There are plenty of web design tools available for small and medium sized businesses, but most of these are online services tied to specific hosts. If you prefer to create your eCommerce site locally, and host it on a service of your own choice, or even on your own servers, your choices are more limited.
SellerDeck, formally Actinic, is a desktop-based ecommerce application that has been around since 1996. The company is UK-based and has developed the software to the point where it’s a capable tool for handling online, telephone, and mail order sales, with an emphasis on online.
There are four levels of package available: Catalog, Business, Business Plus and Enterprise. Only the Business Plus and Enterprise level products are multi-user, meaning the software can be installed on multiple PCs. With Catalog, the entry-level offering at £599, and Business, which adds marketing, promotion and offline orders for £1,079 (version reviewed here), you’re expected to run the system from a single Windows machine.
In fact, though, you can run the system on two PCs, as long as they’re performing different functions. You can have one dedicated to maintaining the site, adding new items and offers and uploading changes, while the other is used for downloading orders for processing. The Business Plus version of the software enables up to 10 users and networks the PCs, giving them all full access.
The application is designed to run standalone, handling the complete shop site, but you can integrate it with an existing site, too, if it’s been designed in Dreamweaver.
There are 12 different design themes available, which can take any of 22 different colour schemes, but if you want to personalise the site with your own logos and colours, you can make changes yourself or use a third-party design service.
The main editing screen is divided into three parts, with menu and button bars at the top and a four tab main data section below these. The first two of these tabs will probably see the most use, as they cover the content of the shop and page design.
The Content tab shows two panels, a content tree on the left with a structure showing shop goods and the subsidiary pages in the site, such as welcome, contact, news and special offers. To the right of this is a panel for entering product details, prices and stock.
The Design tab reverses the layout, with the content tree to the right of a page preview. You can split the preview pane to show both its visual layout and the underlying HTML, if you prefer to hand code pages.
The other two tabs are for Orders and New Order. The first provides details of outstanding and satisfied orders, including details of fraud checks, which are carried out automatically online and flag up suspect customers, so you can decide whether to process their orders.
New Order is where you enter details from phone or mail orders, and mimics a typical online order page, making it straightforward to use.
Improved customer experience
SellerDeck has concentrated on improving the customer experience in the 2013 version of the product. The feature introductions may not look fundamental in isolation but when you add them together they produce a noticeably smoother experience for the shopper.
Improved filtering means pages can be constructed from keywords without a category having been pre-defined in the database. So, for example, if you are selling clothing you could create a new page of 'blue' garments, offering colour-coordination and drawing from several other categories without moving items around or duplicating them in the database.
Customer search has been improved, too, so a suggestion list drops down when a visitor starts typing search keywords.
On the display front, lists of items can now be paginated, so they can be displayed six at a time, 10 at a time or whatever you want, thus avoiding long page scrolls when there are many items in a category.
Prices can now be shown dynamically, so as a customer changes product options, such as colour or size, this is reflected in real-time in the on-screen pricing.
The same is true when options interact. SellerDeck’s test database - a useful training aid - uses an online jewellery store and the example given is of a diamond ring, available in yellow or white gold, where there are fewer sizes available in one colour than the other.
When the customer selects a type of gold in the Material selector, the correct set of sizes for that gold type is shown in the Size selector. You select the sizes available to display for each type, from the Permutations panel.
These kinds of improvements are also reflected in the emails the software can send to customers. Rather than simple text messages, as in earlier versions of SellerDeck, they can now be sent in full HTML, so they can include formatting, colour and links back into the site.
SellerDeck Business 2013 is a very competent online shop tool. Managing to combine a flexible and quite sophisticated structure with comparative ease of use, it should be able to service small and medium sized companies with ease.
The single-user licence may be a problem for some, though there is the Business Plus version for larger companies. The asking price of £1,079 is a one-off payment, so is quite likely to turn out cheaper than a subscription-based, online ecommerce service.
Manufacturer and product
SellerDeck Business 2013
Number of shop items
Online, telephone, mail order
Dynamically linked to sales
Includes online fraud checking
Pages can be built from filter results
Offer suggestions as keywords are typed
12, with 22 colour schemes
Use DTP-style tools or HTML code
Desktop PC (with local or online hosting)
Sage Accounts, Adobe Dreamweaver
Number of PCs covered
1 (though see main copy)