The Applecado blog

eCommerce platforms: Off the shelf or Bespoke?

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COVID-19 has turned the world upside down in a very short time. Lockdowns were enforced virtually everywhere, and while online sales were already dominating retail this is going to cause a real shift in shoppers’ behaviours.

Whether you are a producer or manufacturer, or a retailer, we’re going to run through a few options for selling online.

If you’re running a hospitality business that is beginning to trade online — perhaps Coronavirus has turned your restaurant into a deli, or you're sharing content or teaching virtually — there are great ways to take payments, or offer delivery without needing a dedicated online store. We’re going to cover this separately, please keep an eye on our blog.

What is the best eCommerce platform?

Much like Content Management Systems, there are lots of different eCommerce solutions out there to choose from. We’re going to try and summarise the main choices and compare with a bespoke eCommerce website.


There are marketplaces like Etsy and Folksy if your products are handmade, Amazon and eBay for ready to go marketplaces with a more mainstream product range.

While you can get up and running very quickly and cheaply with a new online marketplace, however it’s important to consider…

  • They take a cut of your sales,
  • You’re on the same platform directly competing with other retail companies who may be selling the same range which can encourage a race to the bottom,
  • You have less opportunity to interact with your audience when using a marketplace solution,
  • You have less control over processes - if customers are frustrated, you probably won’t find out, and don’t have any chance to make a change,
  • You don’t ‘own’ any of it so you have no recourse if fees are hiked significantly, or your store is closed.

eCommerce platforms

Off the shelf eCommerce solutions are also available from companies like Shopify or Woocommerce (although there are may others too). These solutions will require you to get your own traffic to them, unlike something like Amazon or eBay - but you will have slightly greater control over your shop behind the scenes. Widgets and plug-ins are usually available to add-on (at an extra cost) to better enable you to manage your shop.

  • eCommerce platforms such as these come with various pricing models. Initially, you can DIY or use an agency to put it together, which either costs your time or money for agency time (and design expertise etc),
  • There may be a monthly subscription cost, or you’re paying a percentage on each sale - bear in mind as well that initial costs might look inviting but where you need extra add-ons, the ongoing costs can begin to spiral,
  • Similar to marketplaces, you don’t have much ownership over your online business - you can’t easily change how things work, you don’t have anything to keep if you stop paying your subscription,
  • You’re somewhat restricted into either a whole new design and development on your site AND your shop, or you’re tied into the software you chose originally. There’s no easy way to unlink a site and shop,
  • Sometimes updating your site can break the plug-ins you use, we know of a local company whose website upgrade stopped their online shop from working!
  • Some providers scale up rates on how successful your shop is, so it’s great that you’re making more money, but the provider increases their share of the pie, which you could have spent on commissioning a bespoke online shop, which brings us to…

Bespoke eCommerce

We only work on fully bespoke projects, so obviously we’re in favour of that approach. The way we see it is, your shop, product range, and most importantly, your way of working is not the same as everyone else, so why should we force you into working the same way as everyone else?

Bespoke software, systems, e-commerce platforms are infinitely flexible - you can choose literally everything about how it works. From integrations, one or more payment options, financing facilities, stock control, customising or personalising products, offering various discounts or special pricing, gift vouchers, order management, reporting and accounting are all your call.

The other huge benefit to a bespoke system is that they continue to be adaptable and flexible, adding new functionality is always possible and you won’t be limited like you would when you outgrow off-the-shelf systems. We support our projects for the long term and we are often working with our clients to improve their sites as the business evolves or grows, so if you need to change something about your online shop - we’ll be able to help you achieve it.

A custom eCommerce website is quite likely, more expensive up front, but

  • Compare costs over a longer term and consider what you’re paying across all of the subscriptions/licensing,
  • It should last your longer as it’s made for you, and can be adapted to suit any changes,
  • You do have ownership over it, depending on the specifics of your agreement, but it’s likely you can take your website and either look after it yourself, or move it to another agency/developer,
  • It is likely to be be more secure as a result less reliance on a suite of open source plug-ins.


Do you have a question about the best eCommerce solution for your business?

We are always happy to help, feel free to get in touch.