Building A Great Online Apparel Web Site – The Technical Aspects

Building a great apparel web site is more than just pretty pictures and fancy Flash imageries. Believe me! I have built over 8 of them in the past 10 years. From the 1st apparel site I built myself with Microsoft FrontPage to the latest one running on ColdFusion and built by professionals, I think I could tell you a thing or 2 about the subject matter. This article deals with the “technical” aspect of it.

There are 2 approaches to building an apparel web site. One is to use a total solution provider such as Volusion, which is the best provider I found so far. They provide complete e-commerce packages that are very easy to use, can get you up and running in literally minutes. If you are selling apparel items at the retail level, this is a great way to get started. All you have to prepare are product images, product description, and pricing. Their service even handles payment processing. You do need to setup your own merchant account that links to your bank account. There is a small setup fee. Other than that, all you pay is a month fee for the service. Of course, the merchant account will incur separate fees (a monthly statement fee), and the credit card processor will charge you based on the number of transactions ($0.35 to $0.50 per transaction) and the amount being charged (~2% to 4%). This is a great way to go if you are selling to consumers who are buying no more than a few items at a time.weblink

The 2nd approach is to build your web site from scratch. This approach of course gives you a lot more flexibility in terms of designs and functionality. But it is more costly and time consuming. If you want to build a wholesale apparel site where prices are scaled based on quantities and combinations of products, you might want more flexibilities in terms of layout and designs. You can have someone build your site or you can do it by yourself. I have done both. So let me explain:

#1: Building an Apparel Web Site by Yourself

You need a good html editor. FrontPage is the cheapest choice as it probably came with the computer you purchase. Otherwise you can pick it up for ~$150. I suggest you also get a book on how to use FrontPage from Amazon or your local bookstore. When I was building my first web site with FrontPage, I bought 1 of those “Dummies” book, and followed the steps inside. It really was not that hard, especially if you want the customers to call you to place their orders instead of placing their orders online. I upgraded to Dreamweaver after building my 3rd web site. It is superior to FrontPage in terms of flexibility, features, and stability. It costs more, ~ $250. I currently have a web site selling that is built by Dreamweaver, although I did hire someone to do it.

The hard part about building a web site by yourself comes when you want to integrate e-commerce features. Usually, your web hosting company has some sort of e-commerce bundle where they offer e-commerce modules, such as Miva Merchant, which could be integrated into your web site. But you need to spend quite a bit of time studying and figuring out how it works. You also need to know some basic html programming. It could get complicated quickly.

#2: Hiring a Professional to Build Your Web Site

If you want to implement features such as combined quantity price breaks between different items, minimum rules, and other advanced features on your web site, hiring the right professional to do the job is the way to go. 2 years ago, I built a web site for my business by hiring 2 college students and using an off-the-shelf e-commerce software. It was a disaster! At the end of the day it costs me over $15,000 (from all the delays, manual labor to fix problems, loss of business) and the web had to be redone. The important thing to remember here is you need to find the right people to do your job. If you need fancy database work, make sure your web guy has PROVEN record of doing similar jobs. Remember, cheap does not equal good. I thought it would be cheaper to hire college students at $10 an hour. But it ended up costing me much more than hiring the right person.