Sell on the Web: E-Commerce Made Easy

By Wayne Kawamoto | Posted July 13, 2004
Many small businesses find that once they master the intricacies of the Internet shopping cart, they can make as many sales through the Web as they can in brick-and-mortar stores. Fortunately, with Actinic's Actinic Catalog and Actinic Business, two comprehensive shopping cart programs, even non-technical business owners can create professional online catalogs.

Actinic Catalog creates e-commerce sites that can showcase about 10,000 products with images and descriptions, process orders and payments, calculate shipping and taxes and handle quantity-based pricing.

Actinic Business — designed to process large order volumes and help bigger companies provide personalized service to customers — offers all the features in Actinic Catalog and adds customer-based pricing, repeat-order wish lists, UPS Online Shipping Tools, customer logins, dynamic links to external spreadsheets and databases and QuickBooks integration.

The company released Version 7 of its Web-based applications, incorporating a handful of very useful new features — although little in the way of major changes.

Something Old and Something New
Among the improvements in Version 7, Actinic Catalog includes a much-needed multi-channel order-processing feature that lets you enter telephone and fax orders into Actinic's order processing system. The improved interface offers a moveable toolbar and a real-time preview panel.

You can also record sales information using new order lines, color-codes and comment fields. A new feature encrypts e-mail addresses that appear on the Web site to discourage harvesting by spammers. And, an editable page-titles feature lets you modify pages, so your Web site may potentially receive more hits from popular search engines.

Actinic Business offers advanced merchandising features that let you apply a wide variety of discounts and surcharges to individual products or groups of products. You can configure discounts to expire after a certain length of time or restrict them according to payment methods. You can also create offers such as "three for the price of two," or "buy one, get one free."

Web-Sale Connections
From your Actinic Web site, you can download orders to your desktop PC and use Actinic to print packing lists and invoices, create reports and manage back orders. With an add-on, use Actinic Business to sell downloadable products such as software, music and images.

Through a company called Sure Solutions, Actinic offers optional add-on merchant account services so customers can make credit card purchases. With these services, you can accept credit cards in real-time and approve transactions. Actinic also offers an optional Shared SSL service that provides space on a shared secure server to process orders from your Actinic store.

For business owners who want to link sales data from their Web sites to their accounting backend, the Actinic Link add-on for Actinic Business lets users export orders from Actinic into their accounting application, which updates customer account information, stock levels and product information. Small businesses that rely on Intuit's QuickBooks will want to consider Actinic Link for QuickBooks Pro / Premier 2002 & 2003, which creates a two-way data link between Actinic Business and QuickBooks 2002 & 2003.

Test Drive
Actinic Catalog installs easily, and I quickly created a professional-looking Web site without any HTML codes or references. The program offers a good choice of attractive, professional-looking layouts that can be changed by simply browsing through design templates, selecting one and applying it.

Actinic makes it equally easy to modify your layout's color schemes. The new preview panel lets you immediately see changes to your Web pages. I was pleased by the Web pages I created with Actinic, and most small businesses owners will be, too. The program makes excellent use of tabbed interfaces to help you review settings and modify them. The main tabbed interface lets you choose between viewing and working with sales content and orders. A general-details tab offers unambiguous options for working with layouts, stock, links and more. I particularly like the business settings menu that serves up clear options for configuring taxes, shipping/handling, terms and conditions and order processing. Simply select the settings that you want, or fill in the blank fields.

I found it easy to define terms and conditions, configure shipping charges based on quantity, order value or weight and to set the system to calculate taxes based on geography. The program also provides a screen that lets you completely reword the default messages that your Web page displays.

Actinic's intuitive 'Explorer-style' tree let you quickly create a product hierarchy. Simply drag and drop products to rearrange or move them; to add new products, right-click to reveal a page to enter product data and links. The program offers lots of flexible options for adding product images and product descriptions. Actinic also provides an easy wizard that walks you through the process of uploading catalog items via comma and tab-delimited text files.

A QuickStart Tutorial offers eight basic screens that briefly talk about building a site and provide links to the actual functions. The tutorial glosses over details and could offer more information. Perhaps in the future, Actinic could offer the option of a detailed walkthrough that would be more useful to novices.

While I was impressed with the attractive and functional site that I created using Actinic Catalog, I can see how the program's tools can be limiting to those who understand HTML and for businesses that want to create more sophisticated Web sites. For these users, Actinic comes in another flavor, Actinic Developer, a tool for Web designers that supports Macromedia Dreamweaver and offers features for managing multiple sites.

You can evaluate Actinic through its free, 30-day evaluation to decide whether the program meets your needs.

The Bottom Line
Actinic Catalog and Actinic Business are excellent programs for creating attractive and competent online stores. Both are worth a look. Actinic Catalog has a retail price of $499 while Actinic Business has a retail price of $1199.

Adapted from ECommerce-Guide.com, part of Internet.com's Small Business Channel.

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