Thursday, 8 October 2009

Using your blog as an online shop

Hand-holding a blog virgin

Regular readers will know I've been spending a good chunk of time recently helping a just-computer-literate friend with his blog.

He wanted to test the waters out at selling his stuff on line. As we were pretty much starting with a clean sheet, we've been able to bend the blog to make it serve as the online shop (using paypal as the payment processor), as well as being a normal blog.

(Once he makes a few more ordinary postings - i.e. ones not selling a pot - we'll use the label "journal" on them to separate them out. Oh, and provide a link for that label in the navigation area at the top.)

As well as helping him with the blog, I've done all his product shots for it. You can see all those uploaded so far over on Mans' blog under the for sale label.

Advantages of a blog as an online shop

The main advantages of having your blog as your online shop are
  • No listing / placement fees!
  • You don't have to worry about being lost amongst the listings from your competitors
  • You only pay (in this case Paypal's) transaction fees
  • You have full control over
    • any ads placed (and of course you get the revenue from them, too!)
    • all links where you're making your pitch (and you can make sure external links open in a new tab so folks don't leave your site completely)
    • Easier to establish your brand
  • A much more personal interaction with buyers
  • Not at the mercy of changing shop rules like you get with ebay and others
  • Black-hat competitors can't ruin your seller-rating - again like can happen at most dedicated shopping sites
  • If you want to socialise your site even more, you can (Friend Connect / JS-Kit and others)


The main disadvantages of using your blog as an online shop are few but still need to be considered
  • It's not completely automatic; if someone buys a pot, Mans has to update the labels against the posting for that item, to show it is now sold. He can also change the text and the button to allow someone to place a special order for one similar to the one shown.
  • People go to dedicated shopping sites in a buying frame of mind, but not really with a blog
  • You have to have a way of taking on-line payments, dedicated online shops will do that for you
  • No dedicated rating system of you as a seller or others as buyers - being a blog, people can leave comments, so it's the second one that might be of more concern
  • A much more personal interaction with buyers
Did I miss anything major out do you think? Let me know in the comments if I did, or if you want to add anything else...

Requirements-driven shop design

So how did we set about it? Well, my trade is helping people focus on what they need before worrying about how to achieve it. Also, KISS—keep it simple, stupid!

So we sat down and brainstormed for a while, teasing out stuff to come up with a list of main requirements. Examples: be able to take online payment, be able to see only products for sale, only those sold, same for all the major categories. Another: Easy to maintain and add new items for sale & be able to withdraw items from sale.

..and so on.

Designing a solution to the requirements

We acknowledged that various dedicated online shops could be used but their disadvantages were too great for what Mans wanted. Then we considered how / if Blogger could be used, noting any requirements that couldn't be met and hoping we wouldn't bump into any show-stoppers—we didn't :)

The key to being able to list items in different ways is to use labels carefully and in a sort of structured way. We spent ages deciding how to categorise and name each major type of ceramic / glaze / treatment, and being totally consistent in our approach. We finally settled on a scheme that worked and this also gave us a way of naming each pot and giving it a stock code.

And having a name for each, naturally gave us the title for each post (i.e. each new item for sale). Also, because we've been as descriptive as possible in our choice of titles / names / categories / labels, the blog will score highly with the search engines for those keywords (a good SEO tip).

Another tip here; before we uploaded each product shot, we named the jpg file using the same naming convention as above, reinforcing the tastiness to the search engine spiders. As an aside, note that the first time you publish a particular post, the post page will use a filename consisting of a good part of the post heading you used. So, for SEO purposes, make sure your title is both meaningful and helpful to your readers AND keyword-rich for the spiders, before you first post it.

Anyway, on with the solution design...

For simplicity, we decided to put a unique number on the end of each item, so no matter what type of ceramic was being posted as a new item for sale, the last number used would have one added to it and that would be the new number. Nice and simple :) And you can't forget, if you do, you just need to look at the blog!

One requirement that couldn't be met by Blogger (at least not with my skills!) was that Mans wanted visitors to be able to put together a wish list—like on Amazon and others. He told me that this wasn't a show stopper—-anyway, there might be a solution out there (but where do we look?). It would also have been nice to be able to automatically change the label on an item from "for sale" to "sold" when a transaction completes but Mans is ok about doing that by hand.

Everything else he needed his shop to do has now been set up on his blog. If you want proof, go browse for something you like and buy it! Maybe a Copper Matt Raku thrown pot—my personal favourites, although the Lustre Raku stretch pots are fabulous too!

Putting it into practice

To make it easy to add new items for sale, we cobbled together the first posting for an item for sale, including the code for the paypal button, with me doing any tricky html stuff (tricky for me, anyway!). Once we'd got that right, we copied the html and pasted it into his blog settings - the place where you can put a mini template / boiler-plate text to be used on subsequent posts.

The only thing Mans now needs to get his hands dirty with is changing the part of the button html code where it needs a unique item code, a price and a description. I sat with him the first few times he did this to make sure he knew what to do—and more importantly what not to do—and even more importantly, how to back out any changes if he did!!

Well, that's about it, it wasn't supposed to turn into such a long and detailed posting, but you know how it goes when the ideas just flow!

So I gotta ask, are you thinking now about using your blog as an online shop?

comments / feedback always welcome :)
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