There are many ways you can obtain an online Salon shop using a multitude of different technologies and services. Insufficient knowledge of the choices available, their benefits and their downfalls can lead to a very frustrating and costly experience with the end result being a poor looking, difficult to manage or broken shop that you cannot update and which will become a liability rather than an asset to your Salon business. With this in mind, Salon Solutions has written this guide which attempts to guide you through your options.
"Obtain an online shop that is completed and delivered within a reasonable timeframe with little or no input required from you and that captures the look and feel of your salon brand while providing a high degree of functionality that you can customise, update and adjust by yourself, at an affordable price."
To achieve this goal we have compared four different types of online shop providers against a set of key requirements. In the table below we have compared each provider option across a number of different requirements which we have scored 1 - 3, where 1 is the least effective option for that requirement. The table below summarises the result.
To get a proper understanding of the table we first need to understand the four types of providers in the market today.
This is the type of business that will typically appear on a google search when you search for online shop providers or something similar. They are usually self-employed programmers that provide bespoke, custom websites and online shops to small and medium-sized businesses, usually charging an hourly rate. They will have the skills to create a website and/or an online shop in one of the many open-source web development
platforms, typically WordPress. These technologies take the considerable experience to learn how to use and are not user-friendly. Usually, when initially engaging a developer you will go through a process of defining your requirements via a specification which the designer will quote for. Changes, alterations and additional requests are usually charged extra on a per-hour basis.
These come in a number of different varieties.
These are basic online shops provided to Salons by some product manufacturers or distributors. When the Salon becomes a retailer for a given range and has opened an account it can set up an online shop hosted by the manufacturer or distributor. This can be achieved by working through a set-up process which involved selecting the products that they will retail. They will then use the link to this shop on their Facebook page or website using the URL link provided by the provider. These can be great solutions for very small businesses, especially since the Brand owners or distributor will take the order and fulfil it on your behalf in return the Salon will receive a commission for the sale.
However, your shop will not include products from ranges not manufactured or distributed by that particular provider. This option is Free, quick and easy but you will not realise the full financial benefits and the experience is relatively poor for the client.
These are independent providers that provide the ability to create an online shop using platforms built by them using a “one size fits all” approach. Their goal is to provide the industry with a broad range of services addressing the needs of Salon owners. These include training, booking systems and of course online shops. They target these to small and medium-sized Salons for which they have a variety of charging mechanisms depending on the service they are providing.
The Salon is fully responsible for configuring the technology which includes uploading product images, descriptions and prices although time-consuming in most cases pretty straightforward and requires no technical skill. The goal is to “capture” your business by wrapping you in cotton wool and making things very easy but you can end up being trapped with large portions of your business being processed on their platforms for high fees if your business requirement grows past what the provider can offer.
These are a group of companies whose primary business is to charge a small % of each payment transaction made by your client to you. To facilitate this they have identified industries like the Hair and Beauty Salon Industry that processes high volumes of payments. Once identified, they design and create software that addresses key needs for that industry, for example, online booking platforms and of course, online shops. The result is a symbiotic relationship that can be very beneficial to both parties but one where you are both very dependent on each other. To attract the largest number of Salons they have developed excellent tools with lots of functionality, which they provide for free, charging only for the payments you process through them.
These are purpose build cloud software platforms that enable you to create your online shop. They provide a rich buying experience for your client and are packed with tools, extra functions and capabilities for you. They operate in a very competitive market so are constantly upgrading their capabilities with upgrades and more utility. As the description indicates this is a “Do it myself” option so you have to configure these products yourself using wizards etc. This can be challenging and time-consuming if your technical skills are lacking but the support provided by the platform provider is usually excellent.
These are businesses that provide solutions that are a combination of a web designer and Self-build platforms. They are experts in how to configure specific technologies and customise them to each Salon’s requirements and budget. They form part of a “Do It For Me” service industry that is growing up beside the numerous “cloud” based offerings and form a bridge between the Salon and the Software company.
These companies are independent and have the benefit of being able to offer end-to-end modular solutions that they will configure on your behalf. This means you can build up your Salon's infrastructure as your business grows and according to your finances. While many of these are agnostic about the industry they work in there are a few specialists in the Hair & Beauty Industry who understand how the industry works and as a consequence need very little hand-holding.
There is no mystery here. When you go to any website and look at a webpage you are looking at a set of HTML code that is being translated into something visual that makes sense to you by whatever web browser you use. The important thing is not who wrote this code but where it resides. Each “page” has a location called the URL. Typically a shop page for a given brand might look something like this
If you want to use a third-party technology provider for your shop, and not your website developer, you will simply reference this new location on your website using the location URL of the supplier domain. In addition, you can rename the supplier URL so that it contains your Salon Domain, then your clients will never know that they left your website and it will appear as if it were part of your website.
There are many Salons who are disappointed by the quality of the shops they have paid for, in many cases, excessively and which are an embarrassment to their overall Salon brand. These are typically online shops poorly constructed as part of bigger website development, by developers trying to build capability that is typically free in rival platforms. The consequence of this has been that many Salons have missed opportunities to drive revenue by offering discounts and sales at critical times in the year like Christmas or even worse the shop has become increasingly dated as prices and products are not updated, all because the Salon has to rely on web designers to make changes on their behalf because the technology is not user friendly and the shop design, bespoke. Often these web designers are not organised to provide support resulting in an experience for the Salon that is overpriced, slow and very frustrating.
You simply do not have to put up with a badly designed and poorly functioning online shop. It is easy to change for another more effective solution. No Salon should have to put up with poor quality work and if this has been your experience then the information contained in this blog applies to you. Read our blog “How to Un-plug your broken online shop and connect to one that works”
Many of the options we will look at, particularly the self-build platforms, offer websites to complement their shops. while you have to configure these yourself or pay someone to configure them for you it is possible to get a fully functioning website with an online shop for a low monthly subscription. While these websites tend to be what is called “infinite scroll” websites, so limited in what they can provide they are a perfect solution for those businesses with limited funds.
Now we have a broad understanding of the choice of providers in the market available to you we need to compare each with what they offer to a number of key decision criteria.
Selecting a provider that has a deep understanding of the Hair and Beauty Salon industry will reduce the amount of time and effort you spend supporting the project. Pre-build software will already have configuration options that you will need and they already understand the industry requirements. Web Designers build everything from scratch and basically re-invent the wheel this and their lack of industry knowledge means that you need to spend a lot of time supporting them. Using a Specialised Solution Service to configure an industry platform means you get both the functionality of the platforms and the experience of the solution provider to configure it in the most optimal way for your Salon.
The amount of time needed from you to support the project is a direct relationship between the level of industry experience and the type of software used by whoever is configuring the solution. Typically the designer has no industry experience and builds from scratch, or in the case of the self-build platforms you have the industry knowledge but have to learn to configure the platform. The solution provider will have both.
The amount of time it takes to deliver the project is directly linked to the level of industry knowledge and the software option chosen. Solution Service Providers will have the product images and description to hand and will have automation technologies to load them. If you use any alternatives you will have to obtain the images and descriptions from the rep and then someone will have to enter them one by one manually. A web designer will charge for their time to undertake this. While some industry platforms have these pre-loaded and it is possible for you to make a selection they will be restricted to the brands of the manufacturer and distributor providing the technology.
It's always going to be cheaper if you do it yourself than if you get someone else to do it for you. That is assuming you put €0 cost on your own time to learn the software and enter the required data. The cost for the pre-build platforms is free (assuming no value is put on your time to configure them).
The web developer has usually provided a quote based on an hourly rate. Given that they are building the shop from scratch and each product you add to your shop will be an incremental cost they will inevitably be more expensive, usually, by a high multiple. The service provider will charge a fee to configure a platform technology for you so will be a little more expensive.
The size of the monthly fee you will pay for your shop will be linked to the level of ongoing support you can expect to receive from your provider, and we deal with this in the following section, “On-going support”.
Comparing fees from one provider to another can be difficult because many of the industry platform providers charge a monthly “bundled fee” for their entire menu of services whether you need or use them. It is revealing that the main players in this market do not publish their fees and prices or provide a breakdown of exactly how much you are paying for each component of their service and as we see in the later section “Exit barriers” in many cases you are exchanging convenience for flexibility. This means that at a later date if your business requires a different service you could be locked in.
In the table below we try to provide an estimate of the monthly fees per provider to provide the following essential services.
The score provided in this case represents value for money.
The level of support you can expect after your shop has been completed and delivered is key to your success. The shop is not a static tool but needs to change and grow as your business evolves. You will want to change prices, add new ranges and offer new features. As detailed earlier, web designers do not have the infrastructure to offer support, which has left many Salon owners with outdated shops that do not work. This is the case particularly if the designer used technology like WordPress which requires numerous updates throughout a typical year and if not prop
erly installed will lead to parts of your shop not working properly. One of the greatest benefits of using a cloud platform is that for a small monthly subscription you will automatically get all of the security, technical and functional upgrades as they become available. The software will be maintained and run on your behalf and you can expect it to run trouble-free 24/7 365 days a year. In addition, they will provide online e-mail and chat support to help you through any difficulties that you might have using defined service levels ie answer within 24 hours etc. Using a Self-build platform in conjunction with a Solution Service Provider will give you a human point of contact rather than remote forms of communication and might suit some better. One of the major benefits provided by the self-build platform is that they all provide desktop access and usually provide a management app which will allow you to alter prices, upload products and alter any aspect of your shop directly from your computer or phone. See if you can get a solution from a web designer that will do that!
of the finished product is key to impacting the client's perception of your brand and the overall professionality of your Salon. When you use a platform, consistency is built into the product. The software has been tested before release to the public and any bugs or flaws are identified quickly and rectified. These types of software will always offer a better experience to you and your client than a bespoke and unique development created by a web designer who is trying to rebuild what has already been built. The only other ingredient to improve quality using an established industry platform is how well it has been configured. Aligning the software capabilities to your Salon’s particular needs will make a key distinction between a good online shop from one that is memorable.
A large gap exists between the solution providers in the flexibility they offer to alter the look and feel of their products so you can differentiate your online store and your client's experience from the other businesses using the platform. One of the key requirements of a Salon is to be able to communicate its brand identity using logos, colour palette and descriptions of what makes the experience it is offering unique. Here the web designer who will request and follow your specifications wins hands down but at the expense of cost and your time. At the other end of the spectrum are the industry solutions that offer good “functional” solutions but use a one size fits all approach. However, you can get a high degree of customization using the better self-build platforms and when you get help in the configuration of these achieve 90%+ of what a web designer can for a fraction of the cost.
This is a big investment and when complete the result will represent and reflect your Salon business so you need to take steps to ensure that it goes according to plan and you get what you want. Risk management is a function of control. The more you control the less the risk. Control in this case is linked to knowledge. Knowledge of the industry and knowledge of the technology you are going to use. For this reason, the risk is high for web designers because they usually have no knowledge of the industry and tend to be building from scratch. Medium for platform providers because they have configured industry standards into their standards but you need to understand how to configure their platforms to the best effect. Low for a solution provider as they have both the technical and industry knowledge and you can look at examples of their previous work before you decide to proceed.
The Self-Build platforms win hands down here. They operate in an intensively competitive market which drives a culture of constant innovation in an effort to deliver more and more capability to their existing customers and to attract new ones. While the Industry Platforms are good they tend to be under-invested. They are cash cows for these companies and their incentive to invest more money is limited, mainly because of their relative dominance in the Salon market and the Exit barriers they have constructed for their existing clients for which they do not have to work too hard for and which provide a stable income stream.
An online shop for your Salon is only one component you will need to consider when building your Salons online capability. You will need to consider a shop in conjunction with your website, booking system and mobile strategy. The decision ultimately boils down to picking a provider that can provide a solution for all of your needs “under one roof”, which will be simpler and more convenient but have less capability or pick the best-of-breed solution for each requirement which will provide more capability and flexibility but will ultimately be harder to achieve. Using a Solution Provider will help you get the best of all worlds but for a fee. You are paying for their experience and knowledge to help match the right solution which addresses your needs to your budget and to set it up so you get the very best from your investment.
The purpose of an online shop is to make sales. You should be looking for a solution that legally collects data given to you by your clients as they transact business using your shop and booking system, and which allows you to create SMS and E-mail marketing campaigns or extract the data so you can use it with another specialised technology. The self-build platforms already integrate into the main social media sites like Facebook and Instagram and enable you to “tag” products in your posts that lead customers directly back to your store. Like any business, you need to drive traffic to your website if you are going to optimise the revenue you generate from it. Take a look at our blog "Boost Turnover By 70%-How To Add A Rocket To Your Salon's Retails Sales"
There are still too many Salons receiving and transacting what are effectively online orders via WhatsApp or Facebook messenger App. While this seems very convenient to the client it really isn't, and it is an incredibly inefficient process for the Salon. Many custom-built online shops do not have a workflow built into their technology to manage the order and dispatch process. The result is the WhatsApp exchange. All the purpose-built platforms are designed to collect the necessary information from the customer in a straightforward and logical manner, process payment and enable a selection of delivery options. The information is then routed to the person who will dispatch the order. In most cases, they can communicate directly with the customer via email if more information is required and as the status of the order changes. The client will receive emails at each stage of the process until they receive the product. This type of automation is really necessary if you want to ramp up your sales with the minimum increase in administrative work and costs.
Designing and building your online shop represents an investment in time and money that you do not want to repeat. For this reason, you need to select a provider that will provide a solution that can be adapted to your business as it grows and delivers new functionality as it becomes available in the future. You need access to your data should you want to move to another platform or provider and the ability to easily manage your store. This means it is as important to plan for the future as it is to address your current needs otherwise you will end up having to do it all over again.
In this document, we set out to measure the capabilities of the key service providers against 14 criteria that reflected our goal and score them on a scale of 1 - 3 this means there was a maximum score of 42. Let's remind ourselves of the goal
“Obtain an online shop that is completed and delivered within a reasonable timeframe with little or no input required from you and that captures the look and feel of your salon brand while providing a high degree of functionality that you can customise, update and adjust by yourself, at an affordable price.”
In the table below we have calculated the %, each supplier scored overall out of the maximum possible. It indicates that paying a modest premium to an Industry Solution Specialist to advise you on the correct purpose-built technology and to configure it on your behalf, to your specific needs, will eliminate most risks and provide you with a cost-effective and affordable product that will deliver to you a business for many years.
Your local Authority will provide funding to you to deploy an online shop as well as many other e-commerce capabilities you need for your Salon Business. Read our blog for a summary or for a more comprehensive guide read our e-book by using the download link below to find out how.