Suppose you’ve recently decided to launch an e-commerce cigar business or expand your brick-and-mortar cigar shop to offer online purchases. In that case, you’re probably wondering how to best accomplish building your e-commerce website. There are many questions you’re probably asking yourself, like “should I hire a developer or go the DIY route?” and “which e-commerce platform is the best option for my cigar business?”.

Before you get ahead of yourself, you must know how you plan to use your e-commerce website. Will you be selling and shipping orders, or do you plan to offer an online checkout for local customers to purchase for local delivery or pickup? Will you be selling any other items than cigars? If so, are any of the other items you plan to sell considered a high-risk product that may have restrictions or regulations to consider? How many items will you be selling, and how will the items be added to your e-commerce site?

Building any e-commerce website comes with its fair share of challenges; building an e-commerce cigar website has more obstacles than most e-commerce websites. Why? Simply put, the tobacco industry, including cigar businesses, is considered to be a high-risk industry by merchant processors and a prohibited good by many advertising and sales channels. Unlike other industries, you must find a merchant processor that allows cigar and tobacco sales, you can not advertise on Google Ads, Facebook Ads, or Instagram, nor can you sell through Amazon.com, Walmart.com, eBay.com, Google Shopping, Facebook Marketplace, or Instagram Shop. This means you need to rely on search engine optimization to help you show up in organic search results.

An e-commerce website is nothing without the ability to accept payments. That’s why it’s important you find a merchant processor that works with tobacco and cigar e-commerce businesses.  Cigar businesses are considered to be high-risk for several reasons: federal and state regulations,  higher likelihood of chargebacks, and increased risk of fraudulent charges. Because cigar businesses are considered high-risk, they are not accepted by all merchant processing providers. They are also subject to higher fees than companies that are not considered to be high-risk. You might wonder why this is important to think about before selecting an e-commerce platform to build your online store.  You may not realize it, but some of the big-name e-commerce platforms have partnerships in place with merchant processing companies.

As a cigar business, you can not use Square, Stripe, or PayPal for payment processing because they all consider the tobacco industry a prohibited good or restricted business. Because you can not use any of these three processors, you can’t use Squarespace to build your e-commerce website as they only allow payment processing through those three processors. Shopify could be used, but since you can’t use Shopify Payments(Powered by Stripe) you will have to pay an extra transaction fee to use a third-party processor on top of the normal fees you already pay the third-party processor to use them. Knowing you’ll have added costs before you even get started will likely deter you from selecting Shopify to build your e-commerce cigar shop. No matter what e-commerce platform you consider, you must know what integration options are available to ensure you can accept payments on your e-commerce site.

While there are many aspects to consider, the most important things for an e-commerce cigar business to know is:

  1. How easily can the site be customized and managed?
  2. How expensive will it be to build and maintain the website?
  3. What are the marketing capabilities?
  4. How well can you accomplish search engine optimization (SEO)?
  5. Does the platform offer the ability to integrate with other systems such as a CRM or QuickBooks?

When it comes to building your e-commerce cigar business, there are many platforms to consider, we’ve narrowed down the field and will focus on three platforms that arguably provide the most value overall.

WooCommerce

Most people know the name of WordPress, and for a good reason considering that more than one-third of all websites across the globe are built using WordPress. Similarly,  WooCommerce, the e-commerce extension to WordPress, is the most popular e-commerce platform used to build 26.12% of all online stores worldwide, according to Datanyze¹.  Like WordPress, it is open-source software with premium add-ons, including themes, plugins, and extensions that can be purchased to customize or add functionality to your website. Because it is open-source software, it is typically less expensive than other options and includes tons of options that allow you to customize your e-commerce website. While a skilled developer can harden security protocols to keep a WooCommerce site protected, security must be considered because WooCommerce is open-source software.

Ease of Site Customization/Management:

While there are themes and templates available, it’s generally best practice to have a developer manage the build-out. WordPress and WooCommerce are extremely flexible when it comes to customization. A skilled developer will be able to complete just about any customization that you could think of. Just remember that as more time is required to build your e-commerce website, the price to build it will also increase.

Cost to Build/Maintain Site:

WooCommerce can be a cost-effective way to build your e-commerce site out as the platform itself is free to use. You’ll likely incur costs along the way, such as purchasing a theme, plugins, and extensions, but they are relatively negligible in the big picture. In the past, automatic updates were not available with WordPress and subsequently with WooCommerce. However, with the release of version 5.5 of WordPress, that feature is now available, making updates easy while improving security.

Marketing Capabilities:

With access to a plethora of plugins, extensions, and simple integrations at your fingertips, WooCommerce can easily be set up to accomplish a wide range of marketing strategies. From collecting data and analytics to automated marketing such as email drip campaigns and abandoned cart notifications, the world is your oyster.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Friendly:

WordPress has continually focused on making the platform SEO-friendly. There are many plugins that can be used to help with SEO tactics, including All In One SEO and Yoast SEO.  For technical SEO, such as speed optimization, there are many plugins that can be utilized to establish a cache policy, CDNs, and image optimization. Overall, WooCommerce and WordPress as a whole are very SEO-friendly.

Ease of Integrations:

Because WooCommerce is open-source software, you can integrate your e-commerce site with almost any third-party software. In many cases, a plugin is available, making the integration a breeze. If there’s no plugin available, a skilled developer can use API and other methods to complete integrations. While the ease of integrations ranges from simple to advanced depending on the integration method, WooCommerce is relatively easy to integrate with.

BigCommerce

Founded in 2009 by Eddie Machaalani and Mitchell Harper, BigCommerce is considered one of the most user-friendly e-commerce platforms available. Since its inception, BigCommerce has grown in popularity and holds 1.42% of the market share of all online stores globally, according to Datanyze¹.  BigCommerce is designed to be an all-in-one hosting and e-commerce platform, meaning that you both build and host your site with BigCommerce. If you’re attempting to go the DIY route, BigCommerce makes it easier by combining your hosting with the e-commerce platform. BigCommerce will automatically set up a forwarding email address and allow up to 5 custom forwarding addresses. While that’s a start, it’s suggested to use a third-party email provider to have professional email addresses set up using your domain (ex. info@yourdomain.com) and to enjoy features such as webmail, filters, and scalability.

Ease of Site Customization/Management:

BigCommerce is a SaaS platform that is easy to use, even for a non-technical person. All of the required tools and features you need to create an e-commerce store are at your fingertips. When it comes to customization, there are limitations with BigCommerce. To begin, BigCommerce only offers 12 free themes and 150 paid themes to select from. There are also third-party themes that can be purchased for BigCommerce, but when compared to WooCommerce, the options are significantly limited. BigCommerce uses a framework they call Stencil, which allows developers to create themes and have editable settings in your BigCommerce dashboard. The editable settings will provide non-developers to make limited stylistic changes but not full customization.

Cost to Build/Maintain Site:

With monthly plans starting at $29.95 a month, including hosting, BigCommerce is a reasonable option out of the gate. However, if you want added functionality, you’ll need to upgrade. They also have a cap on the annual sales allowed per level, so if you are selling over $50k gross, you’ll automatically be upgraded to their Plus plan, which is $79.95 per month. Once your annual gross sales exceed $180k, you will be upgraded to their Pro plan, which is $299.95 per month. While 24/7 tech support is included, it does not include API support for integrations unless you are on the Enterprise level plan.

Marketing Capabilities:

While BigCommerce offers sales channels, you will not enjoy this benefit as a cigar business because you’re in a restricted industry. Merchants in the tobacco industry, such as cigar shops, are prohibited from selling products through Amazon, Google Shopping, eBay, Walmart.com, Facebook Shop, and Instagram Checkout. All BigCommerce plans include promotional tools such as gift cards, coupons, and discounts, but if you want to do more advanced marketing techniques such as abandoned cart emails, you’ll have to upgrade to at least the Plus plan. Other marketing features can be accomplished through integrations and apps. Creating a positive user experience is critical when it comes to creating brand loyalty and is an important part of your marketing strategy. To improve the user experience on BigCommerce, you must upgrade to the Pro plan so your site can include product filtering and feature reviews from google.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Friendly:

BigCommerce includes SEO tools, analytics, and reporting tools. Their SEO features include optimized and unique URLs, microdata(a form of schema), and a built-in content delivery network(CDN). While microdata is an included feature, it does not allow full schema markup up of your website, only rich snippets, which enhance search results listings with additional information such as ratings, pricing, brands, etc., can be set up. So while you can provide search engines with additional information that can be displayed in search results, it doesn’t include JSON-LD structured data, the type of schema markup that tells search engines what your e-commerce site is all about. According to Google’s John Mueller, Google prefers to see the JSON-LD schema more than the microdata that BigCommerce is limited to². In short, BigCommerce has good SEO capabilities but is still limited compared to WooCommerce or Magento.

Ease of Integrations:

If you are looking to integrate with something available in the BigCommerce apps store, integration is a breeze. If not, you’ll be required to use an API integration which means hiring a skilled developer to complete the API integration. It’s important to keep in mind that most apps that allow for easy integration also have a cost associated with them, including upfront and/or ongoing fees.

Magento

Magento, owned by Adobe, is a PHP-based solution that offers two distinct options, Magento Open Source and Magento Commerce. Magento Open Source is for skilled developers only as it lacks the fundamentals required for a DIY build, such as drag and drop editing. Magento Open Source is free to download; however, scalability is limited, and an experienced, skilled development team is required to build and maintain the e-commerce site for you. Magento Commerce comes with many powerful, built-in functions, including a drag-and-drop page builder, intuitive product recommendations, customer segmentation & personalization, content staging & preview, instant purchase, and merchandising.

Ease of Site Customization/Management:

Both Magento Open Source and Magento Commerce are very flexible and can be customized as desired. The main thing to keep in mind is the cost of the customizations. Magento Open Source requires a strong knowledge of PHP and a skilled development team to build, customize, and maintain an e-commerce site. Magento Commerce includes many powerful built-in features that make it far better than Magento Open Source out of the box. Both versions of Magento can be fully customized, and with the right development team, you could build an e-commerce site using Magento Open Source that would rival a site built on Magento Commerce. While Magento Commerce is far easier to use than Magento Open Source, both options require a higher level of skill than WooCommerce and BigCommerce.

Cost to Build/Maintain Site:

While Magento Open Source is a free download, building an e-commerce site that is fast, secure, and effective will cost you more than it would if using WooCommerce or BigCommerce. Magento Commerce is not cheap either, starting at $1988.00 per month, according to Capterra³.

Marketing Capabilities:

The marketing capabilities of Magento rival WooCommerce, with many extensions available that help with marketing efforts. From chatbots to loyalty programs, the extensions marketplace will allow you to accomplish everything you need. It’s important to note that the cost of extensions from Magento’s marketplace can range from free to $15k. Before you commit to using Magento Commerce or any platform, you must know what features you require and calculate the costs and time necessary to accomplish what’s needed.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Friendly:

Similar to WooCommerce, Magento offers powerful SEO capabilities including extensions that help make it easier to manage. Extensions can help with a variety of SEO tasks including lazy loading, image optimization, code minimization, and more.

Ease of Integrations:

Since Magento is open-source, it can easily integrate your e-commerce site with almost any third-party software. Similar to WordPress plugins, Magento offers extensions that make many integrations a breeze. Suppose you need to integrate with something that is not available in the Magento marketplace; it likely can be accomplished by a skilled developer using an API method. While the Magento marketplace doesn’t have nearly as many extensions as WooCommerce does plugins, most integrations can be accomplished relatively easily.

Summary

In summary, all three platforms we reviewed today are great options to consider using to build your e-commerce cigar website. Each platform has its own strengths. BigCommerce is best for someone who’s attempting to go the DIY route and offers an easy-to-use interface. Magento is considered by many to be the most secure of those we discussed. WooCommerce offers unrivaled flexibility and a lower cost than other options. Just make sure that you have a solid plan in place as to how you will be using your e-commerce site and how you might expand or change in the future. Changing platforms can be expensive and time-consuming, so it’s best to ensure you select a platform that will meet all of your needs.

If you happen to be in the market for a merchant processor to integrate with your e-commerce cigar shop, look no further than Premium Tobacco Payment Processing(PTP). Explicitly founded to serve the cigar industry, PTP is a partner of the Premium Cigar Association(PCA) and is proud to offer PCA members the lowest processing rates in the industry, with rates and fees guaranteed never to increase. If you are or plan to become a PCA member, PTP will cover members’ first-year MasterCard registration fee for card-not-present sales; that’s a savings of $500. Premium Tobacco Payment Processing never requires a contract nor charges a cancellation fee. For more information or to apply, call Premium Tobacco Payment Processing at (321) 972-9838.

 

Sources:
¹Datanyze – E-Commerce Platforms Market Share
² Search Engine Journal – Google On Which Structured Data it Prefers: JSON-LD or Microdata?
³ Capterra – Magento Commerce Pricing

Share This