Limping is putting it mildly; it’s more between a limp and two broken legs, pathetically dragging on the floor for all of 2018. If E-Commerce in Trinidad & Tobago was an animal, I’d shoot it and put it out of it’s misery. Fortunately, website design has remained constant and solid, and given the terrible economy, I should count my blessings.
I’ve long delayed any article but I feel compelled and obligated to write something to open the new year. Honestly, I was hoping that my mood would improve. You’ll notice that my last article was way back in July 2018 which is very unlike me. It’s not for lack of time (only partly) but lack of will. My last mood was of grudging acceptance (read my First Half 2018- Website Design & E-Commerce back in April 2018); now I’ve thrown my hands up in the air in total surrender. I’m no longer positive, optimistic or hopeful, my outlook is WHATEVER from now on.
IT'S THE TRINI TO DE BONE BUSINESS APPROACH
I’ve come to almost despise local institutions, organizations, companies pretending that their noble Mission Statement painstakingly crafted and hanging on their wall is worth even the price of the frame it’s stuck to. Whatever their ‘missions’ are, we, who they claim to represent, are definitely not in the equation.
I may burn all my bridges as we open 2019 after hoping against hope that I was just in a temporary funky mood that would pass. However, it hasn’t, so this is actually a reasoned reaction (or so I’m telling myself).
Stakeholders: Government, Banks, Business Associations- PAPPY SHOW
This country is broken from the top down. Our government, or what passes for it in T&T (this one and all previous ones of BOTH parties) has truly set an abysmal ‘standard’ that’s seemingly ingrained in every facet of our country. It’s so jokey it ain’t funny.
Government- Rotting from the head
Take the Ministry of Trade & Industry (MTI) for example, and their National E-Commerce Policy passed in December 2017. Now you tell me, what business does the government have creating any national E-Commerce policy?. There job is provide the framework to support E-Commerce initiatives which should be led by the private sector, not public. Or did they see that the private sector had woefully dropped the ball and finally doing some proactive? Given their track record, there must be some other reason as they’re not that good at their jobs.
We’ve started 2019 and there was ZERO implementation last year. I was at two meetings in 2018 for my input in said implementation, and yet here we are. Surprised? I’m not and I’m sure you aren’t too. I’m going to burn that bridge right now and say that these jokers are not interested in implementing any policy, it’s just nice to pretend they’re doing something by writing it and having a nice press conference to say “look, we doing something!”. My apologies to the underlings inside the MTI who are actually trying (and I know honestly they are), but IT’S ALL POLITICS.
The Electronic Transactions Act (2011) though passed in 2011, remains partially proclaimed into effective law. Obviously since this Act was passed by the previous government, this one is following standard protocol and ignoring it like it never happened.
TT Post still can’t roll out our postal codes island-wide but they can roll out Hummingbird Express and get into the courier business. So we have one Ministry trying to promote TT online shopping while another is promoting US online shopping. That’s the state of Banana-868.
Chambers of Commerce, Banks: lackadaisical attitude
Burning the rest of my bridges here. Key private sector institutions like banks and business associations aka Chambers of Commerce have no interest in regular commerce, far less E-Commerce. Our banks seem to go to great lengths to keep their FAC payment gateway a secret. Customers have to ask, and even the bank staff are like ‘really, we hah dat?’ and have to check and don’t even know what department to call. The idea to actively promote to their customers, you know, like putting brochure in their statement, sending a mass email with the details seems alien to them. And to think these people have MBAs from the finest “business schools” in T&T.
Then dealing with the banks and their sloth-like Trini approach today for tomorrow is another thing. You send an email and they have to scratch every crack and crevice before they reply. I swear these people have hookworm and this is across the board in all banks. Must be an epidemic.
And there are the business associations who fool themselves and their members to believe they care about business. Remember when president of the Chaguanas Chamber of Industry and Commerce announced he was going to make Chaguanas to become a tech-savvy city by the next year? That was five years ago.
Apparently none of these chambers ever thought to formulate a comprehensive plan to bring their members online en masse by strategically working with the government, financial institutions and web designers that would have online stores launched in ‘bulk’. They’re too busy schmoozing and singing for their supper adding politicians to their back pockets while clinking glasses at their gala cocktails which serve no purpose.
WEBSITE DESIGN IN T&T STEADY AS SHE GOES
Okay, so on to something positive (thanks for indulging my rant). Like I said in my opening, website design in Trinidad & Tobago has remained steady in 2018 and actually, very solid. In fact, it’s also one of the reasons why you saw few articles from me, and I’ve yet to even update my portfolio. The days of convincing companies are long gone, so from reluctance, then grudging acceptance, it’s now eagerness and only to not be left behind.
Website focus on Content Marketing
Also positive, is that businesses understand the value of a working website, one that converts. While they may not know the technical term for it ‘Content Marketing’, that’s what they’ve been asking me for. So it’s not just a website presence by any stretch of the imagination, no ‘brochure’ website to just be out there for so, they know that it has to be actively working.
Though they have that part right, getting that content is a bit of a challenge for them as it’s not their expertise, but then that’s what I’m being paid for, and honestly that’s why I feel I’m worth my premium (and charge it!). Any monkey can install a WordPress template and switch out the demo info.
Trend to Digital/Online Marketing Specialists
I’m not largely surprised here, it’s more pleasantly, and I guess it’s the realization that marketing is now a whole different animal with online. Again, no grudging acceptance at all, the business has changed and so be it, and I like that attitude.
Local specialist online marketing service providers are making hay in this in this ’emerging market’ because business owners don’t know, nor understand how this darn thing works. While there are online marketing agencies in T&T, it’s common now for even small to medium sized companies to outsource a savvy freelancer to guide them. There are no real ‘experts’ on paper as the most one can be trained is in the fundamentals; you have to be immersed in it to truly understand it. Note that I say they’re making hay. not taking advantage of. I have no feedback yet of any such thing.
Facebook still go-to social media platform
There is no better way to reach your target than Facebook if your target uses it and if doesn’t, leads you to your target anyway. For my business if you’ve noticed, I rarely use Facebook because my targets don’t, they use my website. It’s something I learnt early on and good business is to use the tools that work. I also don’t have to pay to reach them as most all traffic to my site comes from Google search. Which brings me to my next point.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) à la carte trend
Lower down 2018 I’ve observed a trend towards standalone SEO projects in T&T. Businesses with existing websites are seeing that they are not ranking well, and want a boost. My SEO articles from years back remain relevant to today: the majority of top ranked sites are there not because they are strong, but because competition is weak.
There is also a lack of understanding of how SEO works. Most assume it’s all about keywords, it’s not, it’s all about RELEVANCY. Google is freakishly smart about matching your search queries to websites and that’s not by accident. There are many SEO elements that work together, including keywords obviously, to rank one site over the other.
Videos catching on
Promotion via videos is on the uptick as I see more and more of it. Larger companies have been using it more and they can afford to have them professionally done. Videos can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $2,500 TTD and to really have to weigh the cost/benefit of as a marketing tool.
By the way, for those who don’t know, my son, whose been making videos since he was 11 (he’s now 19), just started on his film career after CSEC. I’ve advised him not to leave money on the table as there is room for small but steady income via these same videos which he can do much cheaper than a ‘professional’. At the moment he’s working on videos for a couple of my clients, and I’m waiting till released to actually promoting as a service.
By the way, you can look for his You Tube channel Riyality Studio. You’ll see yours truly acting like an idiot on his videos. I hope i can be taken seriously after :).
E-COMMERCE in T&T: LIMPING PATHETICALLY
Being on the frontline it’s almost painful to watch. It’s such a tragedy that online shopping in Trinidad & Tobago is where it is today- ABSOLUTELY NOWHERE. You may think it’s just because of lack of will and our innate Trini ‘dat good dey’ attitude, but there is actually a larger quiet conspiracy at work in the country.
You ever took the time to question why the online tax was implemented so swiftly? Or why the conglomerates have no interest in E-Commerce? That’s because we don’t have to question at all as we all know the answer. It’s just our puppet government dancing to the strings of their financiers, friends and big business. When our Miniature of Finance says online shopping is not good for our economy, he’s referring only to his world.
When even big T&T companies get E-Commerce wrong
It definitely doesn’t bode well when big companies get it wrong. I have such a gem of a true experience with an online purchase I made from Courts that’s ongoing as I write It’s such that it warrants a full separate article because I want to ream them proper, but I’ll share some of it here. It had to be that my very FIRST purchase EVER from a local online store would be a nightmare revealing, even reaffirming, the cold hard truth that local businesses are NOT READY for E-Commerce. FYI, the Courts online store is on the Magento platform with FAC payment gateway. My purchase was a 5 piece dining set for my kitchen and…
- Shipping options had pick-up from any store option (which I chose)
- I received follow up phone call stating that there is actually NO store pick-up available, their developers are ‘fixing’ it (total BS of highest order)
- Had to go to Freeport warehouse to pick-up myself
- One chair broke a month later while someone was sitting on it
- Still waiting on replacement at start of 2019
- I’m NEVER going to buy anything from Courts again
And if such a large, deep-pocketed company can’t do it right, well, that speaks volumes right there. Bottom line— no Trini Amazon is coming any time soon. Trini companies just can’t do it.
When only individuals, small companies are trying
Sadly it’s the little guys who are more interested in setting up online stores in T&T. I feel that larger companies are skeptical only because they don’t think they can pull it off. And they would be right. Individuals and smaller businesses have relatively less to lose and can easily walk away. But I honestly don’t see a need for an exit strategy, the market is there, waiting for you.
WIPAY, local payment aggregator officially launches
For what it’s worth now, Wipay, our PayPal-esque local payment aggregator finally had their official launch a in October 17th, 2018. I’ve long delayed writing my follow-up review about Wipay as it’s a very mixed bag which I’ve been hoping they’d fix. I like Wipay, they’re great guys personally but a very Trini company. Suffice it to say, you can have full confidence that they are a bona fide solution with a solid foundation and here to stay and will only grow.
My clients have reported slow customer service though, but that’s not a Wipay thing, that’s a Trini thing and that’s not going to change.
NEW: Keep your earned USD when you use WIPAY
Wipay officially released a USD feature for their online payment service which allows merchants to keep USD legitimately earned. It does so by recognizing non TT credit cards and routing the settlement automatically. Whether or not this was something they had in the pipeline already, I always pressed Wipay for such a feature as I felt that merchants had a RIGHT to keep USD earned from online sales outside Trinidad & Tobago. Especially in light of the current Forex constraints, this development couldn’t have come sooner.
They also launched their redesigned website which is more appealing and user friendly. It’s still not all there yet in my opinion but a substantial improvement nonetheless.
First Atlantic Commerce (FAC) still here, solid as ever
Boy I tell you, comparing FAC’s way of doing business with local companies is like comparing the biggest, blackest night with the brightest, sunniest day. I’ve been dealing with First Atlantic Commerce since 2012 and they’ve NEVER EVER NEVER EVER dropped the ball. You have to really be ready when you contact them as they don’t play dollycook, you better be on your toes.
Case in point last year, I had a client report a problem with an online payment where the customer got an error message after entering their credit card info. When I checked the FAC Merchant Portal I saw no transaction actually hitting the credit card system so I sent an email immediately to FAC. In mere minutes a response came and they indicated the cause. Had it been a local bank it would have takes about two days to even acknowledge the email, much less investigate the issue.
FAC still optimal solution for SERIOUS E-Commerce
Notwithstanding their exceptional customer service, the FAC Payment Gateway itself is my recommendation for what I term ‘serious’ or ‘hardcore’ E-Commerce, and this is a position I’ve always maintained. If you want to do it right, then it’s FAC. If you want to do it on a budget, then Wipay. To put it crudely, Wipay is the ‘poor man’s’ solution., no apologies to Wipay, that’s THE WAY IT IS.
The only challenge to FAC would be the emergence of a similar solution that’s:
- Easier to obtain from a local bank- As it is now there is a lengthy approval process (due only to the hookworm factor)
- Cheaper to integrate- At costs at least $3,000 TTD to integrate on standard platforms
- Cheaper monthly fees- Local banks charge around $100 USD per month for the solution
The worst part is that all of the above are not really FAC’s fault, except for the second in my opinion. If FAC develops their own plug-in for both WordPress and Magento it would bring that cost down.
Forget PayPal, it DOESN'T WORK!
Here is the final word, stop beating the dead horse that is PayPal, it doesn’t work anymore. Ignore all my earlier PayPal articles as they are not relevant today. No technical reasons exist for the many issues readers report; the obstacles and issues appear to be deliberate. My opinion is that Trinidad & Tobago is on some kind of financial blacklist. But I’m not going to investigate why as we have ABSOLUTELY NO NEED for PayPal for local E-Commerce. There are two perfectly good options available requiring no workarounds or ratchify in FAC and Wipay, so please make use of them.
The only reason one would need PayPal is to receive funds from US/International companies that need to pay you for some product/service you provide through their site via some affiliate marketing deal. This I can’t help you with as it’s not my thing.
My mood is still ‘whatever’ 2019. It’s also going to be a politicking for general elections in 2020 where the main choices are between Cancer A in the government or Cancer B in the opposition, so it’s not looking rosy. So we’ll continue to bitch and moan as we do and still press on in spite of everything, making the best of the current situation while we, you know, wait for the world to change.
And articles will come much more steady, at least in the foreseeable next few months, I have many topics to write about so keep following and don’t forget to subscribe.