Creating an e-commerce website: template vs custom

Written by: Samantha Wolhuter

If you are thinking about starting your own e-commerce business, we think you would find our guide very useful: How to start your e-commerce business from scratch.

So, you’ve stumbled upon a great idea for an exciting e-commerce business that is set to propel you to the A-list of successful startup gurus – nice! But before you start pricing Bentleys and preparing your TED Talk, there are a few things you need to do first: like creating your website for starters. 

One of the first major decisions you will face is deciding to go with either an e-commerce website template or to get a team of clever tech nerds to design and develop a bespoke one for you. Every single website you have ever visited has faced this issue, so you’re in good company. Luckily, you’re spoilt for choice as there are tons of online platforms offering thousands of drag-and-drop e-commerce website templates to choose from, such as Shopify and WooCommerce. But if you’re looking for a custom-built website boasting features and functionalities specific to your business needs, there are specialists that can provide professional and creative digital solutions (one, in particular, comes to mind…). 

So how do you choose between a template vs a custom design? There are a few crucial things to consider when determining the best solution for your business. Luckily, your tech-tastic Brainiac friends have weighed-up the various pros and cons of template vs custom e-commerce websites to help make the decision a little easier for you. Let’s jump into it!

Type, timeline, and budget

When you consider the type of business you have and your budget, then the decision will pretty much be made for you. For instance, a webshop for a florist operating in a small town in suburbia will have vastly different requirements to an international dropshipping enterprise. Therefore smaller, niche-based businesses that require simple features and functionalities can successfully operate on an affordable themed template, whereas larger enterprises with numerous technical and logistical requirements will need a bespoke platform and features.

For businesses looking to launch a website immediately, choosing themed templates is a good option if you need to be up and running in a day or two. The process is incredibly simple and quick as all the coding and technical requirements have been done already: all you have to do is select a theme, upload your content, and hit the launch button. 

Custom websites, on the other hand, require months of development and design by a dedicated team of specialists. The benefit of this approach is that your platform is created with each of your specific needs and requirements taken into account, resulting in you and your customers benefitting from complete customisation. This goes a long way in creating unique and memorable user experiences that will eventually lead to increased brand loyalty and advocacy in the long run.

Your budget is a major determining factor when it comes to the options you are able to explore. You can’t have champagne taste with beer money. Templatised websites are far more affordable than customised ones, but although this simplicity comes at a lower cost, the real price you pay is representative of what you actually get from the platform. Basic Shopify account fees range between $30-$80 per month, Advanced Shopify costs $300 per month, and the fully-hosted Shopify Plus is $2,000 per month. A fully-customised website can cost anywhere between $5,000-$30,000 but this can be seen as money well-spent when you consider the specialist teams and support you receive, especially the vast benefits of complete customisation.

Level of customisation

Depending on your business type, you are likely to find all the features and functionality you require already embedded into a website theme. And even if you realise you need to add more features, it is not a highly complicated process to do so. Most themed templates are versatile enough to add and remove features with a few clicks. So, for most business requirements, the ability to add a few customised features without the need for an outsourced technical team is enough to make the decision of themed vs custom websites an easy one. But there is a limit to the number of apps and types of features you can implement into a themed site: too many will slow down your page loading speed which will spell disaster for your business. So if your business requires a website with many apps and functions, then building your site from scratch is the way to go.

With fully customised websites you can choose to have as many simple or complicated integrations and additional features as you like without compromising speed and functionality. You also have the added benefit of having access to your own team of specialist developers and designers who can guide you to make the best decisions at every digital touchpoint, offering users a unique experience. Of course, the benefit of being the only site in existence quite like yours is tremendous (design, layout, microinteractions, etc.), as the impact of bespoke UX and UI can beef up your bottom line as users clearly favour unique experiences that speak to their individual needs. 

Additionally, if your business has an existing e-commerce system or CRM, then your outsourced team can easily integrate your existing tools into your new site, which is not entirely possible when using a template website.

Maintenance

Many e-commerce first-timers think that once their website is launched the technical work is over, however, this is far from the truth. E-commerce websites require continuous maintenance and updates to remain up-to-date and fully functional. New pages need to be added, bugs need to be fixed, and new apps and add-ons require deployment. Luckily for the cash-strapped entrepreneur, themed websites are more or less as easy to maintain as they are to create in the first place. Dashboards of themed sites are sufficiently streamlined enough to allow the layman to successfully perform most tasks. But again, existing page templates don’t allow for much customisation or versatility. And when more technical elements are required, professionals are needed.

Having a team of dedicated developers and IT specialists at your disposal to guide you through the build, launch, and post-launch initiatives cuts out a lot of headaches for business owners. A fully-customised website requires fully-customed technical support and maintenance teams to attend to every issue. In addition, dedicated technical teams can provide step-by-step guidance and maintenance to allow you to make adjustments as and when required. But the most alluring aspect of having professionals in your corner is that they can detect issues and inconsistencies long before they become major issues. And when issues do slip through the cracks of precaution, your team is able to resolve them immediately before they wreak havoc on your platform (as opposed to waiting hours on the phone for IT support). 

Summary

As you can see, deciding whether to go the template or custom website route hinges on understanding your business requirements. The type of business you want to create and the market you wish to penetrate will determine which option is best for your needs. If you are looking to operate in the small-league where time, budget, and simplicity are major deciding factors, then a template website is best for you. But be aware of the various limitations and hindrances to scalability and growth that come with it.

If, however, you have your sights set on e-commerce world domination in an enterprise space, then a custom platform build is your best option for many reasons. Custom websites can cram as many features and functionalities as your business requires, and having a dedicated team of specialist professionals who know the front- and backend of your site very well keeps your operation running smoothly, at scale.

But no matter the market you’re looking to enter, the success of your business hinges on the performance and functionality of your website as it is the consumer-facing flagship of your entire brand. In the end, the idea is simple: you get what you pay for.

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Last modified: July 26, 2021
Author info
Samantha Wolhuter
Sam is in charge of writing a big portion of WeAreBrain’s creative content. She is a digital nomad always on the go, inspiring us with her words from some of the world's most beautiful locations.
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