ProStores Excels in Web Shop Services

eBay’s ProStores Business is an excellent e-commerce solution that allows small businesses to easily create Web stores and sell goods. While the service offers strong ties to eBay, it stands on its own as a solid storefront operation.
After eBay acquired e-commerce provider Kurant, the eagerly anticipated result is ProStores Business, an excellent, stand-alone, Web-based service that allows businesses to build e-commerce sites and sell goods on the web. It's a powerful option on its own and, as you might expect, it comes with great eBay tie-ins. The auction company's expansion into e-commerce is a good one that exceeds expectations.

At its core, ProStores easily creates attractive and professional-looking e-commerce sites and offers the means to oversee and manage sales and process them. Beyond an online catalog, the resulting Web store sells merchandise through and eBay Stores. ProStores is entirely Web-based so no software has to be installed on your computer. All you need is a browser.

In addition to ProStores Business, ProStores is available in an entry-level Express, as well as more sophisticated Advanced and Enterprise versions. With ProStores, you pay a monthly subscription fee and a percentage of your sales, so there are no long-term contracts.

Building a Site
ProStores offers helpful wizards that walk you through the process of creating a Web page and you don't need to understand or use HTML. Using wizards, you'll quickly create a store and set up billing, shipping, sales taxes and more. To define a look for your site, simply choose a layout and theme. For this, ProStores offers some 180 attractive and professional-looking templates. The initial Web design process is intuitive and easy to use.

All Web pages are completely customizable and you can quickly change colors and fonts and add text and images. You can create unlimited pages and sell an unlimited number of products that can be organized and cross-referenced by category, product name or manufacturer. Advanced users have the option of editing a page using the system's HTML editor or exporting pages to an external Web design program and importing them back into ProStores.

ProStores also lets you easily import product data so you don't have to do it manually, and then lets you manage your inventory. You can export product information in Excel or CSV (comma-delimited) formats and it accepts product data from QuickBooks — a convenient feature that also brings over customer and order information. You can also search for and upload images from your computer to your product pages.

The Shopping Experience
Once set up, the storefront provides a first-rate shopping experience for customers. A built-in search engine allows shoppers to search for products by price, keyword, SKU, category, subcategory, price range or product names. For security, the shopping cart supports Secure Socket Layer (SSL) and offers group-level password protection.

Additionally, ProStores excels in payment transactions. It offers real-time credit card payment processing and integrates with popular payment gateways such as, CyberSource, Innovative Gateway and LinkPoint. It also calculates taxes and integrates shipping via FedEx, UPS and USPS. And, naturally there is a seamless integration with Papal. Members can use their accounts to make purchases and businesses can use PayPal Website Payments Pro as a payment gateway to manage credit card transactions. Standard PayPal fees apply.

Managing Sales
The store administration area is the heart of the management system that allows you to view orders, customers and more, as well as configure preferences for taxes and billing. The area is logically laid out with main categories of "Store," "Product," "Order," "Shipping," "Customer," "Support" and "Report."

ProStores Administration
The powerful store administration area offers all of the tools that you need to oversee, manage and process sales.
(Click for larger image.)

Tackling the nitty-gritty tasks involved in overseeing a Web shop is hassle-free because ProStores has an intuitive outline format for categories and sub-categories and is particularly easy to navigate and use. For example, select the "store" category and you'll see immediate options to set payment and shipping preferences, sales taxes, promotions and more. And under "product," you're given clear options for searching, listing, categories, manufacturers and more.

Log into your store administration area and you're greeted with a "Quick Stats" screen that summarizes the latest business activities, for example, incoming orders. Detailed reporting tools provide timely feedback and you can apply date ranges as you wish. You can configure a ProStores account to automatically send e-mails to you and your customers when their orders are confirmed. The service also alerts you on your computer through pop-up notifications.

To help attract customers, ProStores offers an optional traffic-generation feature that guarantees your ads will be viewed 10,000 times or that you'll receive a minimum of 50 new visitors to your store. The service, reasonably priced at $100 per month with a $100 setup-fee, assigns to you a marketing consultant who designs and places ads in pay-per-click sections of online search engines.

The eBay Connection
Beyond conventional sales through its online catalog and shopping cart, you can copy your eBay listings into your ProStores catalog, and, conversely, list items from a ProStores Web catalog on eBay.

ProStores supports standard eBay listing formats ("Buy It Now," "Auction" and more) and allows you to set duration, product type and description. From the administration page you can review "closed" and "completed" listings as well as manage payments, shipping and inventory. You can schedule listings to post to eBay on specific dates and times. If your business is outgrowing its eBay store, ProStores is a logical next step to expand your selling channels.

Different Flavors
ProStores comes in several versions for different businesses. At the entry-level, ProStores Express offers two pages that display up to ten products and support PayPal. A step up, ProStores Business offers unlimited pages and product listings and adds domain registration and hosting, e-mail boxes, 24/7 tech support and Quickbooks integration.

ProStores Business creates an attractive and professional e-commerce site.
(Click for larger image.)

ProStores Advanced adds the abilities to track inventory by specifics such as size or color; apply quantity discounts and promotion codes and sell downloadable products. Advanced also offers a built-in point-of-sale system to accept telephone and in-person orders.

At the top, ProStores Enterprise integrates online sales into existing back-end systems; supports drop shipments and affiliated marketing programs; tracks customers in groups and sets and applies pricing levels.

Bottom Line
ProStores Business is an excellent Web-based service for creating an e-commerce site and managing sales, whether they occur through the online catalog or eBay. The service is one to consider when you're ready to take the e-commerce plunge. And it's a fantastic option when your business is ready to expand beyond an eBay store.

ProStores Business charges a monthly subscription fee of $29.95 per month and a 0.50 percent transaction fee that's applied to the final selling price of each item that's sold. ProStores Express is $6.96 per month with a 1.5 percent transaction fee. ProStores Advanced is $74.95 per month with a 0.50 percent transaction fee. ProStores Enterprise is $249.95 per month with a 0.50 percent transaction fee. With all of the products, there are no long-term contracts.

At press time, set-up fees were being waived for new subscribers. ProStores offers a free, one month trial subscription to new merchants who open a ProStores account for the first time. eBay Stores sellers are given a 30-percent discount off the monthly subscription price.

All ProStores have access to online help and priority e-mail assistance. Users of Business ProStores and above can call toll free 24/7 for free technical support. The add-on traffic generation service costs $100 per month with a $100 setup-fee.

Wayne N. Kawamoto is a regular contributor to

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