Evolve Merchant 5.0

Price
£599
  • Simple and versatile, with some effort made to get around some of the clunkiness of HTML interfaces
  • Some pages give JavaScript errors in IE and won't load at all in Firefox

Evolve Merchant from Lynx Internet is an entirely on-line system that you manage via a Web browser, either hosted remotely with Lynx or on your own server. And although being stuck with the limitations of HTML means that it is never going to be as versatile as a Windows application, the creators of Evolve have made a decent fist of adding a little bit extra.

Advanced techniques have been employed to enable features such as context-sensitive pop-ups, which significantly aid usability when compared with something that relies on a page reload every time you want to change something.

The rest of it, however, is still quite basic. The product category structure, for example, offers just two levels of categorisation. This means you can't have an arbitrary 'tree' of categories going down to infinite depth, but for most businesses this won't matter too much - after all more than two levels of categorisation is likely to confuse or irritate your customers anyway.

And although the product is fairly basic in its structure and functionality - which is a good thing as there is not too much to get wrong - it does actually do pretty much what you need it to. There are still settings here allow you to configure bulk discounts, for instance, and although you can define your products manually there is also the option to upload your catalogue as a CSV file or download one for backup purposes.

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The main advantage, however, in choosing a hosted solution like this is that there's no setup process required at all, bar product definition. After signing up you're given an ID and password and you're ready to go. Even if your hosting requirements outstrip the basic shared hosting option you can rent your very own server at the Lynx datacentre. This ups the price considerably (prices start at 350 per month), but ensures a certain level of performance. And there's also more flexibility built-in than most hosted solutions can offer - if you want to move away from Lynx hosting at a later date, you can buy the product and host Evolve yourself for a one-off cost of 599.

Unfortunately, the system didn't work perfectly during testing: we continually saw JavaScript errors reported by Internet Explorer and it wouldn't load at all in Firefox. Given that Lynx has gone to a lot of effort to make the interface simpler by employing advanced scripting techniques, we can just about forgive the lack of Firefox support, but it's rather naughty for it to be throwing errors in Internet Explorer.

Verdict

A simple but flexible offering that produces attractive stores but is let down by JavaScript errors

Server requirements: none given but a good starting point would be at least a 1GHz Pentium III, 512MB RAM, Windows 2000 Server or Windows Server 2003, SQL Server 7.0 or 2000 or MSDE

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