Ask The Geek : How Do I Start Building My E-Commerce Site?

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Dear Ask The Geek,

OK, so I made my site and then found out (too late) that I can’t add shipping profiles to it for different countries. So I need a ‘proper’ website with something like oscommerce or x cart, but I really can’t do it myself.

I was thinking about paying a web designer $2200 to design and set up a site for me but it is a huge amount of money to spend which I don’t really have and I would rather spend less, but I don’t know where to turn to. I do know that I am not capable of doing this myself. Just trying to design my labels in Photoshop makes me scream in frustration!

I want a good looking site that makes people want to go back, nothing fancy like Flash, but a clean professional site. What do you think? Do you have any reliable contacts with e-commerce and web design experience? Is $2200 too much?

Sorry for all the questions!

Ready and Rearing to Go

Dear Ready and Rearing to Go,

For your e-commerce site, that’s a good price, and that’s a bad price….depending on what the specs (specifications) are – what is the designer offering for that price? And, more importantly, what do you WANT? I strongly suggest you sit down and make a list of all the features and functionalities you’d like your site to have. You can get a good idea by looking at similar e-commerce sites though there’s a more formal process called benchmarking that I’ll explain in another post.

Not knowing what you want will cost you a lot of money, either in paying for features you don’t need, or having to insert something later because it wasn’t planned for initially or included in the first quote.

Make a list of all those features and functions of the site, and then prioritize them – label some “must have” and some “nice to have” – having this list you can start evaluating not only his offer but you need to figure out if there are any holes in the offer or if there’s something you can remove to save money.

If you get an answer “well, that will cost you more” at least you know it’s because YOU have decided that functionality is critical. And, hopefully knowing what you want will help you see if there are some free alternatives or compromises you can make.

Here’s some things to consider for the website’s front-end (visible to your clients), but this list is not exhaustive – I suggest you brainstorm a list of anything you can think of:

  • Customer Assistance – is it live, through a contact form, or using an email address? How many different forms of contact will you offer your customers?
  • Types and Methods of Payment – is the payment happening through your e-commerce site, or is it resting on an external payment site (like PayPal)?
  • Shopping Cart and Login – Can your users buy more than one of your products at a time, hence the shopping cart? Do you want users to be able to save their shopping carts via login, without a login, send an order in pieces to two different addresses?
  • Tools – are there any special tools your site will need? Will they have to be specially developed (from 0) or customized (from existing paid or free tools) for your site? Tools like calculators, calendars, profiles?
  • Flash and Video – do you want or need an animated introduction to your products, or video? (**note: this is where the price starts to skyrocket)
  • Stock Images – Do you need imagery/graphics for your site? Since you are selling your own product, you probably won’t need to buy any stock images for your website, but it can be an additional cost.

Since you’re already a blogger, you know how important it is to have hands-on access to your content, so with regards to the back-end of the system (the underlying servers, software and code), here are some things to consider:

  • Back-end software – Is the back-end (content management system) proprietary / their creation? Or is it built on a readily-available software like WordPress, Joomla, etc.? Can you learn how to use it by finding information online?
  • Making changes – How easily will you be able to intervene to make changes to the text on the site? The images? The design?
  • Site Installation and Location – Where will the site reside – on their servers, or will they install this system on your server / where you buy hosting? This is important in case you decide to leave – what happens then? Is there a clause in the contract at how they will deliver the system to you, or what they will deliver?

These are some things to get you started. While I can’t tell you exactly what is good value for that price you quoted, hopefully you’re starting out with your must-haves for designing your website and you can even get a second quote to compare them.

Sara Rosso (aka WHT’s In-House Geek)

3 replies »

  1. Yes, $2200 is too much. If you are just getting started, why not test the waters by opening a store on eBay?
    A Basic store subscription costs $15.95 per month on (, £15.99 per month on (, and €9.95 per month on ( It is a completely customizable, low-risk way to get started in e-commerce. And yes, you can ship worldwide from any one store.

    • Paola, good suggestion but this person actually already has two stores with Etsy and another site but wants to make her own site e-commerce enabled.

  2. While doing some research for my brother, I stumbled upon some amazing open-source ecommerce software. If you google “best open source ecommerce software”, you’ll find some very interesting stuff! As far as technical abilities are concerned, they vary from developer-grade to regular-internet-user-not-alot-of-experience-grade
    Good luck!

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Director of Product Marketing @ HubSpot. Early hire @ Automattic / Founder World Nutella Day. MBA Alumni Advisory Board @ Santa Clara University.

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