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The Whole Shebang

Don't have time to do it all? Check out these do-everything e-commerce software programs.

Roy Day wanted to set up an online storefront for his Upland, California, health supplement company, RDAY Inc., without a lot of trouble, expense or complicated decision-making. So when the company that had been hosting an informational site for RDAY for the past year told him about a single do-everything e-commerce program he could rent, Day jumped at it. "We can put as many products on there as we want," says Day of his Web site and the Mercantec SoftCart software he uses. "It'll add the shipping and total and let people put it on a Visa or Mastercard."

Adding e-commerce capabilities to his informational site cost only a $50 setup fee and increased his monthly hosting rate to $40. All-in-one solutions are becoming increasingly sophisticated, easy-to-use, flexible and affordable options for businesses setting up online storefronts. While they can't do everything high-end packages can, they can perform the essential functions of providing online shoppers with information, handling purchases and fulfilling orders.

You can, of course, assemble separate software packages that will provide all these features and more, or even custom-program your site from scratch. But the cost, complexity and ongoing upkeep hassles rarely make it worthwhile. "If you have a store with 50 to 500 products, you're not going to be able to assemble something that will work as well unless you've got quite a bit of money," says Ralph Wilson of Wilson Internet Services, an e-commerce consulting and publishing firm in Rocklin, California.

There are many e-commerce solutions available, but three that have sizable market share and good reputations include Intershop 4 from Intershop Communications Inc., ShopSite from Open Market Inc. and SoftCart from Mercantec Inc. The three come in versions suited for companies ranging from start-ups to businesses with thousands of products. While each has a different feature set, all provide basic functionality and are backed by established companies. "Between [these three], you're in pretty good shape," says Jon Naphin, product manager for business e-commerce products at Web host Interliant Inc. in Atlanta.

In addition to the basics, all-in-one e-commerce packages offer online merchants the ability to set up basic affiliate programs, offer discounts, and update and change product lines, images and informational text. One key feature to look for is tight integration with your accounting and inventory management software.

Cost is a plus, largely thanks to the way the software companies have chosen to distribute their programs through Web site hosting companies. Rather than paying hundreds or thousands of dollars to buy a program, you can pay dollars in the form of an extra charge tacked onto your monthly hosting bill. Interliant's entry-level Ecommerce Basic service includes Mercantec SoftCart and adds just $10 onto a $19.95 monthly hosting fee.

You don't get everything in the way of e-commerce for that price, of course. Instead of the unlimited flexibility of a customized program, you'll have a selection of templates. If you want to sell downloadable software or information, many all-in-ones can't handle the job. You probably won't be able to personalize your Web site to present a custom look to each visitor, either, and you won't be able to integrate most all-in-ones into a sophisticated enterprise resource planning system. Still, for the right start-up e-business, do-everything software is a good fit.


Mark Henricks, author of Business Plans Made Easy and Mastering Home Networking, writes on business and technology issues.

Contact Sources

Interliant Inc., (770)673-2239, sales@interliant.com

Rday Inc., (909)931-9009, www.rday.com

Wilson Internet Services, www.wilsonweb.com

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