MasterNewMedia
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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Create Your Own Online Store: From Affiliate Marketing To Integrated Drop-Shipping - A Mini-Guide

How to create your own online store and sell selected products from your site: from affiliate marketing to integrated drop-shipping - A Mini-Guide.

add-to-cart_id188180_size500.jpg
Photo credit: Pablo631

"Drop-shipping is a type of retailing where the retailer does not keep goods in stock, but instead passes the customer's order and shipment details to the wholesaler, who then dispatches the goods to the customer directly. The retailer makes their profit on the difference between the wholesale and retail price."
(Source: Wikipedia)

Drop-shipping may be indeed one of the fastest and most profitable monetization areas to become available to independent publishers online.

The value of the online drop-shipping approach are immediately evident: online publishers can create, customize and seamlessly integrate a full online shop into their web pages, while being able to select and offer the specific products and services that best match the interest of their readers.

The drop-shipping company takes care of everything else from order management to international delivery to your customer front-door.

Since it is no longer necessary for you to have the actual stock you sell, your role as a publisher with an online shop becomes more one of a shop curator, selecting, assembling and aggregating products and services that are particularly relevant to your readers.

So where's the catch? How are you going to make real money from a virtual store?

Simple. Your profit is the difference between the wholesale price which the drop-shipping company charges you with and the shelf-price your customers get charged. Depending to the kind of products you may be including in your online shop this may vary from a few dollars per item to a hundred dollars or more on a single sale.

The key added value that your online publication can bring to something the likes of Amazon and its close competitors have done for years online, is your unique ability to target a very specific audience, with specific interests and desires. While Amazon and its competitors have to offer the whole catalog to an audience that is as vast and heterogeneous as it can be, small online publishers like you and me can serve in a truly effective fashion the specific needs and interests of our niche.

If you have a successful news site or blog it is because you have chosen to give it a very specific focus, and, as you have probably long realized, that focus is gold-dust for online retailers. They, like those advertisers discussed in yesterday's mini-guide on creating your own ad network, can really thrive once their products are served and proposed by credible writers, that present them within a relevant and compelling context. Imagine for example the impact that a remote-control gizmo to drive your PowerPoint presentations while you are standing in front of an audience promoted and sold by a blog author devoted to visual communication, versus seen the same product promoted on a generic hardware shopping site.

Get the idea?

Now whether your blog is all about presentation tools, the latest mobile phones or the works of twentieth century philosophers, there are opportunities for you to serve as an intermediary between your readers and the retailers selling mobile phones or obscure philosophical tomes. Just as contextual advertising attempts to bring relevant services to your site visitors, so the creation of an online shop attempts to bring relevant products to their attention.

You could look at it also in this way: online drop-shipping is nothing but an extension of the affiliate marketing paradigm.

You've seen affiliate marketing in action a thousand times. Every time you see a collection of suggested books at the end of a blog post, or a 'currently listening to' list in somebody's sidebar, you are more than likely looking at affiliate marketing. The principle is simple - every time you click on one of these links and make a purchase, the blog that sent you to the online store you made your purchase from takes a cut of the money you spend.

This can be an effective way to monetize blog content. Everybody's happy - the reader finds a book or CD they are interested in, the retailer makes a sale, and the blogger takes a cut of the retailer's profits.

An online shop takes affiliate marketing to the next level, by providing not just a few items in the sidebar of a blog post, but rather an online store filled with selected, relevant and in-context content of high interest to your readers.

Obviously, chances that the mobile phone blogger is going to make more money than the twentieth century philosophers blogger are likely, but either way, both create extra value and interaction opportunities for their readers, whilst opening up another revenue stream for themselves.

In this mini-guide I review for you the key drop-shipping companies providing the full infrastructure you need to set up your own online shop, adding a new potential source of income to your tightly focused blog or web site.

[This does not pretend to be (yet) an exhaustive and fully comprehensive guide to drop-shipping solutions allowing the creation of online stores with real products. Feel free to submit and share other tools and solutions you may feel should belong in this mini-guide by placing your information in the Comments section, at the end of this article.]



Zlio

http://www.zlio.com

zliologo.jpg



Overview

Zlio aggregates a range of online retailers, and makes it easy for bloggers to create customized shops targeted at their specific audience. Whether your blog is focused on gadgets, pets, books or shoes, Zlio has a vendor waiting to partner with you.

Products can be easily searched from the Zlio web interface, and putting together a basic shop only takes a few minutes. In searching for suitable products to sell in your free shop, you can further narrow down your terms by selecting from one of eleven product categories:

  • Pets
  • Sporting goods
  • Services
  • Books
  • Magazines
  • Clothing
  • Computers and software
  • DVD / VHS
  • Music
  • Health and beauty
  • Kids and family

This gives you a broad scope, and if Zlio's original French version of the service is anything to go by, the amount of available vendors and products is due to increase rapidly over the coming year.

Zlio recently added US support to what was originally a France-based service, and promises to have a UK version available shortly.



What can you sell?

One of Zlio's great strengths is the fact that it uses a number of vendors, offering you a solid range of products that could vary from books and DVDs to computer hardware, magazine subscriptions and even diamond rings. As such, it should be possible to find suitable products to connect to all but the most obscure of niche blogs.



Revenue model

The US version of Zlio uses a CPA revenue model, so that every time a customer makes a purchase from your store, you receive a percentage of the profits. The percentage varies between the 19 vendors available through Zlio, and ranges from Tiger Direct's 1% to CPC option.

Payments are made to shop owners via Paypal.



Customization options

Zlio is nothing if not customizable. Some of the features available to Zlio's users are:

  • The ability to quickly select from a range of well put together shop templates
  • The ability to hand code the CSS of your shop if you want to further integrate it with your blog or website look
  • The ability to drag and drop elements on the page to decide upon your perfect shop layout
  • Further easy to alter customization features, such as the addition of your own logo / images, web statistics and text



Shop location

Your ZlioShop is hosted at a Zlio subdomain (eg. http://www.masternewmedia.zlio.com), but it is possible to use your own URL if you prefer. Instructions are provided in the shop's main control panel.



Standout features

Zlio sets itself apart from the competition by:

  • Tapping into a vast range of vendors, therefore allowing most blogs an opportunity to create a shop
  • Offering both easy to implement shop templates and the ability to style your own shop if you happen to be handy with CSS
  • Allowing anyone to set up their own store, regardless of their blog's standing



Room for improvement

Zlio might improve its service by:

  • Introducing the CPC option to US users
  • Further expanding its already strong line-up of online retailers
  • Further extending its functionality to other global markets, allowing participation from an even broader demographic



Getting involved

There are no restrictions or requirements for setting up a Zlio shop - or shops - of your own. All you have to do is head over to Zlio.com and sign up. Zlio is completely free to use.



Further details

To learn more about Zlio, you can check out the Zlio about page, or read Richard MacManus' coverage of Zlio at Read/Write Web.





Amazon aStores

astorelogo.jpg

http://affiliate-program.amazon.com



Overview

Amazon aStores are a simple way for anyone with an existing Amazon Associates account (which you can easily sign up for) to put together their own niche-focused mini-Amazon store.

Amazon is perhaps the world's leading online retailer, and they have a vast product range that you can tap into to monetize your blog. Their name also carries a certain weight to it, making it a safe option for possible partnership, as they are a (largely) trusted commodity.

aStores are customizable virtual store-fronts that can tap into Amazon's vast database of reviews, while allowing their creator to filter Amazon down to more manageable, site-specific proportions.



What can you sell?

If Amazon sells it, so do you. aStores doesn't offer access to vendors other than Amazon, but this will suit certain blogs, depending on their particular niche. Any blog with book-based marketing opportunities, for instance, will be well placed to make use of aStores.



Revenue model

aStores, like the Amazon Associates, operates on a CPA model. At the time of writing, Amazon offer between 4% and 8.5% commission on your sales, depending upon various performance factors.

Payments are made directly to your bank, or via a check.



Customization options

You can customize your aStore in a number of ways. These include:

  • The ability to change the colour scheme, fonts, basic layout and theme of your store
  • The ability to create any number of category sorted pages for your shop, further subdividing your niche into its constituent parts
  • The ability to add sidebar widgets that bring added value to your store from the Amazon feature list, including reader recommendations and similar items.



Shop location

Your aStore is stored at Amazon.com, and you can either directly link to it, or embed it within the template of your blog or website.



Standout features

aStores benefit from having the following key features:

  • A solid grounding in Amazon.com's brand name and product range
  • The ability to embed Amazon widgets into your shop pages, calling up editorial reviews, wish lists, recommendations and the other features that make Amazon a popular shopping destination
  • Integration with the already popular Amazon Associates scheme, which many bloggers use already



Room for improvement

aStores could improve their service by:

  • Allowing for greater integration with host websites, rather than having shoppers ultimately ending up at the Amazon.com destination
  • Expanding the limited customization options currently available in line with the richer feature set of Zlio
  • Considering CPC supplementation of the current CPA revenue model



Getting involved

To get involved with aStores, you first need to be a member of the Amazon Associates scheme. All Amazon associates have access to the aStore function, regardless of their performance.



Further details

You can find out more about Amazon associates at the appropriate FAQ and read a review of the service over at The Inquirer.





Chitika ShopLinc

chitikalogo.jpg



Overview

Chitika ShopLinc is part of the Chitika merchandising marketplace, and brings the possibility of creating your own virtual store to Chitika's existing services, such as the popular eMiniMalls.

ShopLinc stores can be easily configured to feature products from your latest reviews and posts by tapping into your RSS feed, which is an innovative approach to integrating blog and shop content. Hand-picked store inventory can be annotated with your reviews and comments, and the overall look and feel of your store can be radically made over if you have a good grasp of CSS.

ShopLincs is aimed primarily at blogs and websites with a product-based focus, such as review and recommendation sites, and it is in this area that it tends to succeed best.



What can you sell?

Chitika taps into a vast range of vendors across the web, so that you can sell products that are well suited to your site visitors. But rather than offering a single place for buyers to make a purchase, it offers a comparative shopping experience, attempting to find the best deal for whatever it is that your site visitor is looking for.

This comparative approach means that whatever your site visitor is looking for, they will not feel cheated by being pointed at a single source, but rather assisted in finding the best online deal.



Revenue model

Chitika ShopLinc uses a CPC model, and pays the end-user 60% of the revenue they earn from their vendors. This varies from item to item.



Customization options

Chitika ShopLinc offer a vast range of customization options, from the simple switching of colours, text and images in the default template to the transformation of your shop through CSS. You can, among many other possibilities:

  • Add a header or footer to brand your store-front
  • Map your store to your own domain - with a little bit of technical know-how
  • Add a search box to your store



Shop location

Chitika ShopLinc stores are hosted at Chitika, but it is a simple process to embed them into your website or blog. You can also link to your store or set it up on your domain.



Standout features

Among the features that distinguish ShopLinc from its competition are:

  • The creation of store content directly from your blog (or any other website) RSS feed.
  • The ability to annotate featured products with your own reviews of them
  • The ability to feature comments and expert information alongside your store's main content



Room for improvement

Chitika ShopLinc might benefit from:

  • The introduction of a CPA alternative to its current CPC only revenue model
  • Easier site customization - at the moment any serious customization requires a working knowledge of CSS
  • The inclusion of simple widgets, like those featured in Amazon's aStores, to integrate search and recommendations with greater ease



Getting involved

Chitika ShopLinc is only available by invitation. While anyone can apply to use the service, to be considered your site must meet the following criteria, as described in the ShopLincs FAQ:

  • Represent merchandising related specialty content ''such as product reviews, recommendations, discussions, etc. ShopLinc is not a good match for portals, search engines, and sites with minimal content but with links to other people's content.''
  • Consist of English content only. ''We are currently not offering this service to sites with non-English content''



Further details

For more information, you might like to check out Chitika's own ShopLinc FAQ or JusTech'n's comprehensive review of the service.





Additional resources

If you are interested in learning more about setting up your own virtual store, you might want to check out the following links:



Original article written by Michael Pick and Robin Good for Master New Media and first published as:
Create Your Own Online Store: From Affiliate Marketing To Integrated Drop-Shipping - A Mini-Guide

Michael Pick and Robin Good -
 
 
 
Readers' Comments    
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posted by Michael Pick on Tuesday, February 20 2007, updated on Saturday, April 24 2010


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