Goodbye Popshops, Hello Custom RSS!
You may remember that I mentioned how I was using Popshops a graphic interface system for creating product tables for affiliate websites using datafeeds. It let you include up to 99 (100?) products in a table and change the display css and column number all graphically. While this is very nice and at first I was extremely amazed by the product over time I discovered it wasn't the right product for my needs and this month I finally canceled my Popshops account.
This was actually planned this spring, but I was going to replace those product tables or "shops" as Popshops calls them, with my own custom RSS solution. Unfortunately I kept coming up with other tasks to do and kept seeing my credit card charged. I decided to just cancel my account and spend the next couple weeks removing those old tables and add my custom display as I can.
Popshops is a good solution for people who want to have very general display of products that updates with other products from the same merchants OR people who want a few displays of products that are hand selected. My problem was that I wanted to have UPDATING displays of SELECT products... see the problem?
Well actually it was simple. I wanted to be able to select up to 4 merchants and using positive and negative keywords show a display of products. I had asked for that feature for their updates, but it must have been a low priority.
When I used their updating table feature, I'd get replacement products that were not very related. For example I'd have a table with men's swimsuits and I'd get baby clothes and womens bras appearing to replace out of stock or discontinued items. If just had a general clothing site that would work, but if I call my page "Men's Swimsuits" and the site is for men's clothing there is a problem.
Yes, I could easily log in and scroll down my list of "shops" find the offending table, remove the unrelated replacement products, do another search in their interface, and add new products. That process is much longer than just doing what I wanted to do which just takes a minute or two to get the right keyword combination and always have existing products appear on those pages.
While it is very easy to make a product table or "shop", it isn't so easy to keep them updated and relevant using that system. I really tried to keep them updated by logging in once a week and finding unavailable products and replacing them in the Popshops system, but sometimes I'd do that and find the next day that some of the replaced products are gone too! I actually got to the point where over half the products in my displays were invalid! *sigh* Automation is important if you want to have more than one website. Why reinvent the wheel and make busy work? I'd rather update my code once in a while than spend a few hours a day updating product tables. I suppose that isn't really a problem for someone with just one niche site, but with several or many sites, that's a big headache. As I said, it wasn't the right product for me, but it could be the right product for you.
In the last few months Popshops has been releasing a new API which will use positive keywords. (perhaps only one keyword) which looks like a step in the right direction, but I didn't see how that would integrate with a CMS like for the regular shops. I can't give a review of that system because I only saw an example page linked to a forum thread. To use that you needed to have a more expensive "Data Pack" account which now costs $59.99 a month pre-paid discounts (as of September 8, 2009). They have added some information on their website about what that service can do. I unfortunately don't get enough website traffic to justify that expense. If you have a high traffic website and you don't mind using an API, this might be a good solution for you. Lower traffic websites probably would find themselves breaking even or worse after subtracting their expenses. Good economy or bad economy, you still have to renew your domain name every year, and pay for hosting in addition to fees for services like this one.
Conceptually the Data Pack service is an interesting option for people willing to program, but who don't want to go through the set up of getting and importing datafeeds from each merchant on their own hosting account. If time is more important than money and you want to skip those steps for your high-traffic website then this might be good for you.
Unfortunately, dear reader, I don't have any real alternative to recommend for what I wanted to do other than to code your own system. I found that RSS feeds are the easiest to work with when managing external content. That way if you switch from Wordpress to Joomla or Joomla to Drupal, etc. you can just figure out how to import RSS and your display will still work. I coded my own PHP display as RSS taking information from my mysql tables which got their info from merchant datafeed files. Sound complicated? yes, it was. It took me about a year to learn how to program in PHP and at least a couple months learning how to use mysql, automating my datafeed imports and at least a month working on the display and search options. It isn't for the unmotivated. You have been warned. :-)