Shopster is a unique combination of a hosted ecommerce cart and a relatively easy supply-chain solution that promises to help many small merchants get up and running with a functional and fully-stocked online retail business.
The Calgary, Alberta, Canada-based company provides its customers with a “two-tiered” product offering: a functional hosted store called PowerMerchant, and a supply-chain and fulfillment solution that allows merchants to augment their inventory with products from more than 100 drop-shipping suppliers.
Shopster’s idea to provide technology, physical goods, and order fulfillment is excellent. In my opinion, it has the potential to spark a new category of private-label ecommerce sites whose operators focus solely on marketing. But, in several ways, Shopster promised more than it could deliver in either shopping cart function and aesthetics or product selection. All told, I am giving Shopster three out of a possible five stars in this “The PeC Review,” for implementing a brilliant idea that needs a little more polish.
“The PeC Review” is my weekly analysis of the products or services that could help an online merchant improve his business. My goal is to both identify and then rate these products or services, providing good decision-making information.
A Truly Full-Service Solution
One of the most compelling things about Shopster is its complete offering. A merchant can arrive at Shopster, set up an online store, load the store with products, and be ready to start selling in two hours or less. In fact, I actually set up a Shopster storefront, added nearly 300 products, and created a logo in Adobe Photoshop in less than 90 minutes.
I think that the Shopster solution is especially good for beginning merchants who lack technical expertise and purchasing know-how, but possess marketing or promotional skills. Shopster could also be a good choice for auction sellers who are making the move to an online storefront.
Functional Shopping Experience
Shopster was also quite functional. While it did not include all of the marketing and cross-selling bells and whistles I would have liked, it did offer respectable search and sort functions, and a manual cross-selling tool.
In addition, the store administration panel behaved well and was relatively easy to understand and use.
Products To Sell
Shopster also offers a significant number of mainstream products that a merchant could offer for sale. I think this is a huge help since product acquisition, inventory management, cash flow management, and fulfillment can be challenging for beginning merchants.
But I did find two issues that are worth mentioning. First, when I clicked on the “Browse Warehouse” link on Shopster’s site, I found thousands of available products. But once I signed up for the service, I found that the quantity of products that I could actually add to my store was significantly smaller. In other words, Shopster was advertising more products than it actually had available. Don’t get me wrong. There were still a lot of available products, but not as many as the preview indicated.
Next, some of the “wholesale” prices were high, so to be competitive with other merchants selling those products, I had to cut my margins to a thin 12.5 percent.
The Aesthetics Challenge
No doubt you’ve heard some wise saying about the value of making a good first impression, yet when it comes to website design, some site owners seem to imagine that aesthetics don’t matter. But how your site looks is vital to your success. Your site’s appearance conveys your professionalism and trustworthiness. You need to make a good first impression.
As such, one of my most common complaints about hosted ecommerce solutions is that they produce ugly or unprofessional-looking web stores. Unfortunately, this is the case for Shopster’s bland and basic templates, which are cookie-cutter examples of the two-column layout.
Frankly, I have a hard time understanding why so many hosted shopping carts have this problem. Platforms like WordPress and Joomla have long since demonstrated that site templates can be visually stunning, beautiful, and effective.
The Shopster templates just leave something to be desired. In fact, as near as I could tell, none of Shopster’s “Sample Online Storefronts” actually used its basic templates.
Some Customization in Design
To its credit, Shopster allows its customers to upload semi-custom designs—a saving grace that means some Shopster implementations can be pretty nice to see. This feature is also something that I really like as a designer. But, part of Shopster’s appeal is its ease of use, so having to hack its templates seems like a miss.
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Shopster is an intriguing offering that will allow some site owners to be up and running in no time. But to get the most from the tool, a merchant will want to do a fair amount design customization. All told, Shopster earned three out of a possible five stars in this “The PeC Review.”