When Written: Oct 2002
verdict Astrosell is a competent piece of software offering you the ability to build a fully featured on-line store with ease and give you the mechanisms to maintain it.
supplier Astrosell 0870 746 1805
If you want to create a web-based shopping site there are many options open to you now, each varying in time, cost, flexibility and ease of use. One particular way is by using a ‘shop in a box’ solution. This is a piece of software that installs on your own PC and enables you to design, configure and maintain an e-commerce site. The way these products work is that you set the options and parameters, select a design template for the look of the site and enter the products that you want to sell. After initial testing locally you can then upload the whole site either to your own web server or to an ISP that supports the product. The great advantage these types of product have over many other solutions is that they also have a way of downloading the orders placed on the web site and then processing them. After all, it’s all very well offering goods for sale on your web site but unless you can handle the orders, or track back orders in a timely fashion then you are unlikely to have much repeat business.
This review is looking at one such product called Astrosell Professional; this software looks very similar to Actinic Catalog when it is installed. I’m sure that Astrosell won’t mind the comparison to Actinic as both products address the same problems in similar ways. So what makes Astrosell different to its competitors? There are two main features that might make you chose it in preference. One is the live stock control and the other is it’s template editing. Firstly lets investigate live stock control. The problem with the “upload items, download orders”, solution offered by most of these products, is that the stock is not live. This can be a big problem with some stores, and Astrosell now in version 3 offer a solution.
Their product supports live stock levels, so that should an item be sold from the web site and this order reduces the stock below a preset level then that item is marked as out of stock and the site operator is informed. Orders for this item can also be stopped. This server-side functionality is very new, and not without its faults. However, it is being constantly refined. One fault for example, is that there is no check to stop a user ordering more items than are in stock assuming at least one is in stock when they begin to place an order. For example assume that there are two items in stock, a user can simply order five items and the system will allow it even if the option to suspend ordering when the stock is sold out is set. Hopefully this will be fixed in an update.
The designs that Astrosell provide for web sites are really very nice and modern looking with pop-up windows being used for many options including the shopping basket. It would be nice to have some control over whether pop-ups are used for this particular function as, in my opinion, the delay between a user clicking the ‘buy now’ and the window popping up could cause some confusion in the user, and a confused customer soon becomes an ex-customer.
In Astrosell there is considerable support for different forms of payment options such as NoChex, PayPal, PayStamp as well as for IPPs such as SecPay, Barclays ePDQ, Secure Trading and WorldPay. To provide further feedback to the customer there is an order tracking link on the web site so that a customer armed with an order tracking number can see the status of their orders. This is dependant, of course, on you maintaining the order processing screens accurately. Should you wish to handle the orders in other ways, say, using your company’s current in-house accounting systems? Then you can, but it may be a good idea to remove the link from the web site.
This brings us to the next of the two great features and that is modifying the look of your site. This is done by editing a template and these are simply HTML files with marker tags for data marked as <>. It really is a simple job to edit a template using your own HTML editor and re-save it then re-uploading the web site using the new template. The templates look very similar to the final web pages so it is quite easy to see the effect of your design changes; there are usually twenty or so HTML files making up a template so even if you had to edit each one the task is no too onerous.
Astrosell is a competent piece of software offering you the ability to build a fully featured on-line store with ease and give you the mechanisms to maintain it. The designs that it ships with are all good looking and usable they are very extremely easy to customise with any HTML editor. I had some trouble with getting the permissions sorted out on my test web server but Astrosell’s excellent technical support managed to sort it out, and to be fair some of that was caused by a previous version of the product being on my machine and the templates getting confused. Astrosell will not build and maintain a complete site easily nor does it handle the sale and distribution of downloadable products as Actinic Business Ver 6 does, however with live stock control and the templates provided make it a worthy competitor. Download both and compare.
OVERALL 5/6 (average of the bottom three scores)
EASE OF USE 5/6
VALUE FOR MONEY 5/6
Requirements: 266MHz Pentium II, 32Mb of RAM, 60Mb of hard disk space, Windows 95,98, ME, 2000, NT4.
The user interface is very similar to others in the marketplace
Setting the live stock prameters
Editing Astrosell template pages in Dreamweaver is easy.
Article by: Mark Newton
Published in: Mark Newton