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Musings of a Fool

Catalook

Feb 7

Written by:
2/7/2012 11:08 PM  RssIcon

Catalook is probably one of the oldest and most installed e-commerce modules used in the DotNetNuke environment. Its low entry price and tremendous list of features and options make in one of the modules that is loved and hated by many people that work with it on a regular basis. We’ll take a look at what makes it magnificent, and the flawed details underneath the hood.

Before I get into the details of catalook and why people love and hate it, let me start and say that I have not personally installed this module in a production environment (more on why later).  My entire experience with this particular product is based on the testing I have completed, the review process I go through personally before selecting a module, and the feedback I have received from others like me. I would love to hear real world experiences from people that have put into production and encourage you to leave feedback in the comments below (positive and negative!).

So why Is Catalook so popular?

If there is a feature you need in e-commerce,,, “it’s in there”.  I have never seen a product with sooooo many included features (both in DotNetNuke and in general).  IF you want to sell tickets, products with special or hazardous shipping, or you want to book rentals on your vacation properties… this module can do it – those features are in there.  Every scenario I have run across in e-commerce since I started my first online “webstore” in 1996 – is covered by this product.  The price is unbelievable when you consider the shear scope of what you can do with this product.  It’s arguable the cheapest e-commerce module out there on any platform.

Does it have to look so “standard” or ugly?

Absolutely not… this was another break out feature… you can skin it!  I don’t mean externally either, from the inside out you can just about edit every template used in the product.  Yes, the skin it comes with is older than the hills and is arguable the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen, but it’s fully functional and gives you a simple template to start creating your own masterpiece.

What’s wrong with it?

While I could write for days about all the features this product has, I could also write for days about how user unfriendly it is(from the admin’s perspective).  Some of that is to be expected, with increased functionality, comes increased complexity, but at some point there has to be a balance. 

The number one complaint I hear from users of catalook is that they can’t find (or figure out) how to do something that should a basic function.  The authors of this product have written documentation, but it’s far from comprehensive and there is no inline help system to explain what a field does or how it works.  You can “figure it out” but that takes time (and patience).

One item that particularly perplexed me over and over again is how “disjointed” and inconsistent everything is.  In one place you might see a field for an add-on cost that has a separate text field, the next field it would have the text and the value in the same place (ex. attributes).  It’s obvious that there was no pre-planning or considerations for user experience when additional features were added to the module.

The Final word…

Catalook is a powerful module that has the feature(s) you are looking for at a very affordable price tag. Be prepared to spend the extra time to setup the storefront and learn it’s quirks in order to make it a successful project.  You will spend an abundance of labor to bend the templates to a make a usable end user experience. Don’t put this module in front of an easily intimidated internet user that doesn’t have a lot of experience, it will be overwhelming and overly confusing which will ultimately fail because the administrator can’t update it.  The bottom line is… if you don’t need a specific feature not found in other products.. save yourself some time and find another solution.  It will be easier for your admins to update while saving you a lot of skinning time and frustration.

3 comment(s) so far...


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Re: Catalook

I've put 2 sites into production using Catalook. I'll never use it again. While it does have a lot of features and while the features generally work, the implementation of those features is terrible. The administrative User Experience (UX) is truly awful. Not at all something you'll want your clients to experience.

We did quite a bit of customization of the sites we built and the code was terrible too.

I will say it's been been over 3 years since I built a site using it. Perhaps it has improved, but my guess is they've just continued to slap more features on it without making improvements to the architecture or UX. They're website certainly hasn't improved any.

By David O'Leary on   2/8/2012 4:05 PM
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Re: Catalook

Hi Robb,
I agree with all points you've made about CATALooK. It is a beast of a module, has a steep learning curve, is difficult and time consuming to skin and convoluted at times to figure out how features work. But as you mention in your conclusion it's benefits are that it is very powerful and affordable.

I attended your ecommerce session at DNN World 2011 and you asked a question regarding CATALooK - 'Who would use it again?' - I think I was the only one in the room that raised my hand. But my reasoning is simply that it has so many features. Each time a client comes to us with a new idea or a new way they would like to implement something in their exiting store, sure enough, it's in CATALooK and we can deliver it to them. Of course figuring out how to get it work is another issue.

CATALooK certainly isn't for every storefront, nor for the inexperienced admin and I would love to see a DNN ecommerce product that can do everything CATALooK can, or almost everything CATALooK can while providing an intuitve UI.

Love reading your module reviews by the way. When looking to purchase a new module I'm starting to find myself asking - 'I wonder what Bryn thinks of this one?'

By Vincent Malanga on   2/10/2012 10:23 AM
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Re: Catalook

It's a beast and it's back end code and database design is in some places very poor but with a bit of tweaking you can create a highly scalable system at an affordable price. Google webmaster tools now ranks www.planetbounce.co.uk in the top 80% of sites for speed, which is fantastic considering the amount of images that are shown (non paginated) on the homepage and other pages.

The secret is to use the benefit of the cart system and e-commerce products but bypass the list controls with your own custom modules. On the homepage we currently show 18 products but Catalook would hit the database about 36 times for all those products, with our own module we now hit the database just once and strip out all the unneeded stuff so approx 40 if statements have been by-passed and 35 database calls.

If you've got programming experience (luckily I've got 10+ years) you can find work arounds to catalooks faults but you can also cherish the wealth of other fetures that would, if built from the ground up, take several years to develop.

Regards,
Ryan
http://www.planetbounce.co.uk

By Ryan on   2/28/2012 2:46 PM

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