Build an e-Biz With ShopSite

Businesses that want to hang shingles on the Web would do well to consider ShopSite. With few shortcomings, the product is simple enough that Web-phobic business owners can create basic online catalogs, but still offers sophisticated e-tailers the means to create elaborate shopping sites.

ShopSite comes in Starter, Manager, and Pro versions. For neophytes, each edition of ShopSite offers an intuitive browser-based wizard that walks storeowners through the process of creating a Web-based catalog and shopping cart. Ultimately, that involves simply typing in product details, setting payment and shipping parameters, selecting a site design, and publishing to the Web.

ShopSite claims that anyone can use the wizard to create an e-commerce site in 15 minutes, which is just about true — though such a site would only feature a couple of products and minimal marketing text.

For those willing to spend more than 15 minutes on creating their site, the wizard enables users to specify an extensive amount of product and fulfillment parameters. In addition to prices and product descriptions, merchants can manually add SKUs, weights, sales tax rates, payment options (Visa, MasterCard, Discover, check, etc.) and shipping options (ground, second-day air, or next-day air).

To ease the process of creating product catalogs, ShopSite enables e-tailers to import much of this information from existing inventory databases. Its straightforward upload feature supports tab-delimited text files.

On the other hand, uploading product pictures is more miss than hit because ShopSite doesn’t allow users to adjust image sizes. As a result, site managers have to edit product images for size and color depth before uploading, and can verify how they look only after they’ve been published.

ShopSite supports a variety of payment options including VeriSign’s PayFlow Pro, Authorize.Net, Cardservice International, and eBay’s PayPal’s IPN (Instant Payment Notification). The new ShopSite Version 7 adds an Paymentech Orbital Gateway interface, as well. Businesses can integrate their sales and order information with external programs, thanks to ShopSite’s ability to download orders as tab-delimited text files or in a QuickBooks file format.

At this stage, a user’s Web site will offer a shopping cart with the usual functions — such as “add to cart” and “view cart.” In addition to creating a catalog and configuring payment and shipping options, most businesses also will find that they’re pleased with the design of the resulting pages — and their customizability.

ShopSite Helps Company Post “Big” Sales

One of those, specialty e-tailer, has long relied on ShopSite to fill big shoes and even bigger customer expectations.

The company, which specializes in extra large shoes and hard-to-find shoes sizes, uses the software to market and manage the 95 percent of its sales that come through the Web. 2BigFeet said it initially gravitated to ShopSite because of the system’s relatively low up-front cost.

“When we chose ShopSite, many shopping carts charged high monthly fees, usually a percentage of sales,” said Brandon Eley, the site’s vice president. “We did not want to pay a high percentage of our profits to a company for doing relatively nothing.”

Another reason that chose ShopSite stemmed from its ability to be tailored to suit e-tailers’ design requirements.

“The difference between ShopSite and other carts is that it’s very customizable,” Eley said. “If you grow, you can leave the themes and templates behind and develop a custom look, which is what we did.”

Inventory controls proved another critical selling point for 2BigFeet.

“We sell shoes and stock thousands of pairs in our warehouse,” Eley said. “ShopSite allows us to track our inventory, including specific colors and sizes, and display it to our customers on our Web site.”

Still, he did point out some future enhancements that he hoped to see in ShopSite. For example, Eley said could be helped by the addition of more information on abandoned shopping carts, and by detailed data on the paths that visitors take while shopping.

Nevertheless, Eley said he remains satisfied with the investment — and ShopSite’s dedication to improve.

“For such a small investment we have had a product that has, over almost 5 years, done just about everything we needed it to,” Eley said. “And when we find there’s a feature we desperately need, most of the time they’re already working on incorporating it into the next version.”

ShopSite touts some 50 default color schemes. However, the default choices are limited to variations on only eight distinct layouts. Fortunately, the product offers customization features capable of taking sites beyond plain-vanilla templates. Storeowners familiar with HTML or conventional Web design programs can integrate the system’s shopping cart features into existing Web pages, or can create custom pages and templates for ShopSite.

Like creating a store with ShopSite, ongoing site management is fairly easy to perform. The program offers a Web-accessible console that provides options for working with pages, products, images, merchandising, orders, reports, commerce setup, and utilities.

Different Editions for Different Needs

ShopSite’s three editions — Starter, Manager, and Pro — provide increasing levels of functionality, ranging from handling e-commerce fundamentals to providing sophisticated add-ons. Starter is targeted toward businesses with limited catalogs, while Manager supports unlimited products and pages, and offers real-time credit card processing. Pro adds additional support for coupons, product searches, discounts and inventory tracking.

Starter users will miss out on two important features found in the Manager and Pro versions of ShopSite. Both higher-priced editions include confirmation/preview pages that let customers review their orders before submission, and site publishers’ changes before they go live.

The Manager and Pro versions also offer integration with UPS rates and services, enabling users to validate addresses, calculate shipping costs and taxes. The editions’ shipping engine also can support merchant-supplied rate tables, enabling e-tailers to offer free shipping or discounted handling charges when orders meet certain thresholds or are placed from specified locations.

The two products also enable businesses to edit “required” order fields and design HTML e-mail order receipts.

A myriad of still more elaborate extras makes Pro the edition of choice for the advanced e-tailers. The product lets businesses add custom form fields to shopping carts — enabling storeowners to offer add-on options (such as gift wrapping,) to provide additional information (like an explanations of service terms) or to gather information and conduct surveys.

Pro also offers a coupon feature that lets businesses provide discounts based on customers’ order sizes.

Additionally, the Pro edition integrates e-mail, sending verifications to customers after they place orders and warning store managers when stock is low — while also preventing customers from ordering out-of-stock products.

ShopSite Pro also supports and tracks sales through affiliate Web sites, enables merchants and customers alike to search for products based on keywords and Boolean logic, and provides universal editing — allowing store managers to increase catalog-wide pricing by a certain percentage, for example.

Released last year, Pro Version 7 adds powerful customer registration. With this feature, a Web store can save customers’ payment information, preferences and shipping addresses — eliminating the need for customers to re-enter their data when they return.

The customer registration feature also enables businesses to define customer groups — such as wholesalers, retailers, or regular customers — and to assign discount levels to each. For example, customers who qualify as frequent shoppers can be automatically recognized and offered discounts.

Other useful new Pro features include automatic multi-page generation, which limits the number of products displayed on a page and generates new pages with navigation links; an ability to copy pages and a variable pricing feature — enabling shoppers to input their own price for a product, which is useful for gift certificates, donations, or auction payments (naturally, the payment must be exceed a merchant’s specified product cost for it to be accepted.)

While ShopSite is server-based software, it is typically resold in a hosted solution through partners that bundle it with Web hosting and other options. Monthly rates through resellers range between $29-$49 (Starter) and $120-$139 (Pro), which often include hosting fees, free upgrades to new releases and other services.

In addition, hosted ShopSite access may be purchased for a one-time charge, usually ranging between $495 (Starter) and $1,295 (Pro).

If merchants don’t want to rely on a hosted solution, they may purchase only Manager (for $495) or Pro (for $1,295) directly from ShopSite — Starter is not available in a software edition. An additional $695 provides users with phone and e-mail support, free upgrades and installation assistance. Businesses may evaluate ShopSite for free through a 24-hour demo version that is available on ShopSite’s Web site.

In all, ShopSite continues to make a name for itself as a powerful e-commerce solution offering flexibility and real room to grow. Once you decide that it’s time to begin making sales via the Web, it’s definitely worth consideration — as a slew of online merchants have already discovered.

Wayne N. Kawamoto is a contributor of

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