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October 19, 2018

E-Commerce: Shifting Winds and Shifty Partners

By Josh Fiorini

E-commerce is becoming an increasingly big component of our retail economy. In 2016, internet sales accounted for nearly $400 billion dollars in revenue nationwide and represented 8.1 percent of all retail sales.

Those numbers continue to grow at significant rates. For many major retailers, being left out of the e-commerce loop means missing out on sales. Luckily, with the explosion in e-commerce there has been corresponding expansion in software and service providers ready to help you and your business get in on the internet sales game cost-effectively and at potentially any level of scale — well, at least most of them.

The Problem With Shopify

Shopify, Inc. (NYSE: SHOP), is a Canadian company that has led the pack in small-business e-commerce solutions. Providing e-store services to more than 600,000 businesses, Shopify has a significant presence in the market.

Why do you care about Shopify? Well, recently the company put in place a ban on its e-commerce platform that prohibits sale transactions of virtually all semi-automatic firearms and the parts and accessories that go with them. The e-commerce provider has now also expanded its list of restricted items so as to essentially shut down shooting sports sales on the platform — oddly while still holding up shooting sports-based companies as “Shopify success stories” on its website.

With its CEO stating, “Solely deferring to the law … is too idealistic and functionally unworkable,” Shopify has joined the ranks of other large corporations and financial institutions seeking to influence the political debate on gun rights and use what abilities they have to restrict them above and beyond the law of the land. With the Shopify platform ranked third in market share, running nearly 10 percent of all e-commerce portals, this is a significant move. Now factor in that the second-ranked platform in this arena, Squarespace, has prohibited transactions for the sale of any firearm since its inception. (Note: Squarespace is not the same entity as the Square credit card-reading, point-of-sale tool, which also prohibits “Sales of (i) firearms, firearm parts or hardware, and ammunition; or (ii) weapons and other devices designed to cause physical injury according to its online list of prohibited list of goods and services.”) What options does this leave a firearms retailer looking to get or stay online?

More Than One Player in the Game

The good news is that there are lots of e-commerce platforms out there that do not currently ban the sale of firearms and accessories. Even better, there are even a few that make it their mission to facilitate them. As well-known as Shopify and Squarespace are, the largest provider of e-commerce services for websites is actually WooCommerce. Through a plugin that integrates with the popular web design application WordPress, low-cost WooCommerce dominates the field with more than 27 percent of the market share. While the platform does not specifically endorse the sale of firearms and accessories, it also does not prohibit them. Other e-commerce platforms NSSF members successfully work with include 3D Cart and BigCommerce, while at the highly tailored end of the spectrum, AmmoReady and GearFire offer platforms set up specifically to serve shooting sports retailers.

Sifting Through the Choices

So, there are options. Which one is right for you? A complete exploration of all the elements needed to choose the right e-commerce platform for your situation would require another series of articles. But, in short, there are a few things to consider:

  1. Ease of Use — What level of web design, coding and html knowledge is required to operate the platform? Is this something you and your staff are capable of, or is the platform technically complex and require outsourcing?
  2. Integration — Does the platform integrate with your ERP or POS system that you use to run your store and track your inventory? Is it highly manual and/or does it require stand-alone operation?
  3. Capability — Is the platform capable of providing the type of data exchange and tracking necessary to doing business as an FFL (i.e., serial numbers)?
  4. Search engine optimization — Does the platform optimize your products for discovery by search engines?
  5. Customer experience/interface — Does it deliver the customer-facing online experience you are looking for, one that makes it easy for the customer use, one that’s enjoyable for them and one that encourages sales?

One of the reasons for the popularity of Shopify and Squarespace is the ease of use for the retailer. They provide an excellent interface both for the buyer and seller, as well as one that can easily be operated by a novice and requires no significant web design or coding skills to manage. Those same features should likely be a deciding factor in a firearms-friendly e-commerce platform. Some of the options out there are far more customizable, and for the platforms that cater to shooting sports retailers, a number of features have been developed and integrated specifically with your FFL or firearms range business in mind.

A more in-depth discussion on choosing an e-commerce partner will be forthcoming in the future. In the meantime, you do have partners within the e-commerce space that will support your business. Investigate your options and evaluate your considerations and you’ll find the right fit for you.

About the Author
Josh Fiorini is the former CEO of PTR Industries, Inc. He spent the first decade of his career in finance, holding positions as an equity analyst and portfolio manager before starting his own hedge fund. This experience, along with a deep background in manufacturing, banking and private equity, has made him a sought-after contributor on numerous boards and discussion groups on political and economic issues for media outlets, corporations and community organizations. Fiorini currently invests his time and resources with non-profit initiatives and acts as a contributor and management consultant to various firms in the firearms industry as the founding and Managing Partner in the firm Narrow Gate Management.

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Tags: 3D Cart AmmoReady ammunition BigCommerce E-commerce firearm internet sales Firearms firearms sales Gearfire html internet sales marketing selling SEO shooting sports retailers Shopify square squarespace weapons web coding web design WooCommerce

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