Update 1: 10.04.17
Update 2: 30.04.17
Update 3: 12.05.17

My initial considerations were to decide what platform to use for my e-commerce business. there were many platforms to consider such as shopify, woocommerce, squarespace, etc. I had to read up the pros and cons of each platform and consider how they would fare over the long run. there are many video that discuss on the comparison between two platforms and this has been helpful in informing my decision.

I’m using WooCommerce as the platform for an online store. Most online stores would be able to connect orders directly to a print company and they would then deliver to the client address. I think I will have to manage everything manually. Initially, I was puzzled how this process works for me. (ie getting prints and deliver them myself.

The three key areas that I to figure about when learning how setting up an online store:

  1. The backend side in setting the online store: the complex PHP coding structure.
  2. My products: The sources, pricing and the paper quality of my products.
  3. The details of the business, from ordering prints to delivering them to customers.

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Merchandise Products

After doing the Analysis on merchandise products with the application of landscapes images, I have decided to start out in fine art prints and postcards as my main merchandise products, as well as possibly limited edition prints. I have considered the possibility of branching out to prints in T-shirts and Tote bags, but I think I want to start small first, learn the ropes of managing a business before growing my ambitions.

I looked at photographer Tom Mackie’s  Products. I looked some of my favourite photographer’s website such as Trey Ratcliff’s prints sales website. I looked at Dibs Mccallum’s online store model.  All of them were selling products at different levels. there were many learning points I could take away from each of them, in terms of the technicality of setting up an online shop, as well as the products and the range of services they have.  The articles in Cass ArtsCass Arts offer very good advice on the key areas to consider about pricing artworks, quite relevant to photography prints.

Eventually, I opted for photographer Ellen Roger’s Online shop as the reference point to model my own online store because her store model was the closest to mine ( in terms of platform and the system of print delivery). I looked at the value of her postcards in comparison to its quantity. I looked at the items and packaging details of her products. I looked at the size of her prints in comparison of its value. I learnt that even her off coloured prints in the form of photo proofs have a monetary value albeit at a lower price and there is an interest of demand.

More importantly, as pointed out by Ellen, the way most photographers build their business was to build an audience through the social media first. This is particularly true for me, as I needed to build my own fan base first. However, my thoughts were that for now, I could go both ways at the same time: to build my shop brand via online shop and build an audience with social media.

Setting up an online store

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Setting up an online store was something new to me and to learn it in a short amount of time has been an extremely challenging experience. There are a lot of new terms that were more business related that photography related. a lot of time were spent deciding the outlook of my storefront and figuring how to work it out on the backend. Fortunately, there are also many video tutorials on youtube which I found to be helpful as a starting point.

Due to the nature that wordpress templates can be a steep learning curve for those not well versed in php coding, woocommerce integration has made the experience even more complex and daunting. I don’t particularly like to do coding, but admittedly it is an essential skill to pick up; good to know about as a creative in Singapore. I had quite a bit of a hard time setting up my storefront and adjusting the visual elements, and just by understanding what these codings meant and how to change it. All these troubleshooting took me a while to get around. At some point, I got stuck at certain sections of the coding and I had to either look at forums for solutions or ask the woocommerce support for help.

For some technical questions, woocommerce support was able to help, but I was appalled that the support could not advise me on the altering the functionality of their own products. I’m guessing this might be the biggest problem a woocommerce user might face and they do not offer the technical support.

I looked at external websites such as codeable, as suggested by the woocommerce support staff, companies that offer expert’s advice on coding related issues. However, it takes quite a bit of money for an hour of consultation. Considering that I only have a single question for this, I thought it will be more worthwhile if I had more questions that require the hour of consultation. But one of the experts were kind enough to direct me to the right direction. Thumbs up going the extra mile!

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Ultimately, the downside of an open source e-commerce platform is that there is no direct technical support and it takes a quite a bit of time to understand the coding structure and look for solution or workaround. However, if setup correctly it can be a powerful platform comparable to closed-source platforms such as squarespace. This, of course, also takes up a lot of time to refine and improvement of the site.

Pricing

One of the fundamental ideas of setting up my print store is that price should tend towards manufacturing cost as my competitors undercut each other to gain custom. However, like many other photographers who have found other ‘better’ way to make profits; I wanted to grow my brand and build around the cachet as much as the product. I am not an artisan company making particularly special items. It’s more of using the layered allures of both ‘uniqueness’ and popularity to sell my prints.

I have found that high-quality Hahnemühle Oyster Lustre compliments my photographic style a lot and it can alleviate my images to a more high-end product. This is why I priced each of my prints at £75 for an A3 size. I not showing the price on my storefront first, but the price will be revealed only if they liked a particular image that they click into. However, I might consider lowering down my price depending on the response of my audience.

How to package prints

The other area which I have not really looked into was the presentation of my products. I’m not referring to the prints itself, but this has to do with the packaging of the products. How should my product be presented on my website? Should I feature my fine art prints by hanging them on a wall or have them photographed as they were coming out of the printer? etc. how do I package my prints so they will look more presentable as a delivery package? Well, in this course everyone seems to focus on the photographic practices as a service and presentation of a portfolio. however, no one seems to talk much about how to package them as a product. Its similar to delivering artist paintings and drawings, and I had to ask around for advice. people running the NUA exhibition and shops were the obvious choices, but no one seems to know specifically that is photography related.

Using Ellen Rogers store as the starting point of reference, I went on to research about print packaging, particularly on packaging suppliers. Kite packaging was one of my favourable choices, looking as postal tubes, bok wrap mailers, corrugated cardboard sheets, etc.

I looked at youtube for reference how other artists package their prints as well

In the article How to Ship Photographs Faster, Cheaper and Better, author Ctein offers practical advice on packing print products using his own experiences and sharing his workflow processes in delivery them.

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Tax, Shipping and Delivery Costs

I found out If I were registered as self-employed in the UK then I would be able to reclaim the sales tax paid on these as a business expense. I will need to find a printer who I am happy to do business with, ideally balancing cost and quality, and then find a courier I am happy doing business with. If I could get the print company to ship the prints as well when they are ready then great, but presumably that would cost more.

How can I determine the suitable price for shipping zones, with terms such as “Flat Rate”, “Free shipping”,  which may affect the cost price of my print product? To determine the price of shipping I would have to talk to couriers. Then I have to decide how I want to absorb that cost. If I offer free shipping then I will need to charge more for the product, or I could arrange a system where the buyer pays for the shipping. There is also an article explaining about choosing a shipping strategy for the online store.

Apart from helpful youtube videos, I also looked at articles about setting up e-commerce shops. shopify articles have also been helpful in better understand the strategies behind shipping costs for my online store. This article basically talks about how the shipping system at the storefront can be influenced by user experience.

Picture Ireland was yet another reference I looked at while considering my prices. This website basically promotes and sells Irish photography by the best hand picked fine art photographers. The website is quite a good reference for me because it shows a business model of how photographers works can become a business revenue as a collaborative group. I was considering how the difference sizes influence the price differences. They have an “other” page which addresses the finer details of purchasing prints; a useful consideration to my online store.

Conclusion

Figuring out a business plan that will work for me takes time and refinement. There are no hard and fast rules than I can complete this within a school semester. For my case, I don’t think I need to follow the UK tax rules. Unless I am a resident in the UK or my business is operating here I do not need to pay UK tax. I hope to be able to continue my online business when I get back to Singapore after graduation. So if I have not started selling yet and if the business isn’t registered here then I should just concentrate on the Singaporean tax system and what I will need to do to set the business up when back home.

My original objective was to set up shop to make some money off my prints. Yet if I were to bring this business back to Singapore, the environment there is will not be the same. Setting up a business is a daunting task, especially if I were to bring the business back home. I have no experience in this area and it is going to be a different ball game. I could research as much as I can, but unless I tried it out and get some experience out first hand, I won’t know how it is really like. But in any case, if my business model doesn’t work out, I will need to consider other options, such as changing my plans, collaborate with another creative to sell products, etc.

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