365 Days Later, Do First Impressions Still Count?

On December 23rd, 2013, I started blogging with nothing in mind, one year later this blog is still about nothing.


Build Me a Shop: ShopBuilder.Me

The internet is a wonderful place that allows you to promote your products and services to people in the blink of an eye and achieve overnight success...well...no, not really!

If you are thinking about starting your online commerce venture any time soon, you need to be aware of many hurdles to that overnight success and the pool-side margaritas that come with it.

Deciding to build from scratch or to use a pre-existing framework (OSCommerce, Magento, Prestashop...), creating the right graphics and layout to match your identity, deciding on a payment gateway (local ones like Audi or Netcommerce or international ones like 2CO vs services like Paypal & Skrill), working with a shipping partner for tangible product sales, are just a handful of the many details that the eCommerce devil usually chooses to dwell in.

I was approached, not long ago, by the people from ShopBuilder.me who were pitching their new concept of a turnkey solution that allows anybody to be up and running with their own online shop. Their key feature: a preset platform that connects them to payment gateways and shipping partners.

I was willing to take them up on their request and, in turn, they agreed to let me run loose with my own demo access, asking me to mention the bad before the good, something rarely found in local businesses.

Here are my summarized findings:

The Good

  • The registration and account activation process is smooth and flawless.
  • The theme selection makes it super easy to personalize your shop if you are a non-techie
  • The Audi Payment gateway module is just a matter of filling some info to connect. No tricky SDK and no endless lines of code.
  • The Shipping module is also easily configured to connect to Aramex (and other suppliers soon?). Who doesn't hate filling all those zone info etc...
  • The SEO fields are available to help you in that area.
  • The excellent after-sales service: The company makes sure to follow-up with a phone call with each person undergoing a trial period to ensure everything is going nicely with them
  • It's super fast to configure just look at what I did in under an hour with pre-existing graphics I had from my blog and facebook page:  http://chemali.shopbuilder.me/

The Bad 
or rather what can be improved to make the site stand-out even more (you'll pardon my penchant for movie references)
  • The shop set-up process does not have a clear flow for someone engaging in building their shop for the first time. One needs to be familiar with the glossary of the various sections to really be able to systematically complete all fields and sections needed to end up with a shop. While this was not a particular challenge for me, I suspect the site's target audience is a bit wider than 15 year digital veterans with computer science backgrounds.
  • The navigation in the back-office is tricky. Clicking on Home will take you to the preview of your shop not to the administration home page. The administration homepage can only be accessed from the breadcrumbs menu on top. The left menu does not offer a link back to that initial page.
  • Social media integration needs to be more in-depth. It is important for some who want to make it easier for their customers on various channels to log-in using those credentials.
  • No customization of CSS (at least) for the available templates. Adding this possibility will catapult the site further.

The Ugly
or what makes the experience less pleasant without taking away from the functionality and concept.
  • In all honesty, I was initially put off by the user interface. In a time and age where Microsoft spearheaded flat design, and Google is overhauling the majority of its interfaces with the slick Material Design guidelines www.shopbuilder.me failed to deliver in design what it offered in features. With a dominating light grey background adjacent to white areas the entire design just felt like a cloudy autumn day.
  • Other design related issues include the lack of definition is obvious in the bottom grid whose top separator is overlapped by the omnipresent 14-day trial promo box on the right hand side...

  • The current template selections is not very rich and require a good deal of additional tweaks.
  • Some notifications in the back-office overlap with page design and turn in into a gooey mess

Final Thoughts

Shop Builder is a valiant effort to bring eCommerce to the masses in the most transparent way. By eliminating the tricky parts of setting up your own shop they promise the wannabe merchant a fast lane road into the market.

I am not sure how much large businesses would want to resort to using the site in its current form for selling their products, as I imagine them more concerned about having their own branding. Perhaps this is an idea for the founders to offer premium customization for large client.

However, if you are a small business, and are not ready to invest half of your capital into building an eCommerce site and doing all the leg work that comes with that, then you have just stumbled into the right solution for you.

Shop Builder might just need a bit of tweaking and dressing up but it's on the right track towards becoming a killer product for your eCommerce needs.


One Does Not Simply "Connect" from Sodetel

After having seen their promos and heard some good words about them, I wanted to check out the website for "Connect" one of the new ISPs in Lebanon.
As I sat there waiting for their www.connect.net.lb site to load, my initial thoughts were mostly skepticism about how good they are if their website was taking that long to load.

When the browser eventually gave up and gave me an error I quickly resorted to smartphone and tried to open the site. You guessed it folks, the site loaded like a charm and it it was responsive, something that other well established ISPs seem oblivious to.

Laptop via Sodetel

Smartphone via Alfa

Wanting to rule out any issue on my own wifi, I did the usual restart on my router and laptop but things were the same. It was when I asked friends from different ISP connections to try out the link that the truth became obvious.

Connect's website was exclusively inaccessible from Sodetel's DSL connection. The reason behind this issue is still unknown.

 I will not jump to any conclusion here but one cannot but wonder why from all the sites out there Sodetel's connection just won't let open that new competitor.

Update - Time: 14:25
After a Sodetel representative reached out an hour ago asking about the details of the issue and assuring it was opening normally from his end, it seems that the site is now accessible.

Update Time: 14:35
ok stop the press people, I spoke too soon and the site is again unreachable. This could be an indicator of someone working to fix the issue or some other deep rooted issues with their DNS, routing or Cache Engine.


Lebanese Comedy Act 3as3usTakes On Sensodyne Arabia Saves Youtube

Not long ago, I went on a rant on Twitter about the annoying Sensodyne Arabia Youtube videos which had been hammering us for a while. A month later, others joined in expressing their frustration and this led to my previous blog post Thoughts On Sensodyne Arabia's YouTube Ad

Today, YouTube was saved by Lebanese comedy act 3as3us . The two man comedy act of Anthony Hamawi and Shant Kabakian vented out everybody's frustration in a parody clip, where the actors took on the two effigies of the annoying Sensodyne (parodied as "SenseYourSpine") spokespersons with extreme prejudice.

Thank you to Michelle Hamaoui who pointed out the video to me and

Long live 3as3us for coming to the rescue of all of the region's YouTube users!