Small businesses understandably take the cheapest and easiest route to creating their ecommerce web sites, choosing to purchase pre-packaged ecommerce software or ecommerce software that their web hosts provide. This could be damaging to small businesses in many ways, so says the Ecommerce Times (and I agree whole-heartedly).

These "one size fits all" ecommerce software packages allow small businesses to upload their product images, set pricing, provide product descriptions and render sites using pre-defined templates. It doesn't much take time to set up a web site using these software packages, but the software doesn't allow you many of the functions necessary to a) ensure that you accurately translate your brand to the web and b) make the web site as effective as possible.

Translating your brand to the web

Using most of today's ecommerce packages, you can add your logo to pages and change the color of different pages elements. But does this really help you communicate your brand online? Perhaps you want to add a custom look and feel to your top navigation bar, or maybe you want to add brand equities or different image views to a product page. Without programming knowledge, it's difficult to add brand-related content to your web site using these "canned" software packages.

Inserting branding and customer-centric promises on your site—as well as basic customer service information—in contextual areas is of paramount importance if you want an effective ecommmerce site. Many "canned" ecommerce software systems have one page template that cannot easily be changed without intense programming knowledge, leaving you with a "cookie cutter" web site that lacks brand appeal.

Making your web site as effective as possible is nearly impossible with "one size fits all" ecommerce software packages

The ecommerce software systems I have reviewed rarely give you the flexibility you need to make your web site effective. Some software makes it difficult to add web analytics to your pages. Perhaps the software tool provides its own web analytics, but these metrics will usually tell you nothing more that what pages are visited and how many people are coming to your site.

Additionally, you may sell products that require multiple product photos or need to communicate special information about your products to make the customer confident of their purchase.

Since you can't easily change the page template of a web site running "canned" ecommerce software, it makes search engine optimization very difficult.

Very few "canned" ecommerce software systems allow you to change / add / delete steps in the checkout process. This is problematic as you need the flexibility of changing pages in checkout to raise your conversion rates.

What's a small business to do?

Some pre-packaged ecommerce systems are flexible enough to be customized by a professional. I'm currently using a fully-customizable version of for a client's web site. This system lets me customize and add functions to any page on the web site, giving me complete control over the look and feel, navigation and checkout process.

I highly recommend contacting a seasoned ecommerce professional if:

  • your business is using "one size fits all" ecommerce software and the web site is not generating the revenue it should
  • you are considering a redesign of your existing site
  • you are considering building your own ecommerce web site

The cost to hire a professional should always be offset with higher revenue from your web site, and the project should pay for itself in under 6-12 months. The expertise an ecommerce professional will bring to the project will increase your conversion rates, set up actionable web analytics, make it easy for you to maintain your site and work with you over time to ensure your web site is as effective as possible.