How much does a new online store cost?
Since the pandemic took over our lives and forced people out of public spaces, online e-commerce platforms have seen incredible growth. Shopify and BigCommerce are incredibly powerful and accessible e-commerce options. One of the most asked questions when we talk to prospects considering these platforms is understandably around the cost, so in this article we'll break down how much you can expect to spend on a new online store in 2022.
About this Guide and Website Pricing in General
We should open our pricing guide with an acknowledgement that there is a friction between brands looking to have a new website built and the agencies that build them. Inevitably, one of the first questions any prospect will ask is what is the cost. That's understandable, but from an agency's perspective, each project is custom quoted and there are myriad variables that can affect price one way or the other. As a result, this guide isn't meant to be a price sheet, but rather we endeavor to discuss the various options and what ballparks we're playing in for each option.
One significant caveat is that we're combining Shopify and BigCommerce builds into a single guide. While pricing is often similar between platforms, it's usually not identical, and the big reason for that is third party integrations. Depending on which apps and services you need, your use case may be significantly cheaper on one platform or the other based on the available apps and built-in functionality (or lack thereof) but Empower Ideas (or most platform-agnostic agencies) can help you make that decision; it isn't something you need to go into the process knowing and ultimately it's more about the nuances of your needs than something that impacts the higher level ballparks we'll discuss here.
While an agency can help you put together the best approach to suit your unique needs, the one thing we will need help with from you is a concise list of what your needs are. If you don't have a concise list of requirements already written out, many agencies will ask you to go through a discovery period. Discoveries are sometimes loathed, but they do a great job at helping to create a shared understanding of the project, which helps to raise problems earlier on and increase satisfaction on all teams in the long run.
The first consideration of the cost of your new store is the cost of the platform. The two most common platforms that we build for are Shopify and BigCommerce, although there are others. For example, SquareSpace and Wix are excellent builders for smaller sites, while Magento and Demandware typically cater to the enterprise level. WooCommerce is a popular third alternative, but we typically recommend strongly against this platform due to its expense to develop for, its slow performance and typically low conversion, and its difficulty for clients to maintain.
Both Shopify and BigCommerce offer three plans along with a fourth enterprise-level plan. These costs may seem like small potatoes in the grand scheme of developing your website, but since they persist monthly in perpetuity, they do tend to add up over time. They can also determine how easy or complex new feature additions to your site could be (which, in turn, impacts the cost of those new additions) so it's an important consideration up front. We previously wrote a more detailed breakdown on the differences and plans of Shopify and BigCommerce.
Tip: paying annually rather than monthly can significantly decrease your platform cost. As I write this, Shopify is offering 50% off plans on an annual commitment.
Both Shopify and BigCommerce's plans run from approximately $30 to $300 per month. Shopify Plus, the enterprise-grade option, starts at $2k per month for up to $1MM in annual revenue, whereas BigCommerce Enterprise's quotes are completely custom but typically start around $1k for up to $600k in revenue.
You'll need to pay your platform fees to "keep the lights on" in your store as a fixed cost, but these fees exclude additional costs of doing business.
Payment Processing Fees
Selling on any website involves processing payments to actually get your cash. This is handled by a payment processor that facilitates charging a credit card and depositing the funds into your bank account. These processors receive a fee for their service. This fee is beyond your monthly platform fee and is typically based on sales and/or order volume.
All of Shopify's plans offer unlimited sales, and this is because their business model depends on payment fees. They offer their own payment processor, Shop Pay. Shop Pay is a generally good payment processor, offering support for the Shop Pay consumer app express checkout in addition to Apple Pay and Google Pay. Shop Pay costs range from 2.9% + 30c on the cheapest plan down to 2.4% + 30c on the most expensive plan, or 2.15% + 30c on Shopify Plus. However, if you choose to use a third-party payment processor other than Shop Fee expect to pay an extra surcharge to Shopify on every order, ranging from 2% on the cheap plan down to .5% on the more expensive plan, or .15% on Shopify Plus. If you're doing significant volume on a third party payment processor, these fees can add up. (Note: third-party payment processors include non-traditional processors that might have an alternate checkout system, such as Klarna, Amazon Pay, or Recharge Subscriptions).
Since BigCommerce's revenue does not come from payment transaction fees, they charge 0% on all orders, regardless of the payment processor you use. Their business model is based on the amount of sales you're doing instead, and they'll force you onto a more expensive plan when you outgrow the sales milestones of their lesser expensive plans. Although you don't need to pay BigCommerce on a per-order basis, you will still need to pay for a payment processor (they don't offer one). Costs on payment processors vary wildly depending on your industry, the card used, and the platform, but in general you should factor 2-4% of your revenue as goingtowards payment processing fees.
Apps and Service Integrations
The last of our recurring costs come from apps and service integrations. These fall into two categories: apps you know you'll need in order to support your business needs and apps you find you need during development to make something possible or make it easier.
The first category can be easily determined beforehand. For business-critical applications you're already using, determine if they have a prebuilt integration with Shopify or BigCommerce and, if so, what that integration costs. For instance, if you use NetSuite, the NetSuite connector costs around $80 per month. If you use Avalara, their integration is free, but with Shoipfy it requires Shopify Plus for $2000 per month to work properly. Go through each application in your tech stack and check what its integration costs to find your application integration fees.
At this point, if you're not already using Shopify or BigCommerce, you should have a pretty good idea of what your site will cost you on a recurring basis once built. Next we'll take a look at building it.
Building Your Site
The key cost that you're probably most interested in gaining insight into is the cost to actually build your site, meaning design and development. The build process may also include other important activities, such as migrating products, content, or data from another platform; configuring SEO settings; installing apps, signing up for payment processors, connecting external services, and other key backend tasks; creating advanced analytics reports; etc.
There are a few different options available, so we've broken them down into four separate price ballparks.
If you choose to work with Empower Ideas, we always include at minimum a context briefing, which is a thorough workshop and kickoff to your project, but a more detailed discovery process is also available, and typically adds $1,000 to $5,000 extra cost, depending on the complexity of your organization and requirements, as well as the extent of any documentation you already have in place.
Empower Ideas is a full service agency, and if you work with us you'll have dedicated contacts and a consistent project team. These prices reflect what it actually costs us to build your new site and are likely relatively typical of American digital creative agencies. It may be possible to beat these prices using international agencies or freelancers, but quality may suffer as a result.
Customize a Theme
The absolute cheapest option is to customize your own theme. Themes are pre-created site designs and they control the user experience (UX) but typically have customization options that allow you to modify the visual design in areas such as colors, fonts, images, etc.
Both Shopify and BigCommerce offer theme stores. They each have a couple of free themes and a large number of paid themes created by the first-party platforms as well as third-party companies selling their pre-made themes. These paid themes typically cost somewhere between $50 and $500 and are a one-time cost.
Once you've purchased a theme, you'll be able to make many customizations to it yourself, but there are also many limitations in what you're able to edit. Different themes have different limitations, but if you're able to work within the confines of the theme, you may not need a developer or agency to help get your site online at all. On the other hand, most significant modifications will require a developer who's adept with working in Shopify or BigCommerce to make changes to the theme code.
Development Cost: $0 - $2,000
Additional Costs: Third-party theme, apps, and services
The next step up from basic theme customization is what we'll call a templated framework. With this option, we're still using a pre-existing theme, but the theme is generic and offers basic functionality. We'll go into a project like this expecting to make significant wholesale changes to the theme with a real developer. Since this isn't a truly custom site build, there's limitations to what we're able to accomplish, but for many storeowners starting out, this route offers an excellent balance between a bespoke theme and a fully custom site.
With a templated framework, you'll have basic access to a designer. We'll skip over some of our most thorough design steps, such as UX wireframes, because they simply aren't relevant here, where we don't have full control. But you will have the ability to see a designed prototype of your site before it's built so you can make many changes so that your site properly conveys your brand and reflects your preferences.
From there, our developers will create your site on top of the pre-existing framework. This starting base allows the site to be finished more quickly and reduces cost. You'll still be able to use the Shopify or BigCommerce theme editors to make content changes to your site in the future following development.
Empower Ideas also has business analysts on the team that can help to set up your store including adding or migrating products, configuring shipping and payments, integrating email campaigns, performing QA, and much more.
Development Cost: $5,000 - $25,000
Additional Costs: Third-party apps and services, content population services, services beyond site development itself (e.g. email marketing)
A custom website is a great option for stores that expect significant or continued growth and want to take their website to the next level. With a custom store, we expect to build everything from scratch to your specifications. For that reason, the primary driver of cost and time is the number of modules, pages, or templates that we build for your site, resulting in a much wider potential band of cost. The lowest end of this spectrum typically includes sites that need the basic e-commerce templates (Homepage, PLP, PDP, single content page, Account, Cart & Checkout) with limited content editing flexibility or custom modules.
With a custom build, you'll go through our complete design phase, which begins with a presentation of various comps to help us align on vibes, styles, and needed elements; progresses to UX wireframes; and culminates in high-fidelity visual design with interactive prototypes. Our designs include desktop and mobile layouts and several rounds of revision, depending on your exact needs as well as your timeline.
With custom site builds, you'll have full access to our development team, who will create each module, page, and template in painstaking detail according to your approved designs.
While Shopify and BigCommerce offer editors to update your site on an ongoing basis without a developer, it's important for us to design the options you'll need as "building blocks" to make those edits later on.
Our clients at this level are sometimes interested in exploring secondary goals as well, such as site speed, accessibility, or SEO. While we consider these types of goals with every project (including templated framework), they aren't necessarily a primary consideration and there may not always be budget to manage in-depth work. For instance, site speed may be impacted by third-party services that can be mitigated with additional development resources. Accessibility concerns may necessitate adding a dedicated accessibility expert to the team to help evaluate from a legal perspective. These types of goals are doable, but depending on your needs expect them to add $5-$15k each to the total cost of your project.
Development Cost: $25,000 - $60,000
Additional Costs: Third-party apps and services, additional focus on secondary goals such as site speed, accessibility, SEO, etc.
Enterprise Site Builds
If you have particularly robust needs for your online store, you may be most interested in an enterprise site build. This is a higher end custom build which pairs best with Shopify Plus or BigCommerce Enterprise. Our top-of-the-line offering includes extensive customization for a truly unique front-end site, combined with back-end features and technology like a custom search page with filters, extra marketing options such as landing pages and email marketing, and fully custom checkout including integrations with downstream services such as 3PL providers. (Recall that checkout customization on non-enterprise plans can sometimes be limited.)
At the enterprise level, we understand that you're looking for the optimal shopping experience with a completely branded store, and this detailed level of site build is worth the investment if you're this type of a merchant.
At the enterprise level, we believe a full research and discovery phase is extremely important, and we typically take several weeks at the beginning of the project to go through this phase and collect a detailed list of requirements for the site build.
Our design team will craft a completely custom website with each module (section) of each page fully customizable, so you can make changes in the future without requiring a developer. At this level, we still include the same full custom design as our non-enterprise custom site builds, but we typically have more templates and there is often a need for greater control and customization, or to adhere to more or stricter requirements. Our design team aims to meet your requirements while applying UX best standards to create a site that you're proud of and that performs.
On our enterprise site builds, our developers make sure everything is built at a modular building-block level which allows for easy maintenance from a content authoring team or for a developer to easily build new features on top of the site in the future. Additionally, we plan to integrate common features such as checkout apps, analytics and Google Tag Manager, email marketing, custom metafields, and more by default and included within your cost. Our site builds include a 30 day/40 man-hour warranty for anything that might break after we finish, as well.
Enterprise site builds are the most flexible band of site build that we offer and price will be determined based on the constraints in your project, such as the number of requirements, the timeline, or the amount of unique content needed.
Development Cost: $40,000 - $200,000+
Additional Costs: At this level, we seek to build everything that you might need in a one-time purchase into the cost, so there are no surprises. We can handle third-party costs on your behalf, if you like. You'll still have third-party costs for ongoing subscription services such as email providers or other apps, but one-time costs are covered. The only additional costs at this level would come from a change in requirements of the project.
One point of concern for merchants considering a new website, particularly those looking at building on Shopify or BigCommerce for the first time, is the ongoing cost associated with the platforms. We previously discussed the platform subscription costs, and, truly if you like, that can be it. Let's break down where you could choose to spend extra ongoing money if you like:
What You Won't Spend Money On
Since Shopify and BigCommerce are managed hosting services, you never need to feel nickel and dimed spending money on fundamental components that keep your site online. Your hosting with unlimited bandwidth, unlimited storage space, and unlimited visits are all included. Your SSL certificate to ensure security is included. And platform updates, including new feature updates, are all included at no extra cost.
If you purchase a theme, typically updates to that theme are also included for some amount of time, sometimes forever. Theme updates most typically involve security updates, changes to accommodate new platform features, or newly identified bug fixes. They generally do not include new features. You'll usually be able to take advantage of these free updates on the customized theme and templated framework approaches. If you have a custom site build, on the other hand, you may sometimes need a developer to help. This can be handled on an as-needed basis or with a retainer; typically required updates for a custom theme can be handled in 10 hours per quarter or less, which with Empower Ideas, works out to a couple hundred dollars per month.
Beyond required maintenance, many of our clients like to keep a retainer with hours available to use our team for any type of consulting work. The most successful merchants are interested in continuing to analyze and update their site in order to react to the changing environment and what's working or not working.
Our team understands the e-commerce user journey and best practices and can help improve performance. Most agencies structure retainers around the number of hours you'll need. At Empower Ideas, all of our retainers include full access to our team, including our designers, developers, copywriters, strategists, analysts, etc, up to the number of hours you purchase. You'll also have a dedicated contact to reach out to who can help facilitate each project.
Our most popular retainer for clients on our custom site builds is 20 hours per month, which costs around $2,000 per month and gives enough time for a few meetings as needed, any required maintenance, and one or two new feature projects per month. However, our retainers are entirely optional and you are never obligated to spend additional money with us once your site is built.
Tips to Consider as You Make Your Investment into Your Store
To summarize, here's a few tips and best practices as you set out to build your new store:
1. Prepare a budget. Building an online store is an investment just like opening a brick-and-mortar store; but many agencies including Empower Ideas can scale your site build to meet whatever your budget is. We can help talk through what features or nice-to-haves you may be able to give up in order to stay on budget.
2. Creating your site requires time and, sometimes, fairly advanced programming knowledge. If you receive a quote with a significantly compressed timeline or budget relative to your other quotes, be very suspicious. You get what you pay for, and if you don't understand why a cost is cheaper than competitors, your site's quality may ultimately suffer.
3. Hourly rates for a developer typically range from $70 to $200 per hour. These rates are determined by seniority and experience and are factored into your final project cost. One reason greater complexity may increase your cost may be that a more senior developer is needed to adhere. to those more complex requirements. Keep in mind you may be able to find cheaper developers on services like Upwork but they likely won't work as a greater part of a cohesive team and, again, quality may ultimately suffer.
4. Remember that your business is an investment. We recommend investing in the right partner from the start, whether that's Empower Ideas or another agency. Switching partners because of a stalled or poorly built site can become a very expensive and long drawn out nightmare.
If you need help parsing all the information in this detailed article, set up a consultation with us. There's no cost and no obligation, and we'd be happy to help you break down your specific needs in more detail.