ECommerce Review

I recently had the opportunity to work with a few different E-Commerce Resources. The purpose of this article is to briefly go over the strengths and weaknesses of each resource, and hopefully you can gain some valuable insight into building your online business.

What is E-Commerce?

Simply put, E-Commerce is a term used to describe the online trading of goods and services. There are many platforms out there which can help you in reaching your goals, whether they be large or small. Three such platforms include: ECWID, Volusion, and Shopify. All three of these options have their own site, where you can register and they will host your online store for you. All three have WordPress Integration via WP Plug-Ins/Widgets.

Ecwid_Logo.svg

ECWID

The CEO of ECWID, Ruslan Fazlyev, co-founded the world’s first PHP e-commerce resource, X-Cart, in 2000. It was developed into ECWID in 2009, and currently serves over 700,000 merchants in 175 countries. [source]

First thing to note, you need your own website first before getting into ECWID. It can be a free website such as a Facebook business page, Squarespace, WordPress, Drupal, or even a blog on TUMBLR. Your store can be integrated almost anywhere with a widget. They make it incredibly easy and simple. You can sell up to 10 items this way completely free. If you would like to sell more items, there are premium plans available. This pricing and feature are as follows:

FREE – $0

  • 10 products
  • Mobile optimized
  • Sell across multiple sites

VENTURE – $15/mo

  • 100 Products
  • Discount coupons
  • Sell on the go with Ecwid and PayPal
  • Enhanced SEO capabilities
  • iPhone Management App
  • Live Chat support

BUSINESS – $35/mo

  • 2500 Products
  • White glove setup and onboarding
  • Advertise on major marketplaces
  • Edit Orders
  • Phone support

UNLIMITED – $99/mo

  • Unlimited items
  • Priority Support

ECWID’s main strengths comes with it’s simplicity and versatility. If you are an already-established business, especially if you already have an online presence, ECWID can help you integrate an online store almost effortlessly.

Volusion-review-logo

Volusion

Volusion is an E-Commerce platform that can help you get your store up and running from scratch. They will host a full website for you, which includes your store and many other features like blogging and social media integration. Volusion powers over 40,000 merchants and features lovely design templates. While Volusion offers a free trial, there are no free plans offered. Their pricing is as follows:

Mini – $15/mo

  • 100 Products
  • All plans include:
  • Online Support
  • Social Media Tools
  • Facebook Store
  • Mobile Commerce
  • Automatic Tax Rates

Plus – $35/mo

  • 1,000 Products
  • Mini plan and:
  • Phone Support
  • Newsletters
  • Ratings and Reviews
  • Abandoned Cart Reports
  • Import/Export

Pro – $75/mo

  • 10,000 Products
  • Plus plan and:
  • Priority Support
  • Amazon Integration
  • eBay Integration
  • API Access
  • CRM

Premium – $135/mo

  • Unlimited Products
  • Pro plan and:
  • Priority Support
  • Dedicated Account Manager
  • Unlimited Products

Personally, I found the Volusion UI (user-interface) experience to be a bit more convoluted and complex than Shopify or ECWID. Often times, you have to navigate through many menus to get to where you’d like to be and it just isn’t as intuitive as the other options. You are going to be paying a little more for Volusion but you will have guaranteed support and a professional looking store.

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Shopify

Much like Volusion, Shopify offers to host a website all your own, where you can add features like an About page or Blog. Shopify is a bit easier to navigate and use, and all of their plans (except the starter plan) let you sell an unlimited number of products. Their pricing is as follows:

Starter – $14/mo

  • No transaction fees
  • Up to 25 products
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • 1 GB file storage
  • Chat & email support

Basic – $29/mo

  • 1 GB file storage
  • Unlimited products
  • 24/7 Support
  • Discount code engine
  • No transaction fees
  • Fraud analysis tools

Premium – $79/mo

  • Shopify POS
  • 5 GB file storage
  • Unlimited products
  • 24/7 Support
  • Discount code engine
  • No transaction fees
  • Fraud analysis tools
  • Gift cards
  • Professional reports
  • Abandoned cart recovery

Unlimited – $179/mo

  • Shopify POS
  • Unlimited file storage
  • Unlimited products
  • 24/7 Support
  • Discount code engine
  • No transaction fees
  • Fraud analysis tools
  • Gift cards
  • Professional reports
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Advanced report builder
  • Real-time carrier shipping

Personally, I found Shopify easy to use and friendly. They are only a few dollars less expensive than Volusion yet they offer just as much. Consider Shopify is you are just starting your business and need the help. One last important item to note, Shopify will not charge you to close up shop, however Volusion will charge you $99.

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Squarespace and WordPress: Choosing The Right Content Management System

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After spending some time working with Squarespace and both versions of WordPress (.org and .com), I decided to write an article reviewing my findings and to offer some advice to those of you who are considering using one of these systems to develop a website. All of these tools are very powerful and have the capability to generate lovely websites, but depending of your (or your client’s) needs and abilities, you may favor one over the others. In the following paragraphs, I will outline the strengths and weaknesses of each system, in relation to each other, and at the end will offer a summary.

When starting any project, in this case – work on a CMS-based website, you will first need to identify the needs of yourself, your client (if applicable), and your target audience. How much technical knowledge, coding language, design skills do you or your client possess? How much time are you or your client willing to spend on the project? After the website is built, who will be responsible for the upkeep? How much of the aforementioned skills does that person possess? All of these are important questions when you’re deciding on which CMS platform to use.

Essentially, it will boil down to a few factors: Ease of Use, Ability to Customize, Ongoing Maintenance & Support, and Pricing.


Baby Using Computer

Ease of Use

The issue of Ease of Use has a direct relation to Ability to Customize. Generally speaking, you are giving up the ability to customize or add plug-ins in favor of a more simple interface. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if you or your client doesn’t have many needs for their site, or isn’t particularly concerned or picky about the look of their site. For a user like this, I would definitely recommend Squarespace. The Squarespace user-interface (UI) is quite simple, straightforward, and intuitive. I only have one gripe with the Squarespace UI: it is riddled with animations (like slide out menus) that, while they look great on fast machines, can be a bit of a burden on slower computers. The UI for WordPress.COM (called the Dashboard) is also simple, however the themes (basic appearance of your site) they provide do not really compare with the Squarespace themes.

In terms of Ease of Use, WordPress.ORG is not really in contention. The .ORG version of WordPress really shines through in its ability to create, modify, and customize themes, its massive open-source community, and its ability to search for, and install, plug-ins from a library of thousands. More on this ahead.

Rankings for Ease of Use

  1. Squarespace
  2. WordPress.COM
  3. WordPress.ORG

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Ability to Customize

As mentioned above, WordPress.ORG offers much in terms of customizing, but it comes at the cost of ease-of-use. To make your own theme and have the site looking exactly how you’d like, a working knowledge of HTML & styling language like CSS is a very powerful asset. You can also take it even further, designing (or editing other’s) plug-ins, which would require even more knowledge, specifically of scripting languages like PHP and JavaScript. WordPress.ORG essentially will allow for the creation of a CMS-based website from scratch. An experienced WordPress developer can create a completely unique site for a business, exactly to the client’s specification, and then hand that website off to whoever will be in charge of blog-posts and updates. Then, using the Dashboard, that person can make updates to the site with very little knowledge of any of the aforementioned languages or the process by which the site was built. That is the power of this system. However, WordPress is constantly sending out updates to its system, some which may break installed plug-ins which can lead to a broken website. Constant maintenance is required, especially for more dynamic websites with more plug-ins and features.

Think of WordPress.COM as a kind of light version. It doesn’t offer much in terms of customizing, but it does offer the basics for a CMS-based website and some decent looking themes. Some of the premium (paid) themes are also quite nice. In fact, this blog you are looking at right now was designed with WordPress.COM. Not bad, eh?

From a design point-of-view, the Squarespace themes really knock most WordPress themes out of the park. The themes you will find on Squarespace are, in a word, gorgeous. You will really have to do some serious hunting (or coding of your own) to come up with WordPress themes that compare. It is quite obvious from the get-go that the people they have developing the Squarespace themes have a great eye for clean, elegant, functional design. Really beautiful themes, can’t stress that enough. However, in terms of customizing, Squarespace offers very little. You are able to reposition and resize some elements on your pages, but only in pre-defined fourths. Squarespace doesn’t support the idea of open-source (user-built) themes or plug-ins. Everything is pretty much what-you-see is what-you-get.

Rankings for Ability of Customize

  1. WordPress.ORG
  2. WordPress.COM
  3. Squarespace

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On-Going Maintenance and Support

Another important factor to consider is the ease at which your website will be maintained. We’ve already discussed how wp.ORG will require regular maintenance just to keep it looking okay, but another thing to consider is the massive amount of community support you will receive using WordPress. This goes for the .COM service, as well. As of this writing, over 74 million websites depend on WordPress. [source] WordPress’ own website features countless user-submitted articles, posts, inquiries spanning all topics imaginable. Many themes will also have their own documentation, support, websites, and forums where developers can help with any question you might have. Many plug-ins also feature this same network of support. Basically, in choosing WordPress, YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Whatever problem you are experiencing, someone out there has very likely experienced the same thing, and a Google search will usually yield a solution.

Squarespace also offers support from their team in the form of live chat, knowledgebase, and e-mail. However, their community pales in comparison to the enormity of WordPress. As of this writing, 1.8 million websites depend on Squarespace. [source] So, your Google searches may not yield quite as many results, but you do have some company in using this platform.

Rankings for Support

  1. WordPress
  2. Squarespace

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Pricing

Finally, we come to pricing. The most straight-forward of all the factors to consider, but for many this is really the most important. As of April 2015, the pricing for each system is as follows:

Squarespace

Squarespace is a SaaS (Software as a Service) .. meaning you are paying a monthly fee for the ability to use the platform. They offer 3 tiers:

  1. Personal – $8/mo
  2. Professional – $16/mo
  3. Business – $24/mo

The big difference here seems to be the higher the price, the more items you can sell in the E-Commerce store. The store itself is an integration feature they offer to all users.

WordPress.COM

This version is completely free to set up and get running. If you choose the free themes (of which there are many) you pay nothing. Premium themes range in price, usually offered somewhere around $50-$100.

WordPress.ORG

This version is free, however you will need to have access to server space to host your site, and this often comes at a cost. GoDaddy ($5/mo) is an example of a popular hosting service you can visit to buy a plan, which sometimes come packaged with a version of WordPress and a domain name of your choosing. As mentioned earlier, you can develop your own themes for free with this version. However, if you choose not to do that, there are thousands of free and paid themes out there for you.


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Making a website will be fun!” they said..

In Conclusion..

Squarespace and WordPress are both powerful platforms on which to build and run a beautiful and functional website. With the right skills, you can create pretty much anything you’d like with WordPress.ORG. For the user who isn’t as adept with coding, but still would love a professional-looking website, Squarespace would be the better option. WordPress.COM is a great option for those who are on a budget, and would like a simple website. So, you have no excuse now. Get out there and dazzle the world with a CMS-based website!

Top Social Media Plug-ins

There can be no denying that social media is critical to the success of whatever venture you may take online. Social media can really make or break you. It is important that you display to your visitors your continued web presence, your willingness to interact with your followers, and what others are saying about you and/or your business. The following list is compiled to help you in choosing an appropriate social media plugin for your WP site.

ShareThis

https://wordpress.org/plugins/share-this/

This plugin has over 2.2 million downloads and is one of the more popular ones for social media on your site. ShareThis offers social buttons for over 120 (!) different social sites. It allows for a hovering bar, if that’s something you’d like. Be aware though, that this can annoy some users. ShareThis also features some built-in optional widgets that are used for SEO and the tracking of people who visit your site.

Social Media Widget

https://wordpress.org/plugins/social-media-widget/

What I find attractive about this plugin is mainly its versatility. It features many social sites, and is packaged with multiple icon sets. Some of these sets are a little more flashy, which may appeal to some users. It also comes with animation coding for the icons, so when the user hovers her mouse, there is a nice effect. You can select from many different sizes and arrange them however you like, within the widget.

WP to Twitter

https://wordpress.org/plugins/wp-to-twitter/

Another popular plugin, with over 2.3 million downloads. This plugin will display your latest tweets, or the tweets of any account you choose. This plugin is free but the premium version offers some interesting perks. You can schedule your tweets to publish at a certain time and you can also have users set up their own Twitter account. You can use your post tags interchangeably with the Twitter hashtags, which is not only convenient but also important for Search Engine Optimization.

Add Link to Facebook

https://wordpress.org/plugins/add-link-to-facebook/

This plugin will automatically add your WP posts and pages to your linked Facebook page. You can post Facebook posts from your WordPress site, you can manage comments, and you will also have the standard FB Like and Send buttons. Typically, I will some more trust into any plugin that has more than a million downloads and still is regularly updated. This plugin has 1.7m and offers continual support.

NextGEN Facebook – Advanced Social SEO for Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Twitter & More

https://wordpress.org/plugins/nextgen-facebook/

NextGen has many features, over a million downloads, and it is highly rated on the WP.org website. It allows for batch editing of your posts, and offers features for all of the top social media websites. You can essentially optimize your posts for sharing on social sites. It translates hashtags to post tags and vice versa.