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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

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peter t says:

Hello! How do I upload my product onto the widget? I converted the image to the recommended specs (188x168)and copied the url from the"copy url" box on my myspace page. I forget exactly what message says but all it really says is to check my url and try again. which i have, to no avail.I wasnt able to find any support on the page. what am i doing wrong. darn! Thanks

best, pete

Kim, Age of Autism a TP blog says:

Ugh! This widget will NOT load. I can't get into the PayPal lab. It's taking forever to download - as in 20+ minutes and not moving. I have Vista - is that the wretched problem. I want this widget! Thanks. KIM

Kim, Age of Autism Typepad blog says:

UNCLE! I finally got in after 3 days of trying. It doesn't upload a photo - you have to host it somewhere. Pain in the ass. I got a version (sans photo) to load onto a dummy Typepad blog that's not published - too wide for the sidebar.

John kindly recommended Cartfly - I keep timing out there.

I just want to sell some tshirts and flags from our site. Any ideas how else I can set up payment? We have a paypal account for donations. I could set up a buy it now button, but we don't have a store. Could I use a Typepad blog PAGE to generate a URL to fake a store??

Thanks. KIM

sue moore says:

Can you help I want to use the widget for my blog but am really fustrated in trying to set up my storefront. Not only is it really slow to type and move from one field to the next it constanly freezes my computer. First I thought it was because my old desk top comp is really old but its even worse on my brand new laptop. Why is this happening. I really don't want the hassel of setting up another web site but unless I can get this to work will have to.

mia says:

You mentioned etsy -- are you able to integrate your etsy listings into this widget? Or would you essentially have to list the same item for sale via PayPal, in addition to listing on etsy? The "mini showcase" that etsy offers is handy if you only have a few items available, but when your shop is fully stocked, you can only view 25 of them. I was hoping that this might be a 2-in-1 solution for me -- make etsy shopping available via a simple interface. Any thoughts?

MK says:

PayPal xilab widget looks great and I think it will work well for me. I am having problems with loading product info on it. It does change will and the cursor get bogged down.

I have loaded the widget on bloggerspot.com It loaded easily.

Is their a phone # for personal support? Or a good web site or email site that I could get info I need to get this up and running. If I ran it in TypePad would I have less problems?

David Thayer says:

I'm building my store, but updating product information has become impossibly slow. I'm using osx on a macbookpro (intel). There are ten products on my widget with images linking to flickr.

It is slow on firefox (pc, winxp), firefox (mac) and safari. on Firefox i get a warning that some script is too slow and will crash my computer - which, in some sense, it does.

This slowness is when I am logged into paypal with access to paypallabs site.

Any ideas or suggestions?


david t

Sherz says:

"Can you help I want to use the widget for my blog but am really fustrated in trying to set up my storefront. Not only is it really slow to type and move from one field to the next it constanly freezes my computer."

"I'm building my store, but updating product information has become impossibly slow."

Same here. The widgets build/update process is definitely broken. I've tried it on several browsers on different PC's. Impossibly slow to the point where it's completely unusable.

Romain says:

great post. what about Tax options? the widget doesn't allow you to include tax depending on what state you are. CA has sales tax so does CO. Just an important thought as an ecommerce person.

beadknitter says:

I noticed this post is 2 years old and I'm wondering if the Paypal Storefront widget is still being worked on and/or supported. I tried installing it on my blog over the weekend and though it installed find, I have the same problem of it slowing down until my computer freezes up. I also can't seem to get it to let me load more than 4 products too before it freezes up in edit mode. Anyone working on this thing cos it would be so awesome.

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