Once upon a time, in the early days of the Internet, stores that wanted a web site had to hire a webmaster to create one. Web design required knowing how to use HTML, which was not a skill that most retailers had in their wheelhouse.  Even back then, some designers were better than others (I remember seeing sites with a background “wallpaper” of rubber duckies).  And despite the fact that one retail expert once said that all stores are the same size on a computer screen, the truth is that sites that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars were — and are — more sophisticated and functional.

Functionality is especially important to stores that are selling online, and having a webmaster create your web site makes good sense even today if you are trying to create one that is truly unique.  There are so many options for interactivity, for example, that only a flexible, custom-made site can take advantage of. And your branding will be stronger if you work with a designer who can understand your vision, and make a site that reflects it.

But for those who want to go a step beyond just redirecting to their Facebook page as a web site (which is what we do for our book on Danish cuisine, www.EatSmartinDenmark.com), and yet who don’t have the funds, or need, to create a site from scratch, there are a few well-established template programs that are worth considering.

The first is WordPress, which is how this blog is now hosted.  WordPress is particularly good for sites that are mostly text and photos.  This program has been around for 12 years, and web sites created on WordPress are mobile ready (which is important).  WordPress, which is open source — i.e. free — now claims to power over 20% of all web sites. The content management system is easy to learn, and there is a great system of support in the WordPress community.

There are a couple of other template websites that are worth considering. Shopify is a popular option with stores with extensive e-commerce. If you don’t need that feature, Wix is a company that  offers hundreds of templates, although they may not be “portable” to mobile devices. Squarespace seems to be a forerunner at the moment for brochure-style sites — and choosing a company that is likely to be around for a long time is important if you are basing your site on their templates (and in the case of Squarespace, having them host the site).

Flipping through the 26 templates offered by Squarespace shows that their signature look is very contemporary, with lots of white space.  Each one supports all major content types, including Pages, Galleries, Blogs, Commerce, Calendars, and more.  There are examples given of sites using each template, and they’re so different that it’s hard to believe that they started out the same. We’re working on a new site for our shopping street at www.monroestreetmadison.com, and I think that perhaps ‘Marquee’ is the one we’ll go for.

We’re planning to hire a web designer to create our Squarespace site, even though we probably could do it ourselves if we had time. (One of the designers told us “Squarespace is catered for developers, so I can more easily build the site using standard front end web technologies.”)  I built Monroe Street’s current site a few years ago using another template program — iWeb — and it served us well until it became obvious that it was not being updated by Apple, and was not portable to other size screens such as smart phones. I can’t wait to see what the new site looks like on Squarespace, and hope that this inexpensive option serves us well for years to come.

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder