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August 2010

Absolutely simple - Ecwid, the ultimate Ecommerce multiple outlet option

It does not happen often I'm turning instantly lyrical about a software program. Happened only a few times in the last 6 years, Typepad, ScreenSteps and Octane come to mind. But it happened again with Ecwid (Ecommerce "Widgets") - a new breed of shopping cart software

When modern turns stale

Our existing webshop - implemented 3 years ago as substitute for Actinic - is an integrated part of our Accounting package from Mamut (Enterprise version). Then fitting the bill as a modern Ecommerce solution, now - compared with the newer cloud computing solutions all around us - more and more sluggish and lately even frustratingly out of date.

As always, you try to "hang-on" as best as possible, and kind of shrug off the restrictions the program keeps putting in your way to add versatility and improvements to the online shopping experience of modern online shoppers. But there comes a moment when you decide: enough is enough, we need another solution. Even if that means adding a bit more work to the bookkeeping by missing the automagicall link between online order and sales ledger.

Searching the internet for a better solution for us brought, of course, a multitude of options. Some fortunately offer a trial webshop or a trial period. Dividing time between normal tasks, other marketing projects and testing these options does tend to make one impatient. But help was at hand by means of a recent blog post by my online friend Martin Malden.

In his "A really good (and simple) shoppingcart for WordPress" Martin exclaimed his pure relief of finding Ecwid


And I completely agree with Martin: it's superb (and free for the first 100 products you have in your "shop"). Opening an account is dead easy, you can even log in with an existing google account.
(Side-note: you do need to know a bit of css coding to understand how to customise the design of your "shop", and some of the documentation could IMHO be improved.)

It's more than a "shop" - it's the ultimate Ecommerce multiple outlet option.

You'll notice I keep placing the word shop between quotes - because it's more than just an online shop where you send your prospect to to do their shopping.

Imagine the following true facts of the last week: there's no promotion of the new "shop" yet, I've not even linked to it from our main website but already have managed to receive an order every single day! Why and how?

Shortening the Decision Cycle


This single product you can buy straight of its landing page - a webpage from our main website dedicated only to our cast iron buffing block, nothing more nothing less. Before Ecwid there was a link to our existing webshop where this product is listed among other maintenance tools we sell.
When someone landed on this page and wanted to order this magnificent eco-friendly tool they had to leave the page, scroll down to the product in the webshop again to buy it. Steps that are now avoided (and we seem to be running out of buffing blocks quickly!)

With Ecwid you can simply copy the html code of any product in your "shop" and paste it in any other webpage, blogpost etc.

Imagine what this does for our other landing pages (simple DIY guides) - they too are already attracting orders.

Additional shopping


The minute a visitor adds one of the product to the bag, the actual shopping bag appears. Try it for yourself if you like and then "open the bag".
You'll see a pop-up window with your ordered product, the delivery costs and tax specified, plus check-out options (including Paypal Express Check-out). But there is, for us and our new client, an even more important button there:


Continue Shopping. This brings you, without leaving the page you were on, in the actual complete Ecommerce shop where you can fill your shopping bag with other products. Go on, give it a try. Have a browse!

The actual Ecommerce "shop" I call the "storage house", the back end of the webshop. There you admin the products, the prices, the product images, the Egoods files, the categories (and one product can be attached to more than one category), the delivery costs, the payment options, the outgoing emails to your new (or existing) clients etc etc etc.

The Front End of your webshop can be anywhere. Multiple outlets with either the complete range, one single category or even one single product.

It did take me more than 5 minutes to set it up, and it still does not replace our existing Mamut webshop, but we're getting there. Once all the categories are filled we'll start to redirect everyone to our new Ecommerce solution. And in the meantime the landing pages will no doubt continue to bring in new orders.
(And then we might even venture in the other option Ecwid has: linking our brand new Ecommerce solution with Facebook.)

Martin, thanks again for the tip.

And as for Ecwid - I grant them the Kiss Award.


Weighing up the advice: free or charge?

This week I kept reading blog posts about "picking your brain" mentalities - good or bad for your business/brand/network?
Some posts were reactions to blog posts - as happens so often in the blogosphere, and this post is in fact a reaction too - and others took a different spin/angle to the question.

What seems to have triggered this blog'roll' was the following tweet by Skydiver (Peter Shankman)


One blogger found it a very arrogant statement, others agreed totally or understood the point of view where again others compared the same principle to having your network "rustled".

And this morning in a trade magazine (CFJ) I read the same sentiment when one of the top technical/hands-on advisers of the wooden flooring trade used his monthly column to announce he has set up a new system you can "subscribe" to for an annual (small) fee to get his advice by phone or in writing (where before he'd given his advice for free).

Is there profit in free?

All in all, reading the tweet, posts and magazine column I can fully understand what they are doing: in this time and age of "FREE to all" those who make their living out of advising others (businesses, traders, writers etc) are starting to feel the profit pressure.
For those asking to pick their brains there seems to be no line (not even a thin one) between reading the free blog posts/articles filled with advice, tips and hints for all who want to read it/learn from it and the direct (personal) request for advice. "You're constantly giving out advice left, right and center so why wouldn't I pick up the phone, write that email and ask a direct question?"

And there's the catch. Writing blog posts, articles about your experiences, knowledge and expertise is - in general - meant as showcase of your experience, knowledge and expertise. Like a port-folio, an (very extended and ongoing) introduction. A modern way of attracting prospects, clients, financiers etc etc (again, in general).

Free content is not the same as free case specific advice.

What about us? Is there profit in free?

Funnily enough, our own business best performing webforms or source of clients is exactly that: giving out case specific advice for free.


Daily I answer questions not just be email but also over the phone. Free, helping out in very specific cases with tips, hints and product recommendations.

In fact we thrive and grow on having our "brains picked", day in day out, week in week out. It takes up our time (my time especially) and we love it, our bank balance loves it too. So, where's the difference?

Costs versus profit


Reading those various posts and articles this week on the same subject: "free as long as it for general purpsose, if you want case specific advice/help I'll charge my normal rate", does show where IMHO the difference is:

It depends what you sell.

We don't supply wooden floors for free, we don't install wooden floors for free and since recently we also don't restore floors for free (not that we ever done that for free, we just recently added a new "department" to our business). Our profit comes from those three services: supply, install and restore. Our profit does not come from giving case specific advice (althoug based on some of those cases we did publish our first Q&A on Wooden Flooring, which became profitable within 1 month).

And as long as this case specific free advice brings in more profit (from small to large orders based on the case specific advice given) than it costs us (time to answer the phone and writing the emails even for those who don't turn into clients) we will continue our free service. And if ever need be we would even employ a second "adviser".

Free case specific advice on our products and methods (installation, restoration and how to guides) sells our products and methods.
That's a big difference in giving free case specific advice to a specific business on how to implement a social media strategy or as Gini rightfully states:

"I think Jason’s blog post is less about incentive-based consulting and more about something that is rampant in the industries where people sell their brains for a living. Time is how we make our money. We don’t make widgets. We don’t sell products. We don’t manufacture anything. We don’t process anything. Our brains are our products and, Jason is right, every time someone asks us for free help, they’re taking us away from clients or opportunities to make us money."

What do you sell? Can what you do/make help you become more profitable by giving case specific advice for free or does it eat into your profits? Can you let me know in the comment box?