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Find Out If EKM Is The Right Choice For Your Business.
EKM Review - The Best UK Shopify Alternative
Last Updated: 26/10/2022
Author: Tony Cooper
It's been almost seven years since I did my first EKM Review. Since then, they have become the UK's leading eCommerce platform provider, dramatically improving their online store product and customer service beyond all recognition.
The first time around, I was probably a bit harsh on EKM primarily because I'm not a fan of Microsoft products which the EKM store uses as their core development language.
It is a bias I've come to accept is unfounded. While I still believe wholeheartedly in the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySql, PHP) approach to website development, there are many different ways to skin an eCommerce website.
The EKM eCommerce platform is a shining example of British eCommerce done right, including a robust payment system, excellent customer service, and a great website interface for potential customers.
In this review, I've highlighted all the essential features, giving a hands-on account of what it's like to use the system, so you can decide whether or not it's going to be a suitable eCommerce platform for your business.
At A Glance Features
Year Established: 2002
Websites Built: 80,000+
Trial Offer: 28 Day Free Trial - No Credit Card Required.
Support Options: Email * FAQ * Livechat * Telephone
Basic: £34.99 pm + VAT
Standard: £69.99 pm + VAT
Advanced: £209.99 pm +VAT
* No Credit Card Required
What Is EKM
The EKM Team
Improving Your EKM eCommerce Store
I have witnessed hundreds of eCommerce store startups since I started this site and most (80%) wither on the vine, not because the idea wasn't any good but because the owner lost interest in making the site look good enough to make sales.
Building an eCommerce website isn't merely a case of signing up and paying your £34.99 per month and then forgetting about it. It is a constant process of improvement.
To make that improvement, you need help and guidance. Left to your own devices, you will probably give up because the process of making the site look good, finding and sourcing products and displaying them before finally working out how you get traffic to your site is the digital road less travelled.
Only one out of ten eCommerce sites that started in 2022 will still be here to trouble an accountant next year.
Starting Your eCommerce Business
Many people dream of escaping the rat race, but few are prepared to put in the work that makes the difference between the daily struggle of the 9-5 or freedom to choose your working hours. You see, my reading friend, it is not the eCommerce platform you choose that will determine whether or not your eCommerce venture is a success.
The amount of work you put into website promotion, gaining links, guest posting, and acquiring great product reviews will ultimately determine how successful your site is.
Do you know anything about Google analytics or building an abandoned cart saver routine? Search engine optimisation? Content Writing?
Probably not. You'll have your hands full trying to source products and ensure the supply line functions appropriately.
Providing a dedicated account manager is a game-changer for EKM.
It's not just the beefed-up customer support that has improved either.
The new range of responsive templates are awe-inspiring and will get you off to a flying start. The new Evolution mode will make site improvement suggestions for you, and there is also an EKM test store function to play about with new ideas in a sandbox without affecting the live site if you so wish.
EKM's New Office Move
In July 2017, EKM website builder moved to new offices in Fulwood, Preston, Lancashire, and they now have over 150 employees. The new office building was a £3.5 million investment purposefully designed with open plan workspaces and a kitchen and dining area, as well as the infamous slide!
There is a gym and a fully equipped auditorium for training seminars.
EKM has also been awarded a spot in three top awards categories in 2021. This includes a Top 50 spot in Best Companies Technology Companies to work for, a Top 100 place as a Best Small Company to work for and Top 100 in Best Companies to Work for in the North West.
EKM founder Antony Chesworth said: “For too long, we’d been two teams and two cultures. Now, walking around, it’s amazing to see the hive of activity. It’s great to see everyone working together, in the kitchen, eating together and playing together.”
Of the slide, he says: “It’s a bit of fun. We don’t want the business to be boring, and you can’t go down the slide without a big smile on your face. If your staff love what they do, they’ll love doing it and get better at it.”
The new office houses 85 staff, though there’s the capacity for 250, a demonstration of EKM’s ambitions.
“These are world-class facilities for our world-class team. We’ve taken inspiration from Google and Facebook because we want people to think of us in those terms.
“We’re dreaming big,” says Antony. “Why not?”
“To have achieved such a great rating in the Best Companies survey in itself is a great achievement. I’m proud of the team and all that they’ve done to help make EKM one of the best companies to work for in the UK.
I’m also really pleased with our positioning in the Top 100 Companies, the Top 100 Small Companies and the Top 50 Technology Companies lists. And we will continue to strive for excellence, just as we always have”.
EKM's New Office
The New EKM Offices
EKM Background & Introduction
An eCommerce website builder conceived in a back bedroom back in 2002, The EKM platform claims fame as the most popular UK eCommerce solution with 1 in 5 eCommerce sites powered by its software and over 30,000 users.
First of all, here's a little background to EKM. Creating an eCommerce platform that worked "in the cloud" back in 2002 was insightful. Lemonstand only moved from server-based licences to what we now called Saas (software as a service) in 2012. Shopify was founded in 2004, Bigcommerce in 2009, and while Volusion claims to have been established in 1999, the earliest recorded website for them is 2004, so EKM could reasonably claim to be the first of its kind.
CEO and founder Anthony Chesworth received the Daily Mail Entrepreneur of the year award in 2010 and has won businessman of the year, eCommerce business of the year and many other plaudits over the 14 years he has run the company. He has a personal website, and you can view his LinkedIn profile here.
EKM Systems Limited employs over 85 people, has two UK offices, and has a valuation of over £50 million. The impressive customer list includes Lotus Cars, ITV and PGA Golf.
The well-laid dashboard will take you through setting up your store in steps and getting you "live" with your new shop in less than 24 hours.
The EKM Dashboard
EKM Themes And Templates
I always start with themes and templates because while you can argue that user experience is paramount if the online store doesn't look nice, your visitors will click away. Try selling online to customers that aren't there anymore! Having a beautiful looking site is an excellent starting point for any eCommerce store.
As well as being aesthetically pleasing your site template should be responsive because smartphones are now the primary sales channel.
Both Shopify and Bigcommerce charge extra for their premium themes at the cost of between £75 -£150, so making all of their themes completely free of charge gives EKM a significant market advantage.
All of the themes are organised into categories so you can find something to suit your business quickly, and if you don't see anything you like, then there are plenty more in the "Generic" category. You can change themes after you've started work on your store so you can get going without overthinking the template selection process.
However, some templates have features that others don't, and if you change themes, you may lose some of your work where the "attribute" field doesn't exist in your new template.
It'd be good if the developers included a "search templates by feature" so that if you did want to change the template, you could find another one that matched your template features. Some templates have "Tabbed Product Boxes", "Banner Faders", or "Expandable Content", so you'd like to search for templates that contain those matching items.
All content is editable from the EKM dashboard by clicking on the little yellow edit box. You change the shop name under "Settings" (it took me a few minutes to work that one out after clicking all around it!), so if you have the text ready, you could be up and running with a new store in just a couple of hours. You change the colours via a colour picker, and the separate mobile designs are now history as all of the new templates are fully responsive.
Changing the position of elements on the page is simple, but it breaks compatibility with the upgrade component, so my advice would be not to do this, although this applies only to older templates.
Once you part company with updates, you lose a significant asset to building your online store in cloud-based software - receiving continual product refinements and improvements. If you accidentally choose "custom layout", you get the option to "revert to default", so there is no need to panic if you hit that button!
The new template builder theme "Aerial" features drag and drop elements and editable sections that work similarly to Shopify and WordPress themes giving more customisation without losing update compatibility.
Themes & Templates
How To Build An eCommerce Website – Project Management Guide
The more people involved in an eCommerce website builder project, the harder it is to get the project across the line on deadline day. Once multiple stakeholders and their egos' are involved, expertly managing the project becomes essential.
EKM Design Choices
If your goal is to get your online store up and running quickly with the minimum of fuss and without developer help or support, then the EKM platform does the job admirably.
There are enough customisation options available to help you make something that looks great and stands out from the crowd. And you can do it without developer knowledge, as long as you can use a Word Processor and have basic computer skills you can build a thriving online business using this product.
If, however, you want to produce something with advanced coding techniques, then you'd be better off with something like BluePark, which is a better tool for that purpose.
You can modify other eCommerce platforms like Shopify or Bigcommerce to an extent, but you'll need developer help to do it, and that, of course, all adds to the overall cost. Shopify uses a "Liquid" templating system, so you'll need particular expertise for that job.
The significant advantage of using EKM is that you don't have to do any extensive surgery to get a great looking site out of the box and a dedicated account manager to help see you through any teething problems is a massive bonus.
Many people understandably do not want to install a template that has been used hundreds or even thousands of times before, but unless your site is in the same niche as a competitor, no one else is going to know.
More importantly, will they care? Shopify is the most prominent eCommerce website builder on the planet. Shopify templates get reused hundreds of thousands of times, but you will never spot them unless you purposefully look for them.
Adding pages is a simple exercise, and you can add as many pages as you need.
Categories And Products
Adding categories and products from the EKM dashboard is straightforward, and you get the option to hide categories while you populate them with data.
You can clone products to make adding lots of them a breeze, and there are advanced options for adding product SKU's, weight (for calculating delivery charges) and gift wrapping. It's possible to build a custom list of product options, for example, engraving messages, sending personal messages or uploading images ready to be printed on a T-shirt.
It's a comprehensive system that will support all but the most demanding store owners. The EKM account manager in the dashboard can also bulk import products from a CSV file so that's a huge time saver and there are other eCommerce tools to help you rapidly develop your online store.
Categories & Products
Apps & Tools
Apps And Tools
EKM has an extensive list of extra features that you can install to add functionality to your store and help you build a successful online business.
Adding apps this way is preferred so that complete beginners to an eCommerce solution don't get overloaded with piles of stuff to configure.
You select the essential apps that are important to you and go ahead and install them. For fans of giving customers good reasons to return to your store, some great add-ons include Discount Management (coupon codes), Promo stickers, and Loyalty Points.
EKM also offers an API that is freely available to integrate their software and there is a new blog system planned for the early part of 2022. Email management is also inherent with a native email marketing integration.
Third-party integration for eCommerce software providers is the way to concentrate on making their core software function better and let someone else worry about integrating mailing lists or accounting software.
EKM scores well for payment processing because it supports all of the significant UK payment gateways. You won't have to find a developer to integrate with your ideal payment gateway.
EKM supports Paypal, Sagepay, Worldpay, Nochex and Cardstream through a system called "trade box".
EKM was one of the first UK commerce platforms to integrate with Paypals new checkout. This has given EKM merchants access to PayPal pay in 3 and other new services.
The trend towards "buy now pay later" payment processing is also supported with integrations for Klarna and Laybuy as well as Paypal's own native product.
Hosting And Bandwidth
Your store includes all your hosting needs with a fully scalable hosting architecture.
There are no bandwidth or excess storage charges where some solutions like Volusion and 3dcart are going wrong. EKM guarantee 99.9% uptime and 24/7 server monitoring. Security is one of the big hidden bonuses you get using cloud-based eCommerce services because professionals monitor the network to keep miscreants at bay.
For those of you starting an eCommerce site for the first time, then the pricing is excellent compared to the competition. But at the top end, the product is overpriced in my opinion and needs a rethink.
Many Saas services struggle with the issue of pricing their product and end up with a complicated feature table with less and less functionality being available the further down the price scale you go.
EKM have opted for the much better solution of providing ALL functionality across the board.
Adding functionality in this way is the right way because holding back features doesn't allow the customer to explore them.
Shopify, for example, removes the ability to access the abandoned cart saver tool on its entry package and arguably, that makes it worthless because such a high percentage of carts ARE left. The ability to try and diagnose the problem and email the customer is an essential tool, not a nice one to have.
EKM Evolution Mode
However, giving away the farm comes at a cost. EKM has opted to bundle in account management services and provide an eCommerce consultant with its higher-end package (EKM evolution mode) to try and recoup some revenue. If your turnover is up to £150k in twelve months, you'll pay £69.99 per month, but once you go over that threshold to say £155k, then your monthly fixed cost rises by £140 per month with no discernible extra features to show for it.
(Note: There is a 10% threshold waiver so if you go over the allowance for seasonal trading you won't have to jump up the package scale)
An eCommerce consultant can undoubtedly make a big difference to the online business by providing knowledge transfer gained across 30,000+ stores. That's the idea behind this move, but until a customer sees the benefit, they only see the expense, and it's a massive increase in monthly expenditure to justify.
Jumping from £69.99 to £209.99 is undoubtedly missing a price point?
Perhaps it would be better to identify those customers that they can upsell extra services to rather than forcing a service on people who won't immediately see the value in it.
Besides, for those working on small margins, an extra £12,000 in fixed monthly costs over 12 months could mean the difference between staying in business or packing up shop.
If you are in no danger of breaching the 150k sales limit, then at £69.99, EKM is excellent value for money. At £209.99 per month, it begins to lose some appeal unless you have margins that can support it.
One hidden benefit of moving on to the higher tier price plan is that you'll also move to a Virtual Private Server that runs your dedicated web service and speeds up your site.
EKM Have Unrivalled Customer Support
When you are setting up an online business for the first time, then it doesn't matter what eCommerce platform you use as long as it works and when it doesn't you get support when you need it.
And it's this last point that has convinced me to recommend the EKM store above all other options for UK users who want to start a new eCommerce business.
The decision to assign a dedicated account manager to each new account means that you will always have support for your site from someone who knows and understands what you are trying to achieve.
There are over 80 eCommerce specialists on the EKM team supporting a user base of some 80,000+ businesses since they started in 2002.
As well as UK telephone and email support, you'll also gain access to a community forum where you'll be able to ask questions and chew the fat with other users, which can be an invaluable source of information
This level of support is something you won't find anywhere else at this price point apart from maybe Bluepark eCommerce, but that product is decidedly more complicated to configure and is aimed at people who want to customise the user shopping experience to the nth degree.
Shopify is a great alternative, but you won't get the same level of dedicated support that the EKM store offers to UK users.
EKM Review Summary
EKM has evolved from its early beginnings into a fully rounded eCommerce solution that is easy to set up and will have you up and selling online in 24 hours. Just like it says on the tin.
There are enough customisation options so that you can make something that looks the part, and with integration options for all the leading UK payment gateways, this is the ideal choice for new eCommerce startups.
Is EKM a viable alternative to Shopify?
Absolutely and with a dedicated account manager provided to help you grow your business, this is the eCommerce platform of choice for all UK based users.
* No Credit Card Required
A flagship government scheme that slashes the price of leading software, boosting productivity and growth of the UK’s small businesses, will benefit even more firms from today (Monday 25 July 2022).
With Customer Relationship Management software proven to boost firms’ productivity by 18% on average, the Help to Grow: Digital scheme offers businesses discounts worth up to £5,000 on approved software.
Previously, only businesses with more than 5 employees were eligible for the scheme. From today, businesses with at least 1 employee are now eligible to benefit. This boosts the number of eligible businesses by 760,000, reaching up to 1.24 million.
Today it’s also announced that eCommerce software is available through the scheme to help businesses ramp up online sales of products and services.
This includes helping them to manage their inventory, take payments and gather data and insights on customers’ needs. Businesses which adopt eCommerce software see on average a 7.5% increase in employee sales over 3 years.
This means businesses can now access a £5,000 discount on 30 software solutions from 14 leading technology suppliers for eCommerce, Digital Accounting and CRM software.
Additionally, the government has announced that Help to Grow: Digital will support one-to-one advice for SMEs on how best they can adopt digital technology. The government will be launching applications for advice platforms to partner with the scheme from today, and the advice service will go live later this year.
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