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The ins and outs of developing an eCommerce store for selling contemporary art

The state of art sales over the last 2 years   

The COVID-19 pandemic has become a reason for virtually any industry to intensify the digital presence to keep up with the previous years’ sales levels. Even though in 2020 there was a significant decrease in global artwork sales (22% to $50.3 billion), the global art market smoothly recovered in 2021, reaching $65.1 billion of global revenue (up by 29% from 2020), exceeding the pre-pandemic level. 

Over the last 2 years, it seems that many art sellers have adjusted to the new strategy and mastered the way of selling online, so such a shift is not going anywhere.  

PLATFORM - entering the online market

Our client, PLATFORM, was among the businesses that managed to react to the global situation swiftly. The ecommerce website store would sell artworks represented by American galleries, created by both emerging and established artists.

The concept behind the store is to be the only place to buy artwork by the most desirable young artists online and without any of the elitist hurdles of the art world. . The site was designed to show artwork at its best, using tools, images and information that make it easy for anyone – from experienced collectors to those buying art for the first time – to get excited about and buy the extremely high quality art offered on Platform. 

The client wanted to create and launch an MVP in 6 months.   

Technical requirements

Such an idea required lots of research, backend and frontend collaboration, and integrations with external systems to be brought to life. Here are the expected components of the to-be-built website:  

  • Extremely high image resolution with a high page loading speed accordingly;
  • BigCommerce integration as a chosen engine for the store; 
  • Admin Interface - to manage product pages, add content, and access customer data;
  • Supplier Interface - unique profile and login credential management.  
  • Access control - separate content for VIPs and partners, separate links for early birds;
  • ‘Preview in your space’ feature - the website visitors should easily upload the image of their space, provide the measurement of other objects located in the space, and see how the piece of art will match the interior. 
  • A custom checkout process matching the overall website design; 
  • Integration with email marketing service and triggered email sequences; 
  • Integration with Google Analytics;
  • Consistency with the languages and frameworks previously used in the company; 
  • Additional UX research to match the art-appropriate experience and employ the standard eCommerce best practices for high discovery and conversion rates.

The Challenge - Are short time frames and limited budgets compatible with complex ideas?  

Apart from a complex MVP idea, strict, inflexible deadline of 6 months, and a limited budget, PLATFORM wanted to ensure the development team could work in coding languages consistent with other projects in their organization. 

In the end, with proper planning and role assignment, we managed to bring meaningful results and bypass the restrictions. 

Our Process 

For the PLATFORM project, we provided a team consisting of: 

  • 1 team leader, 
  • 5 frontend developers, 
  • 3 backend developers, 
  • 2 QA specialists, 
  • and 1 Project Manager.

Then, to ensure continuity and logical progress, we adopted the following steps: 

  1. Market & stack research 

The research of user needs and the competitors' offerings were the starting point of this project. The same was applied to the tools and technologies - with the emphasis on unfamiliar stack. It took some brainstorming to gather the ideas, plus to pick the best-fitting tech for developing the expected functionality. 

Then, UX & UI research was conducted by internal specialists of PLATFORM. Afterward, they just delivered the results to our team, ready to implement them in the product-in-process. 

  1. Product discovery 

Based on research, brainstorming results, and the client’s primary goals, we shaped the ultimate MVP that was to be delivered in 6 months max. Minor parts of the discovery phase took place during the next stages of the process, mainly because of the Agile method we select for all of our projects. 

  1. Backlog creation 

After the discovery phase, it was high time for planning and scheduling. All our teams work in Scrum - so we set off with identifying key deliverables and dividing them into smaller parts and fitting them into several 2-week plans. Then, the priorities were set and regularly reviewed in the future stages of the project. 

  1. Backend + Frontend development 

The standard store templates from BigCommerce were too limited for the idea PLATFORM had in mind, while the required content possibilities, and marketplace complexities were not available at all. So we decided to build our own frontend application.

The front end was written mainly in NextJS, NodeJS, and ReduxJS. The usage of NextJS specifically allowed our developers to create a system that would automatically render the pages with new artworks and articles so that they would show on Google search right after the publication. 

For the backend, we went with Django and Python. Due to a large amount of customization needed from the client in terms of CMS, we opted to have it on our side rather than a service like Contentful. That's why we chose Wagtail CMS, a system on top of Django, which allowed us the needed customization range.

  1. Integrations

The payment option was Klarna. The shipping service attached was Art Shipper through a custom-built API. Buyers could insure the purchased artwork during the shipment stage as well.

Lastly, the development team integrated the website with third-party applications, like Omnisend (for marketing campaigns), and BigQuery for SQL inquiries (the latter was requested by the client). 

Key Takeaways 

The initial goal of PLATFORM - the MVP release - was achieved in 4 months. The eCommerce store is currently selling artwork all over the world and constantly renewing the store offer. 

The website was nominated for the famous Webby awards in the ‘Best Shopping Websites’ category. 

The cooperation between Apptension and PLATFORM is still ongoing. Our team is continuously updating the feature set and maintaining the high quality of the website. 

The new artwork is being added to the store each month, while the already-sold works are still displayed on the website to preserve the entire collection.

The PLATFORM case study with more visual elements and project details is available for reading in our Portfolio.

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The ins and outs of developing an eCommerce store for selling contemporary art

October 3, 2022
14
minutes read
audio description available
TL;DR

Over the last few years, the digital presence in most industries has grown immensely. We were a witness to the digitalization of one of the fine art resellers, - the PLATFORM, while we assisted in the creation of their own eCommerce store. In this blog post, you will find an in-depth approach to creating a website for the Art industry, as well as some best insider tips.

0:00
0:00
The ins and outs of developing an eCommerce store for selling contemporary art
The ins and outs of developing an eCommerce store for selling contemporary art

The state of art sales over the last 2 years   

The COVID-19 pandemic has become a reason for virtually any industry to intensify the digital presence to keep up with the previous years’ sales levels. Even though in 2020 there was a significant decrease in global artwork sales (22% to $50.3 billion), the global art market smoothly recovered in 2021, reaching $65.1 billion of global revenue (up by 29% from 2020), exceeding the pre-pandemic level. 

Over the last 2 years, it seems that many art sellers have adjusted to the new strategy and mastered the way of selling online, so such a shift is not going anywhere.  

PLATFORM - entering the online market

Our client, PLATFORM, was among the businesses that managed to react to the global situation swiftly. The ecommerce website store would sell artworks represented by American galleries, created by both emerging and established artists.

The concept behind the store is to be the only place to buy artwork by the most desirable young artists online and without any of the elitist hurdles of the art world. . The site was designed to show artwork at its best, using tools, images and information that make it easy for anyone – from experienced collectors to those buying art for the first time – to get excited about and buy the extremely high quality art offered on Platform. 

The client wanted to create and launch an MVP in 6 months.   

Technical requirements

Such an idea required lots of research, backend and frontend collaboration, and integrations with external systems to be brought to life. Here are the expected components of the to-be-built website:  

  • Extremely high image resolution with a high page loading speed accordingly;
  • BigCommerce integration as a chosen engine for the store; 
  • Admin Interface - to manage product pages, add content, and access customer data;
  • Supplier Interface - unique profile and login credential management.  
  • Access control - separate content for VIPs and partners, separate links for early birds;
  • ‘Preview in your space’ feature - the website visitors should easily upload the image of their space, provide the measurement of other objects located in the space, and see how the piece of art will match the interior. 
  • A custom checkout process matching the overall website design; 
  • Integration with email marketing service and triggered email sequences; 
  • Integration with Google Analytics;
  • Consistency with the languages and frameworks previously used in the company; 
  • Additional UX research to match the art-appropriate experience and employ the standard eCommerce best practices for high discovery and conversion rates.

The Challenge - Are short time frames and limited budgets compatible with complex ideas?  

Apart from a complex MVP idea, strict, inflexible deadline of 6 months, and a limited budget, PLATFORM wanted to ensure the development team could work in coding languages consistent with other projects in their organization. 

In the end, with proper planning and role assignment, we managed to bring meaningful results and bypass the restrictions. 

Our Process 

For the PLATFORM project, we provided a team consisting of: 

  • 1 team leader, 
  • 5 frontend developers, 
  • 3 backend developers, 
  • 2 QA specialists, 
  • and 1 Project Manager.

Then, to ensure continuity and logical progress, we adopted the following steps: 

  1. Market & stack research 

The research of user needs and the competitors' offerings were the starting point of this project. The same was applied to the tools and technologies - with the emphasis on unfamiliar stack. It took some brainstorming to gather the ideas, plus to pick the best-fitting tech for developing the expected functionality. 

Then, UX & UI research was conducted by internal specialists of PLATFORM. Afterward, they just delivered the results to our team, ready to implement them in the product-in-process. 

  1. Product discovery 

Based on research, brainstorming results, and the client’s primary goals, we shaped the ultimate MVP that was to be delivered in 6 months max. Minor parts of the discovery phase took place during the next stages of the process, mainly because of the Agile method we select for all of our projects. 

  1. Backlog creation 

After the discovery phase, it was high time for planning and scheduling. All our teams work in Scrum - so we set off with identifying key deliverables and dividing them into smaller parts and fitting them into several 2-week plans. Then, the priorities were set and regularly reviewed in the future stages of the project. 

  1. Backend + Frontend development 

The standard store templates from BigCommerce were too limited for the idea PLATFORM had in mind, while the required content possibilities, and marketplace complexities were not available at all. So we decided to build our own frontend application.

The front end was written mainly in NextJS, NodeJS, and ReduxJS. The usage of NextJS specifically allowed our developers to create a system that would automatically render the pages with new artworks and articles so that they would show on Google search right after the publication. 

For the backend, we went with Django and Python. Due to a large amount of customization needed from the client in terms of CMS, we opted to have it on our side rather than a service like Contentful. That's why we chose Wagtail CMS, a system on top of Django, which allowed us the needed customization range.

  1. Integrations

The payment option was Klarna. The shipping service attached was Art Shipper through a custom-built API. Buyers could insure the purchased artwork during the shipment stage as well.

Lastly, the development team integrated the website with third-party applications, like Omnisend (for marketing campaigns), and BigQuery for SQL inquiries (the latter was requested by the client). 

Key Takeaways 

The initial goal of PLATFORM - the MVP release - was achieved in 4 months. The eCommerce store is currently selling artwork all over the world and constantly renewing the store offer. 

The website was nominated for the famous Webby awards in the ‘Best Shopping Websites’ category. 

The cooperation between Apptension and PLATFORM is still ongoing. Our team is continuously updating the feature set and maintaining the high quality of the website. 

The new artwork is being added to the store each month, while the already-sold works are still displayed on the website to preserve the entire collection.

The PLATFORM case study with more visual elements and project details is available for reading in our Portfolio.

Olha Kurinna
Olha Kurinna
Content Specialist
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