Wrapping up the e-comm saga

Our series on e-commerce garnered a lot of feedback from readers and vendors and resellers. Here's a roundup of the responses.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been discussing my problems getting an e-commerce site going for my wife’s small company, and many of you have written in with thoughts and observations. Here’s a selection of the feedback.

Reader Manish Jha wrote about one of the first columns in the series recommending I try Quickbooks Merchant Service for credit card processing.

I did use Quickbooks Merchant Service, and it works fine. The problem that tripped me up was that transactions for that card that are passed through the Quickbooks service will fail until you establish an American Express Merchant Account. Quickbooks Merchant Service acts as the credit card processing back end to the Network Solutions e-commerce services, and the error message for this problem is unhelpful. Not a biggie, but it still took three phone calls and 40 minutes to resolve.

Following my comments about the problems with customizing ProStores, one of the e-commerce services recommended by Intuit, the publishers of Quickbooks, Kurt Davey, the president of Neoverve, a Master ProStores Reseller, said: “Customizing any eCommerce application is difficult for the majority of merchants to achieve in-house. Providers who advertise their platform as a Low Cost, Do-It-Yourself application are simply unable to support customizations. They don’t have professional designers and developers on staff to support users who wish to customize. They have extremely high customer churn rates for the exact reasons you cited.”

Kurt, that’s exactly my point! These e-commerce service providers all oversell and under-deliver. Their one-size-fits-all solutions are fine as long as you don’t mind looking and working within narrow limits that are actually too narrow for anything but the most simplistic commercial purposes.

Lin Shearer, who actually works in ProStores Marketing, also sent me e-mail regarding my comment that ProStores support said it would not support sites customized at a low level: “To address your experience with our tech support — I think what they meant was . . . if you do your own custom coding and make certain changes, you might break your store if you don’t know what you’re doing — and we do not provide tech support to help you fix the code. Seems a little silly I agree.” Do I need to point out the weakness of this argument?

Lin pointed out that the documentation needed for customizing is available but you have to go to the ProStores Designer Certification site to find it, and the documentation is all in Flash or Windows Media video format. So, why is it not written down? I can read faster and retain more information than those turgid videos can deliver. And where’s the reference manual for the customized tags that ProStores uses? How can you pretend to be for professionals when you have no documentation?!

Lots of recommendations from users came in. Colin Quarello suggested using ZenCart, “an osCommerce branch project that includes a lot of additional features out of the box”, while Curt Akin offered LiteCommerce.

Robert Thomas apparently shares my pain and said, “Almost every ‘solution’ that I have investigated has a learning curve and does not have all of the desired features out of the box. Many add-ons are required to make things ‘user friendly’.”

Thomas recommended CMSimple and suggested the associated Quick Cart e-commerce solution.

I’ve been taking a look at content-management systems and this one looks pretty interesting. There may well be a Gearhead on the topic in the near future so tell me what you’re using.Looks like I’ve got my homework cut out for me. Next week, something different. Completely.

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