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E-Commerce is E-Complicated

Glass slipper

I was recently tasked with the creation of a basic e-commerce site - one of the small, less-than-twenty-items variety. No sweat, I thought, there should be a hundred places catering to this kind of client - the one just looking to make a little money on the side for their organization.

I couldn’t be much more wrong. This particular client was coming from Magento Go, which, while it can be a challenge to theme/style/configure, is pretty richly integrated. Magento Go has a deep Paypal payments built-in, a pretty well-organized inventory tracking system, and a metric-ton of 3rd-party apps to choose from. No worries, though, this client didn’t need that much, so finding a replacement should be simple enough.

The main issue arose, however, once they settled on their desired monthly budget of under $20 a month. They didn’t need anything fancy, they weren’t trying to re-invent Etsy; they just needed a place to host images and descriptions of books and dvds.

After doing some initial research, I found a grand total of four (4) 3rd-party E-Commerce sites that fit this requirement. This kind of narrowed the playing field down before the game had even started, and so I ended up looking at Volusion, Americommerce, Shopify and LightCMS.

Of these 4, which one would be the best fit for the client? As I looked deeper into it, they were all sleek and modern looking, and they were all pretty much responsive (in some cases, oddly-designed, but responsive nonetheless.) Also, most of them didn’t include an SSL certificate, which is sorta necessary when you’re trying to accept credit cards (but I’m not complaining for less than $25 a month). Most of them even included a blog. I’m still not sure why that’s necessary for a store. I guess you could post news; maybe your handmade jewelry or spraypainted pinecones or typewriter key rings need news, but really, if I’m going to a store, I want to buy something, not read something (but I digress.)

But the real kick in the teeth came in the revelation that half of them didn’t even allow for HTML and CSS editing on the starter/mini plans. That’d be fine, I suppose, if you didn’t want any level of customization whatsoever. No branding colors, no custom logos or social media icons. Nothing.

So, as I explored these E-commerce sites, I discovered this bizarre amalgamation of features - they included integrations and features that they really didn’t need at the starter level, and didn’t include key things like being affordable...or shipping estimate modules. It could be that leaving some key functionality is the way some of these sites get clients to upgrade to their higher-tier plans - who knows.

So after I finally made my decision on which e-commerce system to recommend to the client (I’ll refrain from naming which one), I put about 12 hours of configuration and theming into it to get to the point where I’m okay with it. Sure, each page and region has its own .css file. Sure, you *can* FTP into the site, but they really don’t want you to; Sure, they have a “template” that’s basically a static HTML site on steroids--sometimes javascript is called, sometimes it’s written out in the body; Sure, it’s just plain odd. But it works for what the client needed.

I’m not really sure what I expected. I think because I’ve seen so many E-commerce sites, so many tiny stores with tiny storefronts, that I just assumed there’d be a Cinderella slipper out there. I suppose the takeaway from this whole experience is that you just can’t get a crystal slipper at glass prices--but with a little spit and polish, you can make that glass one fit pretty well.