Daniel and I have been again talking about building a more comprehensive web business, a multi-brand store, on the Seawall website.

We combine our skills in technology, photography, and design, and launch a bigger story.  All that sounds nice and possible.

Until we get to the issue of generating traffic.    The reality is, generating traffic is very simple.

-To get good traffic, create good content.  (or at least original content.  The web is full of reblogs and retweets- original content is novel.) As you know, however, creating original content takes time.

-To get lots of traffic, create lots of little spikes.  Spend time on twitter, spend time on facebook, spend time on pinterest, tumblr, etc.  Activate those social media platforms.

It’s the latter item that is our stumbling block.  We both dread spending time on social media platforms. My estimate is, that with a good five hours a day of intelligently-spent time on social media-  i.e. generating good voice, targeting the right people, basically, being smart, real, authentic ( <- Daniel hates that word), and hard-working about it-  you can get your presence in front of enough eyes to make a difference.

Many people do this naturally-  they get absorbed into blog reading and commenting, into twitter, into pinterest or facebook.  This doesn’t happen to me.  When you see me on a social media platform, I’m working.  Even if it looks like play, there are a dozen things I’d rather be doing.   And you’ll never even see Daniel on a social media platform (except instagram, which he has a fondness for.)

So that’s that.

Now, the four-hour-work-weeker in all of us would say:  well, why don’t you just outsource the social media?

Because it’s about voice and taste.  We’re both pretty freakin sensitive to voice and taste, and I’m not sure if it’s possible to outsource that.  Not cheaply.

***

About a year ago I did a comprehensive (for me) review of several ecommerce platforms, and described how I look at them-  specific to someone running a small clothing business.  Clothing has special inventory needs (i.e. size + color)  that are more complex than some other types of items.

So once again, we’ve been looking at the options.

Shopify has changed their pricing structure, dropping the price drastically, on a per item basis, and offering a very interesting unified inventory POS system.

I believe that shopify is currently the most popular platform for small fashion brands-  their templates out of the box are pretty good looking, they have a lot of functionality, and now they have good pricing.  I still have never trialed shopify, perhaps out of a contrarian nature.

Bigcommerce- which we have been using- recently released a fix for the single thing on their platform that irritated me: the product drop-down – used to select sizes or colors-  formerly showed out-of-stock options, which are now hidden. So the costs of switching may not be worth it yet for the brook there brand.

We’ve settled on Magento Community Edition for the new seawall webstore.  I had a really not-great experience trialing out Magento Go last year-  ostensibly the same platform, but hosted by Magento.  The e-commerce system itself is open-source, and Magento Community Edition is the open-source version. While offering the same functionality as Magento Go-  CE runs much, much better.  We chose a hosting provider who specializes in Magento CE Installs-  so it’s not the fully managed hosting situation that I prefer, but since Magento Go was practically unusable- and Magento Community Edition works well and has the extensive flexibility and functionality we want-  we’re excited.

I’ve found, in the perhaps half-dozen iterations of online stores I’ve built, that building the products is the most time-consuming element.  You’d think that getting the store looking pretty, setting up all the shipping and payment processing systems, and all that structural stuff would be the hard part-  but it’s not.  It’s at least interesting, because every step is different.  Building products is more like virtual manual labor. (sorry, bad joke.) But building products is boring, repetitive, and must be done correctly.

seawall

Screen shot 2014-01-03 at 10.53.44 AM

1. It starts with taking product photos.  This is tedious and hurts your back.  Clothing is almost always shot on a flat surface, and without a sophisticated tripod rig on a table, it requires a lot of kneeling and bending. The items have to be styled- pushed and pulled on that flat surface to look nice in 2d space. And, unless you want to do something artistic, you really need to use a nice camera to look professional.

2. then the photos need to be processed, which is (often) a pretty time-consuming photoshop task of knocking out the backgrounds.  This is the reason i’ve moved towards darker colored backgrounds for product shots, as opposed to the perpetually popular invisible white background.  It works best by far if all product photos are the same aspect ratio- some templates will graphically “break” with photos of varying aspects.

3. Writing product descriptions.  Again-  tone? Level of detail?  Measurements of the garment? Additional sizing and fit information?  Time consuming, precise, and requires thought.

4. Uploading the products into the ecommerce system.  This is usually something between a 10 and 50 step process per product.  This is also where much of the SEO level enhancement can happen. It takes me 5-15 minutes to set up each product – when I know the system well.

Ecommerce platforms will insist that all this can be simplified by using the bulk import process-  but really that only works in certain cases.  For example-  I have a set of inventory – about 200 products – sitting in my bigcommerce system.  I can bulk export those into a csv, and either manually or algorithmically translate that csv file into a file structure that is importable into Magento.  HOWEVER: the entire point of changing platforms would be to take advantage of the more sophisticated attribute systems and product features of Magento-  none of which are present in my bigcommerce export.  So-  I have to fill in product details inside of a Gigantic spreadsheet in order to use the new features.  The point is-  it’s not worth it.  Doing it through the product upload wysiwyg in the backend of the ecommerce platform is better because you are less likely to make mistakes.  Trying to write well-formatted product descriptions in a csv file is a headache.

The only time I’ve found bulk import/ export useful is intra-platform, to do something simple like change all the prices.

5. Accurately setting up inventory.  Really part of step 4, but significant enough that one should think deeply about this step.  Let’s say you list products online, and have them also for sale at retail. Or at craft fairs.  Or what have you.  Keeping that inventory accurate is a really detail-oriented task.  Without a POS like the shopify system, it won’t happen automatically. Most retail stores who open an online presence think that it’s not going to be a problem to just update inventory online manually at the beginning or end of every day.  Now, I can attest-  I ran a very small retail store.  And I have a very small web business.  And I was the only person who touched the inventory in both places.  I made tons of mistakes in inventory.  It’s not something that is easy to keep straight.

***

So- the sum of it all might be:  the barrier to changing platforms is the amount of time it takes to build products.  It makes sense to do a fair bit of platform review before investing that time.

Posted by:brook delorme

4 replies on “E-commerce updates

    1. thanks Mark! Have you built magento sites? I’m wondering if adding add-ons will increase the overall maintenance load- or if add-ons are really a necessary part of a good magento experience…

  1. Hi Brook,

    re: social media. you might be over-thinking it. You don’t need to be on all platforms. You can choose none. You can choose one.

    As for content: yes, it’s necessary to generate non-paid traffic. But good content and social media activity can be exclusive of one another. I’d focus more on content (specifically: getting articles, features, and interviews published on properties other than your own) than twitter, facebook, et al.

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