Review: Miva Merchant 5

Miva Merchant has been a standard against which other e-commerce solutions have been judged. Though certainly not perfect in and of itself, you can make Miva Merchant 5 do just about anything you want it to do.

The name "Miva" is now more inclusive than just an e-commerce storefront, thanks to a corporate rebranding of FindWhat.com and a string of acquisitions. Yet the name, Miva is still best known for its Miva Merchant e-commerce solution, which recently hit version 5. The new version includes a number of new and improved features that will likely help to keep the name Miva synonymous with e-commerce storefronts for some time to come.

What is Miva Merchant 5?
Miva Merchant 5 is a mature and robust e-commerce storefront solution with the usual sorts of e-commerce functionality. It allows you to create and manage an e-commerce catalogue, handle payments and shipping - as well as Inventory and Merchandising capabilities. (See full feature list here.)

Miva Merchant 5, as was the case with its predecessors, is quite extensible thanks to a long list of add-on module (at various prices, many of them listed on http://mivacentral.com/). Miva Merchant is available from Miva directly (for installation on your own and installed on your own web server) as well as from Miva hosting partners as a hosted service.

E-Commerce-Guide.com has also reviewed Miva Merchant 5's predecessor — Miva Merchant 4.13 — by way of its integration as part of Interland hosted e-commerce suite. For the purpose of this review, I tested a copy of Miva Merchant 5 that had been set up for E-Commerce-Guide.com review on Miva hosting partner Hostasaurus.com


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One of Miva Merchant 5's few drawbacks is its very limited design template offerings.

Getting Started
In general, setting up a Miva Merchant 5 is easily achieved thanks to a step-by-step wizard and a "simple administration" mode (there's an advanced mode that you can use for site tweaking as well). Just as was the case in my experience with Miva Merchant 4.13, following the wizard's instructions was a painless experience — though version 5 seems to have a lot more options than the Interland hosted version of Miva 4.13 we previously tested.

The basic steps to setting up Miva 5 are:
1. Add a Category
2. Add a Product
3. Add a Product Attribute
4. Set Up Payment
5. Set Up Shipping
6. Set Up Fulfillment
7. Design Your Look
8. Set Up Sales Tax
9. Set Up an Affiliate Program
10. Add an Affiliate
11. Advertise with Miva Marketplace
12. Set Up Miva Mailer
13. Create Mailing Lists
14. Send Emails to Your Customers, and;
15. Set Up Miva Submit.

Not everything listed in the Miva step-by-step wizard is necessarily included as part of your Miva Merchant 5 installation, though. Miva Mailer and Miva Submit are not default modules and (depending on your host) may well be available to you only at additional cost.

Building up your Miva 5 catalog is also a bit easier than its predecessor thanks to some additional flat file import capabilities for category as well as customer modules.

Miva Merchant 5 includes a very thorough and long list of both payment and shipping options, which ultimately is what makes Miva a superior e-commerce solution over many of its competitors. Payment gateways include Miva Payment, Debit-it, Authorize Net, , e-ValuCheck, CyberSource ICSv2, Innovative Gateway Solutions, Cardservice/LinkPoint Payment Gateway, Lynk Internet Processing, Verisign Payflow Link, Verisign Payflor Pro(PaymentNet), PayPal, Rodopi Payment Gateway (R-P-G) and U.S Merchant Systems. Also, basic standby methods, Credit Card Payment with Simple Validation, Check Payment, as well as COD, are all part of the Miva solution.

On the shipping side, USPS, FedEx, UPS as well as price, weight, quantity and "base+weight" based shipping are all options available to Miva users.

Where Miva Merchant 5 improves upon its predecessors (and many of its competitors) is not just on its expansive list of payment and shipping options, but also in the logic of how to calculate proper shipping amounts based on product attributes. Product attributes (such as size) may increase a product's weight and thereby its cost to ship, which can be accounted for in the weight controls attributes feature.

Speaking of logic, one of the things that I particularly like about Miva Merchant is its "upsell" feature, which will present an upsell item based on designer specified criteria.


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Merchants can use Miva Merchant 5's "Upsell" feature to drive more sales during checkout. (Click to enlarge)

Store Morph
Payment and shipping are, of course, the two fundamental cornerstones of e-commerce that unfortunately are far too often under-serviced by many solutions in favor of slicker interface controls and/or design tools. That's not to say that design isn't important. The default Miva 5 solution presently only includes four design templates (as compared to Interland, GoDaddy, etc.) which can be modified.

The ability to more easily customize a Miva store is actually among Miva 5's principal improvements, with something called "Store Design Controls with Store Morph Technology." It's a big name for what is essentially a code-editor in my opinion. There is presently no "slick" WYSIWYG (What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get) Store Morph or other such advanced visual page control design tool within the default Miva 5 product.

According to a Miva spokesperson we contacted, "being able to edit the underlying code directly for each page enhances the power a designer has over the look of their online store. However, we are currently developing add-on utilities to simplify the store design process."

Store Morph does provide for a degree of customization that was previously difficult to implement in Miva. Complementing Store Morph, Miva has added version history tracking to Miva 5, which allows developers to keep track of what they've done with their customized storefronts and revert to a historical version if necessary.

Miva has been a standard against which other e-commerce solutions have been judged almost since Miva first product was released at the dawn of the Internet era in 1996. Though certainly not perfect in and of itself, with the additional extensibility that you can purchase (from Miva and various third parties) you can make Miva 5 do just about anything you want it to do. A visual design layout tool would be a welcome addition to the Store Morph technology, though it's really not showstopper at this point in my opinion.

On its own, Miva Merchant 5 is an impressive e-commerce application in many respects and one that will likely help to continue to spread the good name of Miva among e-commerce site builders.

Sean Michael Kerner is a regular contributor to ECommerce-Guide.com.

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