Small Business Ecommerce: Here’s What You Need to Know to Win

In the modern retail market, nothing matters more than ecommerce. The past several years have seen a whopping 300% growth rate, and this trend is only expected to continue. 

While traditional in-store sales are still strong, all things considered, the rapid trajectory of ecommerce, and especially mobile ecommerce, shows no sign of stopping.

Some small businesses feel that’s sending a clear message to retailers:

Customers want to shop online, and if you can’t give that to them, they’ll go elsewhere. 

As Jonathan Midenhall, CMO for Airbnb, puts it, “Amazing things will happen when you listen to the consumer.”

A solely brick-and-mortar business can be sustainable under some circumstances, but it’s not the only way forward. If you want to trounce the competition, drive more sales, and keep your small business growing, nothing matters more than becoming an ecommerce business.

What Is a Small Business?

Contrary to what the name implies, the term “small business” doesn’t just apply to any business that’s small in size. According to the Small Business Administration, a small business must meet standards related to income, number of employees, and other factors that can fluctuate from one year to another. 

In general, small businesses are those that sell products or otherwise operate on a local or national level, make limited money, and have a small number of employees in relation to large multinational corporations. While size doesn’t have to be restrictive in a business sense, it often can be. Unfortunately, almost half of small businesses exit within five years.

The failure rate for small businesses isn’t ideal, which means small businesses that don’t want to see the doors shut and the lights go off need strategic action from the very beginning. 

Without investing in ecommerce — one of the fastest-growing areas in retail — newcomers in the market aren’t setting themselves up for success. This is especially true in a world dominated by Amazon and eBay. Failing to sell online can mean a failure to measure up at all.

Small Businesses Need an Ecommerce Component

In a world increasingly dominated by ecommerce, online sales aren’t exactly negotiable. Customers want to buy their favorite products without leaving the comfort of their couches, and failing to meet that need can put you immediately at a disadvantage. There are plenty of benefits involved in ecommerce, making the investment of time and money required to get started well worth the effort.

1. Reach new customers and sell more products.

With a physical retail location, sales are limited to people who walk in the door and put cash on the counter. This is all fine and well, but it excludes those who don’t know your company exists. When your target audience sits down to buy products like yours online, you won’t even be in the running. 

Branching out into ecommerce is somewhat akin to jumping up and down and yelling, “Here I am!” in a crowd. You will have a far easier time reaching customers with an ecommerce platform — and more customers means more product sales. 

The costs of establishing an ecommerce website are comparatively quite low, but the payoff can be substantial.

2. Customer buying analytics.

Traditional retail sales are fairly limited in analytical capabilities. There’s not always a way to know who bought what; many customers choose not to provide personal information at checkout and make payments in cash. Yes, retail store owners can evaluate things like inventory trends, but there’s a lot more to be gleaned with web analytics.

Using online tools, retailers can learn all kinds of valuable data, including:

  • Page views
  • Average time spent shopping
  • Clicks on particular products or offers
  • Bounce rate
  • Shopping cart abandonment statistics
  • Products frequently purchased together
  • Specific customer-level information

All of these details can play a big role in how you choose to operate your business. For example, if you see trends in items customers tend to purchase together, you can curate promos or sales around this pattern.

3. Relatively low operational costs.

A lot of time, money, and energy goes into opening a brick-and-mortar store. But, compared to the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars you needed to open your physical doors, ecommerce costs a lot less. 

A modest investment can yield a professional site that ranks well and provides a pleasant user experience. Further, a well-crafted site won’t require significant maintenance, giving you a way to boost sales that doesn’t divert much attention away from the day-to-day course of business.

4. Search engine traffic.

Over half of all shoppers do some digital digging on search engines like Google before shopping, so a digital footprint can be a big benefit. While it’s certainly possible to build a compelling web presence without an ecommerce shop, breaking into the ecommerce market can be a great way to draw attention to your company that is otherwise unavailable.

Tools like category pages, product landing pages, and product descriptions work wonders for SEO purposes. Your ecommerce site can attract both users researching area options and those considering buying online. 

5. Automated marketing engine.

Marketing is no longer limited to ads in the local paper or sale signs in your front window. Online advertising is extremely popular, expanding reach and growing visibility. Your ecommerce platform can essentially function as an all-in-one automated marketing engine, providing a way to drive ads and direct traffic to boost sales.

Making ecommerce purchases doesn’t require a customer to drive to your store and exchange cash. Instead, a customer can click on your ad, reach a dedicated landing page, and make a purchase in a few easy steps. You can then use email marketing to reach them with other products they might like. This is a benefit otherwise unavailable, and failing to embrace these opportunities can cost your business quite a bit.

6. Better customer experience.

Not everyone wants to show up at your storefront and browse your shelves in person. A growing number of people do most or all of their shopping online or even on mobile devices. Failing to offer an ecommerce platform, and one that offers a good mobile experience or dedicated mobile app, can put you behind the curve. 

By diversifying your sales channels with both in-store and online sales opportunities, you create a better customer experience by default. Web users don’t want to see a limited page with hours and contact information; they want the robust experience your competition can provide.

3 Types of Ecommerce Solutions

Operating an online store isn’t one-size-fits-all; it’s an overarching category of ecommerce software that comes in a few different shapes and sizes. Before diving in head first, take time to do your due diligence on the available options.

1. Open source.

The term “open source” refers to the source code used to structure a website. These kinds of infrastructure opportunities are available and accessible to everyone, providing a foundation upon which to create an ecommerce platform. There are a few different advantages to open-source code, including:

  • Freedom from any one particular vendor
  • Easy integration with existing systems
  • Opportunity to customize platforms

However, open source isn’t perfect, and the cons can be enough to drive some users elsewhere. Open-source solutions require more security interventions, can be a struggle to properly host, and may come with additional costs, like higher IT team involvement, that are not immediately obvious.

2. SaaS (Software-as-a-Service).

Software-as-a-Service, more commonly referred to as SaaS, is commonly confused with cloud software. Like cloud software, SaaS products are hosted on a server maintained by someone other than your business — but there are a lot of differences, too. SaaS software is more like renting technology than owning it, and that means you get a lot more for your money.

All kinds of programs rely on SaaS resources, and that includes ecommerce. SaaS can be a quick, convenient way to establish an online presence without figuring out hosting and source data solutions individually.

Going through a trusted SaaS ecommerce provider can help you lay the foundation for a great website without any hassle, guaranteeing expert service. A third party does all of the heavy lifting, providing access to professional tools and resources that can ensure a smooth launch and strong performance. SaaS pricing can vary significantly, but investing in a robust platform can result in a hefty ROI.

3. Headless commerce.

Headless commerce isn’t the most common choice, particularly for small businesses, but it is an option for those with unique needs. This strategy uncouples the backend that manages the tech side of ecommerce from the frontend, or the presentation layer customers see when shopping. 

This approach is most valuable when you want to keep the presentation of your products flexible but the mechanics of selling products consistent. For example, companies with an international presence that requires different front-end appearances but the same back-end functionality often employ this strategy.

Despite the flexibility, the cost and complexity can outweigh the benefits, leading most small businesses to seek open-source or SaaS solutions instead.

Things to Consider When Selecting Your Small Business Ecommerce Platform

Ecommerce platforms come in all shapes and sizes, from DIY templates to partnerships with key industry players. What works for one brand may not work for another, so keep these factors in mind when weighing the pros and cons of various ecommerce platforms for small business.

1. Price, cost, and additional fees.

Most small businesses don’t have an unlimited amount of resources to pour into a website. That means the price of an ecommerce platform will be a major point of consideration. However, prices on the surface don’t always tell the whole story. 

Some options that appear to be extremely cheap with very low rates per month may require more expenditures down the line, like domain names. These extra costs can also include:

  • Security: The bare minimum provided by some platforms may not be enough. Proper protection may mean third-party software or an additional investment in in-house infrastructure.
  • Transaction fees: Credit cards are a staple in the retail world, but accepting credit card payments isn’t free. Many payment types have transaction fees associated with purchases. As the vendor, these are your responsibility.
  • Themes: If you want a custom design, some platforms will require additional payment. The most basic DIY editors may only have a few stock themes available for free. Using a custom interface may require paid access to premium themes or partnership with a third-party web designer.
  • Analytics: Some ecommerce platforms provide access to comprehensive analytics, but others may offer a limited array or nothing at all. Due to the importance of analytics in ensuring strong performance, a platform without adequate resources may require additional spending.
  • PCI compliance: Payment card industry compliance can be a tricky thing. All vendors are required to meet legal standards regarding how payments are collected and processed. Without the right measures in place, you could find yourself in trouble down the road.

2. Scalability.

Most businesses have growth goals, whether in a year or a decade down the road. Regardless of how you see your business evolving, you’ll need support from your ecommerce platform as your business grows and changes. This may mean space for more products, expansion capabilities overseas, more payment gateways, or additional images and video content.

Some platforms are designed with growth in mind, while others offer caps on what is available. If you’re planning to grow or change your business over time, focus on a provider that can evolve with you. Otherwise, you may find yourself forced to switch platforms at an inopportune time.

3. Performance.

It takes less than a second for a potential customer to draw conclusions about a website, so how you present your product needs to hit the right notes. A site that is slow to load, full of burdensome graphics, or dominated by ads will be an immediate turn-off, sending sales to your competition.

Instead of hoping customers will find you based on the quality of your products alone, be sure you are presenting an excellent site that performs in line with industry standards. This can mean things like:

  • Fast loading speed on the homepage and between pages
  • Mobile responsiveness
  • Easily identifiable navigation cues

4. Ease of use.

A good platform should be, above almost all else, easy to use. The more complex a site is to use, the harder it will be for you to make sure no step of your process falls by the wayside. Consider platforms that focus on these key areas of emphasis.

Set-up flow

From registering a domain name to managing payment processing, a lot goes into a new ecommerce site. A good platform will ensure you don’t miss a beat.

Centralized channel management

Managing your ecommerce site should be as easy as possible. With a way to organize and oversee all channels at one time, centralized channel management is key to staying organized.

Product and SKU management

If you have a lot of different SKUs and product categories, the last thing you want is to have to manage this by hand. Being able to upload CSV files, for example, can make inventory management very easy.

5. Built-in features.

Success in ecommerce comes from a lot more than simply listing your products for sale. In fact, the features offered by an ecommerce site can play a big role in the results you see. From things like easily automated promotions and discounts to comprehensive analytics, the built-in features an ecommerce provider can offer should play a big role in the decision-making process.

6. Marketing tools.

To succeed in the online sales space, customers need to know you exist. While it’s possible to do things like manage customer relationships, organize promos, optimize for SEO, and curate email messages using a third party, many ecommerce platforms can do this for you. These kinds of marketing and SEO tools can streamline results and minimize effort, saving you time and earning you money.

7. Extensive application marketplace.

Want to integrate your social media into your site? Need to emphasize ratings features? All of these kinds of ecommerce tools can be added through applications, add-ons, and plug-ins — but not all platforms offer expansive application marketplaces that can meet varying needs. Consider what you may want to highlight on your site and be sure the opportunity to do so is available.

7 Ecommerce Platforms for Small Business Owners

There are plenty of big-name players in the ecommerce world, each with their own pros and cons. These overviews can help you evaluate the state of the market — and help you choose the right fit for you.

1. BigCommerce.

BigCommerce is the ecommerce platform of choice for some major companies like Skullcandy and Solo Stove. BigCommerce boasts a comprehensive suite of tools from marketing to analytics, high caliber design options, and plenty of support from the pros. It’s considered a top choice for companies of all sizes, and many small businesses can benefit from what BigCommerce has to offer.

2. Shopify.

Shopify is another choice for small businesses, offering a convenient SaaS platform ideal for companies with 100 SKUs or less.

3. Volusion.

Volusion is an ecommerce solution ideal for small companies and hobbyists, with a simple onboarding process and affordable pricing.

4. 3dcart.

3dcart is one of the smaller players in ecommerce, making it a good choice for small businesses with limited needs. As a SaaS platform, 3dcart is easy to access and easy to use.

5. WooCommerce.

WooCommerce is another of the major names in the ecommerce game. It utilizes an open-source code in conjunction with WordPress compatibility, providing an easy way for companies to get started.

6. Prestashop.

Prestashop is an open-source ecommerce model that operates on a “freemium” basis, indicating that basic functionality is free while more sophisticated features require payment.

7. Squarespace.

Squarespace is a SaaS provider that focuses primarily on the creative community. Many of their templates showcase art, video, or music products with limited sales requirements.

3 Small Businesses That Use the BigCommerce Platform

Picking the first website builder that appeals to you may work out, but it also may not. Some companies have unique needs that are better served by one provider over another. Take a look at these three successful brands and see what BigCommerce was able to offer that no one else could.

1. Bavarian Clockworks.

Bavarian Clockworks

As a manufacturer of high-quality certified Black Forest cuckoo clocks, Bavarian Clockworks functions in a niche market within a niche industry. As such, getting noticed online had the potential to be an uphill battle. To guarantee visibility without compromising business goals, owner Robert Ellis chose BigCommerce.

Robert had many motivations in picking BigCommerce, including the wide selection of apps and extensive array of customization options. He also appreciated the superior customer service and scalability opportunities. While some other platforms may have been able to tackle the basics, nothing could provide the whole package like BigCommerce.

2. Hincapie Sportswear.


Sportswear company Hincapie Sportswear needed a platform that would cater to unique B2B needs while still meeting B2C objectives. BigCommerce was the perfect choice for taking the almost 20-year-old company into the present. Unlike the competition, BigCommerce was able to integrate the existing company infrastructure in order to save money and provide a faster, easier experience.

BigCommerce was able to streamline the ecommerce store environment, allowing the company to grow and evolve in positive ways. The results speak for themselves: Hincapie Sportswear saw a 123% boost in lead generation, a 67% increase in conversion rates, and a 19% spike in revenue since the completion of the site redesign.

3. Kidstuff.

Kidstuff example

Australian toy company Kidstuff has a long history in the world of children’s playthings. However, skyrocketing sales over recent years left the company without the resources to support its new needs. After hitting the limit of what Magento could offer, Kidstuff made the choice to pivot to BigCommerce.

Due to the user-friendly opportunities, a caring customer support team, and a presence in the Australian market, BigCommerce was the obvious choice. Unlike the smaller platforms that couldn’t accommodate things like rapid scaling or payment diversification, including the use of PayPal, BigCommerce could easily meet online business goals without a significant investment in new IT infrastructure. Thanks to the switch, Kidstuff saw a 73% increase in revenue year over year and a huge boost to online sales.

Executive Summary

Ecommerce can be an excellent way for small businesses to stand out, offering a way to drive sales, increase visibility on the web, and meet growth goals in a way that achieves everything you need. By choosing a dependable platform that can accommodate current and future needs and focusing on the most valuable features for success, it’s possible to take your business to the next level.

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