Shopping Online and Do It Yourself Websites

Shopping Online and Do It Yourself Websites

Some of the most popular posts we get are from other homeschoolers trying to sell their crafts online and deal with the numerous scammers out there.  We’ve already talked about the pitfalls of Amazon and eBay where your money is tied up for three to six months and can easily be taken away from you as a result of scam artists.  Those posts are here, here, here, and here.

The alternative is to set up your own shop which can be expensive.  Here is how to do it.

Designing Your Own Website

There are basically four alternatives to setting up your own website.  In each case, we recommend you find a professional website designer who is a homeschooler and enlist their help or barter for them to do it for you.

1.  HTML Website

A basic HTML website is within the grasp of most people.  Buy an HTML 5 book and learn how in about 2 to 4 weeks.

Advantages:

  • You can make any changes you want.
  • Modifications and updates are easy.

Disadvantages:

  • Difficult to integrate with a shopping cart and payment application.
  • Not as secure as other alternatives.

2.  WordPress Website

A more popular choice is to design a WordPress website.  WordPress has had some bad press lately with thousands of hacked websites.  They are the number one target of hackers.  Basic WordPress websites can be rather ugly and difficult to work with and many themes and plugins to make your site functional as a shop are expensive.  WordPress designers charge anywhere from $500 to $10,000 for a nice e-commerce website.  This is beyond the grasp of most people.

Advantages:

  • Popular as a blogging platform and has an integrated method of blogging.

Disadvantages:

  • Targeted by thousands of hackers worldwide.
  • The WordPress core is updated every 120 days which translates to constant software updates and those updates often break the website’s functionality.
  • Themes (skins) are either very basic and ugly (free) or premium and expensive (from $100 to $500 each).
  • Plugins to add a shopping cart and payment functionality usually require money, coding, and custom posts which means later on it will be difficult to change the look of your site.
  • There’s no such thing as simple modifications.
  • WordPress lies on top of a PHP/mySQL software package and your theme and plugins sit on top of that.  Without a website designer you will most likely have difficulty with software installation and updates.

3.  JavaScript Websites

More recently JavaScript and AJAX sites have become popular.  AJAX is asynchronous JavaScript and XML.  Those are the pages in which you make changes but the entire page does not reload.  It’s meant to be used for form processing, but many designers have taken the idea too far and some sites process the simplest of tasks very slowly from an overload of AJAX requests.

A basic JavaScript website is within the grasp of most people.  Pick up a JavaScript book or two and learn in 4 to 8 weeks.

Advantages:

  • You can make any changes you want.
  • Modifications and updates are easy.

Disadvantages:

  • Difficult to integrate with a shopping cart and payment application.
  • Not as secure as other alternatives.

4.  All-in-One E-Commerce Packages

Search engines like Google and Yahoo offer all-in-one e-commerce packages to set up an online shop.  Other vendors, like the Canadian shop Shopify, also offer all-in-one e-commerce packages.

Advantages:

  • Less programming
  • One price up front

Disadvantages:

  • No control (your shop can be shut down without notice and you may not be told, e.g. Shopify)
  • Limits on space, file size, store settings, and other arbitrary items
  • No control over chargebacks, customer privacy settings, and other sensitive information
  • Less control over payment options
  • Your personal information, as well as that of your customers, will be collected and sold as part of their supposed “fraud prevention” program

Pieces of an Actual Online Shop

If you choose not to purchase an all-in-one e-commerce package, then you’ll need to understand the way an actual online shop works.  Every online shop is composed of five parts.

1.  Domain

Your domain is the address of your shop online.  The domain for this site is homeschool101.org.  Once you have a domain, you will need to point it at a host.

2.  Host

A host is a server with a space reserved for your files and images.  Every host has DNS records that work like little traffic cops directing traffic to and away from the server.  These DNS records are where you point your domain to your host.

3.  Software, Files, Directories

After you have your address (domain) and your space (host), you will need to install software to build your website.  Many hosting providers have easy install scripts to take care of installing all the software you need. (WordPress, Drupal, Ruby on Rails).  HTML and JavaScript require no software installation other than the files you’ve created in the proper directory structure.

4.  Shopping Cart

Without getting too technical, an online shop or e-commerce site requires the ability to maintain a shopping cart from page to page.  This requires a software package, plugin, or you can code it yourself.

5.  Payment Processing

Most payment processing can be done with a plugin or snippet of code that hands off your shopping cart and user information to your payment processor.  Most payment processors charge a fee for payment processing per transaction.  They also handle returns, chargebacks, and other payment-related problems.  This is probably the most crucial part of your online shop.  If you choose the wrong payment processor (like PayPal or Amazon Payments), you can potentially lose all of the money you’ve made.  As homeschoolers, most of us can’t afford that.  We already live on one income.

Starting Out Small

If you’re starting an online shop, start out small.  Try out 25 or 50 products at a time and keep your costs low.  Don’t get overinvested in your site and don’t allow buyers to purchase large amounts at one time.  This is the easiest way to have all your money tied up and get scammed.  Once you are comfortable with your shop, your payment provider, and that you aren’t getting scammed, you can expand.

Tips to Not Get Scammed

  1. Require user registration in order to check out.
  2. Record the IP address for every user every time they visit.
  3. Keep a list of customers that includes their email address and send monthly newsletters to your customers.  If an email no longer works or is bounced back to you, then close that user’s account.
  4. Limit purchases to $100 per person per month until you’ve established a relationship with the customer.
  5. Followup with each purchase and make sure the customer has received the item and is happy with their purchase.  This is especially helpful in preventing fraud.
  6. Don’t ship to LLCs.  LLCs are limited liability corporations.  Many scammers are incorporated as LLCs so they can scam people without getting charged with crimes.  Corporations can’t go to jail.  At worst they’ll receive minimal fines.
  7. Avoid non-US companies like the Canadian company Shopify.  They aren’t governed by U.S. laws and they don’t even try to comply with privacy laws.

The Truth About Shopify

Shortly after writing this initial post, we were inundated with comments from angry Shopify customers.  After some investigation, including calls to Shopify from three different homeschoolers, here’s what we discovered.

  • Shopify is a Canadian company.  They are not governed by U.S. laws, particularly privacy laws. They are very open about stating that they collect your personal information, as well as the personal information of your customers.  This information will be sold.
  • They have a list of email account providers that they’ve blacklisted.  One of these is the ever popular Hushmail used by many small companies and homeschoolers.  Every night they run a program that closes shops that are associated with a blacklisted email provider.  If you had any sales, you won’t be able to access or complete them. They won’t guarantee that you will be able to reopen your store.
  • According to Shopify, they want everyone selling on Shopify to have a Gmail account, which allows them to read the personal information from your computer and all of your online habits that Google has accumulated.
  • Once you are set up with a Shopify account, you will have to pay additional fees for themes and other addons to make your site work.  So it’s not really an all-in-one e-commerce package, is it?
  • If you set up a Shopify account with a hushmail email, they will add you to a list of fraudulent customers.  Two of our three callers were added to that list by using their real addresses.  This alone should be sufficient reason to avoid Shopify at all costs.

This is the page you will get when Shopify abruptly closes your store.  It’s even more cryptic than Amazon and eBay.

This is the message you will receive when Shopify abruptly closes your store for having a non-Gmail email account.
This is the message you will receive when Shopify abruptly closes your store for having a non-Gmail email account.

Further Reading

If you enjoyed this post, then check out these links for further reading.

Class Action Lawsuit Against Amazon for Circumventing Browser Privacy Settings and Collecting Personal Information

Class Action Lawsuit Against Amazon for Forcing Sellers to Hike Prices to Accommodate Insufficient Shipping Reimbursements

Class Action Lawsuit Against Amazon for Forcing Sellers to Cover Free Shipping

Shopify Complaints

Jaded Pixel Technologies aka Shopify in BusinessWeek

Woocommerce and Woothemes

In response to the question posed about WordPress websites with Woocommerce.  No one here would recommend Woothemes or Woocommerce (the free e-commerce plugin) or any of the Woothemes products and here’s why:

  • Woocommerce is free and unsupported.  Any problems you have or encounter will be yours alone.  If you browse through the complaints against Woothemes you’ll find hundreds of customers who spent months, and several thousands of dollars, setting up their sites only to have the plugin fail on too many transactions.  That gets into government regulations and fines.  You don’t want to go there.
  • Woothemes is located in South Africa and are not governed by U.S. laws, including U.S. privacy laws.
  • Woothemes and Woocommerce don’t work “out of the box” although they claim they do.  If you go to Woothemes’ website you’ll find 253 extensions, usually about $80 each, that you’ll have to purchase and configure in order to get your site up and running.
  • No support for even the purchased items.  Look through the complaints again and pay close attention to those from people who paid for their products and then got no support.
  • Woocommerce supposedly allows hundreds of payment options but none of them are supported.  On their own website and for their own purchases, they use only one payment option, the ever buggy PayPal.  If the best they can do is PayPal, you’re better off anyplace else.
  • When you purchase something from Woothemes, they use PayPal as a payment “gateway”, but what they really do is hand over your personal and financial information to PayPal and PayPal creates an account without your knowledge.  That account can easily be hacked and someone will be charging on  your credit cards without you even knowing it.  In case you didn’t know, this is illegal and explains why there is such a long line of lawsuits against PayPal in the state of California.
  • Woothemes was hacked three months ago.  Which should make you question any financial software they write and sell.
  • Woocommerce no longer works with the other e-commerce themes.  At a time when WordPress developers are trying to make their themes work with all of the e-commerce plugins, Woothemes/Woocommerce seems to be going out of their way to constantly change their plugins so that their customers have to keep paying for updates.  Sounds like Microsoft.  Buggy and you keep on paying and paying.
  • If I’m reading their website correctly, they charge $79 per question for any kind of support.  If you read through the complaints, it looks like they have you pay for support and then claim the problem is with the Woocommerce plugin which is free and unsupported.  So you pay and get…no support.

 

 

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