When Written: May 2004
|Product||Price (excl. VAT)|
|Actinic Order Manager||£149.00|
|Digital Download (add-on for Catalog)||£149.00|
SUPPLIER: 0845 129 4800 or firstname.lastname@example.org
VERDICT: Actinic Business is now a flexible, reliable and mature product that will produce and run your shop on the web with no need for HTML coding.
Actinic’s ‘Web shop in a box’ has been around for some time with version 7 being just released. The product comes in four levels; Catalog, Business, Developer and Order Manager. These all look and work the same, they vary only in the facilities they offer. In this review we will concentrate on Business as this is probably the most popular, with Catalog being a cut down version, and Developer having extensions in for further customisation of the look of the generated sites. Order Manager is a support product that allows the user to handle and process orders and can not build or maintain a web site. Actinic Business enables the user to build a fully functioning E-Commerce web site without any need to know HTML. It does this by storing the user’s data in a database and then generating a mixture of static web pages and Perl scripts which it automatically uploads to a designated web server.
Not only will Actinic connect to a wide range of internet payment providers, with configuration being done by a simple drop down, but it also ‘closes the loop’ by providing a versatile order / invoice processing system which will link to Sage accounts. This previously optional module is now included in Business as is the ability to sell downloadable products. Order processing has seen a number of enhancements; you can now enter orders directly into the system as well as adjusting existing web placed orders. Minimum order levels can now be set, as well as forcing web customers to agree to your terms and conditions by clicking on an ‘I agree’ button, something more and more sites are doing. Highlighting orders in different colours has been added, so ones requiring attention are instantly identifiable.
Actinic, have spent a lot of time and effort on the various discount and VAT configurations that it can handle and they are, quite rightly, proud of the flexibility of the system in this area. With version 7 they have extended the discount structure offered. Not only can you now have discounts limited by time for those ‘special offers’ but you can also do the ‘three for the price of two’ type of discounts or even the ‘spend £100 and get this item free’ incentives. Coupon related discounts are now possible. The web user enters a coupon code and they receive a discount on an item. Surcharges can now be levied on certain payment types as the law now allows merchants to do this.
Perhaps the most noticeable improvements have been in the user interface. A three pane look means it is easier to see the effect that data you are entering will have on your web site. You now have a much better idea where your products will appear on the site rather than the previous ‘enter data then click on preview’ system. Obviously you can switch to other views as this is a little more processor hungry than the ‘classic’ view. To help first time users there is also a quick start tutorial to help walk you through the initial setting up.
When entering a product you can now create a ‘duplicate product’ this is a linked item, so the same product with the same stock level can appear in more than one place on your web site. You might for instance have an ink cartridge which is displayed in the section ‘ink cartridges’ but you could also now display it for sale alongside the printer, and any changes made to one instance of the product would update the other instance. A product can now have links to other products or technical pages so, for example, a printer could also link to leads, paper and other consumables, all ways of improving the customer experience as well as selling more products! Another new feature is fragments; these are like products but instead of pricing information and a ‘buy now’ button, they just have a description with an optional image so you can put promotional information or an advert on the same web page as your products.
On a more technical front Actinic have replaced the ‘mailto:’ links with a link to a web form, this stops spam crawlers ‘hoovering up’ email addresses from your web site. It’s considered good practice to build web sites in this way now. Also, for some time mail servers have been set up so that they will not allow email to be sent through them with out authorisation, this is known as relaying. Previously Actinic had no way of supplying a username and password to an SMTP mail server, this omission has now been fixed. In fact the whole email section has had an overhaul and it is now much easier to manage and edit the email templates. Finally, Actinic now has the ability to upload the web site to a test web server to test all the functionality before uploading to the live site. Before the option to test offline would not allow you to check out any of the functionality of the shopping basket.
Version 7 is a mature product which has grown from customer feedback, the development team has also grown and with a client base containing such names as the Royal Opera House, Robert Dyas, Help the Aged and the Royal Navy, Actinic certainly produces the goods that work in that most demanding area, E-Commerce.
EASE OF USE: 5
VALUE FOR MONEY: 5
|Vendor PC:Pentium PCWindows 98, 2000, ME, XP or NT4Minimum 64MB memory (128MB preferred)100MB free disk spaceRecommend 65536 colour displayInternet accessInternet Explorer v5 (and higher)||Web site:NT or UNIX/Linux serverPerl 5.004 or laterUser writeable CGI bin|
This new view makes things much easier
Highlighting and off-line ordering are just two new features
the quick start tutorial is a boon to new users.
Article by: Mark Newton
Published in: Mark Newton