Enabling local shops to sell online
Local shops use Google Forms instead of Shopify to take online orders. This is the story of how order forms beat ecommerce sites at its own game.
Two years ago, I created a plugin to add calculations in Google Forms. Soon, local shops started using it to take online orders. Google Forms is the last place I expected online shopping to happen. So, I inquired why they didn't use Shopify. This is how one of the shop owners put it:
“My customers find it easy to use Google Forms. It looks similar to the menu card I have in my shop. But, the Shopify site is confusing for them. Especially senior citizens get lost on the site and do not know how to checkout.”
So after 20 years of eCommerce, Google Forms beats Shopify in the shopping experience? Lets see why:
1. Catalog page - Built for Books
Amazon started eCommerce by selling books. They boasted an extensive collection of books. Like any good library, they listed them as catalogs and let customers search and sort books. When Amazon grew, they used this catalog page for other product categories and browsing catalog pages became the default shopping experience. Soon enough, all eCommerce sites looked the same.
If you are running a bakery with 10 products, your customers don't need to search or sort them. But, tech-savvy early adopters did not question the need for catalog in such cases. So, eCommerce platforms like Shopify copied it and spread it to the rest of the world, even though it is not suitable for everyone.
2. Product page - Built for SEO
Think about how you find a new eCommerce store. Usually, you would search for a product you want to buy on Google - say headphones. Google lists the relevant stores that sell headphones, and you click on the top results and land on the product page of an eCommerce store. That's how you discover a new store.
To get you to that page, a store has to compete with hundreds of other sites by adding better product descriptions, photos, and reviews to the product page. Hence, the companies optimized these pages for SEO rather than user experience. Throw in some product recommendations and offers along with the existing navigation, you can end up anywhere on the site and lose track of what you want to buy.
3. Transaction fee - Built for acquiring new customers
Marketplaces like Amazon charge 20% commission on every sale made on their platform. If you are a seller who wants to grow fast, you can pay this fee and get new customers around the world. But, the problem is they never become your customers. Amazon doesn’t share any customer details so that you can engage with them and convert them into loyal customers. Instead, they own these customers and advertise the seller who pays the highest bid for their adversitements.
Shopify solved this problem by letting you own your customers. But, they still charge 3% for every sale made on their platform as payment fee. Shopify attracts new customers through SEO and there could be fraudulent payments. So, this fee is needed to compensate for the fraud. But, if you are a local shop who want your regular customers to order online, you are unlikely to have fraudulent payments. Paying 3% transaction fee just for the convenience of selling online seems high.
|eCommerce store||Local shop|
|Type||New customers||Repeat customers|
|Starting point||Product page||Aisles (Product category)|
|Discover||New stores for a product||New products in a shop|
|Trust||Low||High (No fraud)|
Order form - Built for local shops
Buying at your local grocery store is very different from an eCommerce store. In local grocery stores, you are a regular customer. When you buy vegetables, you discover new products - such as seasonal fruits. While an eCommerce store is optimized for search and browse experience for new customers, a local store has your undivided attention and is optimal for buying experience.
The closest tool that mimics this in-person shopping experience is Google Forms. Google Forms looks similar to their menu card or McDonald's ordering kiosk for local shops. That's why they use it. But, Google Forms doesn't understand products or orders and can't produce meaningful reports or inventory. So, we imagined a form builder specializing in creating order forms. Based on the above 3 problems, we came up with these rules for our form builder:
1. Let shop owners design the catalog page
When there are thousands of products to choose from, you need consumers to sort and filter products. When there are 20 products, the shop owner knows what product to show first and how a newly added product should to be featured. Our form will allow the shop owner to specify where a product should appear.
2. Next button instead of product page navigation
The catalog page to product page navigation is complex for an ordinary customer. Often he loses track of products he wants to buy. Our order form will list all the products with a photo and a concise product description on one page. Only two buttons, back and next, are provided on each page to keep things simple.
3. Usage fee instead of a transaction fee
Transaction fee leads to bad behavior. Marketplaces like Amazon plead with sellers to join their platform during initial days. Once they grow big, they hide customer details from sellers and prevent direct communication between them. They worry customers will skip them and they will lose their transaction fee.
The above is true for platforms like Shopify too. Once they get addicted to their cut in transaction fee (via Stripe), they prevent sellers from using free payment options such as Venmo or CashApp. We will charge a flat subscription fee instead of a cut in the order amount to avoid this trap.