E-Commerce package for on-line bean sales?

the business of coffee houses

E-Commerce package for on-line bean sales?

Postby phaelon56 on Thu May 18, 2006 6:38 am

Perhaps this would be better placed in the retailing section but here goes....

I'll soon begin offering roasted bean both wholesale and retail strictly through a Web based sales channel. My Web developer, a guy whose a solid known quantity to me (we are former colleagues), has great visual deesign instincts, creates sites that load fast, are highly efficient and also extremely search engine friendly (he really truly understands how Google works and I've seen the results of his efforts pay off on a corporate web site).

That's all goood but he has no background in E-commerce sites. Have any of you used off the shelf E-commerce / shoping cart packages and can comment on one or more of them based on the value proposition, functionality, customizability and ongoing support costs?

Alternately - have any of you paid a developer to create E-commerce functionality for a site? If so - what were the benefits and shortcomings of this approach?
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Postby aaronblanco on Thu May 18, 2006 1:46 pm

shortcomings...anything other than click, cut and paste yourself means you'll always be beholden to your designer and you'll always have to pay each time you need something changed such as a new crop added, prices changed, etc.
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Postby JavaJ on Mon May 22, 2006 3:21 pm

Congrats on having a good designer who is also a friend! While finding a web designer is as easy as throwing a penny inside a MacWorld convention, finding a GOOD designer is something quite different I have found.

Furthermore, it is not unusual for traditional designers to know jack cheese about e-commerce or much beyond a simple shopping cart. You will need a developer for that.

(Although I know you and several people here are tech savy, I am over-explaining for the benefit of those who are not). This is a topic which can be quite complex, so I will try and not ramble.

I would consider the following two things. First, an e-commerce User Interface is quite different from your usual marketing web site design. So make sure you are comfortable not just with the overall design your friend can provide, but also his ability to craft a user friendly shopping experience. Depending on the reach and scale of your opperation, this might not be too important to you.

Second, most e-commerce operations happen on the "back-end." This means your options will generally depend on your ISP. OTOH, your front-end can stay the same, and you can easily move your site. Most discount ISPs have pretty easily configurable e-comm solutions. Many allow you to install everything you need, including a secure shopping cart, with a few clicks. Some are based on industry standard Microsoft or Open Source software, while some, such as Yahoo Shopping use proprietary software that can't be easily moved. The trade off is in ease of use however. This type of hosted solution is probably your best bet.

If you plan on hosting your own servers, something that can be done pretty easily these days with an old pc and a dsl connection, I would reccomend avoiding using any commercial packages. Once again, they will limit your options and portability. If you are sure you want to host your site on your own dedicated server and connection, everything you need to run your site can be easily found on most Linux distributions. Likewise, Windows 2003 Server has everything you need to get going.

As for paying a developer, it is usually not hard to find someone who specializes in shopping carts/e-commerce. The main benefit is it will again retain your freedom to shop your site where you want. The down side is the price, but it doesn't involve very much work at all. Another down side is if it is not something you will be able to edit on your own. I would imagine a better bet given your proximity to the University would be to hire a student. I would also make sure he shows you how to make changes yourself. Maybe even stress upfront how you are looking for a package you can edit on your own. Or else negotiate a separate rate to do on-going changes and pay them to do it.

Hope that helps. I will be building my own e-comm site soon. I will let you know what software I end up using. It will be Linux/Apache and Open Source based. I am even planning on having a phpBB based board like this one for the shop.

One more thing, does your designer use Dreamweaver/Coldfusion?

Good luck,

J. Valenta
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Postby phaelon56 on Mon May 22, 2006 5:00 pm

Thanks for the info. He just adviswed me that he has some .asp code which is included as part of the co-location hosting package he's been using (he develops and maintain sites for several local companies including my "day job" employer

http://www.datacomsystems.com

He thinks he can integrate this into the site quite easily based on his Google expertise believes the shopping side of the site wil be very search engine friendly. There's a bit of a learning curve for him on the shopping cart side but he knows code well enough to get there quickly base on what I've seen him do in hte past.

And if I recall correctly he does nto use ColdFusion, Dreamweaver or Front Page. I think he works with raw code in order to design sites that load fast, work efficiently and are friendly to all types of browsers. And he loves good coffee so he's easily bribed...
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Postby P Allen on Wed May 24, 2006 2:16 pm

My suggestion is similar to J's... start any work on a dynamic site (which is what you're after) with the database ~first~. The second goal is to create admin pages that you alone would use to update that database for your coffees. Third, the shopping cart (which will require its own database). Last, the pages a customer will see.

I've worked too many times on websites where the customer pages needed to be completely rewritten because the database driving their content wasn't finished beforehand.
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Postby Roastmaster General on Tue May 30, 2006 5:34 am

For a shopping cart program we have used Mals-Ecommerce for years. Never have had a problem. I recently started using paypal to process my credit cards. I got tired of running the cards myself and hoping the info was correct. Now its done and I have the cash in a few seconds...
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Postby onocoffee on Tue May 30, 2006 7:17 am

Until the most recent site redesign (of which I have not yet re-established the e-commerce thing), we've been using CCNow.com. They provide a complete e-commerce interface with secured transactions and most everything you need to get rolling. Just integrate into your site design and you're off and running.

The cost is 9% but they handle all the back end, which I find to be reasonable.

And in five years, I've never had a problem.
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Postby barry on Wed May 31, 2006 8:50 am

we've been using mals-e as well. i'm playing with zencart right now, but haven't gotten into it far enough to have an opinion on it other than it's taking too long to learn how to set things up.
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Hey... somebody lobbed a softball!

Postby deCadmus on Mon Jul 24, 2006 9:04 pm

I guess this one's right up my alley.

There's a world of solutions out there. Which is the right solution depends on what's important to *you*.

On the whole I really recommend *not* doing the DSL line and lone PC scenario. Reliability is a key to your success, and that means being available 24/7, and having bandwidth enough to support not just nominal day-to-day traffic, but also the peaks of the holiday shopping season. It can be extraordinarily expensive to keep that kind of bandwidth on-hand.

For most folks, that points to an ASP model (not active server pages, but an application service provider). Still lots to choose from. Big players include Storefront, Monster Commerce, Volusion, among many others. If you're dead set on rolling your own, take a look at Miva. And keep an eye on Google checkout, interesting things sure to happen there.

Important things to think about:
    how do you manage inventory?
    how flexible is merchandising?
    how good is search?
    how do you tie it into your existing systems?
    who handles customer care?
    what kind of analytics are available?


And that's all without really talking about finer points of design, usability, overcoming FUD, streamlining checkout or dealing with tricky things like loyalty programs, subscription programs, gift certs, coupons, cc authorization and settlement and the necessary PCI compliance that goes along with it.

Were I starting from scratch today with a small company that wants to take its bean sales online for the very first time, I'd -- honestly -- consider something like Yahoo! store to dip my toe in the water. If I knew I'd soon outgrow that, I'd look hard at Monster Commerce.
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Postby sutono on Sun May 13, 2007 7:23 pm

One thing that we've found to be incredible important is an easy to use CMS )content management system) for updates. I am able to change my site within seconds from home or anywhere else in the world, so long as I can find a computer with a standard browser. We are currently using Yahoo as our back end for e--commerce, but it totally sucks in every way imaginable, and so we're building a customized e-commerce site with considerably more bells and whistles.

On the same topic, has anyone hired a firm for search engine optimization, and if so, has it helped? What did you pay for this service and who did you use?
Tony
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Postby Steve on Sun May 13, 2007 11:22 pm

sutono wrote:
On the same topic, has anyone hired a firm for search engine optimization, and if so, has it helped? What did you pay for this service and who did you use?


Dont do it unless you are 100% sure they are good at it, and dont go with just references.

Its another area where you get what you pay for, a lot of what the work done by some of these not so honest companies can be done with a Sunday afternoon and a good SEO book
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Postby phaelon56 on Mon May 14, 2007 7:13 am

sutono wrote:On the same topic, has anyone hired a firm for search engine optimization, and if so, has it helped? What did you pay for this service and who did you use?


I haven't hired anyone but our former in-house MIS/Web developer (at my non-coffee day job) jumped ship a year ago to do full time consulting and the niche/pitch for his service is exactly that. He's spent a fair amount of time and money doing both self-education and attending training for this specific area.

It does make a difference - at least in the tech business). He redesigned our company web site (as a consultant after he left our employ) and within a matter of months our Web hits increased by 2X to 3X and a significant number of them resulted in new business. Granted - it's not the coffee business so results may vary.

I don't know what he charges but I do know that part of his sales approach involves doing advance research on a company's existing site and showing the prospect, by way of statistical information, how they do in various types of searches.

As far as I know the area to focus on is how Google friendly your site is - and the Big G changes their methodology often enough that it justifies hiring someone with current know-how. Keywords and meta-tags may have worked well last year but Google's page rank system and a slew of other things they do to leave advertiser's guessing (and paying for sponsored links) makes it a moving target.

One thing I do know for certain - different page designs - under the hood not the graphic layout that you see on the page itself - have a profound impact on how search-engine friendly the site is. Prepackaged web development software by Macromedia, Adobe etc. are capable of yielding a site that looks great but a developer who knows how to write streamlined code from scratch that is optimized for searchability will usually get you better results.
Owen O'Neill
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New York Central Coffee Roasters
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Postby deCadmus on Mon May 14, 2007 9:50 pm

phaelon56 wrote:
One thing I do know for certain - different page designs - under the hood not the graphic layout that you see on the page itself - have a profound impact on how search-engine friendly the site is. Prepackaged web development software by Macromedia, Adobe etc. are capable of yielding a site that looks great but a developer who knows how to write streamlined code from scratch that is optimized for searchability will usually get you better results.


I'm emphatically nodding my head as I read this. ;)

Search Engine Optimization (SEO, as opposed to Search Engine Marketing, or SEM) is something that's built into the fabric of your web site, or it's not. It's not something that can be effectively "added on" with the inclusion of additional keywords, or lists of links, or whatnot.

Effective SEO involves simple things like page titles and meta descriptors, somewhat more complex things like effective separation of content from presentation and semantic HTML/XML markup, and still more complex things like URL rewrites and such to make page addresses that are human readable *and* relevant to search indexing.

It also involves lots of original and relevant content; stories and articles that not only enrich your customers' online customer experience, but also provide lots of fodder for searchbots to hook into.

SEM is another matter, and one that can be farmed out easily enough provided you've got tools in place to measure its effectiveness. It's one thing to place Google ads that get you lots of landed page views; it's something else altogether to get those ads to convert into product sales and revenue... and to know which ads are performing, which landing pages are performing, etc. etc.
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Postby sutono on Tue May 15, 2007 7:23 pm

phaelon56 wrote:
our former in-house MIS/Web developer (at my non-coffee day job) jumped ship a year ago to do full time consulting and the niche/pitch for his service is exactly that. He's spent a fair amount of time and money doing both self-education and attending training for this specific area.


Owen - can you PM me his contact info?

With gratitude,

Tony
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Chicago
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Postby Rich Westerfield on Wed May 16, 2007 5:07 am

sutono wrote:On the same topic, has anyone hired a firm for search engine optimization, and if so, has it helped? What did you pay for this service and who did you use?


What Steve said. Lots of charlatans in SEO (and SEM for that matter, but that's much easier for anyone with a little marketing savvy to learn).

If you're looking specifically to boost bean sales, SEM is more likely to get you there quicker - and it's much much easier to measure, not to mention you can test different approaches affordably across all the major engines. It's simply time consuming (not particulary hard, just time consuming on the administration end).

Regarding SEM, it's not something you do once and forget. Even with the most targeted buys, online ads "tire" quickly, whether text or graphic, and need to be swapped out frequently for new creative. You can get pretty sophisticated with testing and keyword buys - that's where a good SEM specialist can save you time and money. But I'd suggest you try some ad buys first so that you (or your marketing person) gets familiar with the processes and the lingo before hiring an outside consultant.

On SEO, I used to know this stuff pretty well a half dozen years ago when I ran ecommerce conferences. The guy I still think is the top guru is Danny Sullivan. I also think Danny's writing and illustrations make his advice more accessible to the non-geek.

Dealing with SEO is the primary reason we chose to just use a blog on Typepad as our webpresence instead of investing in a traditional site.
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