It’s becoming increasingly difficult to run your own eCommerce store
I’ve been running my own eCommerce store for a few years now, for selling my own eBooks and Lightroom presets. It’ always been a bit of a challenge, both technically and logistically, but it's getting harder and harder. The problem is that the EU is tightening the rules on privacy and data, and few if any of the commerce solutions are properly up-to-date on this. Many still aren’t even fully compliant with current VAT legislation.
Before this discussion goes off on the wrong track, I have no problems with the upcoming GDPR regulation. I think it’s badly needed, especially in the wake of the recent Facebook scandals. The problem is that the vast majority of the companies who make eCommerce solutions aren’t based in the EU and while many of them are updating their own sites to be compliant, they don’t seem to be doing much or anything to enable their customers to do the same (or at least they aren’t publicly announcing it if they are). Most of the requirements can still me met manually, but there are only a few putting the proper technical solutions in place.
On top of that, many of the services already have great gaps in abilities and offer poor solutions when it comes to existing regulations. For example, two different commerce providers that I contacted, both of which are quite popular, while they provide VAT rates and reporting for EU sales, neither allow you to handle business to business VAT transactions, which can cause a lot of issues with customers. Another one I tired, which again is a high profile e-commerce site, has one major flaw for selling digital content. It doesn’t allow you to sell items individually, meaning that someone could easily add multiple copies of a digital product to their cart accidentally, and then get charged for it. You have to manually customise the code in order to do this somewhat obvious function. While you might think that if your customer accidentally added multiple copies of something that it would be their own fault, but believe me, as a store owner, some people would hold you responsible, regardless.
I currently run my store on the WooCommerce platform which is a plug-in to Wordpress. It’s the most flexible that I have found and the only one that allows me to comply with all legislation, although we’re still waiting for the core of Wordpress to implement the GDPR changes that are slated for inclusion. The problem is that it is flakey, and the customer experience isn’t the best. You can add numerous plug-ins to the core system that will allow the software to do almost anything, but because it’s based on an open source, doing so inevitably breaks it.
Another issue that I’m now facing is that one of the services that I rely on for proper VAT accounting has announced that they’re putting their prices up. They’re not just putting them up a little, it’s a massive hike compared to what I normally pay. I’m just going to have to eat the cost until I find an alternative solution, but it’s just another example of the minefield that you face trying to run your own store.
On top of that, because it uses Wordpress, some of the services rely on the core of Wordpress and are limited by that. This means that some things aren’t particularly user-friendly, and every now and then I get extremely irate emails from clients complaining about certain functions as if I’d personally implemented them to make their lives more difficult. For example, Wordpress requires you to have strong passwords now. This requirement leads to most of the irate emails that I get, but I have no control over it, and even though it's for customers security, I inventively get the “Why do I need to enter so much information or use a strong password just to buy an eBook” complaint. It’s not like I enjoy having to deal with these kinds of issues on a constant basis.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that a lot of small sellers online don’t care about complying with the law, and a lot of software providers just don’t seem to care. It means that those of us trying to do it legitimately have to try and educate customers as to why we require certain things but some other blogger selling stuff doesn’t.
I don’t know what the end of this will be. I am keeping plugging away for the moment while trying to get ready for GDPR, even though most small sellers probably don’t care or won’t bother even trying to be compliant. I wish I could switch to a simpler solution that would make the purchase requirements easier for my customers, but I’ve yet to find one that works properly and comply with all EU vat laws (even some who’s makers are EU based don’t fully comply). I have considered just releasing books on Amazon Kindle, but that would be a huge loss for me, as they take a huge chunk of the sales, but there would be considerably less hassle. Maybe for my next book, I will consider it.
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