Tag Archives: online buying

Etsy, a DIY Marketplace

Let’s take another look at a resource we introduced in our Supporting Small Businesses, Online post.

What Is It?

Etsy logoEtsy is a crafter’s dream come true, an online craft fair with artists and suppliers from around the world. Everything from handcrafted jewlery to dollhouse miniatures, from custom dresses to funky towels for your bathroom – you can find pretty much anything crafty on Etsy.

Etsy was created to help individual artists and crafters sell their work online. Etsy provides the online store and conducts the payment transactions, letting the crafters focus on making their work and shipping it to the people who buy it. Later, sellers started offering supplies like yarn, beads, fabric, patterns, and even vintage pieces for altering. It’s truly a DIY one-stop extravaganza!

Buying and Selling on Etsy

In order to buy or sell anything on Etsy, you do need to sign up for an account. Signing up is easy – just choose a username and type in your email address – and free. It’s only when you actually buy or sell anything that you need to enter credit card information or use your PayPal account. (Make sure to check out our Tips for Safe Online Shopping.)

You can find things to purchase in a few ways:

Once you’ve found something you like, read through the notes from the seller to see the details. Sometimes they need measurements to make something custom to your size, sometimes you need to let them know what colors you’d like, sometimes you need to pick and choose from a variety of pieces listed in the same place. Read everything, give them the information they need, and then you can purchase your item and enter your shipping information. The seller will ship directly to you, usually within a week for ready-made items and longer for custom work. Once you’ve gotten your item, you can leave feedback about the seller about how wonderful (or not wonderful) they are.

If you’re crafty and want to set up an Etsy shop to sell your stuff, it’s just as easy as setting up an account to buy. You can set up your store for free, then Etsy will charge you fees as you list items for sale and as people use the site to make purchases. You do need to choose what kind of payment you can accept – PayPal and credit card purchases are the easiest for your potential buyers.

How Is It Useful?

Etsy isn’t ‘just another place to buy crafts online.’ They are trying to help independent crafters and small businesses of all sorts to be part of the global marketplace, pushing their reach around the world. As Etsy’s About page says, “Etsy is the world’s handmade marketplace. Our mission is to empower people to change the way the global economy works. …We are bringing heart to commerce and making the world more fair, more sustainable, and more fun.” If how and why an item is made is important to you, then Etsy is the place to go.

Help & Resources

Try One New Thing – Our 1st Anniversary Post

As we finish out June, we are also finishing up the first year of Learning for Life Online. For anyone who’s been reading along since the beginning: thank you. I’m going to work hard to make the second year of LLO as fun and fascinating as the first.

For our 50th post, I’d like to challenge you to choose one of the tools or services we’ve looked this past year and sign up for it or try it out. Pick something that intrigued you but you never got around to it, or something that looked ridiculous and you want to see if you were just missing something. Doesn’t matter how big or small a thing it is – just do it. Review the basics of playing with a new online tool or playing with a new gadget and remember to have fun!

Try One New Thing and play around with it for the month of July. As you try it, comment on this post with your experience or thoughts, and any suggestions you have for using it.

Rather than make you go back through the past year to look for your one new thing, here’s a quick reference list:

It takes time to make a social tool a part of your life, including your life online. Whatever you choose to do, give it to the end of July and then see what you think of it. Let us know here if your opinion has changed, and how.

Thank you all again for following along, and enjoy your One New Thing! See you in July…

Scan It! – Mobile grocery shopping

Grocery shopping seems like the last place you’d be living life online, but new mobile apps are making it easier than ever to pick a few things up from the store.

Mobile shopping inside the store

Stop & Shop's ScanIt! appStop & Shop’s ScanIt! mobile app (iPhone & Android) lets you scan and check out using your smartphone, expanding the existing service using a store-provided scanner. With the smartphone version, you need to type in your Stop & Shop loyalty card number when you set up the app. Then, show up at the store, grab a basket or cart, and just start walking around. When you see an item you want, take a picture of the barcode with your smartphone and it’s automatically added to your virtual cart. Put the item in your real cart and continue until you’ve got everything on your list.

While you’re walking around, you’ll also get notifications of special deals available for items nearby on the shelves. Yes, it can feel a little creepy, but it might also give you a reason to actually try that new mustard that looked so tasty while you were grabbing the relish next to it.

To check out, go to a self-service checkout station and scan another barcode there. The app sends your virtual cart over to the checkout station, lets you add any items that didn’t have barcodes or need weighing, and then finish up and pay. You never have to take the items out of your basket or cart, which is a real time-saver for big trips.

Mobile shopping outside the store

Most supermarkets now have some kind of online shopping service, either for delivery or to pick up in the store. You visit the store’s website, place your order, pay for it with a credit card, then set up a time to get it.

Earlier this year, Peapod & Giant Foods combined the mobile scanning and online purchasing tools for an ad campaign in Philadelphia. At commuter rail stops and bus stops, they put up billboard ads that featured photos of popular items, with QR-style barcodes next to each one. While standing and waiting for your train, you scan the items you need and set up a time to have them delivered to your home or office. Simple, and brilliant.

In May, Peapod took it one step further and opened an entire virtual store in an unused subway tunnel in Chicago. I’m sure they got that idea from international supermarket company Tesco’s virtual store in a major downtown subway station in South Korea. Rather than just a few items, entire sections of the store are available to scan and buy.

List-making and coupon-information only

Peapod / Stop & Shop seem to be the only store in the US offering a full mobile shopping experience, but other stores have apps too. These apps send you weekly or daily deals, let you create a shopping list, and sometimes put that list in the order you’d find the items as you walk around the store. Definitely useful, but not quite as cool as doing the whole thing online.

How Is It Useful?

Stop & Shop’s ScanIt! streamlines the entire shopping experience by making you touch every item just once: you take it off the shelf, scan it, put it in a bag in your cart, and you’re done. One of the biggest hassles of grocery shopping – loading, unloading, and reloading a cart – is reduced from three steps to one, saving you lots of time on each trip.

Using your mobile device to order grocery deliveries lets you do that wherever you are, whenever you have time, not just when you’re sitting in front of a computer. Imagine combining two errands: waiting at the doctor’s office, you set up your grocery delivery for the following night. Especially if you often buy the same products, app-based online shopping is a breeze.

The other mobile apps still help speed up shopping by letting you create your entire shopping list ahead of time (maybe in that same doctor’s office), so that when you get to the store you’re ready to go. All that, plus the automatic notices of coupons and weekly specials, make for a much easier time all around.

Help & Resources

Tips for Safe Online Shopping

Whether you’re supporting small businesses, creating custom gifts or buying ebooks, music or anything else, it’s important to keep yourself and your personal information safe. Fortunately, it’s not all that hard to do.

Easy Steps

  • Almost all online purchases require using a credit card. For added safety, use one credit card just for online purchases. Set a very low purchase limit (say, $200) to minimize risk. You could also buy a cash card from Visa or American Express to use for very small purchases.
     
  • Do not use your debit card/bank card unless you absolutely have to. This protects your bank account.
     
  • Work with well-known companies. Real-world stores also have online ordering – you know they’re legitimate businesses. Other safe bets are Amazon, Zappos (shoes, bags, clothing & more) and Audible for downloadable audiobooks.
     
  • S is for Security: When you’re buying from a website and you click on Check Out, look for the letters “https://” in the website’s address. That “s” means that it’s more secure for your personal information. You can also look for a little padlock on the page or near the website address.
    httpsPadlock
     
     
  • Don’t click on links in email. Visit the store’s website directly and then enter in any catalog or discount codes at checkout.
     
  • Know the full cost of what you’re buying, including shipping and handling charges, fees and tax (if applicable). What looks like a deal might not be after you add it all up.
     
  • Read the details for cost, shipping, delivery dates, and any other steps along the way. Take your time and understand what you’re doing.
     
  • Read the return policy. Some stores like Zappos and Lands End have excellent return policies.
     
  • Never give out bank information, Social Security numbers or your birthdate. No legitimate business will ever ask for these – they don’t when you stand at the cash register, do they?
     
  • Don’t use a public computer for making purchases. Someone might be looking at your screen as you type in your credit card number, or might have done something to the computer to record what you type.
     
  • Keep records of your online transactions & check your statements. Save the emailed receipts from the sellers and check your credit card statement online more often than once a month. This will help in case something does go wrong.

Next Steps

  • Protect your computer from malicious software from fake vendors. Install anti-virus software and keep it updated – new viruses come up all the time.
     
  • When you buy from smaller companies, look for a physical address, customer service phone number and lots of information on the “About” page. Lots of details improves the chances that it’s a real business and not a scam.
     
  • Use a third-party payment service for your online buying. PayPal is the most well-known and trusted of these. Create an account with PayPal, store your credit card information there, then use your PayPal account to make purchases at other sites. This way, you don’t have to give your credit card number to all those smaller sites – just to PayPal.
     

Help & Resources

Make it Personal – Creating Custom Gifts Online

Last week, we took a side trip into supporting small, independent artisans and business folk online. This week, we’ll continue to gift-giving theme and look at ways to create personalized objects of all sorts.

What Is It?

It used to be that if you wanted to personalize a t-shirt or mug, you had to use expensive silk-screening to do it. Custom-printed holiday cards were only for the well-off, and publishing your own photobook wasn’t even an option. Now, electronic text, digital images and online business transactions have made highly-customizable cards and gifts easy and relatively inexpensive. We are all creators of content, and now we can share it more broadly than ever.

Remember SmugMug from our online photo post? Use their printing service to showcase your favorite photos through prints, puzzles, photomugs and other personalizable gifts. You can even print professional-looking photo books through SmugMug using Blurb, a photo-publishing platform. CafePress and Zazzle also offer custom-printing using your own designs and images.

Lulu (mentioned last week and in one of our ebook posts) will also let you print photo books, as well as calendars and text-based books. Rather than a simple “family letter” in the holiday card, send a photobook of the year in review. Share memories from a child’s year as a calendar for the next, or print your own poetry or family stories and send them to everyone.

Moo initially made their name by offering minicards – trendy mini-sized calling cards with individualized designs or photos – but now stand out by letting you create sets of cards or stickers with a different image on every one. Think of the possibilities!

If custom printing is more your speed, you’ve got a wide array of sources to choose from. VistaPrint or Next Day Flyers will take any text you input (or upload) and print it on business cards, stationery, greeting cards, sticky note pads and more. MakeStickers.com works on a similar platform to make custom stickers just for you.

There are many, many more options out there for creating unique, personalized gifts and cards out there. Just use your favorite browser to search for “custom [whatever you want to make]” and see what’s there.

Next week, we’ll have a short post on good ideas for safely purchasing items online, and then in December we’ll get back to our regular pattern of a new kind of tool each week. Thanks for reading, and enjoy!

Supporting Small Businesses, Online

This fall, we’ve seen a lot in the news about the need to support smaller local businesses and stop buying from large, impersonal corporations. Not everyone can occupy a downtown area, but there are things anyone can do, even online.

What Is It?

It’s easy for small, independent businesses to create a website and sell their productions online (like bunny slippers), but there are services that bring together hundreds of sellers and makes it simple for us to buy from them. Rather with struggling with their own sites or giant multipurpose clearinghouses, sellers can just set up an online shop and go. The service handles the website maintenance, the purchase transaction and possibly even the printing, and the sellers can focus on creating neat stuff.

Etsy is a “marketplace for buying & selling all things handmade,” and it gives artisans a place of their own on the internet. Creators put up their wares for sale, Etsy handles the money transactions, and then the crafters ship the products. Check out a few examples to see what’s available: Fancy Tiger craft supply, Grandma Flies a Broom vintage & antiques, Tiny Warbler children’s toys, Rocky Top Studio photography prints & cards, Have It Sweet confections, and many more.

Lulu.com is a self-publishing business and marketplace for creatives of all sorts. They use Lulu’s tools to format their content and turn it from electronic files into print, CD, DVD, calendars and reports, then sell their items directly through Lulu. The old “vanity press” is a thing of the past, and self-publishing is a way of the future.

CafePress and Zazzle offer a similar service for folks who want to sell merchandise to promote a band, company, event, online comic strip or anything they can think of. T-shirts, mugs, calendars, CD covers and gifts of all sorts are available.

Threadless takes a slightly different twist. Artists and designers upload their submissions and Threadless members take a week to vote on the designs. When an idea wins, it’s printed onto a T-shirt, bag, iPhone case, and more. Often edgy, Threadless t-shirts are perfect for the eclectic freethinker in your life. A related site is Society 6, showcasing artists from around the world and offering their art as prints, device cases and shirts.

New to the scene, Spoonflower makes quilters and fabric crafters around the country swoon. You can upload an image or design to their site and they will custom-print fabric for you. They also sell fabric designed by others, for whatever project suits your fancy.

Try It Out

Take a look at a few of the sites above and find a few things that interest you. You can use your favorite search engine to go looking for things you might want to buy. When you find a site, read the “About Us” section to learn more about the business you’re buying from. You’ll be surprised how many small, mom & pop type stores are now online and doing well.

Next week, we’ll look at some personalizable gift resources, and share some tips and tricks for safely purchasing items online. Stay tuned…

eBooks – Reading on Other Devices

Last week, we introduced eBooks and eReaders. Today, we’ll look at what’s needed to read ebooks on other devices. After a quick look at some free independent ebook apps, I’ll go into detail about the Kindle apps, using them as an example for how many of these services work.

Independent ebook apps

There are hundreds of ebook apps available through the app stores and markets of whatever device you own. A few of the more popular ones are:

  • Stanza for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch
  • Aldiko for Android phones and tablets
  • eReader for many devices
  • Overdrive for ebooks checked out from your local library (many devices)

Most of these apps are easy to use – all you need to do is follow the steps on the screen. They also work similarly to Kindle apps, which I’ll describe next.

Something a little different is Ibis Reader: a web-based, app-less service that you can access from any computer or mobile device. You simply create an account (by typing in an email address and choosing a password) and you can upload any ePub or PDF format ebooks, or choose from hundreds of freely-available ebooks from FeedBooks.

Kindle ebooks

Originally, you could only read Amazon Kindle ebooks on the Kindle itself. Over the years, Amazon has added Free Kindle Reading apps so you can read Kindle ebooks on your computer or laptop, on your smartphone or other mobile device, and on your tablet (like an iPad). Now, you don’t even need to own a Kindle to use the Kindle Reading apps.

Before you can use any of the Kindle apps, you must have an Amazon account. Visit Amazon’s website and find any link that says “New customer? Start here.” Click the link and follow the instructions on the screen. You will have to provide your email address and a credit card number for buying ebooks. Remember, you can use a dedicated credit card for your online purchases if you want to.

Like all apps, Kindle apps are small programs that let you read your Kindle ebooks on whatever device you’d like. You can download the app either from Kindle’s app page or from the app store on your mobile device or tablet. Once downloaded, open the app and it will walk you through the steps to sign in using your Amazon account. After that, just find an ebook you want, purchase it, then open up the Kindle app on your device and choose that title to download and read. Easy!

The latest innovation from Amazon is the Amazon Cloud Reader. This web app lets you read your Kindle ebooks in either the Chrome or Safari web browsers. (The Cloud Reader doesn’t work with Internet Explorer or Firefox.) If you remember how the cloud works, this app means that you don’t have to download the ebook you want to read – you can just store it on Amazon’s Cloud drive and read it anywhere, from any computer. This is useful if you are borrowing someone’s machine or using a tablet or other device that doesn’t have an app yet.

Nook ebooks

Not to be left behind, Barnes & Noble’s Nook ebooks can also be read on different devices, though they don’t have the web app for any internet browser. Just like with the Kindle ebooks, you do need a Barnes & Noble account before you can set up the apps and download books. Also just like Kindle, you don’t need to own a Nook to use Nook ebooks – just find your preferred device on the list and download the app today!

Kobo ebooks

If you have a Kobo account, you can also read your Kobo books on your iPhone, Android phone, Blackberry and Palm Pre using a Kobo app.

iBooks on Apple products

Apple’s iBooks works on any Apple mobile device (iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch) and can read both ePUB and PDF formats. It does not work on Apple computers and laptops. You purchase books to read through the iBookstore with the same account you use for iTunes and the App Store.

How Is It Useful?

In our previous lesson, we mentioned a man who never finished a book because he’d lose them 50 pages from the end. Now, he can purchase one ebook from Amazon and read it on his Kindle, on his laptop, on his work computer and on his phone. That same book is always with him, wherever he goes, and he never loses his place or the book itself. He can take notes in a reference book on his Kindle, then bring those highlighted sections up during a work meeting on his laptop’s screen. When he’s standing in line at the Motor Vehicle office, he can read the next few pages of the novel he’s working through…or maybe more. No matter where he is, his library of ebooks is there with him, ready to be read at a moment’s notice.

What isn’t useful about this?

Help & Resources

Buying and Downloading….Anything, Really

In the next few weeks, we’ll switch from talking about online audio & video to discussing ebooks – a topic getting more popular every day. To bridge the gap between them, let’s look at how you can buy and any kind of media online. For a refresher, go back and read the LLO post on what downloading is.

Note: In this lesson, we’re going to focus on buying and downloading to a computer (either PC or Mac). Our upcoming lesson on ebooks will include buying directly from your ereader device.

The Basics

You might be looking for music in iTunes or Amazon, getting an ebook from Amazon or Barnes & Noble or purchasing directly from a band or an author using a site like Bandcamp or Lulu. The source really doesn’t matter, since buying from most of these services follow the same basic steps:

  1. Find the item you’d like to buy
  2. Click on “Buy Now” or “Purchase” or “Download,” or whatever button is the page
  3. Create an account with that service, if required. Enter your email address and choose a password that you’ll remember. Look for any ticky boxes that you can uncheck to choose not to receive special promotions or email from this service.
  4. Enter your billing information: credit card number, billing address, etc.
    Many of these tools will let you pay using PayPal or another online payment service. If you have a PayPal account, great! Use that and you won’t have keep entering your billing information. However, it’s not necessary – you can usually just pay with a credit card.

    Safety & Security Tip: If you are concerned, get a credit card to use just for online purchases. You can set a very low purchase limit – $200, say – to minimize any risk. This is especially good for buying from smaller, less well-known companies. You could also buy a Visa cash card or something similar, to use for very small purchases.

  5. Complete the order – you’ll usually get a receipt emailed to you
  6. Download
    If prompted, click on a “Download” link to start the actual downloading process. This might also start automatically.
    At this point, you’ll probably be asked to save the file(s) somewhere on your computer. You can save it to the Downloads folder or to your Desktop, or to a folder you’ve set up for media downloads. Sometimes, the downloader will suggest the right place for the file, but sometimes you’ll need to change the save location to the correct folder. Don’t be too worried by this – you can usually go back and fix things later if they aren’t quite right.
  7. Enjoy!
    Once you’ve downloaded the files, you should just be able to double-click on them to play or read them in the appropriate program. Sometimes you will need to save the files to that program (such as moving music files over to iTunes or your music library software). Just find the files you saved and drag it over the program folder, or whatever folder that program stores its files in. Drop the files into the program folder and you’re done.

Don’t worry – this is one of those things that’s confusing the first time you do it, but gets easier with practice. The most important step is to remember where you downloaded the files to. As long as you know where those are, you can sort out any problems later.

iTunes

iTunes is probably the easiest service to buy from, because it really does do everything for you. Simply open up iTunes on your computer, visit the iTune Store, find the items you want, click on “Buy,” enter your iTunes account information, and then iTunes does the rest. It will automatically save the files to the right places, and you can play them as soon as they’ve downloaded.

Amazon

Amazon is the next easiest service to buy from, because it does nearly everything automatically. Just visit the Amazon website, find whatever it is you want to purchase, click on the orange “Buy” button and enter your account information. The one difference is that Amazon asks you to set up the Amazon Downloader, a program that manages all your Amazon music downloads for you. The Downloader will save the files to the right place, especially if you use iTunes as your music library, and then you can play your audio from iTunes with no problems.

Amazon’s ebooks are designed to be read on their Kindle ereader, but you can also get a Kindle app to read them on a computer. Follow the instructions on the page to learn more about using this service.

eBooks & Audiobooks

Barnes & Noble
Audible (audiobooks only; now owned by Amazon)
Kobo Books (ebooks only)
eBooks.com (ebooks only)
Archive.org – a free site that works the same way as the paid sites

These sites all work similarly to Amazon, but without the Downloader or a Kindle app to help you manage your files.

Direct From the Creator

Many musicians, bands, authors and other creators will sell their work directly from their own website, usually using a service like:

Music & Audio
CDBaby
Bandcamp
Digstation
ReverbNation (also added to our list of music library services and internet radio sources)

Self-Publishing for Authors, Poets & Photographers
Lulu
Blurb
XLibris

All of these services also work similarly to Amazon, though you do need to move the files around yourself.

Help & Resources