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John T. Unger

Blogs as Stores: A Comprehensive Overview of Ecommerce Solutions for Bloggers

John T. Unger August 3, 2007

When I started TypePad Hacks, one of the things I most wanted was a simple way to integrate e-commerce into TypePad blogs… at the time, probably 30% of my income came from blogging.

This year, that number is more like 80% and I've grossed more in the first six months of 2007 than I made in all of 2006. So, I think it's safe to say that selling services and products with TypePad is worth talking about. Some of my income has come from custom template design and some of it has come from selling artwork. Both businesses have been quite successful, and both have reached a point where I no longer need to actively seek work in any way other than trying to post new content on my blogs whenever I have a little down time. Compared to the income I've received from advertising (perhaps $100 total in all the years I've been blogging), the money I make selling goods and services seems a much better way to monetize a blog.

I'd like to revisit the idea of blog stores today and collect together all of the research I've done on the subject into one post. I'll organize it as best I can into several different approaches. There's still nothing quite like the tools I'd like to see for TypePad, but I've had some new ideas recently that should make it much easier to build the ideal service for integrating easily customized stores into TypePad blogs. Read on in the extended post.

This is one of those research projects that really went much deeper than expected. Since there's a lot of information in this post, I'm going to break it down into sections:

  1. The Concept: Why blogstores make sense.
  2. The Ideal Blog Store: What I'd like to be able to do in TypePad.
  3. Current eCommerce Solutions for TypePad: What works, and how well.
  4. Blog/Commerce Hybrids Off TypePad: What's being done with Blog/Store Hybrids on other platforms.

Concept: Why Integrate Blogs and Stores?

Let's start with the back-story. The following links will take you to articles that cover the basic concepts of why blogs and eCommerce are a natural match.

  1. BlogCommerce by Chris Garret at Performancing:
    A quick overview of why selling product through blogs makes sense and ways to go about it.
  2. How to Sell Niche Products With Your Blog by Brian Clark for Problogger:
    A great article in which Brian analyzes exactly why the concept of the "catablog" works, based on an interview about my experiences with selling art through blogs.
  3. So Who Wants Blog Stores?:
    A post I wrote on TypePad Hacks that looks at how blog stores could change the economics and feasibility of starting a business even for relatively technophobic people who don't have a lot of experience with using the web. based on a conversation I had with one of my neighbors.
  4. More Thoughts on Blog Stores:
    A follow-up post on TypePad Hacks explaining the distinct advantages of using a blog rather than an existing storefront option such as Ebay or Yahoo Stores.
  5. An interesting discussion of Jane Siberry's “pay what you can policy” at 37Signals. The result: People wind up paying more than they would at iTunes. Handling eCommerce on your blog may offer more control of image, pricing and customer service than outsourcing it.

The Ideal Blog Store: What I'd love to do in TypePad

Shana Logic (formerly Pixelgirl Shop) is a perfect example of what I'd like to be able to do on my TypePad blogs.

When you visit the site, you're presented with a dynamic catalog of items featuring a thumbnail image, a link for more info and a price (it would be nice if there were also a buy it now button in the catalog view to support impulse shopping). The product pages include a larger image, links to alternate images, a product description, a shopping cart button and a selection of related items. You can browse the store by Price, Style or Category. It's all very easy to navigate and the experience is customer-friendly. This is exactly how an online store should feel and work… If I could combine this kind of functionality with the reach that my blog has, I'm pretty sure my sales would increase dramatically!

Shana's store is built using CartKeeper and the blog component runs on WordPress. On the blog, Shana posts news about her artists, links to recently added items and photos sent in by happy customers. Although there are often links to catalog pages in the blog, I haven't seen items for sale directly within the blog itself. I'm not sure if the store and the blog share a database, or if they're separate sites hosted within the same domain? On TypePad this isn't a real option currently, because although you can host individual pages and custom indexes, you don't have the ability to customize the database or to host most CGI scripts.

A couple other stores that serve as good examples of close integration between blogs and stores include: Design Public, Untangled Life, and Anahata Katkin's TypePad blog which is connected fairly seamlessly to a store hosted off-TypePad where she sells gorgeous art and design products

So how close to my Ideal Blog Store does TypePad come?

Most of the existing storefront solutions that can be integrated into TypePad right now are geared only for sales of affiliate items. You can embed an Amazon aStore in a TypePad Page, an individual blog post or a custom template, for example, but all you can sell are items from Amazon. Which is not a bad way to try to make a few bucks, but doesn't solve the problem of selling your own merchandise. In essence, affiliate stores are more akin to advertising as a revenue generator than they are to an actual eCommerce solution.

The way I currently implement sales on my TypePad blogs is pretty labor-intensive. In many ways it defeats the entire purpose of having an easy-to-use content management system like TypePad. My product pages are created as blog posts, but they're almost entirely hand-coded in Dreamweaver and pasted into TypePad's HTML window, rather than the WYSIWYG compose window. The reason I do that is so that I can use tables to bring in PayPal shopping cart buttons and embed product spotlight links to related items. If I want a catalog page, or links to related items, those must also be hand-coded and manually updated by editing the post or page where they appear.

Until recently, it seemed that the only way I would be able to build the kind of storefront I wanted within a TypePad blog would be to convince the design team at Six Apart to incorporate store templates into the application itself, not unlike the way that TypePad handles Photo Albums or Mixed Media Templates. I envisioned adding some extra fields to the compose page to hold code for PayPal shopping cart buttons, related product links, etc. Ideally, the Post Excerpt field could be used to generate a catalog page (like an excerpt-only archive) with the following items: Thumbnail image, Item Name, Price, links to full entry and a "buy it now" button.

Then I got a bit more Web 2.0 about the whole idea… What's exciting about programs like aStore is that they point the way to a better model for integrating stores into blogs. What if a third party developed a hosted storefront that allowed you to upload and sell your own products and then embed the store directly into your blog? The more control you had over which elements to embed, the better. If I wanted to generate a catalog by category, price, or style I would select the items and generate a bit of JavaScript to embed them in a TypePad page. If I wanted to a single product in a blog post, I would generate code for that product only and ideally be able to process the sale with the blog itself without sending customers off-site.

It turns out that there are a variety of solutions that come really close to offering this kind of functionality, the closest being E-junkie. I still have to build my catalogs by hand, and still have to edit more code more directly than I would like to, but I think we'll be seeing more and more development in this area soon.

Current Solutions for TypePad

Let's look at solutions you can use right now to sell items from your TypePad blog. I've broken the list into several sections based on what they do or how they integrate with your blog:

  1. Direct Payment Options: buy it now buttons/shopping carts that can be used on individual posts.
  2. Hosted Storefronts: Stores hosted off-site which allow you to sell your own items and/or provide a means to embed single items or catalogs of goods on your blog.
  3. Affiliate Stores: Stores hosted off-site which allow you to earn a commission on sales of items from affiliate networks and provide a means to embed single items or catalogs of goods on your blog.
  4. Social Shopping Widgets: Services which allow you to bookmark or profile items for sale and embed product links or thumbnail views on your blog.
  5. Hacking Cash: Experimental Blog/Store Hybrids in TypePad (blog stores I've built using available services and a few personalized hacks).

In the list below, each service is followed by a link to an example and a brief description of what each service offers. Many of these services can logically fit into more than one of the categories above. I've chosen to list these is the section where I feel their greatest strengths lie.

Direct Payment Options

  1. PayPal: (PayPal shopping cart example): If you're even a little bit familiar with HTML it's quite easy to embed a Buy It Now button within a post on TypePad. These can be single use buttons or can connect to a PayPal shopping cart to allow visitors to purchase multiple items with a single transaction. PayPal also offers a range of more robust eCommerce solutions, but most of these currently do not integrate with TypePad.
    • Advantages: Secure transactions and fraud protection. There is no cost unless you make a sale (see rates here). Customers do not need to have a PayPal account in order to purchase items. Basic HTML skills are all you need.
    • Drawbacks:Customers must leave your site in order to complete a transaction. Each instance of a button must be hand-coded into the HTML for a post or page. Some customers have difficulty completing transactions, (usually due to security measures or conflicts when trying to register a new account with an existing email address or credit card). Needs better shipping calculations… the flat rate or percentage of cost model doesn't work well for large items. I'm hoping to see a better integration of live shipping quote APIs from USPS, UPS, FedEx and Freightquote.com in future versions of PayPal.
  2. Google Checkout: (Google Checkout Example and tutorial) Single Buy Now buttons or shopping cart buttons from Google.
    • Advantages: Secure transactions and fraud protection. Integrates with Google AdWords. Payment processing is free through the end of 2007.
    • Drawbacks: Customers must leave your site in order to complete a transaction. Customers are required to create an account and permanently entrust their financial info to Google. Each instance of a button must be hand-coded into the HTML for a post or page. Requires more than basic HTML Skills to implement. Checkout's interface isn't as user-friendly as PayPal and provides fewer options.
  3. Amazon Flexible Payments Service (Amazon FPS): Currently in Limited Beta, FPS launched just after I first published this post. I've signed up for the beta but haven't had a chance to test it yet. I'm adding it high on the list here because it looks like such a powerful and versatile solution. Unlike PayPal or Google Checkout, FPS is aimed more at developers… there's not a simple buy now button maker to put the code together for you. With an API document over 250 pages long, it may take a bit of digging to get started, but there's also a sandbox feature where you can test your code without processing transactions. FPS supports one-time or recurring transactions, transactions limited by date, by amount, by authorized senders or recipients and can aggregate micro-payments into a single transaction to minimize the costs of payment processing. Payments can be sent or received using credit cards, bank accounts or Amazon Payments balance transfer and Amazon customers can pay using the login credentials and payment information they already have on file at Amazon. From a quick read of the documentation, it appears that FPS could be used with TypePad using JavaScript to embed the transaction code, but don't quote me on that until someone builds it. For more info on FPS, check Om Malik, the Amazon Flexible Payments FAQ, Amazon Web Services Blog, FPS Home Page, FPS Documentation, FPS Getting Started Guide.
    • Advantages: Existing Amazon customers can pay using their Amazon login. Supports many payment options, including tools for making micropayments feasible. Rule based processing gives you nearly unlimited control over how transactions are processed.
    • Drawbacks: With great power comes steep learning curves… This is not a drag and drop or cut and paste solution. You can build exactly what you want, but you have to build it.
  4. E-junkie: (E-junkie example) E-Junkie is the hands-down winner for me. The best feature is that when buyers click the buy now button, the shopping cart loads in an AJAX window within your blog. Buyers can make as many purchases as they desire without leaving the site. E-Junkie charges a (very reasonable) monthly subscription fee for the service, but take no percentage or fee for each sale. The interface is a bit more streamlined than PayPal's button generator, while offering more control and options. A single button can be configured to work with PayPal, Google Checkout, 2CheckOut, Authorize.Net and ClickBank, offering your customers more choices without adding work for you. Although E-Junkie appears to have been designed with sales of digital files in mind, it works perfectly well for tangible goods as well. The button code is "Cut + Paste" so you don't need to know any more than basic HTMl to implement it, and although the standard code comes in JavaScript, you can also choose Flash button code or plain HTML if you're planning to put the buttons on sites like MySpace that don't allow JavaScript. I could go on and on, but I'll direct you instead to their feature list.
    • Advantages: Works anywhere. Allows completion of transactions on (or more accurately, within) site. No set-up fee, no cost per transaction, just a simple monthly subscription rate based on the number of products you sell (not the number of transactions). Good customer support. Brilliant interface. Hosting for digital products included. Allows you to sell your items through affiliates and makes it easy to define the affiliate referral bonus and make payments to affiliates.
    • Drawbacks: The Flash-based button creation software requires control-clicking to select and copy code, which is a minor pain. The drop-down list for editing buttons (or getting code for them) seems like it could become pretty unwieldy once you have a long list of items for sale. Shipping rate calculations would be nice.
  5. FatFreeCart: (FatFreeCart demo) is the free version of E-junkie shopping cart. It allows you to conduct transactions using either PayPal or Google Checkout without sending customers off- site. Just get the code here and modify it to add your product details. Paste it in your website where ever you want and you're ready to roll! No registration or set up is required. The code has been certified by PayPal and Google. FatFreeCart handles shipping, handling, tax, up-to 3 option variables, 16 currencies for PayPal and 2 for Google Checkout. For more sophisticated features like: location based sales tax, vat and shipping calculation, packaging calculator, discounts, inventory management, digital delivery, price verification, affiliate management, managing buyer mailing list, central product management, promotion, accepting Authorize.Net etc. take a look at E-junkie.
    • Advantages: Free! Good design. Supports multiple payment systems.
    • Drawbacks: Fewer features than E-Junkie. Requires editing the button code manually (although that could be a bonus for people who are quick with their keyboards).
  6. RightCart: (RightCart example) RightCart is so close. Signing up for the service and creating a shopping cart couldn't be easier (check out the RightCart tutorial here). You can upload items for sale by filling in the following fields: Image, Item Name, Description, Tags, Total Price (including shipping and tax), Limited Quantity (yes/no. If yes, enter a number), Recurring (no, weekly, monthly, for subscriptions), Commission (a percentage you're willing to pay on sales if other RightCart users sell your items.), Visibility (whether the item is live). Once you've set up your store with a few items, you can add the cart to a post, page or sidebar with a snip of JavaScript. RightCart also provides code for each individual item to generate a text link, add to cart button or thumbnail image link, all of which can be used to add an item to the shopping cart.
    • Advantages: Sales take place without requiring the buyer to leave your site. You can easily set up affiliate sales of your items by paying a commission to anyone who adds them to their own RightCart store. When adding items to your store, A nifty Ajax script shows you how much you'll pay to PayPal and RightCart for each sale. Items can be Imported to your store using a CSV file.
    • Drawbacks: I'm not sure that potential buyers won't be confused by the widget as shopping cart idea… When you add an item to the cart, the page jumps to display the RightCart widget at the top of the page but because it's way off to the side, it isn't necessarily obvious that the cart is the place to look. The RightCart widget for sidebars displays a HUGE self promo banner which pretty much requires you to put it at the very top of your sidebar if you want to display catalog items above the fold. There is no design control for the cart widget and it displays only three items. It would be nice if shipping and tax were controlled and displayed separately from the item price. Also, RightCart seems to have rebranded themselves as "Garage Sale" since I first found them. This is an unfortunate name if you're selling anything high end… People associate garage sales with cheap and I think that a lot of reasonably priced items would sell poorly when labeled garage sale.
  7. PayLoadz: (PayLoadz Store example) PayLoadz looks like a great solution for selling downloadable, intangible goods. Choose from a flat-monthly fee account, or a percentage of sales account. A free account allows you to sell $100 USD worth of files per month. Setting up an account takes only seconds, and the interface for creating buttons, uploading files and getting the code for your button is fast, simple and well designed. Check out PayLoadz pricing levels here.
    • Advantages: Reasonable pricing, easy to use, provides code that should work in most settings, allows you to sell your items in the PayLoadz marketplace as well as your own store, provides support for affiliate sales of your goods.
    • Drawbacks: Only for sales of downloadable goods. Requires buyers to leave your site to complete a transaction.
  8. TypePad Tip Jar: (Tip Jar Example) Tip Jar allows you to solicit donations on your weblog.
    • Advantages: Setup is simple and takes only a few moments. Works on blogs using basic templates.
    • Drawbacks: Requires TypePad Pro membership. Does not work with Mixed Media Templates or Advanced Templates. Can only be configured to charge one price which must be above $2.00 USD. There's no way to configure multiple instances of the Tip Jar as a means of completing transactions for specific items.

Hosted Storefront Solutions

  1. Etsy: (Etsy shop example)(embedded Etsy shop on TypePad) Etsy is a marketplace for handmade art and crafts. Etsy sellers can create a free shop and list individual items for a 20 cent insertion fee plus a 3.5% sales fee when items are sold. The sales fee is in addition to any fees charged by PayPal (the recommended payment option) or other payment facilitators. The interface for creating listings is clear and straightforward, though I would like to upload photos first (so I can remember which item I'm writing about) and would like to be able to add tags in one field rather than adding them one at a time and saving each. Etsy makes it easy to embed items into a blog or website from your store or favorite sellers using JavaScript or Flash but only displays items in the order listed.
    • Advantages: Easy and affordable option for creating an online store that can be embedded on a blog. A growing marketplace with a vibrant user community that promotes each other's work online and in the "real world." Etsy listens very closely to it's users and continues to add features, refine the experience for both sellers and buyers and actively promote the site offline.
    • Drawbacks: The embedded store feature (called Etsy Mini) only displays the most recent items added to your store— although you can create multiple instances with different settings for rows and columns (say a full page version and a sidebar version) you have no control over which items are shown or which order they're shown in. To make Etsy Mini really useful, I'd like to be able to organize items by category, or order them with a drag and drop interface like the one at PrestoGifto. I'd also like to be able to create an Etsy Mini that does not update automatically to the newest items… Say I want to blog about a specific item or collection of items and include links using Etsy Mini… days later, the links may display completely different work if I've added new items). Another thing that would be nice to have in Etsy Mini is Buy Now buttons that allow readers to buy within my blog without having to go to Etsy.
  2. PrestoGifto: (PrestoGifto example) PrestoGifto allows you to create an inline store to sell CafePress merchandise. You can use it to promote your own CafePress items or earn affiliate commissions by selling items from other CafePress merchants. A brilliantly executed Ajax drag and drop interface makes organizing the items in your store a snap.
    • Advantages: PrestoGifto wins hands-down for the best user interface I've ever seen for creating inline stores! Easy to set up, creates a storefront that looks better than the CafePress store it draws items from, can be configured for full page display or for display in the sidebar (you can see both on the example page). Displays additional information about products without leaving your blog. I've found that my sales of CafePress items increased exponentially after putting the PrestoGifto store and sidebar widget on my blogs.
    • Drawbacks: Only displays CafePress items, customers must leave your site to complete transactions, can slow pageloads to a crawl.
  3. eSnips: (eSnips Marketplace example) (eSnips widget example) eSnips is a social sharing site focused on creating communities around shared content. Accounts are free and provide 5GB of space where you can upload and share any media type. One of the community features at eSnips is the Marketplace, where you can list items for sale under the categories of Art, Crafts, Fashion,  Music, and Gifts. eSnips simplifies the process of adding PayPal buttons to items you want to sell and has a host of features that make selling on eSnips easy. Although you can create widgets to display an image of your items for sale with a link back to your eSnips page, the widgets are much less advanced than the display options available on the eSnips site itself and suffer from overly heavy branding (Note to eSnips: if you require transactions to happen on your site, you really don't need the logo on mine! It's only one click before my readers will see it.) One of the cooler eCommerce features on eSnips is the "make an offer" link on items for sale which allows you to send a private message to the seller to see if they'll consider a lower price.
    • Advantages: Easy set up, free, supports many file types. I really like the "make an offer" feature that is displayed in the catalog view of items on the eSnips site.
    • Drawbacks: If eSnips provided a widget that contained the info displayed in the list view of users folder (thumbnail, price, buy it now button, make an offer, link and summary), I'd be on it in a heartbeat. It would also be nice to be able to embed a catalog of all (or some) of the items from an eSnips folder on other sites.
  4. CafePress: (CafePress example) CafePress is a hosted storefront solution that allows you to create and sell a variety of customizable products with zero upfront costs. There are both free and paid plans for opening a store, and you make money by adding your choice of mark-up to the base price for items you sell. In addition to tee shirts and swag, you can use CafePress to offer print-on-demand books, Audio and Data CDs. What's great about the service is that once you upload your designs and make them available, you don't have to worry about production, billing, shipping etc. At the end of the month, you get a check if you've earned above the minimum payout.
    • Advantages: Easy, no-risk way to promote your ideas and products and earn some cash. You can use PrestoGifto to import items from your CafePress store into a page, post or sidebar on your Typepad Blog.
    • Drawbacks: CafePress items generally don't sell themselves… you need to put significant time and energy into promotion to make CafePress earn much. Shop layout interface could be easier. A monthly fee is charged if you require full design control for your store.
  5. Zazzle: (Zazzle example) Zazzle is an on-demand manufacturer/marketplace that enables you to customize apparel, posters, cards, stamps and other products with your own designs. Once you upload designs, Zazzle handles the processing, production, shipping, and support on every purchase. You can extensively customize your store, and unlike CafePress, there's no charge for full design control. The commission structure is also different in that prices are set by item and you recieve a percentage of each sale rather than setting your own prices. In many ways, this is a better system, but it also limits the return on your sales. The interface is easy to work with but I got somewhat frustrated by the fact that all the designs I uploaded required a lengthy confirmation process (several days) to insure they weren't violating anyone's copyright. Although I know this is done by real humans, I'm deeply skeptical as to how the research is done (since there's no good way to search for copyrighted material unless you're looking for specific items). If you're using basic templates on your blog, you can add the Zazzle.com zPanel TypePad Widget to your blog to promote your designs and earn up to 17% of sales.
    • Advantages: Full design control of your store, no fees, broad range of products, support for TypePad Widget.
    • Drawbacks: Commission structure is set by Zazzle rather than the designer, lengthy copyright approval may be an issue.
  6. Lulu: (Lulu example) Lulu is a print-on-demand service that allows you to publish and sell printed books, ebooks, music and data downloads, digital images, CDs, DVDs and printed artwork. There's no cost to sign up and start publishing. Just upload a project and set the royalty you wish to receive (above the base price of production) and Lulu takes care of the rest. Lulu handles all transactions, order tracking and shipping. Each member has their own storefront on Lulu and can choose from existing templates or can customize their store with limited HTML. Lulu will arrange distribution of your items through Amazon, Borders, Barnes and Noble for a fee. I'm not aware of any widgets or embedded store scripts for Lulu stores as yet, but you can certainly hand-code links to books and other items in a notes style TypeList.
    • Advantages: Simple interface, affordable publishing, quality products. Conversion of your manuscript or files to finished product takes place on the server, rather than having to upload files in a ready-to-print finished design.
    • Drawbacks: Lulu has several ways to browse and search for products on their site, but it would be nice if there were a simpler way to navigate to stores by individual authors. I had a hard time finding an individual store to feature as an example.
  7. blurb: (blurb example) Blurb is a print-on-demand service specializing in printed books only. They provide a free software download called BookSmart™ for both Macs and PCs that makes creating your book simple. The software contains a number of pre-existing templates which you can use as-is or modify. Each book project walks you through the stages of creating your book in a logical order. At any time, you can jump back or ahead and edit the work you've done so far. When you're ready to publish the book, the software performs a check to make sure your images are suitable for printing and allows you to upload the book. One significant downside to Blurb is that you must order at least one book yourself within the first two weeks of uploading it or it will be removed from the servers and you will have to upload it again. Each author has their own store on Blurb's site as well as being able to sell their books in the Blurb Bookstore. You can use Blurb’s Book Preview to give prospective buyers a look at the first 15 pages of your book in a view-only PDF file.
    • Advantages: BookSmart™ makes it easy to create a great looking book optimized to work with Blurb's publishing process.
    • Drawbacks: Although you can create books to sell as a product from your Blurb storefront, in order for them to remain available there must be at least one purchase within the first two weeks. After one copy has been ordered, the book will remain in My Books for one year. The books are not inexpensive, but on the other hand, they're quite nicely made.
  8. ProStores: (Prostores TypePad Widget) Prostores is a full-featured eCommerce solution from eBay that allows you to build hosted stores. The stores themselves can't currently be imported into your TypePad blog, but you can use the TypePad ProStores Widget to allow your readers to search for items within your off-blog store. ProStores is expensive compared to some of the other solutions documented here, but fees are comparable to Yahoo! Stores or PayPal's more high end solutions. The TypePad ProStores Widget doesn't do much though… It allows you to put a search field in your sidebar that will return results from your off-site ProStore. I don't think people commonly shop by search field… Sure, they'll use Google to track down deals or stores, but when it comes to actual shopping, they want to view something more like a catalog. A better widget would display the top sellers in your Prostore, or the most recently purchased items, or a group of items you select and do it in a thumbnail view with buy it now buttons and a link for more info.
    • Advantages: Easy to set up for Basic Template blogs.
    • Drawbacks: Extremely limited functionality.
  9. 1shoppingcart: (1shoppingcart demos) 1shoppingcart is a fully featured hosted storefront and shopping cart that allows you to create buy now links which can be used on blogs or other websites to drive traffic to your 1shoppingcart store. I didn't test this out for two reasons… the first is that the service strikes me as pretty expensive (comparable to Yahoo! Stores, eBay stores or PayPal's Merchant solutions). There's a discounted trial period but no free trial. The second serious drawback I see is that the integration with your blog uses only text links to drive commerce off-site. If 1shoppingcart provided buy now buttons that enabled purchase on my blog, I would consider their pricing pretty reasonable and the service to be useful. As it is, the service is probably priced at a reasonable rate for those looking to build a stand-alone store, but doesn't really qualifyas a solution to building inline stores for blogs. I was also a bit put off by the difficulty in finding extended help prior to purchase… I spent quite a long while trying to find a clear answer to integration questions, but it seemed like the knowledge base was only open to existing subscribers.
    • Advantages: All the features you would expect from a full service, stand-alone shopping cart/storefront solution.
    • Drawbacks: Integration with blogs is minimal. Expensive.

Affiliate Stores

  1. Amazon aStore: (Amazon aStore demo and review) An inline store you can display within your blog which allows you to sell any items you choose from Amazon. An aStore is remarkably easy to set up and can be installed anywhere on your blog with a simple snip of code. 
    • Advantages: Easy to set up, no cost to the (re-)seller, can be configured to match your blog's design, can be a useful way to earn a commission by pointing readers to products that fit your blog's community. Transactions can be completed without leaving your site.
    • Drawbacks: Only products from Amazon can be displayed, stores are a fixed width which may not work well within your page layout. Uses iframes, which may not work with all browsers.
  2. PopShops: (popshops demo for TypePad) Brought to you by the same team as PrestoGifto, PopShops is the first and only searchable collection of affiliate products (over 10 million and growing) spanning all of the major networks. Use their Ajax interface to search products and create customized storefronts to earn sales commissions on your blog. Stores can be embedded easily with JavaScript snippets or one-click Typepad widgets. Your affiliate ID is automatically embedded into links and prices and product information are dynamically updated. PopShops Basic is free, or you can sign up for paid plans if you plan to create more than 10 stores. Either way, you keep 100% of the affiliate commissions you earn.
    • Advantages: Simple set-up, can be configured for full page display or for display in the sidebar, design wizard and saved styles make it easy to match your blog's design.
    • Drawbacks: Only creates stores for affiliate items… you can't (currently) add your own items to a store.
  3. Bravisa: (Bravisa Example) Bravisa allows you to create a hosted storefront where you can choose from a wide variety of wholesale products and set your own markup (average markups are displayed on each item's page). Some products can be customized (not unlike CafePress, although I don't think CafePress has pool tables). The store itself can't currently be embedded on a blog or external website (unless I'm missing something) but you can embed individual products in a post on your blog and drive sales to your store that way. Set up is fast and easy, and the interface is very intuitive. I created the store in the example in less than five minutes.
    • Advantages: Fairly high markup on items, easy to use, intuitive, customization of some products.
    • Drawbacks: Only provides code to embed individual items, small number of vendors and items, diverse catalog makes it difficult to create a store which is both full and makes sense as a collection.
  4. Zlio: (Zlio Example) Darren Rouse at Problogger gives Zlio pretty high marks as an easy-to-use affiliate store builder. I was a little less impressed, myself… when I searched for specific authors and titles to add to my store I was unable to find any of the items I was looking for. So I decided to browse the catalog, which displays only 6 items at a time (hardly efficient for a catalog of "millions of items." You can sort by product type and genre though, so I went with DVDs > Action. The Art Of Shaving Ingrown Hair Kit was one of the first items to come up under action flicks, which is hysterically funny, but not really very useful, eh? Aside from the difficulty of finding the right content, Zlio does seem pretty easy to use. With better internal search, I think they'd have something. For a full listing of Zlio's advantages, see Darren's review.
    • Advantages: Easy to set up an account and get started. Easy to implement.
    • Drawbacks: Limited items available. Poor search features.

Social Shopping Widgets

The following are social bookmarking sites organized around shopping. You can pick products from anywhere on the web and create widgets that link to pages where the item can be purchased. This is potentially a great way to market your work, but it also has the advantage of being an easy way to create catalogs of items to embed on your blog. Each site handles links a bit differently, but all the sites listed below have either a Firefox extension, a JavaScript bookmarklet, or both to help you add items to your lists quickly and painlessly. In addition, each has some form of community building or networking built in to allow you to connect with other members of the community who may share your interests and goals.

I've created a Social Shopping Widgets TypePad Page here with further information and widget examples for all the services below. The Example page also goes into more depth on pros and cons for each service.

  1. ThisNext: This Next is a social sharing site organized around product recommendations. You can use it to earn automatic affiliate commissions by adding your affiliate IDs to your profile, or use it to create catalogs of items you sell on your own blog. Items can be configured to display in the sidebar, an individual post, or a TypePad Page and there's a great deal of control over how much of the information is displayed. I like the word they coined for their service, "shopcasting." ThisNext has a lot of potential for building product catalogs if you have a small number of items.
  2. Wists: Wists creates a variety of cool Flash-based widgets that you can embed pretty much anywhere. There are six animated slideshows and two thumbnail gallery designs to choose from. The widgets are well-designed and eye-catching, but there's no control over which items in your list are displayed. On the other hand, it's an easy, cut + paste solution.
  3. Stylehive: StyleHive provides badges in Flash or JavaScript as well as a TypePad widget for TypePad bloggers using Basic Templates. StyleHive badges show a rotating stream of images from your bookmarks. You can choose whether to display all items in your collection or limit the display to specific tags. The widgets have limited design controls.
  4. StyleFeeder: StyleFeeder has a sophisticated widget editor coupled with a simple and straightforward bookmarking service. Items in your feed display an image, an optional description and a link. Their bookmarklet tool is much quicker than most bookmarking services: just select an image and then optionally write a caption/review. I was able to set up an account, join a half dozen groups and post a bunch of items to both my feed and the feeds for the groups (optional on a group by group basis) in just moments. Widgets are provided in HTML, Flash or can be added to Basic Template TypePad blogs using the StyleFeeder Typepad Widget.
  5. Kaboodle: Kaboodle provides a pretty sophisticated flash widget that displays your items as a slideshow, but it's much too large to be practical for a sidebar, header or footer. There are no configuration controls, just cut and paste code. Probably not practical for building a catalog, but it might be useful for embedding a collection of photos that show different views of an item with links to further information.

Hacking Cash: Experimental Blog/Store Hybrids in TypePad

None of these examples quite do what I would like in terms of functionality, and they definitely involve far too much outside HTML editing. On the other hand, they do work. You can buy stuff from them. And I'd be perfectly happy if you did.

  1. Blog / PayPal Combo: This is the simplest to way to integrate sales into your blog. My ArtBuzz blog updates when I have new work to sell, and I use PayPal shopping cart buttons to make it work. The good thing about this format is that you can use categories to help people find exactly what they're looking for. The down side, is that there's no way to automatically generate thumbnail images that link to extended entries. In the course of writing this article, I found E-junkie and updated my most popular items to use their shopping cart. Older entries, and one of a kind work is still using the regular PayPal shopping cart and I'll probably leave it that way for now.
    • Advantages: Relatively simple set up. I use a pre-made template for posts which I edit in DreamWeaver and then post to the HTML view window of the compose tab. I prefer to use tables to separate the shopping buttons from the content, but you could also use divs or just put the button code inside paragraph tags below an item.
    • Drawbacks: If you're selling unique items, you'll need to go back in and edit pages when they sell. It can get a bit messy dealing with the button code if you don't have a standard HTML template to control where it goes on the page.
  2. TypePad Photo Album / PayPal Combo: Here I used a TypePad Photo Album to create product pages with descriptions and PayPal buttons. I've done two examples of this style: one for sculpture and one for custom furniture. These are nice because they're very easy to edit and upload to. On the other hand, there's no support for categories and so you'll need to do a separate photoblog for each kind of item you want to sell. Also, the design and navigation options are quite limited on photoblogs. You can't upload a custom banner image the way you can for blogs, which means that you won't be able to match the style and design used on your blog. TypePad Photo Albums were obviously never intended for this kind of application— but in some ways, the interface is much better suited to a store front idea: you get a thumbnail image, a full image, a title and a field where you can paste the HTML for your description and Shopping Cart code.
    • Advantages: Easy set-up. Multiple photo uploads streamlines posting items. Can be used to create thumbnail images for a catalog display.
    • Drawbacks: Lack of design options for Photo Album pages. No graphic banners. Will not match the design of your main weblog.
  3. Blog / TypePad Photo Album / PayPal Hybrid: I copied the thumbnails from the two previous photo albums and pasted them into a standard blog entry. Then I copied the HTML re-organized it in Dreamweaver so that it formed a nice grid with buy it now buttons, and brought it back into a blog. The upside? I can use tags and categories. I can put together thumbnail galleries of each kind of product that link to longer descriptions in the photo album. I can collect all my products in an easy-to-use format. Downside? It still doesn't generate custom galleries based on categories… So if you were looking for something that fit multiple categories I would either have to hand enter it into each table, or you would have to know which category it's most likely to be in.
    • Advantages: Combines the ease of building product pages in Photo Albums with the design control of Blogs.
    • Drawbacks: Still labor intensive, still shows the full entry in the un-branded Photo Album, still sends customers off-site to complete the sale (Unless you're using E-Junkie's buttons).
  4. Live Category-Based Catalog Hack: This is a stone cold template hack that generates a category-based catalog from TypePad blog posts, with the following items: Thumbnail image, Item Name, Price, links to full entry and a "buy it now" button. Yeah, like exactly what I want, right? Well, almost.

    Here's how I built it: First, I created all the content I wanted to display in the catalog by hand and pasted it into the "excerpt" field of each post. Then I created a custom template that displays only the post excerpts and organizes them by category. The sample code is available here as a .txt file if you'd like to view it and try modifications on your own (Note: Code provided as-is. This hack is totally unsupported by TypePad or myself! If you try it out, you're on your own, but I'd appreciate hearing back from anyone who tests or modifies it). Walt Dickinson provided the CSS which controls the layout of the images.
    • Advantages: Great catalog generator which will constantly update with new posts and requires no hands-on maintenance.
    • Drawbacks: The template creates a thumbnail for every post in a category whether there's content in the excerpt field or not (which is why you see blank areas in the example page). Also, posts are organized by date, which may not be the most relevant method to sort items. I guess you could change the date of a post in order to feature it higher in the list, but I'm not sure if that would affect the permalink and possibly break in-bound links. I also found that the page has a tendency to crash if too many categories are added (I think that may happen as a result of posts that have multiple categories, but I'm not sure). At this point, I'd say this is a pretty interesting example of TypePad hacking, but not a truly viable solution. Besides… After I went through all the trouble of hand-coding all the excerpts, it occured to me that I could just as well have pasted all that HTML into an individual post or page and created the catalog by hand, ordering items just as I wanted… but the template does have the advantage of updating itself without manual intervention once it's set up.

Blog/Commerce Hybrids Off TypePad:

Here's a few quick links to examples of blog/commerce hybrids happening on other platforms:

  1. eBay Blogs: eBay added a blogging feature to their site about a year ago. eBay bloggers can choose from pre-defined templates or can customize the look of their blog with CSS. Posts can be organized with Tags. EBay blogs allow posting entries using a rich text editor or by editing the HTML code directly. I haven't tried this out since I rarely use eBay… anyone who wants to relate their experiences with eBay blogs in the comments would earn my gratitude!
  2. Shopify: (Shopify example) Shopify is free to use and charges a 3% commission on successful sales, reduced to 2% commission if you sell over $10,000 in a month (New pricing model posted here). If you use PayPal with Shopify, you'll also need to give PayPal a commission on sales. If you want to be able to accept credit cards without PayPal, you'll have to set up a merchant account with an additional service to do that. Shopify provides a visual editor called Vision for customizing your shop's theme, which requires Ruby on Rails to run. I played with Shopify a bunch when they first launched, but never quite got off the ground with it… mostly because my CSS chops were pretty non-existant back then. I'm planning to check it out again in the near future.
  3. terapad: terapad is a web 2.0 Swiss army knife… A free service that provides blog tools, "a PayPal-ready Store" Image Gallery, Forums, Event Calendar, and more. Although the service looks promising in a lot of ways, I was unable to connect my PayPal account to the store (required for selling or posting items for sale) and abandoned the process after a few futile hours. Although the site navigation interface is pretty intuitive, I found myself a bit frustrated with the overall experience of creating or uploading content. When I searched the site for actual users who had created stores I was only able to find one, and they had given up on direct PayPal integration also so it could be that this feature is broken.
  4. BlogCommerce HOW TO: Adding Ecommerce To Your Blog by Chris Garret at Performancing:
    An overview of several plugins available for WordPress and Drupal.

I've tried to cover all the currently available eCommerce options for TypePad in the course of this article. If there's something I missed, please let me know in a comment or email.

More Like This: Agenda Updates , Blog Tools , Reference , Reviews , TypePad Stores , Web 2.0 , Widgets

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Comments

BBG says:

Shopify just changed their pricing.

john t unger says:

Thanks, Gavin!

I knew I'd miss something in the proofreading. Good catch.

Neil Hinrichsen says:

Thank you for this incredibly informative post - much appreciated!

Balaji Sundararajan says:

Hi John,

Thanks for your insightful review of Bravisa. I am with the company and wanted to let you know that we will be rolling out significant enhancements to the Bravisa site in the next couple of weeks. Some of the features include:

• Store level widgets, ability to embed your bStore in other sites, contextual product widgets that are keywords based so that the products served to your blog are relevant to the blog content.
• Ability to bulk add products to your bStore (by category as well as search based) and automatically set price markups.
• 2.5 x more products for you to promote through your bStore. Bravisa qualifies and works directly with the manufactures so that you get wholesale prices and assurance of product quality and on-time delivery. The product list is driven by the bStore owners’ needs. Let us know if you have any products in mind and we’ll try our best to get them.

If you like I can notify you when we do the roll out. I would also appreciate any other feedback you may have on Bravisa. Our goal is to give bStore owners the same infrastructure, products, and service that world class retailers have and we are open to new ideas and suggestions.

Thanks!

-Balaji.

John Dodds says:

Wouldn't changing your blog into a store risk irrevocably changing the nature of the interaction you have with your audience? The very lack of monetisation of blogs is I think a considerable element of their appeal and I believe people relate better to the artist than they do to the shopkeeper.

Ben Rowe says:

This is a great post. It's amazing - I was looking for a post like this, and it turned up (via Seth Godin). Thanks for all the insights

Tanaka says:

Very good overview of blog commerce! Just last week we conduced a study on that subject, I wish you had posted then :)

Just to add a thing, check out boo-box's website for more info about our social shopping widget.

Thank you

Tanaka
CEO
www.boo-box.com

Nofie says:

Thanks for sharing. This is a wonderful post. I've bookmarked your site.

Brian Clark says:

Incredible post, John. I still have a series in me on "catablog" copy. :)

Rajesh Shakya says:

Wow, great article.
Very comprehensive and useful for bloggers.

Great Job!

Rajesh Shakya
http://www.rajeshshakya.com
Helping technopreneurs to excel and lead their life!

Greg Rollett says:

Great post with a lot of good resources. I've been in with Clickbank products for a while but I think its time I started getting into Amazon. They offer a better product selection, even though the commissions are lower. Either way, great post for all of us trying to make more than Adsense pennies blogging!

Joe Smith says:

I have to dig a lot more into this -- thanks for putting this together -- but I'm not sure I understand what you've done with your ArtBuzz site. Why is this organized as a blog? I'm not sure what advantage there is. You have a site that essentially sells catalog items. Why not just use a catalog/shopping cart metaphor and software? I have some concept of what you are trying to do with the site and STILL it took me a while to figure out how the site works.

On the other hand, if someone was running an information or how-to blog and wanted to sell items (from their own inventory or via an affiliate relationship) at the end of an informational post, that I could understand.

Am I making sense? Am I missing something?

Respectfully,

Joe S.

Joe Smith says:

Upon further review..... ; >

I think my question still stands, but I have a bit more understanding.

I *think* what you are shooting for is combining the *reach* of your blog with the simple *e-commerce capabilities* of a store. Is this right? Can you explain further how this works for you or how you envision it.

The store examples you give seem to start with the STORE as the "container" with the blog excerpted into or running within the store environment.

I'm still trying to understand, given what you are selling, why you would go the other way and try to drive a store into a blog container -- essentially hacking up Type Pad to create a store-like experience.

Again, very respectively and eager to understand.

Joe

Gregory says:

Wow. One page containing a real breadth of information. In working on the idea of FREE, I have noticed there is no FREE. FREE TRIAL, or Free to sell someone else's products.

What we tried to do at Fastcommerce, though admittedly we are just starting out, is to offer a complete system that is free for the first 250 products. We would like to get ecommerce to the point where it is a utility, as easy to use as Yahoo email. Our templates need to be better, but they will be.

Laura says:

Hey, I did something right before reading about it in a blog! I've had my astore up and running on my blog for quite some time now (since about the time it was available to use), and it's been very successful. I just have a little "Storefront" widget on the side column that highlights products related to what I talk about in my site. I've actually had people thank me for making it so easy to find the item they just learned would make their lives easier in my post. (My blog is along the lines of "how to" info.)

I'm not as tech saavy as many bloggers out there, and I've found this program exceedingly easy to use. It's so effective I've been considering ditching all other forms of advertising on my site... the store is simply producing better gain with less effort.

The big down side with amazon that I've encountered is that they don't have all the products I'd like to offer. Thanks for providing info on other programs. Perhaps one of them will over some of the other products I'm hoping to have available.

The other issue I've had is that the pics they have of products don't always show up in the "storefront" widget, even when they are present for the product. It's a little frustrating to see "Image not available."

Laura

john t unger says:

Balaji,

Thanks for dropping by and providing the update about new features for Bravisa. I'm definitely interested in hearing more and will contact you directly.

Tanaka,

BooBox looks interesting. I'll add it to the widget/social shopping page in a later revision.

john t unger says:

John Dodds,

Your question definitely has merit, but at the same time, I think it proceeds from some common misconceptions… (the starving artist, etc.) you wrote:

Wouldn't changing your blog into a store risk irrevocably changing the nature of the interaction you have with your audience? The very lack of monetization of blogs is I think a considerable element of their appeal and I believe people relate better to the artist than they do to the shopkeeper.

I've used blogs to promote my artwork for a long time, and to offer it for sale. What I didn't have was a good way to make it easy for readers to find what they were looking for… Categories work pretty well in a general sense, but because they're organized by date they aren't always the best way to show a series of products (or art) in the most natural order.

My goal isn't to "change my blog into a store" as much as it is to add a store to my blog. Most visitors come to me through search and are actively looking for artwork to buy or someone who can create custom work for their project. They're like most internet users… Although they may be interested to learn more about me, they don't want to have to dig through a lot of content that doesn't match their interests. They want a clear navigation system. So it's not just about benefiting the seller. It's about making it easy for the shopper too!

Seth Godin writes about "turning strangers into friends and turning friends into customers." I've found that for me, it works a little differently. I generally turn strangers into customers who then become good friends… and in many ways, I think that's a better progression. A huge number of the people who've bought my work become not just return customers, but people who I can gladly share a beer with. I like them as people, and even when there's only a single transaction, we often stay in touch. I think the easiest way to sum it up is this: I like making my art, they enjoy the art I make, and that points to other things we may have in common.

So my goal is to present the human side, and some personal information, while also being professional, reliable and easy to deal with. You're right that people respond well to the artist mystique up to a point… but when considering a purchase that can easily run into thousands of dollars, they also want to know that they're not dealing with a flake.

john t unger says:

Joe Smith,

Some of your questions are answered in my replay to John Dodds' comment… but I can also go into a bit of detail for you on "why use a blog for sales."

Part of it is that the blog has evolved a good deal since I first started it. Originally ArtBuzz was conceived as an affiliate marketing tool that would keep my existing customers up to date on new work and reward them for any sales that came about as a result of them telling their friends about the work. That model failed, I think because people were worried that if they got a percentage of the sale as a result of making a recommendation they would be in some way "dirtying" the friendship. I had viewed it differently (in a way that might work better now that web 2.0 has promoted the idea of social bookmarking, etc)… I figured that since I often pay as much as 50% to a gallery when I sell through them, I'd rather reward friends and customers who were able to sell work through their social network, which would only happen anyway if the friend they forwarded a post to actually liked and wanted the work in question.

Anyway, I moved away from that model and eventually set up ArtBuzz to be an easy way for me to post the work that currently available. TypePad makes that much easier than standard websites because of both the content management tools and the reach that brings more traffic to a blog.

I've found that the blog has all kinds of other tangential benefits as well. I meet a lot of cool people, get to partner on interesting projects, have the opportunity to freely give back to the community by offering free tutorials and such, and, because the blogs have established me as somewhat of an authority on some topics I also get a fair bit of press and so on. The social angle is every bit as important to me as the commercial, but without the income streams from my blog I would never be able to devote as much time as I do to the not-for-profit activities that I also enjoy.

A good example of how this all really comes together is the new Hacks for Hire section of this site: Not everyone who reads my tutorials here has the time or inclination to try them out for themselves. Some just want answers and some just want things done, done right and done now. By making it easy to buy a hack instead of doing it themselves I provide a service and also make enough money to support doing the free tutorials and reviews. It all goes together rather well.

Selling through a blog also seems to take better advantage of the social sharing aspect of the web. People are far more likely to post a link to a blog, or sign up to an RSS feed for a blog, than they are when presented with a traditional store.

john t unger says:

Laura,

It sounds like you totally get it!

Rock on!

john t unger says:

Gregory,

Thanks for the comment! I'll give Fastcommerce a look.

I think your "first 250 sales free" model is interesting. One of the things I was most looking for in the early days was a way to start a store without risking a lot of capital… Often when you first launch a product or a line of products, you have no idea whether it will take off.

In my case, now that I know that my work is selling, I don't mind incurring some expense to make it happen… but in the early days, even the cost of offering work on eBay (with enough of the "extras" to get it seen) was prohibitive for some items.

Robin K says:

John,

That's quite a research! One minor correction, E-junkie does have a USPS shipping calculator.

Brion says:

Great post. This is one of the best articles I've read about the subject.

By the way, I found your article by way of Seth Godin.

jgrichards says:

Excellent information - and impressive. Thanks!

Michael says:

This is a great post. Found it via Seth Godins blog when cataching up on my RSS digest. Great ideas. Just have to work out which of these I can use in the UK.

Christina says:

Rightcart is cool but annoying. Cartfly is much easier. Thanks for the rest of the tips though.

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