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Compare an ecommerce website builder vs custom coding
Find out the pros and cons of both.

Ecommerce Website Builder vs coding with web developer or web designer

In an age of the internet where you can build online businesses, tools, and products without code or web development skills, it is commonly asked: «should I use a website builder or get someone to build it for me», or indeed «should I try and build it myself»?

We’re going to try and break down the pros and cons of both. Of course, being an ecommerce website builder ourselves, we may be inherently biased, but we do have a nuanced view on the subject. After all, in the team’s collective experience, we have custom coded hundreds of our own websites over decades, as well as paid web development agencies large sums of money to develop websites and apps for us and for clients, so we have sat at both sides of the table. If you want to skip straight to trying SimpleShop, we offer a 14 day trial with no credit card required, so you can roadtest building your online store with our super easy platform. Give it a go by clicking below:

Otherwise, on with the comparison!

Ecommerce website builder vs custom ecommerce website: a comparison

In this table, we will summarise the main advantages and disadvantages of both approaches. As with any comparison, it should be emphasised that no advantage of one option is proportional to the disadvantage of the other.

Though we are focusing on ecommerce builders vs custom ecommerce web development, a great deal of this comparison can apply to website builders vs custom sites across industries and product types (e.g. blogs, single page websites, event pages).

Ecommerce website builders Coding with web developer/web designer
The platform and website is pre-optimised for ecommerce and there is industry expertise and best practice by default. You rely on your own judgement or trust the judgement of your web developer(s) about what the online store needs.
There is no build cost, just a small monthly fee (in SimpleShop’s case: $14). Depending on size and scope, you could spend thousands of dollars with freelance developers, or a tens of thousands of dollars with a development agency.
Popular payment gateways are built in. You need to choose how you take payment, and integrate these into your store. You may also need to keep on top of payment compliance rules and laws.
Hosting, domain routing, DNS and email is taken care of. Building your own website means setting up and maintaining your own server, and pointing your domain, email, and other services to each other. Hosting can be cheap, but you need to maintain your server and keep it up to date for security. You also need to fix it if it breaks. This can be taken care of by sysadmin help, but this costs a larger amount.
3rd party integrations and plugins are available and instantaneous (e.g. Mailchimp, Instagram). Building 3rd party integrations with your favourite services is often a complicated business. These service’s APIs will usually give you free access, but you will be responsible for maintaining that integration in the future.
Checkouts are less flexible and are sometimes standardised. SimpleShop does have customisation options. A major reason for building a custom ecommerce store is if you need a radically different checkout process. Because most people buy products (be they physical or digital) in the same way, there often isn’t a need for a custom checkout, but when a business has very specific requirements for checkout, this is a valid reason to develop a custom website.
You are often limited to the integrations of the platform. Though website builders these days have extensive integrations, if you have integrations with exotic and uncommon APIs and external services, sometimes it is simply not possible to marry a website builder and a highly specialised service integration. Website builders will naturally cater for the most popular integrations as a priority.
You can still have a totally custom frontend (e.g. the appearance of your store can still be totally unique with a custom theme). Without a website platform behind it, your custom frontend will still require the development of a custom backend.

All online stores have the same fundamental requirements

OK, so we weren’t able to balance the two exactly. That’s because in the vast majority of cases, ecommerce shops should fulfil core functions in the same way. They should easily allow the upload, presentation, listing, search, purchase and review of products, and the taking of payments. They should be able to do this on all devices, and follow good design standards. Further to that, they should integrate features to improve conversion rate, increase average order value, increase rates of customer retention, and facilitate marketing and targeted advertising. All website builders perform these functions out of the box, which accounts for 99.5% of a typical online store’s wishlist. 0.5% of online stores may critically require something they can’t get from a platform.

When website builders were in their infancy in the early 2000s, the feature gap between platform and custom code was large - custom websites were much more powerful, but these days it is generally the other way around. It is hard to match the power and feature set of an ecommerce platform with a custom website. Can a single developer or group of developers match the output of dozens, or hundreds of developers cumulatively contributing to a single platform over years?

Putting your eggs in one basket with an ecommerce platform?

It’s fair to ask the question - «what if I get started with an ecommerce platform and they disappear?» — obviously this is a highly undesirable situation. We would advise going with an established ecommerce website builder — for example, SimpleShop has been around since 2014 and is bigger than ever. The good news is, too, that it has never been easier to migrate from one platform to another, precisely because so many core functions and structures of ecommerce are standardised.

You could equally argue that by developing a custom website, you’re also putting all your eggs in a different basket if:

  • Your developers leave you in the lurch with a website that doesn’t work as intended
  • You can’t change or maintain your website without knowing the code well
  • You can’t change or maintain your website without paying someone to do it for you
  • You get hacked
  • The server falls over, or there are problems with your web hosting company
  • You’re spending more money on your website than you are bringing in through sales

Ecommerce Platforms that charge commission on sales

It’s true, some ecommerce platforms charge commission on sales. Not a great thing to do. SimpleShop charges no commission on sales and never will.

Some ecommerce platforms also limit you on the volume of sales you make, or products you can list, or pages you can publish. SimpleShop does not limit you by sales vole, product listings, or pages and never will.

Can I migrate a custom website to an ecommerce platform?

Yes you can, and it’s surprisingly easy. You can enjoy peace of mind about your ecommerce hosting, payment processing, order management, taxes, integrations, for a low monthly fee. Check our pricing out here.

Give SimpleShop a try for free for 14 days, no credit card required

So, there it is, there’s our comparison. If you want to join our community of store owners, and get set up and making sales in 15 minutes or less, click the button below.

You can select one of our professional ecommerce themes, enter your details, and get started!