Choosing the Right E-Commerce Platform

On of the things about running an online store, I was thinking, is that you have to have the right tools.  But when I was studying up on which web builder to use to create my first online store, I had a few different choices which made sense.

But upon thinking about this a bit more, I’m starting to think, what if in 2 years I need something better?  It will be a huge pain in the butt to rebuild my site if the one I choose today doesn’t work out, or doesn’t have the power to grow my business.

So upon digging a bit more, I found an excellent discussion on finding a great e-commerce platform to help support your business growth.  The idea of this article is that even though you don’t need advanced tools today, you might need them later.  And so when you pick the builder today, you should factor that in.

ecommerce platform

Luckily, the two store builders that I have in mind, both have Apps that you can add on to the store which can add a lot of features / tools down the road for me.  Which builders did I choose?  I was thinking of Shopify or Bigcommerce.  When I was reading up on Shopify and what others think about them, I learned that they also starting to support offline tools such as their Point of Sales tool which enables me to sell products away from my website.  But the beauty is that whenever I charge a customer, the data synchronizes with my online store.  That’s pretty awesome and I think it is a good level above Bigcommerce as I do have plans to perhaps have a few pop up stores to test out whether others want to buy products directly from me, rather than from my store.  But that’s another discussion for another day.

But even before I jump head first in to this, I think it’s so important revisit my thoughts on finding the right website builder. So I’ll leave this post on that thought as I have to run to my nephew’s birthday party.  He just turned 5 and it’s going to be a great party!


Choosing My Website Builder

shinkansen online storeAfter playing with a lot of different website builders, I’m now pretty comfortable with building pretty decent websites with them.  They provide all the tools I need, without any coding technical knowledge which is great.

But in my other post a week ago, I wrote about how to get more traffic and visitors to my website which is one of the bigger parts to ensuring that my side e-commerce business will be successful.  Another insight that I found is that according to a lot of experts out there, using a Website builder software (such as Squarespace, Weebly, etc) may not be the best for search engine optimization – or basically not ideal for giving me the best chance of having potential customers finding my shinkansen e-commerce website online.

It seems that an over whelming majority of people, at least the blog discussions that I’ve seen, all say that using open source builders such as WordPress would be ideal.  It has to do with having better coding structures than the typical drag and drop website builder.

Now, I’m not an expert in this as I don’t know much codes, but if this was true, it may influence me to actually roll up my sleeves and learn WordPress.  The main reason why I hesitated before is that I didn’t want to invest too much time as I’m trying to pick up a few more hobbies, see more of my family, and travel more now that I’m retired.

In any case, I think I have to figure out if setting up this shinkansen online store and generating sales is important enough for me to allocate more time to this project.

squarespace vs wordpress for my shinkansen store

Through my research over the past week, I’ve managed to find some interesting discussion relating to squarespace vs wordPress.  I really enjoyed testing out Squarespace and it does have a lot of good e-commerce tools.  But based on the article, wordpress is a lot more flexible and powerful as I can add on more sophisticated tools.

The issue I’m still considering is whether I need all that flexibility.  One thing that I learned is that over-complicating things with too many bells and whistles actually may lead to declining returns.  Keeping matters simple, effective and streamlined is best.  Plus the fact that as I mentioned, I will definitely need to invest time in learning WordPress is something I should thoroughly understand before allocating resources to it.

Questions I have include – where can I learn how to use WordPress?  I know there are a lot of free resources out there, but I prefer to learn it quickly and efficiently.  Maybe they have classes out there that has a more structured approach.  I’ve always preferred learning in such manners.  In any case, if I find something, I’ll definitely let you all know.

Selling Shinkansen Products Online

shinkansen online storeOne of the things that’s going through my mind is how to successfully sell Shinkansen related products online.  I’m really interested in shinkansen and building websites, but does that necessarily turn into a business?  Or will it remain an interest or hobby website?

As I brainstorm more about this, including figuring out which is the Best Ecommerce Software for me to use, the question that pops into my mind is whether people will buy what I could be selling.  That leads me to consider, how am I going to get people to visit my online store.  After conducting a bit of research, I now realize that this is a massive area to cover and to learn.

Essentially, there are broadly two ways to get traffic to my store:

  1. Search engines – basically people finding my store through Google searches
  2. Advertisements – people clicking on my advertisements to get to my website

Both are good, both are bad.  By the way, I’m heavily leaning towards using Shopify after reading this Shopify Reviews.

Finding my Shinkansen Store through Search Engines

Getting discovered through Google is great.  It feels like free traffic.  But thinking a bit deeper, it’s actually not.  Getting a website ranked with search engines take a lot of hard work and investment in time.  Experts are saying that I will need to write a lot about what I’m selling, creating interesting articles that will target what they call “long tail keywords”.

For example, if other interested people are searching for words or phrases such as “where to find shinkansen (or bullet train) models”, ideally my website, or a webpage of  mind will show up.

There are a lot of similar articles, but my content has to be top notch and informative for it to be ranked well in searches.  Not only that, hopefully the helpfulness of the content will lead my potential visitors to purchase, or share my content with their friends.

shinkansen toy e-commerce store

Finding my Shinkansen Store through Advertisements

This one is a bit easier as I just need to pay for the ads.  Google Adwords is the most popular way to lead visitors to my website, but then I need to pay for them.

So upon a bit more research, there are ways to lower costs such as bidding on low competition keywords / phrases.  Or something about how if my landing pages are more relevant to the advertisements, I can lower my costs.

This is all very new and somewhat confusing for me, as I’m not entirely sure how to “optimize” the entire process.  Thankfully, being an engineer, I have confidence that I can break down the entire process and find out how best to tackle this.

What’s Next?

Now that I have two potential ways to get people to visit my website, I need to figure out which website builder works best with these two approaches and improve my knowledge on how to build an online store.  I’ve been reading some comments that using WYSIWYG hosted website builders is not ideal as these websites are not build with search engines optimization in mind.

I’ve read a lot of recommendations to use WordPress, which is structured in a more optimal way – basically saying that Google prefers websites built with WordPress.

I’m not sure if there is any truth in that, but I’ll definitely investigate it a bit further as I start to set up my e-commerce shop.

E-commerce Research Update

bigcommerce vs shopifyIn my previous post I mentioned about how I’m interested in setting up a pet project of selling shinkansen toys through an e-commerce store. Two of the better website builders (Shopify and Bigcommerce) are at the top of my list to test, and I wanted to find out more about what’s “bad” about them, or how they compare against each other.

So I did more research on Bigcommerce vs Shopify over the past week and found a few interesting things. Bigcommerce actually doesn’t have a lot of attractive themes, which is slightly disappointing. Users are saying that you will need to sign up for an account (even though there is a free trial period) before I get to see what themes I can use for my store. But when I go to Shopify, I can see so many gorgeous themes that can make my store looking professional. So that’s an interesting discovery that made me lean towards Shopify a bit more.

Another slight downside is that Bigcommerce doesn’t offer 24/7 support like Shopify. I guess this might be “okay” as I probably don’t need a lot of hand holding as I enjoy figuring things out by myself (due to my engineering training and background). Plus, their support hours are from 9am – 5pm Monday through Friday which is when I tend to work on my hobbies anyway. So no problem for me there.

That’s not to say that Shopify is perfect in every way. I read some complaints that the cost for some people is adding up, especially if you start to add more Apps to the store. But I suppose you can have some control over that as I dont’ need all the apps as I’m just trying to set up a very simple store to see if this pet project will work.

shinkansen on ShopifyI think setting up an online store myself is much more fun than just posting the toys on places like eBay. I won’t have much control over the design of an eBay store, but I suppose that’s okay for a lot of folks, but I like to make mine a bit nicer since I have a bit more time as a retiree. Plus, I see a lot of eBay sellers link out to their own store front anyway, so that’s something I might consider exploring so I get my products in front of more people on eBay as well.

It’s actually challenging to pick one or the other (Bigcommerce vs Shopify) and that’s why they have free trial periods (2 weeks for both of them). I might go ahead and test out Shopify first and toy with it a bit since I’m leaning towards them a bit more than the others.

The great thing about both of them is that they don’t require much HTML or CSS coding knowledge. Apparently they are just drag and drop (WYSIWYG) so that’s fantastic for me as I mentioned before I don’t quite want to learn advanced HTML and CSS codes.

Will track my progress and talk more about it later! Hopefully will be able to share my preliminary site with everybody soon!

Setting up Shinkansen e-Commerce Shop

One of the things that I’ve been doing when I was in Japan was to buy some toys for my collection. When I showed a few friends my collection, they then became interested and was wondering where they can find them as well. One of the difficulties is that it’s very challenging to find them in the America. Not impossible, but rare.

You can try to find them in Toys r’ us (tried but didn’t succeeded since Shinkansen’s aren’t mainstream here), or try to find them on eBay (rare as well). So I came up with this nutty idea that maybe I can get them from Japan and sell them on an online store as an e-commerce business!

shinkansen toys for e-commerce

Now that I’ve retired, I can afford time to set up projects like this. But I had no idea how to set one up, so I’m still researching about this.

I can’t be bothered with learning codes even though it does fascinate me, but I heard that there are e-commerce shop builders out there where I can sign up and start marketing and selling goods. So I did a bit of digging.

I found out through some Googling that the best store builders include Shopify and Bigcommerce. There are a few other ones that I might mention later but these are the 2 that I thought were the most attractive to me because of the design and also the number of tools they provided.

In the Shopify reviews that I saw, the best parts about Shopify is their themes – very professional and good looking. They also allow me to add a lot of “apps” so I can increase the functionality of the store which is cool. One other advantage about Shopify according to most people is that they provide support all day long, 7 days a week which I think is important especially for an older guy like me :)

In some Bigcommerce reviews, they said that Bigcommerce has some of the larger selection of tools available for builders. They also have an app store so that’s similar to Shopify. One thing that they stood out for me, is that they can give my products more visibility through social channels like Shopzilla, Bizrate, Nextag so I can showcase the shinkansen toys to more people which is exciting.

In any case, I’m just starting to learn more about then and I’m interested in understanding some of the negative reviews / downsides of them. I also want to learn more about how they benchmark against each other. I’ll do more digging and report back soon!

Finding Website Builders

Finding the right website builder that worked for me was challenging. The challenging is that there are so many of them available in the market and for an older person like me, they all start to look the same. So I struggled a bit at the beginning.

So what I did, as I did throughout my engineering career, is to break down the system and come out with an organized plan of what I need, and I’m looking for to get out of my websites, then pick the right builder accordingly.

finding website builder shinkansenSide note: this is the same system I’m doing right now as I’m starting to learn the language of Japanese. I wanted to learn as I’m quite obsessed about Japan and shinkansen (新幹線) right now :) Boy is it challenging, but I will share how decided to approach learning systematically in another post.

What I did to find the suitable website builders for myself is to first find out which website builders are the largest and most reputable in the market. A quick Google search did the job for me. I think I just searched for “website builders” or “free website builders”. I opened them up and started reading the “about us” type pages. I quickly learned about their history, number of users, just to get comfortable that they are big enough to keep their services active in the coming years.  It’s also great that I found this helpful article on how to get started in building a website.

The second thing I did, was look for reputable review sites. I started typing in search phrases such as “best website builder”, “[ ] review” (insert the name of the website builder in place of [ ]), and started learning about opinions about various website builders I felt comfortable with in my initial screening above.

A few website builders that I discovered include Weebly, Squarespace, uCoz, Wix, Webs, IM Creator, etc. While trying to evaluate them, I also typed in “review” after each of their names to find reviews of them.

Some of the more resourceful articles I’ve found include Weebly reviews, Squarespace reviews, and an article about best Website Builders (I liked it as it talks about the myth of finding one). In any case, I think reading these resourceful articles probably saved me a few hours of testing various web builders. So I definitely got value out of it. The author said that even though he’s giving away a lot of information the best thing to do is still to test them out myself, which I absolutely agree.

So I signed up for a few testing accounts. I’ll write more about that later on and will let you know what I did to determine what works best for me! Stay tuned!

Shinkansen and Website Designs

What does Shinkansen has to do with website design? Absolutely nothing. Well, to most people it’s nothing, but I like both of them so that’s how they are related.

Shinkansens are bullet trains in Japan (新幹線). If you haven’t seen them – where have you been? I had the pleasure of riding in one of them just last year when I visited Japan and I have to tell you, it was amazing. It’s as fast as a bullet (figuratively speaking) and super quiet when I was sitting inside. I can hardly believe that I was traveling so fast yet be able to read my book during my journey.

Here is a good picture of what it looks like from the outside:

shinkansen website design

What an absolute beauty! I was looking forward to it so much I was hardly sleeping the night before I went on the trip.

I took the shinkansen from Tokyo to Osaka which was a 4 – 5 hour trip. The people inside the cabin were mostly toursits and a lot of business people. I guess it is cheaper, and perhaps faster and more convenient to travel through shinkansen versus the airplane, since the Tokyo or Osaka airports are a bit outside the city and taxi’s are pretty expensive here in Japan.

Here’s a video of how the shinkansen feels like. Pay attention to about the 2 minute mark when you get to see Mount Fuji:

You have got to try it if you haven’t had a chance to travel to Japan!

On another note, as mentioned above, I picked up a hobby as a website builder. If you dont’ know me, I’m an engineer by training so I love to build things. When I was younger, I’ve built a lot of little mechanical things, fixing broken bikes, cars, gadgets, etc. Now that I’m a bit older, and that the internet has spread like wildfire, I thought that I’d give website building a shot.

Truth be told, I thought that I’d be able to pick up HTML and CSS codes a lot faster. But guess now that I’m retired, my brain isn’t as active as before! So, instead of just giving up as I don’t have much time to learn all the codes since I’m fairly busy with my other hobbies and volunteer work, I started looking at WYSIWYG website builders. WYSIWYG is “What you see is what you get”. Basically I found out that there are website builders out there that allow you to drag and drop content on to a webpage. No coding required!

It also helped a lot when I started reviewing different review sites in my search to find the best Website Builder available. I’ll write more about that later on as a separate topic, and will share my findings and experiences.

Given now I can build websites relatively quickly, I started building them for my friends and family. I noticed that there are also a few different website builders available and they all have different pros and cons. I’ll get into that in a later post.

What I also want to work on is website design. I learned that to make a beautiful website has a lot of different components. These include images, typography, colour, and layout. I’ll write more about these later on as well and hopefully if you have any comments or suggestions, you will leave them in the comment box below.

In any case, this is a pretty long introduction to myself! I’ll share more about what I know about shinkansen’s, website designs and website builders in the near future. Stay tuned!