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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 things really end up growing and/or if I travel for an extended period.

Shop 0.0.1

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 trial WordPress+WooCommerce shop partially to learn its in and outs for client work and partially 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, 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. It looks other fulfillment integrations may be possible. This needs some research.

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 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: Good if their template works for you. Tax needs testing. Fulfillment integration needs research.

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.
  • Support for third-party fulfillment doesn’t seem to be mentioned by Square, but ShipBob says they provide it.

Other pros and cons:

  • No plugins, so much less anxiety of abandonware.
  • It's easy to use, though not nearly as easy as they would have you think.
  • Running under your own domain will require a paid tier. But the <subdomain> 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.


TL;DR: 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.


TL;DR: Ecwid presents an interesting alternative, but automated tax calculations will require a paid tier.

In terms of required features:

  • There’s a no-cost tier, but …
  • You don’t get automated tax calculations unless you pay for the $15/mo package.
  • I'm assuming integrations are possible, but without automated tax for no cost, I decided not to do more research.



ecommerce/shopping_for_ecommerce_solutions.1634523840.txt.gz · Last modified: 2021/10/18 02:24 by mithat

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