Stream Store Amazon Store Builder

Update October 28th, 2016: I finally got a partial refund but it wasn’t easy.

Since Ariel Sanders (Stream Store developer) did not honour my refund request on October 6th, I was forced to open a PayPal dispute to recover my funds. Within minutes of me opening it, Sanders had responded (within the PayPal dispute) saying I was seeking a refund after the 30-day money-back period had expired. If only he’d dealt with support issues as quickly.

Indeed, I did open the dispute 3 days after the refund period had expired (but my original refund request had been on Oct. 6th). I asked for a refund for the base product and the three upsells. PayPal then created a case for each item separately. I don’t believe they should have done that as this thing was a package deal.

However, in my submission to PayPal, I did describe how I had originally requested a refund on Oct. 6th via email after Sanders’ Support Desk wouldn’t open new tickets, and that this refund request was well within the refund period. Initially, PayPal only provided a text box where I could describe my claim.

After seeing Sanders’ response in PayPal, I emailed him again directly, reminding him that I had sought a refund on October 6th. Again, he completely ignored me.

Within a couple of days, PayPal had decided against me in two of the 4 open cases. I then received an email from them asking for additional evidence to support my claim for the remaining two cases. I replied and attached 5 documents and screengrabs supporting my claim. I got a response saying they couldn’t accept email attachments and they gave me a hidden link to upload the files. After I’d done that, I checked the case files and found that none of the uploaded documents were attached to them but now there was a new link on each file to add documentation to them. That link did not appear on the original case files so I was unable to provide supporting evidence initially. That’s why the cases were decided against me. Using that link, I uploaded the documentation to the two remaining cases.

However, once PayPal rule on a case, that verdict is set in stone. Keep that in mind as you read the rest of this story…

The documentation I provided included a screenshot of my original refund request to Sanders – since it was sent via Gmail, it also showed Sanders’ email address as being correct (i.e. the email wasn’t bounced) along with his photo. Hard to dispute that that email had not been sent. Other evidence included the support ticket conversation showing multiple times his software broke, screenshots of the broken test site and the URL of the test site so that PayPal could review the site for themselves.

And today, Oct. 28th, PayPal decided in my favour for the remaining two dispute cases. These two cases got me two thirds of my money back.

PayPal do not offer an appeal process and they will not reverse decision already made. The fact that they decided in my favour in two of the cases once I was given the opportunity to provide evidence supporting my claim should, to my mind, mean that they should reverse the ruling on the previous two cases. After all, they are all part of the one package. It seems ludicrous that they have decided both in my favour and against me FOR THE SAME PRODUCT!

PayPal’s dispute process is a complete mess. They break single cases into multiple parts and rule on those individually leading to a mixed bag of rulings. They don’t provide the ability to furnish supporting evidence from the outset. And followup communications come via email from their Compliance Dept and not through the dispute case pages within PayPal itself as you’d expect. In addition, the Compliance Dept won’t accept email attachments and you’re directed to another page to upload documents which then are not attached to the cases in question. You have to upload the documents again via a link (which then “magically” appears) on the case pages .

Consistency and good organization are not terms PayPal understands apparently.

Nevertheless, I was able to claw back the lion’s share of the money I spent purchasing Stream Store and its upsells.

What I’ve learned from Ariel Sanders’ behaviour is never to do business with him again. That would be a fool’s errand.

My advice, coming out of all this, is that you steer well clear of Stream Store and never buy any products from Sanders. It’s not that Stream Store was buggy that annoys me. It’s his handling of the entire situation.

So in this case: buyer definitely beware!

Update October 3rd, 2016: My original support ticket was actioned yesterday. It took 5 days for this to happen.

The reply to the ticket said the issue had been fixed (I had provided login info for the blog). When I checked the site, it was indeed showing products, with prices, and a working sidebar.

However, no information was provided on what they had to do to fix the site. Not knowing that means I can’t fix future sites myself. Since the site wasn’t displaying the kinds I products I wanted, I changed some category settings in the theme. And bang, broken site again. Reverting to the settings before my change didn’t fix it either. So now I’m back to an open ticket with the prospect of another 5 day wait before it gets actioned.

Amazon continues to be a favorite with affiliate marketers. Commissions aren’t great being, on average, 4% to 6% but you do earn commissions on anything a customer buys through your affiliate link, not just the product that might have brought them to Amazon.

Skip to the “Stream Store” Builder review…

Amazon provides good tools for its affiliates and getting a shortlink for a product or page is very easy. You only need to hyperlink a keyword to that product to have an affiliate link on your site.

Things get a bit more complicated if you want to showcase several products from Amazon on your site. You can always manually add images and links yourself. The downside is that prices may change over time and products may go out of production, leaving you with dud links on your site. Updating your product offerings can be time consuming too.

The typical way of overcoming these limitations is, if you’re using WordPress (which most affiliates do), is to buy a plugin to do all that hard work for you.

A number of plugins have appeared over the years that allow you to add Amazon product listings to your site such as ReviewAZON (no longer available), WP Zon Builder, PHPZon, EasyAZON and any other number of similar tools.

These plugins allow you to place a number of products within your posts and/or on a sidebar. EasyAZON takes a different tack by hyperlinking individual products but when the mouse is hovered over a link, a box with up-to-date info pops up.

Where many of the other Amazon plugins fall down is that they can only display links for the region you set in their settings (e.g. Amazon USA, Amazon UK, etc). EasyAZON uses geo-targeting so your link will automatically direct a customer to their local Amazon store (assuming you’re an affiliate for that Amazon region).

But what if you want to build a store-style page or site?

Building Amazon Stores

PHPZon allows you to build stores, after a fashion. It can find products based on a keyword which you can include in a shortcode on a page or post. The plugin always pulls the current products matching that keyword from Amazon, so you never have to worry about the inventory displayed on your site going out of date.

Because the plugin was designed to show a limited number of products (Max. 99), it can only be used to add products to a single post or page. You can always create multiple posts/pages, each with its own product focus and build up a store-style site that way. But it is a time consuming process.

WP Zon Builder is geared more towards creating individual product posts on your site and it can be used to schedule future posts. But it can’t be used to build dynamic Amazon affiliate stores.

Two store builders have come out recently. One, called Instant Azon, came out in April 2015 (it’s since been updated for 2016). The other is StreamStore which was released just over a week ago.

Stream Store is the store builder I’ll review here.

Stream Store Review

"Stream Store" Examples

Stream Store is actually a WordPress theme rather than a plugin. Looking at the sales page, the stores this theme creates look very professional. It’s what drew me to ìt. Before I get into the details, here are the pros and cons of using this theme:

Pros

  • Stores look very professional.
  • There are a number of different store templates provided (more with one of the upsells) so you can pick one that best suits your store’s topic. These are really just skins for the underlying theme.
  • Stores are completely dynamic and use the forever scrolling model to present products to visitors. Product presentation is very Pinterest-like.
  • Stores can be built around a specific category or a keyword phrase.
  • You can set a default discount so only products with that or larger discounts will be displayed. Visitors get a slider they can change to set their own discount filter.
  • A sidebar can be added to stores where you can add widgets to allow visitors to search for products with a selectable discount level and list other additional Amazon categories for visitors to look through.
  • Stores have a built-in cart which the visitor adds products to. Once they go to checkout, they’re redirected to the Amazon Cart where their products are automatically added. The Amazon Cart activates the 90 day cookies rather than the default 1-day Amazon cookies. So that increases your chances of earning commissions down the line.
  • Stores are geo-targeted so products from the visitors local Amazon region will be displayed to them. You do need to be an affiliate of that Amazon region to get commissions though.
  • Pretty much every aspect of a store can be customized.
  • 30-day money-back guarantee if it’s not for you.

Cons

  • Your stores need to be on their own WordPress install. The theme doesn’t work well if added to an existing WordPress site as it’s not designed to work with the traditional post structure.
  • If you want to add a store to an existing site, you need to install a new copy of WordPress on a subdomain and build your store there.
  • English is not the developer’s first language and his accent can be a bit difficult to decipher on the training videos. A noisy background hiss doesn’t help either, drowning out some of what he says.
    UPDATE: As I was writing this review, Stream Store’s developers released updated training videos which don’t have a noisy background, so it’s much easier to understand what’s being said.

 

Stream Store In Use

I hadn’t realized before buying Stream Store that it really can’t be used on an existing WordPress site. So I had to rethink how I’d add stores to existing sites. If you’re building a store on a new, dedicated site, then there’s no issue. If you want to add store pages to an existing site, Instant Azon is a better solution.

I opted to build stores for existing sites on subdomains as the developer recommends. It’s not a big deal as I can still easily hyperlink to the stores from my main sites.

The first thing I did was go through the six training videos. These cover:

  • WordPress install, Installation of the Stream Store theme and store templates and installation of the Dynamic Posts plugin.
  • Getting your Amazon keys and IDs and setting theme options such as the default search keyword and discount level, the default Amazon category for the site, and the template to use on the site.
  • The 4-step process to setting up your store.
  • The 4th video looks at the Store Design Settings which allow you to customize pretty much every aspect of your site.
  • The 5th video looks at the Dynamic Posts setup. This plugin allows you to autopost updates to your store to social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. There are quite a lot of these social sites you can hook up with. Each requires an App ID and this tutorial walks you through the process of integrating your store with them.
  • The final video looks more at how the Dynamic Posts plugin works, why you should use it to promote your store and how to design your sharing posts. How good these posts are (as opposed to posts on your store) will determine how appealing they are to people on social media. That, of course, will determine how shareable people will find them and ultimately how much traffic goes to your store and the number of sales you’ll make as a result.

I bought all the upsells for this product and one hiccup I encountered was that I couldn’t download the Dynamic Posts Pro plugin through the membership area that I’d bought as an OTO. I had to go through the “Access your Purchase” link directly for this plugin in JVZoo to get access.

Another confusing thing is that the Pro version of the plugin comes up as SVS Pro in the WP admin menu, not Dynamic Posts Pro as you might expect.

The Pro version of the plugin comes with an additional set of 30 post templates you can use (when getting your store to autopost to social networks).

Uh Oh…

I decided to build my first store on its own domain. Unfortunately, I hit a major snag. While everything installed correctly, the store just would not pull real products from Amazon USA, Amazon Canada or Amazon UK. What I got instead were two or three demo listings, repeated several times on the page. There was no info in the product descriptions and all prices were $0.00.

In addition, the categories sidebar widget which is supposed to show the various Amazon categories so visitors can look at products in them didn’t work either.

My Test Stream Store
A screenshot of my test Stream Store. There’s no customization applied to it yet (I didn’t get that far). The product listings are all dummy ones

Another irritation is that as you scroll down the screen, the page can jump unpredictably as new products are added for display at the bottom of a page.

Customer Support Experience

I submitted a ticket to the Support Desk describing how my test site was not working. Despite there being a “Support” link in the Stream Store member’s area, the support desk is on a different site (a subdomain) which you need to register for separately. This is just annoying.

When you log into the support desk and submit a ticket, you can enter a subject and description of your issue and attach up to 4 files (e.g. screenshots showing an issue). You cannot set the priority of your ticket. In fact, all tickets seem to have the same “No Priority” status, unless staff can independently change that status.

All tickets seem to also go into the only department available – “General Questions”.

No indication is given as to how long it takes for tickets to be answered.

It’s now been over 24 hours since I submitted my ticket regarding the non-display of products on my test site.

That’s an unacceptably long response time as far as I’m concerned. It suggests one of two things:

  1. A company is getting too many support requests to respond within 24 hours. That either means the product is problematical for lots of customers or not enough support staff have been hired.
  2. Customer support is low on the list of priorities for a company and they haven’t hired enough staff to provide an acceptable turnaround time for tickets.

Neither option reflects well on a company or individual (such as a one-man developer of a product).

I spent a lot of time reinstalling the Stream Store theme and templates, double-checking settings, particularly my Amazon credentials in case an error or mistake on my part was preventing the theme from pulling products. I could find nothing obviously wrong.

Interestingly, when you download the Stream Store theme, you’re provided with key for the product. However, after you install the theme on your site, at no point are you asked to enter your key to activate or validate the install. There’s nothing in the training videos about this key either, though installation of the key for the Dynamic Posts plugin is covered.

As it stands, I cannot give Stream Store even a 1-star rating. It did not work for me. Maybe others had better luck with it. Maybe some tweak is required in my site cPanel to get Stream Store working but, since my ticket has remained unanswered, I don’t know if that’s the case or not.

I don’t want to hear that “we are experiencing a large number of calls at the moment”, whether that’s when I phone my bank, any other company, or it’s suggested/implied by a lack of response in an online support desk system. That’s not a customer’s problem and companies of all descriptions take far too lackadaisical an approach to customer support in this regard. So I’m not singling the Stream Store developers out here. But a response time of more than 24 hours is just not good enough.

If my ticket does eventually get answered, I’ll update this post with the response time and how they addressed my query.

If a simple tweak or fix is all that’s needed to get Stream Store working, great. I’ll update the review to reflect my experience with a working copy and change my rating of the product accordingly.

In the meantime, if you’ve tried Stream Store yourself, perhaps you could leave a comment below outlining your own experience with it.

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