Choosing the Right eCommerce Platform for Selling Your Food Products
eCommerce has come a long way since its early beginnings back in the nineties. The market is now worth a whopping $2.3 trillion worldwide with sales expected to hit $4.8 trillion by 2021. No wonder so many businesses are looking to grab a slice of the eCommerce pie.
The online shopping market is booming. This means lots of solutions for creating and managing your own eCommerce store have been developed. But there’s now so many options that it can be tricky to navigate, especially if you’re completely new to the eCommerce world.
Get it right and you could be reaping the benefits for years to come. Pick the wrong eCommerce platform and you’ll end up learning an expensive lesson. You could also potentially destroy all your efforts to provide a great online experience for your customers.
It can be hard to know which eCommerce platform to pick without trying them all. To help make this task a bit more manageable, here’s an overview of five of the most popular tools. From simple to advanced it will help you make the right choice for your business.
Five of the Most Popular eCommerce Tools for Food Brands
From: £12-£35 per month
Squarespace is a website builder that enables non-coders to create beautiful websites using pre-designed templates. It’s great for anyone with little to no technical experience who wants to get a site up and running relatively quickly. Templates, whilst pre-designed, can be tweaked to make them your own.
But there’s only so far you can go with each template. If you have specific brand guidelines that you need to stick to, then a more customisable option may suit your business better.
Likewise, the eCommerce function is a bolt-on. That’s great if your existing website is already on Squarespace – you can add it on easily. But it might not be the best option if you’re building your eCommerce shop from scratch.
Another thing to bear in mind is you’re building your shop on another company’s platform. That means they can change the rules of the platform or increase the price at any time.
That said, Squarespace is a popular choice for many online stores. It ranks second for market share at just over 20%.
Pros: Squarespace is simple, cheap and a great starting point, especially for non-coders. It’s seamless to integrate if your website is already on Squarespace.
Cons: There’s limited functionality and ability to customise. The eCommerce option is a bolt-on. Squarespace is not completely dedicated to eCommerce. You’re also building your shop on a third-party platform. This means they can change the rules or increase the price at any time.
From: £29-£299 per month
With more than 270k domains, Shopify is one of the most popular eCommerce platforms. Unlike Squarespace, it’s a dedicated eCommerce platform. You have several options for templates when creating a store through Shopify. There’s also free and paid versions.
If you do opt for a free version, be warned that your store might look like many other Shopify eCommerce stores. The paid versions can differentiate your store a lot more than the free ones. But it’s an expense that you might not have factored in.
Extra costs can quickly add up when using Shopify. If you want extra functionality, it’s going to come at a price. For example, you might want to integrate with Quickbooks accounting software. You might want to re-target visitors through Facebook. These additions are fine in the beginning. But as your store scales up, you might have hundreds of plug-ins that all need to be kept up to date – some of which require costly monthly subscriptions.
One upside (and a potential downside) is that everything is done through Shopify. That means you have one point-of-contact if you have any issues. Unfortunately, it also means that Shopify has control over your store. They can change the rules or pricing at any time.
Shopify is highly customisable. There are many plugins you can use to add extra functionality. You can also add custom code to give your site a specific look and feel. Because it’s well known, there’s a lot of developers available who can do this for you. Plus there’s tonnes of how-to guides online if you fancy trying to DIY your store.
Want to see the different options for look and functionality available through Shopify? Take a peek at Pipcorn, Taza Chocolate, and Death Wish Coffee. Each store is built with Shopify and you can see some of the add-ons in action. Including newsletter, subscription and social media plugins.
Pros: It is a dedicated eCommerce platform rather than a bolt on. There is a high degree of possible customisation, whether through a theme or having someone write custom code. Plus, there’s lots of articles and documentation online if you’re technically minded.
Cons: It’s more expensive than Squarespace. Plugins can add extra cost, and it’s still built on a third party platform.
Fulfilled by Amazon
From: £25 per month
Fulfilled by Amazon is a service offered by the online giant to small businesses. It allows you to ship items locally and abroad through Amazon’s network. That takes a lot of the legwork out of setting up and running an online store. As a plus, you can take advantage of Amazon’s impressive size and infrastructure.
Last year, on Prime Day, Amazon sold over $2.4 billion worth of goods. Linking your business to Amazon means you gain access to their customers. You can also make the most of their marketing campaigns, and they do all the shipping and returns for you. It’s easy to set up a store and relatively inexpensive as you only pay for what shipping and storage you use.
That said, because you’re on Amazon’s platform, you’re limited on what you can do. Customisation is pretty restricted and there’s no control over shipping or checkout processes. Customer data is all owned and collected by Amazon. This makes it difficult if you want to set up an email newsletter or send out targeted offers to your customers.
Pros: Fulfilled by Amazon is easy to set up, relatively cheap, and you can tap into Amazon’s huge audience and infrastructure.
Cons: You have little to no control over the customer experience, and you don’t own any of your customer data.
Woocommerce has the largest share of the eCommerce market at 23%. Unlike closed platforms like Shopify and Squarespace, Woocommerce allows you to completely adapt your store to your needs. There are no limitations to how many different features you can add. If your site requires a lot of of customisation or if you want to control the user experience, then Woocommerce is probably your best bet.
You’re also much less likely to run into the same website design when you use Woocommerce. Everything is customisable, you can create a store that’s exactly in line with your brand look and feel.
Because Woocommerce is open-source, it’s free to use. But it is more complex compared to Shopify and Squarespace so you will probably have to hire a developer.
One thing to bear in mind is that Woocommerce only works on WordPress websites. This is a very popular platform which powers 30% of the whole Internet. But it does mean you’ll need a WordPress website to use Woocommerce. Again, you’ll probably need expert help and this can mean extra costs. Especially if you’re adding in extra functionality later-on. Costs can soon add up if you keep having to call in an expert. You should also consider the extra costs of hosting and any add-ons for specific functionality.
Pros: It’s highly customisable and free to start. You have complete control over your website and can build on your own platform.
Cons: It only works with WordPress powered websites and must be self-hosted. Plus, bolt-on functionality can be expensive. A developer will be needed for more complex customisations.
Free demo, price on application
If Shopify and Squarespace is for non-experts, then Magento is definitely for the pros. It’s a leader in digital commerce and offers solutions for all aspects of eCommerce. This includes the store function itself. As well as order management, business intelligence, and shipping analysis.
It needs a team of experts to build and maintain a Magento store. This makes it pretty expensive. But Magento is highly customisable and the back-end is extremely powerful. It’s been built for scalability. So, if you’re planning on world domination in the next couple of years, Magento is for you. Like some of the other options, Magento does offer extra functionality in the form of add-on extensions. Some of these come through third-party providers via the Magento Marketplace.
Pros: Magento is highly customisable, extremely powerful and scalable.
Cons: It is very complex and requires a team of experts to build and maintain. This makes it expensive.
Considerations for Selling Food Online
In addition to your eCommerce system, there’s other factors you need to consider when selling food online. Firstly, you’ll need to register with your local council 28 days before opening your store. The local environmental health department might pay you a visit to ensure any food preparation and packing is done to food safety standards.
Food safety is critical, both when preparing food and delivering it. You need to consider the best packaging and delivery methods to use. This can mean extra costs if you need specific packaging or delivery vehicles. For example, Muscle Food ships chilled meat in special containers with ice packs to keep the food fresh. It also has information available for customers to judge whether the food is fit for consumption. If not, food can be returned for a refund and future discount.
It’s also vital that you make nutritional information available on your website. This is essential for data on known allergens. Remember, customers cannot pick up your product in-store and read the label. Make sure they have all the information they need to know before they buy.
What to Look for in Your eCommerce Provider
Choosing your eCommerce provider is one of the most important decisions you’ll make for your business. You’ll want to get it right the first time to avoid expensive issues later on.
When considering any eCommerce solution, you should ask yourself the following:
How technical are you? Determine whether you’re confident building and maintaining your store, or if you’d like an expert to do it for you. Also think about ongoing maintenance and any team members who may also have to update the site.
What’s your stock size? The size of your stock will determine the type of platform you choose. From easy-to-use options like Amazon, to full-blown customised options like Magento.
What payment methods do you want to offer? Some platforms only support PayPal, others only take card payments. Consider what your customers would prefer. Otherwise they might be put off purchasing with you.
What functionality do you need? Take into account current and future plans. If you want to use email marketing you might want to integrate a tool like MailChimp. You may want plugins to track customer behaviour so you can send them targeted offers. Also remember to include any extra costs for these add-ons in your budget.
How will you work on your SEO? You’ll want your store to be highly discoverable on search engines. Make sure your chosen platform lets you use your own domain name, add a blog, and have the option for customers to leave reviews. These all help boost your SEO.
What customer service is available? Does your chosen platform have good technical support available? Consider how you reach that support as well. Live chat might work for some people, others may prefer over-the-phone help. Plus, make sure there’s a 24/7 helpline for those critical moments (like when your website crashes at 3am on a Saturday!).
What security is offered? Security is critical in eCommerce. Nobody is going to enter credit card information on a website they don’t trust. Make sure your platform supports HTTPS / SSL. These help ensure a safe and secure checkout for your customers. It also has to be Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliant.
What’s your budget? Lastly, consider your total budget. That doesn’t just take into account hosting costs, but also any expert help you need or extra plugins.
Picking the right eCommerce platform is much like choosing a family car. Don’t be dazzled by the shiny sports car that won’t last longer than a year. Get one that meets your current and future needs. Then as your business grows, your website will evolve along with it.
- Make sure your eCommerce platform will scale with your business. That includes the ability to add extra functionality as needed.
- If you can afford to, use a platform that you, someone in your team, or an external developer, can build and maintain.
- Think about what level of support you’ll need. Are you technical enough to build a site yourself, or will you need help? What support is needed if something stops working?
- Make sure it’s within your budget – including extra expenses like a developer or plugins.
- Consider your other infrastructure. What payment methods will you accept? How will your stock need to be delivered? Is your site and payment processing secure?
There’s a lot of questions to ask yourself, but selecting the right eCommerce platform is a big task. Make sure you put the effort in. It’ll pay off for years to come.