Best e-commerce website builder: 8 reviewed
18th Oct 2011 | 09:52
Get your online shop up and running quickly and easily
Best e-commerce website builder
There are plenty of software packages on the market that proudly claim to have the ability to uncover your latent web design abilities, letting you create fully functioning, professional websites with the minimum of experience.
While many of these website creation products boast about their simplicity and ease of use, sometimes their determination to offer a streamlined package leads to more problems than it solves - especially when you're creating a website for making money. While some website building packages let you add complex elements without having to type a single line of code, some overzealous packages go a bit too far by preventing you from typing in any HTML whatsoever.
To keep designing websites as easy as possible, website creation software usually comes with plenty of ready-made templates. These can often be a mixed bag - while some look fantastic and will make your website appear professional, others can look downright awful. Using a common template from a popular software package can mean your website fails to stand out from the crowd, which can be disastrous if you're creating a website for your business.
A decent website creation package shouldn't just focus on simplicity, but should strike a balance between ease of use and versatility. Ideally, the software should let us to create a website that's as simple or as complex as we need it to be. We put eight of the best tools to the test.
E-commerce software on test
Xara Web Designer 7 Premium - £90
Avanquest Web Easy Professional 8 - £41
Yola Silver - £62
Doodlekit - Free
SiteSpinner Pro - £99
Namesco Ecommerce - £8 per month
Mr Site Storefront Pro Seller - £25 a month
MAGIX Website Maker 5 Deluxe - £40
Xara Web Designer 7 Premium
Xara Web Designer 7 Premium offers a lot of scope to edit your website
Xara is one of the UK's oldest software developers, and since 1981 it has been associated more with drawing and illustration software than web design.
Regardless of this, its Web Designer software is now in its seventh version, and the experience the company has accrued over the years is readily evident, from its accomplished interface to the versatile tools contained within - some taken straight from Xara's excellent design software.
Double-clicking a template from the Design Gallery gave us a ready-made website that just needed us to replace the placeholder text and images. If you simply want to get a website up and running quickly, this is all you need to do.
Avanquest Web Easy Professional 8
Does Avanquest Web Easy Professional 8 try to make building a website too simple?
With a name like Web Easy Professional, it's no surprise to find that the focus of this software is on simplicity. As we mentioned earlier, a balance between simplicity and versatility is essential for website creation software, and we found that Web Easy Professional 8 didn't quite get that crucial balance right.
Almost all of the templates included with Web Easy Professional 8 look tacky and outdated. When selecting a template, we were shown a small thumbnail of what the website would look like, which was too small to accurately see what the result would be.
For a better look, we had to skip through a number of steps in the website creation walkthrough.
Yola Silver offers convenient tools that let you edit your website in your web browser
Yola has more in common with online website creation services like Geocities and Tripod than its desktop competitors.
There are various pros and cons to consider when using an online website creation tool. The benefits are that you can access and edit your website from any PC as long as it's connected to the internet, but the downsides are that web-based services aren't as powerful as most desktop software packages, and your site is often tied to the service's servers.
You can create a free website or a paid-for premium site. While the free websites you can create are perfectly acceptable and come with most of the features of the premium version, they only have basic templates and contain Yola adverts.
Does the Doodlekit free service offer enough power for business users?
Doodlekit is another online-only site builder, but it does things differently to Yola. With Yola, when we began creating our website we were asked to fill in most of the details first.
Our basic website was then built with the information we had provided. Doodlekit takes a minimum of information, including the website name and what type of site it will be (personal or professional), and then creates a website with placeholder text and images.
The text explains how each area of the website works, and how you can edit it. It's a similar method to that used by Xara Web Designer 7 Premium, and it works well.
Four more e-commerce packages reviewed
To use SiteSpinner Pro, you need a bit of experience - and a lot of patience
Rather than going out of its way to appeal to new users, SiteSpinner Pro sticks to a plain and no-nonsense approach. We found that how well you get on with it really depends on your previous experience of creating websites.
If you're confident making websites and want to get started straight away then you'll appreciate SiteSpinner Pro's straightforward design. If you're new to website design, however, you may feel lost when presented with a blank page and lots of unfamiliar tools.
We found that making a website from scratch took a great deal longer than with the other programs.
Namesco Ecommerce Starter
Namesco Ecommerce Starter is an affordable tool for creating e-commerce sites
While many website creation programs include e-commerce tools that let you sell products through your newly-created website, sometimes they feel like an afterthought. Not so with Namesco Ecommerce, an online service that focuses on making sites for online shops.
This is a great package if you're looking to make money out of your website, but if you just want to make a personal website, then the advanced e-commerce tools will be wasted, and you're better off going for a software package with a broader remit.
Namesco Ecommerce was easy to get started with, and the Setup Assistant walkthrough did a good job of displaying the templates and giving us an idea of what our website would look like.
Mr Site Storefront Pro Seller
With Mr Site Storefront Pro Seller, making and managing online stores is easy
The Mr Site brand is known for making the process of creating and editing websites very easy. Mr Site Storefront is a new product that focuses on e-commerce. Previous Mr Site products featured basic selling tools, similar to most of the other site creation programs we've tested here, so how well does Mr Site Storefront fare with this new focus?
The answer is very well. Eschewing some of the more conventional tools included with most website building services, Mr Site Storefront is an excellent choice for creating a website designed to make you money.
As with the Namesco Ecommerce service, if selling products isn't your website's primary goal then you're going to find the features quite limiting.
MAGIX Website Maker 5 Deluxe
MAGIX Website Maker 5 Deluxe is more suited to personal sites than online businesses
Xara, the company behind Web Designer 7 Premium, was acquired by the German software firm MAGIX AG in 2007. While MAGIX continued creating its own brand of website creation software, Xara was able to remain autonomous.
This means that while two competing products have come from the same parent company, there's little crossover between them.
Essentially, Xara Web Designer 7 Premium is a desktop application aimed more towards people with web design experience, while MAGIX Website Maker 5 Deluxe is more suited to casual users and beginners.
The best e-commerce site builder is...
Mr Site Storefront Pro Seller
Price: £25 a month
It might not be the most in-depth website builder on the market, but if you want a dependable product for creating a professional-looking online shop, with great tools that can really help make your business a success, then Mr Site Storefront is an excellent tool.
There's lots of scope for starting your own business and making money online, and we feel that Mr Site Storefront is the best tool to help you achieve this.
Namesco Ecommerce Starter
Price: £8 a month
Although Doodlekit is free to use, we believe that the Starter package of Namesco Ecommerce software represents much better value, as it comes with some excellent features for creating a website designed for making money.
For £8 a month you get a .uk domain name, 1GB of web space and the ability to host 100 products. As your business grows, the Professional package also provides excellent value for money with more space and room for 2,000 products for £17.
First published in PC Plus Issue 312
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