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This 45 message thread spans 2 pages: 45 ( [1] 2 > >     
6 Weeks to Setup an Ecommerce Store
a trip to the dark side - comments welcome

 1:14 am on Oct 9, 2009 (gmt 0)

After building a number of ecommerce sites for clients I've finally gotten around to building one for myself. This is a drop shipment site but with several twists. For one, start up will be made possible thanks to some funding that I'd given up on during the summer. Projected funding date was early May. Long story short - I have less than 6 weeks to launch in time for the holiday season.

I thought it might be interesting to share some of the experiences as I venture into this project. Perhaps to see if the advice I give out here actually passes muster. Maybe it'll give you a laugh. For context sake: target market is continental USA. Not shipping to Alaska or Hawaii yet. Here's the first installment of this adventure.

Fri Sep 25, 2009 - Informed the funding has been approved. Up until this time I'd just about given up on the project. The planning has some fuzzy numbers on paper and a ton of concepts but nothing built nor real. Calls to my team to let them know. Much celebration before reality sets in. Press conference on Tuesday.

Thu, Oct 1, 2009 - Meet with grant administrator and go over the paperwork. Receive copies of the paperwork I'll need to fill out on a monthly basis. Stay up late working on a bullet list of items I want to include in the contract with the vendors. Success of this project is measured in jobs saved and created - the vendor's jobs. I think it's imperative to be clear what I expect of them to ensure success.

Fri Oct 2, 2009 - Phone calls with marketing team to discuss what we'll need and can get done before Nov. 23. Print advertising is out the window for this year - deadlines were 3 months ago. Too late even for winter editions of the target market. Decide to focus online. Research the websites of the print media and begin prelim list of possible slots for advertising. Make sure Twitter account is resuscitated and active. Begin to develop idea of code that displays a seal of support for the project - that anyone can download. Pulls image from our site and provides link back to us - for tracking of course. Work estimates for costs between now and end of year.

Sun Oct 4, 2009 - Meet with man soon to be the ecommerce manager and customer service rep. Am told he's taking a job in Texas. Tells me he'll stay till end of year to help get through the crunch. Much appreciated - I feel my heart rate begin to slow.

Meet with server and network engineer (friend) and discuss shipping. Yea, shipping. Shipping as a cost will be included in the price of the products. Formula worked out and vendors are aware of it. Concept is standard drop shipping with a slight twist. Instead of the vendor shipping products out on their account (if they even have one) they'll use ours. All they need to do is fulfill the order and print out the shipping label. 1st problem - all of the order management software we've reviewed has the ability to generate POs for drop shipping but NONE can go the last step and create individual shipping labels for the drop shippers. It's nearly 11pm when we decide StoneEdge might be a good place to start and ask if they can customize to suit.

Mon Oct 5, 2009 - Submit contact email to StoneEdge and request phone call. Call all of the initial 16 vendors personally to let them know we're moving forward and fast.

Get a call back from StoneEdge and am told it's not an option. Ask about customization and am told that they might be able to do it but are booked for the rest of this year. Get name of another outfit that can customize their code. Not happy but understand. Meet with lawyer to give her the list of items I want in the Vendor agreement.

Continue discussion re: shipping with engineer. Brainstorming options. Cart selection is ShopSite for many reasons. I don't have time to deal with spaghetti code and want the peace of mind that comes with a hosted solution. Submit paperwork and estimates on initial funding for the year. Is $35,000 enough for everything? I hope so. Receive rough draft of vendor agreement from lawyer.

Tue Oct 6, 2009 - Meet with ecomm manager. Go over the vendor agreement and begin to draft Terms and Conditions for vendors and customers. Draft vision statement as well.

Meet with design team and get them started on logo development. Hot items for them include logo, business cards, and the seals of support.

Wed Oct 7, 2009 - Don't like the language of the vendor agreement that explains our take from the sale. Fix other areas that I don't like easily but this one doesn't feel right. Revisit concept of additional revenue streams through ancillary services like hosting and website design/development services for vendors.

Thu Oct 8, 2009 - Begin bullet list of hosting services idea. Talk it through with a few vendors and receive positive response. Still working on vendor agreement.

more to come...



 2:25 pm on Oct 9, 2009 (gmt 0)

Outstanding. Can't wait to read the rest.


 3:20 pm on Oct 9, 2009 (gmt 0)

About the best I can say is.. good luck.

That kind of time frame for a whole new ecommerce site is really going to be pushing it.


 4:22 pm on Oct 9, 2009 (gmt 0)

Wlauzon, I agree with you. Im 10 months in now on setting up a new ecom site!

But Lorax I do wish you the best of luck and am sure you can do it you have help.


 6:35 pm on Oct 9, 2009 (gmt 0)

That's a pretty tight time line. Keep us updated. As more details emerge, I'm sure there are many of us here willing to share experience.


 10:32 pm on Oct 9, 2009 (gmt 0)

>> tight timeline

Yeah - I know! :) Not my choice but we have to have something online in that time frame. I'm limiting the initial vendor list to 7 products each. After that we'll go for a second round and add on vendors and products. By early December I expect to have 40+ vendors on-board and over 400 products.

I'm hoping to finish the vendor paperwork by Monday so we can get them started. An initial fee of $150 each helps the cash flow. They'll have about 10 business days to join or be left out until later. Exclusivity is a card I hadn't intended to play so early but it may come in handy at this time.


 12:13 am on Oct 10, 2009 (gmt 0)

This is super! I can't wait to have my own e-comm! Thanks a lot!


 4:08 am on Oct 10, 2009 (gmt 0)

Oct 9, 2009 - Informed initial check for $35K has been approved and is to be picked up on 10/14. That's 2 weeks faster than I anticipated. This weekend is scheduled to be spent between time with my daughter and the shopping list of services and hardware I need. I still have this darned vendor contract to complete. Phone call with lawyer on Monday. Think I need to spend more time writing down my thoughts and concerns.

2nd draft of Vendor agreement passed between lawyer and myself. Getting closer now. I change some of the language to reflect values/mission and she adds liability clause. Grateful for her.

Learn some new details about WordPress and ShopSite that interest me and might come in useful. Park them in my memory. The paperwork on my desk is atrociously deep. Make mental note to reorganize and streamline my business processes. Consider the "7 Habits" approach again. Can you say Atkins?

<added>am thinking the Facebook Fan page through. Thinking about the approach and level of effort of each avenue. There isn't one right way to do this of course.

Publish Mission & Vision statements after receiving feedback from 2 team members. Only negative comment was about grammer. Fixed and released.</added>

btw - welcome aboard websitescripter! :)


 11:47 am on Oct 10, 2009 (gmt 0)

Interesting stuff! Looking forward to the next installments.


 3:08 pm on Oct 10, 2009 (gmt 0)

This is all rather frustrating without knowing the industry for context! :)


 11:17 am on Oct 12, 2009 (gmt 0)

Great thread. Love to stay informed :)


 9:01 pm on Oct 12, 2009 (gmt 0)

Also, its nice to see that people are actually putting some effort into seriously starting up. This is my business model:

1. Buy from China
2. Setup shop
3. ?
4. Profit!

But somehow, that doesn't quite work out the way I intend it to.


 6:34 am on Oct 15, 2009 (gmt 0)

A great read.
Nice if you can get someone to give you $35 k to get started.
The proof will be in the pudding.
How many visitors to the site will he get ?
Is it just another portal ?


 12:28 pm on Oct 17, 2009 (gmt 0)

Mon, Oct 12 Spent the majority of the day working on client work. Feel horribly guilty for the delays. This project comes on top of an already full schedule and I resolve to redouble my efforts on their projects. By now I have spoken with a programmer (I'll call him BG) about building a custom database to track vendors, possible vendors, and any one uses our Javascript driven "seal of approval" on thier website. I have several reasons for this. I expect the seals will double if not triple our visibility and click through traffic. They also provide on topic links and statistics I can use in measuring our success and to speak with future funders and advertisers. Hire a friend/contractor to begin collecting information to be added to the database.

Tue, Oct 13 Am told check will not likely come on Wednesday as originally planned. I have a trip schedule for Thursday - Monday. Am told it might get there before I have to leave. Speak with former director of an organization (I'll call her DH) that deals with some of the widgets we're going to sell. She loves the idea and wants in. We talk about that darn paperwork I've been stalling on. She agrees to take a look and get me her thoughts. I send her the Vendor Agreement and a Vendor Terms and Conditions. Am thinking about a couple of the vendors we have lined up. For one or more reasons I'm leaning toward telling them we cannot accept them in this project. I do not relish what I must do if I decide this.

Weds, Oct 14 Receive phone call confirming check won't arrive today. Not a huge deal but cash flow has been hampered by my focus on this project so I'm in a bit of a bind.

Thu, Oct 15 Get an email from acquaintance who has connections, financial skills, and probably the money to help build out future phases. Arrange to have lunch the following Tuesday. Also receive a few client checks. Say a silent thank you and use them to pay a few bills. Hope the big check arrives while I'm away.

Fri, Oct 16 Recieve edits to the Vendor T&C and like what I see. Big help. Can't access the Vendor Agreement though and DH is in Montreal for the weekend.


 1:42 pm on Oct 19, 2009 (gmt 0)

I'm hoping to finish the vendor paperwork by Monday so we can get them started. An initial fee of $150 each helps the cash flow. They'll have about 10 business days to join or be left out until later. Exclusivity is a card I hadn't intended to play so early but it may come in handy at this time.

Do I understand this correctly: you're charging vendors to have their products listed on an ecommerce drop shipper site to be built in the future?

Can you explain a grant of $35,000 to sell online. Sounds like something from a Mathew Lesko book.


 1:50 pm on Oct 19, 2009 (gmt 0)

After researching I presume Vermont figures into all of this. Good luck. Will be anxious to see what you create with Shopsite... a good choice.

[edited by: lorax at 11:30 am (utc) on Oct. 20, 2009]


 11:37 am on Oct 20, 2009 (gmt 0)

Yes the funding is a grant between my firm and an economic dev group. The initial fee is has two purposes - initial cash flow and to help filter out the impulsive seller.

Re: ShopSite. Will be relatively simple first go round. I want simplicity, speed, and attractive product shots. Bells and whistles will have to wait.

Re: Mathew Lesko. ROFL - not quite. :)


 8:40 pm on Oct 21, 2009 (gmt 0)

1. Buy from China
2. Setup shop
3. ?
4. Profit!

But somehow, that doesn't quite work out the way I intend it to.

Just a wild guess, too many product returns and product complaints killed your business model.


 11:50 am on Oct 27, 2009 (gmt 0)

Mon, Oct 19 - Still haven't finished the agreements. It's my own fault. A lack of clarity on how to do this has been passed onto those involved and they're looking to me to define what I need. Realize as I write this I need to be more confident and clear about what I want from them. Make appoint to meet with design team re: logo and tag line on Thurs.

Tue, Oct 20 - Finally receive the initial disbursement check. Breath a bit easier. Meet with accountant to go over Quickbooks setup and procedure for tracking this project. Late night with CB going over shipping and how we want to execute it. Revisit having the vendor pay for shipping on their own account and paying for packing materials. Discuss branded packing materials like stickers on the box, branded packing tape, and inserts. Order new laptop and make plans to re-purpose existing desktop for ecomm manager.

Thur, Oct 22 - Meet with design team and review 2nd round of logos. Love the first one they show. It was intentionally first as it turns out - but then I knew to expect this so I made myself look at all of the options. Still like #1 the best. Tell them to go with it. Next up for them are the seals of support. Receive 2nd round of comments from DH about the Vendor Agreements and Terms & Conditions. Basically it seems fine but with a few questions from her.

Sun, Oct 25 - Largely finish up the Vendor Agreement and T&C docs. Receive first draft for the support seal. Love it. Discuss tracking database with programmer BG decide on our approach.

Mon, Oct 26 - First day with ecomm manager (WF) in the office. Send out our initial Vendor packets. Packets contain agreement, T&C, mission & vision statements, federal paperwork and links online forms they need to complete: vendor bio form (about them, their biz) and product info form (1 ea per product with all of the info we'll need including dimensions, product weight, finished package weight, etc...) Receive more shipping info from DH. Shares an online resource with me that mentions insuring shipments along with other shipping related policy items. Begin thinking about insurance for products. My lawyer included a liability section in the agreement so we're covered there (reasonably). Laptop arrived today though I didn't get to open the box until late in the afternoon. Immediately replace Vista with XP Pro. Visit Staples for some office related items for WF like a decent office chair, desk lamp, trash can, UPS, etc... Purchase ShopSite account at host and receive account info within 10 minutes. Need to get some design client work finished so I can concentrate on design of the catalog. Am thinking we'll go clean and simple.


 12:53 pm on Oct 27, 2009 (gmt 0)

Question Lorax,

You said you had less than 6 weeks. You are now working on your 3rd week. Have you even begun to setup the actual shopping cart? You seem to be frantically flying around getting a lot of behind the scenes stuff ready, but the cart setup is one of the most time consuming efforts.

Just curious.


 1:00 pm on Oct 27, 2009 (gmt 0)

but the cart setup is one of the most time consuming efforts.

Note he's using a commercial cart, Shopsite.


 4:00 pm on Oct 27, 2009 (gmt 0)

Yes, I saw he was using shopsite .. but even using a commercial cart there is a lot of product setup, pricing setup, configuration, inventory, payment gateway, testing testing testing. I too am using a commercial cart and I would not dream of going live without weeks of testing.


 4:58 pm on Oct 27, 2009 (gmt 0)

I just barely got the account setup last night so the short answer is not yet. We're limiting the initial amount of products to about 100 to start so we can get a few days of testing in before it goes live. We've done a lot of footwork in advance to smooth out the setup process. I've worked with ShopSite before and product setup is relatively simple if know what you want to do and have what you need - thus a lot of planning in advance. We will test the install but I don't think we need weeks. A day or so should suffice.

Perhaps I should ask you why weeks? In all sincerity, why does it take that long?


 6:33 pm on Oct 27, 2009 (gmt 0)

We test for weeks because we like to validate and verify. We like to run test scenarios for various things. Example, shipping a 30# box to 90210 cost $x.#*$! ,, what does it cost in our UPS World Ship, is it accurate. Same scenario for various weights and zip codes. We test and make sure all products have accurate prices, accurate weights. We validate logins work and remember current cart. We test checkout from start to end. Granted "weeks" is based on the fact we do have a lot of products but even with just a few I personally would not feel comfortable with a day of testing. Just my .02


 10:03 pm on Oct 27, 2009 (gmt 0)

Understood. Are your shipping rates live? From a rate table? Ours are built into the retail price - all calculation done in advance.


 11:28 pm on Oct 27, 2009 (gmt 0)

Yes, our rates are live with a formula to offer some of our discount to the customer.


 3:43 pm on Dec 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

Whoa. It's been more than 6 weeks (obviously) and we're just about ready to launch. Lots of work on the site itself but an equal amount in the preparation for marketing and decisions for online services. Opted to include USPS Priority Mail along with our UPS Ground. Chose ShipWorks to use for shipping labels and order management. Was hoping to use StoneEdge but it couldn't handle multiple drop shippers for one order and they couldn't do customizations until after the 1st of the year.

Working on link building plan and short term SEO. Have promotional graphics with link code ready. Have prospect database and administrative interface ready. Still need to test this. Have Skype account for customer service and will be testing order fulfillment, tracking, gateway notices, email copy & links, and Quickbooks integration today/tomorrow. Planning to go live on Tuesday.

I know there are a lot of holes in the processes and there's still testing to be done in other areas. I'm 98% confident we have it covered. Time has run out so we'll have to make up the last 2% on the fly.


 4:11 pm on Dec 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

Lorax, how would you compare Shipworks to Stoneedge?

Would seem that ShipWorks, with its graduated rates based on number of orders shipped, would be the cheaper for a startup.


 4:34 pm on Dec 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

I haven't had a chance to really work with it yet but at first blush the low entry rate makes it very appealing. I suspect it's an apples to oranges comparison because StoneEdge seems to have more CRM ability. Again without actual use it's hard to say. I think ShipWorks will do what I need for the short term and I'm seriously thinking about building our own tool and integrating CRM, marketing, and analytics into one comprehensive package. This idea needs to be vetted and how this coming fiscal year pans out - eg. whether this ecomm venture does what I hope - then we'll start in. I've already planned for it when I had the coding done in the database for vendors and prospects. I'm sure it will be a process of bolt-ons for a year or so then a complete rebuild at year 2 or 3.


 10:21 pm on Dec 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

Ok Lorax
Have you got any products on there for sale yet ?
How are you getting your products / sellers ?
Are you getting many hits ?

This 45 message thread spans 2 pages: 45 ( [1] 2 > >
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