One of the big advantages to a stand-alone E-commerce solution is that a skilled developer can completely customize both the design and the programming to suit your specific business requirements. No two businesses are run exactly the same way. This means that they frequently have demands that simply can’t be satisfied within the limits of a one-size-fits-all solution. An E-commerce project has the highest chance for success when it can be adapted to your existing business practices, instead of requiring that your business practices adapt to your web site.
With a stand-alone E-commerce web site you’re generally letting yourself in for more work. A LOT more work. That’s why stand-alone sites truly aren’t a suitable solution for every small business. If you plan a very small online inventory and can be satisfied with minimal-to-basic marketing tools, then a hosted solution may be the best route to take.
More may not always be better
A stand-alone site will give you more tools and deeper resources, but none of that comes without a price tag. The differences in capabilities between hosted and stand-alone solutions can be substantial and so can the differences in their project costs. In fact, just the licensing expense for a good stand-alone E-commerce engine will usually outstrip the amount a small business can expect to pay for the complete setup of a hosted solution. By the time you add in custom design costs, programming modifications, SEO work and a few other project line-items, you’re likely looking at a significantly higher initial investment.
A stand-alone solution may also appear daunting to you if you run a business with limited personnel and/or time resources. A custom, stand-alone E-commerce project begins life as pretty much a blank slate. As the project progresses you work with your developer to fill in the slate’s open spaces with your business vision and their E-commerce experience. This takes time, thought and communications – which may be something you don’t have much opportunity to spare from running your day-to-day operation.
Most E-commerce engines are designed to include powerful tools intended for dedicated E-commerce, so they also carry a higher learning curve and require more time to manage to their full capability. No doubt, one of the primary reasons for the failure of many E-commerce sites is the inability of the site owner to commit the appropriate amount of time and effort to the store’s management and upkeep.
But frequently, more IS better
However, none of that is to say that even the smallest business can’t realize the maximum return from a stand-alone E-commerce site. Many very successful E-commerce sites are operated by one- or two-person businesses.
Stand-alone E-commerce solutions are entirely open-ended. There are no restrictions placed on the size of your store’s inventory, the amount of traffic you receive or the number of customer accounts you maintain. The company that hosts your E-commerce site may have several different service rates that scale according to the server resources you demand (i.e. more disk space for images or more bandwidth for higher traffic), but those service fee differences are generally negligible until your site begins to attract traffic of epic proportions – at which point you won’t be a ‘small’ business, anyway.
A good stand-alone E-commerce engine is designed with powerful marketing and customer-loyalty tools built-in. It’s also built around industry-standard database technology that is open to custom programming and interfaces with common CRM and marketing applications. The database belongs entirely to your business – it’s not built on some shared data platform – and you have complete control over how your customer data is handled for marketing, privacy and security.
Stand-alone E-commerce sites offer better search visibility and are more open to search engine optimization than hosted solutions. For a business with serious marketing ambition, that’s enough of a deciding factor on it’s own merit. If your site can’t be found easily through search, all of your other marketing efforts aren’t likely to make up the difference. Your store’s customer base is built from your site traffic, and the best way to drive traffic is through search results.