Posts Tagged ‘IT’ – 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,, brought me to my current choice for webhosting and domain names;

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 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;

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!