« BlogWorld Expo | Main | Guest Post on Everything TypePad »

John T. Unger

The Paypal Storefront Widget, The fastest, easiest eCommerce solution for blogs

John T. Unger December 4, 2007

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.

Judy Chang

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.

The  Paypal Storefront Widget can be added to TypePad with a single click form TypePad's Widget Gallery if you're using basic templates, but importantly it can also be embedded by pasting a snip of code, making it available to users with advanced templates as well. Because the widget is created in Flash it can also be embedded on sites that don't allow JavaScript such as MySpace. If you're looking for an easy way to monetize your blog or to sell goods and services online, this is one of the best options I've seen yet.

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 shipping.
  • 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).

Read more about the widget at the PayPal Blog or TechCrunch.

More Like This: Advanced Templates , Basic Templates , Blog Tools , News , Reviews , TypePad Stores , Web 2.0 , Widgets

Tags: , , , , ,


Kat says:

Great Review!

I'd like to see the PayPal Widget useful for those who sell digital downloads and services as well. Was there any talks of offering this in the near future?

john t unger says:

Thanks Kat!

I think you could sell digital items now with the PayPal widget, BUT, they're not currently hosting digital files for sale. If you wanted to sell digital items and provide them either by email or by providing a password to a protected download link online you could do that.

If you want to sell digital goods that are hosted, I would suggest E-junkie.

-=MT=- says:

I'll prob be flamed for this here. :) But...

Has anyone been able to get the storefront to work with Blogger? I am having difficulty in getting the widget to work. I've been very successful in breaking it though.

Jessica Grieves says:

Thanks for posting this review! I just set-up my storefront to sell gift certificates for my photography business and it was super easy. I'm looking forward to some of the enhancements you mentioned especially options so the visitor could choose to have their gift certificate mailed or emailed!

Melodee says:

Mr. Unger!
Frist I want to say how awesome this is...thank you for all work in this!

I have one problem adding a second product and getting the description to change...it keeps posting the same as my first item...any advice?

Warm regards,
Melodee Langworthy

Evie says:

I love the idea of the storefront - but I can't get an image uploaded because the arrow does nothing. Am I missing something?


Steve says:

I have the same problem, Im unable to upload any images....arg! Im sure it must be an easy fix, but I cant figure it out for the life of me....

Jared says:

I enjoyed the review.

I personally would like to see some viral bookmark and widget analytic tools implemented. Quite simply the tools that Clearspring http://www.clearspring.com use for the widgets.

John T Unger says:

Evie and Steve,

To upload an image, you must first click on the stand-in image to select it, then paste an URL for you hosted image into the field provided. When you update or save the item, it should replace the stand-in image with your own.

DefogMyBlog says:

Great and useful review and I concur with your suggestions. It would be great to have a 400/500 pixel wide version to fit in Typepad. I was also left wondering about VAT. If used with a PayPal Business Account I expect the VAT might automatically get added. Still I'm sure this widget is the start of something good.

Audry Pettit says:

How do you embed the widget on a Facebook profile? I am very confused.

John T Unger says:


A version for Facebook is in the works as well as one for MySpace. The widget needs to be adapted to work on those platforms.

Shep says:


Before finding this post, I happened (today) to try and install the PayPal widget. While it is cool, I found that could not get it to display to the pictures of my books (the samples remain, embarrassingly, and I also found that it did not fit itself into the sidebar of the basic template I use, either left or right.

I did a bit of workaround to get the URLs of my product photos in the window for that (the arrow did not work) and I did not see anywhere to set the width of the widget so that it would fit in the 200 pixel sidebar width (which I do wish was changeable even within the basic template).

I came to all this via your long ecommerce post of last year (very fine stuff), which I read right after failing with the widget. I have turned it off on my main blog until I can get it working, but it is still active on another, fairly dead one at justsopress.typepad.com/garden_smarts

Once I get all this worked out, and get the books up for sale, then I do hope to market my art work as well, so I am especially appreciative of the work you are doing....


Allan Brewer says:

Hi John

I customized (narrowed) the widget and installed it several weeks ago when it was first promoted on TypePad

At first it worked great, causing no problems with my site

Over the past two weeks, however, it seems to be causing the site to load very, very slowly in a herky-jerky fashion (I presumed as the widget flips through the ten or so photos I loaded into it that I'd like to sell)

Is this a permanent problem? If so, I'm probably going to have to disable/remove the thing as it's very annoying to me when I check my published pages (not to mention what readers must think about it!)

Thanks for any insight you can give me in this regard


john t unger says:


AdaptiveBlue's free Book Widgets make it easy for authors to promote their books and brand across blogs, social networks, and the greater web . The widgets can be configured to many different layouts. The Book Widget instantly gives your readers ways to learn more about your book. They can read about it on the site of their choice, find reviews, and buy it on their preferred online bookseller. They can save your book to online book communities and social networks. Each book SmartLink has shortcuts to other books that you've written, as well as your bio on Wikipedia and additional links on Google. If your books are available on Amazon, you can set your affiliate code permanently into the widget to make a little extra cash on each sale.

If the books are self-published and only available from your site, you should still have no problem using this widget to promote them and adding them in (though it will display fewer options, if it doesn't find your books in the sources listed above).

john t unger says:


Flash does usually slow down load speeds on a page. The ideal solution, if you want to continue using the widget, is to place it as far to the right and bottom of the page as possible (because pages load top to bottom, left to right). That way the rest of your page can load first and the widget can oad while people are reading the rest of the page.

I haven't noticed a terribly slow load time with the PayPal widget I'm using.

john t unger says:


Just had another thought on this:

You might try restoring the width to what it was before you customized it and see if that helps with speed?

Also, Flash often has the width variable in two places in the embed code. I just looked and found that this is true of the PayPal widget. Possibly you only modified one of the width tags and that might account for the "herk-jerky" load time as it tries to figure out which width tag to go with?

j.c.lawrence says:

Typepad cuts off slightly the right side of my Paypal storefront widget located in the right sidebar of my blog. How can this be fixed?

Allan says:

Thank you Jeff

Indeed I did fail to change the second flash width as you described

I've changed it now and am watching it over the next few days to see if I continue to have the problem

I see there are others who want to resize the widget as I did

Here's the corrected code I'm using (with my own store, of course, embedded--you'll have to change it to your own unless you enjoy selling my pictures for me!):

Thanks for the help, Jeff


Linda says:

Hi, This is regarding the paypal widget.

I am currently designing a new design page for my typepad blog using the paypal widget. I noticed that "herky-jerky scrolling" effect that someone talks about in a previous post. I also notice that it freezes up my computer occasionally. I am using the pre-designed template that typepad suggests along with your suggestion about putting the paypal widget at the bottom of the page, and I'm still having the same problems. Is there anything else you can suggest? It's very frustrating, especially when other people rant and rave about how cool the widget is. I too, want to use it.Thank you. Linda

Justin Kent says:

I use the paypal widget, and have noticed lately that it loads very slow. It didn't seem to load this slowly in the past - I've been using it since just after it came out. I wonder if this happened when they did an update. I too am contemplating removing it from the site, or at least relegating it to one page (instead of being on every page).

Paypal has already updated it once, so hopefully they do another update soon that addresses this issue. International shipping options would also be nice.

Bill Schultz says:

I'm amazed that the largest market, that demands a point of sale widget, was totally overlooked by PayPal.

There are over a million independent Music act on MySpace alone, with hundreds of thousands more using CD Baby and other, so called, indie sites to sell their digital downloads and CDs.

Why should any business need a middleman to take a percentage?
PayPals transaction fees are very reasonable and there is no way for PayPal to cheat the vendor since they don't have possession of the vendors product.

What is needed is a widget that doesn't send and email, ( with links to the digital downloads ), to the customer, but instead generates a page with the links once the transaction is completed.
It is important that all Url's and file names be hidden during the download process.

All other systems that do this job either rip of the musicians or force the musician to join their organizations, upload their products and pay fees to use the widget.

These organizations,require the musicians to upload their product to their server.
With the product in their hands and with these organizations handling the transactions, endless amounts of cheating can easily take place.
This is the problem all the major label acts are facing today.

If customers purchase digital songs through their widgets, since they have the product to give to the customer, they can simply not report the sales to the musicians, who really have no way of knowing they were cheated.

Systems like indie911's hookah, are perfect for scamming musicians out of major portions of their profits.
I'm not saying they are doing this but, what's to stop them?

I can only hope the the People at PayPal will fill this void, and soon!

Nate Erwin says:

RE: Bill Schultz - Not sure where you get the idea that indie911 scams artists out of their profits. We take 20% of a $0.99 download. That leaves $.79 going directly to the owner of the song, and frankly our $0.20 barely covers transaction fees and bandwidth, without even considering office overhead and staffing. As far as emailing download links, those expire, and the products being purchased are non-DRM'd MP3s, really making it a moot point.

We offer a service to artists who may not be able to get distribution to sell directly to their fans with the highest payout in the business, while providing them with a widget they can easily post on their myspace or website pages to help them increase sales by giving them a direct point of purchase on those web pages.

Nate Erwin

david solomon says:

I also seek to see the widget working on facebook and orkut.

Kiribu says:

Hi John.
I'm thinking of setting up a typepad blog. This widget sounds interesting. I want to sell original paintings from my blog from the UK, so GBP currency would be necessary. Can i do that, and is there a currency converter in the widget? I'd like to sell basically to anywhere.
I'd showcase the works and then direct my viewers to the widget to see what's still for sale.
I'd really appreciate some professional help on what you'd recommend here. I've thought about e-junkie and zerooneart.co.uk (an online gallery selling via paypal and its free!) Much appreciated thanks

The comments to this entry are closed.

typepad hacks is a typepad featured weblog typepad hacks is listed on Alltop social media


Email RSS Comments  
Subscribe to TypePad Hacks with email Read TypePad Hacks posts via RSS Join the conversation at TypePad Hacks via RSS (comments feed) subscriber count



Twitter Logo
    follow typepadhacks on twitter

    Read and reply to the 100 most recent comments at the TypePad Hacks Community Page



    Powered by TypePad
    Member since 03/2005

    TypePad Status

    Creative Commons License