Lonely shops and bustling shopping centres

There are all sorts of ways for artists and makers to sell their wares online. Decent storefront options abound and generally come in one of three flavours:

Putting aside the market place sites, the problem with individual stores and bespoke sites is that people end up trying to drive traffic to their individual, isolated shops. They’re tacked on to their portfolio websites but rarely linked to from anywhere else. They might look very nice, but there are no shoppers browsing by. They look a bit like this:

Prairie Prada in Marfa Texas

(Photo by Anthony Citrano, zigzaglens.com)

Whereas retailers understand that by clumping together with others in one place they’re more likely to attract passing trade.


(Photo by Daniel Morris)

To be fair, this is what the market place solutions are going for. Storebeez allows you to search across stores, as does Big Cartel (although this feature’s a bit hidden). Even so, I have a suggestion for improving things.

How to improve things

I run a decent-sized, geographically specific arts and culture blog. I’d like to have a shop of some sort on there but I don’t want to deal with the admin of actually running it. However, I could provide some of that much needed footfall.

What I’d like to be able to do is set up a virtual shopping centre, bringing together individual stores that I think are relevant to my audience:

  1. Give me a front page
  2. Let me customise my shopping centre a little (header, colours, fonts, links back to my site)
  3. Allow me to select the shops that would populate that shopping centre
  4. Give me a way of attaching it to my site
  5. Let me earn affiliate payments for any sales made and/or new stores set up

That would do as a starting point. Later on, give me the option to group or highlight sub-lists of products (a round-up of Christmas gifts, for example), give me more granular control by letting me exclude certain products from sellers’ inventory, give me some analytics and so on. If it’s a successful mall maybe people could pay me to be listed in it, or to have their products listed as ‘featured’ (a bit like Badoo‘s premium Rise Up and Spotlight features).

I wouldn’t be interested in having any direct influence over individual store owners – inventory, pricing, order fulfilment, customer service and so on wouldn’t be of any interest to me. I’d just send traffic their way and let them deal with the rest. It wouldn’t even be an exclusive deal – they could potentially appear in hundreds of these virtual shopping centres.

The benefits

Everyone wins:

  • Sellers get more traffic to their stores without having to lift a finger. In fact, more people are being incentivised to sell their work for them
  • Buyers don’t have to search around for shops – sellers and their products are more easily discoverable
  • The store provider gets more sellers using their platform and more customers buying products through it
  • Website owners get a useful, low maintenance feature for their websites that comes with the prospect of earning them (and some independent artists and makers) a little money

The size of the opportunity

I’m sure many other websites and blogs would relish the opportunity to do the same – for instance, there are plenty of big design-focussed sites that could make use of something like this. I can see lots of possible configurations too:

  • Created in Birmingham’s mall would aggregate shops that belong to artists of all sorts from around Birmingham
  • Someone who blogs about knitting might aggregate shops set up by knitters from around the world
  • A collective of artists might promote a single mall that brings together all of their individual stores
  • A big design blog might feature products they’ve covered

In summary

If anyone from Shopify, Goodsie, Storebeez or Big Cartel happens to be reading this then please build this feature. I’ll then tell everyone to get stores with you (and I’m sure others will do likewise).

Or maybe someone’s already doing this and I’ve not spotted it – anyone? For all I know, it might be possible to do something with Shopify’s API. Alternatively, there might be a good reason why nobody’s doing this yet – would it be too much hassle?

Published by Chris Unitt

I work at One Further, doing digital projects with cultural organisations. Follow @ChrisUnitt or find me on LinkedIn.