Monday, March 28, 2011

eCrater: A Review for a Small Buisness

The OverviewI was recently asked to provide a review of eCrater, a free online store template that can be used to quickly setup a online store. If you haven't heard of - don't worry neither did I before I was ask for my thoughts on it.

eCrater provides a common and simple layout for offering products online. The site layout can be customized with a combination of templates (7 to choose from) and images. The images are to be provided by the store owner and can be used to represent the store logo, company name, products and categories (featured on the home site).  Additionally, eCrater also embeds its own advertising banners within the products page.

The Organization
A small tool supply company that sells products under 3 Brands. The challenges that faced were numerous as this is a small company that hosts its product information in many Excel spreadsheets - one sheet for each product and all its variations. I attempted to consolidate this product information with the goal of providing a functional example (will not take actual orders) of what they can do to quickly move to a web based order taking system.

The Process
The product catalog files had to be consolidated this involved a manual extraction, for each page of the catalog, of each product item entry. Secondly, for the purposes of eCrater’s bulk import, product images were stored to a publically accessible location which was added to the upload file. The product file was then consolidated to unique products by image which was done to ensure the file would be successfully uploaded when manually reviewed by eCrater for unique products. This consolidation resulted in 54 unique products- eCrater requires a minimum of 50 unique products for the import to be accepted. Finally, after consolidating to the unique products, a tabbed delimited file was created and uploaded to - it took 4 days to be manually processed by eCrater.

The Pains
The most frustrating experience in creating the site on eCrater was by far the Bulk List functionality. Creating a simple tab delimited text file was time consuming and uploading required several attempts. On the first attempt, I wanted to see what the site would look like with populated data. I quickly created a file for import through the eCrater "Add New Import" function of the "Bulk List/eBay Import" option. This quick test resulted in the file structure containing basic errors, such as missing the header and  formatting of quantity values and fatal errors such as length of the file ("Fatal error: Bulk file contains less than 50 products").  These errors prompted further investigation into the process which revealed several issues with the process:

  1. Each product needs to be completely unique. eCrater does not provide functionality to offer varying sizes of the same product nor does it permit multiple entries of similar products to contain the same image. This is a severe limitation for the tool supply company offers numerous variations of a particular product.
  1. Manual Review Process - Once the file is uploaded and approved by import process, a manual review process is triggered. This process took four (4) days to complete and with no notification, the uploaded products were offered online. The online forums also indicate that a site can also be deactivated without notice.
  2. Although Categorization and nesting of categories is extremely simply and easily incorporated into the bulk import file, products cannot be listed under multiple  categories. 

The Gains
As a small business where funds and technological skill are not readily available, eCrater provides for a good start to developing a online presence. The promotion tools and guidance would be a extremely valuable feature for a company attempting to create an online presence for the first time. When a site is finally up and running, the benefits of using eCrater far outweigh the cons - the primary benefit is the speed at which I was able to create a functioning site - minutes. I was able to create a subdomain, high level categories and a small number of products in minutes.  
Creating an ecommerce site on eCrater, although quick and feature rich, was too simple for a company with the need to list products with multiple specification variations as well as multiple product categories. While limitation of eCrater were reached during the sample deployment, the ease of use features, payment processing functionality and marketplace all provide significant benefit to the small business with extremely limited resources.

Hope this helps and not hinders!
-Project: ROI

The following is my approach and thoughts on the site.

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