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ecommerce:shopping_for_ecommerce_solutions

Shopping for eCommerce solutions

I have enough projects I think audio DIYers would enjoy that I want to launch an online shop to sell them. This has drawn me down the rabbit hole of evaluating various eCommerce options. Some features I’d like to have are:

  • Very low cost — because it’s not really going to make money, at least for a while.
  • Automatic sales tax computation — because I live in a state that has complex tax collection policies.
  • Ability to use a fulfillment center (e.g., Fulfillment by Amazon) — to handle things if the shop really ends up growing and/or if I travel for an extended period.

Shop 0.0.1

WordPress+WooCommerce

TL;DR: WordPress+WooCommerce has a lot of potential. More research is needed to evaluate fulfillment features. The plugin-based architecture could create maintenance issues. The reliance on third-party stuff diminishes the FOSS-appeal.

A couple years ago, I set up a WordPress+WooCommerce shop both to learn its ins and outs for client work and to see if it would eventually work as a solution for my own shop. This should come as little surprise to those who know what a supporter of FOSS I am.

What I found is that while it’s possible to build a shop with WordPress+WooCommerce, to make it useful you’ll need to add some third-party plugins, some by WooCommerce, some not, some FOSS, some not. This arguably turns the open-source platform into a distributed proprietary one. Apart form the compromise in computing ecology this represents, it introduces two additional issues of concern: (1) There’s no guarantee that a third-party plugin you’re relying on will be maintained in the future, and (2) there’s no guarantee that the pricing model for a third party plugin you’re relying on won’t change. It also introduces a couple usability issues for the shop maintainer: the management of features tends to get a little spidery, and updating plugins can be chaotic if done automatically; if done manually a lot of diligence is required. Not a deal-killer, but a bit of a papercut.

As far as how well WordPress+WooCommerce lines up with my three desired features:

  • It can be very low cost to run — free in fact if you don’t count webhosting that you already have. However, running it for “free” will limit the plugins you can use.
  • WooCommerce’s own tax calculation plugin promises to do what I need, and initial testing suggests that it works. Other options exist but get very costly very quickly.
  • The plugin for Fulfillment by Amazon is a bit costly. We aren’t talking about Amazon’s service fees here, we’re talking about having plunk down $129 a year on top of those. However, other fulfillment integrations appear to be possible. This needs some research.

Other pros and cons include:

  • Because it's so popular, there are a lot of plugins. This means if you want to add something to your store (e.g., on-demand printing of swag) you'll probably have a decent range of service providers to pick from.

Shop 0.0.2

The concerns and issues with the above led me to search for potential alternatives. I was drawn away from other FOSS solutions (e.g. OpenCart, PrestaShop, AbanteCart) because they seemed to require a lot of development work to make work for me, relied on third-party and especially non-FOSS plugins for desired functionality, or both.

This in turn led me to consider what’s available in the fully-proprietary camp. I’ve built eCommerce sites for others using Shopify, but I eliminated it for my own shop because of their fees. Yes, even their admittedly meager monthly cost would be hard to justify based on the expected income from the shop — at least for a while. I quickly eliminated other alternatives that charge similar or higher fees.

I finally narrowed things down to a few interesting candidates, which I discuss briefly below.

Square Online/Weebly

TL;DR: Square Online (formerly Weebly) seems like a solution if their template works for you. Tax needs testing.

In terms of required features:

  • It’s very affordable: there’s no cost to start.
  • It promises automatic sales tax computation. But this needs testing, esp. for local tax granularity.
  • It supports third-party fulfillment with the ShipBob plugin. (See also this and this.)

Other pros and cons:

  • No plugins (“apps” in Squarespeak) are required and there aren't that many plugins available, so there's not much less anxiety of plugins becoming abandonware.
  • It's easy to use, though not nearly as easy as they would have you think.
  • Running under your own domain requires a paid tier. But the <subdomain>.square.site URL they give you is decent, and the <subdomain> is easy to change.
  • The retail template is functional, but they only offer one, along with a number of styling (font and color) options.
  • Supports print on demand sales with a Printful plugin.
  • The store's navigation isn't that flexible or that great.
  • I've been getting a lot of emails from Square now, some trying to upsell.

Shift4Shop/3dcartstores

TL;DR: Shift4Shop (formerly 3dcartstores) would be good if manually updating tax tables was acceptable (and if they aren’t pro-guns).

In terms of required features:

  • There’s no cost as long as you use their preferred payment provider.
  • Sales tax computations require manual updating of ZIP codes and rates. It’s undetermined whether you can “stack” e.g. local tax onto state tax. A plugin is available to automate the calculations, but it’s relatively expensive.
  • There are reasonable modules for a large variety of fulfillment providers, including Amazon.

Other pros and cons:

  • Running on your own subdomain seems possible for no extra fee, but this needs testing.
  • Available templates seem decent but need more testing on mobile.
  • Their site talks about the ability to sell items banned on other sites, like guns. Mentioning guns makes me think they might be people that I don't want to eventually support.

Ecwid

TL;DR: Ecwid presents an interesting alternative, but automated tax calculations requires a (modest) paid tier.

In terms of required features:

Conclusions

Assuming Square Online passes sales tax testing, it's going to be a close fight between Square Online and WordPress+WooCommerce.

Stay tuned.

ecommerce/shopping_for_ecommerce_solutions.txt · Last modified: 2021/12/25 05:54 by mithat