Back in September, 1999, the Amazonian retailer based in Washington state launched "zShops" allowing for the first time third party sellers to list their goods on the site. This time, aStore adds a new twist, allowing you to set up your own "virtual front end" to Amazon.com with no need to have any merchandise of your own, and offer web visitors a subset of products from Amazon's vast catalogue, under your own "aStore" name and visual design.
My own sample aStore created in less than five minutes
Amazon claims that aStores allows you to "have your own online store featuring Amazon.com products" and do so "up and running in minutes". It adds that "aStore vastly expands from current link type offerings by creating a dedicated shopping area to be embedded within or linked to from your website". Well, with so much promotion, I decided to give it a try, and in fact, I was able to setup my own sample "aStore" in less than five minutes, just selecting a few linux products and clicking around on the site's set-up wizard.
Selecting "featured products". There number of items you can select in this section is
ridiculously low, however.
However, after the initial excitement, the limitations became evident. Apparently you can only select 9 "featured products" because after adding the 9th item, the "add" button becomes greyed out. A second step is adding "categories", based on keywords. This might prove useful for "fan sites" of a given book author, singer or actor, but is quite limited. In a perfect aStore world, not only the "featured products" web sites should not be limited, it should be also possible to set "include" and "exclude" keywords on the "product categories". For instance, I might want to have a "wi-fi" category and list "brand x" products but not "brand y". This is currently not possible.
Adding "categories" based on product type, and keywords
However, the help pages for the program hint that this isn't set in stone, noting that Filter keywords "Currently do NOT support operators like ",", "+", "and", "or" in our search". The "currently" word gives me hope that it'll get implemented in a future incarnation of the aStores beta.
Setting the visuals of your "aStore" is a matter of selecting a handful
themes and entering HTML colour codes. The number of themes is very limited.
Perhaps the most serious limitation of the current aStore approach is the approach they have chosen for users to use, that is, linking or to "embed" the mini-aStore site into another existing blog or web page. I really hope they add the ability to create a full site with amazon.com content, and also adding static pages using the same interface, like "about this aStore", "who are we", "shipping conditions" and the like. It would also be nice if users could include their own comments on certain items, or highlight the aStore creator's own amazon.com product review for a given item, from the aStore's interface, not just a link to the user's reviews.
Selecting 'widgets' that appear on the aStore's sidebar
Finally, I think that aStores would be a real hit if it would be possible for users to register a domain name, and point the domain name's DNS entries to amazon's own, hence allowing aStores to become full stand-alone entities without showing up the amazon.com domain name or using frames to hide that fact. In short: I think aStores is a very good idea, and bloggers and webmasters will love it. However it needs some more work and to allow greater flexibility to customize the service into full-blown independent store "served by Amazon.com". It will also help current " zShops" sellers earn money not only from their own listed products but also Amazon.com's own stock.
But don't take my word for it, you can test it yourself. To create your own aStore, you must have an account at the online retailer -you likely already have one if you ever shopped at the site-, and sign up for the site's affiliates programme. The company is requesting and encouraging user's feedback on this beta. I currently give Amazon's aStores programme 3 Fernandos in my one-to-five rating scale. µ
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