Requirements for an ecommerce website

16 Feb

I’m often asked to quote for ecommerce sites, but the problem with giving a ballpark figure on something as open ended as this is there really are many ways to skin this cat. I thought it may be beneficial for myself and others if I wrote down the bare bones of what is required for an ecommerce site starting with the basics and right up until your fully fledged CRM systems.

The Basics

For the majority of this article, I am going to talk about building and hosting a website on your own servers or rented servers, but if you don’t have a huge budget or simply can’t wait for a bespoke solution, it’s probably worth thinking about some off the shelf ecommerce software.

There are many different ecommerce solutions out there from the free to the not so free. Depending on your budget and requirements, each one will either be perfect or not so perfect:

Shopify – from $29 per month. Customisable. Nice looking.
Miva Merchant – from $89 per month. Hosted solution.
WP Ecommerce – great if you have a wordpress site.
Magento – comes free, but only if you know what you are doing or have time to work it out. If you don’t it will cost $2,995 per year. Ouch.

DIY Ecommerce – Taking Payments

So, if you’re still reading, we can assume that you have your own site and you want the ecommerce arm to be hosted on the same server and that you will need a solution where you can add products/take away product/edit product and take payment. In which case, let’s first take a look at the main payment providers I have worked with.

Payment Providers

  • WorldPay – used to be the daddy. Now considered expensive and clunky.
  • PayPal – Everyone knows PayPal, right? Benefits from some free services and subscriptions/repeat payments with the pro version. Terrible customer service and flaky documentation, though.
  • Google Checkout – Becoming more popular due to use in Android phone market, but people are still reluctant to set up another ecommerce account tied to your bank. Cannot pay one off with credit card without having google account.
  • SagePay (formerly Protx) – good all-rounder. Can pay through their site or using an API of sorts. The successor to the WorldPay crown.

WorldPay and SagePay will both require you to have a Merchant Account with your bank. Some aspects of paypal will require one also (and they may also require a credit check amongst many, many other things including “Copies of anti-money laundering policies and procedures”!)

2 step or 3 step?

There are two types of transaction processes which you will see online. The first is a 3 step process, where the user puts things in their cart on your site, then gets to the point where they are ready to purchase. The user is then taken the the payment provider’s site where they complete the payment process. On success or failure they will often be redirected back to your site. The benefits of this are that there is usually less technical knowhow involved and you do not require a secure certificate for your website, but the downsides are that it can look sloppy and some users trust this process less.

The other option is a 2 step process. The user adds items to their shopping cart, then adds their payment details on your site. The site will then query the payment provider in the background and return a success or failure message. Your site will then either process the order on success, or pass the failure message to the user.

Which one you choose is again down to budget, requirements and preference. Most large companies tend to use a 2 step process for their ecommerce sites and as a result,  it can appear more professional.

Site Requirements

So now we have looked at the ins and outs of paying for things online, let’s look at the nitty gritty of a shop.

Apart from the payment methods, running an online shop is no different to running a physical bricks and mortar shop. You have a shop window (your homepage), staff and customers, people come in the shop to browse around and some will leave without buying anything. Proprietors leave tempting items near the checkout area (other customers who bought this also bought…) and the best shops will gather a following and people will want to buy there again and again.

When building your first ecommerce site you need to ask yourself the same questions you would as when you opened your offline store:

  • Do I need stock control?
  • What are my outgoing expenditures?
  • How do I reach my customers?
  • If my customers are buying lots of items, will I need to give them a shopping basket?

In addition to this, you will also need to ask yourself:

  • How do I communicate with my customers? How do I keep them informed of their order progress? Do I need a CRM, or will emails suffice for now?
  • How do I charge for postage? What countries will I ship to?
  • Do I continue to show out of stock items online, or take them off?
  • How does my offline stock tally with my online stock?
  • How does my accountancy package talk to my web sales data?

Of course, I can’t answer these questions for you, but they need serious consideration. Even the question of “Do I need a shopping cart” can save you time and money. Building a bespoke shopping cart solution can take a long time to integrate into an existing site, or even a brand new site: Information Architecture will tell you that you should have the shopping basket icon and information on every single screen, which will require design and development.

However, if you are just selling one thing, or are pretty sure most people will buy one thing, you can do away with the notion of a cart altogether – this is often the case with small firms, or companies that sell completely different products – ie a warranty firm that also sells home insurance is very unlikely to get someone trying to purchase both in one go. If this is the case, you can have a paypal or google “buy now” button, which will save time and expense.

Bare Bones

So, ecommerce can range from the complex to the downright simple. Having your own 2 step ecommerce site with no CRM can be as simple as having:

  1. A website hosted somewhere with a decent SLA. For the purposes of this article it is assumed this will have PHP and MySQL up and running. This can cost from £30 upwards p.a.
  2. A payment provider
  3. A merchant account
  4. A secure certificate – anywhere from £9.99 to £899 per year.
  5. A good designer
  6. A great developer

If there is one thing this developer, the project manager and the client should understand is – “It’s other people’s money” – you need to check, check and check again, because if something goes wrong, people are going to be very, very grumpy.

1 Response to Requirements for an ecommerce website


Jennylene Smith-Drayton

November 30th, 2013 at 1:34 am

Excellent information. Great job!!

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