Knowing how to add ecommerce to your website can turn a hobby into a business. However, the exact methods available to you will depend on what kind of website you have. After browsing the options with their advantages and limitations, you’ll be able to decide whether to add e-commerce to your existing website or build a dedicated e-commerce website from scratch.
How to Add Ecommerce to Your Website by Site Type
First off, it’s important to identify what kind of website you have right now. Is it:
- An online store that you created with one of the major shopping carts?
- A general website that you created with a website builder?
- A custom website that you had made by a web developer?
- An individual profile on a free web platform like Blogger, Medium or LinkedIn?
Once you’ve identified the best description of your existing site, you’ll be able to see which options you have for adding e-commerce features and accepting credit and debit card payments.
Selling Online with the Major Shopping Carts
Shopping carts were created to make it effortless to create an online store and start selling products, even with no knowledge of code. The most popular e-commerce platforms by market share as of July 2022 were WooCommerce, Squarespace Online Stores, Woo Themes, Shopify and Wix Stores.
To integrate a global payment gateway and enable transactions in your ecommerce store, all you need to do is add a payment processor plugin, activate the payment solutions you want to use, test the gateway and take your updated website live.
Payment Service Provider Plugins
If you use a plugin that’s offered by payment service providers like PayPal and Stripe, you’ll need to create an account on the PSP’s website. Next, you’ll configure some basic settings such as your country and currency code. Then, you’re ready to go.
Dedicated Merchant Account Plugins
API plugins from dedicated merchant account providers like Unicorn Group will ask for your business details, tax information and financial statements and complete an underwriting process before you integrate your payment gateway and take it live. This underwriting process ensures you will be able to process payments with no interruptions, account freezes or the sudden termination of your account.
Using Website Builders
Let’s imagine you created a hobby or business website using a website builder and are now wanting to add ecommerce features. The good news is that the main website builders (or content management systems) make it pretty easy to integrate ecommerce and start selling online. In this case, what you’ll usually need to do is to upgrade your subscription to a business plan and activate the corresponding e-commerce platform. Then you can add your chosen payment solutions as before.
The corresponding e-commerce platforms are:
- The WooCommerce plugin for WordPress websites
- The Wix Stores app for Wix sites
- Drupal Commerce for Drupal websites
- HikaShop for Joomla websites
Once you’ve chosen the relevant plugin, all you need to do is click “install”. You will then be prompted to fill out your details, add products and choose a payment processor from the list.
Building Custom Websites
As of January 2023, 43.2% of all websites on the internet were built using WordPress and 2.5% were built using Wix. However, if you’ve had your business website built from scratch by a web developer rather than using a content management system, there won’t be a ready-to-go app or module that you can integrate into your website straight away.
To add e-commerce to a custom-built website, you can:
- List your products in online marketplaces like Amazon and Etsy and provide the links to buy your products from these marketplaces on your existing website.
- Create a separate (hosted) e-commerce website for online retail using a shopping cart platform. Make the branding consistent across your online store and business website. Then, connect the two via a “shop now” link in a visible place on your existing website.
- Add a Shopify “buy” button to embed a micro-store into your existing website.
- Copy and paste a few lines of code to add a PayPal Express or Stripe Checkout payment button to your existing website. Customers will be redirected to pay in a separate window.
- Integrate an API-hosted checkout from a merchant services provider or payment service provider. You will usually need to request a new API module to integrate a payment gateway on a custom website.
- Copy and paste the code for a white-label payment gateway and connect it to a merchant account and merchant services, provided separately from the gateway itself.
- Build your own custom payment gateway from scratch and negotiate a contract with an acquiring bank.
The right solution from this list will usually depend on the number of different product types you have, your expected monthly transaction volume and the kind of customer experience you’re after. Generally, buy buttons are best for hobby businesses and API-hosted checkouts are best for serious businesses.
Creating Limited-Feature Profiles on a Third-Party Website
Websites like Blogger, LinkedIn and Medium aren’t built for e-commerce and don’t allow their users to change the source code on a whim. For these kinds of hosted profiles, your options are more limited.
- Link out to your products on online marketplaces.
- Link out to a separate e-commerce website or shopping cart platform where customers can browse and buy your products.
Depending on how developed your website is, you might decide that it’s worth creating a new online store and directing your current followers to the new site. You’ll have more options as far as payment processors and merchant services and can create a more professional and streamlined user experience.
Things to Consider When Choosing an E-Commerce Solution for Your Online Business
When moving into online sales, it’s essential to assess the various ecommerce platform options based on the features they offer and how well they fit with your business model. Choosing a payment solution according to fit is better in the long term than choosing a payment solution based on convenience, a low initial cost or near-instant integration.
Pros and Cons of Payment Buttons
Payment buttons are quick and easy to install and some even include marketing features. However:
- You won’t get a dedicated merchant account.
- Customers might be taken off-site to pay, interrupting the buyer’s journey.
- You might not be able to customise the checkout or add branding.
- You won’t be able to customise your fraud scrub.
- You’ll only get basic ecommerce features.
- Your account could be frozen or terminated without warning.
Pros and Cons of an On-Site Payment Gateway
A payment gateway from a dedicated merchant account provider usually takes longer to get up and running due to the thorough underwriting process and you might pay monthly fees. However, you’ll get:
- 24/7 control of your money
- 24/7 live customer support
- The full range of merchant services, including:
- Detailed sales reports and analytics
- Adjustable fraud scrub
- Chargeback protection features
- Recurring billing capabilities
- Affiliate management
- A customer database
- A wide range of supported cards and alternative payment methods, leading to more sales
A lightning-speed integration initially might backfire if you end up paying higher transaction fees than you need to. Businesses with a high volume of sales need to put a lot of thought, research, and time into finding the right payment processor to ensure that their decision leads to the best long-term outcome.
As a general guide, dedicated merchant account providers usually provide custom rates for each of their clients that are designed to offer the best value for your business model. Payment service providers, in contrast, usually have fixed or tiered rates with no room for negotiation.
Your Current Customer Base
If you’ve dedicated years to building a following, replacing your existing website could confuse your followers (your potential customers) and slow down your initial sales. In this case, it might make sense to keep your existing website and connect it to a separate dedicated online store.
In contrast, a blogger who’s been building a following for a year or less might be better off starting over with an e-commerce website if they suddenly decide to take their online project seriously. They can then communicate with their current followers and encourage them to migrate there.
Research Your Options, Choose the Best Fit and Make Your Online Store a Success
Online stores can be built in a variety of ways, and the best way for you to integrate e-commerce into your website depends on your goals and the specific features you need. Generally, hobbyists and fledgling businesses are best installing a payment button or small embedded Shopify cart. Serious businesses really need a dedicated onsite checkout.
Once you’ve added e-commerce to your website (or built a new e-commerce website), remember to make the website professional, attractive and user-friendly and to optimise your website for search engines. From there, offer great customer service and invest in marketing to grow your e-commerce sales.