The V-Commerce Tech Stack
Greetings, future v-commerce entrepreneur. This post is a guide to what you need to get started selling online and is meant for bootstrapped v-commerce companies like Tortuga.
Let's run down the important tech you'll need to get started. Most importantly: get started. Aside from the product, everything else can be "good enough" for now. Get money coming in then spend it on improving your store and systems.
Shopify is still the best option for new e-commerce companies. Seven years in, and we're still using it.
Plans start at $29, and Shopify handles all of the basics that you shouldn't be wasting your time on like a shopping cart and basic PCI compliance. All you need to do is write your site's pages and fill in your product info.
Start with a basic theme from Shopify's theme store, and you'll have a beautiful, functional website up and running for under $200. Shopify also has an app store, but you should only add the absolute necessities to start. Add more functionality as needed later. You could easily break your site installing all of the nice-to-have apps.
When we started, the Shopify Theme store didn't exist, so we paid a Ukranian developer to build our first site. When we launched our V2 product and site, we bought this theme which cost 90% less and looked 1,000 times better.
Launch with Shopify Payments as your payment processor for simplicity. You can always switch later if you're able to get a better rate. We used Shopify Payments when it launched but are on Braintree now.
Third-Party Logistics (3PL)
You have plenty of good options for 3PLs to handle your warehousing and fulfillment. Do not run your own warehouse. When you start, this is being "penny wise and pound foolish." Build 3PL costs into your model and outsource shipping as soon as possible. You should be focused on making and selling your product.
WARNING: Under no condition should you ever use Shipwire. They're the worst vendor that we've ever used. They botched multiple holiday seasons shipping items late, shipping the wrong items, and overcharging us for shipments. They've had to issue us several four to five-figure refunds for missing their SLAs and other screw ups.
After reviewing our options in 2016, we chose Mochila Fulfillment. Mochila has warehouses in California and New Jersey for fast shipping within the US. A fellow v-commerce entrepreneur recommended them to me.
No 3PL is right for everyone. We talked to a lot of other promising companies that were tech-forward but not a good fit for us. You can also look at:
- Fulfillrite: General purpose 3PL
- Whiplash: For merch and clothing
- Quiet Logistics: Used by Bonobos and the Warby Parker mafia
If you're manufacturing outside of the country where you'll be shipping from, you will need to move freight. To do so, you will need to work with a freight forwarder to move your goods from your factory to your warehouse. Be glad that Flexport exists.
When we started Tortuga, we worked with an old school freight forwarder. I would call them with our shipment info, then our rep would send a quote in the body of an email with each item badly misaligned. To get a clearer understanding of the quote, I would paste it into Excel and clean it up. After I accepted the quote, I would wait to hear from the forwarder. And wait. And wait.
At some point, they might call me with a status update. More likely, I would call them, panicked, at the first estimated deadline they had given us to check on our shipment. Where was it? And when would it be delivered? They didn't know.
We would exchange a few more phone calls like this until they finally called to say that our goods were delivered to the warehouse. Hallelujah.
As soon as I heard about Flexport, I was ready to switch to a more modern freight forwarder. Flexport works behind the scenes like any freight forwarder connecting ocean (or air) freight, trucking, and storage to get your goods from your factory to your warehouse. The difference is that everything is handled through a modern, customer-friendly UI online.
You upload your shipment info, receive and accept your quote, track your shipment, and pay online. Everything is simple and easy. You'll save time with Flexport and actually feel confident with the process because you know what is happening when. I realize this sounds like a paid placement, but the old way was terrible. Thanks, Flexport.
You can find the up-to-date V-Commerce Tech Stack on Product Hunt.
Did I miss any other categories of tech that you need to sell physical products online? Let me know, and I'll update this post.
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