BusinessMarketingProductivitySEOShoppingSocial MediaWeb Development

build your own ecommerce website, be your own boss

I’m going to spoil this whole blog by telling you the three reasons you should build your own eCommerce website in this very first sentence: eBay, Etsy, and Amazon. That’s it, there you have it, that’s why you should build your own eCommerce website.

I know what you’re thinking: “Deborah, you’ve gone completely bananas. I couldn’t possibly independently compete with those three!”

Brick laughing with a banana
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a little bit off my rocker.

Well I hate to break it to you folks, but I went completely bananas years ago. You should know that by now. But that’s completely aside from the point and unrelated to anything I’m saying here. Just let me continue, and stop mentally interrupting me, OK? Thanks.

Even when you list your products on those sites, you are still competing with all of them. But let’s take a closer look.

Amazon

Xena, Warrior Princess
Darn it you guys, STILL not that Amazon.

Of these big three sellers, Amazon.com was founded in 1994. Who even remembers having the internet in 1994? My family had an Apple computer back then, but eventually switched to a PC. I think we got dial-up in 1995:

beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep ccccccccchhhhhhh doooooo-dee-doo000-beepbeep-boop-beep-dooop cccccccchhhhhhhhhh

dial-up internet
You know what I’m talkin’ about.

. . . and then that sweet sound of connection. It wasn’t long before I discovered Amazon.com. It used to be all books, all the time, and soon after, I could also get CDs and DVDs, and better yet, I could soon buy them used from other sellers! I’ll admit, I have Amazon Prime membership in both the USA and Canada. As a buyer, Amazon is pretty great.

But what about as a seller?

Amazon is complicated. Their fees are high. You’ve got a huge amount of competition, including people who buy and bulk, which isn’t great if you’re a smaller business. Not only that, but you are also in direct competition with Amazon itself.

Take for example the issue of AmazonEssentials products. Despite claims to the contrary, Amazon employees have used what is supposed to be private information about independent sellers on the company’s platform to develop competing products, going directly against their own company’s policy.

Speaking of competing products, several major brands have refused to sell on Amazon because they don’t police the grey market well enough. One brand even preferred to sell exclusively on Walmart instead. Not to dis Walmart or anything (loyal shopper here), but I kinda think that says something.

people at walmart crashing balls
Am I a Person of Walmart? That’s for me to know and you to find out.

eBay

cat selling a cat in a box
I’ve tried this with my children, but apparently it’s “against the rules”.

Ah yes, the wild west of online sales. Or so it seemed to be back in those first few years. eBay was founded only a year after Amazon, in 1995. It started simple enough. The first sale was a broken laser pointer to a fellow who collected broken laser pointers, who would’ve thought? Initially, listing an item was free, but the founder’s internet services bill got too high, so he had to start charging a listing free, which people found pretty reasonable.

(As an aside, my first year of high school, my school’s principal, Tom Sawyer (yes, that legit was his name, no relation to the real fictional Tom Sawyer, though), was an expert at calling auctions. You know, that really fast-talking thing. Everybody in town would get him to do live auctions. Pretty amazing. eBay should have hired him for . . . something.)

Thousands of people have found success on eBay, but more and more, people have become increasingly frustrated. In the words of one former seller, “eBay sacrifices its sellers to its buyers”. I know that “the customer is always right” is a good general policy, but eBay appears to take this a bit too far. According to this same seller, “eBay ‘insures’ purchases by resolving all disputes in favor of the buyer, and then forcing the seller to cover the costs. Paypal helps them by seizing the seller’s funds.”

So eBay runs on a guilty-until-proven-innocent-system where the seller can almost never prove themselves innocent. It also leaves the seller open to buyer fraud.

guilty!
Even if you’re innocent, you’re still guilty.

eBay can limit your sales very arbitrarily, despite your good record (and bringing in lots of income to eBay itself). An ill-intentioned person can give a seller a bad review, a postal strike causing a delay in shipment, or any other little fluke can lead them to limit how much a seller is allowed to sell. One seller whose whole business. You are subject to eBay’s whims. You may feel like your own boss, but you are at the mercy of buyers and eBay’s poor customer service.

Etsy

Etsy, the newest to the market. Launched in 2005 on the east coast, it’s the indie girl’s heaven for vintage, handmade, and craft supplies. Yes, I’ve purchased all of the above on there. Etsy has been great for sellers of these things, but in recent years, Etsy’s policies have changed for the negative.

where do you even find a a gold coke straw? etsy.
Seems legit. In a not really legit sorta way.

Etsy is no longer friendly to small business, you are literally competing with huge shops in China. It’s sad really — you see someone has designed something creative and lovely, and within a few months, other people are copying that design and it’s all being shipped from China. Sure, maybe it was handmade, but do you really think the worker got fair pay for the work they did?

Not only that, but because of Etsy opening up their policy to this type of business, small business owners have faced lower sales volumes and increased competition due to the sheer volume of shop owners on the site, and it’s not exactly easy to differentiate your own shop from all the rest. You get a name and you get a logo. That’s about it. It’s very difficult to truly build your own brand.

On top of this, Etsy has their own weird SEO algorithms that work completely differently from most ordinary search engines, and at the same time, Etsy items don’t rank well in Google searches. And then there are the fees. They can arbitrarily hike the fees whenever they please, cutting into the profit margin of small businesses as well.

At the end of the day, is it really worth all this trouble?

Who are you really working for?

All three of these platforms make it somewhat easy to list your products in an online shop, but is it really worth it? How does it really benefit you as a business? Perhaps early on it might have been easy for people to search and find your products, but now they’re so over-saturated that it’s difficult for people to find you. You can’t truly build your own brand.

At the end of the day, with having to follow someone else’s ever-changing policies, very little control over how operations are run, and the inability to truly build your own brand while paying someone else fees, it sure sounds a lot like you’re doing a lot of work for someone else. You may have more flexibility than a typical job, but you’ve still got someone bossing you around.

But what else can a small business do?

Gosh, I’m sure glad you asked! The truth is, building your own eCommerce website isn’t that complicated. There are lots of options out there, though our two favourites are WooCommerce and Shopify. The great thing about your own site is you are in charge. You decide what your website will look like, your branding, everything. Nobody will tell you what kind of payments you will take, you get to decide that. You get to decide what shipping options you will offer, and where you will ship.

I don’t know about anybody else, but I’m pretty stubborn and don’t like being told what to do. I’m also a bit of a control freak, so being able to control every aspect of my business (or delegate to people whom I trust) is right up my alley. Both of these platforms offer countless tools to make it easy to do.

Zoolander like a boss
You can be really really really really really ridiculously good looking AND be your own boss at the SAME TIME.

How will people find me if I’m not on one of these big sites?

Google.

OK, that’s the easy answer, but not the only one. Look at it this way: you’re not just selling stuff, you’re building a brand. Do you have a Facebook page? Instagram? Most of these eCommerce platforms have integrations with both Facebook and Instagram (WooCommerce: Facebook, Instagram; Shopify: online sales channels).

Honestly, lots of the new stuff I discover is through social media, so build a following! Write blogs about your products, get other people to share your products and how great they are! Get in people’s heads. Build your brand. If you need any advice on SEO, social media, or digital marketing, talk with us. We are more than happy to help!

Back to Google though — this year they announced a new feature they are making available on their shopping search results. Currently their Google Shopping search results are all sponsored products, but this spring, in the US, they opened it up so that people could list their products for free (there would still be sponsored listings, a bit like regular search results).

This isn’t available in Canada yet, but one article suggests it will be quite soon for Canada, and another says that it will be global before the end of the year. I find this pretty exciting, as it’s another SEO opportunity for our eCommerce clients. It appears that already there are integrations for WooCommerce and Shopify.

OK, but what about the cost?

I’ll admit, there’s a bigger up-front cost with building a site yourself.

I take that back. Shopify isn’t all that bad, although they have monthly fees, because it is hosted, although the monthly fees might add up, but it comes with everything all-in-one full-meal-deal if that’s what you like. You can pay to have someone set it all up for you, have it match your branding and whatnot, or you can set it up yourself and you’ll probably get by either way. It’s a great option for someone who wants a store. Some pretty big brands use Shopify, including Hasbro, The Economist, Heinz, Crabtree & Evelyn, and Penguin Books.

WooCommerce is my favourite though. It’s a great option if you want a full website, more than just a shop. From what I understand the API is easier to work with, so if you like doing your own coding . . . stuff (sorry, I stick to html and css, disturbingly so), it’s a better option. I like that you can use their official plugins or third party plugins  to make it do whatever you darned-well please. Many-a-time a client has asked “but can you make it do this?” and I’ve said “of course we can!” then gone to one of our developers and said “so . . . they asked me if we can make it do this” to be told “weird but . . . I guess so?”

Why say no when it feels so good to say yes?
Right?!

As for cost, WooCommerce itself is free, though if you purchase it with a theme, it sometimes comes with other paid upgrades. There are paid and free plugins you can get for WooCommerce. Your main cost will be building the website, and then the monthly or annual fee of hosting it varies from provider to provider.

I may or may not be the Yes Girl, much to the chagrin of our CEO. (Sorry Kelly.)

Let’s do it!

So now that I’ve given you all the reasons why you really ought to have your own website instead of working for someone else, why don’t you give us a call, send us an email, or contact us through social media and let us help you get your business online! We can offer advice on what platform is best for you, or we can do all the work for you. Whatever level of service you need, we’re here for you.

Doctor Who: Just do it!
Don’t take my word for it. The good Doctor says you should too.
BusinessFuturePandemicProductivitySelf-ImprovementTechnology

I5 to downtown Seattle, puget sound, and Olympic mountains, photograph by Thatcher Kelley https://colorbent.com

I’m going to take a wild guess and say that probably most of you reading this right now have approximately a three-step daily commute these days. I mean, literally, you take three steps and you’re there. And if more than that, it’s probably still shorter than one minute, right? So what better time than now to talk about your commute to work?

OK, maybe I’m being a little ironic. Don’t you think?

And isn't it ironic, don't you think
#sorrynotsorry

No daily commute = no more pants!

But think about it. For those of you able to work from home right now, you may be at any of a number of stages of wondering if you might like to continue working from home once the rules are loosened around this pandemic. After all, you can roll out of bed, maybe change your clothes, and there you are, right at the office! You don’t even need any pants! Just this morning, I led a very public Zoom live broadcast with a nice blouse on top, and my pyjamas on the bottom. At the end of the day, I can just meander downstairs and hang out with the kids, or I can unlock my bedroom door and let them all burst into my bedroom while all yelling things at me at the same time. It’s convenient!

man video internet broadcast no pants
Pretty fancy live broadcast setup for a guy who isn’t even wearing any pants.

But have any of you noticed that maybe this non-commute isn’t totally ideal? And I’m not talking about just the working-at-home factor with kids or a spouse wandering into Zoom meetings and the temptation to eat an entire bag of chips because nobody else is looking. I’m talking strictly about commuting. The lines between work and home are blurred. Sometimes I work until late at night if my kids or husband don’t pull me away (like I’m doing right now, hahaha . . . ha . . . ha *ahem*). Some days I might work all day . . . and then keep working until I’m dragged away for supper (my awesome husband is the cook). I’m no expert, but this can’t be a good thing. Does this mean that I might NEED a commute to separate work from home?

The long commute

I’m sure you all know that a long commute isn’t a great. You know this because you’ve probably experienced it. Depending on various factors, it can be stressful and tiring, both physically and mentally. But did you know that a long commute can affect you negatively in more ways than that?

Researchers found that each extra minute of commuting time reduces both job AND leisure time satisfaction and increases strain and worsens mental health for workers, and multiple studies even suggest that commuting can be more stressful than actually working. 😮 In fact, an 20 additional minutes of commuting per day has the same negative effect on job satisfaction as receiving a 19% pay cut. Yikes.

It can be particularly stressful and dangerous during open season on the LA Freeway.

An employee’s long commute isn’t good news for an employer either. An employee who commutes a long distance is more likely to have a higher rate of absenteeism and more sick days, caused the extra stress on joints, or for those who take public transit, more time spent in close proximity to others.

With all of this in mind, one might also wonder, “so why isn’t a zero commute perfect?”

The importance of transition time

Well, as it turns out, a regular daily commute is a great time for preparing for your day before work and decompressing from your day after work. People often use their drive in to work to think about upcoming projects, meetings, events, and various other work-related things, and the people who do this also experience more work satisfaction as well.

I can personally speak to this — normally my commute is approximately 45-50 minutes long. Fortunately, it’s a reverse-commute, so I rarely hit bad traffic, and a lot of it is through the countryside with very little traffic. After living here for five years, I STILL haven’t found a radio station that I like, so I’ve turned to podcasts; educational podcasts as well as podcasts that offer insight into how I can improve myself.

Oprah: bees!!!
Did you know that the world record for most bees in a person’s mouth is 109? Well now you do.

I learn something new almost every day, either a piece of knowledge about how I might be able to improve how I work, or something about psychology and how I might adjust the way I work with other people, or just a fact about the world that is incredibly interesting. (If you’re wondering, some of my favourites include Hidden Brain, Something You Should Know, No Such Thing as a Fish, and 99% Invisible.) I can’t leave out the detail that such a long drive is exhausting. By the time I get home, I’m usually too tired to do anything.

Alternative transportation (this isn’t just about cars!)

“OK,” some of you might be asking, “what about the differences in modes of transportation?” Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. It turns out that people who walk and cycle are the happiest and most satisfied and even find that their commute is often the best part of their day. As for distance, the happiest are the walkers and cyclists who have a short distance to travel. And not only that, the behaviour improves their physical health and can enhance job performance.

Monty Python ministry of silly walks
I can only imagine how joyous and meaningful one’s life would be if one were to adopt a silly walk for his or her daily commute.

And what about those who ride public transit? They fall somewhere in the middle. Transit riders do experience stress, particularly if their bus is delayed or stuck in traffic (an occurrence that walkers and cyclists rarely need worry about), but when they have stressful days at work, their detachment from the commute actually helps them de-stress so by the time they are home, they have recovered from the stress and are ready for home life.

Why is this long commute such an issue anyway?

I know some of you might be sitting there saying, “well duh, just move closer to work!” which does seem to be an obvious solution, but like most things, life is not really that simple. Did you know that the average distance from home to work has increased over the last several decades? Now, this is information out of the US, but I’m going to bet that Canada isn’t that different. On average, US commute is about 50 minutes. Yeah. FIFTY MINUTES. Which surprises me and doesn’t surprise me at the same time.

As an aside, I’m a native of Seattle, and I knew many people who had commutes like that, and even longer. I asked my dad what his worst commute ever was, and he said it was from our home in Des Moines (south of Seattle) to Redmond (that’s where Microsoft lives). On a good day, that’s about a 40 minute drive. During rush hour it’s twice as long. And out there, rush hour starts at 6 AM and ends around 9:30 or 10:00 AM. So there’s no avoiding it.

kingdome implosion
Eventually, you start to feel a bit like the Kingdome by the end of the day.

Anyway, back to what I was saying, why don’t people just live closer to work? Well, the population has just about doubled, while homebuilding has decreased, leading to an increase in housing prices, especially in metropolitan neighbourhoods. Any jobs close to where people work are next to impossible to afford, and even if they are, they aren’t ideal for families. So affordable housing is pushed further and further away from centres of where people work. Enter: the long commute.

If 50 minutes is too long, and 0 minutes is too short, then what IS the ideal daily commute?

Good question, and I could be annoying and say that everybody’s ideal commute is going to be different from person to person, but I won’t do that to you. I mean, yes, the preceding statement is true, but you know that already. But interestingly, when a study in San Francisco asked people about their ideal commute times, they found the ideal daily commute was approximately 16 minutes.

luke skywalker in his hovercraft
I’m not sure I’m settled on my ideal length of commute, but this is definitely my ideal mode of transportation.

About one-third of the respondents said their ideal commute time would be 20 minutes or more, less than 2% said theirs would be ideally under 4 minutes, and only 1.2% desired a zero commute. However, nearly 52% preferred a commute at least 5 minutes longer than their (on average) 10-minute commute. Meanwhile, 42% of participants whose actual AND ideal trips were the same, their average commute time was 15 minutes.

So there you have it: your average commute time is probably somewhere around 15 or 16 minutes.

So what do I do now?

I mean, you can do whatever you want, really. But I recommend you take this information, and start planning for the future. Someday we’ll be able to leave our homes for work, but for now I’ll leave you with these tips:

  • If you remain at home with zero commute, consider a 15 minutes before and after work virtual commute, whether it’s a walk around the block, or sitting quietly with your eyes closed thinking about the upcoming day, or the day you have just finished.
  • If your commute feels too short, go ahead, leave a bit earlier in the morning and take the scenic route. I add five minutes to my drive just so I can avoid traffic and so I can drive the scenic way, and it’s well worth those five minutes.
  • If your commute is ideal and you are a happy person, then keep doing what you’re doing. You’re a rockstar!
  • If your commute is too long, then you’ve got a few things to think about:
  • Is it possible to move closer to work? Is your current job worth the drive? Would you consider getting a job closer to home? If the answer is yes, then try one of those, if the answer is no, then find ways to make your commute more enjoyable:
    • Find someone who lives near you and works near you to carpool with.
    • Turn off the radio and start listening to something that will really engage your brain and get it in gear for the day. Yup, that’s right. No music. (See my podcast suggestions above.)
    • Consider requesting to telecommute once or twice a week, just to give your body a break from the long drive.
  • If you ride public transit, keep your brain engaged. Prepare for the work day, listen to podcasts, or read a book.
  • Talk with the strangers around you. I know it seems like you might be annoying, but it turns out that most people are pretty happy when someone reaches out to talk with them. Don’t know how? Start with a classic, like commenting on the weather.
  • If you walk or bicycle to work, you’re probably already happy, and you probably shouldn’t distract yourself whilst doing so anyway, so you just keep being your happy self.
dog walking on hind legs down grocery aisle making decisions
There are so many things you can do to improve your life! So many choices! What will you do?!

You’re not alone

We all have our own commuter stories, so I asked some friends, family, and coworkers about theirs:

DeborahWorst: My worst commute might have been when I had to go to a chiropractor twice a week in Bothell. Because I didn’t want to deal with traffic, I scheduled my appointments extremely early. However, if I left just five minutes too late, my drive time was doubled. And then I had the commute from there to work (which was only a 15 minute drive from my home).
Best: When I worked at the same company as my dad for three years. I lived only a mile from my parents, so my dad and I carpooled, it was a reverse commute, and only 15 minutes. I loved having that good quality time with my dad.
-Deborah (me)

TimBest: I used to live a 5 minute drive away from the Safeway I used to work at. I’d start at 6:30am so there were no cars going there. And almost guaranteed no traffic on my way home.
Worst: Worst would’ve been going to and from Spruce Grove during the winter.
-Tim, systems administrator

StefenWorst: Worst was bussing from Edmonton to Spruce Grove about 5 years ago. Bus service has improved significantly since then — at the time, I’d get up at 4:30am to catch a connecting bus at 5, which would drop me off at the bus garage. There I’d wait half an hour for the one departing bus to leave for Spruce Grove, and if I missed it for some reason, there wasn’t another.
Best: Best was the 15 minute walk from my house to the office. Winter, summer, not too bad. Just enough time to collect my thoughts and plan the day.
-Stefen, developer

LeahBest: Best was a 10 minute drive during my summer job; I worked at the golf course, no traffic (or just small town traffic)
Worst: Worst commute is driving in the winter into Spruce Grove, the first like 25 minutes of my drive the roads NEVER get cleared if its snowed until the afternoon, so if it has snowed it’s always risky.
-Leah, social media specialist

KellyWorst: I had to take the streetcar or subway from [in Toronto] Dundas and Roncesvalles to Dundas and University… However, if I caught the streetcar or subway between the hours of 730-930 on the way in, I’d be standing the entire way and stopping constantly, turning what would be a 30 min commute to usually an hour and a half. If I caught the subway at those times, it’d be shoulder to shoulder the whole way in and super uncomfortable. On the way back was worse though. There was a shortturn about 10 blocks before my stop, and the streetcars never were marked for when they were shortturn or not. So regularly I’d catch the streetcar, be standing and uncomfortable the whole way, and then be dropped off in -20C weather 10 blocks short of my apartment, and have to wait for the streetcar that isn’t shortturning. If I tried to take the subway instead, it was worse than the morning. So I basically had to not leave until 630/7 at the earliest.
Best: Best commute was living downtown Toronto, literally a block from Panda Rose at our Dundas and McCaul location. Simply being able to walk and avoid public transit changed my quality of life immensely.
-Kelly, CEO

MaxineWorst: Worst commute was roughly 60 mins, first heading west to drop kids at dayhome and then back north to the office.
Best: Best commute was 15-20 mins to Spruce Grove Panda Rose office but won’t compare to the 30 second walk to my kitchen table as of late.
-Maxine, operations manager

GerardWorst: I used to commute up and down to university daily. It would take an hour drive to get to the city and then I would need to catch a bus from the park and ride area which would take another 20/30 mins. And if you got caught during traffic time between 8-10 in the morning or 4-6 in the evening you might as well add another hour on to the journey.
Best: Does the current situation count? Haha
-Gerard, developer

JoshWorst: Working at Metro East Base in Bellevue was the worst (only for 3 weeks). Having to be there at 5:30 or 6 AM. Traffic on I405.
Best: My favourite commutes were on my way in to work at NWCN in South Lake Union. The drive on the viaduct at sunset was epic.
And traffic was light.
-Josh, Deborah’s twin brother, public bus driver

Thatcher KelleyWorst: Culver City CA commuting from Whittier, CA. 1.5 hours each way 5 days a week.
Best: We were shooting at the airport and I lived in Seatac. But that was only a couple days.
-Thatcher, Deborah’s other brother, Digital Imaging Technician

PatWorst/Best: I don’t think I have had any worst commute. I guess when I worked at World Vision it was the furthest but reverse commute so not bad at all. I guess my best commute was when I worked from home. I drove from Des Moines to Burien, Des Moines to Des Moines, Des Moines to Federal Way (nice drive down along Redondo), Redwood City to Palo Alto. Really most were within 15-20 minutes and traffic not bad. I mean from Normandy Park to World Vision was always nice because it was reverse commute and I just listened to the radio the whole way. 20 minutes tops.
-Pat, Deborah’s mum, retired

Well look at that — the Boomer had perfect commutes her whole life. 😉 But seriously, her experience backs up the research!

BusinessMarketingPandemicSEOShoppingTechnologyWeb Development

man in pigeon costume attacking man

The dilemma

So government has forced you to close up shop.

And the landlord is still expecting you to pay rent.

And you’ve got bills to pay.

You’ve got products that are going to go out of fashion.

You’ve got people who rely on you for employment.

You’ve got your own family to support!

So what’s a business owner to do in a situation like this?

For obvious reasons, you can’t just open up your shop and run business as usual. A fine from the government is the last thing you need right now! But surely there must be an alternative?

If you're the kind of guy who can help me pay my bills, I can help you in other ways
Yes. We can help you in other ways. You can help us in other ways. We can help each other in all sorts of ways.

 

Well, yes, in fact there is (I’m sure you saw this answer coming a mile away).

eCommerce!

But wait, there are some things you need to consider first . . .

The elephant in the room

And of course, I have to mention the elephant in the room.
Oh, it’s way bigger than an elephant.

 

Yes, that one. Amazon. Let’s face it, as soon as you enter the online marketplace, you are competing with Amazon. That’s not an easy feat. You’ve also got Etsy, Ebay, and countless other well-established sites out there to compete with. You need to ask yourself these questions:

What makes you stand out from the rest? What makes you different? How are you unique? What do you have to offer that they don’t?

Do you sell something unique to the region? Do you sell something that everybody wants, but can’t get from the mainstream big box stores? Do you offer delivery services in your region? How about next-day pick-up so a customer can save money on shipping? These days it takes several weeks for even Amazon Prime members to receive items in the mail. For an online shopper, being able to get their hands on an item quickly is like gold!

But . . . how?

There are lots of ways to open your own online shop. The first thing you need is a website. If you don’t have a website, you need to get one 10 years ago! You can’t possibly tell me that you’re too good for a website and don’t need one. No lie: any time I’m looking for a new place to shop where I haven’t been, I try looking up their website to see if they’re worth my time. And honestly, if the look kinda ghetto, I’m less likely to go. So get yourself a good-lookin’ website.

But why else do you need a website? I mean, everybody knows about you and people find you through word of mouth, right? Well, what about when your friend Janice’s aunt Sally’s best friend Betty’s sister Noreen hears about the shop from aunt Sally, but aunt Sally can only partially remember the name, and Noreen has an even worse memory than aunt Sally, so she only remembers that your shop’s name had something to do with pigeons or birds or something and the name of the town it’s in.

Man feeding pigeons, man-sized pigeon attacks man
Birds aren’t even real.

But if you have a website, Noreen can type those words in, and if your website has good SEO, that will be enough for search engines to help Noreen find your website, and find your shop!

I mean, but how about that online shop idea?

Oh, yes, that. So let’s assume the website thing isn’t an issue. Now you need to figure out how to sell your items online. There are a number of ways to do that, either through third-party websites where your products will be lumped in with a bunch of other products for sale from other businesses, or on your own website.

Amazon

Xena, Warrior Princess
Ummm, not that Amazon.

Yes, you can actually sell your own products on Amazon. But do you really want to compete with Amazon on their own website? Probably not. If you’re selling a product that Amazon already sells, you must list it on the same page, you can’t duplicate a product, but you can’t incentivize your product with two-day shipping. That’s something you have to earn. And speaking of shipping, Amazon decides how much your shipping rates are going to cost. If you’re interested in trying that outlet, article on Amazon.ca has some basic info on what you need to know to sell on Amazon.

Ebay

Ebay is an interesting place, but you have to do your research if you want to sell there. Taking a look at top-selling items can be helpful in telling you what people are looking for on ebay. If your product doesn’t really fall into those categories, then it might not be the right place for you. If you sell antiques and collectibles, it’s almost definitely the place for you. If you want to learn more about ebay, here is where you can check out their selling basics page.

While you’re on their site, it’s kind of fun to look at their prohibited items page. Among may other things, if you’re trying to sell any of these things, I suggest you avoid ebay:

  • Stolen property
  • Products that pose a health or safety hazard (that seems really open-ended to me)
  • Escort services
  • Personal advice
  • Pacemakers, heart valves, vascular grafts, ventricular bypass devices, and implantable infusion pumps
  • Expired coupons
  • Social security numbers
  • Human remains (except human scalp hair)
  • Used urns
  • Expired food
  • Narcotics
  • Used underwear
  • Speleothems, stalactites, and stalagmites obtained from caves on government land
Urn with text
You can’t sell this on ebay.

So, if your store sells any of these things, I’d steer clear of Ebay.

Etsy

Is most of your product handmade/original product? You could choose to open your own Etsy store. If you sell something particularly unique, this is not a bad option, or if you sell craft supplies or vintage items. You will find yourself competing with a lot of suppliers from China, though, which is always a challenge. Warning: like ebay, you also cannot sell human remains on Etsy. Also off the table: metaphysical services, violence, and illegal items. If you want to read more about Etsy’s store policy, you can view it on the Etsy website.

Portlandia
If you sell locally made artistic stuff, Etsy just might be the place for you. Put a bird on it!

Now, as much as I like shopping on these sites, if you’re a mature business with a storefront trying to move into the online world, a better option would be to create your own store rather than putting all your products into someone else’s store, and this is where Panda Rose would really like to help you out.

Shopify

A very popular hosted E-Commerce platform for selling products is Shopify. You pay a monthly subscription fee and can add any number of upgrades for additional features. They’ve got a nice clean-looking catalog and it’s relatively user-friendly. And yes, you can get your own web address, so if you want your site to be www.myawesomepigeonstore.ca, it can be that. Shopify can adjusted to have the look and feel that you like to match your company’s branding, and it can integrate well with Canada Post, manage your inventory, connect with your accounting system, and anything else you could possibly want.

If that’s not enough, there are some big names out there who trust Shopify — Adele, Lady Gaga, World Wildlife Foundation, Hasbro, The Economist, Heinz, and BBC. As you might imagine, while it’s primarily a shop, it’s somewhat versatile in how you can use it.

men dressed as ketchup
If it’s good enough for Heinz, it’s good enough for you. (Wait, is this a depiction of ketchup cannibalism? Yikes.)

As a drawback, it tends to be more on the “cookie cutter” side of things, which I’m never a big fan of.

WooCommerce

Speaking of versatility, if that’s what you’re after, Woocommerce is what you’re really going to want. I might be a little biased because I enjoy working with WordPress so much, but I’ve always liked how easy it is to manipulate everything in WordPress, which also includes Woocommerce. They’ve got a plugin for everything, but you don’t always need that plugin, you can often figure out your own code to make things work the way you like.

One project that was particularly interesting last year was making WooCommerce work with a non-Wordpress  site for doing fundraisers. The site was built from our own code, but pulled all the WooCommerce info for products and whatnot, and people completed their purchase on the site. Our client only really had to deal with the WordPress/WooCommerce side of things as well where their main site is, which kept things easier for them.

Paris Hilton & Nicole Ritchie
At Panda Rose, we can do pretty much anything. Just like Paris and Nicole.

All this to say that: if there’s something you want us to build, we can make it happen. Our answer is rarely “no”, and when it is, it’s usually because it’s in your own best interest, and if you still insist anyway, then so be it! We generally believe that nothing is impossible. I think that WooCommerce aggress with us with their “sell anything” and “no limits” points on their WooCommerce Features page.

Are there other eCommerce platforms?

I mean, yeah.

Are you going to tell me all about them?

No.

 

Platform shoes
Some platforms are awesome, like these shoes.

 

guys wearing crocs shoes
Some platforms are Wix and Squarespace.

While there are other platforms that offer eCommerce like Squarespace and Wix we generally recommend against using those types of platforms. They are not good for SEO and their limitations are significant. Because of their business model, they also tend to nickel and dime you for every little upgrade you want. eCommerce or website, just avoid these platforms. They’re not nice to work with and they don’t look good to search engines.

So what now?

Give us a call, comment on this blog, send us an email, contact us through our social media, send us smoke signals, or whatever way you prefer to communicate and set up a meeting with us. We can walk through the wide world of eCommerce and help you make the best decision for the type of business you run. We can help you build or refresh your website, and we can help integrate eCommerce into it. If your funds are more limited, we can help set things up and send you down the right path with a bit of training.

At the end of the day, we truly want to see the small businesses in our community be successful. As long as we have the tools to help business owners do that, we’d like to be a part of that.

Ben Stiller
You can be successful without eating it for breakfast or drinking skim milk. Personally, I like whole milk. And it’s OK if you like to skip breakfast.
BusinessFutureGovernment

Thank you for shopping local sign

This is based off of a Facebook post I made over the weekend:

Let’s go over some of the things that the federal government has promised to help small businesses and the arbitrary restrictions they have put on it, likely to prevent abuse, but in reality those arbitrary restrictions prevent businesses that actually really need the money from getting it. Please note, I am glad these efforts are here, but they are nowhere as much as is necessary to help small businesses.

First, the Canadian Wage Subsidy: Covers 75% of salaries for up to 3 months of business.

However, you need to have a 30% drop in revenues from your business. So companies like Perks, which are working night and day to keep their revenues up… well they get screwed. Worse, they actually end up worse off because they hired someone to provide the new service (delivery) so they are spending more on employees, and with the new delivery service they were able to keep their revenue drop from going as high as 30%.

delivery

So a business, that needs that subsidy the most, which is actually doing things to adapt to the economy, and could use it and is CREATING JOBS ends up worse off. While a business that has a 30% drop and isn’t doing anything at all to try and stem it, would be able to get 75% of their salaries paid for. So, if their salaries are 40% of their expenditures (which is a really low amount), it is 100% in their interest to ensure they keep that 30% drop in revenues. Do you not see how this causes more problems than it solves?

Second, the Business Credit Availability Program is basically a free cheque to the banks.

The banks get to decide who gets it, and they have tightened up, not loosened their lending standards. Especially since, in the words of a banker I spoke with recently, we are expecting most businesses applying for loans to fail, so we are going to end up rejecting the majority of them. Literally does nothing for the small businesses on Main St.

working

As well, it requires your NoAs and your tax returns to be completed and up to date and _no taxes owing_. Which completely counters the governments’ program of allowing businesses to not pay taxes for the next while to keep their cashflow up.

So, basically a cheque to the banks with absolutely no assistance to the businesses that need it most.

Third, the Canadian Emergency Business Account.

Unfortunately I cannot completely speak to this one that much. However, the restriction that payroll needs to be 50k-1mil actually kills it as a useful loan (assuming, of course, the banks don’t add more restrictions) for most small businesses. Many business owners pay themselves outside of payroll, and try to keep their payroll as minimized as possible. So while there may be 100k+ in revenues in any given year, it wouldn’t be hard for them to keep their payroll below 50k, especially if they hire subcontractors. Commonly these businesses are also the most agile, so yeah. Sucks to be them.

So, again… useless. This time for businesses that are best suited to try and weather this type of disaster.

All 3 programs, while they work for some, so many will slip through the cracks by the arbitrary restrictions that they really don’t do what they are supposed to do.

My advice:

  • Make the 75% for all businesses that are equal to last years, or have reduced revenues. A company could be equal to last March’s revenues, but had expanded employment to compensate. Punishing those companies is literally punishing the successful companies, it’s absolutely stupid.
  • Force the banks to remove restrictions on the small business lines of credit (under 100k) or at least to severely dial them back. Possibly by offering some form of loan insurance.
  • Open up the CEBA to all businesses that have above 100k revenue, regardless of payroll.
  • Open up tax credits for businesses that are implementing unique technological or other solutions to provide their services in this time. Such as Perks adding delivery to their system, or an art gallery finding a way to offer their art online, or a private school developing online learning tools. Similar to SRED, but more broad-based.

There are probably other ideas a well, but the current plan looks good on paper, but fails almost everyone who needs it and who would be the best businesses to succeed at this time.