. But, once you’re in the middle of it, you come to the realization that it’s more of a challenge than first thought.

Why do these projects often turn out to be so difficult? Who’s to blame? Should web designers be doing anything differently to account for this? Let’s explore each of these questions and see if we can find some realistic solutions. In the process, maybe we’ll even save our sanity!

The Plain Truth about Ecommerce Platforms

From my experience, each and every eCommerce site I’ve built has come with a caveat. An often simple-sounding, but strangely difficult requirement that ends up taking way too much time and budget. Why? Because it’s something whichever platform we’re using doesn’t handle by default.

It could be something as simple as table rate shipping or adding a custom field to the checkout. As an example, I recently worked on a site where allowing shopkeepers to manually enter in new orders through the backend turned into a fiasco.

While it’s quite possibly a result of my own limitations – I’m going to venture out on a limb and say that it’s something a bit more. Seeing this happen time and again has led me to two conclusions:

  1. I need to further my education when it comes to custom-building things.
  2. There really is no such thing as a “one size fits all” eCommerce platform (at least, not for small and medium budget shops).

And, frankly, it’s quite understandable that WooCommerce, Magento, et al can’t possibly be everything for everyone. While you can often add functionality through add-ons or your own custom code, there’s simply no way to account for every possible use case.

Sometimes, it’s more a matter of getting lucky in finding a smart developer who hit the same roadblock and developed a solution.

Otherwise, you might be on your own. Even with SaaS providers like Miva or Shopify, their support is only going to help you so much when it comes to functionality that doesn’t exist (again – understandable).

. It may seem more than reasonable to your client and you might even feel the same. But it often leads to mutual frustration when it turns out that it either can’t be done or is going to cost a good deal of money to implement.

Knowing that there’s always something a platform can’t do out-of-the-box is the first step in avoiding these kinds of issues. Because of this, we can be upfront with clients about their functionality requirements right from the start.

When going over the specifics of the project, be sure to make it clear that there is no all-in-one solution. There may simply be things that the shopping cart doesn’t do and adding a particular bit of functionality could be difficult.

Of course, it’s always a good idea to try and get as many requirements as possible sorted out in the very beginning. Learning how the client wants to handle specific kinds of products, orders, accounts, etc. can help you spot any possible trouble spots. From there, you can perform some research to see what’s possible and what kind of effort it will take to make it happen.

This is often easier said than done, however. People may not necessarily know that they want a certain thing until they realize they want it. Therefore, it’s not always possible to see potential problems before they arise. But at least you’ll have some coverage if you’ve established an understanding straight from the beginning.

Accepting and Preparing for Unpredictability

Because Ecommerce can often bring surprises, it’s worth your while to account for this when pricing a project. Building in some extra wiggle room in your budget will allow you to tackle the unexpected without feeling shortchanged.

Even so, you should also advise clients that unforeseen roadblocks could result in extra costs. That will keep you covered should an issue become a time and resource hog.

Regardless of the platform you use, building an eCommerce website will always have some level of unpredictability to it. Whether it’s a project requirement or simply a software bug, things are never as simple as they may seem at the start.

Understanding this fact and setting appropriate expectations (both for you and your client) are among the best weapons you have at your disposal. It’s also important to learn as much as you can about the software you’re utilizing. Read the documentation, check out support forums and ask questions. Use your own experience as a guide.

Building a custom eCommerce site can be a very rewarding experience. Just don’t expect it to be simple!

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