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Online shop builders are often inflexible, but this package breaks the mould and enables you to get a lot more from your Web store.

E-commerce site builders come in two flavours. There are the meaty 'out-of-the-box' solutions, where you purchase physical software such as Actinic and eGenie, or there are the sweet online solutions such as BT's StoreCentre or Virgin's SiteBuilder.

The boxed versions are normally aimed at more serious users: they're (mostly) highly customisable, and have the advantage of not maxing out your phone bill every time you add a few products. The online site builders are normally marketed to beginners. You choose one of the few themes available for your site, you add a couple of product descriptions and images, and proudly call yourself an e-business.

While Get Trolleyed initially tastes like other online site builders, there are some juicy morsels under the crust. This makes it a little more complex for a newbie, but the more you dig into the help files, the more you'll realise how flexible GT is.

For £300 (exc VAT) you get a year's site hosting for your store of up to 2,000 products, a .co.uk domain name, a POP email account, secure online payments with Barclays' ePDQ transaction processing and a slew of site statistics so you can see what's working and what's not. If GT updates its scripts, you'll get the new version automatically. After that first year you'll pay £150/yr for the hosting. Not bad, considering BT's offering costs more and only gives you 50 product pages.

Setting up your store is straightforward in administration mode, your site structure appears as a tree, with product categories holding individual product pages or more sub-categories. Each branch on the tree has its own intro text and, better yet, meta tag keywords. Because building the site creates individual pages instead of serving them from a database, you can submit product pages to search engines individually and tailor keywords to get the most attention.

Along with the product description, image and price, you can define your own options, such as size or colour, which will appear in a drop-down box. You can set up multiple VAT rates and specify them separately for different products and mark a product 'out of stock'. Many of the field titles you must fill in are linked to pop-up help guides. If you're unsure what should be entered, the answer is a click away.

Exporting data

Are all your products already in a data-base or spreadsheet? Then you don't have to type everything in again online. So long as you're reasonably competent exporting comma-separated text files, you can upload all your data at once. But that's getting ahead of ourselves; first the basic package.

A failing of many online shop builders is the inability to change postal charges. By default GT charges postage according to the value of the product. But you can change this and enter a separate weight for each of your goods and break your charges into UK, Europe, overseas or whatever other rate categories you desire.

Other global options let you specify contact details, payment options and the secure server you're using to process your orders. GT has partnered with Barclays to help you set up a merchant account easily. If you have an existing account, there are templates for most online banking services.

Fire up an editor

Sounds easy? You probably won't be very impressed by the first site you create. Unlike most other online store builders, it only includes one drab set of templates. You're almost certainly going to want to fire up an HTML editor and customise them. This is no bad thing. After all, if you're going to the trouble of setting up shop online, you're going to care about those e-business essentials: image and branding.

By the time you read this, you will be able to download an offline page editor, which will take the load off your phone bill. As with its flexibility, GT is taking another step towards bridging the gap between 'out-of-the-box' and online site builders.


The bottom line

Pros: Flexible, customisable, UK-based VAT charging, search engine friendly, can upload product databases.

Cons: Not for complete newbies, requires time online designing.

Overall: 87%

 

NB:All details correct at time of writing.

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