Did you know that direct-to-consumer (DTC) ecommerce is experiencing incredible growth?
The COVID-19 pandemic transformed online shopping into a necessity, with expected sales of physical goods reaching $603.4 billion this year — a 40% increase from 2016. That’s why investing in a well-functioning ecommerce website is important.
An attractive and functional online store can help you stay competitive by improving the customer experience, and stay competitive by allowing you to market your products across the globe. But setting up an ecommerce store can be complex, time-consuming, and costly.
In this article, we break down the average cost of building and maintaining custom ecommerce websites to help you make an informed and strategic decision. You’ll also find several tips on reducing those costs when choosing software, fulfillment options, and other resources.
Let’s dive in.
How much do ecommerce websites cost on average?
Not all ecommerce sites are the same. There are many variables to website design and development cost, such as the number of transactions per month, product pages, and design customization, all of which will impact the final price tag.
On average, ecommerce websites with 1000 products or less range from $5,000 to $55,000 to build. That same website (again, with 1000 products or less) will cost between $15,000 to $30,000 per year to maintain.
If you’re looking to hire a website development service, ask what marketing services come with the package when comparing costs, as extra services may help offset future costs.
For example, if you have ecommerce SEO services included, it will save money later on and help boost your rankings earlier. Launching a website that is already optimized for SEO makes it simpler and more efficient to bring in traffic and customers.
Typical costs of building & running an ecommerce website
There are several costs associated with website development and management. For reference, we’ve compiled a list of ecommerce website development costs.
|Website Design & Graphics||This includes planning the website layout, fonts, images, custom themes, and videos that match your requirement and brand.||$5,000 to $15,000+|
|Web Development||Having a developer or development company build your website by incorporating design, services, strategy, and software development.||$3,000 – $25,000|
|Website Domain and Hosting||Domain registration and hosting is the service that identifies and connects your ecommerce website to the internet.||$500 -$6,000 /year|
|Ecommerce Website Maintenance||Maintenance keeps the website up to date and fixes any issues or bugs in the system.||$3,000 – $60,000 / year|
|Content Management||The process of using a Content Management System (CMS) to create and upload all the written and multimedia content to each website page.||$50 – $500 per page|
|Plugin & Integrations||Plugins and integrations enhance the website’s capabilities, such as Shopify themes, shopping carts, and payment gateways for a credit card or PayPal checkout.||$500 – $20,000|
Now that you’ve seen the cost list and brief description, let’s dig deeper into each phase:
1. Website design and graphics
A professionally designed and functional website delivers a better user experience that leads to greater sales. Ecommerce web design is a blanket phrase that encompasses many different skill sets, including:
- Graphic design for web
- User interface design (UI)
- Authoring (i.e., standardized code and proprietary software)
- User experience design (UX)
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
The key to a successful ecommerce website design is its usability and functionality for customers. If your website is difficult to navigate or use, customers will get frustrated and give up purchasing; but with a customer-centric approach that makes it easy to find and purchase products, website design can ultimately generate more sales for your business.
2. Web development
Design is only part of a website build, however. You will also require web development, which refers to the actual work of getting a website design from your mind, into code, and onto the live internet.
In many cases, web development requires a skilled web developer to help you build out your online store. There are three different ways you can go about developing a website depending on your budget and needs.
Option 1: DIY website builder
The least expensive option is to build a website yourself, if you have the time, patience, and expertise to do so.
Most web builders have templates that make it simple to drag and drop elements to create functional web pages. There are several website builders to choose from, but some are more suited for ecommerce than others. For instance, Shopify was designed specifically to power online stores.
But with the rise of ecommerce, more website builders are advancing their solution to include ecommerce features, and are all relatively affordable. Here is a quick breakdown:
- Shopify – $29 to $299 per month
- Wix – $0 to $500 per month
- Squarespace – $12 to $40 per month
- BigCommerce – $30 to $300 per month
- WordPress (WooCommerce) – $10 to $100 per month
Option 2: Hire a freelancer
Since website development is often a major, one-time project, it’s not uncommon to hire a freelancer to help you get your site up and running. Some freelancers will also offer a monthly retainer for ongoing maintenance when needed.
Hiring an experienced freelancer will save you time and aggravation in launching your site, as they have the skills and expertise to build an ecommerce website using the plugins you’ll need most.
Option 3: Web development agency
Hiring an agency is the most costly option, but it’s also a great investment in the long run if you’re launching a large ecommerce brand (over 100 SKUs) and sell across multiple sales channels.
With an agency partner, you’re given access to a team that will improve, upgrade, and troubleshoot the website anytime you need them. This way, you can worry less about optimizing and managing your website and delegate it to the experts.
3. Website domain and hosting
The first item any ecommerce company needs is a domain name. It’s your business identity, provides credibility, and increases brand recognition — so chose wisely!
Domain names typically cost between $9 to $15 per year. Pricing differs based on which registrar you use, the domain name’s availability, and its ranking potential.
After purchasing the domain name, you’ll need to host it. Hosting services are the physical servers where the website resides, allowing users and customers to access it.
When choosing a hosting service, look for one that provides 24/7 support for immediate service. Popular, affordable hosting solutions include GoDaddy and Dreamhost. If you want a bigger selection, check here for best WordPress hosting options.
4. Ecommerce site ongoing maintenance
Once the website is built and pushed live, it will also require ongoing maintenance. To keep a website running at peak performance, you will need to periodically perform the following maintenance activities:
- Store performance and page loading speed
- Regularly update software and plugins
- Analytics and SEO ranking updates
- Security and daily backups
- Annual renewal of domain and SSL certificates
Some or all of web maintenance requirements can be included in your hosting costs in the platform’s package. For a medium-sized ecommerce website, expect maintenance costs of $100 or more per month.
5. Content management
A Content Management System (CMS) is the software that helps ecommerce businesses create, launch, and manage all the content on their site. For ecommerce, the content is primarily product descriptions, attractive videos, and images.
Most ecommerce platforms have built-in CMS applications that allow owners to generate and distribute digital content without technical knowledge or the need for a developer.
There are two types of CMS: hosted and self-hosted. Hosted CMS is cloud-based, and there is nothing to download or maintain. Self-hosted, as the name implies, means you are responsible for everything.
Fees for a CMS are usually part of the platform. For example, Shopify Plus allows teams of 15 or more to access the CMS, and pricing starts at $2,000 per month.
6. Plugins and integration
Plugins and integrations enhance an ecommerce sites’ functionality to manage inventory, shipping, and transactions, and help provide a quality user experience.
For instance, WooCommerce is a WordPress plugin that enables ecommerce functionality.
Plugins are most commonly used on WordPress websites, but for other leading platforms, integrations with third-party ecommerce solutions can also create an end-to-end ecommerce solution.
Types of ecommerce integrations include:
It’s also important to note that third-party logistics partners like ShipBob offer fulfillment technology that directly integrates with leading ecommerce platforms. This allows you to connect your online store with your order fulfillment and shipping solution.
“My favorite aspect of ShipBob is how easy it is. The software is pretty intuitive, and everything is where you think it would be. The ease of access and automation has helped us sell on our Shopify store.”
Josh Hollings, Founder & CEO of Drop FX
Cost is essential, but don’t go with the cheapest
When setting up an ecommerce business, the cheapest option is rarely the best and can be risky. But even if you’re willing to invest in a quality website, costs get out of hand more easily than you expect.
So before you choose a website design and development service, you’ll need to research and decide on a price range within your budget that will provide the level of quality you require. This budget should factor in your traffic goals, custom features, number of products, and the type of functionality you want beyond the basics.
Here are some factors to consider when deciding on how much to spend on your ecommerce website, and some tips on where to allocate your budget.
Choose a platform that integrates with tools you’ll need
Ecommerce covers many types of businesses, products, and niches. To get the best bang for your buck, draft a list of all the requirements necessary to handle your products and customers before you buy.
While this approach takes more forethought, choosing the right platform up front will save tremendous expenses and headaches down the road.
There are three categories of platforms:
- SaaS: Software-as-a-Service ecommerce platforms include only the software.
- PaaS: Platform as a Service provides software and hardware, and allows for custom modifications.
- On-Site: Ecommerce solutions hosted locally by the store owner and managed by the company’s IT staff.
Some platforms won’t integrate with all the add-ons and plugins that you want. Test drive each platform to see if it can handle your business needs and projected growth.
If you are unsure of the features and plugins you need, take some time to research your options or consider working with a developer or agency instead.
Choose a platform that comes with features right out of the box
Some platforms may be more expensive up front, but cost less over time because they have the necessary themes, templates, and plugins for ecommerce stores.
For example, Shopify themes are simple to customize using apps from their store to increase functionality. App features include one-click upsells, pop-ups, chat-bots, and other features to make more sales and build a large customer base.
Understand the technical requirements for web maintenance
Properly maintaining an ecommerce store is essential for cementing and increasing security, reducing cart abandonment, and providing a better user experience overall.
Neglecting your ecommerce website will leave it open to hackers, decrease Google’s ranking, and slow down traffic, which ultimately can lead to lost sales.
Like a brick-and-mortar store, an ecommerce website requires three types of maintenance: security, marketing, and storefront. On the technical side, here’s what you’ll need to consider:
- Security Maintenance – Performing website backups and security patches to avoid disastrous hacks or accidents. Some platforms automatically include this work, but some don’t. Always read the documentation on yours to ensure you’re aware of the intricacies.
- Marketing Maintenance – This includes fixing broken links, improving SEO, and updating content to reflect proper messaging and automation marketing.
- Storefront Maintenance – Update the storefront for seasonal changes, new products, promotions, and price adjustments.
For a medium-sized company, maintenance costs can range from $10,000 to over $120,000 per year. Typically, you’ll hire a developer or agency to keep up with all the changes.
4. Know the long-term costs that you can expect
The long-term costs of owning an ecommerce store are the regular maintenance items needed to keep the site running smoothly. Those costs are:
- Hosting and SSL certification
- Security monitoring
- Development support and maintenance
Keep in mind that the ecommerce platform you choose will affect the monthly payments.
For example, WooCommerce will let you choose a hosting provider, while Shopify allows you to select monthly plans, but they all use Shopify’s proprietary servers.
The difference is that WooCommerce may be less expensive, but the site can perform slowly during peak periods because it has shared hosting. There are ways around this, but you would have to purchase dedicated hosting and that will increase the monthly hosting costs.
5. Keep scale in mind
Keep scalability in mind when selecting an ecommerce platform. As your company grows, you must pay for additional add-ons and bandwidth to meet the demand.
Take BigCommerce and Shopify, for example. BigCommerce is an open SaaS ecommerce platform that offers open APIs, zero transaction fees, and an open partner ecosystem. It can scale from start-up to enterprise-level.
Shopify is an easy way for new ecommerce companies to start. However, they limit the number of product options to only 100. That means if you have clothing of various styles, colors, materials, and sizes, you’ll run out of SKUs quickly.
If you start with Shopify but grow to carry over 100 SKUs, then you’ll need to perform an expensive migration from Shopify to another platform, like BigCommerce or Magento’s open-source platform.
How can I save money on ecommerce website development?
Investing in a great online store is worth every penny, but there are ways to save money, especially if you’re a startup brand.
Here are a few cost-saving tips when sourcing and building an ecommerce website.
Shop around for freelancers on Upwork or Fiverr
Hiring freelancers to build and maintain your website is very cost-effective. You can look for freelancers on Upwork, Fiverr,and other freelancing websites. LinkedIn is another great source as well as your personal network.
Try before you buy with free trials
Always take advantage of free trial offers before signing up. This way, you’ll better understand how a particular platform or plugin will work for you. Also, you’ll have a hands-on basis of comparison to help you make a final decision.
Learn how to build and maintain the site yourself
Most ecommerce sites have built-in features that allow the owner to handle many maintenance tasks without a developer. This will save a great deal in labor costs.
Check with the platform’s support to see how good it is, and how they can assist you in maintaining the site without outside help.
Look for discounts and special offers
As a business owner, you know that everything is negotiable. Always ask for a discount or a new customer special. Some companies may have an unpublished discount or bundle that will save you money.
Also consider paying annually for things like hosting and other integration. Paying annually rather than monthly can save you 10% to 25% or more.
Invest wisely the first time
You could save money by hiring an inexperienced freelancer — but when your site crashes on Black Friday, who are you going to call?
Getting everything done right the first time around can save a lot of time, money, and hassle down the road. When setting up your store, hire people with experience and purchase the highest-rated products and apps you can afford.
Don’t pay for “nice-to-haves,” but do splurge on the necessary elements that will improve your website, customer experience, and sales.
Look for a complete ecommerce store solution
While your website and its maintenance are absolutely critical to your ecommerce business’ success, so is your ability to deliver on your promises to customers. An ecommerce business is only as good as its shipping and fulfillment, so a strong retail fulfillment strategy can make or break a brand’s reputation and ability to attract repeat customers.
3PLs like ShipBob integrate directly with your ecommerce platform and provide solutions to automate the fulfillment process. ShipBob also offers automated shipping solutions, discounted carrier rates, and a distributed fulfillment network to help reduce shipping costs and enable affordable 2-day shipping.
“As we saw our small start-up business beginning to gain traction, we needed to find a 3PL that could help us manage the thousands of orders we would get in minutes.
When I was researching companies, I knew they had to be tech-enabled, integrate with Shopify, and a company that could scale with us. We found exactly that with ShipBob.”
Jason Ton, CFO of 100 Thieves
Building an ecommerce brand is a big endeavor, but you don’t have to go into it alone. Ecommerce partners like ShipBob and Eventige can help you optimize your operations so you can meet customer expectations.
Ecommerce website costs FAQs
These are some frequently asked questions that business owners have regarding ecommerce website costs.
How much does an ecommerce website cost?
There are many variables in building an ecommerce website, including the type and size of the business. To give you an overview, here is a chart of the costs you can expect.
Is starting an ecommerce website cheap?
If you plan to sell only one or two items at low volume, you can start an ecommerce site inexpensively, provided you’re the DIY type. You can find web hosting for as little as $4 a month. WordPress and the WooCommerce plugins are free.
That combination will get you up and running, but building a viable ecommerce website will cost many hundreds or thousands of dollars.
How can I save money on an ecommerce business?
There are several ways to save money when building an ecommerce site. Here are a few ideas:
- Try out different platforms and take advantage of free trial periods to make sure you choose the right one.
- Hire qualified freelancers or an agency to help during the different phases of setting up your website. The upfront costs will save you money on the backend when you have a site that doesn’t break on the first heavy traffic day.
- DIY your ecommerce platform and hire a web developer freelancer for ongoing maintenance.
Is an ecommerce website profitable?
An ecommerce website is a valuable and profitable commodity. The average transaction value (ATV) is $75, with top-performing ecommerce sites at $102. Multiply those times the conversion rates to get an idea of the profitability.