Signing up to sell online through Square is fast, free, and easy. But is it a move you should consider making?
Square has been a game-changing player in the mobile payments arena since it was launched by Jim McKelvey and Jack Dorsey in 2009. Today, the Square application has been download more than 33 million times, making the company a POS (point of sale) giant. Since 2019, Square has been using software from online website builder Weebly to offer users an easy-to-use, all-in-one eCommerce solution called Square Online.
Whether you’re new to online sales or looking to jump from another eCommerce platform, we’ll show you how to get started with Square Online and how to make the most of your store.
What You’ll Need To Start Your Square Store Online
The one thing you won’t need when you set up a store is a credit card or any other payment method. That’s because it’s a free service, at least for starters. You can add on extras later, if you decide they’re worth paying for. To get started with Square Online, all you need is the following:
Your Business Name
Tax ID Number: You can enter this later, if you don’t have it ready
Estimated Annual Revenue: Choose from a range, if you know it, or skip this step.
How To Start An Online Store Through Square
The first thing to know about setting up an online store with Square is that it’s easy to do, even if you don’t know much about eCommerce or setting up websites. Read on to find our step-by-step instructions on how to start an online store through Square.
Sign up for Square eCommerce
When you’re ready to start, head to the Square Online signup page and press the blue button that reads Start a free online store.
You’ll be prompted to enter your name and email address, and to create a password. You’ll also be asked to check a box noting that you agree to Square’s terms, privacy policies, and e-sign consent. Be sure to click the links so you can read what you’re agreeing to. Once you enter that information, you’ll be asked to enter your business name, your tax ID number, and your estimated annual sales. All you really need to enter at this point is a business name, however; the other two items are either optional or can be entered later through your Square Dashboard.
Enter Business Information
The next page you arrive at will ask you to describe your business. The choices given are limited:
Clothing & Accessories
Specialty Shop: Retail
Specialty Shop: Food & Drink
Art, Photo, & Film
Outdoor Markets: Food & Drink
Jewelry & Watches
Hair or Beauty Salon, or Barbershop
If your business doesn’t fall into those categories, don’t worry. At the bottom of the page is a button that says I Don’t See My Business Type. When you hit that button, you will go to a new page that offers more choices, including narrow categories like Beauty and Personal Care as well as catch-alls like Retail. Select the category that most closely meets your business type, and then choose a subcategory to narrow it down further.
For example, under Home and Repair, you can choose from a wide variety of businesses, from automotive services to watch and jewelry repair.
Screenshot of Square webpage, captured 8/25/2020
Explore Products & Features
Before you can go further, Square will ask you to enter a physical address for your business, to verify your identity. Check the box if this is also your home address. After you do that, you’ll be taken to your Square Online Dashboard, where there’s a setup guide you can use to help you explore. If it doesn’t pop up automatically, look for the Tour your Dashboard option under the My Business tab at the top right. Take a look at the admin panel on the left side of your screen. This is where you’ll list products, take orders, and manage inventory and payments.
Take your time while exploring, but don’t worry if you can’t take everything in at once. You can always revisit areas where you need to spend more time.
Compared to other eCommerce platforms, the Square Online setup process definitely is more focused on payment, possibly because of Square’s origins in POS. If you want to skip the financial information for now and move on to setting up your store, you can always come back to it later.
On the other hand, if you’re ready to activate the Setup Guide, just click the green button at the top of the page to move through the steps needed to get your finances up and running. This guide covers three key areas:
Activate your account to take payments. You can verify your identity, link your bank account so you can transfer funds, and take your first payment with Square.
Set up your account.Â You’ll be able to customize the way receipts look and what they say, set up taxes for individual items or at checkout, add a business location or merge multiple locations, and explore Square’s software tools. One of those tools is the Dashboard app, which lets you manage our business through a mobile device.
Get started with Square Point of Sale.Â You can choose to order hardware and devices to take payments in person, or download an app for Android or iOS devices.
Set Up Your Store
Once you have the business end straight, it’s time for the fun part: setting up your store! From the Dashboard, click the Online button, and you’ll be able to choose from three general page types:
Single Ordering Page
Full Website Plus Ordering Page
Screenshot of Square webpage, captured 8/26/2020
If you’re not sure which page type you should choose, there’s a Help button that takes you through a list of questions about your business and makes a suggestion. Next, you’ll be asked how you plan to fulfill orders: by shipping, by customer pickup, or by delivery. You can choose more than one, or you can skip for now if you’re not sure.
Next, you can access several Setup Guides that will help you design your website, add products, and connect a domain. When you choose website design, you get your first look at the page Square Online suggests for you. You may or may not like what you see, but don’t worry — it’s meant to be customized. And although your choices are limited, compared to other eCommerce platforms, it’s very easy to change the look of your Square Online webpage using the Page Sections choices on the left side of your screen.
Screenshot of Square webpage, captured 8/26/2020
For example, if you click the Header edit button, you can change the layout, logo, navigation options, action button, cart and search icon, and the overall section style. You will still have the same general layout, but you should put your personal touch and your own business message on it. It’s easy to use, though not as flexible as the drag-and-drop editing available on other website builders. Take your time filling in all the available fields, as this will be your main point of contact with potential customers.
Add Items For Sale
Once you have tinkered with the look of your webpage and improved its functionality to meet your needs, it’s time to add products to sell. Near the top of the dashboard, you’ll see a blue button that says Add. Click on that to access a dropdown menu that includes Item, and you can start to build your store’s inventory.
Screenshot of Square webpage, captured 8/26/2020
You can add a physical item, prepared food or drink, donation, event, or membership. Just pick the right item type, then add an item title and its price. You should include a description of your item, including materials, origin, special details, size, and specifications. Add images and check the right box to indicate how you’ll fulfill orders, including shipping, in-store pickup, or local delivery. That’s all it takes! Repeat as necessary until your store is ready to take live.
Take Your Store Online
You should see a blue button near the top right of your screen that says Publish. When you push that, your site will be live and ready for shoppers to visit. It’s probably a good idea to Preview your site first, though. There’s a button for that just to the left of the Publish button.
Square will assign you an automatic domain name that probably will read Your-Store-Name.square.site. Fortunately, you’re given an option immediately to improve on that no-frills URL. You can link to a domain you already own or, if you want to upgrade to a paid plan, you can build your brand with a professional web address. It’s worth noting that all Square Online plans, including the free one, include a shopping cart, inventory management, tax calculator, coupon codes, and gift cards, and allow you to accept payments through Square. If you’re interested in adding a paid plan, you’ll add features to that list.
Tips For Selling With Square
That’s all it takes to build a basic website for eCommerce using a Square Online store. Of course, if you want to make the most of your site, you have a few more items on your to-do list.
Look Into Paid Plans
There’s absolutely nothing wrong â and many things right! â with using the free option for your Square Online store. However, once you’ve gotten to know the site and perhaps solidified your eCommerce goals, there’s nothing wrong, either, with taking a look at what paying for a plan can get you. Square Online paid plans run from $12 to $72 per month when billed annually.
Screenshot of Square page, captured 8/26/2020
What do you gain for that cash outlay? The first bump-up in service means you can publish to a custom domain, use custom fonts on your page, and ditch the Square branding and ads on your store. For $26, you add the ability to accept PayPal payments, integrate shipping apps, and email to recover abandoned shopping carts. The top-tier plan lowers your transaction fees, delivers shipping rate discounts, and gives you a tool to calculate shipping rates more accurately.
The free plan gives you more than what you need to set up a basic store. As your sales and your goals increase, you may want to upgrade.
Upgrade Your Product Photos
When customers shop online, they can’t actually see or touch the items you have for sale. All they have to rely on as they make buying decisions is an image on their screen. So it’s important to have high-quality images that show off your products in the best light. Square Online offers an interesting feature called Photo Studio. Find it through your admin, and you’ll have a chance to order professional product photos at a low price. At just $9.95 for three multi-angle, high-resolution photos optimized for eCommerce, or $29.95 for an interactive 360-degree image, it could be an investment that pays you back with increased sales.
Connect With Customers
Square Marketing helps you send out a one-time or automated marketing email campaign. You can send out a discount code to first-time buyers who left without placing an order, for example, or make a special offer to previous buyers who haven’t visited in a while. You can also ask for customers’ birthdays and then send them a special offer on their special day. If you’re active on Facebook, or if you’d like to build your presence there, you can send customers a link and ask them to leave feedback on your Facebook page. You can customize Square’s campaign templates with your branding elements or product photos to help you meet your marketing goals.
Play Around With Pop-Ups
From the Marketing tab on the admin, you can build a pop-up ad that grabs customers’ attention. There are templates you can customize for collecting email addresses, offering coupons, making announcements, or verifying shoppers’ age, if you’re selling age-restricted products. It’s an easy process, with help if you need it. Don’t overdo the popups, as customers often find them annoying. However, since they’re easy and free to add, it’s worth experimenting with them to see if you can use popups to increase sales or meet marketing goals.
Confirm Payment Options
Your Square Online store comes equipped to handle Square transactions. You don’t need to add a third-party payment gateway. You’re even set up to accept Square gift cards. If you look under the Checkout tab on your admin, you’ll see two other options: Accept Apple Pay and Accept Google Pay. You can decide whether or not you want to add either or both of those options. Don’t overlook the fact that you’ll be charged fees of 2.9% plus $0.30 per transaction. If you want to accept PayPal, you’ll need to upgrade to the Performance plan, at $26 per month. Again, it’s fine to stick with the free plan for now and revisit your options when sales start coming in.
Getting Your Square Online Store Up & Running
Square Online offers an all-in-one solution that allows small businesses to jump into eCommerce with no cash upfront and very little ongoing financial investment. Especially if you’re already using Square to process payments, a Square Online store will help you to quickly bring your products to the wide world of online selling. Great things await you there, so get started!
The post How To Create An Online Store Through Square appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
It was an eCommerce pioneer back in 2006, then expanded to iPad POS in 2013, and now it basically runs the world. Well, at least the world of cloud retail. I’m talking about Shopify, of course. Besides its global takeover, one of the things I admire most about Shopify POS is that it’s very upfront about disclosing every component of hardware that its point of sale system works with. That makes it easy to source equipment on your own, purchase the right bundle from Shopify directly, or check to see if you can use any POS hardware you already own.
That said, it can take a little time and head-scratching to figure out the best Shopify hardware setup for your business. Your hardware options will depend on various factors, such as your device, your Shopify plan, your credit card processor, and what country you live in. Your particular selling needs will also determine your hardware needs â for example, cashless businesses won’t need a cash drawer.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about Shopify hardware: what you need, how much it costs, where to get it, and how you can get the most bang for your buck if you’re budget-conscious.
What Are My Choices For Shopify Hardware?
Shopify offers a variety of options for hardware. Here is some information about supported POS equipment and accessories.
Shopify POS is optimized for iPads for in-store selling and iPhones for mobile sales. There is an Android version of the app that you can operate on Android tablets or phones, but it does not have as many features or hardware options as the iPad version or even the iPhone version. For example, you can’t process offline sales with Android, and the POS hardware bundles Shopify sells are all made for iPads. You also can’t switch to the “all-new Shopify POS” version of the app unless you’re using an iPad or iPhone (Android users will have to use “Shopify POS Classic”). If you do decide to run Shopify POS on Android, make sure that whatever hardware you purchase can work with your device.
Shopify does not sell iPads or tablets directly; you’ll have to buy your tablet elsewhere. For the best hardware compatibility, you’re going to want to buy the latest iPad Air, iPad Pro, or iPad Mini. If you have a lot of products and/or product variants, an iPad Air or Pro will provide superior speed, with the larger iPads providing the most processing power. For maximum performance, get the iPad Pro 12.9″.
If you process payments using Shopify Payments in the United States, you can choose from the following two Bluetooth-connected card readers, which must be sourced from Shopify directly:
Shopify Chip & Swipe Reader
Shopify Tap & Chip Card Reader (with an optional charging dock and/or iPhone case)
In the past, Shopify also offered swipe-only card readers that plugged into the audio jack or lightning port. Note that these readers are no longer available from Shopify’s US hardware store (though they are still available in Canada). US merchants can still use a previously purchased Shopify plugin swiper, but Shopify will not replace the reader if it stops working.
Shopify is also compatible with external payment processors (for an additional fee). If you use a processor other than Shopify Payments, you need to use the card reader you purchase or rent from that processor.
If your store is not located in the US, you will have different card reader options; check Shopify’s help center to see your options.
Shopify supports the following iPad stands and model numbers:
@Rest iPad Stand:Â HDAR2 or H234
WindFall Stand For iPad Air(& iPad Pro 9.7″):Â HDWFA1 or H236
WindFall Stand For iPad Mini:Â HDWFM01 or H434
Shopify also sells its own branded iPad stands. If you want to attach your stand to the counter, you can also purchase an optional mounting kit from Shopify.
Here are the cash drawers and associated model numbers Shopify POS supports for US merchants:
APG Vasario 329:Â VB320-BL1616
Star Micronics 13″:Â 37964220 and 37964180
Star Micronics 16″:Â 37965600 and 37965590
Windfall Cash Drawer:Â HDWFCDA and H225
Shopify POS supports Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, LAN, and USB receipt printers, including the following:
Star Micronics TSP100IIIBI:Â 39472110 (Bluetooth)
Star Micronics TSP650IIBI:Â 39449871 (Bluetooth)
Star Micronics TSP100IIIW: 39464790 (Wi-Fi)
Star Micronics TSP100III LAN:Â 39463110 (LAN)
Star Micronics TSP100USB:Â 39461110 (USB)
Barcode Printers & Scanners
Many retail stores use barcodes for their inventory items. With barcode printers and scanners, you can easily print and scan 1D barcodes (standard barcodes) and also 2D barcodes (QR codes). As follows are the barcode printers and scanners Shopify is compatible with.
Dymo LabelWriter 450:Â 1752264
Dymo LabelWriter Wireless Printer:Â 2002150
1-D Barcode Scanners
Socket Mobile S700:Â CX3360-1682 or CX3397-1855
Socket Mobile 7Ci:Â CX2870-1409, CX2895-1508, CX2885-1484, CX2883-1480, or CX2887-1486
2-D Barcode Scanners
Socket Mobile S740:Â CX3431-1881 or CX3419-1838
Socket Mobile 7Qi:Â CX3308-1528, CX3316-1536, CX3312-1532, CX3310-1530, CX3314-1534
Rather than purchasing your iPad stand, cash drawer, and receipt printer separately, you can opt to purchase a Star Micronics mPOPâ¢ all-in-one kit, which includes an iPad stand along with a combined cash drawer and receipt printer and internal power supply. Choose from the following models:
StarÂ® mPOPâ¢ Basic:Â 39650211 or 39650011
StarÂ® mPOPâ¢ With Scanner:Â 39650310 or 39650110
Shopify has several hardware bundles for sale on its website. Buying a bundle can be an easy, cost-effective way to get all the equipment you need and make sure you get the right stuff.
Here are all of the Shopify bundles and a list of what you get with each one. Note that none of the bundles include an iPad, and the Star bundles do not include a card reader.
Shopify Retail Kit
1 xÂ Shopify Tap & Chip Card Reader
1 xÂ Shopify DockÂ for Tap & ChipÂ Reader
1 xÂ Shopify Retail Stand for iPad
1 xÂ Shopify Mounting Kit
1 xÂ Shopify Mini Dock Cable
1 x iPad Stand
1 x Cash Drawer
1 x Receipt Printer
1 x Chip & Swipe Card Reader
In the Custom Kit bundle, you can choose the form factor of the stand to suit your iPad as well as the color of your iPad stand, cash drawer, and printer (black and white). I wish this bundle included the option of a tap and chip reader to accept contactless credit cards and ApplePay, but I suppose you can just purchase that separately from Shopify if you want to accept contactless payments.
Since Shopify’s bundled hardware kits do include Shopify card readers, you must use Shopify Payments if you want to use one of these bundles.
StarÂ® mPOPâ¢ Basic
Star Micronics mPOPâ¢
Universal tablet stand
Internal power supply included
StarÂ® mPOPâ¢ With Scanner
Star Micronics mPOPâ¢
Universal tablet stand
Internal power supply included
Since the Star mPOP bundles do not include a Shopify card reader, you can use them with an external payment processor.
Which POS Hardware Works With Which Shopify Plan?
Shopify’s monthly software plans can be confusing, so please read this section carefully.
All Shopify plans work with Shopify’s card readers (tap and chip or chip and swipe), including lower-tier plans, such as Shopify Lite ($9/month) and Basic Shopify ($29/month).
However, the version of the app you’re using with your plan matters too. For example, if you’re using the older Shopify Classic version of Shopify POS, you’ll need to switch to the “Shopify” plan ($79/month) or higher to connect any other POS equipment, including a cash drawer, receipt printer, or barcode scanner.
If you upgrade to the “All-New POS” version of Shopify, you can connect whatever hardware you want, regardless of which plan you have. That means you can connect a cash drawer, receipt printer, mPOP, etc., even if you’re on the $9/month Shopify Lite plan. Once you upgrade to the new Shopify POS, you can connect any Shopify hardware on any Shopify plan. (You just have to be on iPad or iPhone because the new POS isn’t available for Android yet.)
The new POS version also includes the ability to track hardware connectivity for all of your Shopify POS hardware from within the app so that you can troubleshoot easily.
One more thing to keep in mind is that when you update to the new POS version, you will also automatically be upgraded to the new Shopify POS Pro subscription add-on, which is free of charge through October 31. The add-on includes advanced features, such as unlimited registers and omnichannel selling features that include giving customers the ability to buy in-store and having the item shipped to their home. After October 31, you’ll be charged an additional $89/month (plus your Shopify plan fees) if you want to keep the Pro subscription add-on, but as long as you stay on the new POS version, you’ll be able to keep your hardware integrations.
How Much Does Shopify Hardware Cost?
Below, you can find pricing for various Shopify equipment from Shopify’s website. Depending on your setup, you can start selling on your phone or tablet for little as $29. If you want a full countertop register with a cash drawer, receipt printer, etc., you can save by buying a bundle, which you should be able to get for somewhere around $500, plus the cost of your iPad. You have the option to purchase your POS hardware components separately or as part of a bundle.
Shopify also offers the option to purchase certain hardware in monthly installments via Affirm Financing.
Shopify Card Readers
Shopify Tap & Chip Card Reader: $49
Shopify Dock for Tap & Chip Reader: $39
Shopify Tap & Chip Case (For iPhone X/Xs): $19
Shopify Chip & Swipe Reader: $29
Shopify iPad Stands
Shopify Retail Stand For iPad: $149
Shopify 9.7″ iPad Swivel Stand: $139
iPad Mini Stand: $119
iPad Stand 10.2″: $129
iPad Pro Stand 12.9″: $169
iPad Pro Stand 12.9″ (3rd Gen): $169
Shopify Cash Drawers
13″ Star Micronics Cash Drawer: $139
16″ Star Micronics Cash Drawer: $139
Shopify Receipt Printers
Star Micronics Bluetooth Receipt Printer: $349
Star Micronics Wi-Fi Receipt Printer: $359
Star Micronics Wired Receipt Printer: $289
Shopify Hardware Bundles
Shopify Retail Kit: $229
Custom Kit: Starts at $539
StarÂ® mPOPâ¢ Basic: $439
StarÂ® mPOPâ¢ With Scanner: $569
You can also purchase various other POS equipment from Shopify’s website â barcode scanners, receipt paper, and other accessories. All pricing is listed on Shopify’s online hardware store.
Can I Buy Third-Party Hardware For Shopify POS?
Yes, you can purchase Shopify-compatible POS hardware from a third party, except for card readers, which you must buy from Shopify directly. Since Shopify gives you the exact model numbers of the equipment you can use, it should be easy to comparison shop for items, such as iPad stands, cash drawers, and barcode scanners on Amazon, Staples, or even eBay. Shopify’s hardware prices are pretty good, but it may be possible to find a better price for certain items elsewhere â just make sure you verify the item model number to ensure compatibility.
One benefit of purchasing equipment directly from Shopify is that Shopify offers 24/7 support for that hardware and risk-free 30-day returns. A third-party hardware vendor may not provide those same protections. And even if that vendor does offer support, it’s generally better to receive POS hardware support from your POS software company because it will have a better understanding of how the hardware interacts with the software and payment processing system.
An example: you can buy the StarÂ® mPOPâ¢ Basic bundle on Shopify for $439, which includes 24/7 support from Shopify, free shipping, free 30-day returns, and a two-year manufacturer warranty. The lowest price for this same bundle on Amazon is $444.74, with free shipping â but no support, return policy, or warranty to speak of. POSGuys sells the same bundle for almost $200 more at $625, with free shipping, free 20-day returns, a two-year manufacturer warranty, and lifetime support from POSGuys. Finally, Staples offers the bundle for $20 cheaper than Shopify at $419, but you’ll have to pay another $49.99 for a two-year Staples Protection & Tech Help plan.
Shopify also offers financing options for some of the pricier hardware items, such as receipt printers, label printers, iPad stands, and hardware bundles. Third-party sellers may or may not offer equipment financing, but if you do finance your POS hardware, it’s important to make sure you’re getting fair terms on that financing.
How Do I Get The Best Deal On Shopify Hardware?
So how can you get the best prices on Shopify POS equipment and avoid overspending but still get the maximum functionality?
First, take a close look at your needs to make sure you don’t get more than what’s necessary (if you don’t use barcodes, you won’t need a barcode scanner; if you don’t accept cash, you won’t need a cash drawer). You’ll also need to ensure that POS hardware is compatible with your device, Shopify plan, and Shopify version. Go through the Shopify hardware website and price out a few different scenarios, including the cost to buy items individually and how much it would be to purchase that hardware as a bundle. You can also shop for hardware on non-Shopify websites, but just make sure you check that vendor’s return and support policies and keep in mind that Shopify won’t be able to help you if your hardware doesn’t work as expected.
Interested in learning more about Shopify and how you can use this software to propel your business? Check out the following resources:
Shopify Facebook Stores: The Cheap & Easy Way To Sell Online
Shopify Payments Review: The pros and cons of Shopify’s integrated payment processor
What Is Shopify Pay & Why Does It Matter For Merchants?
The Complete Guide To Shopify Pricing
The 6 Best Shopify Dropshipping Apps & How To Use Them
The post Everything You Need To Know About Shopify POS Hardware: Cost, Where To Buy, & More appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
Here’s a tough question: Is your eCommerce website doing enough to bring in sales for your business?
Technology trends and standards change quickly, and many expert agree that you should overhaul your eCommerce site every two to three years to make sure you’re staying on top (in addition to regularly updating your site with product information, for example). However, if your site isn’t delivering the sales or the growth that you’ve been hoping for, the time to update could be right now.
Don’t worry. You don’t need to tear it all down and start from scratch. Take a look at these top design tips, identify areas where your site could use an update, and dig in to make a more navigable, appealing, and profitable online store!
Top 10 Design Tips For Your eCommerce Website
Start by taking a long hard look at your current website. According to Statista, these are some of the design elements online shoppers value most:
Good search function
User comments/product ratings
Good product placement
Overview of recently view items
How does your site rate when you look at it with those elements in mind? Check out some of your competitors’ pages, noticing what positives jump out at you as well which elements turn you off.
How does your site compare in these key areas?
1. Improve Search Functionality
Imagine walking into a new store. Maybe you have an idea of what you’re looking for, or maybe you’re just in the mood to have a look around. In this case, it doesn’t matter why you went in, because all the shelves in the store are covered with cloth, so you can’t see what’s on them, and the aisles are blocked with locked gates. How likely are you to stay in that store, much less to make a purchase?
That’s a ridiculous scenario, right? No one would ever design a store that blocks would-be customers! The truth is, though, that too many eCommerce websites place obstacles in customers’ way. So how can you remove them?
When shoppers visit your online store, no one physically greets them and says with a smile, “What can I help you find today?” Customers may have to find what they want on their own, but you make it easier for them to find what they need and have a pleasant browsing experience. That’s what’s meant by the term search functionality.
It can be as simple as making sure you have a search box located at the top of the screen, so it’s easy to find. Or you can take it to the next level, by customizing the search function to match your products, like in this example from music licensing site Rhythm Couture, which allows browsers to search not only by genre but also by mood.
Screenshot of Rhythm Couture website, captured 7/30/2020
2. Let Satisfied Shoppers Help You Sell
When it comes to eCommerce, trust can be a barrier that’s hard to overcome. As new customers find you, some of them will wonder if they can actually depend on your and your products. Will you really deliver what you say you will? And on time?
A well-designed, professional-looking website does a lot to establish your credibility. But you can go one better by allowing new customers to see testimonials from those who have shopped before them.
If your eCommerce platform allows customer reviews, enable them. Then display them prominently. You can put snippets of good reviews on your landing page and on the product reviews on product pages. Don’t worry about the fact that you might receive some negative reviews. A negative review alerts you to a problem that you then have the opportunity to correct. When new customers see that you respond to problems or shortcomings, they focus not on the problem but on the way you handle it.
By the way, you should reply to positive reviews as well as negative ones. Acknowledge satisfied customers and thank them for their business! That adds a personal touch to a faceless transaction and helps online shoppers form a relationship with your brand.
3. Make Sure Your Site Is Mobile-Friendly
Is your eCommerce site designed to work best on a big screen, like a laptop or desktop computer? How well does it translate to the small screen of a mobile device? Grab the nearest mobile device and test it out. If you’re wondering how important this really is, you can stop wondering. Last year, according to Statista, U.S. shoppers spent more than $135 per online order placed via desktop or laptop computer. From tablets, the average order totaled almost $102, while smartphones averaged $95 per transaction. That means total sales from mobile devices, combined, were almost 50% higher than sales from traditional computers. In other words, if your website doesn’t look great on a small screen, you may be turning customers off and leaving sales behind.
The good news is that whether you worked with a web designer or built the site yourself using a web-builders app, your site probably looks okay on a mobile device. The most popular web builders automatically convert your site from desktop to mobile for optimal viewing. If your site’s a little older, you can test it using Google’s mobile-friendly test. Don’t forget that many phones will load your site more slowly than a computer will. So don’t overload your site unnecessarily with enormous images or video files.
Screenshot of Google Mobile-Friendly test, captured 7/30/2020
4. Don’t Visually Overwhelm Your Users
Online shoppers don’t tend to stay on any website for too long. Even for a giant like Target, Walmart, or Amazon, the average customer stays only 3.5 to 10 minutes, according to Statista. The average visit to your website may be of even shorter duration. It’s tempting to use the “kitchen sink” method and throw everything you have onto your landing page, in hopes of giving that customer the one thing they’re looking for.
Don’t give in. A cluttered landing page is one of the worst design mistakes you can make. It’s far better to use simple design elements to speak to your customers and entice them to dig in further. Take a look at this example, from real estate website Trulia.com.
Screenshot of Trulia webpage, captured 7/30/2020
What’s great about it? It uses a compelling image as a background, one that speaks to the target audience of people searching for a new place to live. It has a simple and appealing tagline: “Discover a place you’ll love to live.” And customers can easily see how to use Trulia’s search function to locate their new home.
5. Don’t Hide From Customers
Remember just above, where we talked about trust as a deterrent to online sales? You have another chance to build credibility by making your contact information not just available but obvious.
Why is that important?
Whether it’s a first-time visitor or a returning customer, anyone considering an online purchase from you seeks reassurance that it’s safe to do business with you. That’s true not only when a problem arises but also when you’re just starting a relationship. Let customers see from the outset that you’ll be there to back them up on the off-chance that something goes wrong, and you’ll be more likely to earn their business.
That doesn’t mean you need to splash your personal email and contact information across your website. Take a look at this contact page from PayPal. It’s clear and uncluttered and the most important information is right up front: “Tell us about your issue so we can help you more quickly.” That personal offer is followed by an FAQ list that allows customers in a hurry to help themselves by searching a database of common questions. Down below are other contact options, including instant messaging, a community board, and a link to a resolution center, for customers with serious concerns. Your contact page may contain different elements, but the message should be the same: If you trust us with your business, we’ll be there for you when you need us.
Screenshot of PayPal webpage, captured 7/31/2020
A couple of last thoughts on the trust issue: You won’t be able to resolve every issue customers have, and that’s OK. You can reassure them at the point of sale by acknowledging that sometimes things go wrong, and you’ll still be there for them. That means making your returns policy obvious too. If you’re not sure how â or why â to create your online store’s return policy, read our article on eCommerce return policies to learn all about it.
Finally, make sure you let customers know that your online store is a safe place to do business from a cybersecurity perspective, too. Post your SSL certificate on your website to give customers peace of mind.
6. Use Images That Sell
It won’t matter if you have the finest, most perfect products in the world. Post crummy images of them online and you’ll find that sales are hard to come by. Does that mean you need to shell out big bucks for professional photography? If you have money in your budget, that’s certainly not a bad idea! But it’s not strictly necessary, so long as you follow some commonsense rules. The photos on your sales website should share these qualities:
High Quality:Â Don’t post photos that you snapped on your phone. Find a good digital camera and learn how to use it.
Zoomable: You can find a widget at low or no cost that allows users to click or rollover zoom to see details in your online photos.If you use a website builder, it probably has this function built-in.
Plentiful:Â Don’t place one picture per product and call it good. Show the item from multiple angles. Show how it can be used. Studies suggest that customers respond well to up to five photos per product.
Uncluttered:Â There’s no one right way to shoot your product photos. It depends upon your product and your audience. You may find it’s best to shoot them on a neutral background or to show them in the setting where they’ll be used. Just make sure to keep the focus on the product, and not any extraneous items included in the photo.
7. Stick With Your Branding
Your eCommerce store is an extension of your business and it should represent you well. Make sure that it echoes and amplifies your branding decisions. That means you should use the same color scheme as you use on your business card and brochures, the same type of background as you use on your social media sites, and the same language you use when you talk to customers about your product. Feature your logo prominently, too, so you make a strong first impression.
8. Make An Offer They Can’t Refuse
When new customers click their way to your website, you may have only a brief window of opportunity to gain their business. Give them an opportunity to save money or gain something for free, and you’ll have captured their attention â and maybe the sale. Whether it’s a buy-one-get-one sale, free shipping if you spend $100, or a no-strings-attached download once you enter your contact information, a special offer can convert a looker into a customer.
9. Tell Your Story
Another way to personalize the online sales experience is to let customers know who you are or to see an example of what you do. Take a look at the Grammarly landing page, below. Although this is just a screenshot, if you visit the site you’ll see that the box on the right provides an actual example of Grammarly’s editing service in action.
Screenshot of Grammerly webpage, captured 7/31/2020
This is a great example of telling your story online, in a compelling way that grabs customers’ attention. You may not be able to include a demonstration of your product or service, but you can add an About Us button that gives customers a look inside your operations and motivations. That’s another key to building trust.
10. Ask For The Sale
Traditional sales revolve around The Ask. Salespeople are trained to ask for the sale multiple times, in multiple ways. An online sale is really no different, except that you won’t have a live salesperson standing in front of the customer to close the sale. Your website itself needs to do the work for you. This landing page for the online collaborative coding platform Glitch offers a great example. It’s an uncluttered page, with some graphic elements and a description of what the site does. Right below that is The Ask:
See that big green button? “Join Glitch,” it entices. “It’s free,” it adds. That’s a pretty unmistakable call to action. Does your website ask customers to buy in such a straightforward fashion? If not, you may be leaving sales on the table, simply because you didn’t ask the customer to buy.
Screenshot of landing page for online coding platform Glitch, captured 7/31/2020
Optimizing Your eCommerce Website
A lot of elements combine to create a great eCommerce website. Hopefully, this list provides a starting point as you look at your current website and think about how you can improve it. If you feel it’s time to start from scratch, you can find a great website builder that allows you to do it yourself, even if you don’t know how to write a single line of code. When you work with an online builder, you’ll find templates and tools that have already taken these design elements into consideration, and it won’t be as much work as you anticipate to create an effective website. Before you know it, you’ll have an up-to-date, improved website â and online sales to match.
The post How To Wow Your Customers With Your eCommerce Website Design appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
The Pied Piper Play Cafe in Portland, Oregon’s Sellwood Neighborhood was a community favorite until it closed its doors for good.
The Pied Piper Play Cafe was the realization of a dream.
Located in Portland, Oregon’s Sellwood neighborhood, the cafe opened in 2015. It was whimsically decorated with a playful and detailed mural illustrating childhood storybook characters. The business also boasted a contained play area, served fresh food, and even had a patio and on-site parking. It was not just owner Melissa Swan’s dream; it was also the type of desired community gathering spot dreamed about by other frazzled parents juggling work and kids in the upscale district.
How It All Started
Prior to opening her doors, Swan did her homework.
She visited every other play place in the Portland area and set loose her own two little girls. “I’d sit there with my notebook and write down everything,” she said. Putting her “feet to the ground” enabled Swan to see what was working and not working. She tinkered with her business plan, adapted that plan, procured financing from investors (which included a successful Kickstarter campaign), stepped down from her teaching career, and started the Pied Piper Play Cafe.
Fast WiFi. Power outlets galore. Comfortable seating. A bathroom outfitted with parents of young children in mind. Bottomless drip coffee. Fresh food at cheap prices.
Swan’s homework paid off. Mostly.
“A complaint in many play places is that the food is expensive. Guests want to order something different than what they can whip up fast and cheap at their own place, so I had a great menu and my prices were affordable. Great idea, but I charged way too little. I should have charged more,” Swan said. “People always told me I needed to charge more.”
If she had to do it all over again, adjusting her food margins would be one piece of small advice. But often, the desire to please and serve the community outweighed her quest for profits; she knew she needed to revamp the menu and hire someone to run cost analysis; she knew there were ways to streamline and cut down on expenses in the kitchen. What time could she dedicate to those projects? As the single-owner of a business, Swan wore all the hats. Even deciding which hat to take off and delegate to another was an exhausting process.
“In the beginning, before I switched over to a food delivery service, I was shopping twice a day. Before opening and after closing, I’d hit the Cash ‘N Carry,” Swan said. “The morning rush was the most important time of day, so I’d be there to open and stay through the afternoon. During slower times, I’d manage guests and do my finances, work on the menu, clean, post on social media, work on my newsletter, respond to guest emails and inquiries.”
She admits that that time of her life is “a total blur.”
Deciding To Close For Good
It took a single moment for Swan to know she should walk away.
Swan was crunching the numbers to see if she could take any time away from the business. She was there seven days a week, working 8-10 hour days at the business site, and only getting small bursts of time away — and even that time away was still spent on the business, shopping, marketing, managing her books. The more enjoyable aspects of her business, like trivia nights and special events, meant she would put in even more time per week. It felt unsustainable.
“The numbers said it would take a number of unforeseen years before I was profitable enough to relinquish the day-to-day management. I was so focused one night after I closed, I was sitting there working on my newsletter, and as I was sending it out, I realized it was my youngest daughter’s birthday. I’d completely forgotten,” Swan said. “And that was it. Even though I opened the cafe to do something that would give me hours with my kids, I was going to miss their entire childhood if I stayed open.”
Swan estimated that on a good week she spent 60 hours working. She is not alone. According to a survey by the New York Enterprise Report, “The majority of small business owners say they work at least 50 hours a week.” The same report noted that 25% of business owners worked over 60 hours a week.
Initially, Swan hoped owning her own business would give her more hours at home and fewer outside work hours than teaching (another job not known to inspire work-life balance). At least with teaching, she could grade papers at home. Swan felt like her children spent most of their time with her at the cafe. “They were growing up there,” she said.
She spent the next day exploring her options. She had a lease; she still owed some money to angel investors; the business was still a place of great joy and connection; there was grief mixed with the relief. It was a process.
It wasn’t too long after that opportunity knocked. A local food cart was making a transition to a brick and mortar restaurant and was eyeing her space. The onsite parking and patio were big draws for their purposes as well, and the sushi-crafting partners mentioned to Swan that they were fans of her location.
“I mentioned I was thinking of closing and asked if they were interested in negotiating a bill of sale for the entire business,” Swan said. It didn’t take long for the two small businesses to make a deal. They took over her lease and she sold the business as-is including the sale of all her kitchen equipment: commercial fridges and freezers; oven; dishwasher; fryer; stovetop.
When Swan took over the business space herself, she converted the open space into a workable commercial kitchen — the sushi restaurant benefited greatly from her hard work getting the place up to code. She benefited from getting to name her number. “There’s part of me that feels like I left money on the table,” she laughed. “I had a number in my head that wasn’t too high, reasonable, and they accepted it far too quickly.”
Tying Up Loose Ends
The actual closing of the business was a headache. She ran her last payroll through Heartland Payroll services, paid all of her invoices, sold the remaining equipment (including her climbing structure to a play location opening nearby; that small business also closed its doors last month). She followed the IRS checklist for business closures and tried to work through her sadness and questions about what to do next. She hired a local accountant to work on her books and had kept careful records using QuickBooks accounting programs.
“There was a lot to do,” Swan said. “But I have no regrets. Not about opening or closing.”
Even though the cafe “consumed her life,” Swan is often grateful and nostalgic for running her own business.
“I would run into people in the community and people would say hello. Exhausted moms would confess the play cafe was their sanctuary. It felt like a service to provide this space, and I loved that aspect. There are people I met at the cafe who are still my friends,” Swan said. She still misses the people the most.
The mad rush of owning a business? She doesn’t miss that as much.
Tips For Other Small Business Owners
Melissa Swan’s best tips for small business owners just starting out is to evaluate their business model to determine chances for success. “Having a good idea is easy,” Swan said, “but how lucrative can that good idea be? Do you have the ability to make yourself different and stand out? You wind up working so much, so it’s important to understand what that investment of time will look like.”
She also wishes she had used Square’s software and hardware early on and for everything. “I was scammed by a local point of sale merchant who talked me into a four-year lease on equipment I couldn’t even use,” she recounted. “I wish I had started using Square from the start because I ended up switching over to it anyway. I had this giant piece of equipment just taking up space; I was paying monthly for nothing.”
Her other piece of advice is to embrace Kickstarter, even if it feels a little uncomfortable to ask for money in that manner. “I do recommend Kickstarter and it was 100% worth doing. My two complaints were that they do take a chunk out of your earnings, and I was just embarrassed asking for money. It felt like a show, a dance, but the Kickstarter did help,” Swan said.
She also understands the loss many small business owners are experiencing across the globe as the pandemic dictates small business success or failure. There is a sense of gratitude that closing the cafe was her choice and not a choice made for her through tragedy. Even so, there are still moments when Swan entertains the idea of going back into business. There’s something in her that loves the challenges of dreaming and creating a place that serves the community and can turn a profit.
“I don’t think I’d ever want to own a brick and mortar store again,” she mused. “But there are many options for a small business that I still think about. Maybe a food cart someday . . . I can see myself possibly owning a food cart.”
For more of Merchant Maverick’s tips on shutting your doors for good, read our article How To Close A Business.
The post Dissolution Of A Dream: One Small Business’s Journey To Closing Its Doors appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
If you’ve looked into using a DIY website builder service to create a website for your business, it’s likely that you’ve come across Squarespace. Squarespace is a tool that allows you to create a great-looking and functional website without having to possess coding knowledge or hire a team of developers.
However, you may not be familiar with the particulars of how Squarespace works and how it stacks up against other website building software apps. That’s why we’ve set out to define exactly what Squarespace is and clarify how you can use it to benefit your small business. Read on for a full exploration.
What Is Squarespace?
Squarespace is a cloud-based SaaS (software as a service) website builder. You can try it out for free for 14 days without being required to enter your payment information. To continue with Squarespace after your trial period is up, you’ll have to choose from between Squarespace’s four subscription plans, each of which is offered both on a month-to-month basis and on an annual basis. Because the annual option is offered at a discount and comes with a free domain for a year, we recommend it over the monthly option.
A Squarespace subscription includes hosting for your website, SSL security, and 24/7 customer support.
Perhaps the main factor that distinguishes Squarespace from the competition is its commitment to elegant design. Squarespace’s templates look and perform better than just about any templates you’ll find in a DIY website builder, making Squarespace a particularly good website solution for artists, photographers, and others for whom sharp aesthetics are of paramount importance.
How Does Squarespace Work?
Like nearly every other website builder, Squarespace uses the SaaS model, meaning the software is cloud-based and that you won’t have to install anything. As I mentioned earlier, Squarespace is a paid subscription service with four different subscription plans. These plans run from $12/month to $40/month with an annual subscription. For more details on the cost of using Squarespace, including hosting and payment processing fees, read our Squarespace pricing article.
Squarespace brings together a wide array of elements and features that give freelancers and business owners the ability to create gorgeous and functional websites. Here is but a sampling of them:
Smart Image Handling: Squarespace gives you some nice tools to refine your custom images, such as optional Image Zoom, Set Focal Point (to ensure the best part of your image is centered in any thumbnail), galleries, automatic image scaling, automatic text wrapping, and display effects. Another feature photographers will appreciate is progressive image loading — enabling this will ensure that the images on the top of your website load first, speeding up loading times for visitors.
Device View: Squarespace lets you check out your site in three configurations: desktop, tablet, and mobile. As you build your site, this feature means you can make sure your site performs well on each device type.
Conversion Metrics: View your siteâs performance, learn about your siteâs traffic, and identify sticking points for your visitors.
SEO Features: Customize image file names, product tags, and meta descriptions.
Forms: Squarespaceâs editor gives you access to a number of attractive prefab contact forms. You can easily customizable these forms to fit your business needs. Add as many form fields as you wish, along with checkboxes, radio buttons, and the like.
Blogging: Squarespaceâs blogging system is one of the platformâs highlights. From the ability to schedule posts to the option to have multiple authors posting to the same blog, Squarespaceâs blogging capabilities are excellent. You can even host a podcast on a Squarespace blog. The commenting system is pretty sophisticated as well.
Sell Physical & Digital Products: Squarespace’s capable eCommerce system lets you sell and deliver digital content as well as physical offerings. You can also use your Squarespace store to accept donations.
Inventory Management:Â Track inventory for products and product variants.
Shipping Calculator:Â Use the real-time shipping calculator to charge precise shipping rates for USPS, UPS, and FedEx.
Subscriptions:Â Sell recurring and limited subscriptions.
Squarespace Commerce App: The Commerce App allows iOS and Android device users the ability to run their businesses from anywhere. The App includes an integrated barcode scanner, inventory management, discount creation, and the ability to process in-person sales.
Squarespace Point Of Sale: Squarespace just introduced its new Point of Sale system, which allows you to connect your Squarespace Commerce App with a Square Reader for magstripe, contactless, and chip transactions. The system connects to your inventory management, making it easy to manage a store with both in-person and eCommerce elements. Square POS is included with a Basic/Advanced Commerce subscription, and no Squarespace transaction fees are charged beyond the base cost of Squareâs payment processing.
The Benefits Of Squarespace
Squarespace’s appeal lies in the fact that it offers both accessibility and advanced functionality. While there are website builders out there that are even simpler and easier to use, just as there are circumstances that call for a more sophisticated solution such as a custom developer-built website or a WordPress site, Squarespace aims for the sweet spot that encompasses ease of use, sharp aesthetics, and utility.
What’s more, Squarespace is a relatively cost-effective website solution. While you will find website builders offering cheaper subscription plans, the differences aren’t huge, and the cost of hiring developers to build you a custom website with the kind of aesthetic precision Squarespace offers is going to be several orders of magnitude higher.
Easy to use
Great for photography and blogging
Capable eCommerce system for online and in-person selling
Free 14-day trialÂ — you don’t need to give your payment information until you sign up for a paid plan
The Drawbacks Of Squarespace
As I mentioned above, Squarespace isn’t the cheapest website solution out there. Many other website builders offer a bare-bones free plan, while Squarespace only offers a 14-day free trial. However, this lack of a free plan shouldn’t trouble most business owners — the free plans offered by the likes of Wix and Weebly are quite limited in the features they offer.
Another drawback: Although Squarespace can host a good online store and can even facilitate offline commerce with its new POS system, it still doesn’t quite measure up with the likes of Shopify when it comes to eCommerce. You simply won’t get access to as many merchant features as you would with Shopify. Furthermore, Squarespace only offers two payment processing options for online sales (and only one — Square — for offline sales).
Squarespace’s customer support comes in for its share of criticism as well, with many users noting the lack of phone support.
Limited eCommerce features
No free plan
Limited customer service options
Who Should Use Squarespace?
Squarespace’s capabilities match up very well with the needs of artists, photographers, podcasters, bloggers, and freelancers in general. The software allows you to create a professional, elegant website without breaking the bank. It’s as simple as that.
Likewise, Squarespace’s eCommerce features make it a good choice for smaller eCommerce outfits as well as certain types of brick-and-mortar establishments. Larger, high-volume eCommerce businesses are better served by dedicated eCommerce services like Shopify or BigCommerce, however.
How Does Squarespace Compare To Wix, WordPress, & Others?
As I’ve said, Squarespace’s eCommerce chops don’t quite compare with the likes of Shopify. Read our Shopify VS Squarespace piece for more on this comparison. While smaller sellers will find a lot to like about Squarespace, more ambitious merchants will find even more to like about Shopify.
Another Squarespace competitor you’ve likely come across is Wix, which is currently the most widely used website builder on the planet. As we wrote in our Wix VS Squarespace comparison article, we give Wix the overall edge; it’s even easier to use than Squarespace, and it offers a much greater range of add-ons and integrations through its Wix App Market. However, that’s not to say that Wix is better for everyone. Squarespace’s superior aesthetics still make it a more fitting choice for art, photography, blogging, and podcasting.
Another Squarespace alternative we should discuss is WordPress. WordPress is a Content Management System (CMS), not a DIY website builder, so this isn’t quite an apples-to-apples comparison. However, a WordPress site can integrate with a much wider range of products and services than can Squarespace and is almost infinitely customizable. If you need a business website with more advanced functionality than Squarespace can offer and/or you want to retain the option of taking your site to a different web host should you grow dissatisfied with your current one, you should look into creating a website with WordPress instead.
That said, WordPress is nowhere near as user-friendly as Squarespace, and unless you possess some serious web development skills, you’ll likely need to outsource the creation of your site to a team of web developers and designers, thus making a WordPress site cost-prohibitive for smaller businesses and freelancers.
How To Get Started With Squarespace
Getting started with Squarespace is a cinch. First, you sign up — you don’t need to enter your credit card information at this stage, just your email address and a password. If you want to continue using Squarespace for free, you can do so for a period of 14 days. If you’re ready to purchase a subscription plan, you’ll be able to immediately buy a domain for your site from Squarespace. If you get an annual subscription, you’ll pay nothing for your domain for the first year. Domains cost $20-$70 each subsequent year when purchased through Squarespace. And if you opt to use Squarespace for free for the free trial period, you’ll get a temporary Squarespace-branded URL.
After answering some basic questions about the purpose of your site, you’ll be able to choose a template. You can narrow down your search by selecting a category (templates are organized into categories based on site purpose) or by simply typing your site’s purpose into the box provided (“To sell my artwork” for example). After choosing a template, you’ll be taken to the dashboard to start editing your site.
At this point, you’ll be able to add pages to your site and edit them to your heart’s content. Squarespace’s site editing system is fairly self-explanatory, and to the extent that it isn’t, Squarespace provides a knowledgebase, tutorial videos, webinars, and more to help you understand the editor.
At this point, you can edit your site and integrate some of the more basic tools on offer. For access to the more advanced features, including many of the eCommerce tools, you’ll need to sign up for a paid subscription. For a look at some of Squarespace’s best feature add-ons, read our post detailing Squarespace’s 8 best integrations.
Is Squarespace For Me?
Squarespace is an excellent tool for those who want to create a design-forward website for their business without spending a boatload and without having to learn code. Artists, photographers, bloggers, podcasters, and owners of smaller online stores are particularly well-positioned to take advantage of what Squarespace has to offer.
If you’re curious, give Squarespace a try and explore it thoroughly during your 14-day trial period. See if the template designs are to your tastes and if the editor works to your liking. If you find Squarespace to be a good fit for your business — or if you don’t — drop us a comment and let us know about your experience!
If you think another website builder might better fit your needs, check out our article on the 10 best Squarespace alternatives.
The post What Is Squarespace & Is It Right For You? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has created the worst economic disruption for small business owners in the last 90 years. Even in parts of the country where restrictions are being lifted and businesses are slowly starting to re-open, the need to invest in additional sanitation measures and protective equipment to comply with local and state public health requirements has raised costs at a time when incoming revenue is still drastically reduced. Critically important small business supply chains have been disrupted, further increasing the cost of doing business.
As a small business owner, you may feel that you have no choice but to pass as much of your increased expenditures onto your customers as possible if you want to avoid going out of business. In fact, some owners have already done so, implementing what has come to be called a âCOVID surcharge.â This surcharge is a small amount â either a percentage or a fixed dollar amount â thatâs tacked onto a customerâs bill and specifically designated to cover increased pandemic-related expenses.
In this article, weâll discuss COVID surcharges and why some business owners around the country have implemented them. Weâll go over the likely response youâll get from your customers if you choose this course of action (hint: itâs not positive). Weâll also give you several alternative strategies you can implement that will increase your incoming revenue without the need for a surcharge. Finally, weâll show you how you can use business data (often automatically generated by your POS system) to manage your costs and improve your ability to keep up with the additional pandemic-related expenditures.
Why Some Businesses Are Adding Surcharges During The Coronavirus Pandemic
As weâve alluded to above, COVID surcharges are a direct response to the additional costs required to operate a business safely in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. Protecting your customers and your employees from a highly contagious, potentially deadly disease requires a lot of extra equipment and safety measures that werenât necessary just a few months ago. Disposable gloves, masks, hand sanitizer, extra signage to encourage proper social distancing, regular fumigation of your business â it all adds up to a significant cost at a time when youâre likely to be severely limited in how many customers you can even allow into your shop or restaurant at a time. For businesses that operate on a very thin (e.g., 2-3%) margin in normal times, the cost can be too much to bear while still turning a profit.
So, how have COVID surcharges worked out for the business owners whoâve implemented them? To put it mildly, not very well. While some customers are willing to pay a little extra temporarily to support a favorite local business during hard times, many others have responded with anger and disgust.
Consider the unfortunate case of Kiko Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Lounge in West Plains, Missouri, which has attracted a lot of attention nationally. Faced with rising COVID-related costs and not wanting to raise prices across the board, the owners decided to implement a 5% surcharge. They went out of their way to explain to customers why they were doing so through social media and signs posted at their restaurant. Despite their best efforts to be transparent about the surcharge, they received a tremendous amount of criticism for it, often from people out of the area who werenât even patrons of their restaurant. They eventually were forced to discontinue the surcharge, and instead raised their prices to cover the extra expenses.
If reading horror stories like this one has you thinking that COVID surcharges are a bad idea, youâre probably right. However, there are some circumstances where they might work. A lot will depend on how your usual clientele has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. If youâre located in a well-off area, and most of your customers are still gainfully employed (either at home or working in an âessentialâ industry), they probably wonât mind paying a little extra to support a favorite business.
On the other hand, if youâre in an area that has experienced a lot of job losses and your customers are struggling, hitting them up with a surcharge is probably not a good idea. You should also take a close look at what your primary competitors are doing. You probably donât want to be the first business in your area to start implementing a surcharge. However, if other businesses are already imposing them and havenât faced a significant backlash, it might be safe to add your own surcharge as well. Overall, we consider COVID surcharges as a last resort that should only be implemented if you have no other way of maintaining profitability and staying in business. Here are some other options you should consider first before implementing a surcharge:
Four Alternative Strategies For Boosting Profit Margins
Businesses that operate on tight margins have always had ways of reducing their costs as much as possible, and many of those tricks might have been effective in ânormalâ times. However, in the face of a worldwide pandemic, youâll need to try some new strategies to keep your costs low and your profits high (or at least, high enough to stay in business). Here are a few things that you might not have considered before that can help you stay afloat until the economy recovers:
Modify Your Menu Items Or Goods That You Sell
If youâre running a restaurant, you already know that some menu items are more popular than others, and some cost more to make than others. By shifting your menu selection to emphasize popular items that have a high per-item profit margin, you can increase your incoming revenue and lower your overall ingredient costs at the same time. If youâre not quite sure how to do this, our restaurant food cost calculator can help you get started.
Of course, this technique isnât limited to restaurants alone. Other types of businesses, especially retail stores, can apply the same principles to help improve their cash flow. We probably donât need to tell you that certain items (e.g., toilet paper, soap, hand sanitizer, face masks, etc.) have become much more popular during the COVID-19 pandemic. Besides these obvious items, weâve seen dramatically increased demand for just about anything related to working from home, including items like office chairs, desks, and even webcams for video conferencing.
Offer A Cash Discount
One strategy for improving profitability that was already gaining in popularity before the pandemic is to shift the costs associated with credit card processing onto your customers. Often advertised as free credit card processing, this technique can be implemented by either adding a surcharge for customers who pay with a credit card or providing a cash discount to those who pay in cash. With surcharging, a small fee to cover the cost of credit card processing is added to the bill if a customer pays with a credit card. With a cash discounting program, your advertised prices will include the cost of credit card processing, and these prices will be discounted at checkout for customers who donât use a credit card.
While the distinction between these two programs may seem very subtle, there are important legal differences between them. Cash discounting is legal everywhere in the United States, but surcharging is currently still prohibited in four states and several US territories. Your merchant account provider can help you set up either of these programs (assuming there are no legal restrictions in your jurisdiction), including providing you with the required signage to notify your customers and reprogramming your terminal or POS system to apply a surcharge or cash discount automatically.
For more details on how these programs work and how to implement them in your business, check out our article, Your Complete Guide To Credit Card Surcharges.
Raise Your Prices
If the previous two strategies donât produce the desired results, it might be time to simply raise your prices. You may have to do this anyway if the prices you have to pay for inventory or raw ingredients go up due to supply chain problems.
We recommend that you implement targeted price increases, focusing on high-demand menu items or products. However, raising your prices across the board by an equal amount can also be effective. Which option is better will depend on a variety of factors, so youâll have to evaluate the unique circumstances of your business to determine the best course of action.
While most of your customers will be (grudgingly) understanding about the need to raise prices in the face of a national emergency, be careful that you donât overdo it. Check your stateâs anti-price gouging laws, if any, to ensure that you donât get yourself in legal trouble. California, for example, makes it illegal to raise prices for basic goods and services by more than 10% above pre-pandemic levels.
Lastly, price increases should be temporary. Make an effort to communicate to your customers that you intend to bring your prices back down once you can resume normal operations without the need for additional protective measures.
Implement Surcharging As A Last Resort
If none of the above strategies â either individually or in combination â prove sufficient to turn things around and your ability to continue to operate is imperiled, you may find that you have no choice but to impose a COVID surcharge. Obviously, youâll want to communicate this to your customers before making the change, and you should also set the surcharge as low as possible. Ideally, it should be just enough to recoup your additional COVID-related expenses. As weâve seen from the real-world examples above, you will probably receive at least some blowback for the surcharge. However, it can still be effective if your actual customers are willing to support it.
We recommend an across-the-board percentage-based surcharge rather than a flat âconvenience fee.â The latter option will disproportionately affect low ticket sizes and could discourage some customers from making a purchase at all. Your merchant account provider can help you reprogram your processing equipment to apply the surcharge automatically. Again, itâs critically important that you communicate with your customers before you start adding a surcharge to their bills, and be sure to discontinue this extra fee as soon as itâs possible to do so.
How To Use Your Business Data To Track The Impact Of Pricing Decisions
Youâll need to be able to gauge how effectively any pricing changes or surcharges are helping (or hurting) your bottom line. Make sure that all additional fees are entered properly into your POS system, and keep accurate notes of when prices were changed or when surcharges were implemented or discontinued. Modern POS systems and online data analytics tools offered by your merchant account provider can prove invaluable in quickly analyzing the effect of any changes you make, and they can gather and analyze the data automatically for you.
You should also determine the effective rate youâre paying for credit card processing. If your effective rate is too high, it might be time to switch to a more affordable merchant account provider. While you might be reluctant to make this kind of significant change in the middle of a pandemic, doing so can potentially save you hundreds of dollars per month in credit card processing expenses. Take a look at our Merchant Account Comparison Chart for an overview of some of the providers who can save you the most money.
Related: Why Point Of Sale Data Is The Secret To Understanding Your Business And Making More Sales
The Bottom Line: The Pandemic Will Affect Your Bottom Line For The Foreseeable Future
If youâve been reading this far, you probably understand that we donât think COVID surcharges are a good idea. They have a very high potential for hurting your online reputation and driving away customers. As weâve shown, there are many other ways to generate the necessary income youâll need to cover your COVID-related expenditures. Modifying your product or menu item lineup, imposing credit card surcharging (or a cash discount), and targeted price increases can all be used to cover these expenses without the need for a COVID surcharge.
For many businesses, switching to a more affordable merchant account provider can be the most effective strategy of all to improve your profitability and cover any additional expenses you incur during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hopefully, the techniques weâve discussed above can help you get through the current pandemic, especially if the much-anticipated second wave of infection becomes a reality in the near future. Thanks for reading, and good luck!
The post Should You Implement A COVID Surcharge? 4 Ways To Manage Your Profitability During The Pandemic appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
In much of the US, small businesses have been given the green light to reopen after several weeks of closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But with new cases and deaths still rising and no vaccine on the immediate horizon, experts warn that the coronavirus will likely be with us for some time. Though some types of businesses may be able to implement adequate provisions for social distancing, it is feared that the loosening of social distancing restrictions throughout the country could result in another wave of cases.
There’s still so much we don’t know about the novel coronavirus, but we know a lot more than we did a few months ago. Every day, we are learning more about how businesses can safely reopen, and how they can pivot to stay profitable in these new times. As the weeks go on, we’ll also learn more about what’s not safe and what does not work. In this post, we’ll take a look at some precautions you can take to prepare your business for a possible second wave of COVID-19.
Why The Second Wave Of The Coronavirus Could Be Harder Than The First
You’ve probably heard a lot about the coronavirus possibly being in our lives for 18-24 months. The reason is that this is the amount of time it could take for us to either a) develop a vaccine or b) develop herd immunity against the virus. But what exact course the virus will take in those 18 months to two years is unknown.
A new report from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) presents three possible scenarios for the coronavirus, which are based on what scientists know about COVID-19 as well as historical pandemics. Scenario 1 is that after the spring 2020 wave subsides, we get that big dreaded “second wave” we hear so much about this fall or winter, with some smaller waves occurring periodically thereafter. In that scenario, which emulates the 1918-1919 Spanish flu pandemic, the second wave is even bigger and deadlier than the first. This model also reflects the warning from CDC director Robert Redfield, who cautioned that a second wave of the coronavirus in fall or winter could potentially be even more devastating than the first, partly because it will coincide with flu season.
Another scenario presented in the report is that after spring 2020, we’ll see a series of peaks and valleys of the virus over a one- to two-year period, varying by geographic region. CIDRAP says that, depending on the height of the wave peaks, this scenario could require “periodic reinstitution and subsequent relaxation of mitigation measures over the next 1 to 2 years.”
The third scenario posited by CIDRAP is that we’ll see more of a “slow burn” with ongoing low levels of transmission but no major spikes. While this hasn’t happened in past pandemics, the scientists say it remains a possibility for SARS-CoV-2 and one which likely would not require reinstitution of stay-at-home orders or strict social distancing measures.
So it’s pretty clear to see how second waves, third waves, and so forth, will impact businesses and potentially require new lockdowns restricting business activity. While we can be cautiously optimistic that the worst-case scenarios won’t come true, we also need to be prepared for the possibility of a second wave of the virus that could result in more business restrictions and lockdowns.
It’s also a sad reality that even if the second wave is less severe from a health perspective, the economic toll of another prolonged closure (partial or otherwise) could be the final nail in the coffin for many small businesses still trying to recover from the economic effects of the first closure.
Is It Safe To Reopen Yet?
With no national quarantine or coronavirus-related business restrictions in place, states are each making their own decisions about reopening businesses. Individual counties and cities have their own business restrictions as well, with some cities and counties requiring masks at places of business and others having no such requirement. As both the pandemic and the recession continue to deepen, there’s a lot of discussion about how to balance economic health and public health, and also whether local governments are being too hasty about reopening businesses.
When you look at what businesses are doing now, there is a lot of variance from one region to the next, with some states, such as California, maintaining stricter social distancing protocols. For instance, California restaurants can offer takeout and delivery but not dine-in service. California is also doing some phased reopening — such as allowing curbside pickup for retail — in response to effective curve-flattening measures that have slowed the growth of new cases and deaths. Higher-risk businesses that require close contact with other people, including salons, barbers, gyms, and theaters, remain closed.
Meanwhile, in states such as Tennessee, dine-in restaurants are already open, as are salons and gyms. Tennessee is also lifting the 50% capacity restrictions on retail and restaurants, effective May 22. The state is even allowing large attractions, such as theaters, amusement parks, water parks, museums, and auditoriums, to reopen, also on May 22.
So, sticking with those two examples, are Tennessee businesses jumping the gun on reopening, even inviting a second wave? While California does have more than four times as many cases as Tennessee, the share of the population that’s infected is actually higher in Tennessee — one in 391 in Tennessee and one in 489 in California, according to New York Times data.
While time will tell the true impact of business reopenings during the pandemic, based on what immunologists tell us about where you are most likely to be infected by COVID-19 — indoor spaces with lots of people — it’s easy to see how even a single transmission event in a crowded gym or restaurant could cause a local outbreak and resulting business closures.
Again, some types of businesses may be able to reopen a lot more safely than others. It’s possible that, given the right circumstances, even higher-risk businesses such as salons may be able to safely reopen with stepped-up health and safety measures. It will be largely up to business owners (and their local governments) to decide if and how they can safely reopen, but generally, the better safety measures you can put in place, the better protected your business will be against a second wave of the coronavirus.
8 Things You Need To Do To Prepare Your Business
What do business owners need to do to get ready for future outbreaks? What should you have learned, and what should you be prepared to do the second time around? Let’s look at some specific things business owners can do to prepare for another wave of COVID-19.
Invest In Safety
Both to reassure customers and prevent your business from being a source of infection, it’s essential that you step up the health and safety policies of your store or restaurant. Whether that means investing in better personal protective equipment for your staff, putting up signs to encourage social distancing, or improving your building’s ventilation system, you can’t go wrong with a cleaner, healthier business. While most businesses have already implemented some enhanced safety measures, it’s likely you still have some room for improvement, especially if you initially implemented safety measures made for short-term/temporary use.
If you’ve received an EIDL or PPP loan from the SBA, you might consider spending some of it on safety-related supplies, such as PPE, or enhanced sick leave for your staff to discourage them from coming into work sick. (Note that you can only spend 25% of a PPP on non-payroll expenses.)
Revisit Staffing Plans
As businesses reopen, they are having to reevaluate their staffing needs going forward. In some cases, businesses have received PPP funds, but their employees don’t want to come back; other businesses are shutting their doors for good because their loan still hasn’t come through. As the crisis drags on, it’s necessary to view staffing with a long-term view and consideration of what you will do if a second wave forces you to close again. For example, if you’re currently seeing an uptick in demand after reopening, do you need more staff urgently, or can you wait to hire till later to avoid laying people off in the event of another closure?
A POS with employee management can help you make smart scheduling decisions. It’s also a good idea to communicate openly with your employees about your staffing plans because they are probably just as anxious as you about what will happen.
Work On Your Online Presence
If it wasn’t clear already, the pandemic has shown us that having an online presence is an essential tool for communicating with customers about changes to your hours, policies, and other crucial information customers need. Before visiting a business these days, we are more likely than ever to check the business’s website or Yelp profile — we want to make sure they’re still open, and in what capacity. Ahead of a possible second wave, it’s absolutely necessary to get in the habit of routinely updating your website and social media profiles with your current information. You can also use your website and social media for marketing, including offering special online sales during a closure.
If you don’t have a website for your business, you may be able to set one up through your POS — for example, Square POS lets you set up a basic website in minutes. You can also use a website builder to set up a professional website; read Best Website Builders For Small Businesses to learn about options.
Set Up eCommerce Sales
Small business websites have also become an increasingly vital sales channel during the coronavirus pandemic, as eCommerce = socially distanced commerce. If your business doesn’t have eCommerce options, it’s time to set them up. Depending on your business model and industry, you may want to implement the following eCommerce options:
Online Ordering/Local Delivery: Customers can order items or food from your website and have the items shipped or delivered to their homes.
Curbside Pickup/Order Ahead: Customers order from your website and then visit your store to pick them up without having to go inside.
QR Code Shopping: Customers can scan an item’s QR code in your store or store window and then buy the item online.
Online Gift Cards: Customers can buy digital or physical gift cards from your website and spend them on your website or in your store at a later date.
Contactless Payments: This is more of a POS option that can allow for socially distanced payments, but adding a digital payment option, such as Apple Pay,Â can also add another convenient option for customers to pay on your website with one click.
Social Media Selling: Even if you don’t have a full-on eCommerce website, you can sell products and services on social media. Multichannel POS systems, such as Shopify, make it easy to sell on social media, and Square also has a new Square Online Checkout payment option that makes it easy for customers to buy straight from your social media page.
Gather Important Paperwork In One Place
Being organized is key when applying for financing or any kind of aid. If you need a second round of emergency loans, speed will be essential. Make sure you keep all your important paperwork in one place, so you can access it when you need it. If you have received a PPP loan, you’ll also need to keep good documentation practices for when it comes time to apply for PPP forgiveness or if you are unlucky enough to face a PPP audit.
Look At Sales Data
When you need to pare-down operations (reduced business hours, limited customer capacity, online-only, etc.), you need to be super-strategic about what you sell. To this end, your point of sale system should have a wealth of POS data about when you were busiest, what sold well, slow-selling items, etc. You can leverage that data to do things, such as raise prices on hot sellers, lower food costs on a higher-cost dish (for restaurants), adjust your hours and staffing based on your busiest times, and much more.
Small businesses that can use data wisely to adapt quickly are in the best position to survive a second wave of the coronavirus and even a prolonged economic downturn. If you do not have a modern cloud POS with good reporting and analytics, now might be the time to upgrade. Check out our top POS software comparison to look at some of your best options.
Prepare For Shortages & Price Fluctuations
The pandemic has drastically affected the global supply chain, and it is very likely that your business could see shortages of products, supplies, ingredients, or raw materials. Even if you can get the items you need for your business, you may have to deal with price increases. These shortages and resulting price increases could be exacerbated by future waves of the virus, even if your immediate region is not affected. For example, restaurants are now seeing meat shortages and higher meat prices due to outbreaks at meat-processing plants.
In some cases, however, you might get lucky and see price decreases for some supplies, due to decreased demand and possible deflation. For example, gas prices tumbled during the early days of the pandemic. Overall, US producer prices posted their largest annual drop in five years in April 2020. The downside to falling prices is that customers will expect lower prices as well.
For more insight into the supply chain and COVID-19, read Why Small Business Owners Need To Understand Supply Chain & Risk Mitigation: COVID-19 Edition.
During times of uncertainty, it’s important to keep a close eye on your business finances and your cash flow in particular. Crunch your numbers and project your future earnings under different scenarios. If you’re facing another closure, how could your cash flow be affected? What about debts? If you’re not used to making these sorts of calculations, it might be a good idea to employ the services of a financial advisor who can offer a cash flow analysis and give you sound advice about how to handle your business’s finances in the current climate. Accounting software can also help.
15 Resources To Help You Weather Another Wave Of COVID-19
Here is a list of resources you can use to adapt your business to the new times we’re living through. Use these resources to learn more about socially distanced selling, emergency financing, and software that can help you sell smarter during COVID-19.
Take Advantage Of These Small Business Grants For Coronavirus Relief: Find out if your coronavirus-affected small business is eligible for a COVID-19 relief grant from an organization, such as Facebook, Amazon, Spanx, or others.
5 Clever Marketing Tactics For Small Businesses During The Coronavirus Pandemic: Keeping in touch with customers is even more important as businesses temporarily close or switch to online and delivery. Here are five marketing tactics to help.
Social Distancing For Small Business: How You Can Adapt & Survive The Coronavirus:Â Social distancing can help contain the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has hit small businesses hard. Your business can weather the storm by getting creative.
Coronavirus Payments Guide: Everything You Need To Know About Switching To Online & Phone Payments: This article has everything you need to know about accepting payments online and over the phone instead of in-person.
Quick Business Loans: The 6 Best Lenders & 10 Tips For Fast Approval:Â Looking for fast cash for your business? Read this one for a look at six reputable lenders that provide quick business loans and fast approval.
What The Coronavirus Means For eCommerce & What Your Business Can Do About It:Â What does the coronavirus mean for eCommerce business? Learn the top eCommerce trends and how your small business can leverage them.
Everything You Need To Know About NFC Technology & Why NFC Payments Are The Future:Â Are you ready for the future of payments? Business owners should learn how NFC works and adopt contactless to protect customers — and yourself.
The Business Owner’s Retail Guide To Surviving The Coronavirus:Â Are you a small business retailer worried about the state of your business? Check the top tips and resources to keep your business strong during COVID-19.
Coronavirus Survival Guide For Restaurants:Â Learn how your restaurant business can adapt to new business conditions in the age of coronavirus, including resources on how you can save your business from closing and continue serving customers during this crisis.
5 POS Systems With Exceptional eCommerce Integrations For Online Sellers:Â eCommerce sales are growing, but retail stores arenât going away any time soon. Get the best of both worlds with these great eCommerce-friendly POS systems.
Restaurant Delivery Guide: Everything You Need To Know About Implementing In-House Delivery: Considering expanding your restaurantâs services to include delivery? Hereâs what you need to know to implement restaurant delivery successfully.
What Is Square Online Checkout? Your Guide To Using This New Square Payment Option:Â Square just launched a brand new payment service called Square Online Checkout. Learn about this online payment option and how it can help businesses in the age of coronavirus.
Why Point Of Sale Data Is The Secret To Understanding Your Business And Making More Sales:Â Your small business is sitting on a gold mine of information locked away in your POS system. Learn how to use that point of sale data to your benefit.
Easy Accounting Software For Small Businesses: Find easy accounting software for your business no matter what your level of accounting experience is. These top seven choices are easy to learn, set up, and use.
Employee Management With A POS System: The Secret To Simplified Timekeeping, Scheduling, & Reporting:Â Your POS system probably has employee management features that can make timekeeping and scheduling much easier. Hereâs how to make the most of these tools.
The Bottom Line: Your Business Isnât In The Clear Yet
We are starting to see some signs of small business recovery, and that’s a great thing. But business owners must stay vigilant and be prepared for the very real possibility of more pandemic-related business disruptions in the near future.
It can be difficult to plan for the future when you’re still working through the first wave, and there is still so much uncertainty. You might also have the thought that you don’t want to over-prepare for something that might not happen (at least, not in your local area). But the fact of the matter is that even before the pandemic, businesses were moving in the direction of eCommerce, contactless payments, online ordering, cloud POS, etc. The pandemic only accelerated the changes that were already in motion. Also, even after COVID-19 is over, customers will likely remain more mindful of health and safety and will continue some socially distanced shopping practices that they relied on during the pandemic (e.g., curbside pickup). So even if you get lucky and don’t have to deal with a resurgence of this particular virus, your business will benefit from adapting to modern sales technologies, safer health practices, and data-driven ways of making business decisions.
For more information on COVID-19 and small businesses, be sure to check out our Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guides & Resources.
The post Is Your Business Ready For A Second Wave Of COVID-19? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
Sometimes you don’t appreciate the simple things that make your life simpler until they’re gone. Case in point, one of the hardest days working in retail came when our simple receipt printer broke down, which just happened to correspond with one of the busiest rushes I had ever seen on the job. Having to jot down orders on scratch paper, complete with modifiers and special instructions to give to my co-worker who then had to interpret my scratch marks, all while we both tried in vain to fix the broken hardware when we had a spare second or two, was extremely stressful.
My point is that kitchen printers can make your life as a restaurant worker much easier. If you’re running a business that is at all larger than a simple cafe or quick-service operation, you’ll almost assuredly need one and potentially multiple devices. They can streamline your ordering process and dramatically cut down on errors, ultimately leading to happier customers and higher profits for you. And many high-quality printers won’t set you back much either. In fact, if you’re just starting up, you can generally purchase a hardware bundle that includes one. But let’s step back for a minute and show you exactly how kitchen printers work and why you should consider them.
How Does Kitchen Printing Work?
If you’re thinking that this seems like it should be a pretty simple process, you’re right! Nearly every point of sale system with a halfway decent set of features will offer this functionality. When you type an order into the POS, it will then come out wherever you have your printer set up in your kitchen, presumably somewhere that’s convenient for your cooks to see and hear. This replaces the days of a server or cashier jotting down an order by hand and delivering it on foot to the kitchen or pinning it to a corkboard. And, as you’ll see, it can dramatically improve your efficiency with how quickly you can turn around tables and by decreasing mistakes.
What To Look For In A Kitchen Printer
While a printer is, at heart, a relatively simple piece of equipment, not all kitchen printers are created equally. There are a few very basic things you’ll want to consider before making your purchase. The biggest decision you’ll likely have to make comes down to whether you want an impact printer or a thermal printer. Impact printers use an ink belt to make, well…an impact on the paper. They are also generally much louder than thermal printers, which, in the restaurant industry, is actually a good thing, as it can serve as an alert to your kitchen that an order is up. Thermal printers are typically used in smaller establishments and can work fine in that capacity, but when orders are coming in fast and furious, thermal printers can get hot, which can lead to breakdowns and smudging when printing.
When choosing your printer, ideally, you want that to be the last time you ever think about it. Ease of use and durability should be paramount. Durability is going to be a key factor, as your printer is going to be jostled and, quite likely, dropped on occasion in a busy restaurant. Online reviews generally do a pretty good job at weeding out particularly flimsy models, so do your due diligence. But there are a few other practical features you should at least consider that could make your life easier.
Having a printer go down can very quickly send your kitchen and, by association, your entire restaurant into chaos in no time. That’s why your printer needs to have an internal battery to keep it functioning in case it’s unplugged or if there’s a power outage. Another easy-to-overlook feature is the ease in which the printer’s paper can be changed. Take it from someone with firsthand experience working in a restaurant where only one person knew how to change the paper properly: it can be a headache. Plenty of models make this process a snap. Make sure you get one of them.
4 Ways Switching To A Kitchen Printer & Kitchen Receipts Will Improve Your Restaurant’s Efficiency
You may be old school, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s something charming and endearing about a handwritten ticket with shorthand that only the server and cook could distinguish. But if it’s efficiency (and potentially happier customers) you want, then a kitchen printer should be on your restaurant shopping list, and here are a few reasons why.
Accuracy:Â With a kitchen printer, the cook sees exactly what is punched into the point of sale system. There’s no need to second-guess someone’s handwriting or the sweaty smudge of a pen. Cooks can stay in the kitchen, and both the front and back of the house can be confident that the order will be accurate.
Speed: Once the order is placed, the ticket immediately prints out to its appropriate spot in the kitchen where the chef can hear it and quickly get started. There’s no time for a server to get distracted by another customer or task between the register and the kitchen, and although that might seem like a small amount of time saved, it can add up.
Streamlined Technology:Â Going along with speed, if you incorporate other modern equipment into your restaurant, kitchen printers can be even more useful. If you’ve implemented tableside ordering, a server wouldn’t even have to go back to a POS station to fire the order back to the kitchen, and, in some instances, customers can order from the table themselves if you have individualized stations. You may also want to consider multiple printers for different areas of your kitchen if you have a larger establishment. Then you could have different dishes automatically printed to the appropriate section, appetizers to one printer, entrees to another, cutting down on potentially confusing and chaotic conversations in your kitchen.
Simple Modifiers:Â A customer with a handful of specific instructions, or a dish that gives a customer multiple options, can be a tricky challenge for a server and cook to handle. Having a well-organized ticket through your POS and a well-functioning printer can make the orders crystal clear. In most cases, a POS system will allow a server to type in any specific, unique instructions as well, saving them a trip back to the kitchen.
How Much Does A Kitchen Printing Setup Cost?
Like anything else, prices on kitchen printers vary, so you’ll want to shop around even once you’ve decided what printer you might be interested in. You can purchase a printer from a variety of online retailers, and, in general terms, impact printers can run between $150-$350. Again, I’d suggest checking out some online reviews to see what printers are durable and easy to load with paper. You may also need a simple ethernet cord, depending on your setup and receipt paper. Most office supply stores will sell all of this online and in-store.
You’ll also want to see if your POS company has any deals on kitchen printers, and if you’re just starting up, you can often purchase hardware bundles that include everything you need, from the POS system itself to cash drawers and printers. Certain printers may also integrate better with your POS than others, and if you just need a single piece of hardware, you can buy directly from your POS provider in most cases. But, again, make sure you price check first.
Is A Kitchen Printer The Right Choice For My Restaurant?
Now the only thing left to do is decide if your particular establishment could benefit from a kitchen printer. If you’re running a small operation with just a few employees or have close quarters where your till and your grill aren’t far apart, you can probably get by with doing things the old-fashioned way with pen and paper. But if you have customers lining up to give their orders or multiple servers and cooks taking and filling orders throughout your restaurant, kitchen printers become nearly essential.
In this instance, efficiency is paramount. You don’t have time for errors or constant checks between the front and back of the house, and you need a convenient way to track and organize orders. Kitchen printers can dramatically improve the accuracy of orders, making customers happy, and by popping up immediately in a place where cooks can see and hear the tickets coming in, they can help you turn your tables around faster and increase your revenue.
Be sure to check out more of our hardware content for restaurants and our reviews as well and happy shopping!
The post The Complete Restaurant Guide To Kitchen Printers & Kitchen Printing Setups appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
I love living in the age of online reviews. Poring over personal testimonials and scanning star ratings feeds my obsessive need to optimize every decision. With rare exceptions, I won’t watch a movie unless it scored at least an 80% on Rotten Tomatoes. Why waste my precious time otherwise? I seldom read a book without checking reviews on Goodreads first. Every savvy bookworm knows exactly what I’m talking about.
Online reviews about anything and everything is so prevalent in today’s culture that most of us fancy ourselves not only as connoisseurs of the best goods and services out there but as consummate experts on reviews themselves. Most importantly, we can all spot a fake review a mile away, right?
Well, it’s not as simple as we might think. First of all, those who are out to game the system by soliciting or generating fake reviews are only getting better at doing just that: gaming the system. Fake reviewers are well aware that folks are on the lookout for illegitimate testimonials, so fraudulent techniques are only becoming more realistic and insidious. At the same time, our “BS meters” and sense of general skepticism run at full throttle in the modern era. This typically leaves us over-vigilant and even more confused, often resulting in no more than a 50-50 shot at separating the fake from the genuine.
A direct recommendation from a friend or a colleague will probably always be the gold standard for a reliable testimonial, regardless of the industry. In fact, a popular business management metric called the Net Promoter Score was developed based on what’s commonly known as The Ultimate Question: “Would you recommend us to a friend?” In the B2B space, however, personalized recommendations can be particularly hard to come by. You’re also wise to want the weight of a solid online reputation to back up such an important decision for your business. So while several of your friends may have read the latest NYT bestseller, you may be forced to turn to strangers on the internet to find relevant experiences with a particular credit card processor or point of sale system.
Let’s unpack the user review landscape in the B2B world, so you can increase your odds of spotting the fakes.
Are Fake Reviews Really That Common?
By now, you’ve probably heard of the massive fake review problem at Amazon.com, and the various ways Bezos and company have worked to combat the issue. Nonetheless, the problem of fake reviews is still rampant in all areas of B2C commerce. Once we leave the realm of consumer goods and shift focus toward B2B products and services, however, a slightly different set of rules can apply.
Business software and services are typically much more complex and nuanced than consumer goods. The stakes for making a poor choice are very high, and even real users often don’t understand the product well enough to make accurate evaluations. The mix of genuine, fake, and confusing user reviews in the B2B realm is frustrating.
The first step toward understanding the B2B product and service review landscape is awareness of the places fake testimonials may show up around the web. Typical spots include the provider’s website and third-party websites that aggregate the reviews of multiple products. Particularly brazen providers may even set up or manage a site of their own that looks like a third-party aggregate site as a place to collect fake reviews. Still, others may simply partner with companies that manage fake review sites or with sites that have extremely biased and unethical rating systems. Clearly, there are varying degrees of culpability on the part of the actual B2B vendor in question in each case. In other words, there’s plenty of blame to shift around!
Why Fake Testimonials Are A Big Problem For Small Businesses
Before we proceed any further, let’s acknowledge that managing an online reputation is no small feat. This is true for your average small business owner and also for any company that provides products and services to other businesses. Rare is the case in which a slew of glowing testimonials from customers simply falls into a vendor’s lap.
We must be abundantly clear, though: Soliciting and propagating fake reviews is illegal and could get a business in big trouble with the FTC. Even if that doesn’t happen, chances are the business will still eventually get caught and called out, only damaging the reputation it was trying to bolster in the first place. At Merchant Maverick, we won’t hesitate to highlight any suspicious user testimonial activity for the vendors we review.
Still, to be realistic about all of this, most companies end up asking a few clients for testimonials at some point. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. A company may gather testimonials for its website or direct customers to an aggregate site to leave feedback.
However, you should know that some aggregate review sites solicit reviews by offering money, gift cards, free merchandise, or other perks. While the ethics of this practice remains debatable, the resulting user reviews can still be genuine in this scenario. Some even argue that incentives result in better-quality genuine reviews for B2B products — both positive and negative. The real problem is that whenever a reward system is in place, you’ll always find a set of enterprising people eager to exploit the system to make a quick buck. Even sites that are trying their best to stay above board in collecting genuine testimonials can still attract fakers.
Some Online Reviews Might Be Genuine But Can Still Be Misleading
In the quest to maintain the best public image possible, many companies enlist dedicated online reputation management services. The integrity and ethics of these services vary widely, but a user review “curation” component is almost always part of the package. The service helps its clients proactively generate more positive reviews from genuine customers while also mining the web for existing reviews.
It sounds like a great idea, right? You know exactly where this is going. To paint their client in the best light possible, only the positive reviews and ratings get pulled to display. This leads to an inflated, misleading rating and reputation for the vendor.
A related problem occurs when reviews are solicited from brand new customers at the time of signup. This is a common practice across many industries. With little-to-no-time to test the product or service, the vendor’s rating becomes inflated by these genuine — but largely useless — testimonials. And, speaking of unhelpful reviews, let’s not forget reviews from users who have had the product or service for a while but still don’t understand how the product (or the corresponding industry) works. Fortunately, these reviews are usually complaints — not the fake positives we’re most concerned about — and are pretty easy to spot as your knowledge of the product and industry increases. Unfortunately, all types of unhelpful reviews still muddy the waters.
How To Spot Fake Reviews: 10 Signs An Online Review Isn’t Legitimate
If the thought of all these fake reviews and fake review websites makes you want to give up on online testimonials, please don’t despair. User feedback on B2B software and services is essential data for Merchant Maverick in our research and rating process, so the last thing we want to do is give up on them entirely.
We’re now ready to look at a few telltale signs of fake B2B product reviews. Note that some are similar signs of fake reviews of consumer goods, while others have their own spin. Also, it’s more important to spot suspicious patterns across multiple reviews than to look at any single review.
1. Sketchy Review Site
Always consider the quality and reputation of the review site itself first before digging into individual reviews. Appearances aren’t everything, but if “vague” is the word that repeatedly comes to mind as you peruse the website, you’re probably on to something. Can you find any details about the company that runs the site? Any policies regarding how it collects or verifies its reviews? Any explanation of how the site makes money? Do links on the site lead where you’d logically expect them to? If the review site lacks substance, detail, and basic logic, put up your guard straight away.
2. Lack Of Information About The Reviewer
Enough information should be provided for you to identify that a reviewer really is who they say they are. When it comes to B2B product reviews, expect to see the full name of the reviewer and the business name, at a minimum. Basically, if you can’t figure out who this person is apart from their review, it’s a red flag. Testimonials on a vendor’s website should clearly display this information. Most of the better-aggregated review sites also gather identifying details about each reviewer. They may include additional specs, such as a job title, length of time using the product, or even a direct link to the user’s LinkedIn profile.
3. Reviewer’s Profile Doesn’t Quite Add Up
You’ve checked that the key identifying details of the reviewer are present, but you notice something is still off. Maybe you’re visiting a review site that features profile photos of each reviewer, but the headshot in question looks like a weird stock photo of something unrelated or even a picture of a random celebrity. Perhaps the reviewer’s job title is “Social Media Marketer,” but the review is for accounting software. The reviewer’s profile should add up to a believable (and verifiable) person and scenario.
4. Illegitimate Business
Related to the above, a fraudster may not only completely invent a reviewer’s persona but also may invent a business. Just because the information about the business is there doesn’t mean it’s true. You should be able to find proof the business exists or that it at least recently existed. Find the website for the business, see if it looks legit, and find out where it’s based. If you’re still suspicious, try contacting the business directly.
5. Unnatural Language
This one is tricky because we must first acknowledge that not all genuine customers of the vendor may be native speakers. However, lots of glaring typos, horrendous punctuation, and strange strings of words that add up to nonsense are still important warning signs, especially when combined with other factors on this list. Note the number and proportion of these oddly-worded reviews as well. A large volume of poorly constructed testimonials signals an offshore content farm is likely at play.
6. Repeated Or Formulaic Elements
In addition to unnatural language, watch for a large number of reviews containing repeated language and other elements. Hired fake reviewers are often instructed to include certain buzz words, phrases, or talking points. It could be one reviewer creating these testimonials en masse or multiple people being given the same instructions. Meanwhile, some reviewers are not provided any specific instructions but are simply lazy or incompetent, using the same stock wording each time with only minor changes.
7. Many Reviews Over A Short Time Period
As mentioned before, many vendors initiate targeted campaigns to solicit testimonials and ratings from real customers and may even employ a dedicated service to assist. This practice can lead to a spike in reviews over a few hours or days, even from genuine customers. Nevertheless, always check the date and time stamps of reviews and take heed if you notice this pattern. Especially if the reviews are also low quality, formulaic, or lack most of the reviewer details you’re already looking for, you’d be right to suspect the work of a fraudster cranking out bulk reviews for pay.
8. Extra, Unhelpful Details
We’re all pretty good at spotting bot-speak these days. Fake reviewers know this, so they often try to overcompensate in their efforts to sound like a real-life human. This just means that if they come across like they’re trying way too hard, they probably are. A common tactic is to include a lot of unnecessary scene-setting and backstory. In trying to sound relatable, the reviewer may also use a lot of “I” and other personal pronouns. By contrast, most legitimate testimonials cut straight to the chase with concrete, boring details. The review shouldn’t read like a flashy, flowery sales pitch or infomercial.
9. Suspicious Reviewing Patterns For A Given Reviewer
Many review sites allow you to see other products and services someone has reviewed simply by clicking on their profile. The obvious thing to check is whether the reviewer only doles out glowing 5-star ratings, but you can often unearth deeper patterns with additional cross-referencing. When researching a particular vendor recently (let’s call it Vendor A), I found four ratings within its Google profile. Each rating was exactly 5-stars, which already made me suspicious. As I clicked on each reviewer profile of Vendor A, I found each of the four reviewers had also reviewed the same two additional companies: Vendor B and Vendor C. By a miraculous coincidence, four reviewers somehow just happened to review the same three unrelated vendors and no others and gave them each 5-stars. Paid reputation management on behalf of all three companies was likely afoot here, at best. Fraudulent reviewing by professional reviewers could just as easily have been at play on top of this. Neither is ideal.
10. Extreme Reviews Only (The “Missing Middle”)
Due to our inherent tendency as a species to speak out only when furious, you’re likely to encounter plenty of complaints about most B2B products and services in existence. Positive reviews may be more difficult to come by, but the reputation management and fake reviewing industries have each done their part to fill in the gaps for mediocre and poor companies. For these reasons, you ought to be suspicious if you can’t find any middle-of-the-road feedback about a given vendor. You should be able to locate a least a few reviews that highlight both the pros and cons. These reviews will also help ground you in the patterns to look for in the more extreme reviews.
How Merchant Maverick Verifies Its User Reviews
Each of our B2B vendor reviews on the Merchant Maverick website includes a section for user comments. In managing our comment section, we adhere to a strict comment policy when publishing any reader feedback. For example, we require that each commenter includes their full name and business name when submitting their feedback. We also have internal systems in place to flag suspicious patterns, such as a group of reviews from different email addresses but the same IP address.
Most importantly, a real human being looks at every single comment before it gets published to our site. When checking each comment, we use many of the same signs and techniques we’ve already discussed in this article to identify suspicious activity. At Merchant Maverick, we believe effective technology, clear policies, and a discerning human touch are all necessary to combat the problem of fake reviews.
Go Forth & Don’t Fall For Fake Online Reviews & Testimonials
I know I said at the outset that I love living in the age of online reviews, but I also cringe at the overwhelming, befuddling mess of feedback generated via crowdsourced opinions. Perhaps “love-hate” would have been a better term.
Fake reviews will continue to compound the problem for the foreseeable future as small business owners struggle to cut through the noise and make sound decisions. There is no single, fail-safe trick to spotting fake reviews, but we’ll leave you with these key takeaways:
Place more weight in patterns and trends than any single user review
Watch for multiple signs and patterns at play at the same time
Learn about the place you’re reading user reviews in the first place (e.g., how the site makes money, its rules for displaying vendors and ratings on the website, its process for verifying user reviews, etc.)
Finally, while user recommendations are extremely valuable, we’d strongly suggest combining them with long-form, detailed analyses of the product or service you’re considering for your business. In Merchant Maverick’s reviews, we always aim to thoroughly cover both the negative and positive aspects of each vendor in a balanced, non-emotional manner. And if we’ve uncovered suspicious testimonial-gathering practices as we scour the web for user feedback about the company, we most definitely let you know.
To learn about how Merchant Maverick operates as well as tips for navigating the B2B world, check out these resources:
How This Site Makes Money
Our Vendor Rating & Scoring System
Understanding Negativity Bias
The post The Fake Review Spotter Guide: Everything You Need To Know About How To Check For Fake Reviews appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
Are you looking to start selling online? With the steady increase in popularity of online shopping, developing your own online store is crucial to ensuring you meet the needs and expectations of your customers.
But for many new online sellers (including those who already operate a brick-and-mortar business, as well as those who are just beginning), the costs of operating an online store can feel overwhelming. There’s the monthly subscription rate that you pay to your eCommerce platform, as well as the cost of transaction fees, payment processing, software extensions, and integrations.
Fortunately, you can ease some of the costs of opening an online store when you use a free eCommerce platform. Although you still have to pay for other expenses related to online selling (such as the cost of payment processing and software extensions), at least you won’t have to pay to use the actual selling software. This reduction in costs can lower the barrier to entry and help many businesses take the first steps to start selling online.
Free eCommerce software tends to come in two forms. Some software is available as a free plan on an all-inclusive cloud-based software. These free plans tend to give users the basic features they need for online selling while placing limits on product listings and advanced features. The other form of free eCommerce software is downloadable open-source software. This software is always free to use, and it does not limit its users in any way. That said, it is not nearly as user friendly as cloud-based software, and the software does not include web hosting or customer support.
It’s clear that each type of free eCommerce software offers its own advantages and disadvantages. Fortunately, both cloud-based software and open source software are great options for sellers who are looking to get started with a free eCommerce platform.
Best Free eCommerce Platforms
In this article, we’ll cover the best free eCommerce platforms on the market. Some of these options are free plans for cloud-based eCommerce software, while others are free open source eCommerce software. All of the free eCommerce platforms in this list meet our standards for security, available features, customer support, and usability.
Best for makers and artists who plan to list only a few items at a time.
Big Cartel is a cloud-based online store builder that is designed specifically with artists in mind. Content creators and makers of all types use Big Cartel to establish a website, build out an online store, and sell their digital and physical products. Big Cartel is incredibly simple and easy to use, which makes it an excellent option for anyone who is new to online selling.
Additionally, Big Cartel is a great alternative to marketplace selling, and their free option makes it accessible for everyone. Using this free plan, sellers can list up to five products on their online stores, and they gain access to Big Cartel’s most basic selling features. Keep reading to learn more of what’s available with Big Cartel’s free plan.
Easy to use
Geared toward artists
Customer support available for all users
Big Cartel Pricing
In this article we will be focusing primarily on Big Cartel’s free plan, but it’s important that you know about their paid plans as well. Big Cartel keeps pricing for their plans fairly low, ranging from just $10/month to $30/month. Each increase in pricing gives users access to more product listings and features. At the highest level plan, sellers can list up to 300 products.
Big Cartel’s Gold (free) Plan includes all of the features you need for basic online selling, although it limits users to just five product listings.
The Gold Plan includes:
One image per product
Use your own domain
Full code customization
Automatic tax calculations
Advanced tax settings
Product option groups
As we’ve mentioned, Big Cartel is a simple selling solution. Its aim is to provide sellers with an easy-to-use platform, and part of the way Big Cartel accomplishes this mission is by including only the features that most merchants need to sell online. You won’t find any fancy bells and whistles here–just the basics. Here are a few of the features you can expect from Big Cartel:
Sell on Facebook
SEO features like plain-text URLs and automatic sitemap generation
There are a few potential downsides to using Big Cartel. The first is the limited feature set and the reduced ability to customize your software. If you have a number of specific needs that you are trying to solve, Big Cartel might not be the right option. In addition, Big Cartel has a fairly small selection of extensions and payment methods. This further limits your ability to customize the software to suit your business.
Fortunately, Big Cartel does a good job when it comes to customer support. Although they do not offer any phone support, they do have a very good response time via email (we consistently receive replies in under two hours) and their self-help tools–such as the help center, the pre-recorded live classes, and the blog–are good resources for figuring things out on your own.Â
When To Use Big Cartel
We think that Big Cartel is best for small businesses and artists. Because of the limits on product listings, the free plan in particular is best suited to hobby sellers or artists who sell only a few pieces at a time.
Best for small to mid-size businesses that want to add an online store to their WordPress site.
WooCommerce is an open-source shopping cart plug-in designed for use on WordPress. WooCommerce is free to download and use, and it allows you to easily add an online store to your existing WordPress site. With over 84 million downloads, WooCommerce is incredibly popular. The software currently accounts for 26% of the top one million sitesÂ worldwide.
Although WooCommerce is free to download, it isn’t totally free to operate. You’ll have to pay for your WordPress account, as well as web hosting, security, and extensions. That said, WooCommerce is still an excellent choice for many businesses. The open-source software is completely customizable and full of useful features for online selling. All-in-all, WooCommerce is one of our favorite open-source solutions. Keep reading to learn more about why we love WooCommerce.
Numerous integrations available
Limited customer support
Site hosting not included
Add-ons often necessary
Steep learning curve
WooCommerce is an open-source WordPress plugin that’s free to download and use.
That said, there are a few expenses you should account for as you implement WooCommerce. You still have to pay for your WordPress site, along with your web hosting and domain name. You also will likely need to purchase a few add-ons and extensions for your online store. These add-ons range in price from free to hundreds of dollars. Fortunately, they are all available as one-time purchases.
WooCommerce follows a Core + Extensions model when it comes to features. In an effort to keep the software easy to use, they offer only core features already built in. These core features include everything the average merchant needs to get started. Any advanced features are available as extensions. Here are a few of the core features that come built-in with all WooCommerce downloads:
Sell physical and digital products
Create coupons and discounts
Although WooCommerce is a generally well-liked software, there are a few downsides to the platform. One downside is the learning curve that users must overcome. While it isn’t the most difficult software to use, it isn’t necessarily intuitive, and it will likely take some time to get the hang of daily use. What’s more, the cost of adding new features via extension can quickly add up. If you aren’t careful, WooCommerce could become more expensive than a cloud-based software with a monthly payment plan.
When it comes to customer support, WooCommerce is like most open-source software. There are very few options for personalized support from WooCommerce representatives. Instead, customer support takes the form of self-help resources. Available resources include a knowledge base, developer documentation, and a community forum. If you need personalized support, you can also hire a WooExpert to help out.
When To Use WooCommerce
We recommend WooCommerce to small to mid-size businesses. In particular, WooCommerce is best for businesses that want to add an online store to their WordPress site. WooCommerce works well for sellers who want a customizable solution and who don’t mind figuring things out on their own.
Best for mid-size businesses that can handle a technical challenge and need a way to sell internationally.
PrestaShop is a open-source eCommerce solution with an international reach. PrestaShop allows users to sell their goods across the globe with multiple available currencies, languages, and international payment processors. As an open-source solution, PrestaShop is free to download and use, although you’ll still have to foot the bill for web hosting, support, and extensions.
PrestaShop is one of the more technically complex options on this list. In order to get the best use of the software, you need a solid understanding of code, or you need the resources to hire someone who can manage the technicalities for you. In exchange for this complexity, however, you gain access to a strong selection of features and customization. Keep reading to learn what we like best about PrestaShop.
Excellent support materials
Strong user community
Expensive customer support
Developer skills required
PrestaShop is free to download and use.
That said, you will still need to account for a few expenses related to running an online store. PrestaShop users pay for their own hosting, domain name, site security, payment processing, and technical support.
PrestaShop offers over 600 features already built into their free software. Here’s a bit of what those features include:
Create coupons and discounts
Reports and analytics
Despite these positives, however, PrestaShop is not a perfect solution. The software shares many of the drawbacks that are typical of open-source software. Although the program is free to download, users still have to account for the cost of hosting and integrations, as well as expenses related to hiring a developer. In addition, in order to get the best use of the software, you really need to understand how to code.
Similarly, PrestaShop is like most open-source software in that support is available primarily through self-help resources. You can use the knowledge base, user forum, and some web ticket support to find answers to your questions about the software. In order to get a dedicated support representative, however, you’ll have to pay an additional cost.
When To Use PrestaShop
Because of the technical challenge involved with using the software, PrestaShop is best suited to mid-size businesses that have the resources to hire a developer. PrestaShop is great for businesses that need advanced features, including the ability to sell internationally.
Square Online Store
Best for sellers who already use Square to process in-person payments.
Square is a payment processing company that has revolutionized the way small businesses are able to accept payments. Now, Square is expanding its offerings to provide sellers with an omnichannel selling platform. You can now create an online store that connects seamlessly with Square’s Point of Sale system. And the best part is, this online store (with hosting, domain name, security, and customer support) is completely free for merchants who use Square.
Square Online Store was designed using Weebly’s website building software. This means that the software is incredibly easy to use. Square Online Store is available for free to anyone who processes their payments via Square, and they also offer a few paid plans that include additional features and payment processing options. We’ve been impressed with Square Online Store as a free, cloud-based option for online selling. Keep reading to find out why.
Easy to use
Ideal for low-volume merchants
Sell in-person and online
Integrates with the Square ecosystem
Only one payment option
Square Online Store Pricing
Square Online Store’s free plan includes a basic feature set, up to 500 MB of storage, and the ability to process payments through Square. Three paid plans are also available, ranging in price from $16/month to $79/month. These paid plans include additional features, storage, and payment processing options (lower processing rates and access to PayPal processing).
Square Online Store’s free plan includes:
2.9% + $0.30 per transaction (via Square)
Automatic inventory, orders and items sync with Square POS
Free SSL security
Order status text alerts
Automatic tax calculator
Square gift cards
Lead capture and contact forms
Support via a community forum, email, chat, and phone
Square Online Store’s free plan gives users access to only the basic features that you need for online selling. Here’s a quick list of some available features:
Sell digital and physical products
Sell memberships, services, and carry-out orders
Sync with Square POS
Automatic tax calculator
Create coupons and discounts
Sell and accept gift cards
As with all free plans, Square Online Stores comes with limitations. You can only process payments through Square, and you do not get access to real-time shipping rate calculations.
Fortunately, there are no limitations placed on customer support. You can reach customer support via phone, email, and live chat. You can also always access the help center, community forum, and tutorial videos. We’re impressed that Square Online Store offers personalized support even on their free plan. This is a very uncommon benefit.
When To Use Square Online Store
Square Online Store is best for merchants who already sell using Square Point Of Sale, and who are looking for a way to take their store online. We recommend Square Online Store’s free plan to individuals and startups, and we recommend the paid plan to small businesses.
Best for individuals and beginning sellers who need an easy to use platform.
Ecwid is a cloud-based shopping cart widget that allows you to add an online store to any website. With Ecwid you can choose to build an entire website from scratch, or you can add an online store tab to your pre-existing website by just copy-pasting a couple of lines of code. Ecwid allows you to sell on multiple different channels at the same time, including on social media sites, on marketplaces (such as Amazon and eBay), and in person.
Ecwid is a very affordable platform, with the highest pricing plan set at just $30/month. They also offer a free plan, which we’ll be discussing here. Ecwid is user friendly, which makes it an excellent option for small businesses and startups. Many individual sellers will likely find that Ecwid’s free plan offers the features and usability they need to venture into online selling.
Suited for startups
Easy to use
Add an online store to any existing site
Basic design tools
Ecwid’s free plan comes with a paired down feature set. In order to get access to the full selection of features, you have to subscribe to a paid plan. These plans range in price from $15/month to $35/month. Each step up in pricing includes more features, more products listings, and more available sales channels.
Here’s what’s available in Ecwid’s Free Plan:
List 10 products
Advertising on Facebook, Google, Pinterest, and Snapchat
Instant Site builder
Sell on multiple sites
Apple Pay (via Stripe)
Self-help support options
Ecwid’s free plan includes only the fundamentals of online selling. You can list up to ten products, market your products on social media, adjust the look of your online store, accept payments, and process orders. Here are a few available features:
Sell on multiple websites and in-person
Social media integrations
List product variants like size and color
Automatically translate your store in 50 different languages
Although Ecwid certainly has a lot to offer its users, it has a few limitations as well. The biggest drawback of Ecwid’s free plan is the limit they place on available features. You do not get access to features like automatic tax calculation, inventory tracking, discount creation, or digital products. You are also restricted to just ten product listings. This makes Ecwid’s free plan only good for the smallest online sellers (those who are just starting out, or artists who sell their pieces as a profitable hobby).
Support for users of Ecwid’s free plan is available via email. You can also find answers in self-help resources like the help center, tutorial videos, and community forums.
When To Use Ecwid
Ecwid’s free plan is best for individuals and beginning sellers who are looking for an easy way to take their products online. Growing sellers will quickly have to transition to a paid plan, but Ecwid’s free plan is a great starting point for many.
Best for mid-size and large businesses that want a customizable solution and can handle a technical challenge.
Magento is a software company that offers multiple solutions for online selling. In this article, we are focusing on Magento Open Source (formerly called Magento Community Edition), which is a free, downloadable selling software. Magento Open Source is completely customizable, and it comes with loads of features already built-in.
As an open-source solution, Magento is not known for its ease of use. In fact, you really need to have a good amount of experience with software development in order to implement this platform. With that in mind, we recommend Magento primarily to mid-size businesses that have a team of software professionals on hand.
Free to download
Impressive feature set
Active, global user community
Developer skills required
Steep learning curve
No customer support
Magento is free for users to download and use.
However, Magento is not a “cost-free” selling solution. In order to get your online store running, you’ll have to pay for web hosting, a domain name, integrations and extensions, and payment processing. Also, if you don’t have experience with code (especially PHP), you’ll have to hire a developer.
Magento offers an incredible number of features, even without any add-ons. Here are a few available features:
Coupons and discounts
Share on social buttons
Sell digital products and bundles
Tax and shipping calculations
Unfortunately, in order to access these features, users have to overcome a steep learning curve. Without the support of a developer, this learning curve may be too much for some businesses. In addition, while Magento is free to download, the platform can quickly turn into an expensive option when you consider the cost of hosting and integrations, as well as the cost of hiring a developer.
Magento is also a challenge for some users because of its limited customer support. Magento does not offer any support through phone, live chat, or email. Instead, you have to figure things out on your own with the user guide, community forum, and developer documentation.
When To Use Magento
Magento is a great solution for mid-size to large businesses that need a customizable and feature-rich selling software. Magento is only a good option for smaller businesses if they have the resources to hire a developer.
Free Shopping Carts VS Open Source eCommerce
All of the solutions we present above fall into one of two categories: a free plan on a cloud-based software, or an open-source downloadable software. Lets take a closer look at these two categories to find out which option is best for your business.
What Is Open Source eCommerce?
Open source eCommerce software are software that are made available to the general public. You can typically download the software for free, and all of the documentation that was used to build the software is available for public use. In general, open-source software is highly customizable, with strong features. Typically, companies that create open-source software make money on software extensions and technical support, rather than sale of the software itself.
The Pros & Cons Of Open Source eCommerce Platforms
Take a look below for the common advantages and disadvantages of open source eCommerce platforms:
Free to download
No monthly subscription costs
Web hosting not included
Users manage their own security
No personalized customer support
More difficult to learn and use
Developer support often required
Businesses that benefit from open source software are typically mid-size to large businesses. These businesses need customizable software, and they often have access to a developer.
What To Look For With Good Free eCommerce Software
Here’s how to identify a secure, high-quality free software option:
Open Source: For open source software, look for an option that is free to download and doesn’t make you pay for software updates. Look for lots of built-in features and a strong user community. Dive into the community forum and online reviews of the software to find out if general opinion of the software is positive or negative.
Cloud-based: When it comes to free plans on a cloud-based software, you should look for the ability to list at least 5-10 products. Double check that the software offers free hosting and domain names, as well as customer support options. It’s also a good idea to look for affordable paid plans in case you need to upgrade from the free plan in the future.
As you look for a free eCommerce software, you should also keep your eyes peeled for warning signs that a software may not be worth your time. Be wary of free plans that are so limited they are largely unusable. You should also be cautious of software that are not well reviewed online. Software without a significant number of reviews or software with a large number of negative reviews are often out-dated and clumsy to use.
Look below for answers to some Frequently Asked Questions regarding free eCommerce software.
Which free eCommerce software is best?
We think the best free eCommerce software overall is WooCommerce. WooCommerce provides the tools that most businesses need to sell online, and it is relatively easy to use. For sellers who prefer an all-in-one selling solution, however, we recommend Square Online Store. This software has the advantage of including web hosting, even though the feature set is much more limited than WooCommerce’s.
Are there free website builders with eCommerce built-in?
BigCartel, Ecwid, and Square Online Store (built on Weebly’s software) all offer elements of both website building and eCommerce. However, many popular website building software, like Wix, Weebly, and Squarespace, do not offer any free eCommerce features.
Do any free eCommerce platforms have unlimited products?
All open-source eCommerce platforms allow users to list unlimited products. Square Online Store is the only cloud-based eCommerce solution we know of that has unlimited products on their free plan (although, they do place a limit on data storage).
When would I have to upgrade to paid eCommerce software?
Typically, you have to upgrade to paid eCommerce software in order to list more than ten products and access features like real-time shipping and tax calculation. This only applies to cloud-based software since most open-source platforms are always free.
How To Choose The Right Free eCommerce Platform
Choosing the right eCommerce platform for your business is a process that involves careful consideration. In order to land on a great choice, you’ll have to make a number of smaller decisions along the way.
The first choice you should make is between cloud-based software and open source software. This decision should be based on your technical experience and your preferences regarding customization. Sellers who’d prefer to have their site’s hosting and security managed on their behalf should choose cloud-based software, while sellers who prioritize customization should choose open-source software.
Now that you’ve decided between cloud-based and open source software, you should take some time to come up with a list of features that your business absolutely must have. These should include key features like the ability to list digital products, calculate taxes and shipping costs automatically, and track your inventory totals. You should also look into customer support options–make sure that your business can manage with the support options available.
Once you’ve found a few software options that might work for your business, dive into the available customer reviews. Find out if users have a generally positive experience with the platform. If not, look elsewhere!
Finally, once you’re narrowed your options to one or two platforms, take the plunge and sign up for (or download) the software. Since it’s free, you’ve got nothing to lose, and there’s no harm in testing multiple products. Trying out the software for yourself will give you a good understanding of whether or not a software can work for your business.
If you choose to use any of the software on this list, we feel confident that you’ll have a positive experience. Even if the software isn’t a perfect solution, it is free, and it’s hard to go too wrong with a free option! No matter which software you select, we wish you the best of luck in your venture into online selling.
For more information on setting up an online store, check out our Complete Guide To Starting An Online Store For Your Brick & Mortar Business as well as our free eBook: The Beginner’s Guide To Starting An Online Store.
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