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Should you create a showcase site or an e-commerce site?

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According to a global survey by Google/Ipsos, 74% of consumers in February 2019 in 27 countries searched online before going to a physical store to shop.  In other studies, that number is as high as 85%. That makes your business’s presence online all the more important for attracting consumers. According to a study by McKinsey, since the start of the COVID pandemic, 20–30% of business has moved online. With increasingly intense competition, a web presence is essential for business success in 2022.

But since creating a website can be a significant cost, it’s essential to anticipate as much as possible the questions around creating a website so that you can make the right choices. So, should you create a showcase site or an e-commerce site?

It’s your goals and your needs that define the response to this question! Read on to learn more.

What’s the difference between a showcase site and an e-commerce site?

Before diving into your website’s creation, the first question to ask is: what type of website should you choose? For businesses, there are two main choices: showcase websites and  e-commerce sites, but what’s the difference between these two options?

Showcase site—Your online visibility ally

Showcase websites are—like the name suggests—a showcase for your business. These websites do not allow customers to buy directly from you online. Their goal is to increase brand awareness or recruit potential prospects.

As such, a showcase site relies more on storytelling with the history and values of the business. A user should be able to discern from scanning the homepage what type of business they’re dealing with. On the business side, a showcase site is the perfect place to demonstrate expertise. If you have interesting customer use-cases, this is the place to talk about them, on a “Our work” page for example. That assures your prospects of your market knowledge, the diversity of your catalog (i.e. your products or services) and your adaptability in the face of customer problems.

Just like a physical showcase in a brick-and-mortar store, the website should also be attractive and sufficiently interesting that a user will stay on the page. That’s why it’s important not to skimp on the appearance of your showcase site, particularly if you sell websites (but we won’t get too much into that type of inception). A showcase website should be efficient and practical, the goal is to present your world, what you sell and how someone can buy it.

The advantages of a showcase website

1. Easy to make

If your technical competencies are somewhat limited, a showcase site is a great choice! By definition, it’s more simple to create as opposed to an e-commerce site. With a Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress, you can even create your own showcase website in just a few clicks. The one variable that could make your website creation more complex is the number of options that you want to have.

2. Customization for a lower cost

This is the variable that has the biggest impact on your website’s cost. Since a showcase website is less complicated to create, it’s cheaper overall to implement. If you decide to create a showcase website yourself and your budget is limited, you should be aware that there are a multitude of plugins available. This enables you to customize your website and improve the user experience thanks to the addition of free add-on features. The bill might run higher if you want to add widgets (like a calendar for setting up meetings for example), or more complicated visual elements. This increase is due to the need to “code” certain elements “by hand” and create specific designs to integrate into the website in the form of animations. But overall, the cheapest websites for a web agency to create are showcase websites.

3. 24/7 Brand awareness

Another advantage of showcase wbsites is that they increase the time table during which people can get to know you. Just like a physical store has its business hours, without a website, your company’s brand awareness is limited to your business hours. A showcase website lets you go further by making the essential information about your business, your products/services, and your business’s values available to anyone at any time.

4. More creative liberty

Finally, showcase websites all have a similar layout with certain essential pages (“About us,” “Our work”, “Contact,” etc.). To stand out among your competitors, you have great creative liberty to change the code and make a more aesthetic website, notably by using custom themes.

A modern and different site, in addition to being more memorable, will make your visitors trust you since it will show that you know how to think outside the box.

The limits of showcase websites

1. Difficulties standing out

Despite all these advantages, a showcase website also has its limits. The primary one being that having a website is no longer enough to stand out as a business. A showcase website is a first step but, depending on the market, and the number of competitors with a web presence, you’ll need to go further to differentiate yourself and win the visibility battle.

2. Difficult to measure Return on Investment (ROI)

The goal of a showcase website is to improve visibility and brand awareness. As such, it’s main purpose is to attract new customers. Unfortunately, as a simple showcase website, the return on investment is difficult to measure, since prospects cannot purchase directly online and need to request a quote or go to a physical store in order to become customers. And when a customer makes a purchase in-store, it’s difficult to tell whether or not the website contributed to that purchase.

3. Necessity to go someplace else to complete a purchase

This is related to another limitation of a showcase website: the fact that you can’t sell online. If you only have a single, physical point of sale, a prospect will need to go to a store to be able to buy what you sell.

To compensate for that, you can simplify the process of a sale. For example, if you sell only in physical stores, you can provide an interactive map for finding where customers can buy from you.

If you offer a service, a contact form is essential for being able to recontact a prospective customer and provide them with a quote.

In any case, this disconnect is a potential point of disengagement in a customer’s process of purchasing from you and represents a significant limit in showcase websites versus e-commerce sites.

E-commerce sites—Sell online at any time

E-commerce websites are—as their name suggests—websites for online commerce. With them:

  • customers can buy products on the internet
  • businesses can make their products and business known, and sell directly to potential customers

Here, considering the entirety of the purchase process can take place online, it’s especially important to not make major errors on an e-commerce website, since this can immediately impact your sales revenue. The homepage here should also be very carefully designed, since the user will need to know quickly what you sell, and potentially, at what price. But before a prospect goes to make a purchase, you also need to convince them that the product you offer is also what they need.

For that, you can work on your sales pitch and product characteristics, but you also need to employ points that reassure customers of the trustworthiness of your website in order to gain your potential customers’ trust. For example, it’s very important to have an up-to-date website (no promotions that have already ended or “Happy Holidays” messages in March). You also need a page that presents your business: its history, its location, and its values.

The trick with e-commerce, then, is combining the presentation of a business with engagement that leads visitors towards purchasing. For that, you should concentrate, among other things, on the path a visitor takes when they visit your website. This should be well thought out and enjoyable in order to direct them to the product page when they are ready to buy.

A good e-commerce website can be a true powerhouse for sales.

The advantages of an e-commerce website

1. Measure Return on Investment (ROI)

The first advantage of an e-commerce website is that it directly produces revenue. As such, when a business is not sure whether to invest in an e-commerce website, the ROI can more easily justify spending money on the website. This should nonetheless be moderated since it’s not exclusively because you have an e-commerce site that visitors buy from you. Here also, you’ll need to play the visibility game by optimizing your site for search engines (aka SEO) and paying for placement of ads in search results (Search Engine Advertising, or SEA).

2. The possibility of selling at all hours

E-commerce sites go even further than showcase sites in terms of visibility. Beyond 24/7 visibility, visitors to e-commerce websites can make purchases at any time of day or night. An e-commerce website, then enables you to extend your target beyond time zones.

3. A better view of the purchasing process

More customers equals more data to analyze. Here too, e-commerce sites enable you to go further in analyzing customer journeys. For customers that follow a 100% online purchase process, it’s possible to better understand their behaviors and adapt your site to improve user experience using analytic tools. We recommend using Matamo Analytics, which is also an open-source analytics tool, meaning you maintain control over your own data! Installable in just a few clicks on your e-commerce website at Gandi.

4. Contributes to customer trust

An e-commerce site is also an additional element for building customer trust. Thanks to an e-commerce website, potential customers can view products, their characteristics, and available options.

Even if they buy in-store, this reinforces customer trust towards the business since customers will have all the information they need about the product or service that they’re going to buy, while the experience of purchasing in the store can seem less trustworthy due to a lack of infromation.

Limits of an e-commerce website

1. Higher long-term costs

Creating and maintaining an e-commerce website generally entails significant costs. These costs are in part explained by the complexity of an e-commerce website (more pages to create/manage). The higher the number of product listings, the more the price increases. However, you can reduce costs by creating and maintaining your e-commerce site yourself, specifically with the Prestashop CMS.

2. Less creative freedom for fear of losing sales

The second major limitation with e-commerce websites is the graphic/aesthetic aspect. E-commerce sites, just like showcase websites, have specfic expected rules to follow if you don’t want to risk a user getting lost on your site or turning them off entirely. For example, if for aesthetic reasons you want to move your shopping cart to a different part of the page, you risk customers not being able to find their shopping carts to review before checkout.

An important element to take into consideration for an effective e-commerce website is that the majority of your visitors are somewhat impatient, and are likely to leave your website if they can’t find what they’re looking for relativeky quickly, or even just at a glance. To avoid this, we recommend taking inspiration from the big e-commerce sites to make sure your site is within the bounds of customer expectations.

Showcase website or e-commerce site: which should you choose?

Now that you know more about these two website types and their advantages and limitations, it’s up to you to decide, according to your needs and your constraints (especially budgetary). It’s also important to note that an e-commerce website is only relevant for businesses that want to sell online.

And if you want to create your own website yourself, please be aware that Gandi makes it easy to do so with automatic installations, whether for a showcase website or an e-commerce site!

Get your site online in 10 minutes or less!

N.B.: Be sure to consider buying a domain name before you start your own website! If you’re lost, please feel free to take a look at this article.