Many small and midsized ecommerce businesses use virtual offices, meaning that shipping and logistics might be in Kentucky near the FedEx hub, web development could be managed in Italy, and the online store’s marketing and customer service teams may be in Oklahoma.
What’s more, many of these small and midsized online merchants use contractors, consultants, or freelancers to help them with everything from application development and social media marketing to search engine optimization. And these disparate workers can be physically located anywhere from Grand Junction, Colorado, U.S. to Bielsko-Biała, Poland. Using skilled contributors, no matter where they are located, can be a boon for an ecommerce company, but there are also challenges associated with a global team, not the least of which is file sharing and version control.
Dropbox is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) file sharing, synchronization, backup, and collaboration solution that can help online merchants keep track of their documents, secure those documents and files from loss, and work better with team members in faraway places. For all of these reasons, I am giving Dropbox four out of a possible five stars in this, “The PeC Review.”
“The PeC Review” is my weekly column created to introduce you to the products or services that I believe can help you improve your ecommerce business. This week, I’ll explain why I use Dropbox.
Video: A Quick Look At Dropbox
How Does Dropbox Work?
To use Dropbox, you will need to download the company’s proprietary software to your computer, install that software, and restart your system. Having taken these pretty basic steps, you’ll find a new folder in your computer, called, not surprisingly, “My Dropbox.” This new folder behaves just like other folders on your system or network. You can save files to the folder. You can drag and drop files to it. And, you can retrieve files from it.
But when you place a file in your Dropbox folder, you are effectively adding the file not just to your local hard drive, but also to Dropbox’s web servers. If you have established a sharing relationship with Dropbox folders on other devices, your file is also synchronized to those computers or iPhones automatically.
The Collaboration Scenario
Dropbox’s file synchronization features can make it much more effective to share documents across your company and contractors—regardless of physical location.
I have used Dropbox, for example, to share both marketing documents with a collaborator several states away and pass back-and-forth iterations of a website mock up without having to track dozens of versions of a file.
For example, when I first placed the website mockup into My Dropbox, it was almost instantly synchronized to my client’s computer. He annotated the mockup, saved it back to the folder, and the updated version of the file was ready for my review on my system. Combined with something like Adobe’s PDF review features, Dropbox can offer a form of inexpensive file and version control.
What’s more, Dropbox files are available locally on your machine. Imagine that you are headed to the Shop.org Annual Summit in Texas in 2010. You get on a plane, and you would like to review the sales and shipping reports for the quarter. If those files are online or in your email inbox, you are probably out of luck. But if those reports are stored in your My Dropbox folder, they are available offline. And if you make changes or annotations, the next time you are online, those reports will be automatically synchronized with versions residing on your iPhone, in the cloud, or on other computers.
The Catastrophe and Undo Scenarios
Dropbox also creates a secure online backup of your important files. Let’s face it, from time to time computers fail, and if all of your important business-related files and documents—purchase orders, shipping contracts, employee records, product photography, or supplier lists—are stored on your computer when it fails, those files may be lost forever.
But these would be safe if they were stored in your My Dropbox folder, where each file is backed up in the cloud.
Dropbox also allows you to undelete files or undo changes to files for 30 days or more. Imagine the scenario where you accidentally delete all of the new product images that you just paid a photographer to shoot for you. You call him or her to get new copies only to learn he or she does not keep backups of completed projects. With Dropbox, this catastrophe would not be an issue, since you could simply undelete the photos.
File Storage and Access Scenarios
Dropbox will also make it easier for you to access your files and documents remotely. The service includes a web portal from which you can access your shared files, photos, or documents using nearly any Internet-enabled device.
The basic version of Dropbox is free, and it includes a meager 2GB of total storage space. The Dropbox Pro 50 plan includes 50GB of storage for $9.99 per month, and the Dropbox Pro 100 plan gives you 100GB of storage for $19.99 per month.
I have to mention that I was mildly amused by the pricing plans, since if I could buy two Pro 50 plans, I would pay $19.98 for 100GB of storage instead of the $19.99 per month for the Pro 100 plan, which means two Pro 50 plans would cost 12 cents per year less.
Dropbox In Its Own Words
I thought Dropbox did a nice job of describing itself in this video, so I have included it here.
Dropbox, which runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux, provides a good file synchronization, storage, and backup solution that I believe will help online merchants do a better job of keeping track of files, securing those files, and sharing those files with contractors and team members. I would have liked to see larger storage volumes listed on the pricing tier page. But I liked that using Dropbox was simple.