I was sent some examples of sites to look at for someone wanting to sell their wares online.  Moving into the world of e-commerce, there are a lot of options, each has their advantage and disadvantages. The sites I was sent as examples used Shopify, Squarespace, and SmugMug.

The complaint I hear with Shopify is high fees, and easy refunds on the customer’s part (no proof needed of any wrongdoing on the vendor’s part). You’ll need to buy a professional theme, which can be around $200 for a good one. (If you use a free one, you run the risk of the theme not working at some point in the future. I’ve had this happen!) The advantage to Shopify is you don’t have to do any site maintenance, and they manage your transactions. But they charge for this service, and if you want your own domain, you have to pay for that too.

I don’t have experience with Squarespace personally, though it is a proprietary platform, and you don’t actually own your content there. In other words, you couldn’t just download your site and move it elsewhere if you wanted to. The one advantage to these platforms is that they perform all the hosting and software updates, so it’s more of a set it and forget it kind of deal as long as you’re willing to pay their monthly fees and cuts from your sales.

I don’t have any experience with SmugMug – looks as though they have options to sell images for a monthly fee (https://www.smugmug.com/plans). For a photographer who doesn’t want to mess around with anything complicated, this could be a viable option.

While I’ve worked with Shopify, I typically use WordPress(wordpress.org) with WooCommerce, which offers a lot of flexibility and control; you set up your own payment system via credit card and/or Paypal – or even mail in checks or buy in person. You can also set it up as a catalog site, and process transactions via email or phone. This can be set up with any WordPress website, although some WordPress themes are better integrated with WooCommerce than others. While there are zero costs up front, you’ll end up buying some professional plugins for the flexibility to do the following:

  • Offer different sets of variations (for instance, size, color, customizations).
  • Payment system besides in- person, PayPal and Stripe
  • Shipping calculated by FedEx, USPS, UPS or custom rates based on what is in the cart.
  • Subscription management
  • Gift cards
  • (hundreds of other options, depending on requirements)

My biggest complaint with WooCommerce is that ever since Automattic took over WooCommerce, you need to purchase their plugins via an account with wordpress.com. What?! What does wordpress.com have anything to do with anything? Absolutely nothing; it’s as useful to you as their overpacked suitcase of useless plugins found in Jetpack that they like to inflict upon all sites. It is a layer of complication and confusion that delays sites launching sometimes by weeks or months due to the ineptitude on the part of Automattic to make this a requirement. See my other blog post detailing this nightmare.

Out of the box for free, you can enable coupons, allow sign up to mailing lists at purchase, create a user account at purchase or use guest check-out, have an unlimited number of products, use flat rate or free shipping, offer downloadable products, offer subscriptions. You have access to your buyer’s information for future marketing. You can have multiple images per product, and specific products per variation. This is a list of items I request from clients wanting to start an e-commerce site:

  • Product name
  • Product intro copy
  • Paragraph description
  • Main image file
  • Additional image files (all should be cropped to the exact same dimensions as the main image for best display result)
  • Size (for physical products)
  • Sku
  • Price
  • Product Weight (for physical products)
  • Product Dimensions (for physical products)
  • Shipping dimensions (for physical products)
  • Shipping method (for physical products)
  • Tax requirements
  • Ship from address
  • Payment method(s)

Your own store may require more or less information. It’s possible to add tabbed content, videos, and external links to any product. The best approach is always to keep it as simple as possible, and make it as easy as possible for the purchaser, with options such as one-page checkouts, allowing guest checkout, redirecting to the cart after purchase.

With a little (or a lot) of help from your web developer, you’ll turn your site into a cash machine in no time.