Due to the recent revelations regarding EU Vat tax laws, Payhip is a relatively new player on the field of digital downloads. Store owners with a focus on digital goods, who have discontinued sales to the EU thanks to burdensome tax requirements, have this new (affordable) means by which to deliver digital content. There are no start-up or monthly fees and only a small 5% commission on each sale, and Payhip collects and remit VAT on behalf of its sellers. The tax burden is no longer yours to bear!
Their website is user friendly if you are happy with the platform provided. However, there are (limited) options for customizing the appearance of your listings if you have some familiarity with .css code. The interface is very clean and professional and there are no large banners with which to content or detract from ones personal brand. There is, however, no shopping cart and no means by which you can categorize items. If you have less than a dozen digital offerings, this may seem inconsequential, but for those with a large catalog of items, this may prove a burdensome shopping experience for customers.
Payhip does, however, promise that a shopping cart is in its near future, though dates promised keep appearing and disappearing without results. And for those with a stand alone website, the lack of categories may not be an insurmountable obstacle. The price is right and, for those who intend to become and remain VAT compliant it is, so far, the best solution I've found.
Storenvy offers something few other platforms deliver, which marked it, for me, a superior selling option. Though their audience is small, and their marketplace rarely drove traffic, the customization of stores allowed business owners an opportunity to take control of their branding via an affordable platform.
This year, Storenvy turned its attention away from their customizable platform, shifting its focus towards its lack-luster marketplace and began charging a 10% commission (plus 3% credit card processing fees) on all sales generated through a Storenvy.com search. These fees were intended to be used in marketing and site improvements, but their business plan was never disclosed to users. The shopping cart and checkout process, specifically when utilizing the custom store front (not to be confused with the checkout system associated with the marketplace) became increasingly riddled with errors regarding which support was, in my experience, entirely dismissive. Customers were easily navigated from a custom store to the marketplace via links conveniently placed during the checkout experience, thus converting custom store sales into marketplace sales, and generating a 10% commission (for those who opted in to the marketplace experience).
Storenvy also changed payment processors from PayPal to Stripe and were not entirely transparent during this transition. Though stores open prior to the implementation of Stripe were "grandfathered" in and allowed to continue their use of PayPal, many were confused by the process and ended up with funds from new transactions held in "placeholder" Stripe accounts created on their behalf (and without their permission) by Storenvy. The only way to access these payments were by creating a Stripe account or cancelling the transactions and waiting 21 days for the refunds to process. Though there are different accounts regarding the nature of the confusion encountered by many users, it was my experience that Storenvy handled the situation in an (at best) unprofessional and (at worst) underhanded manner. Stripe is now the default payment processor for new store owners who, I should note, can continue to use their customizable store fronts free of charge, and may opt out of the marketplace and its 10% commission.
Because of the unreliability of its checkout, the high commission and corresponding lack of features to justify these fees, and the slow response time and inadequacy of support, I no longer recommend this platform for business owners. However, they do offer a free, customizable store front, which might paint a pretty picture for those testing the waters of branding independent of an online marketplace.
Digital Goods Store
Another player in the digital downloads game is Digital Goods Store. This platform has a longer history than Payhip, and also handles VAT on behalf of its sellers. The difference is a higher commission of 10%. This commission includes PayPal fees, which are paid by the platform and may, on the surface, seem convenient to many but, in the end, still prove higher than those set forth by Payhip.
Their platform is elegant and clean. Creating an account, accessing the dashboard and listing new products are all easy and no fuss. The storefronts are professional but include Digital Goods Store banners, which aren't conducive to business branding, and there are no real noteworthy customizable options. There is no shopping cart, nor ability to categorize, so this platform presents the same complications of Payhip. However, they have suggested they might allow physical products in the future. Should EU Vat laws extend to physical products (which is promised as early as next year), this may be one of the only affordable options for store owners who would like to continue to sell into the EU without the burden of collecting and paying VAT tax.
Their fees are reasonable, and the platform is elegant and easy to use, but the lack of categorization and shopping cart is something to consider for those with more than a handful of products. They are currently not accepting new sign-ups while they improve their site to handle the VAT regulations, so some features discussed that were not previously in place may be implemented upon the launch of the new site.
Quite frankly, the dashboard was such a mess that I gave up attempting to navigate it before I could even successfully set my payment methods and email preferences. Store fronts lack customization with an appearance that is, at best, utilitarian. They have a ridiculous number of pricing plans and none of them include an "unlimited" option. Though it's most expensive option ($100/mo) includes 2000 products, there is still a cap on data storage. I was not impressed enough by anything this platform offered to invest more than a few hours of painful navigation.
IndieMade is a platform with the heart of an artist. Keeping in mind that this site is a platform and not a marketplace, it's an easy means by which artists can build a brand without the fuss of building a site. Though this isn't the easiest of the "all in one" site building platforms I tested, it has a beautiful, though extremely limited, selection of themes, created for their finesse and elegance. If you are looking for a "buy buy BUY" storefront, with in-your-face sales tactics, this is not the platform for you.
All IndieMade themes are customizable with color and font, though I did have some difficulty creating page elements. Because it's interface is so clean, it's sometimes impossible to find what you need! I found that, once I navigated away from my site, it was difficult to determine how, exactly, to access its dashboard and make changes to the theme.
The tiered plans are all affordable, but there is a product limit of 300, including both physical and digital goods. All plans include galleries, a blog and individual site pages, as well as a fully functioning shopping cart and store front, but the number of allowable galleries, pages and product shift between plans. Custom domain integration is available on the more expensive plans. If you have the patience to learn the interface, and have less than 300 products, this is a lovely platform to use to build a custom site, but may prove lacking for stores with a large inventory.
Squarespace is another platform (not a marketplace) with photographers and artists in mind. This all-in-one website solution features everything you need to build a web presence. The dashboard functions in much the same way as Weebly's drag-and-drop interface, but the theme selection is, I feel, too thin. However, because so many elements of the site are customizable, the lack of theme options may not be a hindrance to most, and the theme selection is comprised of elegant and professional templates. Custom domain integration is also a feature they provide.
The pricing is comparable to other all-in-one platforms and is inclusive of an unlimited tier at $24/mo. The templates are all mobile-optimized, and responsive, so each theme will resize to fit whatever device from which it is being viewed. This is prime internet real estate for photographers and artists and their images, showcasing their work in the best possible format. The templates all include a full e-commerce solution, offering checkout for physical and digital goods, though the only payment method available is via Stripe. According to their support team, PayPal integration may be on the table in the future. They also offer 24/7 support, which I found to be responsive and informative. Even utilizing their support ticket system, their responses were timely, within 24 hours every time, though usually answered in less than 6 hours.
For seasoned site builders, WordPress is the be-all, end-all of all-inclusive website options. The hosted version of WordPress comes complete with hundreds of possible, customizable themes, though the level of customization is often limited without a purchased pro template, and even then, the customization is not always easy, nor automatic, and often requires a moderate working relationship with .css and .php code.
The dashboard is not as clean as other solutions, but still easy to navigate, and the number of available free and paid plug-ins can convert most themes into individual, representative websites. The free woocommerce e-commerce solution, however, was a nightmare to set-up, was far too bloated for my needs, and tested my patience to the point that I completely dismissed it as a viable option.
Pricing depends on hosting options. Through Bluehost, the montly hosting fee was $9.99, with additional fees for SSL certifications, domain privacy and other features. Despite the hidden fees for features you'll find you need, this was still the most affordable of all the stand-alone, all-in-one options, however, was not, by any means, the easiest to use.
Weebly is the last of the all-in-one platform options I tested, and was, ultimately, my favorite. Like Squarepace, Weebly utilized a user-friendly drag-and-drop interface that allows most themes to be easily transformed to fit any personal needs. For those who prefer to avoid the extra customization, however, the number of available "out of the box" themes were plentiful.
Though the pricing put this as the most expensive all-in-one web-building option, with the most expensive plan at $29.95/mo (this fee was lowered with yearly and two year payment options), I found it came with the most customization. This plan will accommodate an unlimited number of physical and digital products while maintaining a very no-fuss checkout experience. The themes are (depending upon the plan) all-inclusive, with an unlimited number of pages, galleries or data storage. The starter and business plans include custom domain integration, either with a domain purchased via a third party or through the Weebly platform itself (which is the more expensive of the two options). The business package also offers a custom SSL ticket that keeps customers entirely within the confines of your own site. Otherwise, the shopping cart is (and it's very subtle) moved to a weebly.com SSL secure checkout.
I found that support tickets are answered timely, but they do not offer 24/7 phone or live chat support, which may not be preferable for large e-commerce websites. However, the support staff is very friendly and very eager to help. Support tickets are often followed up with other emails to make sure the service was adequate, which I appreciate.
Of the platforms detailed here, only Storenvy offers a marketplace with internal traffic, but the fees, poor support and buggy checkout experience may prove problematic for many. All other e-commerce, branding solutions presented in this article are for platforms, with a focus on branding a stand-alone web presence, and without marketplace solutions.
Though the focus of this review isn't to discuss the necessity for a stand-alone web presence, I strongly encourage these platforms over marketplace solutions, simply for the all-inclusive branding options they provide.
If you have any questions regarding the platforms I've reviewed here, or have any platforms you have had personal experience with and would like to discuss, please feel free to leave a comment!
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