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Weighing Your Options: ECommerce for Designers

It's hard to believe, but I started the process of overhauling my online web presence nearly six month ago. Today marks the culmination of those efforts with the completion of the redesign of my online ecommerce store, movingthemerch.com. The goal I set out to accomplish was to bring a more cohesive design language to all of my websites, and I must say that I am very happy with the results. A few posts ago I talked about the choices I made going with Behance’s Prosite for my personal portfolio and I thought today I would discuss briefly the creation and evolution of my online store.

A look at my most recent storefront re-design for movingthemerch.comI could go on at length about the value of running your own online ecommerce store. To keep it brief: it’s a great way to get your name and work out there as a designer. You also learn a lot about running a professional business as well as self-marketing and online promotion. Consider that the nutshell version.
When I initially created movingthemerch.com over a year and a half ago, it was after starting a storefront with Zazzle.com. What I learned was that Zazzle was great at helping to driving traffic to your storefront thanks to their meta-data and active community. It was also nice that I didn’t have to worry about fulfillment or shipping, which is a big plus for going with Zazzle.

Basically how Zazzle works is they offer a fixed commission price on each piece of your art that is sold. It gets a little sticky in that fact that even if people order large-scale prints, your commission remains the same. You do get a small bonus if the buyer options for framing, but overall I felt I was leaving a lot of money on the table for Zazzle to walk away with in the end.
So, I got a little bold. I thought maybe I could pocket more of the profit if I found a way to run the storefront site myself and handle all my own fulfillment and shipping. A search of web-ready ecommerce stores brought up the usual suspects. I could go with a template and hope to figure out how to go about creating a secure payment process or I could go with a site like Etsy, Shopify, or Big Cartel. These sites allow you to work from their own templates to create a somewhat customized storefront and then they integrate a pay site like paypal or other secure pay service for all your billing needs. All for either a monthly fee or listing charge of course.
My selection process went a little something like this: Shopify was a little pricey and I think it would have been a little more of a gamble if I couldn’t make my sales targets. Etsy didn’t allow enough storefront customization for my likes, but I did like what I saw from Big Cartel. I knew a few established artists that I like used their service, Jeff Sheldon’s Ugmonk.com for one. I also liked that their pricing was pretty reasonable and I could get in either free or at a low price to start. The initial amount of customization was ok, but not earth shattering, however they have a good online support community and always respond timely to service emails. So, I chose Big Cartel and was off to the races.

A look at the my first movingthemerch.com site designHow I set up a fulfillment and shipping system is a story for another day, but I can say that after nearly a year and a half I have been pleased with the results after choosing to go with the Big Cartel. What I like is that the entire site is run from a easy to navigate Dashboard and they allow you to attach a custom domain as well as integrate Google Analytics, which is a great way to track web traffic and sales on your site. I am really amazed at the amount of data you can pull from Analytics. Info you can track includes sales reports and conversion rates. All good stuff to have access too for business planning.
All payments are handled through PayPal and overall I have been happy with the integration. You can actually do a lot more with PayPal then pay for items on Ebay, believe it or not. Since I started with Big Cartel over a year ago, they have been adding more and more features. The first big one was adding various methods for offering discounts. When I started with Big Cartel the lack of a good discount system was a hindrance to promotion, but they listen to their user base and I would say provide updates fairly regularly.
The most resent update to Big Cartel was a “big” one. They now allow more customization features and as luck would have it that was exactly what I needed to start my update to MovingTheMerch. You can see all the features by checking out this jazzy video from Big Cartel’s blog, just click the image:

Click on image to be taken to Big Cartel's Blog post and video about their new custimization featuresFor the code masters out there, you can do quite a bit of customization. If you have a good coding background, they let you edit the CSS and HTML right there in the Dashboard. I was able string together just enough code to make some minor tweaks. My overall goal was to clean up and standardize the look of all my sites and I think I was able to do that while not going code crazy by finding just the right hosting sites.

After nearly six months, I have managed to fine tune and clean up my entire website presenceAs I plan future goals, I want to expand on the types of offerings I bring to niche poster collectors. The new tagline, “Merchandise For The Discerning Collector,” will come to mean that collectors with a variety of different interests can find something cool and unique for their home or office. Very soon I will be bring my love of automobiles to the art poster as well as beefing up my geek presence with various comic book and pop culture tie in items.

For the Phish fans out there, I have some great ideas for new fan art for this year’s summer tour as well as retiring the remaining posters for 2011 for a while. On June 1, I will have my first new Phish fan art concert poster of the year available for purchase. To celebrate, I am offering 15% on all concert posters if you use the code 2011LASTCALL at check out.
More news to come and stay tuned for new work. Cheers, Ben. 

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Reader Comments (3)

I've seen progression in every post. Your newer posts are simply wonderful compared to your posts in the past. Keep up the good work.

Web Site Programming Boston

July 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterchellehillma

Hey Ben, thanks much for this post. I'm curious about how you wound up doing your fulfillment. I am on Zazzle right now and am feeling the same crunch on margin you talked about. I am not trying to go out and manage my own inventory right now, as that seems like quite a gamble, too. I guess what I'm looking for is a print-on-demand service that I can plug into something like BigCartel or Shopify.

Thanks for your post. :)


December 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Calamia

Hey Steve,

I am actually doing my own fulfillment. It turned out to be the best way to maximize my profit margin. The balance was between how to print at a reasonable unit cost and offer a product at price people will pay for it. The online print sites like Zazzle and Cafepress cost just a little too much. So, I invested in a solid printer that prints 13" x 19" and I offer all my prints at about that size.

I have a very well organized system for handling orders as they come in which is a key of not letting fulfillment monopolize all my time. I might check local printers in your area as they would give you a better deal then most online services. Maybe work out a deal where you can have them keep your print file and you just call up for an order.

But, don't fear doing it on your own. I like it not just for the profit margin, but also quality control. I know exactly what is being sent out.

Hope this helps,


December 10, 2012 | Registered CommenterBen Whitesell

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