Lately I've had a few people ask me why I decided to go with Shopstar, so I thought I would share the rather rough thoughts I wrote while I was in the process of making a decision about which e-commerce solution to use for my own online shop*.
Shopstar has its very own platform. And it is South African and it is based in Cape Town. It is local, friendly, helpful, and is interested in building real live community. The interface, in comparison, say, with Shopify tends to be a little clumsy (yikes, did I really say that?) - as an example, it's not super intuitive as to how to add photos, reorder content, and move things around. Nothing that can't be worked around. Oh, and most of the shops pretty look quite similar (did I say that too?). I guess this is a result of having a header/body/footer basic design option.
I want to support local and at a R200 per month starter option, the pricing is hard to beat. I feel I can understand it. It integrates with Paypal, Payfast and has an EFT option as well.
This is another local South African bunch - this time Durban based. They are very on the ball and got hold of me as soon as I showed some interest! Great design. Lovely supporting documentation in the form of getting started guides. Beautiful to work with, and it all looks very professional. But HOW their system works, I don’t quite understand - are they offering a select range of WordPress eCommerce themes which you then work with? I like some of their themes but they don't seem very customisable to me (font, sizing, headings, images, sliders and banners) and so although I imagine it COULD look great, I can’t seem to set mine up to look nice, which is important for me.
Later on, I realised I wasn't able to find examples of WHO is already using them, so I could have a look. I also realised that although their help site provided loads of design related articles (sizing of images etc), I struggled to find more technical guiding documentation. My sense was that they are very much in the early phases of development and need a little more time to gain traction and develop their product.
This has obviously been around for ages and dominates any google search related to online selling. It is international, smooth, intuitive, organise, has loads of features and heaps more plugins. It is also more expensive - not much more at all though, starting at just R400 per month. I did have the option of using their entry level Facebook shop opinion but to me, it seemed a little clumsy and possibly could communicate a level of unprofessionalism, depending on what type of product you're selling and who your market is. "Visit my Facebook shop" doesn't sound as convincing as "Visit my website." This might be me being really dof, but when I tried to set it up I couldn't seem to access South African currency — what am I missing?
I know a lot of more established South African brands use Shopify and well done them. They have an overseas market, they ship internationally and have been going for ages. But as for me, I am just starting out and don’t have a dedicated technical person to try to figure it all out.
The point at which I started looking at Woo Commerce was the point at which I started to get rather overwhelmed, so I can't say I gave it a fair trial! My understanding is that Woo Commerce is a plug in that fits together with Wordpress. I know that it is very customisable, and has all the features and plugins that a large community like the Wordpress community has developed over many years. All of these things are a win.
But for where I was at what that meant for me was two steps instead of one: first build a Wordpress site, and then build the commerce side. What would this mean for me - hosting, customisation, starting from scratch? Although I've worked a little with Wordpress previously (when I was in my vintage lighting phase!), the thought of having to figure out a whole new ecosystem felt a little daunting.
I'm sure there are many people who use the Wordpress/Woo combo very effectively, but it just felt like this was not going to be the way for me to go. In the last couple of years, I've poured more energy into working with Squarespace, which I really enjoy, and it felt like such a radical departure from that.
As I've already said, Squarespace is something I love working with, so it was with great sadness that I realised I couldn't build an online shop with them because their commerce relies on the use of Stripe - an internet payment processor - which is not yet available in South Africa! Oh, the woes! So that was off the cards.
At this point, in the absence of a decision, and in the presence of far too much information, everything was grinding to a halt on the business front. Not good. I had to make a call one way or another.
So I decided to go with Shopstar, and these were the things that I actually wrote down in my notebook at the time.
"Going with a Shopstar shop with my own domain name will have the following benefits for me:
- An actual online presence which I feel communicates professionalism and readiness to do business (vs a Facebook shop)
- Shopstar is local and I want to support local — in fact it is probably one of my core values
- Shopstar has real live community meetings which I really want to be a part of, and I think would benefit me creatively and professionally. I really appreciate this.
- It’s customisable enough to be able to get what I want, but simple enough to not get overwhelmed by all the gazillions of options.
- It supports South African currency. Win!
- With the things that I find difficult or clumsy or hard to work around, I'm sure time and development will find that improving, they're a growing company.
I want to get going. The more I dither about this, the more options I’m going to find. Having prepared product images and write ups, names and SKU’s etc, this information can easily be transferred to another platform at a later stage if I feel it is necessary to migrate."
In addition, and on the advice of the lovely Anne Hodgson who I met at one of Shopstar's meet-ups, I'm subscribed to Shopify’s newsletters (in addition to Shopstar's) where I can glean business tips from an international perspective.
* Update: I have since closed this online shop for a bunch of reasons I really should write about soon. Its on the to-do list!