PrestaShop is a powerful and popular open-source e-commerce application used by more than 270,000 web stores worldwide.
Experts can download, install and set up PrestaShop for free. It has everything you need to build a catalogue of products, both physical and digital, then create your own custom web store, manage the checkout and payment process, keep track of orders, and market and grow your business.
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PrestaShop Ready is a more beginner-oriented service which enables users to set up their web store with the minimum of hassle. There's no software to download and install, no need to organize hosting, and no web development experience required. PrestaShop Ready already has all the technical basics sorted, leaving you to focus solely on your products and the store.
Pricing is simple, with PrestaShop Ready currently only available in a single 'Start' plan. The specs look good to us, with support for unlimited products, images and staff accounts, along with customizable and mobile-friendly themes, a blog, newsletter, SSL certificate, and payment accepted via PayPal and card. Prices start at a reasonable 24.90 euros (£22.26, $28.40) for monthly billing, 19.90 (£17.79, $22.71) if you pay for a year up-front.
There are also some down sides. Regular PrestaShop has huge libraries of add-ons and themes, for example, but PrestaShop Ready has only a few essential options. It's still a very capable system, but if you're a PrestaShop expert, you could be frustrated.
It looks to us like PrestaShop Ready could be an interesting product for more demanding e-commerce newcomers, though. If that sounds like you, the service is available as a free 15-day trial, with no payment details required.
To start your PrestaShop Ready trial, you must first hand over some personal details, including your email address, name, gender (why?), and, optionally, your phone number.
Next, the website prompted us for our store name. This can easily be changed, later, but for now allows you to access the site as a PrestaShop Ready subdomain (yourname.prestashopready.com.)
A Localization page then asked us to enter our location, in order that it could set our main currency and tax rules. During the review, the website only allowed us to choose between France, Italy and Spain, but it also explained that many more currencies were available from the full store administration console. We opted for France.
That was the end of the question, and we had nothing else to do beyond agree to the Terms and Conditions and hit the Create Store button. After a pause of around a minute, as the service created our store, the website redirected us to our PrestaShop Ready console.
This opening interface has menus which can take you to some very complex setup areas, but also does its best to cater for beginners, with clearly-labelled buttons to view the default store layout, manage your store, add a custom domain name and more, as well as a pointer to a set of online video tutorials where you can find out more.
Creating your store
Tapping the Manage Store button took us to the PrestaShop Dashboard, and gave us a first look at just what the package could do. A sidebar gave us access to site design, shipping, payment and localization tools, our product catalog, customer service module and more, while the main screen provides detailed analytics on traffic, orders, newsletter subscribers and other key details.
If you're new to e-commerce, a set of tutorials are available to walk you through the initial setup process. This starts by choosing a shop theme. There are only eleven of these, but they're all high-quality and very customisable, and it's likely you'll find something that appeals.
Your chosen theme can be further configured in many ways. This can start with some high-level design decisions, so for example we were able to decide whether to set up 'Featured Product', 'Top Sellers' and 'New Products' content blocks on our own store. But you can also fine-tune low-level details from color schemes to button styles and system fonts. There's a lot to learn in figuring out how this is done - PrestaShop has its own interface for these tasks, and it's nothing like a conventional website builder - but that's inevitable when you have this much power, and if you're happy with the defaults, you can ignore most of the advanced design tweaks for now.
It's a similar picture when building your product catalogue. Drag and drop some images, add a product name, a rich text summary and description, and a price, and you could, maybe, stop there. But explore the menus a little and you'll find options to configure product type (single physical, a combination of physical products, a downloadable product, a service), variations (size, color), quantities (minimum per order, stock management), taxes, a complex set of shipping rules, SEO, smart redirection (display another product or category if this one is disabled), associated files (instructions, manual), and more.
Again, there is real power and industrial-strength functionality here, but you don't have to worry about the low-level complexities, most of the time. You can create a minimal product set with a very few options, preview your website to see how this works, and modify the results as you go to make whatever changes you need.
Alternatively, if you've already created a product catalog with another e-commerce platform, there's a very good chance that PrestaShop can import it for you. The hugely sophisticated import module supports multiple file types (.csv, .xls, .xlsx, .xlst, .ods, .ots), allows mapping source columns to the appropriate PrestaShop fields, and can import a host of other business-related data, including product categories, customizations, suppliers, customers and more.
Payment processing support is more typical, with support for cards (via Stripe), PayPal, bank transfer and check. The stand-alone PrestaShop has many more, including WorldPay, CCBill and Amazon Pay. PrestaShop Ready is relatively easy to set up, though, and we think it's likely that other payment processors will be added over time.
While these functions worked well, being forced to choose another country for our location (France) presented us with some issues, including elements of our website and the interface being displayed in French. Exploring the International and Localization tools revealed ways to fix these, one by one, but they weren't always obvious, and life would have been much easier if we had been given a full set of locations in the first place.
PrestaShop Ready is a relatively new service, so hopefully the language issue will be fixed soon. But even with the problem, the service still provides a comprehensive interface which enables building a good-looking and feature-packed web store.
Running your business
PrestaShop Ready comes with a stack of order processing tools, covering invoicing, credit slips, delivery slips and more. Setting up shipping is more awkward than we would like, but PrestaShop's bundled Upela module can help by comparing multiple carriers - FedEx, TNT, UPS, DHL, dpd, Colissimo, Chronopost, Mondial Relay, Correos, SEUR, BRT, SDA, ASM, Nexive - and, apparently, getting discounts of up to 75%.
A built-in customer service module provides a unified IMAP-based system to organize customer emails and messages into individual discussion threads. A default response template helps to get you started, file attachment support allows customers to send additional information, and you can easily forward messages to another employee for handling, or mark them as Closed when they're complete. It's not a full-strength helpdesk, but it's good enough for most purposes.
Once your website is up and running, the Dashboard begins to fill with handy stats and details on every aspect of the business. There's basic visitor and unique visitor figures, traffic sources, the number of recent online visitors and active support carts, and details on pending orders, abandoned carts and more.
You can also browse historic charts of visits, sales, orders and net profits, as well as measure your current performance against forecasts. A convenient Demo Mode populates all these charts and graphs with sample data, allowing you to see how these analytics work before you sign up.
If all this gets too much, or you run into problems, a Help button bottom-right gives you instant access to the support system.
A pop-up window includes a search box where you can look for support articles matching various keywords. There's a lot of content, but it's not always as direct or immediately helpful as we would like. If you want to know how to add a carrier to your website, for instance, searching for Carrier will lead you to a promising-looking Managing Carriers article. But despite being more than 1,200 words and crammed with general information, it doesn't contain the step-by-step guidance you might expect.
Fortunately, live chat and telephone support is available if you're losing track. Our test question got a speedy and helpful response, as well as a pointer to more detailed tutorials which we otherwise might have missed.
PrestaShop Ready isn't quite as easy to set up as the company claims, but it does allow you to build an industrial-strength web store for a very reasonable price.
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