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Choosing the right e-commerce platform for web-to-print

E-commerce continues to boom worldwide, spurred on by the pandemic. According to Statista, 75% of people shop online at least once a month. The rapid rise of e-commerce is driving consumer demand for online and personalized purchases. Even when things return to normal, there is no indication that this trend will flatten. These circumstances, together with growing competition, are prompting many printers to join the party and start selling online. This is no easy task, however, especially if one wants to sell personalized printed and promotional products. In this blog post, we will define the initial steps that one should take to choose the right e-commerce platform.

E-commerce platforms provide companies with all the necessary tools to sell their products or services online and manage their storefront, sales, marketing, and operations. An alternative to using third-party e-commerce platforms is building a custom one from scratch, which is extremely expensive and requires a tech-savvy workforce.

e-commerce web-to-print

There is a huge range of e-commerce platforms with various benefits and options, so it can be difficult at first glance to understand which solution is right for your business. You will need to do a lot of research to settle on the ideal setup. If you decide too quickly, moving a store with all its features, products, and consumer data would be an expensive and time-consuming process.

Let’s take a look at the initial steps that one should take to choose the right e-commerce platform:

  1. Determine a platform: open-source or commercial?
  2. Consider which hosting option you need.
  3. Evaluate the ease of navigation.
  4. Be mindful of any required maintenance.
  5. Evaluate a platform’s storefront design options.
  6. Determine a platform’s capabilities in configuring products and other settings.
  7. Explore the available options for web-to-print integration.

Determine a platform: open-source or commercial?

If your company doesn’t have a tech-savvy workforce, then you should consider exploring commercial e-commerce platforms such as Shopify or BigCommerce. These SaaS (software-as-a-service) e-commerce platform providers allow companies to create online storefronts without coding, enabling your business to go to market quickly. They take care of maintaining the system and host the applications. The price depends on the subscription option and the features you need.

Create online storefront with web-to-print functionality

You might prefer open-source platforms like WooCommerce if you are looking for a mid-level solution with a high level of customization. WooCommerce was designed to integrate with WordPress. This solution may be suitable for small or medium-sized companies that can support an online store. Open-source e-commerce platforms entice many businesses because there is no need to pay for a subscription. However, these solutions require additional investment in development and maintenance. After factoring in the development and hosting costs, SaaS platforms are significantly cheaper than open-source solutions.

Large companies with IT resources can better accommodate open-source e-commerce platforms like Drupal or Magento. These platforms have extensive capabilities for creating complex storefronts with complete control. It may be too expensive for small and medium-sized businesses to build the integrations they need to use these platforms effectively. For enterprise with high-growth and high-volume brands, solutions like Shopify Plus or Magento 2 Commerce offer companies very different but powerful feature sets and propositions. Learn more here.

Consider which hosting option you need.

Information about orders, customer data, and various online store content needs to be stored somewhere.

There are three ways to store your data:

  • SaaS hosting as a type of cloud-based hosting;
  • Self-hosted (on-premise);
  • Other cloud-based types of hosting.

Software-as-a-service (SaaS) cloud-based e-commerce platforms offer hosting for companies through third-party services like Amazon Web Services. Such platforms are cheaper and don’t require any maintenance or updates from the business’s end. The platform can also handle data storage for your online storefront. While there are several benefits to this solution, the business will need to pay a licensing fee on top of the cost of hosting. You will also have less control over the hosting operations.

E-commerce hosting options

If you choose to utilize a self-hosted e-commerce platform, then you will need to have your own physical server that must be set up, maintained, and constantly updated by your in-house or outsourced IT operations specialists. Your data would also be managed on that server. Self-hosted solutions are more expensive, but you can customize them however you want. If you choose the self-hosted route, then you will be responsible for managing your own server and backup process.

Other cloud-based hosting solutions include Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), where you can purchase cloud resources on-demand and use them in self-service mode, and Platform-as-a-service (PaaS), which is usually used by developers to maintain apps.

Note

If you have seasonal spikes in demand, cloud hosting may be the best solution for you. Your server space will grow or shrink according to your needs, ensuring that you won’t overpay.

Evaluate the ease of navigation.

Before you make a final decision, pay special attention to how easy it is for your employees to navigate the platform. Some e-commerce solutions look cumbersome and require extra effort to figure out how they work. Simple navigation and a manageable interface can make it easier to work with the system.

As you work with a platform, you might need to set up your store for marketing and analytics. Some e-commerce platforms like Shopify were created specifically for selling online and include everything you need for analytics, marketing, and upselling. You may also integrate custom apps for additional features such as email marketing. Open-source solutions also provide businesses with the ability to enhance a store’s capabilities with free or paid extensions.

Be mindful of any required maintenance.

As opposed to open-source e-commerce solutions like WooCommerce or Magento, Shopify and other SaaS platforms provide 24/7 multichannel support to keep your store functioning effectively and smoothly. If you need ongoing maintenance and support, consider e-commerce solutions with these options and inquire about getting assistance for an additional fee.

Maintain web-to-print storefront

Open-source platforms such as Drupal or WooCommerce usually have a public support forum to assist with questions. If you are a tech-savvy user or your development team is able to maintain the store, the extensive documentation and support forum can help resolve any issues that you might come across.

Note:

Some platforms like WooCommerce may have compatibility issues with a large number of third-party plugins. If this occurs, you will need assistance from competent specialists to sort out these problems.

Evaluate a platform’s storefront design options.

As you plan and design your online store, it’s important to focus on its usability. This indicator has a direct impact on the conversion rate. To make the interface more user-friendly, you can refer to pre-built e-commerce templates for stores commonly used in the printing industry. Of course, you can also develop it yourself, but you will need a deep understanding of UX design (user experience design) as well as a fairly flexible e-commerce system that can be finely tuned.

Responsive web-to-print editor

You might only have a vague idea about the design of your future store, or maybe you already have a clear picture in your mind planned out to the last detail. An e-commerce platform should have multiple design options to accommodate all types of storefronts. If you don’t have IT resources for web development, consider platforms that offer pre-built e-commerce store designs. By using a theme, your company can eliminate web design and development costs. It’s also crucial to optimize your storefront so that its content flows easily between desktop and mobile devices. As more people shop online from their phones, a responsive design is necessary to provide the best possible user experience.

Note

Does the platform provide automatic updates for themes and frameworks? This option will allow your company to keep up with modern technologies.

Determine a platform’s capabilities in configuring products and other settings.

All e-commerce platforms function in a similar way: you can create products, configure options, and customize other settings. There are some differences, however. To provide customers with all the necessary information and enhance the credibility of your brand, make sure that your platform has the following functionality for setting up products:

  • Filling in product descriptions;
  • Adding images and setting a price;
  • Filling in inventory and shipping information;
  • Adding a product line to collections that will be focused on targeted audiences;
  • Capabilities for upselling and cross-selling.

In addition to the product configuration options, determine whether or not these settings are available:

  • Creating key pages (about page, contact information, FAQ, and policy pages);
  • Setting up shipping (shipping zone, rates);
  • Organizing payment gateways and payouts;
  • Setting up taxes;
  • Preparing a store for launch (e.g. adding a custom domain, customizing email notifications).

Note

How many product variants can be customized? Some platforms like Shopify offer only the three options included in the subscription (e.g. color, size, shape). To expand these variants, you may need to pay an additional fee.

Explore the available options for web-to-print integration.

Web-to-print integration is one of the final steps in the process of creating an online storefront that offers product personalization. One should consider e-commerce platforms that work best with web-to-print due to its many nuances. For example, a change of theme can make the integration invalid.

Grow your business with web-to-print

Problems might come up if your online store has a large number of other integrations. Some platforms consist of hundreds of plugins, and there can be compatibility issues with plugins from third-party developers. In this scenario, these plugins can’t communicate with each other correctly, which may cause the store and web-to-print solution to malfunction.

To avoid these complications, ensure that the platform you choose has the functionality for data exchange with external plugins and is able to send data about a product and its options. You must also be able to receive ready-to-use designs from the editor and information about the selected options.

Note

In our previous blog post, we prepared a checklist of 10 main steps for choosing the optimal web-to-print solution that adds personalization features to the ordering process.

Conclusion

There is a huge range of e-commerce solutions, each with its various benefits and options. As you browse for the perfect platform, start from the specifics of your company.

If you are a small or medium-sized company without IT capabilities that specializes in selling custom mugs or wedding photo albums, consider SaaS solutions like Shopify or BigCommerce. You stand a good chance of going to market quickly without much effort.

If you have a small or medium-sized business with the advantage of IT-resources, then a solution like WooCommerce will be enough.

If you need a more complex and tailored e-commerce solution – for example, you sell digital marketing products for enterprise and want to level up your online store – then you should think about platforms like Shopify Plus, Drupal, or Magento.

The decision you make today could affect your business tomorrow. Making the right choice will not only boost your revenue and efficiency but also help you build a solid, ever-expanding base of loyal customers. If you are not sure about choosing an e-commerce platform, web-to-print integration, or anything else, don’t hesitate to contact us.

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