Shopify & Ecommerce Ramblings

A blog about building and extending awesome Shopify stores

One of the more frequently asked questions when we're setting up ecommerce stores using the hugely successful Parallax theme by Out of the Sandbox, is how to size the banner images.

Being that the parallax effect itself requires some overlap for it to actually function, it becomes hard to decide on the correct size of your banner images and where to place your important content.

This can make it difficult to brief your photographer or graphic designer, so we set out to simplify the matter intelligently.

The most important things to realize are that:

  1. The image will be horizontally center aligned.
  2. It will very likely be cropped on the sides to accommodate the specified height of the area.
  3. There will very likely be under lap at the top and bottom (for the parallax effect).
  4. We honored Out of the Sandbox's recommended banner size of 1600 x 805px so we're always working with the optimal image size.

In an effort to illustrate the display of your banner image on various devices, we made screenshots of three of the most common devices.

Screenshots of the super imposed banner images on the Parallax theme by Out of the Sandbox for Shopify.

  1. For desktop sizes we chose the current most popular size of 1366 x 769px and then for the big screen users, we chose 1680 x 1080.
  2. For tablets we chose the iPad screen size at portrait and landscape.
  3. For mobile phones we chose the iPhone 6 screen size at portrait and landscape.

We then super imposed the actual banner image over the screenshots in Photoshop and faded them a bit to see how they're placed. You can see below how the banners are positioned by the theme in each device's screen size.

Note: the parallax effect does not take effect on a mobile device, hence most mobile views (portrait specifically) are full height.

To make things even easier, we then extrapolated this information visually into a Photoshop template that we can now use to prepare our client store's banner images quickly and easily. There is also significantly improved predictability over where their content will be displayed.

Parallax Banner Positions in the Out of the Sandbox theme.
The image above shows all of the view-ports on at once. It's unlikely you'd ever want to see them like this though. We therefore made each device view-port a separate layer set that can be toggled to see how your banner will sit on that device and orientation as seen below.

Toggling Layer Sets in Photoshop for the Parallax Shopify Theme by Out of the Sandbox

To make things easier for other Shopify Experts and merchants alike, we've also decided to make this PSD banner template available for purchase.

Buy this PSD template now for only $10

Note: If you're an existing ShopCreatify client, please contact us for a free copy of this PSD.

We'd love to hear what you think.

Out of the Sandbox' Parallax Theme banner template in Photoshop PSD

Since we do so many store setups and customization work on the amazing Parallax theme by Out of the Sandbox, we thought it wise to address one of our most frequently misunderstood aspects of the theme. How to make your banner images fit and work well.

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Having somewhat recently joined a great group of Shopify experts in a round table type Slack channel, we were kindly offered the chance to participate in a podcast with Kurt Elster of Ethercycle.

In this episode we discussed some basics of ecommerce since it's the topic I've spoken about at a number of Shopify events.

► listen to the podcast here.

Having somewhat recently joined a great group of Shopify experts in a round table type Slack channel, we were kindly offered the chance to participate in a podcast with Kurt Elster of Ethercycle.

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Product Photography Studio

Can you take professional (enough) photos of your products with a smartphone?

According to Shopify, you can but being a born skeptic, I needed more solid proof that it can be done, so we set out to test the theory and not only to see if it is possible, but if it is possible to do on a budget.

A bit of an admission before we dive straight in. I've got a bit of a history in photography although mostly in the realm of motorsport. It's fair to say that I may know a bit more about lighting, composition, camera settings and other aspects than the average Joe, but with the instructions below, you should be able to achieve the same results.

We started by gathering up all the "ingredients" for our photo box and although there are a few things we'll do differently the next time, this worked, and it should also work for you.

Ingredients:

Product Photography Lightbox Materials

  • 4 x A2 polystyrene boards
  • 3 x A3 sheets of tracing paper
  • 1 x A1 sheet of cardboard (300gsm or thicker)
  • A small bottle of clear glue (check that it sticks polystyrene. We used this.)
  • A sharp knife (an NT Cutter is perfect)
  • A large metal ruler (optional but certainly useful)
  • Clear boxing tape
  • 3 x "Pixar" style bedside lamps
  • 3 x 15W cool white energy saver bulbs
  • A box of sewing pins (useful but not required)

Method:

1. Stick the boards together

Product Photography Box being stuck together

Using the glue, stick the box together, pin in place and allow to dry. I stuck the back board on first and the sides on after that. If the boards are decent quality it should all naturally align at right angles.

2. Cut out the "windows"

Making the windows on the product photography box

Once the glue is properly dried (I left it for 24hrs), flip it on it's side and carefully measure out the holes for the "windows". I left about 1cm "bleed" for the tracing paper to not be precariously placed on the frame.

Cut them out with the ruler and NT cutter while clenching your teeth to the awful screechy sounds it produces.

3. Stick on the tracing paper

This was slightly tricky, but not impossible. Lay the tracing paper over the aperture hole of the frame and place a small piece of tape on each corner working diagonally (place one piece in a corner, place a piece diagonally opposite it and then the final two corners while pulling it tight each time). This allows the paper to be sufficiently taught and not have waves / wrinkles.

Product photography light box diffusers

Finally lay a nice full length strip of tape on each edge of the paper to provide the final seal. 

I stuck the paper on the inside of the box so there weren't any corners visible. A matte finish tape would probably be better if you can find it.

Due to the international paper dimensions being what they are, you can now take a sheet of tracing paper and stick it at the top rear of the box.

Now, important if you just stick it there, you risk the box being pulled inwards like a bow and breaking, so I cut the rear upright excess polystyrene board off and stuck it over the middle top of the box as a brace. This is where the pins came in handy as they kept the brace in place while the glue dried. Again I left it overnight to set properly.

4. Install the infinite curve

Product photography light box infinite curve

Measure the width of the inner portion of the photo box and then cut the white cardboard length wise to fit snugly inside the box. Make sure you err on the side of not cutting enough cardboard off and rather shave slivers off to make it fit tight and snug.

5. Switch on the lights

I didn't think it would be necessary to explain how to put a lightbulb into a lamp nor how to plug them in nor switch them on. Simply do it, and if you struggle, I think your issues may be greater than this little tutorial covers.

Product photography box lights

I aim the lights as shown in the picture below and one thing extra I needed to find to install the top light was a box behind the photo box to put the lamp on. I taped the lamp to the box so it didn't fall through the roof.

Product photography light box

With a little post production in Photoshop or similar, you can quite quickly have results like below.

Pen photograph

Product photography light box

Can you take professional (enough) photos of your products with a smartphone?

According to Shopify, you can but being a born skeptic, I needed more solid proof that it can be done, so we set out to test the theory and not only to see if it is possible, but if it is possible to do on a budget.

read time.

Read More

Setting up online shops for other people is an interesting process. Nobody knows your business like you do, but wading through Shopify and trying to make sense of things while trying to ensure that all the necessary information and settings are in and configured correctly can be a real schlep. If you don't happen to know everything that is required and where it all goes it can be even worse. Luckily we've set up a few stores already, but even so, gathering all the required information has been a bit of a tricky one up until now. To smooth the process, we've developed version 1 of our Shopify Content Delivery Kit.

Buy the kit here for only $29

Defining the pain points

Everything for a reason they say. The fact that we committed such a considerable amount of time and effort to developing this content delivery kit was due to the following pain factors:
  1. The time from signup to store launch was simply too long. Even for small stores.
  2. Our customers were struggling with some of the more technical requirements in preparing their store assets (products, pages etc.)
  3. It was too easy to miss simple small things that were only got caught in the pre-launch testing phase.
  4. The process was just too inefficient for my liking.
To solve these issues we sat down and brainstormed a few solutions. We wanted things to be practical, not overly technical and ultimately a solution that removed any ambiguity from the process and guided our customers from start to finish.

The Solution

Ultimately we established that the best way to achieve these objectives was to create the following:
  1. A thorough Shopify content delivery guide detailing each aspect of the store setup requirements from start to finish. You can call this the central point of the guide package and it references all supporting files and processes.
  2. Simple form / sample documents that are completed / edited and returned to us for implementation into the ecommerce store.
  3. Refactored and simplified the Shopify product CSV into an easily understood spreadsheet for our customers to easily complete and return to us.
  4. Last but not least, a printable checklist so our customers can check off the items they've done, checked internally and delivered to us.

Shopify Setup Guide
The ShopCreatify Content Delivery Guide Printable Checklist and Guide open on an iPad

We believe that with this brand spanking new content delivery guide package we'll be able to better serve our customers. At the end of the day we want to deliver speedy store setups that are well executed and allow our customers to start trading effectively and efficiently from day 1. If you'd like to find out more, please feel free to email us at hello@shopcreatify.com. You can also sign up for a 14 day free trial if Shopify here.

Buy the kit here for only $29

Setting up online shops for other people is an interesting process. Nobody knows your business like you do, but wading through Shopify and trying to make sense of things while trying to ensure that all the necessary information and settings are in and configured correctly can be a real schlep.

read time.

Read More

To best explain what we do, I thought it might be a good idea to explain how we do it. Not down to the fine details of course, we're not that trusting. You might be a competitor of ours and decide to start copying how we do things. Paranoia aside, and without further ado, here's the what and how we do what we do.

Discovery

Client Discovery ShopCreatify
Screenshot of the ShopCreatify initial inquiry form 

Without a doubt this is the most important phase of any project. If we're not a suitable match for your needs (nor Shopify perhaps) we'll be brutally honest in this phase. Shopify covers most ecommerce needs but sometimes what someone wants just doesn't suit the pre-built nature of the system. There is always the option of writing custom apps, but if your core requirement is too starkly different to what Shopify offers we'll likely advise a different route. If you want to, you can always give Shopify a whirl with a 14 day free trial. That said, a vast majority of ecommerce requirements are catered for perfectly and elegantly with the Shopify platform. Whether you're able to roll out your store with a bare bones "vanilla" flavored version of the system or you want to spice things up with feature rich store including all the bells and whistles, you're well covered. In the discovery phase the most important factor for both you and ShopCreatify is establishing mutual suitability. Mutual respect, professional ethics and a passion for your business are very important to us. Together with you, in the discovery phase we'll also define the overall scope of the project. Some of the key points involved in most projects are:

  1. How many and what type of products you want to sell
  2. What payment methods you want to offer your customers
  3. How you'll be shipping your products
  4. How will the necessary information (product data, images, legal literature etc.) be delivered to us and in what format(s)
  5. Overall readiness of the brand (logos, visual identity etc.)
Once we have established the above factors (and likely others) we can both make an informed decision with regards to costs, timing and resource requirements. This is usually the make or break point where we both decide whether to proceed with the project.

Planning

ShopCreatify Trello board example
An example of a ShopCreatify project Trello board.

If we're in the planning phase it is a given that we've both decided to proceed with the project.  By now we should already be quite familiar with each other and have a good understanding of the project's requirements. We strongly believe that failing to plan is planning to fail. A great deal of emphasis is placed on the process of setting out the tasks required as well as the relevant milestones and deadlines.

Failing to plan is planning to fail. - Alan Lakein
All ShopCreatify projects have a dedicated "customer happiness manager" assigned who will be in charge of setting up a private Trello board for your project. A high level set of tasks will be created in the form of cards which are prioritized in the correct order as logic dictates.

Execution

Editing a theme in Shopify

With all the tasks set out, we start executing them with ruthless abandon. We'll assign you tasks to do too. Things like composing your page content, compiling your product data, getting your legal page content together etc. On a weekly basis we'll send a status update with an executive overview breakdown of the project's health and momentum. This allows you to apply pressure on anyone / anything that is causing a bottleneck or to simply ease your concerns or alert you to any stagnation in the project. The main aspects involved in the execution of most projects include:

  1. Domain registration & pointing
  2. Email setup
  3. Store setup & configuration
  4. Theme implementation & styling
  5. Content loading and formatting
  6. Product loading
  7. Payment facility setup
  8. Shipping provider integration
  9. App integration, configuration & styling
  10. Testing & bug fixing
It is important to note that we are strong advocates of Kanban and agile development. So although things may appear quite "waterfall" in this blog post, that is not the case. We have daily scrums, planning meetings, review meetings and retrospectives. We find this the most productive way of execution and allows all parties to collaboratively create the best end result (your shop).

Deployment

OStrap.com live shop
OStrap paracord products ecommerce store (note, this is a live store)

Now that your site is ready to be switched live, we will -at your bidding- do so with confidence that it will be ready to start receiving your first orders. Depending on the nature of the project and agreement in place, we'll be available to fix any unforeseen teething issues for a set period of time. To believe there won't be any teething issues is naive at best and irresponsible at worst. Being ready to quickly fix snags that get exposed in the wild is an important aspect in any web deployment, ecommerce or not. And that, ladies and gents is how we do it. If you're interested in finding out more, please get in touch.

To best explain what we do, I thought it might be a good idea to explain how we do it. Not down to the fine details of course, we're not that trusting. You might be a competitor of ours and decide to start copying how we do things. Paranoia aside, and without further ado, here's the what and how we do what we do.

read time.

Read More

The decision to base our entire business around servicing another company's customers was not one taken lightly. I mean we could have just become another ecommerce consultancy. We could have wined and dined and schmoozed our way into people's back pockets. One can spend hours, days, weeks, months (even years) drawing up specifications, wireframing, designing mockups, prototyping, setting up development environments, registering SSL certificates, getting your PC DSS compliance underway and more, but we chose not to.

Why we didn't faff with all that

Messing around with all that stuff is no longer necessary. It's redundant, it's just not the way things need to happen anymore. Yes, there's absolutely a place for all that in the enterprise market (aka big, ugly and expensive), but frankly we find that boring, stifling, slow going. Ultimately in most normal cases it's a massive waste of time and money. You want to get online and selling fast. We want you to experience the feeling you get when you receive that first order. You need to focus on aspects like marketing, branding, customer service and most of all, making, sourcing and selling those awesome products. We've packaged a roadmap and set of tools to rapidly set up your store for you. All you'll need to do is strap in and enjoy the ride. We'll guide you every step of the way.

SaaS to the rescue

These days, in the time of SaaS (Software as a Service) and cloud computing, a vast majority of the heavy lifting is done for you. You no longer need to worry about hosting your site on a (possibly) shared server. The responsibility of maintaining the core software running your shop is no longer on your shoulders. The acronym laden legislated requirements for owning and running an online store are effectively "outsourced" to your SaaS provider and payment gateways. This means that your costs are lower, you'll be quicker to market and you can focus on more pressing issues than bureaucratic appeasement.

You're smart enough to choose wisely

We're relying on you to some degree. You need to do your homework. You need to be confident in the platform you choose for your store. We'll even help you make that decision if you like. In fact, drop us an email with a question about Shopify or ShopCreatify and we'll do our best to advise. Who knows, maybe you need something else, but I doubt it. We only do Shopify stores and we're proud to be affiliated with such a great ecommerce platform. In future posts we'll cover more reasons that Shopify could be a great fit for you, but this one was just to give some insight into why we chose to follow such a specific path... in case you were wondering.

The decision to base our entire business around servicing another company's customers was not one taken lightly. I mean we could have just become another ecommerce consultancy. We could have wined and dined and schmoozed our way into people's back pockets.

read time.

Read More

Oh how I wish I could think of a clever and witty way to captivate my audience with my sharp intellect in this, our first blog post. I suppose it is not to be, but at least we have a beginning, a launchpad... some starting blocks as it were. Who are we and what the hell is digital shopfitting you ask? You didn't ask? I'm going to tell you anyway... "Digital shopfitting" is a term we coined while voraciously scouring the web for names that best represent what we do and although as a domain name it sucked, we thought as a tagline it was rather appropriate.

Shopfitter noun. A person whose job it is to fit the counters, shelves, etc. with which a shop is equipped.

In case you're not familiar with what a traditional shopfitter does, I've taken the liberty of defining it above for you. What we do is the digital (or virtual) equivalent of what the old-school, bricks n' mortar shopfitter does.

Lets say you have something you want to sell online. By something, I don't mean just one of these things (we're not ebay), we mean you have these things in numbers. Whether they're T shirts, custom made knives or handmade woolen willy warmers (we don't judge) we can help you get online and selling these things fast and affordably. We take the complexity out of the process by simply setting your shop up for you.

We have tons of experience... literally tons, like as in we weighed it on a scale and it showed over 2000kg's. No, seriously, we've been doing this for a while. Our founder breathes, eats and sleeps ecommerce (it's not healthy, but it's true). We even have a couple of our own shops that tick away on the side.

We do as much or as little as you need with your online shop deployment. Simply need a basic store setup with a couple of products? Done. Need something a bit more customized and have a product catalogue of 150,000 products? It'll cost you a bit more, but your wish is our command.

Sure, you can figure it all out yourself. I could also learn out how to overhaul the engine of my car but I don't plan to because that would be a waste of my time. We speak ecommerce and will handle payment gateway integration, shipping setup, product loading, help and guide you with other topics like domains, email and even give you some of our operational tips via our blog and through direct communication in the setup process.

Well, that's about it for the first post in this blog. I truly hope you were entertained and if not I'll try harder next time.

Oh how I wish I could think of a clever and witty way to captivate my audience with my sharp intellect in this, our first blog post. I suppose it is not to be, but at least we have a beginning, a launchpad... some starting blocks as it were. Who are we and what the hell is digital shopfitting you ask?

read time.

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