One of the biggest draws that any Web host has is the price of domain registrations. Once only the purview of Network Solutions at $70 plus per domain that price has in recent years dropped to previously unimaginable levels. Both Yahoo and GoDaddy are offering annual domain registration for under $4.
Among the lowest consistently offered domain registration prices is Netfirms, currently offering dot com domains for $4.95. Perhaps even more startling is that Netfirms has a $9.95 a month, hosted e-commerce offering that combines two free domains names with a generous amount of hosting space, and, oh yeah - one of the most popular and extensible shopping carts on the planet.
What It Is
Netfirms currently offers two different core hosting packages for e-commerce hosting: the "Advantage" package at $9.95 a month and the "Business" package at $14.95 a month. The difference between the two is essentially space and size. Advantage offers 20 GB of storage and 750 GB of transfer while Business offers 40 GB and 1500 GB of transfer. Both include email accounts (Advantage - 100; Business -200) and MySQL 4.1 databases (Advantage - 30; Business - 60). From an e-commerce point of view, both have the same shopping cart.
Getting a Netfirms Commerce Pro shopping cart setup is at least a two-step process. The first part of the process is a simple one click from the Netfirms Control Panel to actually add the cart to your site.
Somewhat to our surprise, after the Commerce Pro shopping cart was added to our test site, a familiar looking screen greeted us. Netfirms Commerce Pro is actually an OScommerce shopping cart. We suppose if we had first looked closely at the FAQ page and noticed item number ten then we would have known that before we first attempted to install the cart. It's certainly not clearly mentioned on the About, Features, Store Demo or Admin Demo pages. More often than not, Netfirms refers to Commerce Pro as, "an Amazon-style shopping cart."
As an aside, the Admin Demo is hardly a demo. Rather it's just a simple page with some screenshots and text, there is no actual "demo" that you can play with to be found there.
Netfirm's implementation of OScommerce starts with the same fundamental "flaw" that all OScommerce users experience when, upon installation, there is no step-by-step wizard to guide you through a proper shopping cart setup. Certainly, Netfirms does provide some decent documentation to help users, but we find it significantly easier when initial setup and configuration is a guided, as opposed to an exploratory, effort.
|Look familiar? Netfirm's Commerce Pro is based on the open source e-commerce package OScommerce.|
Netfirm's Commerce Pro implementation of OScommerce appears to be a relatively default installation of the standard OScommerce milestone 2 release. Since it is a hosted application in this case, though, Netfirms has saved potential OScommerce users the trouble of actually loading and configuring a Web server to actually host the application. Netfirms also provides SSL secured access to the cart's administration.
Among the default features are a variety of payment gateway options (including, Authorize.Net, PayPal, iPayment, 2CheckOut, PSiGate, SECPay and TrusTCommerce) as well as automated shipping calculator inclusion from UPS and the US Postal Service.
The greatest power of OScommerce is its extensibility. Thanks to its open source nature, there is a vibrant and robust community of users and developers that have added many new modules that can be added to an OScommerce installation. Unfortunately, Netfirms does not provide easy access for its users to take full advantage of those modules. One would assume in this day and age, for example, that FedEx would be a nice addition to have as a shipping option. There is at least one such module that is freely available on OScommerce.com that Netfirms could have included with its Netfirms Ecommerce Pro.
Netfirms Commerce Pro also does not, by default, include a module to easily allow users to populate their catalogs. Though the support Web site does include an explanation of how a user could attempt to configure that functionality themselves.
Do It Yourself
For many, we'd suspect that the great price on domains and hosting offered by Netfirms would be very attractive. On the hosting side, most users will find great value for the price paid. As a pure hosted e-commerce play, though, at least for novice users, the Netfirms Commerce Pro is not necessarily an ideal solution if you're looking for everything but the kitchen sink pre-packed and ready to go.
Netfirms Commerce Pro does save potential users of OScommerce the trouble of trying to set up the database connections and associated permission themselves, which can be troublesome in some cases.
The fact that Netfirms Commerce Pro doesn't add on a whole lot to a stock OScommerce download, though, is easily overcome in a variety of ways.
If you're willing to explore a bit there are plenty of modules on the main OScommerce Web site that aren't too difficult to install and get running.
Then again there are at least two open source pre-packaged OScommerce based solutions available that you could just download and the host with Netfirms if you really wanted to. One of those options, CREloaded has upgraded its offering since we reviewed it a year ago and now it boasts no less than 50 built in add-on modules that significantly expand a stock OScommerce installation.
Considering that Netfirms e-commerce pricing including hosting starts at only $10 per month (which includes 2 free domain names), we suspect that a lot of users won't mind too much investing some additional time to fully customize and realize the potential of their storefronts.
Sean Michael Kerner is a regular contributor to ECommerce-Guide.com.
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