Websites – A Proper Pain in the Nether Regions

Sorry, but this isn’t a cheerful happy post full of photographs of steam engines I get to play with (but one of those is on the cards).  No, this is a post telling you about the NG Trains website and opening up to discussion some of the ideas I have for it.

All other posts I have done on the blog I have left online but I think this one I may only leave here for a week or so as it’ll stop being topical quite quickly.

Today’s Site –  bit of history

My website was started in the days when you listened to modems beeping and burbling to themselves and you went for a brew whilst stuff uploaded.   It was created in FrontPage before FrontPage became FrontPage 2000 which gives you an idea of the date.  Both of those programs are long gone and its now done in Expression Web, newer but still obsolete.

In techno babble it’s a fixed page format with no dynamic searching and being close to 20 years old it’s full of accumulated crap.  It has no capability to show stock levels and cannot be linked to our current stock database.

When we started we had no stock database or stock control because I knew what we had and where everything was.  That didn’t last!   In 2013 I got an EPOS system That has the stock codes, bar codes and stock levels. If I sell you something at a show the stock level is reduced. When at home and I process a web sale I have to also do that sale in the POS system and, if I remember, reduce the stock on the website.

I guess what I am telling you is the old way has to go and that is not negotiable but the question is what to change to.

An Uncomfortable Confession.

For reasons I will explain whatever replaces the current site it has to be cleverer than the average simple site.  It was beyond me, so I sought help via my go to IT helper.  That generated a lot of hot air, cost money for a trip to London and a meeting room.  [not quite true, I found a use for my IET membership – free use of a meeting room – ironically at the ImechE because the IET had got the builders in].  What it didn’t do was create the website the technowiz promised.

I look back now and kick myself, but I then went to another recommended source which showed a lot of promise and was well on the way until a change of personnel at the developer (a change of role actually) gave a muppet more power than he should have had and convinced him of abilities he didn’t have.  It went on for a while but overall it resulted in no website, a lot of money I won’t see again and a complete lack of trust in anyone else to do it for me.

Having someone else do it always sat poorly with my inner control freak, but I was convinced by others that I needed to delegate and spread the load. CLEARLY, I WAS RIGHT AND THEY WERE WRONG!   The control freak is back in charge, but the result has been nothing happening. Until now!

So, What Now.

There are many options of the “ecommerce site in a flash” type systems out there but they won’t really cut it. They don’t integrate with or provide their own POS system, can’t do pre-orders, can’t do subscriptions, can’t do variable page formats by product group. The clincher is that they are really aimed at selling large quantities of a few products where NG Trains is really about selling a few of a lot of products.

I have been looking at a lot of options but then I narrowed it down to three to have a closer look at Prestashop, Open Cart and the one I think I have settled on, WooCommerce. Notwithstanding its stupid name, it seems to have all the features I want.

I say think I have settled on because all three of these have one flaw to the new starter. In all of them the starter site is free but to call it basic is generous. Adding formats and functionality is achieved by purchasing modules and the problem with this is that the blurb promises much but you can only really find out if it does what you want by handing over the dosh.

Your Opinion Matters……..

………Although I might end up ignoring you now that the control freak has reasserted himself.

The lack of progress is down to a few things: –

  1. Learning a new system is pretty daunting. One of the reasons the current set up has lasted was that I knew its ins and outs.
  2. To do it all in one hit is such a big task that the result is nothing gets done.
  3. There is a load of stuff that isn’t on the website. You’ll have seen the PSC castings at shows but there’s a whole load of other stuff that neither goes to shows or is on the web.

Here’s the plan then.

Currently I own the domains www.ngtrains.com and www.ngtrains.co.uk.   If you try the latter it just forwards you to the former. The suggestion is to split them and start the new site on .co.uk whilst the existing site continues on .com.

  • The new site would start life as the parts and castings site adding items that aren’t on the current one.
  • This would allow me to set up the new site and learn how to work it.
  • As it developed other `parts’ type stuff would move from the old to the new
  • There would come a point where, once I am happy with it, there would be a push to move everything to the new site at which point it would revert to one domain forwarding to the other

So what are the issues with this?

  • The upside for me is that it gets round the “too big a job” blockage in the development progress and allows me to build my skills.
  • The down side is that its possible that to buy a range of items you may have to place two orders, one on each site.

I expect I will get to a point fairly quickly where the two site thing gets inconvenient enough for me to get on with the big push but the alternative at the moment seems to be nothing continuing to happen.

Consultation is now over so I’d better get on with it