What is a small business “Ecommerce” Website and Do I Need One?

These days, all you hear about is WordPress ecommerce websites. (Well, you may actually hear of other types of ecommerce sites, like Joomla or Magento, but for purposes of this article, we’re focusing on WordPress).

If you sell any type of goods or services (or even if you’re just thinking of selling goods or services), you’re more than likely going to be encouraged to get yourself a WordPress ecommerce site to do business on the web.

It wasn’t always this way. When ecommerce—the ability to buy or sell over the Internet—was first introduced, people seemed petrified. The thought of sharing crucial personal information like social security numbers, home addresses, and home phone numbers was simply unfathomable. And forget about using a credit card over the ‘net. It just wasn’t done.

But as always, Time heals all fears, hesitations and misgivings. Now people across the globe are engaging in ecommerce activities with nothing short of a vengeance. We buy, sell and trade any- and everything—from clothing to toys to shoes and music and books, and much, much more.

We have even tossed our early inhibitions to the wind and now share every juicy tidbit about every aspect our lives with complete strangers on social media, including what we had for breakfast and where we’re thinking of going for drinks this evening. But that, of course, is another story. For purposes of this article, we will focus on using the Internet to meet and satisfy the world’s rapidly-expanding ecommerce needs.

Which brings us to the crucial question: what exactly is “ecommerce” and how important is it to have a WordPress ecommerce website if you sell goods or services? We tackle these and other important questions below.

Definition of Ecommerce

Ecommerce is a blend of two words: “electronic” and “commerce.” According to NetworkSolutions.com, “electronic commerce or ecommerce is a term for any type of business or commercial transaction that involves the transfer of information across the Internet.” The information in question includes the buying, selling, and/or trading of goods and services, and the transmission of funds (money) and/or data necessary to complete the transaction.

Ecommerce is modern-day trade that is conducted in one or more of several ways: business-to-business, business-to-consumer, consumer-to-consumer, and consumer-to-business. TechTarget.com says that “e-commerce is conducted using a variety of applications, such as email, online catalogs and shopping carts, EDI (File Transfer Protocol) and web services.”  By the way, the term “ecommerce” has other nicknames, including  “e-business,” and “e-tail” (transactional processes).

Whatever term you may be familiar with, ecommerce boils down to one main activity: buying and selling things on the Internet.

Pros and Cons of Owning an Ecommerce Site

Every year, ecommerce becomes more wildly popular than the year before. The truth is, ecommerce brings in a staggering amount of money each year and seems to be out-performing the brick-and-mortar commerce that we all once knew and loved. But despite the amount of money it brings into the business community (see The Future of Ecommerce at the end of this article for some estimated dollar amounts), it’s still a good thing to examine the pros and cons of ecommerce to decide if it’s best for you and your small business WordPress website.

Here, in no particular order, are some of the pros and cons you should consider before you choose to establish and run a WordPress ecommerce website:

Pros:

With a WordPress ecommerce website, you can sell your goods and services “around the clock.” That’s right, because your business is on the web, it’s never really closed. This means that anyone anywhere can buy from your small business website any time of the day or night, whether you’re actually monitoring your site or whether you’re asleep and getting your snore on.

You can reach a national or international audience. As long as your prospective customers have access to the Internet and can understand your site’s language, and as long as you can ship (in the case of tangible items) to those countries or areas, the sky is the limit for your business.

Because your ecommerce site is actually “virtual real estate,” there is no real need for a brick-and-mortar store and all the associated overhead and maintenance required to keep it running smoothly. We’re not saying to get rid of your brick-and-mortar store if you have one; we’re only saying that you don’t need the traditional “store location” unless you really, really want one.

Your prospective customers can browse your site at their leisure, instead of only during set business hours. Because you never actually have to close when you’re on the Internet, your clients should be able to get any- and everything they need from you anytime of the day or night (with the exception of live phone or chat assistance—which happens to be one of the major con’s listed below).

If you or your professional WordPress ecommerce developer build your small business website correctly, it should have everything your online customers need to understand who you are, what you sell, and how to complete a purchase on their own.

For example, aside from the typical “About us” and “Shopping Cart” pages, your WordPress ecommerce website should have a “How to Use This Site” page that explains how to make a purchase set-by-step. There should also be a detailed FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) page that addresses the most common questions and annoying occurrences that customers experience so that new customers can find quick and satisfactory answers to their questions.

There should also be an easy-to-find “Contact” page with an auto-response feature so that once customers “send” a question, they will instantly know that it has been received, and that you will answer the question within  “X” number of hours.

You control the ads on your own WordPress ecommerce site. This is important, because there is nothing worse than having a competitor’s ad sitting right next to your ad on a website—especially if the competitor is offering the same product at a lower cost! If you use an ecommerce provider like Wix or Etsy, your competitor’s ad may show up on your page.

That is why, according to an article by Brittany Klontz on BPlans.com, “the media tends to take you more seriously on your own site than on Etsy,” especially if your site is well-designed and full of features and flexibility. Ms. Klontz goes on to say that “your own eCommerce site can also be better for customer referrals, as there’s less brand confusion and customers have an easier time of remembering your personal URL than that of your Etsy store.”

Of course, you may not have even considered using Etsy to establish an ecommerce site. We mention it here simply to bring to your attention the fact that having your own personalized, custom-built (or premium theme) ecommerce website rather than a website offered by an ecommerce provider can definitely offer the flexibility and branding possibilities you want in a business website.

Cons:

Sure, your WordPress small business ecommerce website is “open” 24 hours per day, but you aren’t. You can’t work 24 hours a day. Nobody can. This means that during the times you or your designated employees are away from the site (typically during off hours or the times they are asleep), your customers on the other side of the country or the other half of the world will be subjected to limited or automated customer service assistance (versus live service representatives).

Face it, online customers don’t expect you to need sleep, or even to take a break. Ever. Plus, lightning-fast technology typically leaves people feeling that they shouldn’t have to wait for anything—especially an answer to a question about a product they’re considering purchasing from you. Even if you place a display in large, clear letters that says you will respond to customer requests within 24 hours, most customers will still feel this is way too long to wait for an answer—and this delay may actually lead to lost interest or sales.

Yes, your virtual business is open 24 hours a day, but so is your competition’s. Yes, the same Internet advantages your WordPress ecommerce business enjoys are also available for other Internet businesses that are in direct competition with you. Author Tom Caporaso of Sbnonline.com wrote an article that examines whether ecommerce is actually good for your business at all. In the article, he reminds business owners that just as you are able to reach a wider audience and possibly sell more items since you have no “open” and “close” times, so can every other merchant on the Internet.

Virtual shopping leads to shipping fees, delayed gratification (having to wait days for the item to be shipped—and even longer if the item is shipping to another continent or country), and not being able to try on, touch, or test an item before purchasing. Although society has become adept at the art of shopping for virtual items, the fact still remains that “one size DOES NOT fit all. Therefore, such purchases may lead to a higher rate of exchanges and/or returns versus actually having customers try out the item before buying.

Websites require maintenance, upkeep, and constant revamping in order to keep up with the latest features and dodge the latest viruses. This means that you or a WordPress website design expert will need to constantly monitor your site to keep it working at maximum efficiency and capacity. Since website monitoring is an ongoing activity, it can be pricey and time-consuming.

Security issues may make your head spin like a top. Credit card fraud, data security issues, and liberal credit card charge-back allowances are enough to turn anyone’s hair white, and yet these issues will definitely demand attention if you are going to run a safe and secure WordPress small business ecommerce site.

There are many more pros and cons associated with establishing, maintaining and running a successful small business ecommerce website: everything from the trauma of trying to restore a crashed or compromised website to avoiding fraud, scams, hijacks and data hacking. For a more complete list of the pros and cons of owning/running a small business ecommerce site, see author Ajeet Khurana’s TheBalance.com article entitled Advantages and Disadvantages of Ecommerce.

Ecommerce Solutions for Your Small Business Website

Just like everything else in the world, WordPress ecommerce website designers can offer a  variety of solutions for your website. Listed below is an assortment (though not an exhaustive list) of ecommerce cart solutions. The list is alphabetical and is presented only as an illustration of some of the choices available as you consider establishing and maintaining an ecommerce site. The exclusion of other known or even popular ecommerce solutions is not a statement of any kind. There is no preference or endorsement of one solution over another. This list is presented simply to get you started.

3dCart – This is software that seems to hit the floor running, with store, blog, email, newsletters, CRM and Point of Sale features already built into the software.

Cart66 – This is a WordPress shopping cart plugin that allows you to sell music, accept donations online, sell subscriptions and more. The fact that it’s a plugin means that you should be able to integrate it into any existing WordPress website so that you don’t have to start your business website from scratch.

Easy Digital Downloads – This is a popular free ecommerce plugin that, quite simply, allows you to sell digital downloads and track download activities. It is a plugin, which means that you should have no problem integrating it into any existing WordPress website you may already have up and running so that you don’t have to start your business website from scratch.

Magento – This is open-sourced software  that is an alternative to WordPress. It boasts “a global ecosystem of 150,000 developers and a network of 300+ highly-trained solution partners.” This means it’s always improving. It also means that there’s a ready-made community out there that will probably be able to answer your questions and lead you in the best direction for establishing and maintaining your ecommerce website.

Shopify – This is a software provider that gives business owners “everything they need to start and maintain an online store and sell online.” Shopify provides the theme/website and offers all the support you need to keep your site up and running.

Woocommerce – This is a free eCommerce plugin that allows business owners to sell anything online. It boasts of being “built to integrate seamlessly with WordPress.” It also gives store owners and site developers “complete control.”

Setting up Your WordPress Small Business Ecommerce Site

Once you and/or your WordPress website design expert decide what type of ecommerce solution you will pursue for your business, you’ll need to decide how you’re going to set it up. We have covered some of the following options in earlier articles about how DIY’ers (do-it-yourself’ers) can set up and manage their own WordPress sites, or entrust their setups to professional WordPress website designers. However, for purposes of this article, we’ve decided to briefly mention these options again:

  1. You can buy a pre-designed WordPress ecommerce template. By now you should know that you have several options for getting your site up and running. The most economical option is to purchase a pre-designed ecommerce template. You can find these WordPress templates in many places out there, including org and Themeforest.net. You can also find out more by clicking on the links in the above “Ecommerce Solutions” section.
  2. You can have your ecommerce site custom designed by a professional WordPress (or alternative software) website designer. Some professional designers also host the websites they develop. If you go with one of these hosting plans, it means your ecommerce site would reside on someone else’s server and they would be responsible for upkeep. This type of arrangement helps you dodge the headaches of server problems, down-time, hackers and malware. Just know that it may cost a lot. Providers like Shopify would be a start to finding a great designer and web host.
  3. You can self-host your own site, but depending upon your arrangement with the template author, this may mean that you have to update your own site, fix your own server and software errors as they occur, and navigate your own upkeep.

No one of these methods is necessarily better than the other. Rather, it all depends on how much work, thought, prayer and money you want to sink into developing and maintaining your own WordPress ecommerce website. The final decision is up to you.

The Future of Ecommerce

Quite simply, ecommerce isn’t going anywhere. In fact, TechTarget.com says that “online sales totaled $341.7 billion in 2015 and accounted for more than a third of total U.S. retail sales growth in 2015 (data from the U.S. Commerce Department).” In the meantime, Emarketer.com estimated that “global retail ecommerce sales—which include products and services (barring travel, restaurant and event ticket sales) ordered via the internet over any device—will reach $1.915 trillion in 2016.”

Even if ecommerce sites brought in only 10% of the predicted $1.915 trillion of 2016, that would still total approximately $1.915 billion. That’s still a lot of money…and since the world’s goal seems to be to get everyone on the planet “online” as quickly as is feasible, it seems to reinforce the prediction that ecommerce is here to stay.

All you need to do is decide whether a WordPress ecommerce site is the right move for your small business, and start planning and developing from there.

 

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