Best Website Builder For E-Commerce Newbie

Questions on how we spend our money and our time - consumer goods and services, home and vehicle, leisure and recreational activities
Post Reply
Topic Author
girvincn
Posts: 21
Joined: Tue Dec 03, 2019 8:31 am

Best Website Builder For E-Commerce Newbie

Post by girvincn » Fri Apr 17, 2020 12:49 pm

I'm a decent photographer who is interested in putting together a simple, clean website from which to sell fine art prints. I know next to nothing about web design or hosting a website, but since I'm just an amateur looking to put something basic together, I'm not interested in hiring a freelancer to build out a robust site. Rather, i just want to have some sort of home page/landing page, an about page, a blog page, and a portfolio page. From the portfolio page, I'd like to have folders like wildlife, landscape, etc. and viewers can order prints (to be automatically fulfilled by a lab without my doing anything). Priorities are a clean interface with big, bold display of images.

I've looked at a bunch of different website builders, but seem to get lost down that rabbit hole and can't find anything that quite fits my needs. Does anyone here do webdesign, work with any of these companies, could speak to their pros/cons, or make alternative recommendations? Here's about what I have right now.

Wix - Seems built for this type of thing, though it doesn't interface with any professional print labs I'm used to using like MPix or Nations Photo Lab.
Square - Totally confused on how this works, how I build the site, how to receive payment.
PixieSet - Is it either for hosting a website OR hosting galleries? Can it do both?
SmugMug - Seems outdated, sites look clunky, and when users go to purchase prints, the interface shifts from your theme to theirs, creating discord.
Zenfolio - Also seems outdated and clunky.
WordPress - Way over my head, I suspect.

Some sites I think look really good:
https://www.josephfiler.com/blog/
https://isaacspicz.com/
https://www.mountainphotography.com/
https://adamschallau.com/

I'm aware this will cost some money, but I'd love to keep it below maybe $300 on the front end and $40 per month after that. What do you think?

Hopefully this qualifies within the guidelines of the forum, as I am asking for advice on a particular product I'm interested in purchasing. My apologies if not!

User avatar
coopermonster
Posts: 28
Joined: Sat Nov 07, 2015 11:48 am
Location: Northern California

Re: Best Website Builder For E-Commerce Newbie

Post by coopermonster » Sat Apr 18, 2020 4:10 pm

I'm not a web designer, but I'll weigh in since nobody has replied yet...

I recommend checking out Shopify and Squarespace. Squarespace doesn't specialize in ecommerce (though you can certainly use it as such), but it's pretty intuitive and is good for the use case you described (clean interface with big bold images). Shopify, on the other hand, focuses 100% on ecommerce, but that also means it'll take more of a product-focused approach, which could be good or bad depending on your objectives. I can't speak to whether they integrate with any professional print labs, but you can look through Shopify's app store here: https://apps.shopify.com/

WordPress is - in my experience - by far the most robust and flexible of the bunch, but you're right that it can be overwhelming even if you try to use a pre-packaged theme. If you do end up going the Wordpress route, then check out WooCommerce, which is an ecommerce platform built on top of WordPress.

As an aside, you can use tools like https://whatcms.org/ to see which content management system (CMS) a given website uses, if any. Note that it only returns results if 1) the site uses a big name CMS and 2) if it can identify said CMS, so it won't show results for custom-built sites and sometimes returns no results even if a site is indeed using a popular CMS. Here's what it returned for the sites you mentioned:

https://www.josephfiler.com/blog/ --> Wordpress
https://isaacspicz.com/ --> Wordpress + WooCommerce
https://www.mountainphotography.com/ --> ?
https://adamschallau.com/ --> ?

Hope that helps!

Topic Author
girvincn
Posts: 21
Joined: Tue Dec 03, 2019 8:31 am

Re: Best Website Builder For E-Commerce Newbie

Post by girvincn » Sun Apr 19, 2020 8:44 am

Thanks for your thoughtful considerations, CooperMonster. In perusing both the Shopify and Squarespace sites, I'm probably more puzzled than ever! Every one of these website builder sites claims they're brilliant for displaying a portfolio and/or selling your work, but the darned demo sites don't really show off that functionality very well. It's also never entirely clear what the pricing is like: is everything included in a flat fee per month? Or do you pay separately for a URL, a host, the site itself, and the commerce function? Maybe I just need to talk to cough up the money to have someone do this for me, as the options are overwhelming.

Does anyone else have additional thoughts?

onourway
Posts: 2490
Joined: Thu Dec 08, 2016 3:39 pm

Re: Best Website Builder For E-Commerce Newbie

Post by onourway » Sun Apr 19, 2020 3:28 pm

There are a huge number of options in this space and it can certainly help to have someone experienced to guide you. If you are technically adept, you can wade through this yourself, however you will undoubtedly take many wrong turns along the way as any inexperienced traveler would.

Basically, any of these platforms will get you set up with an extremely basic site for very little initial cost. You can choose from a variety of templates and if you are agreeable to simply placing your images and logos and text in place of theirs, you can have the basic site up and running in little time.

Most people, however, will find they need some customization, and this is where things get a bit more complicated. Your desire to incorporate e-commerce, and especially direct orders to a partner lab, is where your idea starts to get outside the capabilities of a simple off-the-shelf template. You will either need to spend a fair bit of time getting yourself up to speed to make this work, or commit to hiring someone to get it going for you. In which case your budget is at least an order of magnitude too low. I would say several thousand dollars is where you need to be thinking.

Lastly, I’m trying to imagine the kind of content that people will be satisfied in simply purchasing a print? Typically fine art is sold, at the very least, matted, and more typically, framed, as this is a huge part of both the cost and the final look. I would think that your site would need to integrate these kind of options as well, unless you are aiming for the poster market (which I’m suspecting not by the fine art tag).

Realize that even once you are up and running, there is ongoing monthly maintenance required of most sites to keep them up to date and secure (especially important if you are collecting customer’s personal information as in e-commerce). A good partner host will manage this for you, but at a not insignificant cost.

Topic Author
girvincn
Posts: 21
Joined: Tue Dec 03, 2019 8:31 am

Re: Best Website Builder For E-Commerce Newbie

Post by girvincn » Tue Apr 21, 2020 12:29 pm

Thank you for the thoughtful, detailed response, OnOurWay. I appreciate your insights.

You're spot on about the need for matting, framing, other options, etc., which is exactly why I'd like to integrate with a print lab who offers these options. Some photographers simply accept payment via their website and then self-fulfill, but that's not necessarily an avenue I'm interested in.

I realize there are a ton of folks who have tried to monetize their artistic hobbies, which has certainly saturated and driven down the market for what I'm trying to do. However, for the same reason (as you alluded to), that tells me the options for creating this type of simple, do-it-yourself website ought to be plentiful. I'm just surprised at how muddled those options have become (or appear to me). Do you have one particular solution you might recommend to someone fairly tech-savvy (32 year old who has grown up using computers, well-recognized as the go-to source in most of my social circles for computer help) who has no specific knowledge in programming or coding? Assume, for the time being, I want to go for this myself without throwing the extra cash at hiring someone else.

User avatar
lindsayinsf
Posts: 33
Joined: Fri Feb 21, 2020 5:13 pm
Location: California

Re: Best Website Builder For E-Commerce Newbie

Post by lindsayinsf » Tue Apr 21, 2020 3:11 pm

girvincn wrote:
Fri Apr 17, 2020 12:49 pm
Square - Totally confused on how this works, how I build the site, how to receive payment.
Square is a payments processor that integrates with many types of systems, including websites. You would need a site platform in order to use it.

The other website platforms you mentioned could all work for what you want, some with more effort than others. I also found:
https://www.foliolink.com/
https://www.format.com/
https://www.widerangegalleries.com/
These seem specifically geared towards photographers and have a payment aspect.
coopermonster wrote:
Sat Apr 18, 2020 4:10 pm
As an aside, you can use tools like https://whatcms.org/ to see which content management system (CMS) a given website uses, if any. Note that it only returns results if 1) the site uses a big name CMS and 2) if it can identify said CMS, so it won't show results for custom-built sites and sometimes returns no results even if a site is indeed using a popular CMS. Here's what it returned for the sites you mentioned:

https://www.josephfiler.com/blog/ --> Wordpress
https://isaacspicz.com/ --> Wordpress + WooCommerce
https://www.mountainphotography.com/ --> ?
https://adamschallau.com/ --> ?

Hope that helps!
When viewing any website, you can use the browser's menu options to View > Developer > View Source to see the code that makes up the website. That will only be helpful if you can recognize text or links that identify the site builder/platform. Doing this I found:

https://www.josephfiler.com/blog/ --> Wordpress
https://isaacspicz.com/ --> Wordpress + WooCommerce
https://www.mountainphotography.com/ --> widerangegalleries.com
https://adamschallau.com/ --> widerangegalleries.com

I suggest emailing customer support at any of the platforms that you think might work to ask them if they can support what you have in mind. They should be able to explain how they can (or can't) help and you'll get a sense of which places have better customer service.

Fees vary. Some of the ones you mentioned have a monthly fee, some are free for the themes but you pay for hosting and domain registration, and some services bundle everything together. Ask about that also when you contact a platform.

You could also contact the photographers of the sites you like and ask what their process was to get a website set up and how they manage fulfillment. If you email more than one, chances are at least one of them will reply to you.

onourway
Posts: 2490
Joined: Thu Dec 08, 2016 3:39 pm

Re: Best Website Builder For E-Commerce Newbie

Post by onourway » Tue Apr 21, 2020 3:25 pm

girvincn wrote:
Tue Apr 21, 2020 12:29 pm
Thank you for the thoughtful, detailed response, OnOurWay. I appreciate your insights.

You're spot on about the need for matting, framing, other options, etc., which is exactly why I'd like to integrate with a print lab who offers these options. Some photographers simply accept payment via their website and then self-fulfill, but that's not necessarily an avenue I'm interested in.

I realize there are a ton of folks who have tried to monetize their artistic hobbies, which has certainly saturated and driven down the market for what I'm trying to do. However, for the same reason (as you alluded to), that tells me the options for creating this type of simple, do-it-yourself website ought to be plentiful. I'm just surprised at how muddled those options have become (or appear to me). Do you have one particular solution you might recommend to someone fairly tech-savvy (32 year old who has grown up using computers, well-recognized as the go-to source in most of my social circles for computer help) who has no specific knowledge in programming or coding? Assume, for the time being, I want to go for this myself without throwing the extra cash at hiring someone else.
I am partial to Wordpress, but websites are not what I do full time. I find that I can often do about 90-95% of what I need to do on my own, and then I need assistance for the last bits. There are a ton of options and a ton of support out there for Wordpress which is both a blessing and a curse. You need to wade through an awful lot to find exactly what you need. I suspect that you will be able to do most of what you want with a steep learning curve up and to the point where you need to integrate the e-commerce with your lab. I can't imagine that is going to be trivial - especially if you want to give people options for sizes, finishes, mattes, frames, etc. (and ideally could show them what their print would look like with each of those combinations.) If you will only offer one combination for each print, this would be much more attainable.

What many artistic folks are doing is selling through Etsy, and this may be something for you to explore. I don't have any idea whether Etsy is negotiating printing on the back-end somewhere, or if sellers are just taking orders, manually submitting those orders to a printer for drop ship, or what, but there are plenty of sellers who have all sorts of different paper/matting/framing options on there.

Topic Author
girvincn
Posts: 21
Joined: Tue Dec 03, 2019 8:31 am

Re: Best Website Builder For E-Commerce Newbie

Post by girvincn » Mon Jun 29, 2020 2:39 pm

onourway wrote:
Tue Apr 21, 2020 3:25 pm
girvincn wrote:
Tue Apr 21, 2020 12:29 pm
Thank you for the thoughtful, detailed response, OnOurWay. I appreciate your insights.

You're spot on about the need for matting, framing, other options, etc., which is exactly why I'd like to integrate with a print lab who offers these options. Some photographers simply accept payment via their website and then self-fulfill, but that's not necessarily an avenue I'm interested in.

I realize there are a ton of folks who have tried to monetize their artistic hobbies, which has certainly saturated and driven down the market for what I'm trying to do. However, for the same reason (as you alluded to), that tells me the options for creating this type of simple, do-it-yourself website ought to be plentiful. I'm just surprised at how muddled those options have become (or appear to me). Do you have one particular solution you might recommend to someone fairly tech-savvy (32 year old who has grown up using computers, well-recognized as the go-to source in most of my social circles for computer help) who has no specific knowledge in programming or coding? Assume, for the time being, I want to go for this myself without throwing the extra cash at hiring someone else.
I am partial to Wordpress, but websites are not what I do full time. I find that I can often do about 90-95% of what I need to do on my own, and then I need assistance for the last bits. There are a ton of options and a ton of support out there for Wordpress which is both a blessing and a curse. You need to wade through an awful lot to find exactly what you need. I suspect that you will be able to do most of what you want with a steep learning curve up and to the point where you need to integrate the e-commerce with your lab. I can't imagine that is going to be trivial - especially if you want to give people options for sizes, finishes, mattes, frames, etc. (and ideally could show them what their print would look like with each of those combinations.) If you will only offer one combination for each print, this would be much more attainable.

What many artistic folks are doing is selling through Etsy, and this may be something for you to explore. I don't have any idea whether Etsy is negotiating printing on the back-end somewhere, or if sellers are just taking orders, manually submitting those orders to a printer for drop ship, or what, but there are plenty of sellers who have all sorts of different paper/matting/framing options on there.
My apologies on never responding to you, OnOurWay. I appreciate your insight.

For anyone else out there exploring these options, I'll give a little bit of reflection, as I just finished my website. I went with SquareSpace. Building the site took me the better part of a few weeks, but I'm fairly OCD about getting things just right. Most of it was straightforward, but there were idiosyncrasies and limitations that I spent a considerable amount of time on. Once you get the general hang of things, it's just a matter of putting the time in to get everything the way you want it, aside from the aforementioned headaches that popped up.

SquareSpace is going to take 3% of any sale, and then both Stripe and PayPal will take an additional 2.9%+$.30, which I had to factor in to pricing structures. I'm on the Business plan, which, unfortunately, doesn't allow me to bulk edit the pricing for my items, but if I upgrade to the Commerce plan, I would be able to export a .CSV file that I could edit and upload back to update the pricing. That is one big frustration, but it shouldn't be an issue until down the road, hopefully, as I was pretty scientific in setting my prices.

The other frustration, which I never did solve, was the idea of automatic print fulfillment. Some of the website builders listed above do offer automatic print fulfillment, but none of them do so with a professionally reputable print company. Considering my market skews toward fine art, I really want the guarantee of a professional print lab. As such, I will wind up fulfilling the orders myself. Customers will identify and pay for a specific photo/size/matting option. I'll receive their order and then place an order myself through a professional print lab, opting to have the item drop-shipped directly to the customer. Not exactly ideal, as I wanted automatic print fulfillment, but as long as I'm doing relatively low volume, I guess I won't go too crazy trying to order prints each time I receive an order.

If anyone is interested in commenting/(constructively) criticizing the website build, load time, aesthetics, functionality, etc., I'd love to hear it!
http://www.CassGirvin.com

Post Reply