At Practical eCommerce, we are aware of more than 350 online shopping carts. And each week, we feature one, interviewing both the cart’s developer or management and a customer. “The Cart of the Week” is not a review or an evaluation, but rather an opportunity to learn about a shopping cart from the people who build it and use it.
This week, we’ll hear from Sarath Samarasekera, CEO of Shopster e-Commerce, and Kenneth Christine, a Shopster customer who operates three online stores. Shopster offers merchants both a shopping cart and access to a network of suppliers, potentially making it easier for merchants to get up and running.
PeC: What are Shopster’s greatest strengths?
Samarasekera: “The Shopster Network is the biggest value that our customers get. Shopster’s PowerMerchant platform seamlessly connects merchants and suppliers, allowing merchants to sell diverse products. This idea has evolved over several years from us listening to our customers and building a system that is focused on their success.
“The biggest strength of Shopster is that our success means that our customers are successful and vice versa. We are also highly adaptable and can make changes quickly. The retail environment, especially online, is rapidly changing. An example of such a change happened two years ago when Google changed the way websites and stores were indexed and ranked for relevancy. We quickly educated ourselves on those changes, made changes in our store builder engine, and rolled it out across our thousands of sites within days. Being quick, nimble and networked meant that our customers didn’t lose valuable time and money doing it themselves, and those that happened to be unaware of the changes were [still] protected.”
PeC: What are some of its weaknesses?
Samarasekera “One of the biggest areas that Shopster needs to improve is our store template system. Shopster is working on a plan to acquire hundreds more pre-designed stores and templates so our less technically inclined customers can just choose a design they like best.
“Second, I think there are still too many customers who think that Shopster owns or inventories products. We don’t. We don’t even control the prices. Our customers do. What we do is provide is a way to interact, communicate, and buy and sell. If a PowerMerchant has good products and good prices, other PowerMerchants will want to sell those products, and both will prosper. If the products are not good or they are priced too high, then no one will sell them.”
PeC: What plans do you have for future cart development?
Samarasekera “The Shopster platform is about allowing our users to utilize their skills while getting support in areas that they may not be strong in. Our development has been user-driven, but this will take big leap forward when we release the Shopster API, which will allow users to develop right on top of the platform.
“Before the API makes its debut there are some big changes coming to how our system works with and for our customers.
In July , we are opening up the Shopster Network to any and all sellers around the world. As a Shopster PowerMerchant you will be able to build your business and sell your own inventory through your online store. You will also be able to add more inventory to your store by connecting your business to other Shopster PowerMerchants – thereby extending your product offering on your store without having to buy and store that inventory. You will also be able to provide your inventory for others to sell on their store, creating more distribution channels for your products – people working together to build each others’ businesses.”
PeC: How would Shopster help an ecommerce merchant versus the cart he or she is using now?
Samarasekera “Shopster is really a very different way of doing business. Other carts or ecommerce systems are really old-fashioned business models. You buy the software, you buy the inventory, you do the marketing, you do the warehousing and shipping, you deal with the payment systems. As a merchant you really are a consumer of all these other business services. At Shopster you are a partner. When you join other merchants are eager to help you succeed… if you are great at selling, then not only will you sell your own products, but likely you will sell some of theirs; and that’s great for everyone. If you have fantastic products, the other merchants benefit from having access to resell those products and you benefit from having others sell for you. The best part about Shopster is that you can choose to do it all yourself or you can work with others to build your business.”
PeC: Any other thoughts for our readers, who are ecommerce merchants?
Samarasekera “I am always surprised when I talk to merchants who do the samething everyone else is doing and think they will get better or different results. I am also surprised by how few understand where they create real value. Let me give you an example. Two merchants compete with each other and buy the Google Adword ‘shoes’ for $10 and have a budget of $1000. They both get 100 clicks. They aren’t getting ahead here, they are merely paying to stay even. Now if merchant A was better at managing Adwords than merchant B and realized they could do it in half the time, then we have the basis for differentiation. If merchant B spends 2 hours a day, that would mean that merchant A is spending only 1 hour a day. What could merchant A do with a whole hour? How about refine their search – instead of using the word ‘shoes’ they could test a variety of Adwords such as ‘brown leather high heels’ This would cost less – say $2/click, be much more targeted and therefore more valuable.
“Merchants also do this in trying to manage inventory. You could source everything yourself. You can find the distributor, order and inventory products, spend your money or borrow money to spend on inventory and then sell it. If you are great at negotiation and at logistics, and warehousing and banking then you might be the best person to do this. But perhaps you are better at marketing. How much time and what value would you create if you spent all those warehousing hours selling and just outsourced that part? Somewhere in the past someone told us all that working hard was somehow a right of passage. Working smart is a right of success. The world is a much tougher place today than even just a year ago for businesses. You need to continuously change, and make the biggest impact where you can. If you try and do everything, something will drop.”
A Customer’s View
Kenneth Christine has been a Shopster customer since 2006. He is the owner and operator of three stores, The Electronics Clearance Center, The House and Phone Shop, and Electonics Mall Superstore. Here he gives us his thoughts on Shopster.
PeC: Describe your business.
Christine: “My store is an online outlet for consumer electronics. My customer is a person who’s focus is primarily on the latest gadgets but isn’t sure about buying online. That’s why I have a ‘buy it and try it for 30 days’ guarantee. If you don’t like the product, I’ll give you a full refund. Customer service is of paramount importance to me.”
PeC: In your opinion, what are Shopster’s greatest strengths?
Christine: “What I like about the entire Shopster eCommerce program is that they not only offer a website that their members can customize to their own needs, but they also offer a professional looking shopping cart that easily integrates with a variety of payment gateways like Paypal and Authorize.Net. They also offer fulfillment options by providing suppliers that supplement my own products. They offer access to Suppliers that I can’t get with other programs and providers.
“One of their other great strengths is their back office/user interface. It’s much less confusing than what’s offered by other providers out there. I’ve looked into other solutions before, and Shopster is much more user friendly.”
PeC: How can Shopster improve?
Christine: “Offer more payment gateways like Google Checkout and Bill Me Later.”
PeC: Do you Plan to continue using Shopster?
PeC: Any other thoughts for our readers about using Shopster?
Christine: “As I said before, Shopster offers a complete eCommerce solution primarily geared towards the small to medium business owner and home businesses. They offer an all-in-one package that includes a website, shopping cart, suppliers (a product source), and more. They also easily integrate with eBay, which is great for my business because consumer electronics has a lot of returns and I can turn around and sell these items on eBay with no additional hassle. The support that Shopster offers is very intuitive, well informed, and they act quickly on customer business concerns in all aspects – web development, shopping cart integration, etc. They are helpful, willing to listen and take member ideas and proposals seriously. They then act on them quickly and efficiently. Because the company still has room to grow and do it faster than other companies, they’re able to evolve with the industry.”