Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Moving Toward the 21st Century

The question we are probably asked most often is why there is no shopping cart or search button on our website. I wish there was -- it has been my pet peeve for several years. The short answer is money -- with a catalog our size, it costs thousands of dollars to implement. And I understand the frustration -- I'm one of those who likes to shop at odd hours and wants to use only a few clicks to get everything done. Hopefully, we'll get there soon. But we'll always have people around to take calls and answer questions -- it frustrates me more when I call someplace and can't get a human being on the line. I have no interest in pushing button after button, hoping that eventually I'll get a category that will help me. I'll push one button, but after that I push "0" -- and if I don't get a real voice after that I hang up. Yes, I can be an old grump at times . . .

Here's the long answer on the shopping cart/search button issue -- it's my fault. Twelve years ago, I got my first computer (other than the Atari 800 I played with back in the mid 80s) and got my first real look at the internet. I knew immediately that we needed a website, but had no idea what to do next. A guy we knew said he worked in web design and could set up a good website for us. So we gave him a bunch of stuff to work with and waited . . . and waited . . .

What we got wasn't usable -- it wasn't customer friendly and was just BLAH. And this was at a point where our whole catalog fit on both sides of a trifold sheet of paper. So I decided to try it myself, even though I barely knew how to turn a computer on -- I bought a copy of Microsoft FrontPage and then went to the bookstore and bought a manual when I discovered the manual that came in the box was lousy. Then I barricaded myself in our computer room at home and went to work, and called a friend for advice whenever I got stuck. I called him A LOT, and I worked at home for a month. The first page I built took two weeks -- the last page I built before the website went live for the first time took 20 minutes and was infinitely more complex.

Ours was one of the first websites in the industry, and it grew exponentially the first few years as we added items to the catalog and information for our customers to other pages I built. Then this great new idea called "online ordering" was born -- no one had even hinted at it when we started. And then I discovered my mistake -- I had built our catalog out of pages and pages of tables rather than a single database, so there was no way to add a search box and no way to link the catalog to a shopping cart. I didn't know any better -- and now "solving" this problem will involve a complete rebuild of our website and catalog. I have tried working on it myself, but little by little I have created a monster over the years. That catalog is HUGE, and it's more than I can handle by myself. But hopefully we'll get there at some point.

All of that rambling (I do a lot of that) leads to this -- I rebuilt the index to our online catalog over the weekend. The old index (and it's still there underneath the new one if you have gotten used to it) wasn't alphabetized and had little rhyme or reason to it -- if we got a new item and it didn't fit into an existing category, I just built a new page and added a link on the index. Some constructive criticism that came in a couple of e-mails over the last few weeks made me realize that, shopping cart or no shopping cart, our catalog wasn't functional if our customers can't find what they're looking for in a couple of clicks (just like me on the phone).

So I went to work. When you click on the "Pricing Guide" button on the left side of our homepage, you'll go to an alphabetical listing of just about everything we carry, linked to the page on our site where it appears. You may still have to scroll down the page a little to find it, but it's there. Give it a try and let me know what you think -- you can get there directly from here at http://www.marcopaper.com/Pricer%20Index.htm Just the address should show how little I knew when I started -- I hit the space bar between "Pricer" and "Index" when I built the page back in March 1998 without knowing that the computer would fill in that blank space with something.

I've learned a lot since then . . .


  1. Greg -

    SCORE!!!!! This is wonderful, makes things so much easier.

    Thank you

    Elaine Allen

  2. Thanks for listening to the feedback and trying. Sooner or later it'll be just how you want it :).

  3. OMG!! So much better! But please keep working on online sales. Jane