My firm recently launched a redesigned ecommerce site for a triathlon store using the NSCommerce system from Network Solutions. We didn’t choose that solution, it was already being used by the client. Our work was to apply the new design we had created, and we are now providing ongoing PPC management and SEO services. As I’ve gotten some experience with the NSCommerce system I’ve been impressed. Perhaps that is because I have such low expectations based on my experience with other ecommerce packages, but NSCommerce comes very, very close to being what an out-of-the-box, hosted ecommerce system should be. It’s relatively inexpensive, fully integrated with a merchant gateway, provides an easy to use interface, integrates well with Google Base, and has decent SEO tools built in. But you didn’t come here to find out what’s good about it, you want to know its shortcomings, and there are a few of those.
1. SEO friendly URLs – Yes, it allows you to fully customize the URL to make it SEO-friendly, but with two limitations, one minor and one major:
a. Minor – File extensions are required. With NSCommerce you cannot have a URL like powertri.com/run/. Every url must end with the file extension .aspx (NSCommerce runs on .NET). That means every page on your site must end with a file. So powertri.com/run/ becomes powertri.com/run/index.aspx. If you go to powertri.com/run/ in a browser, it will give you a Page Not Found error. The workaround is to set up a redirect from powertri.com/run/ to powertri.com/run/index.aspx, but this is less than ideal.
b. Major – Limited characters for SEO friendly URLs. You can only make your URLs so long, and with an ecommerce site this can quickly become an issue. If I have a product page for men’s Skins travel and recovery compression tights then the ideal url might be powertri.com/triathlon-clothing/compression-clothing/tights/skins/mens/travel-recovery-compression-tights.aspx. But this URL might be too long for the NSCommerce system, and so then I have to choose which words I take out, which hampers my SEO work. You could say this limitation could also help me to keep my URLs short and to use a flatter directory structure, but I don’t need that kind of help. I need freedom to do things as I see fit, and putting a character limit on my URLs doesn’t make things easier for me.
2. Limited HTML/CSS abilities. Web designers don’t have many limits placed on them by HTML/CSS code these days, but NSCommerce fixes that by making it difficult to use CSS code the way one would like. Our design could have been implemented solely using clean, standards based tableless code, except that it wouldn’t work with NSCommerce. So the site has tables throughout the design, which is a minor annoyance, not a major inconvenience, but it shouldn’t be a major inconvenience for Network Solutions to fix the system so pure XHTML can be used.
3. Customer Support. I and my team have had to contact customer support several times during this implementation process. 25% of the time the experience has been positive, but 75% of the time it has just stunk. Part of it is the system. If you submit a request online, you receive a response but it’s one-way. You can’t enter into a dialogue. If you don’t like the answer you got, your only option is to either resubmit the ticket online and say “I already submitted this…here’s the answer I got…but that doesn’t resolve my problem and here’s why…” or to get on the phone and call in. For example, we were having problems with some of the redirects we set up (to take care of problem 1a above). Some of the redirects weren’t working. You would go to powertri.com/run/ and you would get the Page Not Found error, even though there was a redirect set to send it to powertri.com/run/index.aspx.
So I sent in a request through their help system stating what the problem was. I provide a list of all the URLs that were not redirecting properly, and explained that while 90% of the redirects were working, these other redirects, which had been set up the same way, were not. This is the response I received:
Dear Joshua Steimle,
Thank you for contacting the Network Solutions nsCommerceSpace Support Department. We are committed to creating the best Customer experience possible. One of the first ways we can demonstrate our commitment to this goal is to quickly and efficiently handle your recent request.
The issue you reported to Network Solutions on 11/16/2009 07:09:30 PM and assigned to Service Request 1-425313482 has been completed and closed.
I was able to take a closer look at the issue you reported. At this time I was unable to find http://www.powertri.com/run/index.aspx as an existing file on your server. Please upload the page you intend to load to the /run folder on your server using the file manager in your admin panal and your page will start working fine. If you need any further assistance please give us a call.
We hope this information has been helpful. However, if you have any additional questions, please don’t hesitate to contact our nsCommerceSpace team Monday through Friday 8am to 8pm Central at 888-252-3266.
nsCommerceSpace Support Specialist
Please do not reply to this e-mail.
Well that’s just fantastic. Evidently the guy didn’t even check the URL to see that it’s working. If the URL is resolving in a browser, then the file must be there, regardless of whether he was able to find it or not. If the system was set up to allow me to easily respond and point this out, then he could see that oh, yeah, the URL works, so it’s not just a matter of a missing file. But instead, I have to email again or call in, get a totally different rep who doesn’t know anything about my problem, explain it all over again, and hope for the best. Not only is this annoying for me and makes me an unhappy user of their ecommerce system, but it costs Network Solutions more money to manage things this way, rather than allowing the customer service rep who is the first responder to own this issue through to its conclusion. It creates an incentive for customer service reps to get rid of customers as quickly as possible, rather than actually helping them.
All that said, I still think it’s a pretty good system for the price, if you’re willing to work through some of these issues. That’s the thing, ever system has issues, but NSCommerce has less than most.