E-commerce for the little guy

by Alan Zisman (c) 1999. First published in Toronto Computes, July 1999

$150 (Basic), $600 (Pro)
Multiactive Software
604-601-8000, 604-601-8001 (fax)

requires: Windows 95/98/NT, 16 MB RAM, 25 MB drive space, Internet account with Web hosting capability and FTP access.

For many businesses, the promise of the Internet is to make the little guy (gender-neutral) the equal of big business. As the famous New Yorker cartoon pointed out, on the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog. Or in this case, in the 'real' world, you might be a local corner store or you might be a multinational corporation. In cyberspace, it's all one and the same.

Of course theory and reality are not always the same. While many big companies can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on their web site, a home-made web page will look-- well, home-made.

And while easy-to-use software like Microsoft FrontPage, Symantec Visual Page, or others have made it easier for non-professionals to design attractive web pages, they don't take many small businesses where they really want to go-- to selling their products directly over the Web: eCommerce.

Vancouver's Multiactive Software, best known for their contact manager Maximizer, hopes to fill that gap with easy to use ecBuilder. The program is available in two versions, a basic $150 version, and a $600 Pro version. Their promise-- 'Get your business online in under an hour'.

It might take you more than an hour, but the software, which was named Best Internet Commerce Software at the Software & Information Industry Association's 1999 Spring Symposium, comes pretty close.

Using a series of wizards, it makes it easy for small to mid-sized businesses to customize an impressive online storefront, without needing to mess with the underlying HTML code. Storefronts support encrypted, secure transactions, so customers can have worry-free shopping. Storefronts can include catalogues of items, a shopping cart, sales tax and shipping information. It's easy to create a home page complete with company logo and profile, complete with contact information and a choice of 30 designs with customizable colour schemes.

Especially nice is the catalogue builder. Allowing up to 2,000 items (100 in the basic version), the Pro version makes it easy to subdivide the catalogue into sections or product lines, and to include text descriptions and graphics, sounds, and animations of the various products. Items from the catalogue can be automatically set on sale, with a specified discount and for a pre-set period of time. Once the site is created, it's easy to keep it up to date.

Also well-implemented is the order and inquiry page-- assuming a merchant has a pre-existing account to process credit cards, this can easily be extended to the Web. A nice added touch is that the program can be set to submit information about the new site to up to eight Web search engines-- getting the word out at the same time that it gets your new site up and running.

A separate, but included program-- ecOrderDesk, helps track sales and to export information to accounting or spreadsheet programs.

The basic version is limited to 10 content pages built using a single template, while the Pro version expands that to 100 pages using multiple templates.

Trial versions are avaiable fo

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan