My First Shopify Store: Lessons Learned

Creating and writing my first Shopify e-commerce store was an intriguing and challenging exercise. With new experiences come new lessons and preferably, advances in thinking. Mindfulness and perseverance are allies in such situations.

This is a 2-part article. Next week, I’ll make suggestions (with screen shots and text re-writes) as to how the Shopify e-commerce platform, its Usability and overall presentation could be improved.


It Begins
The opportunity arose the way many do. I met a fellow at a social gathering and we got to talking. ‘Turns out his girlfriend was selling fashion jewellery and doing very well with it. She imported the necklaces, bracelets and earrings from overseas and they looked quite attractive – and great on her.

The client had been a product manager and figured he could parlay her show-and-sell parties into online merchandising. We agreed on a price which included learning time, number of items, and a deadline 6 weeks distant: just before last Christmas, which seemed reasonable.

<img src="shopify.jpg" alt="Shopify logo" />Shopify, with their integrated e-commerce platform, was making waves in local Web circles and a relative was using them for her online store:  “It’s so easy-to-use and it was only $30 a month.” In contrast, a website designer wanted $130 every 30 days, “forever.” Easy decision.

When venturing into new territory, it’s best to conduct research. I read the site over and watched a lot of Shopify and YouTube videos, posted by individuals. I expected variations, based on template chosen, but I was feeling good about it.

I signed up for the 14-day trial and created a learning e-commerce site, “Happy&Shiny,” with the intention of renaming and transferring it later. I would later regret both my choice of name and assumption.

Lesson 1: Stick to the Fundamentals
I debated whether to tell this part ‘cause, well, it’s embarrassing but … this article is an educational one so…; oh, let’s be generous and call it storytelling! My confession:

I’ve written many client sites and helped out several corporations with their communications and never moved forward without a signed contract; however, on that sunny November day in 2015, this project seemed so exceedingly straightforward that I broke with convention.

It was shortly afterward that one of the unofficial Laws of the Universe, Murphy’s Law, was activated and settled in for the duration. For the uninitiated, that’s “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.”

Lesson 2 – Don’t Believe the Hype: Photography
We watched Shopify’s relaxing and assuring product photography videos and it looked simple, consistent with their marketing message. I picked up 2 Bristol boards at a craft store and we staged the shots just as the video outlined. Problem: shadows and reflections. Subsequent attempts with red, black and purple rayon sheets were only marginally better.

<img src="henrys.jpg" alt="Henry's Cameras" />A Henry’s Cameras store rep revealed why: “Jewellery photography is the most difficult of all. It requires sharp, crisp focus and special techniques to minimize reflections and shadows, and Photoshop for image alteration. It’s professional work.”

And so, a “simple” task took on a life of its own, gobbling up gobs of hours in the weeks to come. I took the product photos in poor light with my phone. To provide much-needed contrast, I chose the free ‘Supply’ theme for its black background.

Shortly after, the client informed me that a professional photographer friend of his, then in Singapore, would do the job when he got back. I would then replace the black background theme with a white one.

<img src="Messypics.jpg" alt="FFFpics" />Weeks later, the client said his friend Ok’d my misshapen shots. I pointed out trust and credibility issues but … it wasn’t my site.

Fast forward to May: Armin Faraji of Toronto’s Vivah Jewellery (@Vivah_Jewellery) connected with me on Twitter and we talked photography. His firm’s e-commerce store’s pics look as they should: clear and defined on a white background.

<img src="lightbox.jpg" alt="Photographer's lightbox" />“I shot the photos using a sub-par DSLR camera with a small light-box (diagram to the right) constructed with materials from Home Depot and Michael’s. I work with a few guys overseas that retouch photos for a small fee.”

Lesson 3 – Accept Help That is Offered
During the time I was struggling with the category process while immersed in the photography crisis, Shopify Support reached out to me on email.

Regrettably, I didn’t follow up with them. I’ve since learned that our discussion would have covered: 1) The e-commerce store’s readiness, 2) Any outstanding questions and, 3) If necessary, a 15 minute review would have been arranged.

Lesson 4: Scope Creep
Is a term used by web-IT contractors to describe a client adding work not previously discussed or agreed to; in this case, the number of items increased. However, that detail was blurred amidst the time-consuming and puzzling chore of uploading the images.

<img src="SantaClaws.jpg" alt="Santa Claws" />If a contract were in place, signed off on with a scope creep clause…. By now, the entity Murphy’s Law had set up his own Christmas depot, dispensing “I told you so” greeting cards.

Lesson 5: Don’t take, at face value, an expert’s opinion
This one was more of a blind spot but it’s still a lesson.

My relative, a college-level web design instructor with 2 young children, a marriage and full-time job, overlooked one teensy-weensy detail: her beautiful e-commerce site had been designed, built and image-loaded by her students. Building a site, even from a theme, is much different.

Next time, I’d ask to speak to clients who had purchased themes to understand the advantages.

Lesson 5: Descriptive Copywriting is a Strength
With the aim of creating a good shopping experience, I wrote similar descriptions of the jewellery and they came out well. I also coined the last 2 words of their company name, Fabulous Finds, based on their decision to gradually add a variety of soaps, aromatics, and practical knick-knacks. Altogether, it was Fauzells Fabulous Finds.

Lesson 6: Be More Mindful of Client’s Circumstances
The client lived with his elderly parents who had serious health problems. Despite round-the-clock medical assistance, he was on call. I knew what that was like, having been in a similar situation in 2014 with my elderly mother.

When he offered to measure the jewelry items, I should just have just said, “No thanks” but I was in the middle of the image-loading dilemma.

Lesson 7: Use the company name from the outset
At the beginning, this wasn’t possible because the client didn’t have a company name and their product add-on idea didn’t occur till December.

As it turned out, Happy&Shiny was an unchangeable Shopify root domain name and adding the Fauzells one didn’t seem possible – or maybe I hadn’t phased the question effectively enough. Alternatives were suggested and none appealed.

The fix came several days later, after I initiated a step-by-step verification process. Changes were made to the client’s (host) C-Panel, and a Shopify support tech worked through the rest of it with me. It was quite a discovery process and a major relief when Happy&Shiny disappeared from both the URL and home page.

The e-commerce project had been an ordeal but all aspects of the site worked. I counted the Shopify email feedback forms from phone conversations: there were 25 of them and their support people were pleasant and professional, throughout.

Where’s the site now? It was taken down last month and may return in another form.

Next week: Suggestions as to how the Shopify platform, its Usability and overall presentation could be improved.

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