Creating Boutique eCommerce Stores

eCommerce Stores in South Africa

Although eCommerce in South Africa is still in its infancy, it is a growing proportion of the country’s GDP. In 2013, eCommerce stores were estimated to make up 2% of the total retail market. However, online shopping, particularly in South Africa, has its challenges*.

One of these is that larger retailers are dominating the online market. Smaller, boutique eCommerce stores need an edge in order to successfully entice customers. Given that boutique stores are typically those that independently sell their own goods online – or are an amalgamation of smaller brands on a site – having a fantastic product is not enough to ensure viability. Rather, an exceptional online user experience and a great marketing strategy are essential in guaranteeing the development of a strong customer basis and repeat purchases. Why? Because customers have a lower tolerance for poor service from an online store than they do for traditional retail stores.

What follows is a guide to navigating the difficulties of choosing a hosting option, a hosting platform and, by implication, creating a phenomenal user experience. As for your marketing strategy and customer retention plans, there’s an add-on for that too!

Hosting platforms is as easy as one, two, three

When it comes to creating eCommerce stores, shop owners are spoiled for choice. The only consensus regarding which eCommerce platform is best is that there isn’t one best choice. Frustrating, I know. The choice has to be personalised one.

Hosting Platforms 1: Market-Place Solutions

Before delving into specific eCommerce platform options, it is important to know that there are three different ways to host your online shop. The first is a market-place solution. This allows you, as a shop owner, to sign up to a site like Amazon, EBay or Etsy and sell your products through them. Given that your products are listed among many others, it is easy for customers to navigate away from your page listing to other, similar products. This may be good if you’re still testing the market, but in the long-term you’ll probably want to move beyond this option.

Hosting Platforms 2: Using a Hosting Site

The second option is to set up your store on a hosted site. This means that you have your own space to sell your products, but the hosting platform maintains the site. You are limited to the company’s choice of service options, check-out features and page templates. Only limited customization is possible and, of course, there’s the monthly charges to use the hosting platform.

One of the most well-known hosted sites is Shopify. Like other platforms it has beautiful themes available, which are designed by professional theme builders. However, although there is a free, fourteen-day trial option, once that ends there is a monthly cost attached. The three paid plans available range in cost from $29 to $299 a month. Not to mention that the point of sale package costs an additional $49. And then there’s the transaction fees. Shopify takes between 0.5% and 2% of the sales value. For a boutique store, although it takes the hassle out of hosting your site, Shopify is a pricey option.

Hosting Platforms 3: Self-Hosting

The final hosting option is to host your site yourself. Although this option requires a little more work, it is worth it. Self-hosting allows absolute freedom. You own all the information and products. There are two different ways of self-hosting your site: a shop-only platform or the use of extension software.

For those of you who are feeling a little overwhelmed at this point, relax. This is our speciality. Feel free to contact us. We’ll put your mind at rest.

Self Hosting: Shop-Only Platforms

Founded in 2007, Prestashop is an open-source eCommerce platform. It powers more than 165,000 online stores in 63 different languages. Although it is open source, and therefore free to download and use, any additional features come at a cost. A cost that steepens quickly given that the more professional-looking themes are, unfortunately, not part of the free-theme bouquet. Further, customization of your site requires coding knowledge, which means Prestashop isn’t the most user-friendly of options for the majority of people. What’s more, support isn’t free either. This shop-only platform is biggest in the French market. Parlez vous français?

The other shop-only platform is Magento. Like Prestashop, Magento is also open source. However, unlike Prestashop, Magento is known to support bigger companies who can afford to hire programmers and designers. For smaller, boutique stores it is suggested you put Magento on hold until you can afford to hire a programmer.

Self Hosting: Extension software

Extension software allows the addition of eCommerce stores to an existing platform. The most well-known of these is WooCommerce, which is the add-on (or in WordPress speak: plugin) to WordPress platforms.

Like some other platforms, WordPress is open source and WooCommerce is a free plugin. It currently powers 29% of all online stores. An impressive feat, I’m sure you’ll agree. An additional 270 extensions, most of which are free, are available to download to ensure maximum efficiency. Despite these plugins being added piecemeal, WooCommerce is a secure platform for both customers and shop owners.

Speaking of shopping, did you know that as many as two out of three customers abandon their online shopping carts due to distractions followed by forgetfulness? A worrying statistic, but fret not. There’s a plugin for that. If you are worrying over loss of customers, there’s a plugin for that too. The flexibility to add on plugins when and as you need them, means that extension software platforms like WooCommerce are highly versatile. Further, like WordPress, WooCommerce has an intuitive user interface and so is easy to use. It is also in continual development as are all other WordPress products. There is also the fantastic user support.

The one-line summary:

Ultimately, the choice remains yours, but self-hosting your site using extension software like WooCommerce ensures freedom of ownership, versatility, ease of use and great user support.

*Read more about the uniquely South African perspective on eCommerce here.

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