The Online Darkroom Store

Monday, March 10

The Online Darkroom Shop - update and a plea for feedback

A couple of months ago, I revealed plans to retail some of Spur's excellent developers through this website. I had hoped to be up and running by now but I've had a couple of problems, one to do with setting up the shopping cart system and a personal issue that's taken a lot of my time. So I thought this would be an opportune moment to let you know that it's still on the cards - and getting closer.

The only major issue facing me just now is shipping. It's always been my intention to keep shipping costs to an absolute minimum and I thought this would be straightforward. Well, that was a lesson learnt the hard way! I used to look at the shipping charges of some of the big photographic retailers and wondered why they didn't keep them down a bit as such high prices must surely put some people off.

It turns out that shipping is a mine field and I can now understand why big retailers just have a sort of costly blanket charge almost regardless of what you buy. I'm determined not to take the easy route and just do the same which is why it's taken me a little longer to sort this out. However, since readers of this blog are also likely to represent most of my customers, I'd like to include you in my thoughts on the subject. That way, if it all goes wrong, you can take half the blame.

Seriously, though, what has to be weighed up are the various options open to me and, by extension, to you if you should find yourself in the market for Spur products - which I hope you will. One of the issues I have to consider is whether to use a shopping cart at all or just ask you to email me your order. With the cart system, it's impossible to make all the cheapest options available so sometimes you would be paying more than you might otherwise have done for shipping. With emails, I can guarantee that I'll ship your developer by the cheapest means acceptable to you. My concern was that an email system might have left the website looking less professional but my sounding board, Phil Rogers, said something to the effect that people would rather save money - and he's probably right.

The first question I'd like to ask you - and please let me know your thoughts in the comments section - is would you rather pay a bit more for the convenience of a shopping cart system or do you favour the cheapest option via email ordering? How much extra would the shopping cart be? It could be as much as £3 to £4 on some small orders although there wouldn't be too much of a difference on larger orders.

The second question is another important one as far as cost is concerned. If I were to use a carrier like UPS, I could take advantage of their system where I drop the parcels off at a local agent and you collect them from a nearby agent at your side instead of having them delivered to your door. The agent is usually a shop in your community. Using this method, I could post to you via the next day service of UPS a couple of 250ml bottles of Spur Acurol-N for a shipping charge of not much more than about £1.25. Using Royal Mail, it would be about £4. The same next day UPS service but with delivery to your door would cost almost £8! Personally, if I were on the receiving end of a parcel, I'd happily walk five or ten minutes to a local shop to save more than £6 or pick it up on the way back from work.

So the options seem to be:
1. Email all orders for the cheapest possible shipping.
2. Have the convenience of a shopping cart with something like a one-size fits all shipping cost.
3. Either way, accept deliveries to the carrier's agent in your vicinity for the cheapest shipping or insist on a home delivery.

Your opinions would be very valuable.

Overseas readers will have noticed that I haven't even figured out the shipping for them. It looks as if Royal Mail is the cheapest but they also limit shipments of chemicals to 1 litre which is really helpful! More work needs to be done.


Tim Fitzwater said...

I agree that most of you regular readers would rather e-mail and save money. But if I were you I'd set up the shopping cart too - I think you may lose some people who prefer convenience if not. Also you may get more 'impulse buys' with the cart.

Herman Sheephouse said...

Email and self-collection as far as I am concerned Bruce (but you knew that). My family a I are seasoned mailorder purchasers, and it is considerably easier getting an email telling you your stuff has arrived at a local collection point and tootling out to pick it up, rather than missing the delivery man and having to rearrange delivery etc etc etc . .
Tim, I think with carts once you start factoring banking costs from virtual terminals as well, you have to be shifting a lot of stuff to make it worth your while. Every bugger wants a piece of your action . . .

Jan Moren said...

If feasible (that is, not anenormous time sink for you), setting up both might not be a bad idea. At checkout make a big button promoting "send the order directly to me for hte latest, best quote oin shipping!" or something like that. And the button would do exactly that - send you an email with the order as specified so far.

On a personal level I don't really worry a lot about the price. This is a hobby, and while I have a definite limit on how much I can or want to spend on it, the occasional shipping charge is not going to make any difference.

Now a question to you: when you plan shipping, are we talking only GB and the rest of Europe, or would you entertain the idea of shipping to Japan as well? I vaguely suspect it can become rather troublesome, especially shipping developers and other chemicals, so I fully understand if you decide it's just not feasible at this time.

morris1800 said...

When I purchase online from Amazon they usually give a few options on delivery method . These often relating delivery cost to speed of delivery. In your case could it not reflect nature of delivery to two options I.e Ups or Royal mail. I usually purchase my photography items from three different sources . All have a standard charge so when I place an order for film and chemicals I look to the cheapest source including delivery for supplying ALL the items I require. What payment methods are you considering Bruce .I personally find Paypal the most 'comfortable' method for me . Not firing off my credit card number and security code to several different suppliers. It also means I can order stuff online on my laptop without my wife catching me trying to discreetly slide my credit card from my wallet whilst on the internet :-)

Tim Fitzwater said...

I agree Herman.
I just know that I used to have people say they would "love to buy that locomotive photo you shot". Ok, "e-mail me the size and such...." blah blah blah.
I never sold one. Now I have a cart on my site and when I point people there they buy.
Maybe its different with prints - maybe not. Something to consider anyways...

Derek said...

Hi Bruce

I suppose it depends where you are posting to Bruce, overseas and locations in Uk, so both options should be shown. I would prefer to use email and collection due to the hours I work mean I rarely see the postman. I would also prefer to use Paypal for settlement for the additional security it provides.



Dave said...

I would go for automated checkout and the possibilty of local self collection.

These days, rightly or wrongly, the bare mimimum people expect when buying online is a proper shopping cart system. The lack of one will put off a lot of people, some people won't take the "shop" seriously without one. Given that these days you can use google or paypal checkout for minimum overheads its worth doing. Also online ordering is more likely to net you a few more spontaneous spur-of-the-moment (no pun intended) purchases whereas I doubt you will get these via email as people always have a chance to back out before parting with cash.

I genuinely think with a shopping cart the venture has more chance of sucess, and I'd happily pay a few quid more knowing the shop was likely to be sucessful and be around for a good while than order by email, pay a couple of quid less and then see you pack in the shop after a year of disappointing turnover.

P.s. do Spur do a dev suitable for Adox CMS 20?

Kenny Wood said...

I'd go for the shopping cart option. As for drop off points there are none where I stay that I know off and I'd have to travel to the nearest town to collect anyway, so not exactly a 10mins walk! More like a half hour round journey on a good day! At least Royal Mail hold the item at the nearest Post Office though if you're not in when they call. To be honest drop off isn't worth it in terms of time and money if I've got to travel by car to pick up the items.
If I can have items bought on Ebay shipped for free (yes I know it's in the cost) from China and delivered to my door then that's the one I'd go for. As far a shipping/postage goes, you might want to consider a cart system via Paypal and offer free shipping over a certain value. (It can be done in Paypal as I post wedding photographs to clients and postage is free over a certain order value).
MyHermes seems to be a cheap delivery method, if somewhat slow. Please note I'm not promoting them it's just that I've received a few items via them and although their not the quickest they do deliver around here on a Saturday unlike the rest of the independent couriers.
I suspect the 'email me' order system would work initially for a few but as we'd need to email you our credit card details. Some folks would be very reluctant to do so, as it's not secure! Additionally anyone looking to buy Spur's products who don't know you from Adam i.e. they just Googled Spur's etc. would not buy from you as there isn't a proper shopping cart! Whereas a Paypal cart etc. is, even if Paypal do take a percentage. This naturally has to be factored into the cost of the item in the cart. I do hope you're also taking into account the cost of packaging (silly question!) along with getting a signature for the items on delivery. Yes it is cheaper to deliver without that signature but it might prove more expensive to a business in the long run. If your customers are claiming that the item didn't arrive or was damaged (insurance) etc. Items do go missing and yes there are dishonest people out there (surprise surprise!). I post everything to clients recorded delivery only, just in case.

steve said...

As a regular reader of the blog, I don't have a problem with the email option, but I have come to know this blog for sometime now. If I was new to the blog, and you were selling with-out a cart, that would immediately raise a red flag with me.

As Jan said perhaps both would be better, or even have an option to choose "human calculated shipping" in the cart which would essentially be the same as the e'mail option. Where you could review the order and get the best shipping price.

Herman Sheephouse said...

I suppose, looking at it Bruce, the general concensus seems to be a 'cart' . . dontcha just prefer 'trolley' though . .
Same goes with signatured delivery, though I must say I must be lucky, as I've got 3 different companies pick-up points in the space of about 10 minutes from me . . .
Good luck though - I know you've put a lot of thought into this.

James Whinfrey said...

I'd also prefer the PayPal option for payment, just factor the 3% into the price. As long as my credit card details aren't going anywhere I'm happy using email. I've done this for camera repairs.

Shopping cart systems do add a layer of professionalism though. As many have said, your likely to attract more custom using one.

I don't have a particular problem with pickup, on the other hand your post has lead me to discover that I've got a UPS local agent, so I haven't used one yet ;-)

As noted previously, Royal Mail have the advantage of collecting missed packages from the local office, which I have done occasionally.

Brian Hamill said...

Eureka! Having read about Spur-Acurol on the internet, I ordered a bottle of their developer from in Germany because I couldn't find anyone carrying it here in the UK. It crossed my mind that there was an opportunity there and reading your post I was very pleased that there are plans afoot to make it more readily available in the UK - in fact I'm very surprised that none of the big online retailers has picked it up - but anyway.

On your questions, I'd be more than happy to order via email. But I do think you'll have to think carefully about the payment options - people want convenience nowadays but that comes at a price.

Look forward to hearing more about his when you're up and running.

Best regards,

Brian Hamill

Antonio Aparicio said...

Would like to try some Acurol-N one day. Whatever is easiest for you I can adapt to. Cheers.

Eric Rollo said...

Hi Bruce
Like most on the comments as long as I can get information on the developer I'd be happy placing an order by email.
I live in the Highlands and our biggest issue is postal costs so if someone like yourself is able to parcel drop my order to a local shop for collection that's great however £4 for royal mail is also a bargin compared to some of the charges I've had thrown at me. Firstcall want £20 to send some of the simplest of things .. sorry jumped om the soap box there

I'd give it a try Bruce as Tim says it may not work and a shopping cart is needed but you will not know until you try