Many of us have had that dream — you hear about it all the time. A shop owner sets up an online store (aka Estore) and it takes off — gen­er­at­ing loads of extra rev­enue. These peo­ple are able to live the “Amer­i­can dream” — work­ing from the com­forts of their own home. From a dis­tance, it seems rel­a­tively easy: come up with an idea, cre­ate a web­site or have one cre­ated for you, and just start sell­ing your products.

The real­ity is always slightly dif­fer­ent than the dream of eas­ily set­ting up a store. The fact is, that there is a lot of peo­ple already out there hawk­ing their wares in the major cat­e­gories already. In order to com­pete with the estab­lished “big boys” such as Newegg, Ama­zon, etc., — you will have to come up with a bet­ter sys­tem, bet­ter prices, bet­ter phys­i­cal deliv­ery (or at least on par),  a sup­ply man­age­ment sys­tem, technical/customer sup­port, and per­haps even major financ­ing to get your ideas off the ground. And let’s just say you have all those “issues” ironed out — you will still need to get noticed (search engine opti­miza­tion), and then you will still be in direct com­pe­ti­tion with them.

So let’s just say that you have an idea for a unique prod­uct or a niche cat­e­gory which fills a need. You still need to have a web­site. And when you do finally get the web­site imple­mented, you will also have to do some seri­ous mar­ket­ing and search engine opti­miza­tion. These are not small prob­lems that one should take lightly. As you can see, some­thing which you might think is sim­ple at first glance often involves a lot of work. You can delve into each one of the top­ics and issues men­tioned above, and spend months, if not years work­ing on each one of those items. There’s sim­ply no easy solu­tion and you can’t expect things to run them­selves — it all involves “actual” work to become mod­er­ately successful.

You may be ask­ing your­self, “who is this guy and why am I even read­ing this?” Well, I’ve been design­ing and cod­ing web­sites since 1999. I’m also a busi­ness­man and artist who runs sev­eral dif­fer­ent things. My work and web­sites have been fea­tured in many well-known mag­a­zines — even grac­ing Time’s 50 most influ­en­tial web­sites. I’ve been design­ing and cod­ing for the web for quite some time. I’m not try­ing to brag, but sim­ply try­ing to state the case that I would hope that I know what I am talk­ing about by now.

Recently, I was approached by some friends and rel­a­tives to help them with their E-commerce stores. Truth be told, I avoid web­sites these days like the plague and more or less told them that I didn’t. have the time. Every­one that doesn’t know how to code or design, thinks that in order to make a web­site, it is a sim­ple “push of the but­ton.” And since they think it is so sim­ple, very few peo­ple are actu­ally will­ing to pay decently in order to have their web­site devel­oped. How­ever, if you’re look­ing for a web­site which is really well done, you need to pay a pre­mium in order to have every­thing work­ing smoothly.

Now, I wouldn’t charge my close rel­a­tives to help them make a web­site — that sim­ply wouldn’t be right. But what I don’t think they real­ize is that when I cre­ate some­thing, I believe in doing a proper job oth­er­wise issues will come up later. Add to this, you are look­ing at sev­eral weeks worth of work (and pos­si­bly more) for an E-commerce store. This is no offense to them, but I have much bet­ter things to do with my time such as earn­ing an actual liv­ing then work­ing on some­thing sup­ple­men­tal for them. In my few spare moments, I’d much rather decom­press and actu­ally get away from com­put­ers alto­gether. As it is, I spend 16 hour days and week­ends work­ing on my projects.

That being said, I don’t mind giv­ing away hon­est advice and point­ers. I thought I would sum­ma­rize a few poten­tial options for some­one look­ing to cre­ate an E-commerce store here.

E-Store Cre­ation in a Nutshell:

So, let’s assume you have an idea. Your first prob­lem to tackle is get­ting a web­site up and run­ning. If you were to hire some­one, an aver­age “pro­fes­sion­ally” cre­ated web­site with an E-store may cost around $5,000-$10,000 and take one to two weeks worth of work to be up and run­ning for a sim­ple store. It may even take longer. Most likely, the designer/coder will use a tem­plate that they base their work upon and mod­ify it to some degree in order to call it “cus­tom made.” Truth be told, that’s a fair rate for some­one try­ing to run their own web­site design busi­ness. I would rec­om­mend going this route if you want to get some­thing up and run­ning quickly, if you have the spare cash to risk or blow, or if you have no cod­ing skills whatsoever.

You could also pur­chase a pre-made shop­ping cart and web­site pro­gram. I’m per­son­ally skep­ti­cal of most of these pro­grams — I think that while they per­form much of the basics, you’ll run into issues try­ing to do some­thing more com­pli­cated (you will even­tu­ally), and you can pretty much call it quits. As for web­site opti­miza­tion — most peo­ple and pro­grams will claim to imple­ment SEO when in fact they barely scratch the basics. As for mod­i­fy­ing the look and feel of it to suit per­sonal tastes or even user-friendliness — I would have to say that they are very lim­ited in scope. You’ll end up hav­ing a shop­ping site that looks like other people’s. And to me, when I see a generic look­ing web­site, I often stay far, far away from them espe­cially when it comes to purchases.

Finally, there’s the option of cre­at­ing the web­site your­self and even for free. While you could do every­thing the “old-fashioned way” of cod­ing things com­pletely by hand, I strongly advise against “rein­vent­ing the wheel.” There’s free, open-source Con­tent Man­age­ment Sys­tems which already set out to do those sort of things — all you need to do is build upon the mis­takes of oth­ers. But, I have to fore­warn peo­ple that this will be an invest­ment of time and learning.

Free E-Store Setups:

Prob­a­bly the two most pop­u­lar sys­tems for cre­at­ing and run­ning E-stores involves Word­Press + WP E-Commerce and Joomla + Virtue­mart. Both Word­Press and Virtue­mart are blogging/CMS sys­tems at heart. Blog­ging sys­tems were designed in the first place to be rather easy to use so most peo­ple can eas­ily get around these sys­tems with lit­tle cod­ing knowl­edge what­so­ever. And plus they’ve been around for quite some time which means that they have a lot of tech­ni­cal resources and sup­port, plus a wide-variety of themes/skins (even free) at your dis­posal to choose from. WP-Ecommerce and Virtue­mart are both widely-used free shop­ping cart sys­tems which “plug into” Word­Press and Joomla.

In truth, I find Joomla to be a com­plete pain. Unless you’re a pro­gram­mer, Joomla is incred­i­bly dif­fi­cult for the aver­age per­son to nav­i­gate or cus­tomize. Sure, you can by tem­plates to change the over­all look and feel. But this CMS almost offers “too many” fea­tures. Adding a shop­ping cart such as Virtue­mart would prob­a­bly only com­pli­cate mat­ters even further.

For that rea­son, I would tend towards a Word­Press install.

Paid E-Store Setups:

Two more shop­ping cart alter­na­tives that I came across for Word­Press were Shopp and WP eStore. Both you have to pay for, but truth be told, they’re prob­a­bly not any more expen­sive than tak­ing a trip to buy gro­ceries or pur­chas­ing a video game. Shopp retails for $55 cur­rently. WP eStore is $20. If I had to set­tle between all of the options, Shopp and WP eStore would prob­a­bly win.

I had done a bunch of online research between the shop­ping carts, and came up across some neg­a­tive user-feedback regard­ing WP E-Commerce. Accord­ing to some peo­ple, unless you are famil­iar with the way that sys­tem oper­ates, then it can be a pain to con­fig­ure. The other lim­it­ing fac­tor is the lack of avail­able themes which inte­grate WP E-Commerce as well so you will have to most likely per­form a decent amount of cus­tomiza­tion. Some peo­ple had also men­tioned that cus­tomer sup­port was lack­ing. And last but not least, I was read­ing some feed­back from one of the actual devel­op­ers, and they kind of attacked other read­ers who talked about Shopp while self-promoting their own work. I was very dis­ap­pointed in their atti­tude to be frank — and that’s par­tially another rea­son why I steered far away from it.

On the other hand, the read­ers which I came across that used Shopp said that they really liked it.

For my pur­poses of elec­tronic deliv­ery, WP E-Commerce and Shopp were overkill. They did more than I really needed them to. If I was intend­ing to actu­ally ship prod­ucts, then I prob­a­bly would have went with Shopp. But for my sim­ple pur­poses, I decided to try out WP eStore.

WP eStore is very sim­ple to install and setup. It cur­rently inter­faces with Pay­pal. All you really have to do is add your prod­ucts to its man­age­ment screen and your prod­uct down­load loca­tions. It gives you an ID num­ber which you put wher­ever you want to put your “Buy Now” or “Add to Cart” but­ton — usu­ally below a blog post or a web page. And that’s pretty much all there is to it.

Sum­mary:

There’s so many dif­fer­ent routes we can all take when want­ing to set up an online store. I also can’t guar­an­tee that everyone’s store and prod­ucts are going to be sim­i­lar — so what you might end up using may be com­pletely dif­fer­ent than what I posted here. I would really like to hear about your pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive experiences.

As for get­ting a store run­ning — don’t expect an easy solu­tion or some­thing that will appear overnight. You should look for an e-store and shop­ping cart solu­tion that gives you all the options and design that you may even­tu­ally require. Design­ing a shop almost always involve fid­dling with code and run­ning tests. It’s not some­thing most peo­ple can do in less than a week — let alone two or three. You have to have some degree of patience and orga­ni­za­tional skills in order to develop some­thing that will con­tinue to attract cus­tomers. In this arti­cle, I think I’ve briefly out­lined some of the sim­plest options to hav­ing cre­ate an e-store while retain­ing a high degree of flexibility.

If you have a moment and would like to see my sim­ple WP and WP eStore solu­tion in action, please check out my HDR web­site HDR­Source.

cleo

3 Responses to Setting up an E-store

  1. Amin says:

    WOW! Nicely explained… this is a must read for any­one think­ing of starting/building an E-Commerce site using Word­Press or Joomla.

  2. cleo says:

    Thanks Amin.

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