With online retail (or e-tail, if we’re to use the correct term) having grown exponentially over the past few years and the number of global internet shoppers forecast to increase 50% by 2018, even large department stores now all trade online. For smaller merchants and individuals wishing to follow suit and offer their products to the world, it can be daunting and difficult to know where to start.
I began this process in 2004 and, having failed my way to success, am pleased to share my insights and help others avoid the pitfalls, perils and significant speed bumps that almost spelled The End for my enterprise. I believe that I have, after plenty of trial and error (and stress!), identified the best system from which to run an online retail business.
In the beginning, having spent the preceding sleep-deprived few years juggling my graphic design job with the running of an eBay business, I took the plunge to full-time online retailing of charms and my range of handmade jewellery designs.
I employed the services of a website developer, initially, to build a site using a Zencart template, which served my purposes well for about four years. However, as my business grew, it became apparent that I required more functionality than it could offer at the time. I migrated to a new provider who built a more sophisticated looking site that met all of my requirements and those of my customers. However, so complex was the back-end of this site, to make changes required coding by a tech team member at the company and resulted in a series of sizeable invoices that I hadn’t factored into my annual IT budget (that covered the SSL certificate, hosting, etc).
So, after another four or so years, feeling increasingly that I needed to have control over the operation of the website, I embarked on a search for a provider of sophisticated websites that could offer all the design features I required combined with adequate DIY functionality. Unfortunately, I was about to learn the rather painful lesson that good Google ranking and a handful of positive reviews does not a good web developing company make! In the case of this outfit, I think their impressive marketing budget was inversely proportionate to their delivery, as was their investment in salespeople vs technologists. With very little progress having been made a couple of months into the development and increasingly frustrating communications with the offshore tech team implementing the project, I discovered that my new site was being built on a dinosaur of a platform, outmoded and unstable.
If you're new to ecommerce, it is exceptionally difficult to know whether or not a particular web development firm will end up being the right choice and it is easy to be blinded by science and seduced by a persuasive and reassuring sales pitch.
Despite having invested a great deal of money with this company and looked from every angle for possibilities of salvaging the situation, I concluded that I had no choice but to cut my (significant) losses and start again.
One recommendation that cropped up repeatedly was for the Magento platform and, having discovered that it hosted companies such as eBay, Ford, Nespresso, Nike and Christian Louboutin, I set off in search of a web development operation that worked with this open-source content management system. Having done all the research I could, I appointed the company for which I could find only positive results.
Once again, this organisation employed a team of technologists offshore (India in this case) who were clearly inexperienced, lacked initiative and, with English not being their native language, frequently misspelled back-end content that is so critical to search engines, etc. An exasperating exchange of emails would begin at around 2.00pm Sydney time (when the team started work) every day, with very little being resolved by nightfall and I felt that my project was providing a training exercise for these people. The mystery of my site’s failure to appear anywhere on Google, despite it now being established, aesthetically pleasing and with plenty of relevant content was solved with the discovery that my business name had been misspelled in one vital part of the coding!
Incidentally, Magento is a complex and brilliant content management system for ecommerce websites, but using it to build a small business is tantamount to cracking a walnut with a sledgehammer.
At the end of my tether and fearful that these enormously expensive mistakes might be the ruin of my business, I began researching platforms that allow individuals and companies to independently create and maintain their own sites, in case one existed that offered the sophisticated functionality I required. All the signs pointed to Shopify!
Having digested every piece of information I could find about Shopify and discovered they offer a free two-week trial – a refreshing concept having blown a fortune on failed experiments – In 2014 I got to work creating my store, embarking on the experiment that was to change my fortune. It was immediately apparent that Shopify was exactly what my business needed. I was back on track and wishing I had made this discovery many moons ago.
I now operate three successful online stores on the Shopify platform and can’t recommend them highly enough for user-friendliness and their many other benefits:
Affordability choice of monthly plans to suit a variety of shop sizes and budgets (monthly billing with no set-up fee).
Simplicity a system that is fun to use and formulated for ease of use by the less technical!
Control No need to rely on a middle man/technical consultant, you have the freedom to make changes to your site as and when you wish (without additional costs).
Support Shopify consultants are on hand to assist and, in non-technical terms, talk you through any queries that arise.
Aesthetics broad choice of beautiful store themes, many of which are free, and creative freedom to develop your design.
Design and technical services for any changes/additions that you don’t have the know-how or desire to implement yourself, Shopify experts are available to hire, for the smallest tweak to the creation of an entire store.
Security extensive and continually updated cyber protection provides peace of mind for you and your customers.
I'd be delighted to hear from you if you are looking to grow your business online and would like to enlist my store setup services, or if you'd just like some advice (based on what I've learned myself). Or if you'd like to give it a no obligation try right now, just click the green button:
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