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. 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.
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.