Web Design Tips

The Easiest Way For Web Designers to Build Beautiful Ecommerce Sites

By Ryan Gilmore on October, 14 2015

For web designers that want to grow their customer base, tapping into the exploding world of eCommerce is an easy choice. But if you’ve never designed an eCommerce site before, jumping in can seem a little intimating.

Well, you don’t have to worry. This article will walk you through the different categories of eCommerce platforms and the types of clients you’re likely to encounter so you can make smart decisions when it comes time to take on your first eCommerce client.

Platform Categories

In eCommerce there are three main categories of platforms:

  • Entry Level SaaS
  • Advanced Platforms
  • Enterprise Platforms

For the sake of this article we’ll focus on the first two. Let’s walk through designing for each platform and the type of clients that each platform tends to attract. This will be helpful in determining how you can invest your resources for maximum return.

Designing on Entry-Level SaaS Platforms

Entry-level platforms give you access to a large pool of potential clients with modest budgets. You will need to be a developer or know one in order to implement even moderately customized designs.

As the category name suggests, these platforms are great for first time merchants. They’re easy to use and provide most of the functionality an online business needs to be successful. Brands that fit into this category include:

  • Shopify
  • Bigcommerce
  • Volusion

From a business perspective, these platforms are a boon for designers. Most have been around for years so they have great brand recognition and formal partner programs that can connect you with a large pool of potential clients.

However, the vast majority of these clients will lack significant experience as business owners, which has its positives and negatives.

  • Positive – The majority of these clients will lack design experience so they have fewer preconceived notions. You can more easily steer them towards great design, but it will take education.
  • Negative - The majority of these clients will be new business owners, and in all but edge cases, they’ll have smaller budgets than customers on more sophisticated platforms.

From a functionality point of view, these platforms have very limited WYIWYG tools. You can use them to make simple changes to a store design. To do anything more than point a client to a theme that you then tweak a little with the built in tools requires you to write custom front-end code.

If you already know code or have a coding partner, this likely won’t be a big deal to you. But if coding is new territory, then this could be a deal breaker. The time required to recruit a developer, coupled with smaller client budgets and the need to split revenue between more people, can really cut into profitability. Plus, the time required to implement the development work means you can take on fewer clients.  

Designing on Advanced Platforms

You get access to a pool of potential clients with larger budgets. However, you will need web development skills or know a developer to implement your designs for a client.

At a certain point, a business will outgrow these entry-level platforms and start looking for something with more functionality. Normally, they need to make this switch because their business has grown in size and/or complexity and they need more customizations or integrations with third-party services. This is where advanced platforms come in. Brands that fit into this category include:

  • PrestaShop
  • Magento Community Edition

These platforms can present a great opportunity to designers as their users are usually:

  • Established businesses with a larger budget and a deeper understanding of ecommerce
  • More willing to invest in a unique design that distances them from competitors

Functionally speaking, these platforms suffer from the same issues as entry-level platforms: doing anything significant requires coding skills. Some, like Magento Community Edition, don’t even include WYSIWYG tools. It requires advanced knowledge of both front-end and back-end to install themes and make any design customizations.

From a work capacity point of view, you’ll run into the same problems as those presented by entry-level platforms. You’ll need to recruit a developer if you don’t know one already and you’ll need to share any revenue from the project.  Since these platforms are more advanced, expect to spend more time working around design quirks and learning the platform in and out.

Is There Another Option?

If you’re a designer that wants to break into eCommerce Zoey is a great solution. There’s a readily available client base and our design suite means you don’t need to worry about writing code.

Stepping back, you can see that there are advantages to either type of platform, but I’d like to share an option that doesn’t require coding knowledge for design implementation: Zoey.

Zoey falls into the category of advanced eCommerce platform. We’re based on Magento Community Edition, so we offer all of the flexibility and advanced functionality that more sophisticated businesses need.

Typically, merchants graduate to us from one of the entry level SaaS platforms previously mentioned, or more growth focused merchants will choose us as their first platform. Either way, you’re gaining access to more experienced merchants that understand the value of great design and potentially have budgets to suit.

But the real reason to choose Zoey for your eCommerce clients is our new design suite. This suite of tools allows designers to implement customized designs without writing a line of code. 

There are tremendous advantages to this:

  • You can rapidly prototype designs and preview them in a live environment
  • You don’t need to split revenue with a developer
  • Less delay between design and development so you can take on more clients

Check out this short overview video of how it works:



If you’d like to learn more about Zoey’s design suite or our formal partner program, shoot us a note or start a 14 day free trial of our platform!

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