Retail is a seriously competitive game. Even the giants need to make use of every possible marketing advantage and every possible route to a sale. Nowadays, that includes mobile e-commerce, which is, by some distance, the platform that is seeing the fastest growth in sales and revenue.
As with all cutting-edge technologies, however, it is the big boys that have been making the most of this new retail territory, which is a shame, given the struggles many small businesses are having to cope with.
But, finally, help appears to be at hand. Dashsell, a company that has thus far concentrated on providing a simple way to list items for sale online, has now launched Shops — a beta, self-service, mobile store app builder. With plans starting from free, and with web, iOS and Android versions available, it looks ideal for the small retailer. But is this the killer platform that will open a new frontier? Or is it just another cookie-cutter app studio?
The new mobile aspect of Dashsell is an extension of its web-based selling, so the first step in creating an app is to set up a standard shop. Doing so simply requires a one-click sign-up via a Google account, followed by the addition of a shop name and a description, along with some appropriate header imagery for your new digital outlet — you’re really creating a profile, rather than a new standalone site.
This simplicity is both a positive and a negative; it means that set-up is quick, but the options for visual customization are heavily limited.
The only other hoop to jump through, on your way to selling, is the requirement to add a minimum of six items. Although this restriction seems arbitrary (even as an attempt at avoiding spam), achieving the required number is not a long process.
New products can have up to four images attached to them, as well as a description, and a category for better findability within Dashsell’s selling network. Alternatively, this process can be bypassed altogether by pasting in the URL of any product you’ve listed on Gumtree or Locanto, with Dashsell then pulling in the necessary details.
However, the simplicity here, once again, comes with a significant downside. The ability to add product options is sorely lacking, and the images you upload must be cropped into a square aspect ratio. For those wanting to sell in a completely unsophisticated manner, the former will not be a notable problem, but the requirement to make images square will cause inconvenience to everyone.
From the buyer’s perspective, though, the desktop web version of your shop is perfectly respectable, both in terms of looks and usability. The storefront — which resides on a Dashsell sub-domain of your choosing — is a minimal grid that is predominantly based around product imagery.
Product pages are easy enough on the eye, too. Alongside the main photo (or a slideshow, where a product has multiple images associated with it) are the product details, with a comments section below.
It’s unfussy and unpretentious, and I think most small-time online retailers will be happy enough with this overall presentation. Or, rather, they would be if the right currency symbol was always displayed — something which Dashsell seems to struggle with.
It is mobile, however, that will be Dashsell’s main draw for many sellers, and in some respects, it is the platform’s strongest suit.
Published stores are automatically equipped with a mobile browser web-app, as well as an Android app which is submitted to the Play Store. Additionally, an iOS app is made available once the Android version has been downloaded 300 times, although free accounts are capped at a combined total of 1,000 downloads.
On all platforms, the layout is neat, images are the predominant visual cue, a helpful navigation bar along the bottom of the screen provides a native feel, and retailers can also send push notifications of new items.
Which is all great, except that the selling part of the equation doesn’t yet work. The only way a customer can purchase via mobile is by messaging you, the seller, with the quantity required and any other necessary details. This is fine for classifieds, but given Dashsell’s ambition to serve small retailers, this is a ludicrous situation, even for a beta.
So it is just as well that Dashsell’s affordability provides a small redeeming feature.
Apart from a fee of 2% on all transactions, Dashsell provides all of the above, along with unlimited bandwidth and an unlimited number of products, without charge. Upgrading to the paid-for accounts gives you instant access to your iOS app, a halved transaction fee, a custom domain and an increased download cap: 3000 on Basic, 12,000 on Standard, and you can probably guess how many come with Unlimited. Until the end of the year, these plans have 50% off, meaning that at the time of writing, they currently cost $8/month, $16/month, and $32/month, respectively.
Dashsell is a terribly frustrating service to review. It has most of the components of a solid, reasonably-priced ecommerce platform; but at every turn you come across errors, many of which are unforgivable, even for a beta.
The shops are well designed, and apart from the occasional bug, they function well. Equally, uploading products is incredibly straightforward, as is the one-click app publishing. Against that, though, are the erroneous currency symbols, the image cropping, the lack of product options and the inability to take payments via the mobile apps.
Some of these shortcomings are being worked on, so perhaps Dashsell will mature into a worthwhile mobile platform. In the meantime, however, I can only recommend it to regular garage-sellers.