A Slick Shopping Site for under $2000?

We get regular requests to build shopping cart sites for small businesses and startups. Their budgets are often limited and expectations high. The average industry quote for a basic cart site, without much content or products is $6,000. And this excludes any SEO or traffic-building work. Building a shopping site without a marketing or advertising plan (and a monthly budget) is a bit like building a new shop at the end of a quiet no-exit street, then not telling anyone. Most new shop sites for home businesses do this. They just hope because it looks nice, has great products and submitted it to Google is enough. Orders will flow within days. But you’ll more likely go for months without a single sale…

But is it possible or even advisable to build a small business cart site for less than $5,000?

processYes. The trick is to reduce the branding and graphic design time. For most sites, the visual design, plus the coding of it is much of the cost. It’s a long process designers go through (right). An eCommerce site also requires 2-3 times additional work than normal site – These not only have to look good, but also ‘do stuff’ and [hopefully] attract steady traffic and sales…

1. Buy a premium theme

Keratin Hair StraighteningInstead of hiring a web designer to create a custom design from scratch, spending weeks in a costly design project, a more affordable alternative is to start with a pre-built design, called a theme. These range from US$20-100 ea. We can load and setup these for you for a modest fee. (I’ve known many web designers to buy these, then sell them as their own unique design, adding a huge markup. It’s easy for me to check).

Sites like Themeforest provide a marketplace for hundreds of designers and developers to sell their designs. Instead of making a design for one person, they can package it up and sell it to hundreds, at a very low cost. But there are risks. No pre-sale check of quality, performance or suitability is possible, only reading dubious reviews. Over the years we’ve purchased loads of themes and plugins, the majority eventually discarded.

My advice is to keep it simple. Avoid big sliders, all ‘multi-purpose’ designs, or boasting parallax, visual effects and special editors (e.g revolution slider, visual composer etc). These fancy things needlessly complicate the site build, often reducing visitor engagement, lowering site speed, reliability, even search ranking. 

If you follow these simple rules, keeping things simple, then the setup will be quicker and trouble-free. With most of the visual design and associated coding now done, you’ll also save 50-70% in both time and costs. This can allow more time [and a budget] to invest in other aspects like improving the cart functionality, speed, visitor signups, marketing, google ranking and site security – All items web designers tend to overlook or exclude, yet essential for a successful, high traffic cart site.

2. Get our help setting up the theme

What isn’t always realised, is these pre-built themes do not give you a finished design. Uploading the theme doesn’t instantly display what you see on the demo site. Careful configuration of the theme is needed.

If you don’t know WordPress well, then setting up the home page, widgets and menus can get messy. Some popular add-ons like visual composer and various sliders can also confuse, making it harder, in spite of the claims made for these tools. We’ve known newcomers spend weeks on all this and still get it wrong. But as a coder who has built hundreds of sites, we can do this theme setup very quickly, adding in things others will miss.

Once this is done, you just have to add in your own content, images and products using the familiar WordPress editor tools. We’ll also sort out any webforms, email, galleries, analytics etc. A team effort.

3. Take special care with theme selection

Try to avoid the popular, higher risk sites like themeforest, elegant themes or templatemonster. Avoid those popular “multi-purpose” themes that add a huge coding overhead plus needless complexity you don’t want nor need. Below is our recommended list of theme providers we’ve used with great success. Each offers clean, slick-looking designs that are well coded, more targeted and mobile-ready:

  1. http://www.web-savvy-marketing.com   (Industry-specific themes)
  2. http://www.restored316designs.com/   (Clean, stylish layouts)
  3. http://www.appfinite.com/   (Bold business styles; slick portfolios)
  4. https://www.prettydarncute.com/  (Girly designs for a home biz)
  5. http://www.studiopress.com  (For business, magazines, blogs)

A recent entrant in my recommended theme listing is themegrill. Their eStore theme is clean, beautifully designed and well coded, avoiding excessive overhead or needless add-ons that only slow sites down. The documentation is good, but if you get into trouble we can quickly help tweak any of these themes for colours, fonts, menus, adding in supplied logos, build forms, galleries, social linking etc. We also take care of critical ‘non-design’ items like security and performance (read more).

4. Now add in the Shopping Cart

wordpress-woocommerceWith the core WordPress site design now built using a theme from the above list, we can add in the shopping cart and products. (This is a separate module and not part of the theme itself). The best is WooCommerce, the free WordPress shopping cart plugin, used on over 5 million sites. However as in any cart setup, there are countless ‘tricks of the trade’ to make it work right and meet expectations. Even local issues around invoicing and banking gateways are important. We list most of these in another article.

Note many themes are marked as Woocommerce-ready or compatible. Here the coder just did additional work to ‘prettify’ the product, cart and checkout pages. Yet any good standard theme will still work fine with the WooCommerce plugin. You can even use a shopping cart theme without the cart running, even putting it in catalogue or a quoting mode. Handy for some service businesses.

5. Have a strategy to build traffic

Once running, SEO and related work is required to ensure you’re found in a Google search. SEO and building traffic is another separate budget and seldom included in a website build. For instant traffic, Google Adwords is often needed when first starting out.  However as you’ve saved thousands in web design areas, you’re already ahead of the competition. A lower cost site means you’ve money left over for online and offline advertising, which is normally spread out over several months, helping cash flow.  Reference.

Summary and to do list

eCommerce shop sites need more than good looks.  So, here’s the typical job list we work through.

  1. Arrange a suitable logo
  2. Arrange hosting, install WordPress
  3. Select appropriate premium theme
  4. Install, configure, fine-tune theme
  5. Add WooCommerce cart plugin
  6. Add some premium cart add-ons
  7. Add site content, photos, products
  8. Optimise for speed and security
  9. Visitor signup; engagement tools
  10. Traffic building; site marketing

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