Vendio is great under the radar alternative. Like eCrater, Vendio gives you a standalone storefront completely for free. Unlike eCarter, however, there is no marketplace element so you are completely responsible for getting buyers to your store through external marketing. While far from perfect, their service is constantly evolving and, even in its present state, there are some features that make it stand out as one of the best free options.
How much do I appreciate the service Vendio provides? Visit http://HillaryDePiano.com/store. I use Vendio to sell my printed books, website advertising and eBooks side by side. I have the storefront installed on my own hosting and am using one of their pre-made templates with a custom header. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you it took less than two hours to set up both store and products. I’ll be the first to admit that it can be buggy sometimes but, overall, I’ve been very pleased with its functionality.
And you sure can’t beat the price!
Let’s take a closer look at what Vendio does well and what still needs work.
- Not just free, free with features the others make you pay for. Vendio’s storefronts are completely free with no fees either per item or monthly. However, unlike some of the other options we’re taking a look at (*cough Ecwid cough*), they give you more features as part of their free service then their competitors. We’re going to look at some of these advantages one at a time below but keep in mind that everything listed below comes free with a Vendio storefront while many of these services are only part of the paid option of other services. The more I’ve researched the additional free and low cost e-commerce options out there, the more I’ve come to appreciate the value that Vendio provides.
- Create your own coupon codes and sales. This can be a very powerful tool and Vendio is one of the only marketplaces offering it as part of their free package. Choose your discounts and set their terms with hardly any limitations. You can do either store wide sales or just offer a discount to specific customers.
- Offer combined and calculated shipping based on the package size and weight. This is another feature that is free on Vendio that’s easy to take for granted especially since many services don’t offer it at all. While the option for flat rate shipping is still there, this feature allows you to input the weight and size of what you have to sell and then let Vendio calculate any number of shipping options based on the current daily rate direct from the carrier. No need to figure out the costs ahead of time or change your shipping costs when postal rates change; it’s all automatic. You can also opt to use this size and weight information to automatically calculate combined shipping when buyers purchase multiple items. Vendio also allows for saved shipping profiles for specific items which can be a considerable time saver, especially when you usually sell items of similar size and weight.
- Highly customizable and widget ready. While eCrater allows you to customize your header and storefront colors, Vendio allows for full CSS customization. For those of us without the patience to muck with CSS and rebuild from scratch (guilty!), it may be easier to modify one of their existing templates using their simple drop and drag interface. The other big advantage to these storefronts is that they allow you to implant the HTML of your choice either through the drop and drag HTML widgets or your custom template. This gives you the freedom to embed any widget, badge or web app into your store that you wish which opens up a world of outside opportunities. (In the interest of full disclose, the HTML widgets are broken at the time of my writing this but I’m told they’ll be fixed again in one of the next updates.) Unlike eBay which has limitations on outside links, you have the freedom to post whatever you want on your store, even if it’s a widget from a competing platform.
- Use their hosting or install the store on your current host. Hosting comes with the free storefront including an http://YourStorefrontName.vendio.com url. But if you already have your own hosting, it’s simple to install a Vendio store onto your existing hosting.
- Allows for sale of physical and digital goods side by side. So many e-commerce platforms ignore digital goods entirely or have an either/or philosophy. Ideal for authors with printed and eBooks both for sale, it’s a seamless way to sell both kinds of goods side by side. This also makes it an ideal option for selling services and other commission work. I use it to sell web advertising, for example. (They also offer inventory management tools for physical goods which can be very useful.)
- No limits on the number of items. Several other sites limit the number of items that you can sell before you need to upgrade to their paid account. Not so with Vendio. You get an unlimited number of products even with a free account.
- Includes a Facebook storefront that automatically pulls from the main store. This is really slick. (Visit my Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/hdepiano and then hit the Shop! link under my picture to see it in action. Or visit it directly at http://apps.facebook.com/vendiostores/hillarydepiano/) There are several apps and widgets out there for adding e-commerce to your Facebook page or profile but the beauty of this simple feature is that it updates automatically as you add to and change your Vendio storefront so you only need to set it up once and it appears in both places. Another great feature is the ability to install a single store to multiple Facebook pages. When buyers start to purchase your item on Facebook, they still complete the sale in your normal Vendio storefront so your branding and cart experience stays the same no matter where your buyers come from.
- Room to grow and expand if needed. While comparable in price to most web store options out there, Vendio’s paid option includes synchronization with your Amazon Pro Marketplace or eBay account while most options just give you the store for that price. This allows you to list your items only once and have them simultaneously on Amazon, eBay and your Vendio storefront. When an item sells in any one of the three, Vendio automatically removes it from the other two locations. Looking for some extra sales, especially around the holidays? Upgrade for a few months to get your items on eBay and Amazon and you can always downgrade again to the free store as needed. Either way, your items will remain active and on sale in your Vendio storefront with no interruption. If you’re already selling on a platform like eBay, the upgraded account is a good way to go while you transition away from eBay sales.
- It can be very buggy. While technically out of beta, the site can sometimes be frustratingly buggy. You may find yourself annoyed when this feature that worked fine last week suddenly won’t work at all or when something simply errors out for seemingly no reason. Sometimes the fix is as easy as using a different browser and sometimes you’ve stumbled on a bug or known issue. While this can be frustrating, it hasn’t been enough of an issue to effect sales and Vendio support is fast with responses even if bug fixes can sometimes take a while. Personally, I find the occasional bug to be worth the trouble but the bugginess is still a big disadvantage.
- Even free accounts display some paid options making for a cluttered listing process. One of the biggest complaints I’ve seen about Vendio stores from others is that the listing process is confusing or overwhelming. After using it myself, I believe this comes down to the fact that many of the paid-only options display even when you’re using a free account. This glut of irrelevant options can intimidate until you realize that it’s a simple matter to hide the parts of the listing text that are unnecessary to your needs. Even so, the learning curve may be steep as you list your first few items and get your profiles set up but, once you get the hang of it, the process can be fast and user friendly.
- Will Vendio be able to sustain such a powerful e-commerce tool without charging anything? This one isn’t an established disadvantage as much as it is something to consider. Vendio makes money from its paid service and other partnerships but will that be enough to allow them to keep this storefront free indefinitely? Will they eventually need to start charging or close up shop entirely? I don’t have an answer. For me, they are the option that currently best fits my needs. If their service later changes, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it but you may feel differently.
I think the best recommendation I can give for the Vendio stores is to say that, of all the e-commerce options out there, it’s the one I use with my own website. It’s far from perfect but it has a lot to recommend it.
But for those that have used Vendio’s stores, what do you think? What did you like or dislike about the platform?
Looking for more places to sell your stuff? The following post is an adapted excerpt from the ebook Beyond Amazon, eBay, and Etsy: free and low cost alternative marketplaces, shopping cart solutions and e-commerce storefronts.