Thursday, May 23, 2013

A T-shirt Shopping Cart is a form maker and I am a form reader

Besides processing credit card information in a secure way, a shopping cart is essentially a form maker. The "Order" button allows a user to take an action, which adds bits and pieces of data into a form. Once the information is securely packaged, including the credit card information, then the data is passed through to me online. As the t-shirt sales person I read the information and either fill the order, modify the order or delete the order depending on the inventory and validity of the credit card processor response. It is helpful to have formatted data in a form that allows me to do my job like a checklist instead of like a crazed maniac trying to decipher emails filled with bad artwork and vague references to t-shirts.

The problem with a shopping cart is that if you project all of the ways in which a person can answer all of the questions that need to be answered, then most of the time the person is gone before they finish submitting the t-shirt shopping cart form. Here are two examples of mediocre forms linked to t-shirt databases. and These forms work and they are tied to a larger database of information, products and pricing. My personal opinion is that if someone simply emails me back the basic information for a potential t-shirt order, then I can confirm the order and process it without a fancy cart.

This is an example of what I typically need to process a t-shirt order:

Brand, Style Number, Color, Quantity for each size.

Repeat until complete.

Name, address, zip code, phone number for shipping, email is whoever sent it to me.

I can then make the order and create a link for processing the payment.

A shopping cart will do these functions for me, but at what cost? If I can't keep the information up to date and the formatting of the t-shirt shopping cart is too difficult, then the shopping cart will bog down the entire system. I agree that a shopping cart should take the credit card processing information, but I can arrange that separately or have a shopping cart just for people to sign up and put in their credit card data as a registered customer. Once they are in the system then I can accept formatted emails and process their orders quicker than spending all of my time building a perfect cart.

There are systems for payments that provide a secure environment to process payments, but I don't trust them any more than they trust me, like Paypal or Amazon payments and possibly a bunch of others that I haven't tried. Also there are systems to allow users to sign in through their universal login, like Facebook and so on, but I don't like my activities to be tracked so that I am constantly being hit by advertisements. It's like they are in my brain with these friggin' advertisements these days, Jeez. Stop it already. There isn't an easy answer, but if there way it would simply be send me a properly formatted email as listed above and then I can fill your order or provide a link for you to fill your order in the most efficient and affordable way possible.

The above described process makes me want to go towards Wordpress for the registration system, but Google also has some interface that may allow people to join circles and communicate in a group after registration. With Wordpress there are so many fake users that I don't even have the time to delete them all, much less their comments. With Google I may be able to allow customers to access a spread sheet and fill in their order and we know how much people love spread sheets. Still it is the communication and form that are important here, so for now I am just going to encourage that my website users look through my products and then send me a formatted email, like above, that I can quickly review and respond back with a link to place an order. It's barbaric I know, but this is a default instead of jumping from one cart and proprietary system to another.

Pretty websites vs. functional information

Everything is pretty these days and large company websites usually have smooth design elements, because they paid for them. The same thing used to be true with rock concerts, until punk rock came along. When a band was coming to town you would hear about it for weeks on the radio. The concerts were large and extravagant affairs with a little band way down on the floor for everyone to barely see while the music was blasted throughout the arena. In the Eighties small club punk rock took hold and the bands were right in your face, as well as, the flyers and posters of the upcoming shows. Around town there would be hand drawn xerox copy flyers with ransom note fonts and scribbles about random stuff that may or may not relate to the upcoming show on the flyer. These were real community affairs in that the group of people who were interested in the shows knew what was happening, without all the paid advertising.

The internet was supposed to be something like that with information and it is, sorta. Information is funneled through one main source, Google, and if you put something online then it is supposed to be able to be found if it is searched for in a specific way, which means long tail text strings that match what you have on your site. The internet also replaced the phone book in a city by city way with a national phone book.

Problems like fake web pages and spam grew as money could be made from advertising on webpages until the web itself is a phone book that anyone can own a piece of. In order for a larger company to stand out and get recognized on the web it became apparent that they needed to look better than the competition. Also the idea of branding and somehow gaining space through increased visitors could be bought through a good looking webpage also took hold. If a webpage isn't captivating, then why would people stay on it once they get there? Simultaneously web search engines like Google have become more and more complex to the point where it is like a large brain or the Wizard of Oz. The voodoo that is required to get a high ranking on a subject like Funny T-shirts is elusive to many people and companies, thereby making the challenge to have a good looking website even more compelling. My big question is whether or not a little punk rock flyer type webpage, with specific information about a specific subject would be better than a huge fancy webpage with a bunch of junk on it?

Besides the content on a webpage and speed that it loads the page is relevant, but also the popularity of a website is most likely a measure the success for indexing purposes. This is why a page that is fancy with more bells and whistles may outshine a more relevant, but less popular website when it comes to Google. I don't think the shopping cart is anything more than a problem that could negatively influence a webpage or clutter the design, so I am starting to be of the opinion that it should be hidden until it is needed. The problem that arises here is that if it is hidden on a different website than the page with the product information, then it may be a bounce from the website. A shopping cart is nothing more than a form that allows a potential customer to put in information and then that information is transferred through to the vendor for processing, like a fax, but in as data. To keep things simple I have to work on my webpage first and the shopping cart second, which should also free me up to design my webpages anyway I want, just like a punk rock flyer.

Fast T-shirts, Faster Websites

I am trying to determine the speed of some of my websites to see if text based webpages are faster. I went to a Compuware website that promised an evaluation and I am going to evaluate the speed of to a wordpress based site, and then my main website at I will post the results when them come through and reach a determination on what type of website may be the most successful format when it comes to speed. I would like to point out the Compuware itself is very slow and hasn't responded for over 5 minutes, whaddup?
5 Hours now, very slow. I did find out that one of these images makes it seem like something is happening on your website, even if it isn't.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

T-shirt website discussion - Back to basics

Screen printing is an old craft that goes waaaaaay back to the imperial dynasties of the Chinese. I am pretty sure that screen printing was used for many things that we don't even know about and still somehow we go back to these same methods today, thousands of years later. There is no shame in doing something that uses ancient techniques and now I am applying that same principle to creating a few new webpages. I am upset at not being able to decide on which shopping cart is the best for a t-shirt business and since the shopping cart is essentially the website, I have been stuck on redesigning some of my focused websites. is an example of an unresolved shopping cart problem. Today I went down and sat in Sausalito to get some inspiration for t-shirt designs that will relate to the area and decided I just need to put up a site and skip trying to make it have a uniform or modern look and just add the shopping cart later.

Without destroying all the old links, I placed a backup link to the old front page and then wrote in the most basic html ever the code for links relating to t-shirt pages that I already have up. I am not proud of the design, but I am trying to get past the smoke and mirrors of web design and just deal with the fact that all a webpage really is, is just images and text. A shopping cart is a code that links to a payment system after the fact. The fact is that the potential viewer has to find a page and see the image and the text, no more, no less. Large images are becoming dominant as if they are a design in and of themselves. Personally I like the idea of using a webpage as a gallery, but I haven't bought into a large photo as being web design.

My goal for is to develop a niche market for the local crowd and sell some printed designs that truly represent the area in order to support my boating activities in San Francisco Bay. First I need a static webpage that isn't tied to a shopping cart that has all the basic information about my designs. Keep an eye on this page as my example of a web site that will in the end be compatible with some shopping cart or credit card payment system, but the website should not have to wait for the cart, nor be committed to the cart as if it was owned by the server it runs on.

The information I will be providing on these webpages is valuable to the viewer because it will either save them money on t-shirts and screen printing. It's like secret information that you can get elsewhere, but it is better if it is delivered in secretive packaging. This value should get my content indexed through Google, as long as it is relevant to what people want. Now that I have learned that templates may be the equivalent of duplicate content I am afraid to format anything, just like I am afraid to commit to shopping carts. This leaves only one compatible format and that is text based webpages that are sparsely decorated with images.

Speed is also relevant on SEO and indexing, so by having simple pages I should be able to keep the speed of my pages up. I was thinking about how a webpage is sort of like a hot rod and speed enhancements would be a great way to make things faster. But you nothing is faster than basic text and until a search engine decides indexing based on style elements, then a basic web page may even be more successful than a cluttered one. I have no facts to back this up, but with the exception of popularity, a page of only words, just text strings, would have to read quicker than a page filled with a bunch of meta tags and triggers, codes and scripts providing invisible options.

Making an online t-shirt store with Wordpress and beyond

I have only been in the t-shirt business for, a long time, and on the internet for a long time too. Still I find it difficult to integrate the perfect website design and order processing interface. I have searched the world over and used many of the payment systems and web design hosting platforms, but every system keeps dragging me in deeper and deeper into their world of tricks and gadgets that end up costing too much money or are cumbersome and difficult to manage on a daily basis. I've tried Google Checkout (being retired), Amazon and eBay and Yahoo(expensive and restrictive), Volusion and Magento and OS Commerce (each has database management issues), Free carts and Zen carts and Wix carts and form based carts and plugin based carts and widget based carts and Woo Carts until I have become gun shy about buying anything since I have paid and wasted so much time playing with the different carts and payment methods to-date. Compatibility with shipping rules and payment processors is always an issue, size and color options are always and issue, image presentation and preview is always and issue, SEO and web indexing is always an issue, quantity based pricing is always an issue and finally security is always and issue. I can never get around to design because I can never leave the world of functionality long enough to worry about how my pages look.

I have been working with Wordpress lately and still I am restricted to the designs that are available as themes, but now I realized that if other people are using the same theme, then it may be seen as duplicate content on the web. Also, security on the server side is risky since Wordpress has been weakened from time to time through my host. Luckily the orders and credit card information is not stored on the same servers and not available to any hacking breach, in fact I don't even have access to the card numbers any longer. I like the fact that I am not exposed to the risk of handling credit cards, although it is inconvenient when crediting charges. Wordpress as a shopping cart is still blog-like and I am not 100% sure that it is worth the time it is taking to get it operational.