Pay-as-you-go website

World class woodworking tool maker Ashley Iles knew they needed a retail website to allow customers access to the full range of tools they manufacture in their factory near Spilsby, Lincolnshire.

The product range of 1,700+ tools is considerably extended by product options such as handle fitted or blade-only, what wood the handle is made of, how the bevel is ground etc.

An international network of sales agents stock the faster moving ranges of chisels, carving and turning tools but sales of many of the less well-known tools were stagnant.

They approached us to discuss the feasibility of developing a website and we quickly had a list of primary requirements-

    • Able to handle e-commerce transactions from around the world;
    • Able to handle the increasing mobile ecommerce market;
    • Easy for customers to use;
    • Stable and reliable.

A number of constraints also emerged including-

    • Other than a printed brochure – no product images! (it’s a long story)
    • No computerised database of product details;
    • The overall solution would have to fit a modest budget (a commission based approach was favoured).

I’d already developed some small retail sites based on Zen Cart but thought a quick tour of some of the other e-commerce packages available wouldn’t hurt.

Many of the “pay-as-you-go” packages looked attractive but I generally don’t like “all eggs in one basket” for anything.  Some solutions looked pricey once all the features we needed were factored in, and there was always the niggling doubt of “if it really doesn’t work, what is the cost of moving away?”  Two of the most important factors here were a) upfront commitment (some insisted on 12 month contracts) and b) could I walk away with product/customer/order data to import elsewhere?  Ignoring the customer/order data, setting up a database of descriptions, prices, options and images for a large product range is no small task and not something I’d want to repeat!

Zen Cart is open source freeware, the other two free e-commerce packages I reviewed were PrestaShop and Magento.  The PrestaShop install prereqs mentioned changing some host server settings which according to some opened you up to certain hacking exploits… which may be different now but it was a show stopper then.

I installed Magento Community on a 1and1 hosting package (which is actually a snap using their click and build apps) and ran a few test scenarios. First impressions were good, your store interface can be made to look slick and up-to-date. However, I quickly realised (and others discuss this point) it is a complex bit of kit more suited to an organisation with the in-house staff prepared to configure and nurture the beast.  It’s also owned by a large online auction company I like to have as little to do with as possible.





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