Not so long ago, starting an online store involved tremendous effort and expense. Today, retailers have a variety of cost-effective but powerful hosting services available to them. Smith Micro's WebCatalog Builder promised utter simplicity at such an amazing price that we had to take a look.
The package runs as an Internet Explorer wizard in Windows (the Mac version uses Netscape Navigator). It guides users through home page setup and provides a product catalog complete with descriptions, prices, and options for sales tax and shipping charges.
WebCatalog Builder is very easy to use. In one afternoon we set up a sample store with three product lines. While the limited design options made the appearance of our store somewhat pedestrian, no other software we've tried allowed us to get so far so fast. Busy store owners will appreciate the nearly non-existent learning curve.
We did encounter a couple of quirks along the way. Internet Explorer generates a Java error message when previewing shopping cart functions (a problem Navigator does not exhibit). Also, the wizard regenerates the entire Web site after every change, requiring a lengthy wait as the store expands.
Signing up for Smith Micro's Web-hosting services adds several capabilities to the package. Forty dollars per month provides a catalog capacity of up to 2,000 products, secured-server credit card processing, and 10 e-mail addresses with the company's domain name.
If you want to test the waters of e-commerce without investing a large amount of time or cash, WebCatalog Builder is right up your alley.