Welcome to WebmasterWorld, justjackoh
>> I'm finding nothing that fully lists and explains the set of features for online storefronts
I'm going to break your heart here; I don't think there is one sorry
The ecommerce software market is still very immature, new products and new features crop up every month. There is no set feature list you can point to and say "this will make a successful e-comm package" yet, IMO.
You've raised quite a few good points here, and I'll address them one by one
>> I'm struggling with what makes up an e-commerce software package.
There is no single good answer to that, or any of your questions. I am going to shamelessly paraphrase some excellent stuff from Crazy_Fool, in a current, similar thread (link here [webmasterworld.com]) throughout this post, in addition to my own stuff
As a bare minimum, an ecomm package has to let you do the following :
1) Display your products/services (Catalogue)
2) Take orders (Shopping Cart/Basket)
3) Collect Payment (Payment System)
Additionally, more advanced setups will also allow customers to track order progress, and their sales status with you, permit full blown online credit authorisation at 3), and perhaps also deal with multi-currency ordering and account settlement, provide varying degrees of integration to your internal business systems (ie sending details of orders placed through the website directly to your Sales Order Processing system back at base, notify your fulfillment systems, be they internal or external etc)
These are just a selection of common functions from the packages I personally tend to work with. Many people like to use combinations of fairly small, specialised software packages, that each deals with one fairly narrow aspect of the ecommerce process (using separate cart and payment systems for example). My personal preference is for more complete packaged type solutions, particularly where you can get quite deep into the guts of the software to mod it when necessary, effectively toolkits with a bunch of standard stuff built it, but the freedom to customise as required.
I prefer that approach as it reduces the risk of compatibility problems occuring, due to the smaller number of independent software components involved, but thats not to say it would be the correct approach for you. Note also that some combinations are quite tightly integrated by intention. This is fine, if that combination is right for you.
>> how do I find the e-commerce SW and the shopping cart that would be the best fit for me, and such that they are compatible
Cribbing from the other thread :
You need to find the answers to several questions
1) Who are your customers?
2) What product(s) are you trying to sell? Why should anyone buy them from you?
3) What systems (hardware and software) will we need? Which do we already have?
4) Whose input and "buy in" in the client company does the project require?
5) Timescale? Budget?
6) Whose responsibility is it to oversee the project and make sure everything happens?
7) Should we use a packaged solution? Or a custom developed one?
For more ideas, I would recommend that you also read the whole of the other thread.
Essentially, you need to do some heavy duty research. There are several threads on this board, which you can find using the site search feature [searchengineworld.com] which cover specific packages and our members experiences with them, good and bad, which provide a good starting point.
You need not do all the research yourself. A good ecommerce consultant will be able to help you sort through the profusion of solutions, compose a good requirements list, and identify packages/combos that satisfy it. I can't tell if you are UK based or not, but if you are, there are several Government-sponsored agencies that can offer you good advice and guidance, point you in the direction of competent consultants, or development companies etc. Even if you aren't, I'm sure there will be comparable bodies wherever you are
List of URLs :
You need to identify those features that you need (including price), and line that up against the offerings in the marketplace. Again, if you aren't too confident about doing it all on your own, getting an experienced consultant to provide some guidance and recommendations may well pay you in the long run.
The most important thing is to keep an open mind. Don't just blindly pick a solution because of its reputation, or confuse price with value. Some excellent products can be had at a low price (even free), and conversely, just because something costs thousands, it doesn't mean that it is necessarily worth the price.
>> Do the e-commerce SW products also provide inventory capabilities
Sometimes, but its rare to find one that offers real stock management. Many will provide links with one or more accounts packages, from which they can draw stock information. Almost all will allow connection to an ODBC data source now, so the process can be automated to some extent. I find that this is one area where the larger packaged solutions tend to score, as they usually handle this sort of thing far better
>> With so many of everything out there, I've >> found it impossible to
>> (1) find a complete/current list of e-commerce hosting features
>> (2) search for e-commerce software packages that provide the features (chosen in item 1) I need, and
>> (3) search for e-commerce service providers that offer the features and software support that I need.
No surprise there, I'm afraid. Any such list would be out of date almost the second it was published.
>> Also, from the list of provider candidates that offer the features I need
This bit is ringing alarm bells with me. Don't be fooled; the best solutions almost never come as part of a hosting-and-ecommerce-and-domain type deal (IMHO). I would advise you to get your e-commerce set-up sorted so it is independent of the host. If you have problems with your host, it is then comparatively easy to move.
True, many of the more popular packages do have hosts who offer hosting space specifically tailored for a given package; I've never been comfortable with those kinds of arragements, it too easy to become a captive audience