My friend Amanda, who runs BreadandBadger.com, recently needed to make a change in her website. In her words,
“I was using a WordPress site with an e-commerce plugin. The plugin was always extremely glitchy, and only offered a small amount of features that I thought were really important for selling effectively…and wanted more control of my shop’s design, layout and user experience.”
I think this pretty neatly sums up the experience that many artists I know have with trying to build a website themselves, especially one where they can make sales directly from their site.
Finding the right website provider is a real challenge. I’ve written extensively about it and even I sometimes get overwhelmed with the number of options available. In the past, I’ve suggested many times to artists that they should own their own website with their own domain name instead of using Art Malls.
In some instances, it makes sense to use a hosted solution. Hosted solution is a term that web geeks like me use to refer to a website that is hosted on someone else’s servers. In today’s blog post, I’m going to talk about how to pick the right hosted solution for you.
As of right now, there are two hosted solutions I recommend: Shopify and Squarespace. Let’s dive in to why.
When Should You Use Shopify?
When you don’t want to handle web hosting or you want the technology part to be easy.
Again, in Amanda’s words, “Setup was very straight-forward. It’s a fully hosted site, so I didn’t need to futz with domains or install anything to get it going, like WordPress. There are a few free themes for Shopify stores which I think are more than adequate for my shop, and they are dead simple to change to your liking.
The customer support for my theme was excellent, and someone even helped me change the code to accomplish a few customizations that weren’t in the theme modification dashboard. I feel like Shopify* really cares about it’s customers, and I can get fast support for anything that comes up.”
(* = affiliate link)
I recently worked with a painter who is doing six-figures a year in online sales. He and his wife were doing it all through WordPress, and even though they had hired a developer to build the website, they were dissatisfied with the constant need to get the developer involved every time they wanted to make changes to the website.
The artist and his wife didn’t want to take the time to learn the relatively easy steps to make changes to the site in WordPress, so I suggested that she look into a hosted solution. Shopify ended up being the best solution for her and she is very happy. Her site has less down time and she has someone that she can call 24/7.
When you’re ready for a true ecommerce experience.
Many artists that I talk to have a weird mental block that gets in the way of their online success. They think that listing prices diminishes the value of their art. Big-time marketing consultants will tell you that at the high end of the art market, listing a price can scare off a customer before they have a chance to get attached to your art. My response is that if price scares off your customer, then they’re not the right person for your art anyway.
All of that is a long way around to say that Shopify is only the right solution for you if you are ready to present your art as something for sale, with prices included. Shopify is an ecommerce platform. If you’re not using it as such, you’re wasting your money (more on pricing in a bit).
When you want offline commerce integration. Shopify has a very slick smartphone & tablet application that allows you to process payments when you’re at a fair or other in-person show. It runs everything through the same payment back-end that your website uses, so you can manage inventory and taxes through one place.
Pretty design. Squarespace is well known for having beautifully designed simple websites. Artists like Ann Rea use Squarespace, and I’ve set up sites for artists like Linda Handel that were then dead easy for her to change and tweak well beyond what I initially set up for her. Squarespace’s drag and drop design interface is very slick and easy to use.
Simple ecommerce. Squarespace added ecommerce after they launched. It works, but they only integrate payments with Stripe, which is a bit of a let-down. If ecommerce is not going to be a major part of your business, then this will probably work, but if you plan on making more than a handful of ecommerce sales per year, I’d recommend going with Shopify.
No access to code needed. You can access the CSS code in Squarespace, but if you want to make deeper structural changes, you’ll be disappointed by Squarespace.
Pricing. Shopify can become quite expensive once you move beyond the starter plan and start adding some of the paid applications, but all of the artists I spoke to about their Shopify experience said that they got started with minimal cost. If you don’t need robust ecommerce, however, Squarespace is probably a better choice.
Reliability. I’ve not seen any reports of recent major downtime for Shopify or Squarespace.
Search engines. Shopify and Squarespace are not perfect. Their URL structures are less than ideal for search engine effectiveness, but for the most part, SEO is not something that most artists need to make a priority.
Other hosted solutions.
There are literally dozens of companies that make websites specifically for artists. I’m not a fan of most of them. Their designs usually aren’t very good, and their underlying technology is mostly flawed. They simply don’t have the manpower to run the same level of technology as the big players like Shopify.
One exception is Fine Art Studios Online. While I’m not a fan of their designs, they do a great job with their technology, and they really have killer support. I would still recommend Squarespace and Shopify over any artist-specific website solution, however.
Picking a Hosted Solution over DIY
Over the years I’ve recommended WordPress to a lot of artists. I’ve even built a lot of WordPress sites for artists. I’m a big fan of WordPress for all of the reasons outlined in this blog post on Art Malls. It’s a great way to build your site to the exact specifications that you want, and to maintain control over your own online business. TAA is built on WordPress.
There are challenges to using WordPress though. It requires at least a minimal level of comfort with technology, and a little technical knowledge is really helpful. Also, it wasn’t originally built for ecommerce, and still doesn’t handle high volume transactions very well. That said, if you want a cheap solution that gives you total control, then WordPress is still my favorite option.