Review: Actinic Catalog 7
In June 2004 Actinic launched version 7 of their long running Catalog, Business and Developer series of ecommerce products. This site previously ranked version 6 as a must-have app for business, so can version 7 cut the mustard? In short, yes!
For starters the interface now delivers a three-way split screen, with a preview pane taking up the bottom part of the screen. Die-hard Actinicers can customise this to revert to the older style if necessary, however you quickly become used to the new format. A larger monitor makes it easier though...
Recent versions of Actinic have continued to improve on the configuration options of products, allowing users to build complex items that consist of several sub-items. Version 7 includes a subscription option so, for example you can now sell an item
Discounting options have also been given the once-over. V7 (of Business and Developer) now allows a plethora of configuration options including 'Buy one - get one free' , 3 for the price of 2, buy item A and get B at half price etc, with prompts also appearing at the checkout. Discounts can have an expiry date or be set to specific payment methods and be triggered by clicking on a specific link in a web page or email - excellent for viral marketing campaigns. Catalog allows an overall discount to be applied based on total sales value; this can be split by different percentages/amounts based on cart value.
A slight drawback with previous versions of Actinic was the order management. Although you could import/export data you could do little else with it. Actinic have fixed this by enhancing the order management console. Orders can now be amended once they have been downloaded - quantities or items can be modified and notes can be applied.
Actinic's web site search facility has also been brought inline with some of the bespoke e-commerce solutions, with the addition of image thumbnails against search items. This does make trawling through large search results much easier on the eye.
With search engines playing an ever-increasing role in generating traffic, the importance of building search engine spider-friendly code is paramount. Version 7 allows page titles to be modified (previous versions used the category/product title of the current page) so that additional keywords can be added in to maximise your changes of higher rankings. And to thwart spammers all email addresses published on the site are encrypted, thus avoiding harvesting.
Another important inclusion is the 'Export Froogle Data feed' - this feature alone will be the reason that many will upgrade. Froogle is Google's answer to Kelkoo - a search engine of products and prices. This feature will allow you to instantly export your entire catalogue and pricing information in a format that Froogle can accept. If you have a competitive and popular product Froogle is worth its weight in gold for getting you new business. A digital download module is available for £150+VAT, allowing downloadable products such as music or software to be sold securely online.
Conclusion: If you currently do not have an e-commerce solution what are you waiting for? And if you are already using Actinic it's time for an upgrade. Even for complete novices this package offers a comprehensive solution that can be up and running straight out of the box. More advanced users have the ability to get their hands dirty with unrestricted access to the HTML as required, which is especially important when integrating into an existing site's look and feel. Trying to work an existing site around Actinic templates can be a little tricky for the less experienced though.
Supplier's web site: www.actinic.com
The trial version of Actinic Catalog is included on the CD-ROM that accompanies the book Marketing your Business.
Pro's: Low cost for a powerful ecommerce solution. Improved order management, search capabilities and Froogle export.
Con's: Templates can be a little inflexible if you already have a comprehensive site.