Editor note: This article has been updated to provide more in-depth information and accuracy as of 2018
E-Commerce Platform or CMS: Which Should You Use for Your Business?
Over the years, the focus on e-commerce has taken a turn from the simple act of selling products. Following Google's recent security update, our attention span as humans dwindling and other elements, user experience is now a big part of a successful online retailer.
Consumers need to feel reassured in their purchase. Your website needs to inform, engage and educate each consumer so they can feel confident that the purchase they are making is the right one.
To achieve this, you need to build your website on the right platform to support your business.
Typically, CMS' will use modules to support e-commerce capabilities. These may come with reduced shipping options and product grouping options with the trade-off that the content is easier to manage.
E-commerce platforms deliver what you would expect from an e-commerce solution but may have limited capabilities when it comes to content management.
Magento and Shopify are good examples of e-commerce platforms. Woocommerce integrated within Wordpress will also serve the same purpose. E-commerce enables shopping cart functionality and the ability to sell products directly on the website.
CMS's (Content Management Systems) like Drupal and SilverStripe focus on content management (hence the name). Allowing you to create dynamic pages, upload and maintain blogs and portfolio's and work on the strength of content on your website.
What is best for you?
When selecting a platform to use, you need to weigh up what requirements you have and the functionality your website needs to serve.
At the same time, understanding what content you need and how often are you going to be required to edit said information.
How Complex are your Products?
If you are selling complex products then you will require a platform that enables you to add multiple, customisable options.
A platform like Magento will allow you to do just that. Similarly, if you need multiple different filters for user search, you will need a platform that supports this.
On the flip side, less complex products may not require a platform that offers so much customisation. If your catalogue is small or your products are relatively simple, you can opt to use a CMS like WordPress or SilverStripe instead.
What are your design requirements and available budget?
CMS' enable you as a user to edit the information with relative ease. Especially when comparing with some e-commerce platforms. If you require a heavy designed website alongside a fully functioning e-commerce system, general content management may become difficult for those inexperienced.
This will typically require you to work with a web developer when you want to change something on your website and update the content. We highly recommend our support package for e-commerce websites for this reason.
In this case, your available budget will come into question.
Similarly, large e-commerce platforms will always cost more. There is more development work involved and extensions may be needed to provide the functionality that you require. It also requires more testing to ensure everything works in harmony.
E-commerce through CMS'
We all know Wordpress Woocommerce, this is a pre-built plugin that works wonders if it fulfils exactly what you need. But what if it doesn't?
CMS' like WordPress require the use of plugins to add additional functionality. If the perfect plugin isn't available, you will likely need to have one created. This may then cost you even more than you first thought. Not to mention the issues you will have with updates.
SilverStripe, on the other hand, doesn't have an inbuilt e-commerce module. Instead, the framework allows developers to build the required functionality in during the website build phase.
Whilst the price to do so will vary from developer to developer, it means that you have a custom built module that does exactly what you need. This way you don't have to rely on someone else having the exact same requirements as you AND having made that functionality available.
The downside to this, however, is that a CMS with e-commerce functionality will be limited as to what it can offer. As mentioned previously, Magento is recommended for complex products for a reason; you simply won't be able to replicate that functionality elsewhere (aside from another similar platform).
What are your Options?
There are 3 main options that you can take when deciding what platform to choose. These decisions will incorporate the thinking processes mentioned above amongst other elements like time constraints, overall business strategy and requirements.
1. E-commerce platform with CMS ability
If you are selling complex products, your best option is to choose an e-commerce platform. We build using Magento as we find it usually fulfils the requirements for e-commerce that we receive. If there is something that it cannot innately do, we find a solution through an extension.
There is also CMS functionality that the web owner can use to make basic content changes (change text, links, images etc). Design changes and certain elements will be more complicated to change and will require a developer to alter certain code. Meaning, if you want total control over your content then it might be difficult to rely on others to make the changes.
2. CMS with built-in e-commerce functionality
CMS' by nature are more user-friendly. Especially when altering and editing content. With SilverStripe, we find we can train a client on its use in under an hour.
SilverStripe is our CMS of choice for a number of reasons. We have recently written an article specifically answering the question "why do we use SilverStripe".
You may be limited to the functionality available to you depending on the CMS you choose. Whilst you can have custom built plugins made for Wordpress, the problems then arise with security and being able to consistently update said plug-in once a new patch is released.
3. Have a separate site for your brand and store
An alternative to the above would be to have two separate sites. Many websites use this strategy to provide a strong user experience first and then pass them over to the shop to make a sale.
Businesses that use this will often have a "shop" or "buy now" navigation link that will then redirect them to the store. Alternatively, they may display a catalogue of products on their brand site with buy now buttons that then link through to the shop.
This allows the brand site to run primarily on a CMS; focusing on design, user experience and quality of content. Their shop site is then run on a dedicated e-commerce platform where they can focus solely on the products and not have the need to display branding information.
There is the potential for your e-commerce website to outrank your corporate website. Allowing the user to find your corporate website through your store site is essential.
When selecting the right option for you, you will need to take each element into account. Making a hasty decision can lead to multiple problems in the future.
Finding it difficult to make a decision? Want a run through of the CMS options available to you? Call us on 01332 4775745 to discuss your requirements