Posts Tagged ‘Internet’

The demise of offline shopping

Well in case you’ve been living in a cave for the past 6 months or so, we’re in a recession, and it seems a big one! People I hear are staying away from watching the news, just afraid of what more bad news it may bring… Every time I go out to do some shopping, I’m reminded of the fact by the ever increasing numbers of shops displaying “closing down sale!” banners. With Woolworth being the first of the lot, more and more stores are facing closure due to decreased demand for anything  really; household goods, clothes, shoes etc.  People have diminished confidence when it comes to spending money; and that is what this economy really needs at the moment. If everybody hoards their money, it will be worthless. Money only has value when it is exchanged for goods or services.

So I did my bit today, going out to buy some clothes. Even though I don’t REALLY need any (according to what my mother would think – if it’s still in one piece and you can physically fit into it, it doesn’t need replacing!) and my bank balance is lower than it should be at this point during the month… But hey, the economy needs me! And I’m happy to oblige.

Although I’m a child of the “internet age” and very comfortable making online transactions, I do enjoy the activity of going out and browsing through physical stuff. Things I can touch and try on, before making a decision. Ironically, being an online entrepreneur as well, I still cannot imagine replacing the offline shopping experience with an online one. Sure you can order clothes and return them in exchange for a different size. But you still have to rely on usually fairly small pictures, in order to make your choice. And especially for girls, trying clothes on is a hugely important part of the decision making process.

But that being said, online shopping has its purpose. When trying on is not an issue (or not desirable due to hygiene considerations) I’m the first to check eBay and whatnot to see what the best deals are. And I’m not the only one. In fact many people, eager to save a few bucks, have started shopping for more and more items online. As the Telegraph writes, last year a 34% increase in online shopping was reported. As pretty much every internet-savvy person out there is aware of: online shops usually keep smaller profit margins, to pay for their much smaller overhead costs. Therefore, the real deals can be found online, no longer on the High Street. Even while I’ve known this for a while, I do catch myself getting outraged sometimes, when I’m looking for something and wander over to an actual shop, only to discover that the item costs twice as much as on some websites I’ve seen…
But to make a long story short, I believe the following – which many successful business people seem to agree with: This is a challenging time, which could open up interesting opportunities for those willing to pursue them. The number of people surfing the net, looking for various products, from clothing to shoes, electronics, CDs/DVDs etc. is set to increase further. Perhaps we will be facing a world in a few years where offline shopping has become outdated. The Ecommerce market is a crowded one to enter as a new player. But with low start up and overhead costs, what do you really have to lose. When 1000 people can survive already, what’s 1001?

And that is why, my new business is about to be launched – www.aelingerie.com –  For exclusive Lingerie, Swim wear, Club wear and fetish/alternative shoes!

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Search Engine Woes

Has anyone else noticed how when you really need some information, and you turn to a search engine (in my case mainly Google) for help, you type whatever you figure are relevant keywords, and then when you press enter, expecting to find a wealth of answers…. and you find NOTHING. All the results on the front page are crap. It seems like half your keywords have been ignored!

That’s the situation I’m finding myself in these days. Desperate to build a database for our office admin tasks, making life a little easier for me at work. And whenever I cannot figure something out, Google gives me nothing, no cooperation whatsoever!

Try searching for any problem you may face, trying to use advanced functions of Access 2007. You type it in, all you get is basic tutorials. Gone are the good old days where you could type in a phrase that expresses exactly what you need, and the first results were forum posts etc. about exactly the same problem. And below some solutions to it. But no! It’s all just Microsoft tutorials and shit now.

God I’m frustrated! Why can’t a search engine just find me the information I want? It seems they have over-tweaked their algorithm so much over the years, it filters out anything of use….

Please, somebody save me, someone suggest a search engine that DOES work. Is anybody else having these issues???

CMS Made simple?!

Today I’ve spent most of my day researching a CMS. I am in desperate need of a good, stable and easy to use CMS for two applications; my office requires a website and my boss wants to update content, and I am planning a new site myself that will focus mainly on content, rather than 100% ecommerce.

So as I started searching this morning, I came across a blog post describing 13 CMS’s that I had not yet heard of. I cannot really pinpoint why out of all of them, I opened one window for Silverstripe CMS, and another leading me to the CMS Made Simple website. I ended up looking through CMS made simple, tried out the demo install, and noticed some interesting features. For some reason I didn’t go beyond the frontpage of Silverstripe, perhaps I will look into it some other day.

Previously I have used a few Opensource CMS’s both for my own projects as well as for customers. Working as a freelancer, I was asked to do a few Mambo templates. That is how I got a little familiar with that system. I didn’t like it that much because it had many limitations and whenever I would find a module I liked, it turned out development had stopped on it and no support was given. But just like CMS made simple it was also based on PHP and MySQL. Mambo’s limitations grew me accustomed to problems having group permissions for various users, as well as some templating limitations.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that CMS made simple had inbuilt functionality for some things that were very hard to do in Mambo; Group permissions seem to be easy at first sight. I have not fully tested this yet but I will definitely do it within the next week or so. Templates are easily selected and different pages can have different templates assigned to them. I could straight away think of various situations in which I needed exactly this functionality and in the end gave up on my ideas because it was simply too difficult to do.

I was also very pleased with the fact that the inbuilt SEO Friendly URLs in CMS made simple actually work on my web hosting. Something I was not able to do on my Zen Cart site for some reason; which actually made me suspect that maybe I have Windows hosting. Clearly this is not the case because I’ve managed it with this CMS. So I have to suspect that htaccess isnt fully supported on my hosting and because CMS Made Simple has an inbuilt way of rewriting URLs through PHP (don’t ask me how; I’m not that nerdy!) it just works out of the box. Great, just what I wanted!

From what I could tell at first sight, there are many third party modules available for CMS made simple. The website has quite a comprehensive list of them. And I could find a handful already which I have downloaded and kept; a Comments feature, RSS feed, Google sitemap module, Events module etc.

Another I downloaded was osCommerce for CMS made simple. It seemed promising and I was very keen on using it but it just didn’t work at all.. So far this was the only disappointment I faced. Sure, I plan on using this system on a mainly content based site, but I will still need some ecommerce functionality. There are some other shopping cart and product catalogue modules available, and I will test them soon, so my final verdict is still pending. However, at least for my office site, which does not need an online shop, I think I will go with this CMS.

My next step will be learning how to create my own templates. That should be fun…

1-2-3 … Launch!

I realize very well that title made it sound much more exciting than it actually is; but I’ve launched my site; www.alteregouk.com. It was a silent launch (in fact, it’s been up for a week now and I haven’t told anyone yet. Just trying to get Zen cart running smoothly, troubleshoot and debug. Also, I’ve been planning my marketing strategy; how do I get Google to find a completely new site more interesting.

Furiously analyzing the data provided to me from Google Analytics and Webmaster tools. Interestingly I am already getting traffic from google; for the strangest keyword combos… apparently I rank highly for “chinese sex dolls” when searching only UK sites. surprising; I would’ve thought established sites would get the top few results pages.

My first real step in website promotion has been submitting my URL to the Zen Cart showcase. This was more effective than expected; from one day to the next I got 150 unique visitors! (Previously I had maybe 1 or 2). If only roughly 40% weren’t US based whereas my site only sells and delivers in the UK… As you can imagine I’ve had quite a few abandoned shopping carts.

People keep asking me when my site will be done. And I really can’t think of a good reply. Because anyone who operates a web based business knows this: a site is never done, it’s never complete. You always have to develop it and grow it, or it will die.

Therefore I’m still working on and on, writing content, meta tags, descriptions and keeping an eye on traffic data to see if the effort was worth it. It should be another few months before I can tell properly if my efforts paid off. And that is the very worst part of the whole process: I’m way too impatient to be able to wait and see!

One.com – Quantity vs. Quality (Hosting Review)

Ashamed to admit it, but unfortunately it’s true; I’m cheap when it comes to Hosting. Fine, so you put a couple of servers in a secure room, protect them from hackers / power cuts / internet downtime, which is quite an achievement. But I do not want to pay an arm and a leg for it!

So researching hosting providers for my latest business venture, www.alteregouk.com, brought me to my current choice for webhosting and domain names; One.com.

They have a great introductory offer for UK residents/businesses: First year basic hosting completely free. You only pay a setup fee of £9 before VAT. After that the charges are quite reasonable; £0.90 per month for the hosting, and for a domain, depending on the TLD; around £8-9 p.a.

Now this sounds quite al right as it is. Maybe a bit limiting because I used the term “basic hosting”. When I signed up I got 1gb of web space and all the database/scripting support I needed. There are some added feature in the control panel such as a blog which you can install within a few clicks and a sitebuilder which I haven’t used yet. Yet after just two weeks they upgraded the basic hosting package to 3gb of space, no extra charge.

I don’t want to sound overly positive about this hosting provider though; there are some bad bits; the control panel has some statistics functionality but I find it a little bit basic for my needs. You definitely need to install something more complex to fully track traffic on your site! Also, you can make numerous email accounts for each domain, but the mail server is quite slow! I have found delays of around 5 or 10 minutes, sometimes more, before email would reach my inbox. Also, the control panel is not  fully compatible with Firefox (my browser of choice); only Internet Explorer is supported for features like the Filemanager. Also, when you sign up for the hosting, rather than an instant detailed email; you will only receive your hosting details up to 48 hours later when the account has been activated.

But on the other hand, rather than having to open support tickets, or email Tech support, if I’m facing a problem, I simply open the Live Support chat and usually within 30 seconds, somebody will be there to help me. This is by far my favourite feature of One.com hosting!

Overall I would say, I am satisfied with this host, it is very good value for money, and they seem to have extremely helpful support staff on their Live Chat. I will definitely be a repeat customer!

E-Commerce & Me (My Zen Cart experience)

I am not new to the world of E-Commerce and IT. For years I have worked as a freelance web designer, building other people’s business websites from scratch. During that time I have also created and run multiple of my own websites, however due to circumstances outside my control, my pet project of a couple of years ago; an e-commerce website, never really took off. Basically I built it, designed it, coded everything myself, added products to it and people ordered before I even expected it! My concept was as follows: Sell Indian ayurvedic/herbal beauty products which I would source from local shops, package them and send them off to my customers.

The main issue was, that living in India at the time, I had a very hard time dealing with the post office. They somehow refused to help explain their charges for overseas shipments. Therefore I was not able to calculate the shipping rates properly. Two other problems I faced contributed to my decision of taking the site offline; 1. Product availability problems; whenever I added a particular product to the site, chances were, when the order for it came in, it was near impossible to source it because of supply issues. 2. The tiny scale on which I was operating meant I could not invest in buying packaging material in bulk, so packaging became a very time consuming and expensive affair. Bottom line: I made losses on orders that came in, took a very long time getting the products together and packaging them and faced issues with some orders getting stuck at customs.

Most online businesses abroad do not face the same issues. Shipping costs are very transparent in most of the world. Product supply is handled by a wholesaler; people would rarely buy from retail shops and sell online because they would be too expensive. Packaging might still be an issue; but even that can be solved; selling through a dropshipper rather than a wholesaler, can be more convenient because you do not need to worry about the hands-on process of getting the products packed and shipped yourself.

So because I felt quite comfortable with the idea of building and managing my own e-commerce website, a few months back I decided to give it another shot. I found a dropshipper, researched some open source shopping cart scripts (honestly; if a team of people has already done all the scripting for you, gone through various versions and upgrades, why would you reinvent the wheel all over again?!) and got started on my latest project; www.alteregouk.com

It’s always a steep learning curve, dealing with a new system. I have had to do this a couple of times already, when asked to develop templates for various content management systems during my time as a freelancer. But Zen Cart I found a little bit different. It is not as user-friendly as some of the other systems I have tried. But it seems to be quite versatile. It has quite a few options right out the box, but certain other supposedly simple tasks can be time consuming and frustrating: the configuration settings are vast and it’s easy to get lost in them. Also, the way the language system works is quite complex; there are numerous files strewn around the directory structure of the site which allow editing of various wordings and phases used on the site. It would’ve helped to have a nice user interface to allow quick&easy access to the words/sentences people most commonly want to change.

With the help of some Third Party additions to the main software; I think my online shop is taking shape quite nicely. I can add products in bulk with the help of the Easy Populate Addon, create Google XML Sitemaps with just a few clicks, display my full size product images in a neat looking hovering box

I could really only ask for one more thing; SEO Friendly URLs, but as I’m on Windows Hosting, that is never going to happen I’m afraid…

So now, after around two months of working on the website, I have over 2200 products, and am scheming my marketing campaign. My To Do list is getting shorter each day. I cannot wait to launch properly.. then play the waiting game to see if anybody actually orders! But don’t think I’ll just be sitting idle waiting for this site to take off; there are a few more ideas up my sleeve. Because in today’s online marketplace; you should definitely NOT put all your eggs in one basket!

Domain Name Goldrush

Domain name speculation has been big business for about as long as domain names came onto the free market. Any new type (TLD) has sparked a steep increase in purchases from people who simply registered whatever came to their mind; words and names that may or may not be wanted. If you get lucky, you could be rich overnight!

I have to shamefully admit that I have tried this once… A few years back when .info domains were on a special promotion; any person could freely register 20 of them and only had to pay after 1 year. So I got various 3 character letter/number combinations, and some combinations of keywords aimed at travel, gambling, air tickets etc. and put them on Sedo Parking. Good thing it was free, because I didn’t sell even one of them.

Most recently, the introduction of the “.eu” domain has sparked another gold rush, considerably bigger than the minor ones for country specific domains. Obviously, because .eu does not cover only one country but a large area with in certain cases strong association with the “European Identity”. I can imagine that companies largely selling in Europe, but not specific to one country would love a .eu domain. For exactly this reason, I contacted someone who holds the “.eu” domain of my employer’s name. It was obviously a domain registered for speculation purposes only; You open it and it displays some links and a search, which are not in any way related to the domain name itself. Also, a whois search quickly revealed that the company owning this name was located in the Bahamas!

I have just received a reply to my enquiry regarding what price they’re looking for… 888 Euro! It’s absolutely insane. And this for a name which has no real meaning, is not spelled properly even according to normal perception, and it’s not even a “.com”. Perhaps this company has invested so much in this speculative endeavour and nobody really wants their domains, that in order to cut their losses they need to charge exorbitant amounts for one single domain name…

I for one am of the opinion that this whole affair just makes domain costs spiral out of control unnecessarily. The names are expensive simply because somebody has bought all of them for no valid reason. Same way there are restrictions on registering trademarked names and phrases, there should be rules to prevent this insanity from continuing! There should be trading standards on names, based on how desirable they are, how many letters, which TLD. Not every e-cowboy should be allowed to just occupy large numbers of domain names, and sell them on to others at unjustified premiums; it borders on extortion!