New web site!

New web site!

28th Oct 2018

New web site

I've got a new web site, which enables me to run an online shop, and also is easier to maintain than the previous one. That's all you need to know, unless you're interested in the technicalities, in which case read on!

The old web site was created using the DNN content management system, and hosted on one of the servers I run as part of my computer work. But I'm working away from having to run my own servers, and DNN isn't really designed for e-commerce (though I have integrated it successfully with the RomanCart shopping cart system).

So what was I looking for? The main criteria were:

  • A hosted solution so I avoid the time spent managing my own server
  • Template based, rather than drag and drop, as this makes it easy to do site wide edits of the appearance, and helps ensure consistency across all pages
  • All pages must work as well on phones and tablets as on a desktop or laptop
  • E-commerce, ideally also able to take off-line payments such as phone orders or sales at a show
  • The ability to calculate shipping costs well, for different shipping weights, to different countries, with a choice of carrier. When you look into this, it gets pretty complex, but it saves having to get back to the customer with a shipping quote, or guessing and then finding out that I've undercharged!
  • Whilst I don't need VAT at the moment, it looks like the EU will follow their approach with digital goods to physical ones, so even if a business is too small to charge VAT in this country it will still have to register for the EU's MOSS scheme and charge VAT on sales to EU member states (regardless of Brexit!). So it must handle different VAT rates to different counties properly, and ideally also B2B cross-border sales as well as B2C.
  • As I hate doing the accounts, a link in to an accounts package like Quickbooks or Xero is a big benefit in saving time
  • Good marketing support, e.g. discount codes, SEO optimisation, mailing lists, analytics and tracking
  • It must be an established provider, so I'm not fighting bugs from a new player, or using an old system with a small and falling user base that will soon die
  • And last but not least, to offer this at a reasonable cost!

Most of the simpler packages failed on being template driven, or poor support for shipping or VAT. Others offered a lot but were more geared towards the "enterprise" market, i.e. very expensive. In the end, it came down to BigCommerce or Shopify, so I did a trial with both and set up a site in each. Whilst the templates included in Shopify were a bit better, and there were more of them, it didn't have as much functionality built in as BigCommerce. Although this could be added through additional plug-ins, most of these were additional costs, making the system quite a bit more expensive. With BigCommerce, one of their free templates met my needs with a bit of tweaking, and technically it provides just about all I need for now with no need for any paid-for plug-ins.

So the basic site is up and running now, though as well as finishing populating the shop and updating the web pages I still have to add foreign shipping, add analytics, link to social media and so on...