By Paul Lang, Editor, Sell It!
August 21st, 1999
|Description:||Free services for building an e-commerce Web site|
|Version reviewed:||Preview edition|
As many thrifty businesses will have already discovered, it is possible to build and promote a Web site without spending a dime. However, in order to do this, DIY Web masters need to scour the Web and sign up at many different sites to get all the services they need. This then leaves a major challenge – trying to get all the “freebies” to work together in a coherent fashion.
Bigstep.com aims to overcome this problem by providing in one place all the services a Webmaster needs to build an e-commerce Web site. And all these services have one thing in common – they are completely free.
There are currently five services available from Bigstep.com. These can be used to create a Web site (without any knowledge of HTML), build a product catalog, process orders online, send targeted emails, and submit a Web site to the search engines. A sixth service – detailed site reporting – is scheduled to be released later this summer.
So just how good are these free services? Read on and find out….
1) Site Builder
You can get free Web space just about anywhere these days, and it might be tempting to dismiss the free 12 MB of space that Bigstep.com provide as being no different from the free Web space that your ISP probably offers you. However Bigstep.com provide much more than just raw disk space — they actually provide a sophisticated tool to help build a Web site without needing any knowledge of HTML.
Adding these additional pages is straightforward. Bigstep.com provide a series of wizards that will create all of the most common pages in a Web site: for example pages for FAQs, a contact form, and a press and news section. In addition to these wizards a further wizard is provided for creating any custom pages you may like to add to your site.
Most of these page wizards allow for the inclusion of images. However, in order for an image to be added to a page it first needs to be imported into an Image Library. This is easily done: a “browse” tool is used to search through the contents of a local hard drive and select the images to be uploaded. Unfortunately this process needs to be carried out one image at a time which could be frustrating if you have a large number of images to upload, for example for a product catalogue.
If you don’t have your own images, Bigstep.com will help you out. Not only do they supply royalty-free clip art that you can use on your site, they also provide a wizard that will create a logo for your business.
The level of help provided with this and all other services on Bigstep.com is excellent. Each step has a detailed help screen behind it that explains exactly what the step is trying to achieve and how to go about completing it.
2) Catalog Builder
The Catalog builder service enables a product catalog section to be added to a Web site created with the Site Builder service.
Like the other Bigstep.com services, the Catalog service uses a series of wizards that help the merchant define the overall appearance of their catalog pages before adding in a structure of product categories and items. Unfortunately it is not possible to import a catalog structure from an existing product database.
Those merchants who intend only processing orders and payments offline will quickly discover a major limitation of the Catalog service – it does not add a shopping cart to the Web site. A shopping cart can only be added to the site (using the Commerce service below) if a merchant intends processing payments online.
3) Online Commerce
The wizards in the Commerce service set up everything needed for online transactions including checkout features and shipping and tax tables.
To activate the commerce service, merchants have to first apply and be approved for a credit card merchant account from Bigstep.com’s partner, Cardservice International. Once this is done a shopping cart is automatically added to the Web site and the merchant can start accepting orders online.
Although the credit card processing rates on offer are fairly competitive, a major disadvantage is that only applications from US businesses are accepted.
There are two pieces to the Communication service — a survey creation wizard and a mailing list manager.
The survey creation wizard allows merchants to create a multiple-choice questionnaire that is then added to their Web site and linked to from the main menu.
The mailing list manager allows merchants to send e-mail to all or some of the addresses in their customer database. Email addresses are automatically added to this database when people complete a survey form or ask to be added to the mailing list at the checkout stage. Existing customer databases cannot be automatically imported, although addresses can be added manually. It is possible to export a Bigstep.com customer database for use elsewhere.
The Marketing service is the most rudimentary of the five services available. It consists of a simple wizard that allows keywords to be specified for a site before automatically submitting it to Excite, Lycos and Alta Vista.
So what’s the catch?
The simple answer is that there really doesn’t appear to be one. The services do have some limitations as noted above, but beyond these they do allow for the creation of a simple e-commerce Web site at no cost (apart from those associated with the Cardservice merchant account).
Even better news is that unlike many of its competitors, Bigstep.com does not generate revenue by placing adverts on their customers’ Web sites. Instead their business model is to make money by selling adverts on the Bigstep.com site itself as well as selling future, additional services to their customers.
Verdict: Worthy of consideration by US businesses looking to build a simple e-commerce Web site on a limited budget.