Actinic Express review

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Actinic is no stranger to offering e-commerce ‘shop-in-a-box’ software, frequently receiving favourable reviews in these pages. But this time, the box has disappeared, as Actinic brings us Express – its first foray into offering fully fledged web applications.

Actinic Express review

This is designed to be an entry-level, purely web-based product, but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s limited in its capabilities. While it lacks some of the facilities of more sophisticated application-based products, it’s a far more accessible option for those with simpler requirements.

Setting up the shop couldn’t be easier. It’s compatible with any of the major browsers, and there’s a trial site for you to play with to find your feet. Then it’s a case of registering, which will cost you £50 plus £20 a month thereafter. There’s a wizard to take you through setting up the basics: decide on one of the preset styles, select the colours you want for your website and then add some products. That’s the basic approach, but it’s quite feasible to be ready to start selling in less than an hour.

Support for online payment providers is currently limited to SecPay, PayPal, WorldPay and Protx, although more are promised in the future, and other forms of payment are also provided for those who don’t have online credit card-handling facilities. Secure shared SSL is provided as part of the package, enabling you to download the credit card details securely and process them offline as you would with a telephone order. Once an order is placed on the website, you’ll be informed by email. You can then go to the admin section and process the order via a web browser.

Invoicing is flexible, and customers can also be offered invoiced orders or payment on delivery – it’s limited only by your own payment facilities. One thing we weren’t happy to see was that the checkout offers a drop-down box for state/province irrespective of the country selected and only shows US states. Being a web-based application does at least mean it’s a far simpler job to correct it on your own site when the localisation is ironed out, but for now it looks unprofessional. Despite this glitch, Express will display products in any currency, with the option to simultaneously display in an alternative currency, although you’ll need to update exchange rates manually.

Where Express pulls away from similar products is that it doesn’t stop at just maintaining a shop. The online system handles the order processing as well, with the ability to alter any order to allow for an item being out of stock. Live stock levels aren’t catered for, but this isn’t normally a problem for merchants, and it does prevent stock being made unavailable due to a customer adding the stock to their basket but not completing the transaction.

Actinic has done a lot of work on making Express websites optimised for search engines too. As with most websites fed from a database, search engines can have problems indexing the pages, as they’re generated only when a visitor follows a link. So rather than just produce pages with metatags in their headers, there’s more going on in the background.

Express has a few limitations: it won’t handle varying discounts or products based on customer or quantities, nor will it link to products such as Sage or QuickBooks. You may also be slightly disappointed with the paucity of design styles available, but Actinic has just announced a template design service. For £199 (exc VAT), you can have an Express store to fit the look and feel of your existing website. Even without this, you can still upload images for display in the headings or background on the website. The only commitment is a month’s notice on the contract, during which time the data from your Express shop can be imported into other Actinic products should you wish to upgrade. For your monthly fee, you get hosting, telephone support and shared SSL.

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