Saturday, 30 August 2014

Ecommerce software - analytical review of different options

If you are an artist and want to market and sell your art online then one of the things you'll end up doing sooner or later is investigate ecommerce software. The aim will be to try and evaluate whether any of them do what you want and which one might work best for you.

For those who have never had to deal with anything more threatening than a new version of Microsoft Office, this can be a major challenge!

The first thing you learn is that, with few exceptions, most of the software is generic and not targeted at artists.

I've just come across a website called G2Crowd which provides a way-in to:
  • understanding what the options exist relating to ecommerce software
  • typically in-depth customer reviews for different products
  • an evaluation and rating of different business software according to market presence and customer satisfaction
Home Page - GCrowd website
The idea behind the site is that there is too much spin out there in relation to products available for sale in the marketplace - and not enough well informed reviews.  
  • The idea is to eliminate "vendor spin and outdated analyst reports".  
  • Products ranks are aggregated from peer reviews and social data. 
  • The reviews are intended to be real, unbiased feedback or ....advice from people who had actually implemented and used the software and related services

This, for example, is its page relating to ecommerce software and below is the widget it uses for demonstrating how one site relates to another.
  • The y axis is documenting presence in the marketplace with those in the top half being the bigger players
  • the x axis looks at the satisfaction scoring attributed to different sites - with the more established sites tending to have more and higher scoring ratings.



This is how GCrowd describes the four quadrants of the four cell table
The best E-Commerce Software products are determined by customer satisfaction (based on user reviews) and scale (based on market share, vendor size, and social impact) and placed into four categories on the Grid:
  • Leaders offer E-Commerce products that are rated highly by G2 Crowd users and have substantial scale, market share, and global support and service resources. Leaders include:Amazon WebstorePaypalPayPal Payments
  • Contenders have significant scale and resources, but their products have received below average user satisfaction ratings or have not yet received a sufficient number of reviews to validate their products. Contenders include: MagentoIBM WebSphere CommerceYahoo Merchant Solutions
  • Niche vendors do not have the scale and market share of the Leaders. They may have been rated positively on customer satisfaction, but have not yet received enough reviews to validate their success. Niche include: ZuoraCloudCraze
It's worth taking a look and checking out what you currently use (I've just had some validation of my choice to use PayPal for payments by clients!) and investigating how well it stacks up relative to competitors.

To the extent that dedicated software for artists actually exists, you can assess whether (1) it's recognised and (2)  its performance in the market in general for that type of product.

The ecommerce categories for software are

Click any of these links above and you can find the software which comes into this category.

Use the column on the left to define attributes and further sub-categories which you want to focus on. You'll end up with a list of options for your particular needs eg for Digital E-Commerce Software

You can also use the platform to assess other business and marketing software - for example, find out which product is rated as the best email marketing tool


Sunday, 17 August 2014

Review: Integrity Broken Link Checker - for websites and blogs

Websites and blogs for Artists: RECOMMENDED - A broken link checker which works.

For those artists with websites, you may or may not be aware that essential maintenance involves making sure that all the links on your website work.  Google's not fond of sites with broken links.

That's not a problem if you only have a few - but if you use a lot like I do then checking them can be just plain tedious unless you use a backlink checker. I've tried some in the past but today was the first time I felt moved to download a tool.

I've just downloaded The Integrity tool for Mac users which is an app produced by Peacock Media. I checked reviews of it online first and it's been around for ages and generally gets good reviews.

This is how it is described

Integrity is a link checker, no more, no less, no frills - and free (donationware). If you'd like:
  • Advanced options such as nofollow, authentication, custom header fields
  • XML sitemap generation and upload
  • Page load speed test, SEO checks, HTML Validation
  • Manage multiple sites and settings
  • Full report exportable as html or pdf
It requires Mac OSX 10.6 or higher, Intel 64-bit - but they also have earlier versions of their tool available for earlier versions of the operaing system - which is a major plus. You don't often see that.

My experience of Integrity is that it's speedy, thorough and has turned up all sorts of links which were broken which I had no knowledge of.

  • Some were really stupid ones - like including the Admin view URL when interlinking between pages of my website. 
  • Others were ones which had just become out of date (my website goes back to 2005).

I recommend:
  • using the Flat View option as that gives you the most detail in relation to locating the broken link  - and why it's broken.  This is what it looks like.  
  • checking the bad link box ( on the top line menu) so you don't get ALL the links on the site listed.
  • reviewing the worst problems using the 'by link' page
Integrity - Broken link checker: Example of a test check and the results for my portfolio website
On my portfolio website, it found and checked 1656 of 1656 links of which 41 were bad.
On this blog it found all sorts of problems which I had no idea about. It's actually a bit scary. Common culprits are blogs in the blogroll who've gone offline.

I have to say that I've not yet tried it out on Making A Mark - I think I might have to run that one overnight!

However I shall certainly be using this as a routine maintenance tool in future.


Sunday, 20 April 2014

QoR - a new watercolour paint

Yesterday I updated my website The Best Watercolour Paint for Artists and included a new section about a new artists' watercolour paint which becomes available in the USA next month.

branding on the new dedicated QoR website
QoR WaterColor paint is produced by Golden who are well known for their acrylic paints.

The new section devoted to this paint includes links to:
  • the new dedicated website
  • other information about the new paint made available by Golden
  • reviews and comments on the new paint by artists (eg Cathy Johnson) who have been provided with samples
Initial indications are that Golden's experience in acrylics is maybe also obvious in the formulation of this new paint. It'll be interesting to see what those painting traditional watercolours think of it.

RECOMMENDATION: I suggest people try one of the six colour trial pack of colours in the first instance to see whether they like how this new paint behaves.

Please report your experience of this new paint after you get your hands on it wherever is best for you. You can include a comment on this post if you like.

I expect that the website will undoubtedly expand and there will more information about availability in terms of distribution to art stories and online retailers in different countries in the near future.  My experience of such things is that roll-out might be somewhat slow with a focus on the USA only in the short-term. I'll update my website as and when new information becomes available. I won't be including sites which merely repeat a press release.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

The price of paint

Jackson's Art Pricewatch Scheme is the sort of marketing effort by art supplies companies which impresses me. 

Jackson's Art website page for the Pricewatch Scheme

Pricewatch Scheme

Our dedicated team of price watchers will constantly check our online competitor’s prices for the most popular branded art materials so that we can guarantee that the lowest prices can always be found at Jacksonsart.com
I'm a committed buyer of goods from John Lewis and one of the reasons I do is because they promise to match the price of the same goods on sale somewhere else so that they always offer the lowest price on normal (ie not clearance) stock.

A commitment from art supplies companies to introduce a price watch comparison service has been long overdue.

The Jacksons scheme is not perfect.  They've picked popular products and very reasonably have matched it against "competitor websites chosen on the first search results for the term ‘art supplies’ on Google.co.uk"

Which means it doesn't cover every product and it doesn't cover every competitor - but it's a start.

It could also mean that art supplies companies start to look very carefully at the price they're charging and introduce a bit more competition into the marketplace.

However, one might be forgiven for not being aware that the system actually exists.  They don't exactly shout about it on the front page of their website!

In fact, it's new and if I hadn't read their 24th January blog post Price Watch scheme I wouldn't have known anything about it.

To my mind, the quality of this scheme will depend on reliable reporting and updating of prices across the board. I could imagine other art suppliers becoming very annoyed and even litigious if their prices are misrepresented in anyway - that's if the Trading Standards people don't get there first!

My conclusion is that it's good to see somebody trying this approach - let's see how it works in practice before arriving at any conclusions about the scheme as a whole.

Cost of shipping


My normal caution to individual artists when comparing prices for art materials is 'ALWAYS look at the cost of shipping' because of the scope for suppliers to balance losses on cutprice goods with premiums on shipping costs.  I've certainly spotted suppliers in the past who have operated according to this strategy.

In this instance I note Jackson's Shipping Information indicates all shipping - at UK standard postage rates - is free once you've topped £39.  The usual sort of premiums apply to the Islands and Ireland.


Friday, 31 January 2014

Arches Huile Oil Paper, Paper Rolls and Paper Pads - reviews and prices

Arches Oil Paper Pad (140 lb x 12 sheets)

Below you can find
  • a video by Professor Steve Levin and Canson about the Arches® Oil paper: A new paper for oil painting
  • links to reviews of the Oil Paper and Oil Paper Pads introduced by Arches.
  • details of suppliers and the prices they've got for the different types of Arches oil paper on their websites as of today's post. It includes both UK (£sterling) and USA ($American) so be careful which one you're looking at



Noted characteristics of the paper are:
  • 100% cotton paper - thus much lighter than all normal supports for plein air painting
  • paper is deckle edged 
  • NOT-type surface 
  • range of alternative sizes - from pads to paper to rolls
  • ready to use
Comments about performance include
  • eliminates the need for preparation
  • easy to cut to different sizes
  • easily rolled for transport
  • strong paper - does not degrade when scrubbed
  • capable of taking oil paint without medium or thinners; paint and pigment stay on the surface of the paper and do not sink into the paper - hence no need to prime with gesso
  • can take a lot of solvent - which doesn't leak through paper or under tape - plus paper does not buckle when wet
  • absorbent - but views as to how absorbent it is very much depend on what people usually paint on; experience seems to be generally similar to painting on primed canvas
  • paint takes the same time to dry as other surfaces
  • possible to combine oil paint with other drawing media
  • oil paper pads provide a backing which means no need for a board to paint on 'en plein air'
  • great for oil sketches
  • needs to be framed under glass (that's because framing relates to the nature of the support as much as the media used)

Reviews of Arches Huile Oil Painting Pads

Suppliers

These are the art supplies people who have it in stock - and the prices they're charging


PADS
9 inches x 12inches
PADS
12 inches x 16 inches
PAPER
22 inches x
30 inches
1.3 x 9.15 metres
PAPER
51 inches x
10 yards
No. of reviews
on site
UK





£11.05
£17.45


4 reviews
£13.50
£20.50



£11.10
£17.50
£5.10
£111.00
4 reviews
USA








$156.65
rated 4.7
(3 reviews)
$9.77
$17.19


rated 5.0
(3 reviews)
$12.31
$21.58
(pack of 10 sheets)
$74.06
$201.35

$19.16
$23.96




Remember to check out the cost of shipping goods to you. (Not included above as it depends where you live and how big your order is)

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

2014 POLL: Which is your favourite make of artist grade soft pastels?

The new 2014 POLL: Which is your favourite make of artist grade soft pastels? is now open to voting - by pastel artists - on my website Pastels - Resources for Artists.

It will run for the whole of 2014 and I'll do a report on the results at the end of the year (eg see
The Top Five Soft Pastels in 2013)

You can also vote in the polls on:
Do please also leave any comments as to why you like what you like best.

Below is a photograph of two sets of Henri Roche pastels which somebody won at the last annual exhibition of The Pastel Society which I was reviewing.
The Discovery and Earth set of Henri Roche soft pastels
possibly the most expensive pastels in the world



Saturday, 4 January 2014

The Top Five Soft Pastels in 2013

This post reviews my poll Which is your favourite make of artist grade soft pastels? which ran on my website Pastels - Resources for Artists during 2013.

Here's the chart of the results for 2013


It's the same Top 5 Pastels again - plus a tweak!

The top Five Soft Pastels, according to people who responded to the poll, were as follows.  Links to more information about the pastels are embedded in the name

  1. Unison Soft Pastels (British) - repeating the pattern of all previous polls - Unison consistently come top.  At the end of the day, pastel artists recognise very high quality products and vote with their wallets!
  2. Sennelier Extra Soft Pastels (French) One of the oldest and possibly the smallest pastels with one of the largest chromatic range of pastels - now offered in 525 shades
  3. Schminke Soft Pastels (German) - Some of the smoothest pastels in existence. As I indicate on my website I've bought this very popular pastel in four different countries on three different continents!
  4. Talens Rembrandt (Dutch) A very popular range which comes midway between soft and hard and one which many people start with - I know I did!
  5. Joint 5th place
    • Terry Ludwig (American) I always think of Terry Ludwig as being very like Unison in the sense of being an independent artisan supplier of soft pastels - who started small and has got bigger through the patronage of very many pastel artists.
    • Girault (French) 
  6. Girault got into the "top five" by virtue of Terry Ludwig having slipped slightly. 
Here you can see a table which gives the relative percentage share over the last few years - according to the poll.


BRAND OF PASTEL
2013
2011-2013

2011
2010
2006-2009
Unison
23%
18%
22.1%
21.9%
19.6%
Sennelier
17%
13%
14.7%
13.3%
15.9%
Schminke
13%
9%
6.6%
15.2%
11.7%
Talens Rembrandt
10%
8%
11.2%
9.4%
9.4%
Terry Ludwig
5%
6%
6.6%
6.1%
11.7%
Winsor & Newton
-
6%

4.7%
6%
Girault
5%
5%

5%
3.1%

As you can see the top four brands are now beginning to pull away from the rest of the pastel brands. I'm guessing this in part relates to the demise of the Winsor & Newton Pastel which can now only be obtained as discounted pastel sets.

Unison has had its best ever year and Schminke is regaining some of the ground it lost in 2011 and 2012.

Of the remainder PanPastels is growing a loyal band of followers and is doing well to achieve 3% of the vote.

Girault crept into Joint 5th place as a result of a slightly worse result by Terry Ludwig.

I've now posted a new Poll for 2014 - but will also be announcing it in a separate post tomorrow.

Past Polls about Soft Pastels


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