Yahoo! Review: Overview

User Rating
  • SSL certification;
  • Small business listings;
  • Blogging platform;
  • Quality customer support;
  • 30-day money back guarantee.
Score
4
Ease of Use
Simple
Templates
75+

Overview

Pros:

  • Lots of useful e-commerce tools.
  • Helps you do your own promotion with lots of articles and free credits.
  • Knowledgeable 24/7 phone support.

Cons:

  • Hard to learn - not user-friendly.
  • Charges transactions fees and has higher monthly fees. No free trial.
  • No useful communication tools for businesses.
  • Poor design (unless you know HTML).

Bottom Line:

Yahoo's builder is a big disappointment. With their reputation, we expected a lot. What we got was a costly builder that charges you a percentage off each sale, is difficult to use, and has almost no business tools.

Price Range: $39.95 to $299.95/month (plus transaction fees)

[*Note: Yahoo Small Business Merchant Solutions (a.k.a. Merchant Solutions) isn't a website builder itself but under this umbrella you can sign up for website/ store hosting, which incorporate the use of online website editors.]

Ease of Use

Too Many Editors, Ridiculously Hard to Get Around and Figure Out

It's no wonder Yahoo! doesn't have a free trial for Merchant Solutions; it's so hard to use no one in their right mind would sign up after trying it! We try not to be emotional when it comes to rating website builders but it's hard to ignore the utter frustration that this builder caused us.

With 4 different editors that can't be used interchangeably, the confusing interface of the store editor and documentation that even phone support says is not completely accurate, it's hard to understand how anyone lasts using Merchant Solutions more than a month.

Hard to Get Around Without Help

When you first sign into Merchant Solutions, it's hard to figure out where to click to start building your web store.  The main page is quite busy with lots of clickable links.

We eventually figured out that we should click "Store Manager."  This takes us to yet another page full of clickable links to sort through.

We got bored of doing experimental clicking and had to use the help documentation just to figure out how to get into the website builder's editor.

Hard to Figure Out Which Website Editor to Use

There are 4 main editors available through Yahoo.  To figure out which one to use, you must first wade through documentation that helps you choose the best one for your needs.  We prefer to have one system for all purposes.

Store Editor Not Intuitive

The store editor could have been better if the toolbar's headings were better worded.  You have to guess what the buttons do when you're first starting out.

When you actually get into editing the website, the table-based layout doesn't make it easy to figure out how the changes will affect your website.  Even if Yahoo wasn't going to use an MS Word Style editor, they should have at least made the editor give you a sense of what the page will look like when you save your changes.

Awkward Design Editor

Even though the design editor is very limited in its capabilities, it's still not easy to use. What makes it so awkward is that its table-based layout makes it difficult to see how your changes affect the look of your website. The only way to see is to make the changes and go back to viewing mode.  This means you have to keep switching between the editor and the viewing page until you get it the way you want.

Consistency Between Tools Within Editor

While the editor is not the easiest to use, at least it's consistently so. Whether you're editing the design, page contents, or products, the table-based interface is used throughout. It may be hard to learn, but at least you don't have to learn more than one interface.

E-Commerce Tools are Easier, but Not Product Upload

The e-commerce tools are laid out and titled better.  It doesn't take long to figure out the vast number of features they have for running a web store.

Getting your products on your website is a bit confusing though because of the parallel systems for product upload.  Don't follow the Getting Started Guide's advice!  Its advice is incorrect, or at least that's what one phone support rep told us.

Forget the "Getting Started Guide" and Call Support

When you're getting started, do yourself a favor and ignore the "Getting Started Guide."  It's 360 pages long and it needs to be updated based on what phone support told us. 

If you have questions, use the searchable online documentation or give support a call if you're having trouble figuring out the instructions (there aren't any screenshots).

It's a bit tricky to find the phone support number and email address.  They try to make you use the documentation first by having you choose categories that fit your question, which then yield potential docs that might help you.  When you do find it, do yourself a favor and write it down so you don't have to go through that every time you have a question.

Editor

Editor Overload - But Only One Truly Fits Our Purposes

Merchant Solutions has a total of 4 different editors for building a website and they don't make it easy for you to figure out which is best for your needs. Of all the options, Store Editor, with its messy interace, is the only useful editor that fits the scope of our reviews.

Sorting Through the Mess of Editors

Though only Store Editor will get a full review, we want to give a few details about the other editors though to be fair.

From reading their Getting Started Guide, it seemed like there were 2 editors, "Web Hosting" or "Store Editor."  But when we got into "Web Hosting," we discovered that there were 3 editors under that umbrella: Yahoo Wizards, PageBuilder, and SiteBuilder.

These editors are not meant to be used interchangeably, so relax - you don't have to learn them all, just the one you decide to use. If your needs change you can upgrade to a more advanced editor, but you can't switch back.

SiteWizard - Good for a Quick Start, but Nothing More

We hate to confuse you, but it must be said that Yahoo Wizards is actually divided into a further 3 editors: PageWizards, AlbumWizards, and SiteWizards.  PageWizards is for making basic single webpages, whether it's a party invitation or a personal portfolio page.  AlbumWizards is for making photo albums. 

SiteWizards has a little more business application, but it has no advanced features, tools and has no e-commerce capability.  You are also limited to 7 pages. 

You can't upload your own images (except for your logo), nor can you customize the design of your chosen template.  The lack of customization made for a pretty crappy home page for our Widget Factory.  We dare you to try and find our logo (Hint! It's in the top left corner.)  

It does however do a good job of walking you through the creation of a basic brochure style website.  It helps you make a quick link page.  It even provides forms for entering info for the contact page, like business hours and driving directions.  

Too bad it comes out very plain-looking:

Ultimately, Site Wizard isn't flexible enough for a serious business. If you want more customization, you'll have to switch over to PageBuilder or SiteBuilder for more options (not Store Editor though - the technology is different). Once you switch over though, there's no turning back to SiteWizard. The technology for the other two editors is too complicated for it.

PageBuilder and SiteBuilder (and Why They Don't Make This Review)

PageBuilder is an MS Word style website editor. It has more advanced applications than SiteWizard, but no e-commerce options. It is software that is launched and run online, but not through your Internet browser (this can take awhile if you have a slow connection). Our review magazine is devoted to browser-based website builders, so it doesn't make the cut.

SiteBuilder is the choice recommended by Yahoo for the widest range of business tools. It allows e-commerce, though it limits you to 150 products (Store Editor allows you unlimited products). Unfortunately, it is downloadable software and it is not compatible with any of Merchant Solutions's online editors. That means if you want to make any changes to your website from a computer that's not your own, you'll have to download the software.  Because SiteBuilder is not a browser-based website builder, nor is it compatible with one, it doesn't make the cut either.

Store Editor - Hard to Steer, but It Makes the Cut

Considering how simplistic the tools and design are within this editor, you'd expect it to be easy to use. It's not.

When you first use it you start on a blank web page with a yellow tool bar. Some of the buttons are self-explanatory, like "Edit" (to edit your site) or "Link" (to add a link to your site).  Others are so vague, you can only guess what they do, like "Section," "Item," and "Variables." 

Let us clarify these for you. "Section" is for adding another page to your site.  "Item" is for adding a product. "Variables" is for changing the look of specific pieces of your website, like the font color, button size, or image dimensions.

Yahoo tries to help you by adding a contextual help menu to define each of the buttons, but it doesn't clear up confusion because it uses the same lingo that caused the problem in the first place. They define the "Section" button by writing simply "will create a new section and list it here." The help menu can be hidden if you so choose.

Not an MS Word Style Editor

There's a reason why so many website builders are using the MS Word style as the basis for their editor. Everyone knows the interface, making it easier to follow. 

Store Editor, unfortunately, marches to the beat of a different drum, one with a very strange rhythm. When you click to edit a page, you're taken to a different page where you change the elements on the page.  The layout of the editing page is just a big table, making it hard to pick out individual elements you want to edit.  And it looks nothing like the page you're working on so you have to use your imagination to know how your changes are going to look.

Even if Yahoo wasn't going to go with the MS Word format, they should've at least included some of its basic text formats. In Store Editor, not only can you not add advanced text features like tables, it even lacks basic functions like bold and italics. 

Plus, if you want to change the font, you actually have to enter the specific font name, rather than being able to choose from a drop-down list. Most people don't know the names of fonts beyond Arial and Times New Roman.

Editor Seriously Lacking Flexibility

To top off the lack of editor options, the editor offers no control over the placement of text and images. You add your text and images in the fields and the editor plunks them on the page in the same place every time. The only work-around is to use HTML, but then what's the point of using a website builder at all if you have to do that?

Show Off Your Wares on Your Home Page

One feature we do like is the "Specials" button. This lets you easily add products you want to feature as specials on your home page. We found this feature through experimental clicking (the button wasn't descriptive enough for us to know its use intuitively), but it's quite handy once you know what it does.

Save Your Work and Publish Later

Sometimes it takes awhile to develop the text for a web page. Some builders force you to publish unfinished text because they simultaneously save and publish. 

Store editor allows you to save your work by clicking the "Update" button. The word "update" is misleading, making you think you're "updating" your website, but the function is nice anyway. To publish your work, you have to go to the tool bar and click "Publish."

Upload Images One at a Time

Image upload is simple enough.  Within the edit page, you click "upload" to put an image on the page. This brings you to an upload page that prompts you to browse through your computer to find an image. Once you choose one it's put directly onto the page. You can only upload one image at a time unless you compress a bunch of images into a .zip file.

Resizing your images is a bit trickier. You have to go into "Variables" then enter the specific dimensions (in pixels, not inches).  Don't know how big 70 pixels is?  Too bad.

# Score Plans Main Advantage Get Started
6
Templates
100+

 

  • Free trial
  • Premium support included with all accounts
  • Value-added features
5
Templates
50+

 

  • Full freedom design.
  • Option to have more than one site.
4
Templates
75+

 

  • SSL certification;
  • Small business listings;
  • Blogging platform;
  • Quality customer support;
  • 30-day money back guarantee.
9
Templates
500+

 

  • You can create a website and get it live in a matter of minutes
  • It’s super easy to use
  • Its pricing plans are very cheap in comparison to some competitors
7.1
Templates
1750+

 

  • 25 different pre-made pages for business tools.
  • Over 1750 Business Templates
  • Over 600,000 websites built using CityMax
9.2
Templates
350+

 

  • Intuitive visual editor with drag-and-drop function maintenance.
  • Low price and frequent sales.
  • SEO block.
  • Integration with various apps and platforms (Facebook, MailChimp, SlideShare, etc.).
  • Ability to make backups in a couple of clicks.
  • Flexible total customization.

Design

Barebones Design Unless You Know HTML

With only 14 templates that are little more that different color schemes, and few design tools, Store Editor doesn't give you much to work with to customize your site. It's so lacking in simple customization design tools that you can find designers who make a living designing Yahoo stores on Google. We're of the mindset that a website builder should make it easy for you to do it yourself.

Templates That Leave You Wanting More

The only variation between them is the color schemes and the index's font. And unless you know HTML, you're stuck with these boring, boxy templates. 

B.Y.O.P – Bring Your Own Pictures

When you build your website using Store Editor, there is no image library to help you add personality. If do you go this route, we hope you have a decent digital camera or perhaps a subscription to a clipart or stock photo database.

Limited Design Customizability (Unless You Know HTML)

There's not a lot you can do to customize your website using Store Editor. The "Variables" page allows you to change specific colors, sizes, and fonts of different elements on your website. You can change the basic layout too, but there are only 2 to choose from, index buttons to the left or across the top. 

One feature that's unique is that you can create links from images, but that's the most creative thing we found that you can do using the editor. If you want to add anything more complicated than the basic templates provided, you'll need to know HTML or hire someone who does. 

Hard to Imagine How Design Changes Will Look

The fact that you can't see the effects of changes you make to the design within the "Variables" page is also a serious disadvantage. The layout has nothing to even suggest what the page looks like. This forces you to go back and forth to see what your changes look like.

Promotional Tools

Almost Everything You Need to Do Your Own Website Promotion

What the Yahoo Store Editor site lacks in design and features, it makes up for by getting you found on the Web. Yahoo provides lots of resources to help you run your own promotional campaign to help bring traffic to your site.

Yahoo's Mission for Site Submission

Predictably, Yahoo offers auto-submission to Yahoo Search for Merchant Solutions websites. They even help you out further by providing links to Google and MSN's site submission pages so that all your bases are covered.

"News and Resources" Section Lets You Do Your Promotional Homework

From "Merchant Solutions" home page (the page you start at when you log in), you can access the "News and Resources" page.  On this page there are loads of articles on all kinds of topics related to promotion, including design, search engines, email marketing, etc. Some of these articles are provided by Yahoo, others come from prominent business sites like Entrepreneur.com and AllBusiness.com.

We read a few articles and they are pretty well written and offer useful info for the would-be website promoter.

Missing Meta Tags

Store Editor allows you to enter keywords into your website's Meta tags, making it easier for search engines to understand and index your website. It's easy enough to use, but you have to dig a bit to find the Meta tag editor. It's on the "Variables" page of the editor.

The only thing it's really missing is the option to enter info into the title and description meta tags, which are important for helping people understand your site's contents when they find you through a search engine. 

Of course, if you know HTML you can enter in all this info, but if you're restricted to using the Store Editor to enter info, you're outta luck.

Free Credits from Yahoo's Partner Companies

When you sign up for Merchant Solutions, you get free credits for a number of useful promotional products. 

Courtesy of Google and Yahoo, you get free credits for each company's sponsored search results programs, Google AdWords and Yahoo Search Marketing. These programs automatically put up a text ad that you create when people search for the keywords that you specify. You pay a pre-designated amount whenever someone clicks on your ad.

In addition, there are also free credits for Submitnet (a search marketing management system), Campaigner by GOT (an email marketing service), plus credits for a few shopping listing sites, including Shopping.com and Nextag.

E-Commerce

Good E-Commerce Options, but You Pay for It

Our biggest problem with the Yahoo store system is that you have to pay a transaction fee on every sale you make through your website. This eats into your profit per sale, significantly reducing the return on your investment. The percentage they take off your sale varies depending on your package.

So even though you get unlimited products, a nice-looking shopping cart, and a good range of options, the value is seriously lowered by having the dreaded transaction fee.

Unlimited Products

While Yahoo does fill their pockets from your Web store's sales, at least they give you the option to put up as many products as you'd like. Many builders put a limitation on the number then charge you extra when you want to add more. If you use SiteBuilder instead of Store Editor to build your site however, you're limited to 150 products.

Awkward Product Upload System

According to the "Getting Started Guide" both the Store Editor and Catalog Manager (within "Store Manager") are parallel tools for uploading products. If you upload a product on one, you do it on both. The guide says the best way to do it is to use "Catalog Manager." We did as we were told but the uploaded products didn't appear on our website. 

We called for support and were told not to follow the guide on this point, that it is in fact better to do all uploading from "Store Editor."  When you upload on "Catalog Manager" you have to go through extra steps in "Store Editor" for the products to show up on your website. Sound confusing? You bet it is.

The one good thing about Merchant Solutions's upload system is that you can upload a number of products at once using a spreadsheet.

Lots of Shopping Cart Options with Easy Set-Up

Merchant Solutions gives you plenty of options within your shopping cart to account for the choices customers like to have when shopping online. And even though there were so many, it wasn't hard to set up.

The options available include: shipping methods, tax options, time zones, countries you sell to, and even a shipping/ tax calculator (which calculates costs based on the customer's location).

Payment methods include PayPal, a number of credit cards including (Mastercard, Visa, etc.) and even C.O.D. Naturally, you have to have a merchant account that takes these methods to be able to use them through your website.  Of course, Merchant Solutions allows you to set up your merchant account with your website.

Professional-Looking Shopping Cart

The shopping cart is nicely designed and inspires confidence in those using it.  You can customize the look of it to match your company colors and even include your company logo.

Evaluate the Risk of Fraud

Merchant Solutions provides you with tools for determining the risk of fraud from your customers. This can help save you against credit card fraud and other schemes people use to target merchants.

The Usual Product Options

Merchant Solutions product options are typical. They give you the option to enter a sale price, the item's shipping weight and whether the item is taxable or available for order.

They also have a field in which you can specify the different options the item comes in, allowing your customers to choose sizes, colors, etc.

Integrated with Yahoo Auctions, but What About eBay?

Merchant Solutions naturally allows you to integrate your website with Yahoo Auctions (their answer to eBay).  This makes it easier for you to set up products on the auction system through your website.

We guess that it was a strategic decision not to do the same for eBay, but we think it was a mistake.  Hardly anyone knows about Yahoo Auctions - pretty much everyone uses eBay.

Tools & Features

Short on Business Tools

When you build a site using Store Editor, you don't have much in the way of tools that are useful for business websites. Things like Photo Albums, Newsletters, and Event Calendars, help you communicate with your customers, increase your credibility and improve the overall visitor experience on your site. There's no option to create these things using Store Editor. It seems that the focus is more on providing lots of e-commerce options instead.

Merchant Solutions's (using Store Editor) feature list includes:

  • Site statistics
  • Search tool
  • Password protected pages 
  • Multiple user access

Automatically Generated Search Tool

There are a few tools available within Store Editor. There is an automatic search tool on your website. It's on its own page though. We think it would be better if you could place it anywhere, or if you have to choose one place, have it on the home page.

Password Protected Pages for Visitors and Access Codes for Other Users

Under "Site Settings" within "Store Manager" you can set your website up to have certain pages protected by password so you can limit visitor access to those pages. You can also create access codes for your own staff allowing them access to the whole site or you can limit access to order retrieval or content editing/ site statistics. Both features are easy to set up and use.

Basic Site Statistics

Since there are so few tools to speak of, it seems worth mentioning that Merchant Solutions does provide some basic site statistics about the traffic and sales generated by your website. It only provides basic info like within a given amount of time, how many times each page was viewed, what products were sold and how many, where your traffic was referred from, and how many sales were repeat orders.

This info is somewhat useful for marketing purposes, but more detailed info is required for doing any in depth analysis.

Customer Support

Phone Support is Necessary to Fill in Gaps

Phone support was the most reliable of Merchant Solutions's customer support services, though we sometimes had to wait on hold. It was certainly better than the oversized "Getting Started" guide, the badly titled contextual help system within Store Editor, the slow email support system, or the online documentation that would benefit from screenshots to help you understand the instructions better.

"Getting Started" in Overdrive

When we first got our Merchant Solutions account, we naturally turned to the "Getting Started Guide."  Usually these guides are only a few pages long with just enough info to get the ball rolling, so we just printed it out. 

We missed the note that it was in fact 360 pages long. One ink cartridge refill later, we opened the mighty tome. It's more of a complete guide than one for just "Getting Started."

We followed the guide and uploaded our products using Catalog Manager as recommended. Only the uploaded products didn't appear on our website. 

We called for support and were told not to do that, and that it's better to do all uploading from "Store Editor." We told them that we just were following the guide's instructions and they told us simply that it was wrong. They then said to ignore all of Chapter 4 and follow the instructions from Chapter 5-9.

You'd think if the guide had errors in it they'd be corrected so they don't cause confusion.

Contextual Help in Store Editor Helps Clarify Bad Titling

The titling within the editor is in some cases poor, but there is contextual help that explains each title. Once you get to know the titles, this info can be hidden.

The contextual help for the tool bar isn't that helpful because it assumes you know what their lingo means. They define the "Section" button, for example, by writing simply "will create a new section and list it here."  We could only guess what "Section" meant.

The contextual help within the editing pages is a lot more useful.  It too can be hidden once you get used to the labelling system.  This begs the question: Why not make the titling and layout more clear so you don't need the textual help?

Merchant Solutions Documentation Needs Screenshots

Occasionally, we turned to the help documentation from Store Manager.  It's also accessible from other places within Merchant Solutions - it's the easiest source of help to find. 

The database is searchable, which is necessary when there is so much info.  We found the documentation to be clearly written, though it does lack screenshots to provide visual guidance.  The problem is that the overall system for building and managing a website is very confusing.  It forces you to do a lot of clicking between different programs and pages.  So without screenshots, it's easy to get lost and confused.

Reliable Free Phone Support, but You Might Have to Wait

We contacted phone support a number of times throughout the building of our website.  Each time, we found the customer support rep to be knowledgeable and helpful.

Phone support is available 24/7 and you really need it for the times when you get lost in the documentation and need someone to guide you along.

We called 4 times.  Around midday (PST), we had to wait on hold the longest (8 and 15 minutes).  Toward the end of the day, there was no wait.

One thing that was a concern is that every time we called over the course of 5 days, there was a message before we were directed to the customer support rep.  It said that if we were calling about systems delays or busy error messages, the developers were already aware of the problem and were working to correct it.  If there was a problem, you'd think it would have been corrected sooner.

Email Support a Little Slow

Merchant Solutions says they guarantee an answer to email support questions within 24 hours (like most builders).  But then most other builders get the answer to you much quicker than that.  Yahoo, on the other hand, just squeaked in at 23 hours.  This is not a huge problem though since there's always telephone support.  The answer that we received was similar to the help documentation (no screenshots, of course)

Hard to Get to Support's Email Address and Phone Number

It's easy enough to access the help documentation from anywhere in Merchant Solutions.  Getting to the support email address and phone number is another story.  There is only one place you can access it from, the Merchant Solutions home page.

But you can't just access the info as soon as you click the link.  That would be too easy.  First you have to click the appropriate category for the problem you have.  This is to point you in the direction of the correct documentation, which they hope you read through rather than contact them.  Only then, do they give you the contact info.

Store Blog Now Available

Lastly, Yahoo also provides a blog in which they offer extra info and provide a forum for Merchant Solutions customers to ask questions and connect with other users.  It is too new to evaluate yet though.  There are very few postings.

Value

Costs a Lot More Than It's Worth

Overall, the value is poor considering how few built-in tools you get outside e-commerce.  It costs well above average if you account for the transaction fees. Not only are the monthly fees a little high (from $39.95 - $299.95), there are also transaction fees on every sale made through your site (0.75% - 1.5%). The percentage varies based on your package. There is also a set-up fee of $50, though at the time of the review, it was being waived as a promotion.

No Free Trial

There is also no free trial to allow you to tinker with the software. This is probably because it's not the easiest builder to use, so they don't want to highlight the fact.

Lots of Room to Expand

They do allow unlimited products and provide plenty of disk storage (20GB) on all three of the different packages, unlimited products, 1000 email addresses, and a large amount of bandwidth for doing data transfers (500 GB). This gives you plenty of room to expand. 

A Few Freebies

Merchant Solutions comes with free advertising credits that save you money when you set up your website's promotional campaign. Yahoo also provides a free domain name. Telephone support is also free. And there are also no contracts or hidden costs (unless you count the transaction fees!).

The Differences Between the Packages

The only major difference between the 3 packages other than the monthly price and transaction fee is that the Standard and Professional packages both get a few extra features including more detailed statistics, the option to offer gift certificates, a coupon manager, and a few other tidbits.

 

Technical Spec Sheet

Package Starter Standard Professional
Price / Mo. $39.95 $99.95 $299.95
Set-Up Fee $50* $50* $50*
Free Trial None None None
No. of Pages Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited
Email Addresses 1000 1000 1000
Domain Names Included Included Included
# of Products Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited
Integrated Shopping Cart Yes Yes Yes
Accepts Credit Card Yes Yes Yes
Can Use Merchant Acct Yes Yes Yes
Transaction Fees** 1.5% 1.0% 0.75%
Shipping Options Yes Yes Yes
Advertising Credits Yes Yes Yes
# of Templates 14 14 14
# of Images N/A N/A N/A
Free Customer Support Yes Yes Yes
Documentation Yes Yes Yes
Site Statistics Yes Yes Yes
Disk Storage 20GB 20GB 20GB
Bandwidth (monthly) 500GB 500GB 500GB

 

* Set-Up fee currently waived - updated August 2006

** Transaction fees are applied to each transaction processed through your online store