If you looked into a reverse crystal ball at the last 10 years in online stores, you’d find a lot of nostalgic relics. While the first-ever website was technically built in 1991, the text-based, GIF-heavy, slow-to-load storefronts from back then are a far cry from what customers experience today.
The creation of the world wide web was seen as a digital revolution — information previously only available via books, faxes, and mail was now accessible with the click of a button.
Soon after the launch of the internet, brick-and-mortar retailers (like Barnes and Noble) quickly realized that there was a rich opportunity to sell their products online — after all, the U.S. postal service has been around since the early 70s, so shipping - at least in small quantities - was not a problem.
Fast-forward 30 years, and the constant introduction of new technologies paved the way for:
WYSIWYG and drag-and-drop website builders,
A mobile-first design theory, and
Virtual reality, machine learning, and augmented reality.
Rising customer expectations
With more and more stores moving or expanding their businesses online, an increase in competition has forced brands to create innovative online experiences to grab customers’ attention, delight them, and make them eventually return to re-purchase.
Because of this, customers have also started demanding more and more from the experience of shopping online. A lot of factors can dissuade customers from shopping at your store:
Too many steps to checkout
Unreliable search functionality
Not enough shipping options (or no free shipping)
Because of these nuances, brands now need to constantly A/B test the different elements of their store, make UX/UI improvements, and survey customers to get a pulse for how the store is performing.
What is customization in ecommerce?
Ecommerce customization is the practice of changing an ecommerce storefront — either on the front- or back-end — to account for a new look and feel. Every change a brand makes on its storefront is a customization; requiring either development work, design work, or another type of creativity.
1. Content customization.
Brands everywhere are taking a content-first approach to attracting customers. Simply having a product-market fit doesn’t work anymore — instead, brands must craft an experience around their products. This starts with having well-written, SEO-driven, and shareable content. Customized content can live just about anywhere, depending on where shoppers interact with your brand the most:
2. Cross-border localization and translation.
Barriers to international expansion are slowly being removed — now more than ever, U.S. based retailers are starting to sell to a broader audience, including Europe and Asia. Customers in those regions won’t respond well to a storefront that doesn’t display their local currency or language. At minimum, brands need to make reasonable accommodations for international visitors with translation services and multi-currency capabilities. Furthermore, enterprise brands should consider a multi-site approach — where each region has its own URL.
3. Customized retention & retargeting marketing.
After a visitor comes to your website and views a product, they’re already in the consideration phase — meaning that it will be a lot less expensive to advertise towards them and drive conversion, compared to someone who has never interacted with your brand before.
This forces brands to come up with unique retargeting and retention campaigns to keep customers interested in products after they abandon a web page, or after they leave their cart unpurchased.
4. Product customization.
If you have solid inventory in place, paired with the technology needed to customize products, your apparel, print, or electronic company can quickly become a good resource for teams and companies that need swag.
Benefits of site customization
While customizing your site may take more development or design time, having a unique brand will help you get noticed and recognized by customers. If they’re excited by your brand, then they are more likely to return and shop more. Aside from this higher customer lifetime value (LTV), customizing your site may also lead to other benefits.
If a customer feels like they’re getting a unique, built-for-them experience by shopping on your site, they’re less motivated to leave your store and shop elsewhere.
Since your site is customized, it will be easier to add different content for various international shoppers.
Customizing on-premise versus SaaS platforms
At the beginning of every online store’s journey lies a choice between platform types. They either select a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform, which means outsourcing hosting and back-end management to a company specializing in ecommerce, or they select a platform that gives you the responsibility for all or some maintenance, like a fully on-premise solution or an infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) solution.
When it comes to ecommerce customization, your current platform has a lot to do with how quickly you can get things customized and how much work (or budget) it will require.
Generally, it is easier to create a well-customized site if you choose a platform that offers front-end flexibility, like SaaS. Modifying an IaaS or on-premise solution will require a skilled design and development team. On-premise systems are complex and often require development professionals with specific certifications.
Every company is subject to scrutiny when it comes to security and compliance. This is understandable when you consider the volume of credit card data that passes through databases while people are shopping online.
Ensuring your ecommerce platform is as secure as possible means keeping up with security patches, updates, and PCI compliance standards.
Since neither type of platform (SaaS or on-premise) is inherently safer, your decision will rely on whether you prefer to have control over updates and compliance auditing or whether you want to pass off that responsibility to an ecommerce provider.
Cost is always going to be a determining factor in business. The cost difference between customizing on-premise and SaaS ecommerce platforms can be significant.
Hosting software in the cloud is cost-saving, the same way that businesses going digital save on printer and paper costs. Moving to technology rather than on-premise maintenance takes less material and development and frees up more resources for design and customization.
The lifetime cost of SaaS platforms is significantly lower than other solutions, primarily due to the complexity and cost of building and maintaining an in-house data center.
Because of constantly-growing customer demands, online stores must always have a pulse on making design and development changes to their website. Having a few moderate customizations — such as cart optimization, blog content, and product description videos — is now table-stakes for many innovative brands.
As developers continue to introduce new forms of technology to the world wide web, it comes as no surprise that the level of customization on websites will continue to increase. Your choice in ecommerce platform plays a hand in the availability and ease of ecommerce customization.
BigCommerce is the world’s leading cloud-based ecommerce platform for fast-growing and established brands. Combining enterprise functionality, an open architecture, and rich app ecosystem, BigCommerce enables businesses to grow online sales with 80% less cost, time and complexity than on-premise software.
About the Author: Corinne Watson
Corinne is a writer and researcher at BigCommerce, where she works directly with agency and technology partners to bring their tools, services and ideas to the commerce industry at large with educational content. When she’s not working, she’s creating and designing for fun online.