December 4, 2007
This article reprinted from the the TypePad Hacks Weblog. The original article can be found online:
© 2008, John T Unger
The Paypal Storefront Widget which launched today is pretty darn close to the blog eCommerce solution of my dreams. There's a reason for that… which is that I worked closely with the development team that created it. Back in August, shortly after I had written a post on eCommerce for Blogs I got an exciting email:
Hi John –
I am a product manager at PayPal and Sarah Sosiak of TypePad provided me with your name. She described you as a wealth of information regarding the eCommerce/ blogging space.
I’d love to discuss some ideas with you regarding the eCommerce experience you would expect within a blog. Do you think we could set up a brief meeting next week? Let me know if you would be interested in sharing your insights! Thanks.
My involvement in the project was
advisory, with a bit of testing. I suggested a list of what I felt were
the most important features as well as providing some thoughts on user
interface from the perspective of both buyers and sellers. What should
the store look like? What should it do? How easy does set-up need to
be? What could be done with the widget that either hadn't been
implemented elsewhere, or had room or improvement, or wasn't available
outside of costly full service shopping carts?
The main thing I wanted to see was a store that could be embedded
anywhere online which would be easy to set up for people who don't know
how to code and like it that way. The PayPal team totally nailed it, I
think, and although there are a few more things I'd like to see happen
with the widget I'm told that many of these will happen in the next
revision which should come out in about a month. The new store widget
provides a free, fully featured storefront which is much easier to use
than the PayPal "Buy Now" or shopping cart buttons. I gotta say, I just
love the store-building interface.
Highlights: Some of the coolest features include:
- Social Object/Sharing: Anyone who would like to embed your
store to their own page can do so with a click, thus increasing your
store's exposure. The sales still go to you, but if you build a store
that excites people they can show it off on their own site. It would be
nice to see support for affiliate programs in the future, but the easy
sharing is a great promotional tool. The popularity of social shopping
networks and widgets suggest to me that this is a feature people will use.
- The default display of the widget shows a thumbnail gallery of all the products available for purchase. Each thumbnail loads a more detailed page with a larger image where the item can be purchased. The seller can change the default to feature the currently selected product or to rotate images as a slide show. If there are more than 12 items, a scroll bar appears to take shoppers to the next set of items. If you hover over an item with the mouse, an enlarged view of the item will display.
- Unlike the old PayPal buttons which were not saved to your account, you can log in to make changes to your store without having to create the whole thing from scratch. This is a huge improvement over the old service.
- The drop down menus used to create your storefront are much easier
to use than the old form-based interface for buy now buttons.
Everything is on one page and displays selections dynamically based on
your choices. It used to drive me nuts that I had to load an additional
page if I wanted to do custom configurations for a buy now button. The
interface for building the store is not only beautiful, it's logical,
simple, easy to use and understand.
- You can create multiple PayPal storefronts… This is great for bloggers who would like to feature specific products within a blog post. I would love to see Etsy do this with their Etsy Mini widget. In a way, this could be one of the most powerful features for bloggers… Imagine embedding a store on every post that contains items relevant to what you're writing about and having total control of what's displayed! For instance, if your business is service based, you could embed a store that sells the service you're writing about as well as related services.
- The widget supports inventory control and the ability to close your
store if you are on vacation or away. Last time I went on vacation, I
sold ten firebowls while I was away… It would have been great to be
able to send an automated message telling buyers to expect a delay in
- Store policies are contained in the widget, including contact information. Since the widget is generated with Flash, your email address is safe from spambots. That's worth something right there!
- Each item you list has a "product notes" field in addition to the description of the product. This is a space where you can put important information that you want to be sure your customers see (for instance, when I send an item out via a freight carrier, they require a daytime phone number to arrange delivery).
- Buyers can add and subtract items from the cart without leaving
your site… All transactions happen within the cart on your site until
the final step of payment, which happens on Paypal's secure servers as
it did in previous products.
- Although the widget only supports sales in US dollars, I believe that PayPal will automatically convert currencies for buyers outside the US, just as it does with it other products.
Who is the Paypal Storefront Widget for?
Paypal and TypePad view the Paypal Storefront Widget as a tool for "casual sellers," people who want an easy way to embed a basic store on a blog, website or social networking site without learning how to code. I think the widget is fully featured enough that it has potential to reach a far wider audience than that… The biggest advantage to the Storefront Widget is that it provides a ton of features at no cost (other than the PayPal fee for successful sales).
I see the Paypal Storefront Widget as a way for people to quickly
test new business ideas online without having to risk much time or
capital. When I first launched my own online business, I was reluctant
to invest in
paying for a merchant account, a shopping cart, extra hosting in
addition to the blog, etc.… I wanted to know that my idea was going to
make money before I poured too much money in. And so I used PayPal
buttons, which allowed me to build the business at a low cost. Although
the old style PayPal buttons were simple HTML, there was still quite a
bit of hand-editing required to turn a blog into a store and to turn
the store into a business. If I'd had a tool like this when I started,
I could have put a lot more time into making art rather than adding it
to the blog!
Last year I wrote a post called So Who Wants Blog Stores? which tells the story of Mary, a friend of mine who I think is the perfect candidate for this kind of product. She doesn't know anything about writing code, making websites or using computers… But she does have a 50 acre farm where she grows heirloom garlic and other specialty produce which could sell much more effectively online than at local farmers markets. By blogging about what makes her produce unique, I she could reach a wide audience of "foodies" who would be willing to premium prices for "the best garlic." The local market for what she has is, by default, much smaller. The economy in the area isn't strong enough to support gourmet items and, for the most part, people just want garlic… not extra super cool garlic.
Mary is just one example of many people who, I believe, have a specialty that could find a larger and more dedicated market by combining blogs with stores. She's an expert on garlic, not code, and her investment capital might be better used on more greenhouses and irrigation than on a site that may or may not take her business to a national or international level. But if she can use a basic blog and the Paypal Storefront Widget to establish her expertise and product globally, I think it provides the basic tool set for her to make a quantum jump that will eventually pay for a more sophisticated set-up when she's grown to need it.
So, in recap, who do I think this widget will benefit?
- People who want to test new ideas in the market or grown existing businesses.
- People who need an inexpensive eCommerce solution that delivers real features.
- People who need a simple eCommerce solution with a low learning curve.
- People who want a fast eCommerce solution they can set up in minutes.
At first, I thought that I might not actually use the widget myself now that I've built a pretty sophisticated shopping cart on my blogs… But then I realized that even for people who are comfortable with writing code, this widget still offers a great solution. I'll still use E-Junkie for the items that I always keep in stock, but I think the Paypal widget is a great way for me to add one-of-a-kind items that I don't really want to hand-code product pages for. I've been using Etsy to list the unique pieces this year (and I'll keep using Etsy, 'cause they're great) but the storefront widget is an even quicker way for me to add new pieces that are listed only once.
Creating Your Storefront:
Just log in at the Paypal Storefront Widget beta site using your PayPal ID and dive in. The widget creation page provides you with a number of options grouped under drop down menu headings. These include: Themes and colors, Title and Logo, Store Policies (Shipping, Contact and Additional Info), A space to create/add new products and the ability to set the store as open or closed. You'll save some time by checking the size requirements of images and creating them in advance. I found that it was important to create the logo to the exact dimensions specified (or it may distort by trying to fill all the available space).
An Important note:
The widget requires you to be logged in as a PayPal user and may log you out if there's a period of inactivity. In order to save the work you've done setting up your widget, you must click the link at the bottom of the page which says "publish your storefront." You don't actually need to publish it right away, but that's the button that will save your work. After you've clicked that link the first time, the message will change to "Update your storefront." I suggest saving your work after each product is added.
One of the coolest things about adding products is that when you click the + icon to add a new product, it makes a copy of any existing product you have selected… This means that if you have a lot of similar products, you can save time by just editing the details rather than having to copy and paste them repeatedly. Each product has two tabs for you to enter info in: Details, and Inventory. Be sure to check that you have the correct info in each.
When you're ready to publish your storefront, just click the link at the bottom of the page and select "go to TypePad" if your blog uses basic templates, or "get the HTML" if you use advanced templates or wish to embed your store on other sites.
It's really easy, but if you have any questions feel free to drop me a line or ask them in the comments below.
Features coming in the next version will include:
- Shipping configuration based on basket amount. (currently shipping must be added to the price)
- Options support so that you can have 2 options (such as size and color) for each item and apply surcharges/ discounts to the options.
Features I would like to see added:
- Hopefully we will also see the ability to create a larger size of store which can be embedded into posts or pages. The current store widget is designed to fit within most sidebars, but I'd love to also see an option that generates a full page store similar to the layout of Amazon's aStore.
- A field where you can set mandatory information needed to complete the sale (such as a daytime phone number).
- A place where you can provide a link to more information about the product.
- Hosting for product images on PayPal's servers (or Amazon G3, or wherever). I think that some users would find it easier to add product images by uploading them rather than providing an URL for images they've uploaded elsewhere. Plus it would be quicker than bouncing between tabs when adding images.
- A "Make an offer" button that allows buyers to negotiate price with the seller (this is a feature I from eSnips that I believe would be useful for a lot of people).