Which E-Commerce Solution is Right for You?

This article is the final installment in a three part series on the journey of implementing an E-Commerce store. The previous article  explored the concerns that many museum retail professionals encounter in their daily E-Commerce operations. 

There are many ways an organization can start an E-Commerce store, and each option has its own strengths and weaknesses. The most common E-Commerce solution for small to medium non-profits is using a hosted E-Commerce service like Shopify, Bigcommerce, or Big Cartel. Hosted E-Commerce services take care of the technical back end of an online store by offering a simple framework that can be easily customized. Such platforms enable users to start selling their products almost immediately after uploading their products online.

Hosted E-Commerce services come with templates that ease the process of designing a beautiful online store, allowing organizations to continue following their style guide in terms of language usage, content voice, logo, color themes, and fonts. The benefits of hosted E-Commerce services include having more opportunities for search engine optimization, an ability to create omni-channel retailing by linking the online store with social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to sell on multiple channels, and have full-time technical support teams to reach out about the operation of your E-Commerce store. Besides services that focus solely on building an E-Commerce site, many website builders (like Squarespace and Wix) now allow their users to seamlessly incorporate E-Commerce functionality on their existing website.

Another option for small to medium non-profits is to sell their products through a popular online marketplace, such as Etsy or Amazon . These popular online market platforms have already established themselves as trusted online shopping destinations and attract millions of visitors every day. However, these platforms are also already highly saturated with sellers, creating a competitive environment to stand out. Online marketplaces also lack store customization ability, which makes it difficult to align store branding with an organization’s identity. On top of that, an organization that uses a platform like these will be subject to any policies and administrative decisions made by the platform.

Larger non-profits like major museums often have more resources and the IT personnel to support self-hosted E-Commerce solutions, such as those provided by Magento and Open Cart. These self-hosted E-Commerce solutions are standalone online store builders that need to be installed on the organization’s existing website. The organization will need to reconfigure its website hosting account to power the E-Commerce module, and then start building the online store from scratch after the self-hosted E-Commerce solution is installed. A self-hosted E-Commerce solution can be time consuming to setup and certainly requires more technical expertise to install, configure, integrate, manage, and maintain the online store to work properly with an organization’s existing website.

Each E-Commerce solution comes with different setup and maintenance costs, and (depending on the solution) they require different levels of technology competency for the staff that will be implementing and managing the online store. A non-profit should always take a close look at the fees associated with an E-Commerce store and measure whether the return on investment can justify implementing a store. Most E-Commerce solutions offer payment services that either charge credit card fees or transaction service fees, which will ultimately affect the profit margin for selling online. However, on the bright side, many E-Commerce solutions do have special monthly rates for non-profits; organizations could also receive discounts when paying for a full year of service in advance, so it is always worthwhile to contact a provider’s representatives to ask about non-profit plans and prices.

Another growing concern that might affect the ROI of an E-Commerce store is the heated discussion on website ADA compliance in the digital age. Even though Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has not yet addressed website or E-Commerce store accessibility for the disabled, according to “ADA Website Accessibility Lawsuits Mount,” over 40 accessibility cases under ADA have been filed against large commerce corporations such as Target, JC Penny, and Patagonia in 2015. The lack of regulations governing website and E-Commerce accessibility have encouraged lawsuits against retailers for hosting websites that are inaccessible to blind or visually impaired persons who use reader technology to access websites. Most E-Commerce solutions have not addressed this ADA compliance issue, and even though there are ways to make websites more accessible, this is a growing concern for non-profits thinking about adopting a long term E-Commerce strategy.

All things considered, it is worthwhile for non-profits to spend a day building a bare-bones online store with the free trial offered by many E-Commerce solutions, especially hosted E-Commerce services. Organizations can use this trial to test run an online store and try out the features to see if it is a good choice for them.


Banner image by Steve Wilson, licensed under Creative Commons.