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Selling digital products and services online – my experience

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Selling products or services online requires a solid e-commerce platform. There are numerous sites out there that offer e-commerce services but finding the right one can be a challenge. Many are overloaded with features that you end up paying for even though you may never use them. 

For a long time, and being a developer, I settled for custom made solutions. Over the years I realized I was spending unnecessary time fixing and improving my solutions and often missing out on a client due a failed order processing. This is time I end up taking away from developing and maintaining my products or acquiring new clients. In the end, I decided that using third-party services would be best in my case, but then comes the cost. 

Most e-commerce solutions do not offer marketing solutions for your e-store such as SEO although most do provide tools for you to accomplish that. You need an SEO expert to optimize your e-store. In the end, you might be spending more in maintaining third-party services than the amount you generate from sales. 

I will discuss some of the the services I have used in the past or is currently using and my take on them.

Shopify

Shopify is a very popular e-commerce platform for selling goods and services. Shopify comes with a fully customizable DYI website creating tool with ability to create your own templates. Shopify subscriptions start at $29/month. 

If you have high traffic to your site and making good sales, then their pricing can be considered decent. On the other hand, if your product is not as popular, you might find their pricing a bit high to maintain.

The pros:

  • Clean and responsive store website
  • Easy to use dashboard
  • Integration with social media for driving sales. 
  • Kit – their virtual assistant that automates tasks on Facebook such as posting and sending reminders
  • A learning curve which can intimidate beginners

The cons:

  • They hit your with state and county taxes
  • You pay for most of the useful addons on top of your regular subscription fee.
  • Beginners might find the pricing to be a bit high
  • If you discontinue subscription before it expires, the give you subscription credit rather than refunding the balance which forces you to use that amount on them

Verdict

After purchasing 1 year subscription, I ended up cancelling it and sticking to my custom e-stores with SendOwl

SendOwl

SendOwl is a London based company and so far the easiest hands-off solution that I have come across for selling digital products and subscriptions. SendOwl integrates well with Shopify and uses PayPal and Stripe gateways to fulfill orders.

They have an optional license generation tool that comes in handy for those selling digital products that need licensing. You can opt to manually issue license keys.

Migrating in users with license from outside sources is easy. You send them a free copy of your product by entering their name and email which then adds them to the system with a new license key.

The pros:

  • Easy to use
  • Referral system
  • Straight forward and easy integration in your own website

The cons:

  • You have to browse around the dashboard to find some of the settings. Their search tools only search for products but not settings
  • I personally don’t like the look of their dashboard. It could use some upgrade to have a more stylish look

Verdict:

This is my current solution of choice and so far I like the experience. I downgraded from $24/month plan to $9/month as I was not getting any additional benefit from the $24/month for my intended use.

SendOwl has flexible pricing plans that start as low as $9/month.  You can find more information about SendOwl here

Stripe

Stripe is a platform for processing payments for any online business. They have a powerful API that is very developer friendly.  Their pay-as-you-go plan is 2.9% + 30ยข per transaction with no monthly fees or any other hidden fees.

Pros:

  • Low and transparent processing fees
  • Easy order fulfillment and refund processing
  • Connects to your bank for direct deposit which can be automatic or manual
  • No minimum for automatic deposit
  • Powerful API and great documentation for developers
  • Allows multiple accounts to be tied to one login account
  • Easy integration to your website. See an example here

Cons:

  • Their dashboard is slowly becoming clouded with features

ZipBooks

ZipBooks is an accounting platform for small businesses. I have used ZipBooks for the last 3 years and so far I’m happy with their service.

Pros:

  • Connects to bank accounts and downloads transactions
  • Auto categorizes transactions
  • Great invoicing with recurring profiles
  • Advanced reporting great especially during tax season
  • Cleanly designed dashboard interface
  • Affordable pricing schemes
  • Offers Zipbook pros which is a database of professionals you can contact for various services

Cons:

  • Their project management is very basic
  • I don’t find the time tracking tool quite useful
  • Tends to disconnect with bank or fails to pull transactions
  • Does not detect duplicate transactions such as if you connect to PayPal which also draws money from bank account
  • Making changes to invoices tends to affect transactions history often leading to duplicate records
  • Hefty subscription fees for other optional services

PayPal

PayPal is a popular payment processing platform. I particularly use PayPal due to the fact that it has been around  for a while and there more popular by clients. I am introducing my clients to Stripe I prefer better than PayPal in terms of integration and processing fees. 

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