Everything I know about running an online shop, or, what size envelopes fit Moo cards

Like any right-thinking business person, I’m going to head up this post by telling you that I have opened an online shop, and right now you can buy my designs on lovely, high quality greetings cards and postcards.

Whoop whoop, release the balloons, throw the ticker tape, dance like nobody’s watching, etc.

Here it is (or you can just use the ‘shop’ link in the menu at the top of my site).

Myfanwy Tristram shop

But *unlike* a proper business person, I’m also going to talk a little bit about the learning process I went through in setting up this shop, in case it’s interesting or useful for others.

Getting cards printed

It almost feels like stating the obvious to say that I got my cards printed at Moo.com. Is there anyone left on the planet who doesn’t know that they make it really easy to upload your images, and they produce lovely high-quality stock?

Moo have got it right, from the online interface, which is both fun and easy to use, to their email communications, from their referral discount system, to – most importantly – the products themselves. It’s the sort of thing that you think must have been effortless, until you explore other options, and you see how much harder other printers’ websites make it.

There’s one thing that makes Moo extra suitable for illustrators’ needs, and that is that you can order a batch of cards at a set price, and include as many designs as you like. So, for example, you might order 50 cards, and include 10 designs – you’ll get 5 of each. You can even get 50 different designs printed, and just get one of each.

I guess it’s their online automated interface that allows them to do this; I can’t imagine strolling into my local print shop with 50 images on a USB stick and asking them to print one of each. With Moo, you are actually doing much of the hard work yourself, uploading your images and making sure they fit the template.

Only one thing concerns me about Moo, and that is my preference for small, local suppliers. Moo certainly seem like the good guys – or should I say, their copywriter is as adept at creating that impression as their developers clearly are at automating the order process – but nothing beats putting your money into the local economy.

Envelopes and cellophane

Moo greetings cards come with evelopes, but they don’t come with the cellophane sleeves you might expect to cover them in for sales (first lesson for me – they tend to be called ‘cellos’ and they come in a bewildering number of different sizes and thicknesses).

I wanted cellophane wrappers, and I wanted nice paper bags for my postcards. Also, I needed to find large enough envelopes to send them out to customers in – those needed to be slightly larger than the cards themselves, of course, especially when someone might be ordering five or six.

I was surprised to discover that Moo’s card sizes don’t seem to be a standard, at least here in the UK. Their greetings cards are 4 by 6″ and while you can find cellophane sleeves that size, you have to look quite hard. Lots of shops just don’t stock that size at all. Then in some shops, 4″ by 6″ is called C5, while in others that seems to be a completely different size. So check your dimensions!

You know, if I sold cello bags, I’d definitely stick up a big page saying ‘these fit Moo cards’ because presumably everyone in my situation would just breathe a sigh of relief and buy them.

I eventually bought from Crafts In Mind: I hadn’t heard of them before but they were fine.

For envelopes, I went through a similar arc. I figured out that I wanted 17.5cm by 12.5cm envelopes, and these are called G6 (again, check the measurements on the site you choose; this seems to mean different sizes to different stockists). I wanted something nice and colourful, but I didn’t want to shell out so much extra for them that it ate away my already fine profit margins.

This time it was ColourEnvelopes.co.uk to the rescue – you can pick your colours; just like Moo, you can have a whole selection of different colours within an order, if you want – and they’re just 8p each.

Finally, I found nice paper bags for postcards on eBay.

Choosing an online shop

Like every happy Moo customer, I received my package of greetings cards, postcards and business cards with its pink YAY sticker, and was delighted. But what now?

My main purpose in having these printed up was for the open house I’ll be participating in this year – I’ll have prints on sale, but I wanted something smaller for those who only want to spend a couple of quid.

But I also wanted to try out selling online, for a couple of reasons. First, it seems like a good test ground for pricing, and seeing which cards are most popular, and second, I get a small but regular number of requests from online acquaintances who would like to buy my stuff.

Prints may be a different matter, but when you’re selling postcards and greetings cards, profits will be small. For that reason, I wanted to find free shop software. Maybe eventually, I’ll look at Etsy or one of the UK equivalents (notonthehighstreet or Folksy, I guess). I do understand their benefits – massive potential customer base, for starters, and seller protection – but right now, I’m thinking small.

So – free shop software. You have to wonder what’s in it for the providers. Just like anyone else would, I Googled ‘free online shop’ and took a look at the options. Most of them seem to operate on a ‘freemium’ basis – that is, basic services are free, and you can upgrade if you want either extra features or more stock, etc. That model benefits people like me who just want a basic storefront.

I would like to say I made a full examination of all offerings and then went with the one that fulfilled all my business aims – but in the end I went for Tictail because I liked its designs best, and its freemium model seemed unlikely to bite me in the bum. The basic shop is free, and you can buy ‘apps’ on a monthly basis. They’re stuff like analytics and the ability to email people who have abandoned their carts – stuff I can see the benefits of, but which my kitchen-table business doesn’t need yet.

You can tell Tictail’s built by desginers first and foremost. The choice of shop skins is stunning, and the whole interface, including the admin back-end, is a delight to use. The apps are created by a community – I’m not a technical person  so I just skimmed over this bit. I can’t tell for sure whether they’re open source, which’d be extra brownie points, but everything kind of has that feel. Recent tweets and job ads seem to indicate that they’re certainly moving in that direction.

So what’s the downside? I’d spent a couple of hours setting up my shop before I found out (and honestly? It’s a free shop. I don’t feel that qualified to quibble). The basics all work beautifully, but there are things you can’t do. For example, you can only set one shipping price across your shop, no matter how many items somebody buys, and no matter what those items are.

OK, so suppose someone buys one postcard, the site will apply the one shipping rate I have. Now suppose they buy 99 postcards – same shipping rate (hm, maybe that’s fine, as I’ll be so grateful they’ve spent so much I can waive shipping…).

Right, but NOW suppose I add prints to my shop. The cost of sending an A3, unbendable piece of artwork is categorically not the same as the cost of sending a single postcard.

It’s clear that Tictail are a small organisation and they don’t have time to be constantly innovating. I’m not the only one to have come across this irritant – and as someone who responds to support mail in my day-job, I can only sympathise with the Tictail representative in that thread, as she tries to suggest workarounds, all the time saying they can’t commit to a definite date when the issue will be fixed.

Perhaps bizarrely, Tictail *have* nailed different shipping rates for different countries. You can also offer to waive shipping over a certain spend. I feel like they’ll eventually fix this one issue, I just don’t know when.

Another thing that didn’t quite fit my needs was that you can’t have multiple variants of a single item. So, in my case, I have one illustration and I offer it as a card or a postcard. I have to create two listings, rather than being able to just show the design and offer the formatting options. Equally, users can’t currently buy more than one of each item – until they reach their shopping cart, when they can tweak the amounts in there. It feels a bit like the whole system has been set up with a sector in mind, something like fashion, where you’d typically just buy one of a thing.

Maybe one day, I’ll want to be able to offer discount codes, or do something more fancy with my store. When that day comes, I might decide it’s worth spending a bit with Tictail because they’ve already done so much for me. Or maybe it’ll be time to bite the bullet and go down the Etsy route. Maybe Tictail won’t be around any more – who knows? Sad to say, I’ve seen great online services, which have only small teams behind them, fold.

Maybe with this blog post I’m doing my own bit to bring them a few more customers? They are definitely worth a try.

Promoting an online shop

Now, as I say, my ambitions are modest, but that’s not to say I don’t want anyone to find my shop. So far, I’ve mentioned it on all my habitual social media channels: Pinterest, InstagramTwitter. Oh and also Facebook and my personal blog, neither of which are currently public.

None of these is a dedicated marketing channel for me. Rather, they are places where I have personal accounts and have forged personal friendships – so I don’t want to blow my own trumpet on there too frequently. Perhaps the next step will be thinking about having accounts just for my illustration work, although of course that means starting from scratch on the followers front..

In the meantime, every repin, regram, retweet, blog or Facebook mention is *very welcome*. You just don’t know how much I appreciate it!

Plus – if you have thoughts and experiences with online selling, please do comment below. I’m all ears.

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