Best tools for setting up online store for CSA-type produce business?
January 23, 2013 1:04 PM   Subscribe

You have an online store where customers pay in, say, monthly subscriptions. The customers are able to manage their account online. You also sell a few other items as one-offs via a webstore. None of this requires shipping as your customers pick up in person. What sorts of programs are you using? How do you deal with credit cards? What should this all cost? Any opinions about programs such as Member Assembler, CSAware, Farmigo or DeliveryBizPro?

The CSA is pre-existing and would like to shift to an online system for managing accounts and allowing the members to manage their own accounts--payments happen face to face primarily via cash or check at this point. So our fees are low, but also the barrier to joining is high. The ease of online signup would hopefully increase membership.

We'd also like to set up a webstore for single purchase items.

There are a few web-based programs out there that are happy to take 2% of our sales in exchange for putting this all online. No start up cost, but it seems like it would get costly over time. We are currently building a new website, so now is the time to integrate all of this.
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
No particular expertise, but as a user Farmigo is a big part of the reason we dropped our CSA membership with a local farm. I could go into detail, but there's a ton about the interface that just became too much of a hassle.

I've brought this thread to the attention of MeFi's own ewagoner, who's behind
posted by straw at 1:42 PM on January 23, 2013

Hi there! I would look first at Member Assembler. The fellow that wrote it, Simon, is a friend of mine and is very good at what he does. His Small Farm Central really set the standard for getting small farms online. He previously managed a large CSA in Colorado, and built Member Assembler out of personal experience.

I wrote out of my own necessity of getting my farm and farmers market online, and it is focused on a market model. There are a number of farms who run customizable CSAs using my system, however. It sounds like yours is a more traditional CSA model, so I don't think my system would be the best fit.

I have heard other people, both farmers and customers, express frustration at Farmigo. I don't know anyone actually using CSAware at all, but it came out of LocalHarvest and is trustworthy, at the very least.

Pricing is a tricky thing. Member Assembler uses a flat monthly price, and that seems appropriate for traditional CSAs. My system is percentage-based, since my costs scale directly with sales volume.
posted by ewagoner at 2:13 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I work for a raw milk dairy on weekends. Raw milk is illegal to sell in CO, so there is a membership model in place (members own shares in the herd, pay for us to take care of the cows, pick up milk weekly at dropsites). We also have cheese, eggs, grass-fed meat, etc. that members can order online for pickup.

We started using Farmigo a couple of years ago. It doesn't fit our needs exactly, but it works and they have been very willing to work with us. Online signup is easy. We get mixed reviews from users - some of them love it, some of them don't. I don't think there is any way to please everyone. Some people love to manage their own accounts online and some want you to do everything.
posted by caryatid at 2:31 PM on January 23, 2013

Oh yeah, you wanted to know about credit cards. Through Farmigo, we can accept credit cards, direct monthly withdrawal from a checking account (not sure of the technical term for this), autopay that the member sets up from their checking account, or Pay Pal.

For in-person payments we currently use Square for credit cards, but this is only when the person accepting payment is willing to use their own smartphone (if they have a smartphone. I don't). If we accept check or cash payment in person (we are trying to get away from this) it has to be entered into Farmigo manually. We are considering getting tablets for all pickup locations to enable this to happen in real time.
posted by caryatid at 2:40 PM on January 23, 2013

So I sent a couple of the reasons I was annoyed by Farmigo another channel, that included:
  • We thought we'd removed things from our cart, got them in our weekly box, went back and they were back in the cart.
  • The constant amount billing was horribly annoying, we'd always end up with some silly left-over amount, and it was impossible to look back at our Visa bill and say "oh, yeah, that's when we bought...". I'm not sure what they were doing on the back-end, but when we bought extra stuff at the farm on account we'd end up with some multiple of weeks billing.
  • Navigation sucked. I had to go back and find the email that our farm sent us every time I wanted to change things because everything my browser remembered sent me somewhere completely unhelpful.
  • I seem to remember that the logout cookie was also annoyingly short.
It's probably been a year or so, so I don't remember all the details, but I do know that it was a big part of going from "yeah, local farmer, doing good stuff" to "oh, crap, we have to deal with that nightmare interface, is it really worth the extra hassle to do the CSA box?" It became a big check on the "less convenient than Whole Foods" side of the balance sheet, and eventually that side outweighed the "we're doing good by spending more" feeling.

And then was just about to send the following as follow-up, and realized it could probably all go here:

One of the problems with Farmigo was that silly 3 day window in which to change orders. It's fine that I have 4 (or whatever) days of headway to change my order for this week, but if I know that I want to change it for next week I have to wait 'til the weekend (when I might be out of town...), and remember to get online, so it was easier to use the "on vacation" tool, and then I realize how much easier it was to not pick up anything that week, and then I start casually using the on-vacation tool...

...and eventually I get a call saying "hey, we noticed you were on vacation 'til 2017, was that intentional?" and I say "yes, and you should probably just cancel my membership".

Whatever tool you switch to, it should make your customer's experience better than it is right now. More than yours. I think a good way to judge this is: Would you use the tool if the customer called you directly to make a change? If it's not a better interface for keeping track of customer stuff than what you're using now even just for you, don't switch to it.
posted by straw at 7:07 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I work with organic produce delivery companies all over- I don't want to be all spammy, so send me a message sometime if you want to chat.

Completely agree with straw- it's nice if you can find a system that will make your life easier, but it ABSOLUTELY must make your customers' experience better. Don't settle for something that could cost you customers because it's not easy for them to use.

Your online presence is a big part of your overall 'product', and even if you have the most amazing produce or groceries, your customer service is exceptional, and you do everything else right, if you don't have an easy simple way for customers to shop and give you money it can really hurt. So ya, make sure you don't adopt a new system just because it makes your life easier.
posted by waynej at 9:50 AM on January 24, 2013

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