You know what it takes to debut and sell a new vintage. You know how to nurture meaningful relationships with your customers. And if you’re honest, you know there’s a lot to learn when it comes to the ever-changing world of wine ecommerce.

Not all ecommerce platforms are created equal. And in fact, you’ll find there are unexpected trade-offs with different ecommerce approaches depending on your wine brand and its needs – especially when it comes to involving mulitple outside partners in a website design and build process.

There are four basic ways ecommerce platforms integrate (or don’t) with your website. They include: integrated and custom, integrated and templated, separate and custom, and finally, separate and templated.

Which approach is right for you? Let’s find out.

What does an integrated ecommerce website mean for your wine brand?

When your ecommerce website is integrated, your brand’s marketing website and your brand’s ecommerce platform are in unison.

This means that at any point in your customer’s digital journey on your site, they will know it’s you because of the cohesive look and flow. They’ll get a better feel for your brand, and they’ll trust they’re in the right place as they click through your storytelling content to your online wine shop — all the way to the confirmation of their purchase.

There are also huge opportunities for marketing integration. Just one example: if a customer creates an account with your brand’s website, it is also possible to present them with a variety of different and customized informational points that speak directly to them, thanks to data collected in their session or previous history.

While an integrated approach may sound like the only approach worth taking, there are variations and pros and cons that you need to be aware of.

As a designer, I found myself in the same position as many of you. Why does it cost so much to pursue an integrated approach? Why can’t I center that purchase button, let alone design a better path to purchase flow?

Integrated and custom: The ideal solution for sophisticated wine brands (with huge caveats)

Most large custom ecommerce sites outside of wine have completely integrated and customized commerce experiences. They’re often where wine brands look for inspiration and best practices because of their best-in-class design, customer experience, marketing integration, and frictionless checkout experience. (Think Patagonia or Design Within Reach.)

These popular sites almost always utilize expensive enterprise ecommerce software — and have teams dedicated to keeping them up and running. Think: high six or seven-figure initial design and build price tags and large internal and external teams that are invested in continually creating content, analyzing performance, and making site improvements and customizations. The yearly cost to run these sites eclipses the initial build cost of even the most complicated winery ecommerce website.

Of course, not all enterprise ecommerce websites are six figures and above. Well-known companies like Shopify offer enterprise options such as Shopify Plus, at more affordable prices, but the reality is that creating a completely custom integrated website is usually off the table – which should actually be the least of your worries. The complexity of wine compliance, shipping, and sales models unique to wine can cause integration costs to skyrocket, or in some cases, may not even be possible with non-wine-specific enterprise ecommerce software.

While the technology in the wine ecommerce world has improved dramatically in the last few years, the industry’s ability to create great custom ecommerce experiences is usually hindered by a lack of understanding of what it takes. Take, for example, API integrations. They are often looked to as the answer for unlimited customization and control. But the cost to build onto them well is often prohibitive for most wine businesses, and depending on the ecommerce system you’re integrating with, there are always limitations and trade-offs.

Pros: You can do more of what you want throughout every step of the customer’s journey on your website. You can have brand extension, marketing integration, and tech customizations all in one cohesive experience for your customers. Your ecommerce website is built and integrated specifically for you and are therefore able to evolve right along with you. And the holy grail for most sophisticated wine businesses: a website that differentiates their brand, from story and product messaging to its ability to enable nuanced, unique, or hybrid sales models.

Cons: It’s costly and time-consuming. If you’ve got a big budget, that helps. But it can hurt when you’ve invested so much into doing it one way and your business changes course. Plus, just because it’s custom doesn’t mean it’s more effective. Your platform might not work well, even though it’s exactly what you want. Also, keep in mind that the success of an integrated and custom site is completely dependent on hiring the right mix of vendors (design and development, digital marketing, content producers, etc.), along with your ecommerce platform and development integration partners. Lastly, even if you’ve assembled a dream team of collaborators, the success of your project is ultimately dependent on your team to prioritize and articulate their goals and their ability to collaborate well with a multitude of vendors and for those vendors to collaborate well with each other.

At Offset, we solve this problem by integrating our brand design services with our commerce product, Figure. This allows us to push the envelope – but at a fraction of the cost of what enterprise ecommerce costs in other industries.

Integrated and templated: great for evolving wine brands (but DIY is not always efficient)

Templated ecommerce websites and commerce tools such as Shopify, Squarespace, and WordPress/WooCommerce have trained people to expect efficient and integrated shopping experiences. At least outside of the wine industry.

But here’s the thing: The visual elements of a brand usually don’t extend past the “Add to Cart” button. Yet, the path to purchase is often so smooth and quick to get through that customers don’t even notice.

In the wine industry, many ecommerce platforms offer existing templates or the templates that have been built by other designers/developers. These options can be great for wineries that lack the budget needed for a custom website or those who want to do some testing before committing to a custom website.

Pros: This route is efficient because you can DIY. It’s also cost-effective and you’re able to launch your site quicker. Plus, there are few barriers to evolving and adapting your brand’s entire platform.

Cons: If you’re not a web developer/designer (or are willing to hire one), going the DIY route can be time-consuming. You may spend too much time making visual customizations that, in the end, don’t add much to your customer’s experience or your sales. Plus, you have to fit your brand, business, and goals into something that’s already created.

Because at Offset, we serve wine businesses looking to elevate their brand and how they sell their wine online, we don’t offer traditional templates. Instead, we offer a Modular Website option. This allows us to design and build websites efficiently – leaving room in the budget for brand, content, and marketing.

Separated and custom: great for wine marketing (not so great for effective ecommerce)

Look closely at most wine websites, and you’ll notice that most fall into this category. The giveaway is that as soon as you click “Shop” or “Add to Cart,” you’re taken to a page at a unique URL that doesn’t share the same styles or navigation as the page you were just on.

The behind-the-scenes reason for this is that the ecommerce platform either isn’t capable of being integrated directly into the marketing side of the website or doing so doesn’t pencil out financially for the wine brand.

While we’re clearly proponents of the integrated approach, we’ve built many websites (see Joseph Phelps and Kistler Vineyards) in this fashion because of a client’s commitment to a different ecommerce platform. In some cases, this is an OK solution or temporary fix, which enables a great marketing site to be created that isn’t restricted by the technical requirements and/or limitations of an existing ecommerce platform.

Pros: Build a great marketing site that fits your brand. Have flexibility in which ecommerce platform you choose.

Cons: Unfortunately, there’s a disconnect between the marketing website and the commerce website, which can erode brand and customer experience, not to mention sales. For wine brands pursuing this path, but in such a way that feels integrated to their customer, you should also expect large budget overruns and finger-pointing between vendors concerning why changes can or can’t be made. Plus, when changes are made on one side, they have to be made on the other, which can be a time suck to coordinate and keep up with.

Separated and templated: An ok option for small wine brands on a tight budget

A separated and templated marketing and ecommerce site is usually the result of a designer or design firm being hired to customize a template (usually from a company outside of wine, like Squarespace or WordPress).

The wine brand typically has no idea that that template can’t be integrated (affordably) with their existing ecommerce system (or the new system they’re considering.) When the time comes to integrate commerce, the wine brand and designer can find it frustrating to find out that it either can’t be done using the third party template or will cost more than the wine brand has in their budget.

This route may make sense for some wine brands. But it’s important to know beforehand that it may not be as smooth an experience as you hope. If you don’t want to spend a bunch of money trying to make it feel the same, it will always feel a little bit off.

Pros: It’s inexpensive (except for design time which can add up quickly). You can leverage well-designed templates outside of the wine industry, such as from Squarespace or WordPress.

Cons: Your options are going to be extremely limited. Expect for your customer to experience a disconnect between the marketing and commerce sides of your site, with all the cons experienced in “Separate and Custom” without the pro of having a truly custom marketing site.

Why we dislike these options as much as you

Over ten years ago, we began as a website design and build shop and found ourselves on the front lines of the less than ideal options outlined above.

As a designer, I found myself in the same position as many of you. Why does it cost so much to pursue an integrated approach? Why can’t I center that purchase button, let alone design a better path to purchase flow?

This led us to create, Figure, our own commerce product, which enables the functionality, brand sensitivity, and flexibility to deliver uncompromising wine ecommerce websites, from complex enterprise clients to upstarts. We’re ready to talk when you are.