Storenvy's Marketplace Future, will it survive?
Storenvy Marketplace Review 2016 Update #3
So it is 2016 and the Storenvy Marketplace opened the year with asking all of its "free custom stores" to make a contribution towards its operations and continued existence.
If you sell on Storenvy and you have logged into your dashboard since December 2015, or checked into it's Facebook group, then you have no doubt seen the pitches or requests for contributions.
During the past four years that I have been following Storenvy as a marketplace reviewer, I've seen Storenvy make some often very bold and dramatic decisions that self-sabotaged both sellers and marketplace shoppers. It is difficult to watch this genuinely high potential marketplace stumbles.
There seem to be two kinds of sellers on Storenvy, those making lots of sales and those having few sales; this is understandable and should be expected when it comes to selling with a custom store. In my experience, 95% of sellers who move to selling on a custom storefront after having sold on a marketplace like eBay, come with entirely unrealistic expectations.
First time custom store sellers have incredibly grandiose ideas of making tons of money, being found by every shopper on the Internet, and having a storefront layout similar to those created by billion-dollar marketing firms. So they come to a place like Storenvy, expecting the world and end up very disappointed.
Selling on a custom storefront is the most challenging, time consuming, and work any seller can and will experience. It not only involves the simplicity of selling on a marketplace like eBay, where one simply lists products to sell with pretty pictures and then waits for a bite, like fishing. Selling on a custom store also requires providing all of the customer service, having a marketing strategy that will drive shoppers to that storefront, resolving technical issues, graphic design, having an understanding of how SEO works and at least the most basic understanding of the internet computer language known as html code.
Successful custom stores, often require a team of highly skilled artisans to create graphics, program and edit html code, develop and implement an effective daily marketing plan and raise the level of visibility through SEO techniques, but most custom store owners instead come as a solo proprietor from eBay, Etsy or Amazon; lack any expertise of behind the framework skills, and are often rather unmotivated to learn.
This is what makes a marketplace like Storenvy that offers Custom Storefronts attractive to those feeling over-regulated or kicked off other marketplaces. A lot of sellers made this transition in 2014 and 2015, placing the blame on Storenvy for their failures. That being said, their are some failures that can be attributed to Storenvy that will be addressed. The bottom line however, is every business and sole proprietor selling online is 100% responsible for its own profits and losses. Every online seller is responsible for seeing and comprehending the road signs along the path, knowing when to make changes, what changes need to be made, and how to implement them. For those selling or thinking about selling on Storenvy, this article is one of those road signs.
To understand the signs, they need to be written in a language and manner that they can be explained, so that is my goal as a marketplace reviewer, and that is the goal of this Storenvy Marketplace Review 2016 Update #2.
Storenvy calls itself a Free Custom Store Marketplace for Indy Stores. Prior to the end of 2014, selling on Storenvy was 100% free to the seller, being funded by several investors to help launch this platform. That all changed in November 2014 when Storenvy made several key decisions that bring us into its current situation. It made the decision to terminate its association with PayPal for any sales that occurred in its marketplace. It implemented Stripe, a payment gateway for its marketplace sales that has similar transaction fees as PayPal without the safety or security that PayPal can provide.
It also began charging a 10% commission on all sales that occur in its marketplace and a 10% commission on the shipping prices charged for each sale.
In 2015, these commissions were expanded to its "Free" custom stores, making any sale that had occurred in the past or present, that Storenvy could identify as having a direct association with the customer having navigated to that custom store via its marketplace, also commission based.
That brings us to the opening months of 2016 when Storenvy began asking everyone using its "Free" custom stores to make a generous gift contribution to Storenvy. It was the strangest concept this reviewer has seen from a marketplace, yet it did find some favor with sellers who already happily give away money on Indiegogo and Kickstarter. For those businesses and online sellers who realize that Storenvy is a for profit business that has shifted to a commission based model similar to eBay, the party was not as exciting.
Anything Storenvy offers, including it's custom stores now fall under it's marketplace business, and because commissions are now also being charged in 2016 to sales occurring within a sellers custom store, they can not legitimately fall under the title of "Free" as they once did, because revenue is now being generated from store sales.
Now that Storenvy is charging a commission rate as high as eBay, higher than etsy or Bonanza, it would be wise for it to invest in driving customers to its marketplace. Asking for donations looks bad, sounds bad. So this commentary review will focus on thoughts about Storenvy's newest model as a marketplace, it's vision, it's sellers expectations and its potential to survive.
If Storenvy is going to be a commission based marketplace, it needs to be a commission based marketplace. If Storenvy is going to be a custom store provider, than it needs to be a custom store provider. Whatever Storenvy is, that is what it needs to focus on, and that being said, that is how it needs to fund itself.
Offering a free custom store is a great idea, but not when it becomes a marketplace version of Obama Care that is funded by outside investments or soliciting donations like wiki.\
For Storenvy to survive its current re-structure, it needs to go all the way in one direction or the other. It needs to compete with other marketplaces that are commission based or compete with Shopify type custom stores. This is something only it's CEO, Jon Crawford who makes all of its decisions, can make.
As an outside observer however, there are some suggestions that can be made, now that it is already charging commissions to sales occurring in custom stores, and this is that it may benefit by opening those stores up to full marketplace access. This would allow shoppers to easily navigate from its marketplace to the product on the sellers custom storefront.
What this will do, is essentially make Storenvy into a virtual shopping mall of indy stores, providing store sellers the ability to offer sales, customize the shopping experience, have a domain name parked, offer discounts, utilize its third party api features, etc; yet be fully integrated with the Storenvy marketplace.
This would distinguish it from eBay, Amazon, Bonanza, Etsy and other marketplaces who charge a commission as well as charge for their stores. Imagine if eBay sellers caught wind, that they could sell on a marketplace with a custom store while paying the same commission fees! If the marketplace was technically stable, allowed PayPal, didn't have the same low caps on listing products and didn't require additional money to have a store; sellers would flock to Storenvy and the shoppers would follow.
But there are multiple questions about Storenvy's ability to successful make such a transition. Can Storenvy technically stabilize it's digital infrastructure? Can Storenvy handle that volume of sales traffic? Can Storenvy provide quality customer assistance to both sellers and shoppers? Can Storenvy's CEO effectively include other managers, strategist and visionaries into its team with the trust to let them help him create a stable environment and marketplace. Many CEO's and founders are simply incapable of delegating power and trusting their teams insights. As it now stands, Storenvy has ongoing issues of all kinds, which ultimately drive shoppers and sellers to other marketplaces.
To survive into 2017 and beyond, it would seem Storenvy needs to either go to a dual system where sales that occur in the marketplace are commission based and its custom stores have some form of monthly fee instead of a commission, or perhaps it needs to open the windows and doors between marketplace and custom stores making them interconnected and solely commission based.
Something in the middle might also prove effective, a format that lets its store users to choose to either sell on Storenvy completely based on commissions with a free custom store, or pay a monthly fee for a custom store that is independent of their marketplace and commissions.
Any of these concepts would still ultimately distinguish Storenvy from other marketplaces, while allowing it to maintain its original vision to provide free custom stores. It's like receiving a two for one coupon for your favorite restaurant. The restaurant coupon may say, buy one meal and receive a second meal for free! But it's not really free. That coupon merely indicates that the restaurant normally charges you more than double its costs for a single meal the rest of the year. A restaurant can not afford to give away meals below its profit value, it would go out of business.
As presented in the 2016 Best Places To Sell video on YouTube, I begin 2016 not recommending Storenvy among the best places to sell this year, despite all of the things I love about this storefront. Storenvy continues to drive away potential sellers and current sellers with its technical issues and poor implementations of new strategies which often seem somewhat desperate moves at survival.
To be honest, its sometimes difficult to be objective as a reviewer who appreciates Storenvy as a whole and desires to see it succeed. That bias has to be countered by an extra measure of objectivity as a reviewer. Head over to Storenvy's Facebook Group and you can easily see the dilemma after reading one or two posted comments. You'll find sellers torn between loyalty to Storenvy, sellers who continue to sell on Storenvy despite no sales, sellers who make lots of sales putting the blame on sellers with no sales, and so on. It presents a genuine representation of who and what Storenvy is.
Chances are you may even encounter Storenvy's CEO, Jon Crawford on its Facebook group providing the occasional customer support to sellers, something you will never see the CEO of any other marketplace doing. I have often wondered if having the CEO appear on Facebook to provide support, answer questions, or more recently defending his decision to solicit Storenvy sellers for contributions towards providing its custom stores; is a good idea.
When a marketplace's CEO is above the general reach of the company, staff, sellers and shoppers other than on special events, and its support team or volunteers are actually facilitating its forums, a more confident reflection of that company occurs. Having worked for several corporations, and writing reviews for Epinions.com for 14 years, I would have hated to have seen the CEO on one of those company forums. I would have wondered why that CEO has so much free time available, why are they hanging out on social media when there are problems they should be focused on resolving, but I suppose that is simply something unique about Storenvy's CEO, Jon Crawford. He has a reputation for being a silicon rebel.
Will Storenvy survive? I hope so. I will say that some of the insiders who I had conversations with in 2014 and 2015 were not projecting a hopeful outlook. These insiders who are indirectly associated with Storenvy, were quite concerned for the same reasons I have expressed in past review videos on YouTube.
If you are considering selling on Storenvy, I recommend you follow its Facebook group, where you can get a good idea of issues other sellers are experiencing. There really isn't another marketplace similar to Storenvy that offers you the same outstanding tools for setting up a storefront while also offering you a marketplace. That being said, Storenvy is having an identity crisis while it tries to figure out exactly who it is and how it fits into the competition of Custom Stores and Online Marketplaces. It seems to think of itself kind of like eBay, but kind of like Shopify, but not operating at the same quality level of either. It's kind of a free custom store, but kind of a commission based store and kind of a commission based marketplace.
In 2014 there were several other marketplaces that were almost identical to Storenvy. They had began as free custom stores with a marketplace, their CEO's made several poor decisions about how to operate their marketplace. One of those I was evaluating to review originally alongside of Storenvy began charging for its stores while also implementing a high commission similar to what Storenvy is now doing in 2016. When I went looking for that marketplace in 2015, I couldn't find it so I contacted an insider friend in San Francisco to ask what happened, they told me the company failed and closed up several months into 2015. This is one of the same insiders watching Storenvy who had expressed concerns at the end of 2014 and 2015.
Feel free to leave a comment and your thoughts about selling on Storenvy in the comments section.