Flexibility and user accessibility/"sexyness"

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Originally posted in the General Discussion forum by Kulvik... I hope the guys from NY Media come back to see us. Smiling

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Flexibility and user accessibility/"sexyness"
Submitted by kulvik on Thu, 12/21/2006 - 07:44
kulvik

Posts: 77
Joined: 12/20/2006
Brain StormerBug Finder

Hi all.

First of all, let me tell you how pleased I am to see that someone is making an alternative to the drupal.org e-commerce package!

I have just 2 big wishes Smiling

1)User accessibility and "sexyness"
I now run 11 e-commerce sites. Some are small and some are very large (bookstore, 3 million products and 60.000 customers). What always seems to be the case when a new customer comes to me wanting a e-commerce site is that they judge the quality of a system based on 60% appearance and 40% functionality. The sad fact is that if I present them to a OS Commerce installation from 2001, they always choose that before Drupal because it looks more graphical and professional. Is really doesn't matter that the framework, upgrade paths and everything is total crap. There are sexy icons everywhere, lots of nice reports on sales etc. which make it very hard for me to convince them to use drupal.

Most of the open source programmers out there are very focused on code and "being able to make things happen". I wish more people would focus on user accessibility and making things look more "sexy". I mean... what makes play.com a better store than some of my customers stores from a technical perspective? They are easier and more intuitive to use!

If you have ever tried to add products with attributes to different categories and make only some of the products visible, you know what I mean. The accessibility is to bad that even I some times don't get it right and do something in the wrong order. Again, a old OS Commerce version does this so much better and more intuitive.

When installing drupal core and the e-commerce package from scratch without any custom work there is no way you could actually put it out on the market. At least not if it's a serious store that have som big goals in the e-commerce world. If you want, I could gather my notes and come up with some concrete examples on what sucks with the e-commerce package so that you guys can make something better.

Graphical design and user interfaces is what I do best, so if you need any input on this you just let me know. I can surely help out.

2)Flexibility
I think there are very few stores that will be satisfied with what they get as it comes out of the box when installing the e-commerce package (and even ubercart), because needs are so different for every user. Not only needs, but also taste. My wish is that as much as possible of the functionality and looks of ubercart can be configured using simple (yet sexy) configuration screens. An example: The "shopping process" in ubercart with the collapsable regions (open, close, continue) is very cool. However, I can guarantee that some of my customers will say: "Hey wait a minute, that's not standard! We want it like it's suppose to be". That's why there should be a configurable option to choose to get the different "steps" in the shopping prosess on different pages.

Just a few of the other problems I have encountered:
- Address book doesn't fit customer needs. Some doesn't want country/region and maybe they need other information about customers. That's why I currently have 4-5 different versions of the address book module. This stuff should be configurable (like with flexinodes so that people can define the content of their address book themselves).
- No way to make the "store" integrate with the user registration process. It's not logical that customers will have to add their address when they are completing their order og via "My account". They should also be able to do that right away when they register. As one of my customers said so nicely: "This is crap! I don't want my customers to get second thoughts when they're almost finished buying my stuff".

My point is just that ubercart needs to be 95% configurable (whatever that means) so people don't end up with 50 different custom-hacked versions of the modules with no upgrade path and a gun to their head.
--

Thomas Kulvik
Ny Media AS
www.nymedia.no
thomas (at) nymedia.no

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permalinkThu, 12/21/2006 - 09:42
Ryan

Posts: 1619
Joined: 09/26/2006
AdministratorCode Monkey Head - I eat bugs.

kulvik, it's nice to have an e-commerce guru hanging around to give pointers. Smiling

I'd say we're on the same page on a lot of things, and hopefully Ãœbercart will be able to accommodate at least some of your stores! We'd love to have a viable e-commerce alternative, because until we make one we're stuck with osCommerce... and boy is code hacking getting old.

To answer #1, making things look sexy... that's our goal. Now, to be honest, we're just not very good at it. Eye-wink One of our sites (if you can believe it) has used the default osC theme since its creation... it's amazing we get business. Sticking out tongue In any event, we do want to present a nice clean interface that's "flashy" enough for people to give it a chance. We don't think we're there now.

Our first goal, of course, was to get things going. We wanted to see a cart that could take orders, so we made it. Then we started going back through thinking, "How in the world is this extensible?" That's what led me to rewrite the checkout and order screens to use panes. (More on that below...) Once we're sure the foundation is solid, we're definitely interested in "prettying" it up. We've tried to do start that a little on the product catalog, but overall we're just not sure what to think about changing and how to go about doing it. We agree it'll just have to look nice to convince people it's worth using, so we're all ears for suggestions to the current interface.

(I've made you a store admin on Livetest so you can check out what's going on in the admin interface. It looks decent in FF, like crap in IE. We hope to develop our own minimalist admin theme akin to osC's backend, because it's nice to get rid of the fluff. Thank goodness for Drupal 5.0. Sticking out tongue The lullacons have been helpful so far, and we're happy to use them whenever possible. The Tango Icon Gallery is full of sharp looking icons, too.)

To answer #2, flexibility is our goal. Thousands of stores use osCommerce because they can make it do whatever they want... there are so many lame little contributions that you're bound to find someone who's tried your idea before. The problem is you have to hack so much to put in a contribution that your code becomes ridiculous pretty fast and it's a major pain to install successive contributions. We'd love to get loads of lame little contributions here but make installation extremely simple. We're trying to make as much of the cart extensible as possible so store owners don't have to hack the core. We know it's going to happen, but if we can provide a good alternative to hacking (i.e. our own APIs) then we're going to try and do that.

We know hardly anyone will want the stock setup, and fewer people will want their store setup like we plan on making ours. You mentioned the checkout panes, for example. Well, the second step of work I mentioned above, rewriting code to be extensible, has made your request possible. There is no option to make it page by page right now, but the rewrite of the checkout pane code wouldn't make it a stretch to implement.

About the address book, we're not totally decided on what to do with that. It seems stores use it, but as a customer I rarely go into my address book and add or modify addresses before making a purchase. I like the way Amazon displays addresses you've used in the past at the time of checkout, and it was my hunch to imitate this functionality in the panes somehow. So, as the plan stands, registering at the site will let you track your orders (not implemented), but you do not input contact information at the time of. Instead, if you login at or before checkout, you'll see a drop down of addresses you've used before. Otherwise you can enter all your info just like normal.

Given the flexibility of the system, though, someone else could feasible create an address book module that defines alternate checkout panes for shipping and billing information. And we do hope to have a bounty system in place for store owners looking to get specific modules coded. More about that a couple months down the road...

Disclaimer: We're all ears for any ideas you have, especially for how we can do better than the current e-commerce package for Drupal. At the end of the day, what gets supported first will be features that directly apply to our stores. We may choose to pick up suggestions in the future, but migrating our sites from osC and the custom stores is our top priority. We hope to get other developers interested in module development in the future (and in core development, especially for UI suggestions Eye-wink ) and plan to host as many contributions here as possible. First... we need to deliver the basics. Sticking out tongue

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permalinkThu, 03/01/2007 - 10:14
Ryan

Posts: 1619
Joined: 09/26/2006
AdministratorCode Monkey Head - I eat bugs.

Wanted to add a comment regarding kulvik's last statement about addresses, user accounts, and checkout. I finished this code maybe last week some time... basically, when a user goes to checkout, if they're logged in it will fill in their email address for them and provide them with a select box to choose from previous addresses they've used on orders. If they haven't logged in, they will put their email address in the appropriate field and fill out the form like normal. When they complete the order, if an account already exists for that email address, the order is attached to their account and they'll be reminded they can login to view their order information. If they don't have an account yet, one will then be created for them and they'll receive an email with login information. Should be perfect for what you're looking for!

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permalinkFri, 03/23/2007 - 07:49
kulvik

Posts: 77
Joined: 12/20/2006
Brain StormerBug Finder

Wow Smiling I didn't really see this long response until now (was a couple of moths where I didn't visit the forums). Thank you for the answers!

I just love what ubercart has become. When the internationalization issues are solved and more contrib modules becomes available this will really be a killer module/package.

In my opinion, ubercart is racing away from the E-Commerce package every day. The biggest reason for this is in my opinion the user interface which is becoming very good. A store admin can actually find his way around and do some work.

If I show a client the back-end of e-commerce and ubercart, what do u think he'll choose? Eye-wink I just remember when I showed a customer the e-commerce text-based messed up spiderweb backend some months ago and he replied with "You're kidding right?". That's when I knew I was in trouble Sticking out tongue

Thomas Kulvik
Ny Media AS
www.nymedia.no
thomas (at) nymedia.no
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Thomas Kulvik
Ny Media AS
www.nymedia.no
thomas (at) nymedia.no