Considerations for choosing an e-commerce platform for selling your farm products:
- Do you already have a website for your farm business?
If you do, then you might want to start by seeing what e-commerce plugins are available to integrate with your site. If your site was built on WordPress, then you have a lot of options to choose from: WooCommerce, Shopify, and more (check out this comparison for more information). If your site was built on SquareSpace, then you can easily create an online store accepting payments via Stripe or PayPal, and you can also integrate a Square point of sale for in-person transactions. If operating from another platform, try searching for “e-commerce plugins” for that platform.
If you don’t have a website, why not? At the very least your website let’s people know that you exist. It also acts as a fairly cheap and easy form of promotion. A website can help to build relationships with your customers. Use it to tell the story of your farm, highlight your practices, and share your values. People will appreciate getting to know a little more about you and your farm.
- Do you already have a point of sale (POS)?
Do you already use Square, Shopify, or another system to process credit card payments at farmers markets or other sites? If you do, then you may already have access to an e-commerce storefront. Square and Shopify both offer free stores with use as a point of sale, and both offer simple code that you may use to embed the store into your website to easily direct shoppers to your storefront.
- What do you want to be able to do?
Of course, you want to sell your products, but what else? If you strictly want to set up a weekly shop to service orders for pickup at a specific location, then pretty much any of the plugins and POS systems will work fine. However, if you are hoping to be able to manage CSA subscriptions, multi-farm or food hub orders, visualize delivery routes, and manage logistics, you may want to consider one of the many farm-specific e-commerce options. The National Young Farmers Coalition has put together an excellent comparative guide that you can find here.
You might also think about the other tools that you already use to manage your farm business. If you use accounting or marketing software, can you easily connect these to your store? (Integrations like these can streamline your process, making it easy to manage money and communications.)
- How easy is the platform to use, both for the shopper and the seller?
It’s doubtful that you want to give up very much of your precious time managing your online store. So, it’s important to think about how easy it will be for you to set up and update as products come into season. Depending on your technical proficiency and experience, there will be a learning curve to getting any store set-up, but some will be easier than others. Look for stores that offer easy to use templates and drag and drop tools. Some platforms offer support for set-up (often for a fee), but you may also want to look into what kind of tech support they are able to provide you, both in the beginning and on an ongoing basis.
Also, take a look at how the store works on the consumer side. Is it easy to figure out how to select items and checkout? Is it mobile-friendly? You should also make sure that whatever platform you choose, it offers a high level of security. Look for a platform that supports HTPPS/SSL for safe and secure checkout.
- How much does it cost?
This is less straightforward than you might think. Many platforms offer a flat monthly rate, discounted annual rates, and rates per transaction. It’s probably worth crunching some numbers based on your expected sales to determine what your best deal will be. I know, it takes some forecasting and math, but it could save you some cash in the end.