3 Different Approaches to E-Commerce

By Jacqueline Sinex, Tuesday, January 4, 2022
Ecommerce web development approaches

Although the goal for selling online may be the same, there are several different ways that a business can approach e-commerce. This includes a traditional shopping cart, a form-based approach, and an appointment setting workflow.

Finally, this is the year you have decided to take the business to the next level – you will start selling online. E-commerce is an exciting step, but it can also be daunting. And many businesses don’t realize that there is more than just one way to approach e-commerce.

E-commerce Websites Can be as Different as the Businesses Themselves

Just like a B-to-C storefront selling clothing differs from a B-to-B business selling a professional service, e-commerce websites can be quite different from each other. There are different tools for selling and different ways to accept payment. There are different approaches to connecting the customer with the final sale.

Plus, there are many different software platforms your web developer could possibly integrate with your website.

Some of these tools are somewhat similar, rather like a horse and a zebra – they look like a similar animal, with a few details tweaked. But others are completely unique. Some e-commerce is even custom-developed for the business.

Of course, your end goal is probably the same – you want customers. It’s the technology and the customer journey that will vary. You need to cater to the behavior of your ideal customer, which is probably not the same exact behavior as every type of customer out there.

Zebra e-commerce customization concept

E-commerce Approach 1: A Traditional Shopping Cart

If you are selling t-shirts and notebooks, an online shopping cart is probably the solution for you. Popular shopping cart software options are WooCommerce, Shopify, and Magento. Since WooCommerce is the native choice for WordPress – the leading website content management system – it is a strong choice.

With this approach, you will have a catalog of products in your website database. Assuming you have a solid software (like one of the above), you should have an easy-to-use administrative area to maintain updates to your products. You can use the shopping cart tools to update pricing and availability.

Many retailers offer shipping, so a shipping rate will be integrated with the shopping cart. This can just be a flat shipping rate or it can be an actual integration with a shipping provider’s rate system (like FedEx or UPS). The leading shipping providers have modules you can buy that “talk” to their servers to grab the rates, and those get added to the order total during checkout.

And of course, there must be a payment method. Similar to shipping modules, you can integrate with popular payment providers to process a credit card or other means. Examples are Stripe, Square, Authorize.net, and PayPal.

But a shopping cart doesn’t have to be limited to only shippable products. You can also offer options for pickup, and you can sell services and “virtual items” in the shopping cart. In fact, WooCommerce makes this easy by supporting a variety of product types out of the box. A t-shirt would be considered a “simple” product, while a consultation would be a “virtual” product.

Working with a seasoned e-commerce web developer, you can customize the style and features in the shopping cart to meet your business needs.

E-commerce Approach 2: Form-Based Ordering

Sometimes a form-based approach to selling online makes more sense. This method skips the catalog-style browsing step. Instead, when a visitor is interested in buying something, they click to access a page with a form and start filling out information.

I think this approach is underrated because it can be a good user experience and there is actually a lot of different flexibility possible.

For example, if you use a reliable plugin like Gravity Forms, you have options to build a 1-page form or a multi-step form. If you wanted to, you could create a sort of “wizard” experience asking for key information in the first step, and another set of information in the next step.

You can also use CSS and graphics to “pretty up” a form, or even make it feel more like an app experience. A good web design talent with form-building experience will be crucial here.

Like shopping carts, you can integrate a payment module into a form. Many of the same popular payment processors have an add-on for Gravity Forms or Formidable or other platforms.

A Note About Hosted Forms

It’s worth noting that there is another branch of form-based ordering when you link with a hosted form service. With this kind of method, you would use a service that offers a form and probably has limited display options and a limited payment service option. This is an alternative to building a customized form directly on your site. You can expect to pay a recurring subscription fee for this kind of hosted form service. The main advantage is that the PCI compliance will lean more on that provider’s end.

E-Commerce Approach 3: Appointment-Setting Workflow

A third way to sell online is by way of appointment setting. Selling services usually involves booking a date and time with the provider of the service. It is certainly possible to achieve this using the methods above, and having a consultant follow up with the customer to confirm the appointment offline. But there are also more automated ways of doing this.

The Integrated Events Calendar Option

First, there is the event calendar method. An event calendar would be installed on the website and display the available events. They can be displayed in a monthly calendar format or in a list format. When a visitor browses the site, they click on a particular event and register for it online. This connects them with a certain checkout process (sometimes it is stacked on top of a shopping cart), and confirmation emails send out to the registrant and the admin.

The Hosted Calendar Service Option

Second, there are hosted calendar services. One popular example is Calendly. With this kind of service, you manage your appointment schedule on the service’s app or website and simply embed a link or piece of code on your site to connect them together. Many people use an appointment calendar service to manage unpaid appointments too, so they can easily allow their prospects to book their own calls. For paid consulting, the calendar might just be a way to book the service appointment and payment follow up is done during or after the actual service appointment, in which case it’s not completely “e-commerce”, but it is still a part of an automated workflow toward closing a sale. Calendly does have integrations available for Stripe and PayPal to pay online for appointment bookings.


As you navigate the next steps of e-commerce this year, consider each of these possibilities and where they might fit into your offerings. And remember, you can always consult an experienced e-commerce development team to guide you throughout the whole process.

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SEE ALSO: Things to Prepare for an E-Commerce Project


Posted in: E-commerce, Small Business, Web Development, WWW Learning Center

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