I'm writing this post especially for aspiring artists, fashion & lifestyle bloggers who are thinking of starting their own store but are skeptical about the monthly costs and added responsibilities. Having been in the design industry for over a decade and tried n tested all kinds of website platforms, my following suggestions are based upon what has worked for me. So let's jump right into it.
When setting up an online store, it's best to choose a platform that is built exclusively for e-commerce. Shopify is dedicated to streamlining the e-commerce experience for both you and your customers, by offering a robust and easy-to-use platform that is constantly evolving to stay at the forefront of an ever-changing industry. If you notice, all new note-worthy e-commerce tools are usually launched first on Shopify e.g. Pinterest buyable pins and Instagram shopping. Both these features were first made available to Shopify shop owners in US.
Before moving over to Shopify, I was using Wordpress with Woocommerce for over 6 years. And while both of these do everything you can expect free tools to do, it's not enough if you're a single-(non-techie)-person business. It's all merry when your site is working fine but when something goes wrong, say a customer complaints that his purchase did not go through and was left with a blank page instead, you don't know who to turn to to get that fixed. But with Shopify, support is always online and since the Checkout is handled by Shopify, nothing goes wrong in the first place. This is because remember, Shopify is also making money as you get more orders so they NEED your site to function properly. Wordpress + Woocommerce have no monetary gain based on how well your website works or sells.
If you're just starting up, the Shopify Basic plan that costs $29/month + a tiny fee per transaction, is perfect for you. You can sign up for the Shopify 14-day free trial here. Also, the store set-up on Shopify is superfast and super simple compared to other platforms.
Once you've purchased your plan, the next step is choosing a theme and putting in your website text and images. You can select a theme from the Shopify Themes website or go for much more advanced feature-rich themes available on ThemeForest.
Next step is choosing the Right apps to add customer-engaging features to your shop.
FREE Apps I recommend
1. Crush Pics: This app is great at doing what its name suggests. It compresses your images losslessly and speeds up your website's loading time.
2. Instagram Shop by Snappt: This is basically for all of you that do not have the Instagram Shopping feature enabled on their accounts. This could be because you are located outside US or because your store does not qualify. Whatever the reason is, Snappt is your stop-gap arrangement make up for this feature. Snappt lets you create an 'Instashop' page on your website that shows those pictures from your Instagram feed that you choose to tag/link to a product in your store or even an external product.
3. Kit: Kit is your FREE personal Facebook and Instagram marketing assistant. It will send you daily marketing suggestions via Facebook messenger or other supported chat apps. It will create automated ads for you by selecting the best products from your shop and re-targeting your potential customers based on what products they visit. It's amazing that this app does not cost you anything to install and use. What you need to pay for are the ads that you choose to run.
4. Mailchimp: This is undoubtedly the best email marketing app on the market that has a free plan. It's got everything from Thank you emails, purchase order receipts, marketing emails, newsletters, abandoned cart emails, RSS campaigns and more. I have tried quite a few of its competitors including Omnisend, Mailerlite and Conversio but in the end I came back to Mailchimp.
5. Rivyo Products Reviews: After trying out Loox reviews, Opinew, Judge.me and many others, I decided to stick to this app because it offers all the important review app features for FREE. All others charge anywhere from $15 to $50 to let your customers post review photos, ask questions and let you have a separate 'All Reviews' page.
What this app does not do is send automatic review requests to customers however, after a few months I realized that people respond better to casually written personal review requests instead of automated emails with star ratings. So I set this up using Mailchimp instead so I could style and write these emails as I wish.
6. Push Owl: Offers free web push notifications for your website. You can upgrade to include more features like abandoned cart notifications but I have Shopify + Mailchimp already handling that. You can use push owl to send web push messages like latest arrivals, sales etc. to your audience on their desktops and mobile devices once they have subscribed to your updates.
7. Sales Pop by Beeketing: This free app shows random recent order notifications on your website to entice customers into purchasing your products by building a sense of trust and social proof.
8. Smile.io: This is the best-looking app to set up a loyalty and rewards program for your store. The Swell rewards program has equally good features but their UI design is ugly. You can use Smile.io's free plan to even create a referral program for your brand ambassadors/influencers.
Premium App I recommend
1. Rewind Backups ($10/month): This backup app is surely worth its cost. If anything goes wrong after say you install a new app, Rewind helps your store to basically time travel :) back to a time when everything was working fine so you don't face downtime due to a mistake/bad code errors.
That's it! I hope these tips will help you get your store up and running fast. Of course there's a learning curve connected with which apps will actually work for you based on your specific target audience but figuring that out can be the next step.
Share Your Store
If you already have an online store or are selling your products through Amazon or other sites, do post a link in comments below and share your store with our readers!