E-Commerce Sites: Weebly, Squarespace, Webs, & WixThis series of articles began by looking at the advantages of blogging for job hunters. Obviously, blogging is good for all kinds of people. Those who may be dealing with unemployment, underemployment, temp jobs, freelancing or the general impermanence of employment, may want to look at other options, including setting up shop on the internet. The desire might be to even out the ups and downs of temporary or freelance work or it might be a Plan B for the inability to find regular work.
Of course, you don’t have to be unemployed to create an eCommerce site. These sites could complement many small businesses, too.
In addition to being good for eCommerce, all these sites use a Drag ’n’ Drop approach to designing your web pages — something very different from the minimalist blogging tools we looked at.
The questions to ask yourself might be as simple as:
- Do I have something to market and sell?
- Is it something you can sell on the web, either by transferring a digital file or by shipping it for an online order?
- Is the potential income worth the time and effort to market it online?
- Are there tools to help make this process easier?
To help answer the 4th question, here are four reliable sites that specialize in e-commerce, but you can use them for other things, including blogging or marketing yourself to a potential employer, too.
Weebly has easy-to-use drag and drop tools for creating blogs and web sites, a good number of themes, and the ability to create e-commerce sites. The opening 90-second informational video emphasizes business website and commerce. But all these same tools are available for your blog, too, with custom tagging, topics, sidebars, comments, social sharing, widgets, embedded or uploaded video sharing, RSS and blog designs included.
Designs can include slideshows, videos, graphics, galleries, form creation and data gathering, and maps, all assembled with a drag and drop interface. If you like writing HTML, the editor gives you a live preview of your changes. You can create designs for mobile customers, too. Pro web designers can preview their site with their clients before handing it off to them and set permissions for what they can change.
Weebly’s eCommerce features include tools for digital and physical products, inventory control, shipping tools, sales tax computation for the US and Canada, and the ability of owners to control operations from mobile devices and desktop computers. You can use any of 11 languages (all the western European ones, plus Russian, Chinese, Japanese, and Turkish).
You can start Weebly for free, but upgrades are $4 / month. You can use their domain or buy or import your own. They claim 20 million sites. More importantly, the sites I viewed looked modern, clean, and visually impressive with full-screen-width slideshows and good product displays.
Reviewers rate Weebly extremely easy to use for designing a full website. If you need to create an e-commerce site quickly, and don’t want to get into the nitty-gritty of plugins and CSS, Weebly and SquareSpace may be your top choices. (Strangely, I had trouble viewing Weebly’s videos and the menus from Firefox, but Chrome worked fine. Don’t know if that was because of my configuration or not.)
Squarespace makes it easy to start a site, market your products, and comes with the commercial aspects already built in, including inventory control, shipping labels, processing orders, credit card processing and tax processing, with built-in encryption, analytics, SEO tools, and social media integration.
Professional photographers, artists, designers, illustrators and musicians can easily create commercial sites. Restaurateurs can use it for menus, reservations, events, and marketing. You can also create a site for your wedding. Oh, yeah, you can blog, too.
Squarespace offers some unique and sophisticated options, including drag-and-drop templates and analytics. You can import material from an existing WordPress, Blogger or Tumblr site, but don’t expect the same ease in exporting anywhere else.
All sites are hosted by Squarespace; hosting costs from $8 to $24/month (if paid annually) or 25% more on a month-to-month basis. There is a 14-day free trial, which would probably be the minimum time you need to get up and running. Credit card processing is through Stripe which charges 2.9% plus 30 cents per transaction.
If you want to be an entrepreneur and already have a product to sell, Squarespace might be one of the simplest ways to get up and running quickly. Expect it to be a bit less customizable than a WordPress site, but some of these sites look gorgeous! Although Squarespace might be easier than WordPress, you also may end up paying for features on Squarespace that are free on WordPress, or could be purchased with a one-time payment instead of monthly fees. However, the annual fee gets you free domain name registration and 24 / 7 customer support. There are Android and iOS apps also.
For noncommercial bloggers or struggling artists, Squarespace’s prices are not the lowest you can find, but the features here are impressive. Truth be told, word on the web is that bloggers use Squarespace and are happy with it.
Webs positions itself as a website provider for small business and nonprofits. It has lots of attractive templates for many kinds of websites, but commerce seems to be an important part of almost all of them. The themes all allow for a blog, but there are no templates specifically for blogs alone.
The video introduction shows a nice, drag-and-drop design tool for designing pages, with support for fonts, colors, background images, image galleries, SEO support, web analytics, custom domain names and email, calendars, maps, site membership, contact forms and file sharing. It supports YouTube and Vimeo videos and has social tools for Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and more. Mobile design is included with each template. Many of the templates are designed for eCommerce.
Webs offers three levels of pricing: $5.99 / month for its Starter level (without a web store); $12.99 Enhanced (up to 20 web store items), and $22.99 Pro level. All levels include a custom domain name, unlimited pages, a mobile website, and statistics. If you’re starting a web store, it’s definitely worth a look.
Wix offers web hosting solutions for personal websites but it appears to really be geared for complete and complex e-commerce sites. It offers drag and drop design to build sites without having to code. It looks like each theme supports phones and tablets through responsive design and a built-in image editor. You can use one-page and multiple-page designs.
They offer hundreds of free website themes and designs in over 75 categories. Most of the templates appear to be designed for professionals, businesses, entertainment, and commerce. There are a few designs for blogs, personal sites, family sites, wedding and engagement sites, too. For job hunters, there are Résumé and CV sites, which seem geared towards photographers, artists and creative people. All the themes are pre-populated with photos and general content to give you an idea of what you can do with the theme before you commit to it. The templates are also rated by ease of use, and most of them are free. There are also several blank websites that you can design yourself with a good knowledge of HTML.
For eCommerce, they offer inventory control, tax and shipping tools, shopping cart, credit card, PayPal, WebMoney and Skrill support, coupon control, and the ability to integrate shopping into your Facebook business page. Apparently, though, you cannot sell downloadable digital media (such as ebooks, music or videos). (No, I don’t know why.)
You can add a blog to any design, integrate Facebook comments with the blog, connect with Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, and add videos and portfolios.
You can also purchase Apps and services, including gift cards for in-store purchases, contact forms, Adsense, Dropbox, Polls, email marketing management and tracking, Live Chat, SEO control, branded Gmail sites, custom domains, invoicing, payment tracking, a hotel booking system and other management apps. You can also create a duplicate site to experiment with new ideas and designs. Wix offers 24 / 7 support (including phone support). With this level of complexity, you can get quotes from designers to help you create your site.
Pricing appears to be reasonable, but remember you may need to purchase apps, Google Apps for Business, web designer help, and probably more. The monthly fee for the most basic site (which includes ads) is $4.08 / month. There are four other plans ranging from $9.25 to $24.90 / month, which includes a free domain for one year, $350 in ad vouchers, and 2 free premium apps, which they say is a $118 value. Visit their website to see what else in included or not.
Wix appears to be a full-featured eCommerce site with great templates, drag and drop design, and lots of other features. According to PC Magazine, Wix gives you more flexibility in design than Squarespace or Weebly, which is fine if you know design, but could be a challenge if you don’t. This is probably not a place for a newbie designer or blogger, though, so check on the prices for help setting up your site and making sure it runs properly.
Higher End CMS Systems (Not for Bloggers)
Website software gurus will often mention some high end CMS’s (Content Management Systems) such as Drupal and Joomla. Like WordPress.org, these are free open-source programs that require a webhost. However, these are high end programs which are highly customizable for industrial-strength websites, particularly for business, e-commerce, reservation sites, banks, universities and the like. They also require design and programming skills. Although excellent for commercial sites, these are way too complicated for a simple blog or a home-made e-commerce site. If you have the programming chops, though, give ’em a try. You could become a Drupal or Joomla site creator as a new career.
Wait, There’s More
In our next post, we’ll present the Frugal Guidance 2 2014 Monster List of Blogging Tools, plus a reference list of recommended reading.
Soon we’ll also discuss blogging without using a blog platform, but on sites like LinkedIn, Google+, Quora, and others.
Do you use other platforms for eCommerce? Please share in the comments.