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The Commerce Conundrum

Nothing is simple about online commerce. There have been plenty of services that have attempted to simplify buying and selling online, some with great success. However, those successes have largely been limited to new marketplaces, and not necessarily software for individual organizations. Think Amazon, eBay, and Etsy.

Selling things online is simple… if you're willing to compromise your brand and use one of these marketplaces. That of course dilutes the control and presentation of your products as well as takes a significant cut of your sales. What's the alternative? That's where Sitemason and FoxyCart come in. Combined with FoxyCart (the shopping cart with its shipping integrations, tax calculations, and payment processing - e.g. the hard stuff), Sitemason offers an enterprise level commerce platform without the nasty price tag, giving you complete control of the way you sell online without having to start from scratch.

If you're saying "Great, Sitemason has a solution. Commerce is simple again!", we appreciate your enthusiasm, but it might be worthwhile to temper that excitement. Online commerce is still hard. Not because the solutions don't exist, but because very few companies sell products in a way that lends themselves to a simple approach online.

Often times, the hurdles to selling online aren't obvious. Primarily, the invariable exceptions. If you've ever caught yourself thinking "there's nothing special about how I sell products except…", that "except" is usually the killer. It can be something intense like a fulfillment integration or something relatively benign like no free shipping to Hawaii or Alaska. Regardless, there's always a list of exceptions to consider and you need a platform that's flexible enough to contour itself to your sales approach.

At Sitemason we recognize that uncovering and understanding these exceptions can be a process, and not one that easily reveals itself. To aid in that discovery, we've put together a Commerce Questionnaire that we send all new online commerce customers. The goal is to get them asking questions they may not have considered when dipping a toe into online sales. It's long and exhaustive, but spending an hour revealing the nature of your products is well worth the savings of stumbling across those exceptions one-by-one in development. You can download the entire questionnaire here, but the abbreviated version is below.

  • What products do you sell, and what problems do you foresee selling them online?
  • How much do you expect to sell online per month in dollars? And what is your average sale?
  • How do you ship your products, and what shipping options do you provide your customers?
  • How do you currently accept payments online? If not at all, do you have a payment partner?
  • What states or countries are you required to collect taxes on purchases?
  • Do you plan to or currently provide coupons, discounts or gift cards?
  • What integrations are required to sell your products online? What inventory or fulfillment services do you use?
  • Do you plan on collecting user data or providing different options to members?

If you have any "excepts" that you'd like to share, please do so in comments.

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Billy is a web developer and Chief Product Officer (CPO) at Sitemason, and has been with the company since 2006.  Read more about Billy White.

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