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BMOW Store Gets a Major Remodeling

Just in time for the holiday shopping season, the BMOW store has been completely rebuilt using an entirely new technology platform! This brings an armload of major improvements, including new payment and shipping options, the restoration of Australia and New Zealand shipping, and overall much improved features and stability. This is something that’s been on my to-do list for years, but I kept putting it off, as there was always something more urgent. My procrastination continued until the old store mysteriously imploded on the night before Thanksgiving, leaving BMOW unable to process any new orders. Ouch.

The Store Died, Sorry

Some time on November 23rd or 24th, the old store’s payment processing quietly stopped working. There were no errors or other problem indications, except a mysterious lack of new orders and a large number of abandoned shopping carts. I didn’t notice anything was wrong until late night just before Thanksgiving as I was making pie. I found that customers could begin the checkout process, enter their payment details, and see the final order review page. But when they clicked the button to submit their order, it redirected them to a blank page. No visible error, nothing in the logs, but no payment was made, no order was submitted.

Unfortunately there was no one I could ask for help; I needed to solve the problem myself. I’ve done it before when something unexpectedly broke, sifting through logs, updating plugins, patching PHP files, changing security settings, or increasing server memory limits and timeouts. The old BMOW store is an awkward collection of cheap and free components, including a generic web hosting plan (Dreamhost), content management software (WordPress), e-commerce software (Woocommerce), a variety of different WordPress and Woocommerce plugins, and a payment gateway plugin (PayPal Express Checkout, from the PayPal for Woocommerce plugin). This system frequently breaks at unexpected times, when one of these components gets automatically updated, or a database table grows too large, or an external dependency changes. But I’m responsible for keeping it all working, and that’s not really a job I want to have.

I sunk many hours into troubleshooting this problem unsuccessfully. The logs didn’t reveal any errors or obvious failures. Dreamhost couldn’t help, beyond suggesting that I update everything to the latest versions. This is a double-edged sword in the land of WordPress, because updates are often needed to fix security issues or other problems, but they’re also the most common source of problems. When you’re relying on a dozen different components, and you update one of them, the others might not be happy.

After a frantic late night, I finally managed to fix the problem temporarily on Thanksgiving morning, by eliminating the order review step entirely. But it was now glaringly clear how much risk I was facing by depending on this fragile technology stack with nobody to maintain it but me.

Problems With The Old Store

Even if the old store had continued working OK, it just wasn’t great for customers or for me and Lea. On the customer side, it was very slow and sluggish. Submitting an order would sometimes lead to a 500 internal server error, or a payment made but no order recorded, or two orders for a single payment. Something about shipping options didn’t work correctly, so I was forced to limit customers to a single shipping method instead of offering a choice. The order confirmation and shipping confirmation emails sometimes didn’t work.

And then there was PayPal. The old store only offered a single payment processor, PayPal, which some customers simply hate and refuse to use. PayPal used to offer an option for credit card payments without creating a PayPal account if you didn’t want to, but that seems to have disappeared and now a PayPal account is required for making any kind of payment. Another drawback was the lack of payment integration – customers needed to leave the BMOW site in order to enter payment info at the PayPal site, before returning to the BMOW site for final order review.

PayPal also made it strangely difficult to edit the shipping address. If the customer already had a PayPal account, it would auto-populate the shipping address with their saved address, with no option to change it except by cancelling the order in progress and visiting PayPal preferences. Moved recently, or shipping to an alternate address? Too bad. PayPal’s address validation was also weirdly broken. I’ve had countless orders where people omitted required parts of their shipping address like the building number, city name, or state/territory name.

On the back end, searching for and updating customers’ order records was slow and awkward. Some apparently basic features were not included, like embedded the tracking number into the shipment confirmation email. I had to implement that myself with some custom coding. And while this may not be a fair criticism, the old store simply took orders but offered nothing towards managing shipping. I used a separate third-party shipping solution (Shippo), with a custom-made C# tool to gather the Woocommerce data, process it as needed, generate packing slips and invoices, and purchase and print the postage labels from Shippo.

Hello Shopify!

Shopify is a very popular solution for running e-commerce stores, and I’d already made up my mind long ago to try Shopify when I was ready to update the store. Shopify replaces the entire technology stack of the old store: Dreamhost, WordPress, Woocommerce, plugins, PayPal, and Shippo. It’s a cloud-based solution, so Shopify actually runs your store on their servers, using DNS magic to make it appear under your domain name as part of your regular web site.

Unfortunately Shopify isn’t exactly cheap, at $79/month for the plan I would probably need. But after all the pains experienced with the old store, I decided the money was well worth it. And now that I’ve dug into Shopify’s details further, I think the net cost may be much less than $79/month, thanks to lower fees for credit card processing and shipping than I was paying before. In fact, I may actually see a net savings from switching. Wow!

I was able to create and configure the new Shopify store in one very long day. So far I’m extremely pleased and impressed with what I’ve seen. Everywhere I look, from the theme designs to the order processing and back-end reporting, I find great new features that are a huge step up from what the old store provided. I should have made this switch long ago.

What’s New

The new store looks completely different from the old one, but the customer-facing changes are more than just a facelift. Here’s a tour of what’s new:

New Payment Options – The store uses Shopify Payments, which seems to be a rebranded Stripe. It allows for a dozen different payment methods, including credit cards and others like Apple Pay. It’s all directly integrated into the store, with no separate account needed. Basically it just works. GOODBYE PAYPAL! I will not miss you at all. But PayPal is still an option for anyone who wants it.

New USA Shipping Methods – For customers in the USA, instead of one-size-fits-all shipping, you now have a choice of Standard (3-4 day) or Economy (5-8) day shipping. For the moment these correspond to USPS Priority and USPS First Class Mail, but that may change in the future. If you want to save a few bucks on shipping and are willing to wait slightly longer, now you have that choice.

Free USA Shipping – Orders over $150 to destinations in the USA will now ship free. Hooray!

New International Shipping Methods – Worldwide DHL and UPS shipping is here! This is a big change, and I’m excited and slightly nervous. These new shipping methods aren’t cheap, at around $50 for most destination countries, but they should be faster and much more reliable. Higher tiers of USPS international service are now available too, including Priority Mail International and Priority Mail Express International. USPS First Class Package International Service remains an option too, and is the lowest cost international shipping method. FCPIS is sometimes great, and you can typically get a package delivered in a week to destinations like Canada, France, or UK. But sometimes FCPIS experiences wild delays with months passing in shipping purgatory without any updates to the tracking info. This is very frustrating for both customers and for me.

I hesitate to call any of these new international shipping methods “express shipping”, because there’s still a few days of order processing time before BMOW can fulfill your order, no matter how fast the actual shipping may be. Our fabulous office specialist Lea normally works three days per week, so the processing time is 1-2 business days in most situations.

The shipping fee for international orders is also now calculated based on the actual carrier cost, plus a small handling fee for the extra work that these orders involve. This is an improvement over the old pseudo-flat-rate pricing scheme for international shipping, which lumped everything into a few broad categories based on weight tiers and geographic region.

Australia and New Zealand Shipping – US postal service FCPIS shipments to Australia and New Zealand have been suspended for the past two months, due to some unspecified “carrier disruptions” related to COVID-19 and global supply chain problems. The introduction of new shipping methods means that BMOW can once again serve customers in those countries. Woo-hoo! Australia Post’s ShopMate USA service also remains an option for customers looking for the cheapest Australian shipping, although the service will reportedly be phased out next year. We hope that FCPIS service to these countries will become available again soon, but until then, these are good alternatives.

Better Tracking – Improved package tracking and notifications are one of the many other improvements made possible by the new store. For international shipments, DHL and UPS will provide much more timely and detailed tracking information than FCPIS. And for customers everywhere, you’ll get email notifications not just when your package is shipped, but also when it’s out for delivery. There’s even an option to get notifications on your phone by text message.

Tour The New Store Today!

The new BMOW store is live and taking orders now at Give it a try! For the moment, both the old store and new store are running and accepting orders, so I can monitor what’s happening at the new store and ensure everything goes smoothly. All the store links are still pointing to the old store, so you’ll need to enter the URL directly (or click the link in this paragraph) to visit the new store. Eventually I’ll retire the old store and set up redirection links for each of the product pages to the new store. If you try the new store, please let me know how the experience goes. What are your thoughts on the visual design and page layout? Any issues with order processing or payments? Thanks for your feedback!

Read 6 comments and join the conversation 

6 Comments so far

  1. Jon S - November 28th, 2021 7:18 pm

    It looks like the new website is having problems with PayPal (at least for me). When I click “Complete Payment” after selecting PP, I see “You do not have permissions to make this API call”.

  2. Steve - November 28th, 2021 7:28 pm

    Thanks for the report! You’re right, I see the same API error when trying PayPal from the new store’s checkout. I’ll see if I can find the cause, meanwhile credit card payments should work.

  3. Steve - November 28th, 2021 9:00 pm

    Now I’m questioning whether I want to support PayPal in the new store. From the customer’s viewpoint, when would you prefer to use PayPal instead of Shopify Payments? (supports Visa, Mastercard, AMEX, Discover, JCB, Diner’s Club, Elo, Shop Pay, Apple Pay, Google Pay, Facebook Pay)

    For a $100 transaction, PayPal would charge me $1.09 more in fees than Shopify Payments. It would reintroduce the problems with redirecting off-site to complete a payment, and also PayPal’s difficulty of changing the shipping address while checking out.

    The only possible advantage I can see for PayPal is that it might be easier for some customers in Europe. While payment by credit card is normal in the United States, I think in Europe it’s more common to make payments by bank transfer. PayPal might support this better, if a customer in Europe doesn’t have a credit card or if they find it cumbersome to use a credit card. Anybody from Europe want to offer an opinion about this? Is Apple Pay / Google Pay a viable alternative in this case?

  4. Steve - November 28th, 2021 10:35 pm

    Did some research on this, and it seems that PayPal is extremely popular for online purchases, many people are just more comfortable making an online purchase through PayPal than with giving their credit card info. So I would probably be foolish to exclude PayPal. I’ve temporarily disabled PayPal for the new store until I can resolve this API error, but anyone who wants to use PayPal before then can still place orders through the original store at

  5. Steve - December 2nd, 2021 1:08 pm

    PayPal is now working in the new store, for anyone who prefers it for payments.

  6. Ken - December 11th, 2021 5:00 pm

    How about Stripe?

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