I don’t get giddy for any upticks or trends real or imagined. For a while now I’ve chosen to simply report the facts. The fact is there is a discernible steady ‘canter’ in both the website design and E-Commerce marketplace. It’s amazing that the industry is even on it’s feet given the wicked downward spiral of our economy under the able stewardship of the circus that passes for a government in Trinidad & Tobago. But don’t get me started there.
Be that as it may, I’ve always been in the trenches and front-line to give it to you straight and first hand. So after a lengthy gap between articles, my last one being in February, which should tell you something right there, here is my little review for you.
2019 First Half: Good indicators up
While it wasn’t all golden, the main indicators were up. On the up side, companies continued to invest in updating/upgrading their existing websites. More than 90% came to me already with websites, and surprisingly many already on the WordPress platform— the only platform I use for corporate websites, (for E-Commerce I use both WordPress and Magento). Some were old, circa 90’s era finally throwing in the towel admitting their sites could no longer compete.
E-Commerce-wise it’s been the same scenario. Funny, though, the same mantra kept repeating with every call: ‘it’s the young people… young people… young people’. Truer words have not been spoken. Take that you dinosaurs!
Platform choices remain limited
WordPress and Magento aren’t going anywhere so I have no problem with this . For WordPress, I have no reservations at all as it remains the number one platform on the planet for both business websites AND E-Commerce.
I don’t care for more platforms as much as ‘ll be happy with this specific one: a hosted shopping cart that supports Wipay and local delivery. But more on that below.
WordPress strong for Business and E-Commerce
I love WordPress. I use it exclusively for company websites (I won’t touch any other content management system), and I recommend it first for online stores. It’s very user friendly all around; easy to use, easy to teach and easy to learn. I always say, of you can use Microsoft Word, you can use WordPress.
What’s great about WordPress is the ability to get an online store up and running in no time. The payment solution WIPAY has a large part to do with that. The availability of their free WordPress plug-in, the limited hoops to jump through to open an account, makes this possible— IN THEORY (because WIPAY has made the entire process very Trini). So though it’s never happened in practice, the theory is sound 😜.
WordPress is robust and sturdy for solid E-Commerce
You won’t find many major international online retailers on WordPress because Magento trumps WordPress by far for such applications. In our little speck of an island with a a much smaller speck of a market, we barely scratch the scratch on the surface we’re so tiny we could almost be dismissed. I doubt there’s any local online store that gets more than 10 orders per day.
Still, the size of your catalog doesn’t matter, it can be 10 products, 100, 1000, or any multiple, WordPress handles it with ease as catalog size has nothing to do with performance, that’s the job of the hosting.
It’s mostly due to our small scale in T&T that I recommend it over Magento; it’s easy to set-up (hence I have it at half the price of a Magento store), easier to maintain and easier to use.
Stock management syncing with Point of Sale/Accounting Software
I recall headaches in my early days of E-Commerce-ing looking for solutions to connect client’s inventory software to their online store. The default stock management method in both WordPress and Magento is manual, i.e. you have to manually input the starting stock level which the system will deduct from when orders are filled. When you get new stock, you would have to also manually add it to the current stock figure.
You do have the option to NOT manage stock where all products customers see in the front-end are assumed available. Whether or not they actually are is on you if they order an item you don’t have. I don’t have to tell you the consequences of such a bad experience.
More currently as of this year I was also faced with such a headache but coming from actually having a solution. A client’s point-of-sale system did have what’s called an API to connect their POS to their online store. However, the headache was that it was severely limited to the point that it was useless. However, this latest experience forced me to find a workable alternative that I’ll be using from now on for both WordPress and Magento. I’ll keep that a secret for my clients only, sorry.
Magento for HARDCORE E-Commerce
I’ve always written that Magento is not for the faint of heart. It’s expensive and technical. It’s new Version 2 is a full upgrade with a complete back-end redesign. Some may say it’s user-friendliness improved, but I would say it just got a bit less unfriendly.
I say it’s for hardcore E-Commerce because it’s THE platform for hardcore E-commerce without question. If you want to play dollycook and try ‘a ting’, then you’re better off with WordPress where the investment is lower and you can walk away easier.
If you want to ‘test the waters’ in a structured and affordable manner, I have no problem with WordPress as the initial phase to upgrade to Magento in the future. Note, there won’t be a seamless transition between platforms. While standard page content can be duplicated by simple cut and paste, the most important content is the catalog, customer accounts, order histories etc., will have to be migrated which isn’t as straightforward. So give serious consideration to this aspect when you plan.
Not enough local developers for Magento support
There is an acute shortage of website and app developers in the country, so much so I outsource most custom development to international freelancers. It’s also one of the main reasons why I’ve remained a small operation; there aren’t many developers locally. Magento especially needs on hand, capable technical support, and Magento development is a certification by itself so even general development skill won’t cut it.
I don’t know what our local schools are teaching and what the young people in this country are waiting for. The technology skill market is wide open but it appears that our youngsters are fully brainwashed to stay fixed on traditional career paths so that they end up working for people. So we keep churning out doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, and every Tom, Dick and Harrilal going to business school. Then companies have to call the same 10 web designers in T&T like they’ve been for the past decade, and select one from the same 5.
Notwithstanding the fact that our education system is run by dumbasses and dinosaurs, you don’t need formal schooling to learn any technology skill; everything one needs is available for free online. I know this because that’s what I did.
Hosted Shopping Carts (like Shopify) support only FAC (for now)
Well it’s only one cart actually, and that’s Shopify. What it means by ‘hosted’ is that it’s a subscription based online store service you pay monthly for as a do-it-yourself online store solution. At the moment there are FAC plug-ins available from my competitors to enable online payment using FAC. However, the licenses require annual renewal of almost $2,000 TTD which is very expensive for a plug-in.
It could get more affordable if Wipay launches their solution on Shopify, which I’m told is coming soon.
Regardless, even if we get past the payment solution, there would still be the local delivery solution on Shopify and we have none. However, same way an FAC extension was possible I don’t see why a local delivery solution like UPSys won’t be.
No advantages choosing other platforms
They may be relatively popular like Prestashop, Zen Cart and Open Cart but I don’t see point as they’re not as popular in Trinidad & Tobago. I know some local web designers use Open Cart but I suspect that’s more of their personal preference rather than some inherent advantage. None has any special feature that you can’t live without and ALL have the same standard features you expect from a shopping cart.
Additionally, you’re better off going with the more popular platforms locally as it gives you options to move your site management to anyone else. For example, if a client comes to me with any other platform besides WordPress or Magento and wants to stick with their platform I decline the project as it would do neither of us any good.
Then you also have to look at the payment and delivery integration that may not exist and would definitely cost more to integrate.
Stick with WordPress/Woo Commerce or Magento
You’ll notice in the graphic below that their market share has shrinked significantly in the past few years. Where two (2) platforms controlled half of the market you see it now controlled by three (3). I expect it to get more fragmented in the future but Woo Commerce and Magento should still dominate.
The acquisition of Woo Commerce by Automattic (parent of WordPress) in 2015 and Adobe’s acquisition of Magento in 2018 didn’t come cheap and I’m sure they’re looking at those numbers with more interest than you or me. But that’s their fight; we have our own battle with the fickle heart and mind of the Trini online shopper, and that ain’t no easy battle.
Online payment options remain two (2)
Folks, there are still ONLY TWO online payment options available in the country. and PayPal is still NOT one of them. The two are still First Atlantic Commerce (FAC), the top tier payment solution offered by all local banks and WIPAY, the closest you’ll get to something like PayPal.
People have been asking me about an online payment service called PayWise, but it is NOT a bona fide online payment service as you still have to go offline to an agent in person to make a payment. Additionally WIPAY also provides the same service called WIPAY Voucher.
Personally, I think it’s a service we don’t need from either PayWise or WIPAY. If I’m a merchant and my customer doesn’t have a credit card, then online banking makes it easy to transfer funds electronically without having to go to a bank or an agent.
I don’t get the point of such a service, it’s such a backward step and defeats the whole purpose of online shopping. That’s why I promote neither.
Only Visa & Mastercard accepted- No Amex
Note that you can only accept Visa and Mastercard credit cards for both Wipay and FAC. This will affect international customers who are making purchases as gifts to ship to local addresses or making purchases to ship internationally if your store is open to outside Trinidad & Tobago.
Local banks remain aloof
I’ve observed that our local banks don’t care much for E-Commerce, it doesn’t seem to be a priority for them. You send them an application and they scratch every crack and crevice before they lift a finger. Since WIPAY can be deployed relatively quickly, I now integrate them first while FAC applications take their cool time to navigate the banks’ painfully rigorous process.
I get the sense that the banks are deliberately trying to frustrate the process, but that’s my personal opinion.
Republic Bank increases processing fee to predatory 5%
I had an client with the FAC solution from Republic Bank call me last year to say that Republic Bank increased the credit card processing fee to 5% so I switched him to WIPAY. Didn’t I just say that local banks are not interested in E-Commerce? Or it may be that Republic Bank isn’t interested in anyone opting for First Atlantic Commerce?
All other banks prolong application process
The application-to-approval process takes longer than it has to because of the aforementioned requisite crack/crevice scratching and the general laissez faire innate Trini way of doing things. A 2-3 week process usually drags on for 2-3 months. I usually get this started at a project’s inception so it can coalesce with the website completion.
RBC Royal Bank and CIBC also on board with FAC
Just got approval from First Atlantic Commerce (FAC) for a go-live for my first client using FAC/CIBC FirstCaribbean and I’ve observed that they’ve been much better than the other banks. I’ve also just started my first integration via RBC Royal Bank so I’ll let you know how that goes.
Integrated Delivery: Local and International options
You would think that TT Post would already have this covered as part of the government’s National E-Commerce Policy but I’ve come to expect nothing from this and all governments and I’m never disappointed. TT Post is still struggling to roll out the postal code system and master regular mail. They found time to roll out Hummingbird Express Online Shopping Service to ship to a Miami skybox though. You try to figure out that donkey logic. But that’s what you get when jackasses run the country.
Universal Packaging Systems- Local integrated delivery
Local company, Universal Packaging Systems has their own delivery solution for Trinidad & Tobago that already integrates with Magento. I have 2 sites that use it : ShopSSLTT.Com and MeccaIndustries.Com. Customers can select their city/town in T&T from a dropdown list upon checkout and the see the delivery charge before they pay. UPSys is also working on a WordPress plug-in at the moment which will be released soon. In fact I’ll be assisting with testing the beta version.
Delivery rates are weight based so you must know your product weight in pounds and populate the weight field when adding to your catalog. Service areas in Trinidad are tiered into Metro, Extended and Remote areas, and Tobago is tiered into Metro, Trinidad to Tobago, Tobago to Trinidad. Upon order submission, the merchant’s UPSys account also updates with the order.
Unfortunately, delivery prices are higher in Tobago but that’s not the fault of UPSys. That’s the way it’s been across the board for Tobago courtesy the aforementioned jackasses running the country and their predecessors.
DHL/FedEx- International integrated delivery
I’m currently in the process of configuring DHL with two (2) Magento sites; one the old Magento 1.9 version and one the new 2.x.x version. These are for international delivery only as my clients have signed up for the international service. Though DHL also delivers locally I’m not aware that they offer any service for merchandise. Being that we have UPSys I think local delivery is covered adequately for now.
I had done a similar integration for a Magento store with FedEx, so as far as deliveries to the Caribbean and internationally goes, I don’t think there would be any issues to use any of the main players like UPS, FedEX, or DHL. The Magento platform has these methods already integrated and for WordPress there are many plug-ins available.
Getting Trinis to buy online
You build it but will they come? Not if you insist on operating like Trinis. It amazes me that you can’t grasp this simple truth. Trni’s have been spoilt rotten by Amazon and other US sites and their recipe for success is an open recipe, hardly a secret. The problem is that local merchants are unwilling to invest in the customer experience and only focus on making a sale. All the Facebook ads in the world won’t help you convert if you can’t deliver the American experience. If you’re not prepared to deliver that, you’re wasting your time.
Local media upset- proof Facebook works
Of course we didn’t need proof, we’ve been proving it everyday. It’s HOW MUCH IT WORKS that local media companies have to once again run crying to the government ‘O gawd, dey takin we money, tax dey dutty ass!’ That was Norman Sabgas loosely paraphrased words calling for a tax, see article: Sabga upset over Facebook. International tech companies undermining local media.
Bet your bottom dollar that if it was easy to tax that your puppet government would have installed such a tax the next morning, like they did with the 7% online tax still around today (remember that?). And they did check and confirm, see article West: Not easy to tax Facebook. However, I’m sure they’re trying.
The above reaction is very telling. Have you ever wondered why our local conglomerates haven’t set up huge online stores already? They have the resources and the influence to steer the market in their favor but choose not too. Instead their strategy is to use their influence to impose the online tax. Open your eyes people.
Facebook Advertising number 1 choice
Local print media is dead; I myself have stopped buying newspapers a long time ago. Trinis know that to reach their market they need Facebook. They also know that to really reach their market they have to use paid ads. BUT they still know they can get good mileage without it and many are doing so successfully. However, many companies are now outsourcing their social media marketing.
Rise of social media marketing services
I’ve been observing an increase in the demand for this service 2019 as businesses realize what a major tool online marketing is and the need for a solid, not only social media, but online presence as well. I’ve also observed that some of these providers are taking their clients for a ride, charging exorbitant fees, up to $8,000 TTD/mth and not delivering on value.
There are few social media marketing providers in T&T and companies gravitate to the popular ones in the already small pool. For the record, Forward Multimedia doesn’t provide à la carte social media services, I only provide to website clients, and even that is limited. I generally encourage clients to do as much as their could for themselves first by giving them the necessary guidance before moving to a paid monthly service.
Online marketing, including social media in Trinidad & Tobago requires a completely separate article, which will be my next one by the way: Online Marketing in Trinidad & Tobago: THEORY & PRACTICE.
As far as E-Commerce in Trinidad & Tobago goes, it’s going along on it’s own steam and I can’t say it’s stagnated or going backwards at all. I do get the sense that business owners have their ears perked and noses sniffing the E-Commerce breeze.
Oh, and apologies for using the bad language to describe your government, it was the least profane I could use in print ‘cuz I was thinking much worse. The reason why Trinidad & Tobago is in its present sorry state is due to the mismanagement and corruption of ALL governments, red and yellow since independence, and the reason why after over 20 years of global E-Commerce why we are still struggling to get it off the ground.