Choosing an E-Commerce Partner
Volume Number: 20 (2004)
Issue Number: 12
Column Tag: Programming
Choosing an E-Commerce Partner
Reviewing BMTMicro, DigiBuy, Emetrix, eSellerate and Kagi
by Dave Wooldridge
In a previous issue, we explored serial number strategies for software developers and methods for
streamlining the customer registration process. The next step is figuring out how you want to handle
sales transactions and the distribution of serial numbers to paid customers. If you work for a large
company with thousands of orders every month, then building a custom web-based shopping cart and
managing your own merchant account and credit card processing may be worth the time and financial
If you're a shareware developer or small company who does not have the budget or time to
implement a custom e-commerce system, then using a third-party, turn-key e-commerce service may be
the perfect solution, allowing you to utilize sophisticated selling features for a small service fee
While the vendors profiled in Part 1 and Part 2 of this e-commerce "roundup" specialize in
software sales, many of their services (if not all) can just as easily be utilized for selling any
other kind of digital content such as electronic books, music, stock art, screensavers, video clips,
scripts, etc. There's even a growing market of web sites that sell needlepoint designs that can be
printed from your computer. If your product can be sold and transferred digitally, then one of the
e-commerce vendors reviewed here may prove to be the ideal solution for you, regardless of whether
you're a software developer, musician, writer, teacher, artist, or needlepoint enthusiast. Even
though the services of each vendor will be explored with the needs of software developers in mind,
remember that many of those features can also benefit non-software sales. Sellers of any kind of
digital content can profit from secure download delivery options, cross-selling incentives, and
increased exposure through third-party affiliate programs - just a few examples of the various
services that many e-commerce providers offer.
Satisfying Your Business Needs
Upon first entering the sales world, many sellers are inclined to bypass the larger service fee
of turn-key e-commerce partners by opting for the smaller service fees offered by solutions like
PayPal. While PayPal is vastly popular in the online auction arena and is used by many shareware
developers to process online software sales, the service does not offer much beyond credit card and
bank account transactions. If your software application requires serial numbers for activation,
PayPal does not offer a way to generate or distribute unique serial numbers to customers after a
purchase has been made. You would have to manually e-mail a unique serial number to each customer
after receiving an order confirmation from PayPal. Obviously, some developers do this and some have
even found ways to program their computer or mail server to handle this manual step with
AppleScripts, server scripts, etc., but if you don't have a way to automate this process, then
forget about ever taking a vacation again. If customers have to wait a week (or even a few days) to
get their paid serial number, expect to receive a landslide of irate e-mails and phone calls. If
you're a one-person, home-based operation, a manual system like this may chain you to your desktop
indefinitely if you don't have a way to automate the sales process to be completely hands-off.
Otherwise, with a flood of orders, you'll be spending more time e-mailing serial numbers and less
Another factor to consider is that PayPal's interface cannot be customized to match your web
site's visual appearance. While this is not necessarily a deal breaker since PayPal is a known brand
that people trust, it prevents developers from seamlessly integrating PayPal's vanilla white
shopping cart with the "look and feel" of their own site design.
On the positive side, PayPal now accepts credit card orders from non-PayPal members. In the past,
a major deterrent to using their service for software sales was that customers had to have a PayPal
account in order to make a purchase. If they did not have a PayPal account, then they were prompted
to create one before completing the purchase. PayPal has since changed their shopping cart system,
allowing any one to complete a purchase with or without a PayPal account. And since PayPal is a
trusted e-commerce name, many software companies who have their own shopping cart systems or utilize
a third-party solution like eSellerate or Kagi, also offer PayPal as a payment alternative for those
customers who feel more comfortable with PayPal. It means more work on your end to send serial
numbers to those PayPal customers, but depending on what kind of products you sell and who your
customers are, it may be worth the extra trouble.
If your needs extend beyond simple credit card transactions and fraud protection, then you may
not want to choose PayPal or a simple merchant account gateway service as your sole e-commerce
solution. There are several e-commerce providers who offer sophisticated services, tailored
specifically for software and digital content sales. Need an easy way to split the revenue between
two or more authors? Need to offer your software on CD-ROM without incurring costly manufacturing
fees and shipping headaches? Need to manage product activations and reduce piracy? Want to offer
digital coupons? Want to increase your grass roots marketing by offering an affiliate program
without the accounting hassles? What about extended download services, multi-currency support,
cross-selling, volume pricing, phone and fax ordering, sales reports, and other services that can
greatly enhance your software business, but may be too costly to build from scratch and maintain
yourself? These are all services that e-commerce providers like eSellerate offer. While the fees per
sales transaction may be higher than those of PayPal and other basic services, the powerful features
that you have at your fingertips will more than justify the cost.
This month and next month, we take a look at a handful of these turn-key e-commerce solutions to
reveal the services they offer and the positive implications they can have on your software
business. Don't have a merchant account? No problem. All of the e-commerce companies featured here
process all sales transactions through their own merchant accounts as part of their service, plus
they all offer secure online payment systems with fraud protection.
Please keep in mind that at the time of this writing, every attempt was made to provide accurate
information based on available data, but by the time you read this, some services and rates may have
changed, so I strongly recommend visiting each of these companies' web sites before making any kind
of decision regarding your e-commerce needs.
Originally launched as a multi-line BBS service in 1992, BMTMicro - http://www.bmtmicro.com/ -
grew into a successful web business once the Internet evolved into a commercial, mainstream medium.
Similar to other software-centric e-commerce providers, BMTMicro provides a web-based Developer
Information Center where vendors can log into their account to add new products, view sales reports,
configure order confirmation e-mail messages and registration key delivery options, and more.
In an attempt to tailor solutions to fit the various needs of developers, BMTMicro offers three
service tiers. To utilize their basic e-commerce features and shopping cart system, and have
BMTMicro issue serial numbers from a predefined list you provide, the WebSeller Standard Plan has an
order processing fee of only 9.5% per transaction (with a $1.25 minimum). In order to customize your
order forms to match your own web site's design, integrate a custom key generator for issuing serial
numbers and to have BMTMicro host your product demo file on their FTP site, you'll need to sign up
for at least the WebSeller Plus Plan with a processing fee of 15% per transaction (with a $1.25
minimum). For all the benefits of the WebSeller Plus Plan as well as access to a BMT-hosted support
e-mail address for your business use, a BMT-hosted customer mailing list and additional marketing
options like search engine submission, you'll have to join the Comprehensive Plan with a 20%
processing fee per transaction (with a $1.25 minimum). There is no set-up fee for any of their
service plans. If you're looking to promote your software and increase your sales through
affiliates, luckily their full-featured Affiliate Program is offered to all three service tiers.
Like the affiliate programs that are 100% managed by other solutions like eSellerate and RegSoft,
BMTMicro handles all commission tracking and affiliate payments for you.
BMTMicro accepts Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, Eurocard, Diner's Club, Carte
Blanche, JCB, and Optima and supports multiple currencies. Online orders are received and processed
24 hours a day every day. Even though their telephone-based orders and support is only available
from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm EST, 7 days a week, there are no extra charges for phone and fax orders,
plus there's a toll-free phone line for U.S. and Canada. Voice and fax orders that arrive after
business hours are processed the next day. Mail order payments by U.S. check, money order or
Eurocheck are also accepted.
Standout Feature: While most e-commerce providers offer a defined set of services,
BMTMicro seems to take the most pride in their ability to address the unique marketing and sales
needs of each vendor, whatever they may be. They want to be thought of as your business partner and
not just a third-party service. For those who have outgrown the basic CD on demand features,
BMTMicro can offer custom CD package assembly, shrink-wrapping, and more. Need some promotional
guidance? BMTMicro can not only help you with merchandising options like t-shirts and mouse pads,
but they can also distribute product press releases, create media press kits, provide publication
reprints of product reviews, submit your site to search engines, assist with web site design,
Owned by Digital River, DigiBuy - http://www.digibuy.com/ -
offers many of the common features for processing software sales. Through their web-based
administration system, you can manage your account with new product listings and prices, configure
multi-user licenses/volume pricing, access and export sales reports, place test orders, and more.
They allow you to customize their shopping cart order forms to match your own site's design for a
seamless user experience. DigiBuy accepts Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover and Diner's
Club, plus phone and fax orders.
While DigiBuy's order processing fee is 13.9% (or $3.00 minimum) per transaction, they offer two
service levels, allowing you to sign up for the package that best matches your budget and needs.
Their Essential plan has a one time set-up fee of only $29.99 for the first product, but does not
allow you to customize order forms. Their Advanced plan includes all features, but incurs a $199.00
one time set-up fee for the first product. Each additional product incurs a small one time set-up
fee of $9.99 when entered into their system. They also offer DigiBuy University, an affordable
e-commerce program for university students and faculty (no set-up fees). After DigiBuy's service
fees have been subtracted from your monthly sales, payments are made to you via ACH (electronic bank
deposit) or by check, a convenience that most of DigiBuy's rivals also offer.
After purchasing your software, DigiBuy can deliver a unique serial number to the customer
(pulled from a list of serial numbers you supply). If you need to deliver unlocked software to your
paid customers, DigiBuy also offers electronic software delivery (for an additional fee) with
dynamically generated download links that can be secured with time limitations or number of download
attempts. Customers and vendors also receive e-mail order confirmations, which can be resent from
your admin system if necessary.
Standout Feature: Although DigiBuy's web site appears to tout its customizable order forms
as one of its key-selling points, one of the features that seems to set DigiBuy apart from its
competition is it's integrated support for some of the leading online affiliate marketing programs
such as Commission Junction, AffiliateTracking, ClixGalore, and FlyCast. While other e-commerce
solutions also offer affiliate programs, they are usually their own affiliate program engines that
are not compatible with existing affiliate marketing programs.
While not quite as well known as heavyweights like Kagi and eSellerate, Emetrix - http://www.emetrix.com/ - offers solid features that should not
be overlooked. Using their web-based admin system, vendors can customize their order forms to match
their own site's design or choose one of Emetrix's existing page template designs, as well as
configure shopping cart options, view sales statistics, choose whether to activate Emetrix's
electronic software delivery (for post-purchase full version downloads) or generate serial numbers
(to register shareware). You can even utilize their built-in communication tools for e-mailing
product news to your customers, complete with opt-out options. Apparently, vendors are not able to
customize the order confirmation e-mail message, but can elect to have a separate custom e-mail
message sent after every successful order.
One of their key selling points is that beyond their 13.9% processing fee per transaction (or
$3.00 minimum), there are no sign-up fees or hidden costs. While some companies charge extra fees
for telephone-based orders and sales support, Emetrix accepts phone, fax, check and money orders at
no extra charge. Emetrix supports multi-currencies, volume pricing, cross-selling, discount coupon
codes, CD on demand, and even integration with third-party affiliate programs. Emetrix can also help
you devise a marketing plan, tailored specifically for your target audience. They can provide
assistance with press releases, submission to software portal sites and search engines, and more
(although some of their marketing services may cost extra depending on how much help you need).
Standout Feature: For those shareware developers who find themselves spending too much
time chasing down illegal warez sites or too much money on file downloading bandwidth charges,
Emetrix's parent company, Digital River, offers a new file downloading service called FileKicker -
http://www.filekicker.com/. While this separate service
does cost extra, it provides a convenient function at a great price. FileKicker gives you 30
gigabytes of data transfer (file downloading) for only $14.95 a month. Not to be confused with the
electronic download delivery of purchased products, FileKicker is for shareware and trial downloads.
Just upload your software files and configure your warez site block lists, and FileKicker provides
extensive download statistics reporting, handy download URLs with optional expiration dates, and
wards off linking from warez sites. Since FileKicker is a stand-alone service, you do not have to
use Emetrix in order to take advantage of FileKicker.
Founded by MindVision Software (the creator of Installer VISE), eSellerate - http://www.esellerate.net/ - offers one of the most
comprehensive e-commerce packages for software publishers. Their Sales Manager admin site allows
vendors to configure every aspect of the selling process with access to extensive sales reports.
With most other e-commerce providers, whose shopping cart systems are strictly web-based, adding new
products is a very simple task. eSellerate works a little differently, but for good reason. They
offer three ways to sell your products: Web Store eSeller, Installer eSeller and Integrated eSeller.
The Web Store eSeller, as you might guess, is the typical online shopping cart system, which you can
link to from your own web site. With their parent company being at the forefront of Mac and Windows
installer tools, the Installer eSeller essentially packs eSellerate's secure purchasing power into
Installer VISE, enabling customers to purchase your software during the installation process. The
Integrated eSeller is a software toolkit that allows you to actually add the secure eSellerate
purchase engine right into your applications, providing a convenient method for consumers to
purchase your product from within the application itself. As a vendor, you can decide to either use
one of these eSeller options, all of them, or a combination. For example, if you do not use
installers with your software, using a combination of an Integrated eSeller and a Web Store eSeller
gives your users the flexibility to either purchase your product from within the application or
purchase it online through your web site (which links to your eSellerate web store).
You can configure and manage your Web Store eSellers, Installer eSellers and Integrated eSellers all
from within eSellerate's web-based Sales Manager admin site.
To add a new product to your Sales Manager admin site, you first add a new Product listing. From
there you would add a new SKU (Stock Keeping Unit) that links to that product. To finish the process
you create and configure new eSellers to suit your needs. To add one of your products to an eSeller,
you would add the product's SKU to the eSeller, not the actual Product listing itself. If you've
ever worked in a retail environment, you're probably familiar with the concept of products and SKUs.
For those unfamiliar with this kind of set-up, it can be extremely confusing at first, but this
modular architecture provides the flexibility needed to seamlessly work with the various types of
eSellers, affiliates and portal partners (more on this later).
Their system supports volume pricing, cross-selling, multiple currencies, coupon codes, URL
aliases, custom order confirmation e-mail messages, and can even automatically handle split payments
for sharing a percentage of each sale with other specified vendors. Kagi used to be the only
e-commerce provider that offered split payment management, but now eSellerate also provides this
time-saving service. You can also completely customize the look and feel of your Web Store eSeller
with your own HTML layout or choose one of six page template designs.
When a customer purchases your software, eSellerate can issue serial numbers from either a
predefined list that you provide, their own serial number engine, your own custom key generator
program, or a third-party scheme like Armadillo. One of the advantages of the Integrated eSeller and
Installer eSeller is that after the purchase is successful, eSellerate can transmit a unique serial
number back to your software application, registering the product instantly. If you find yourself
frequently helping confused customers who do not know how to find their serial number in the order
confirmation e-mail, then this can save you time and money in reducing those tech support inquiries.
For advanced anti-piracy measures, eSellerate also offers a powerful Product Activation feature that
can be built into your software for use with their service.
Need to offer a backup of your products? eSellerate provides a CD on demand option called eCD for
only $7.50 each, which includes the duplication, packaging and shipping of the CD worldwide. You can
either pass on this low price to customers or tack on a small profit margin for yourself. For
example, selling the CD for only $10 gives you a $2.50 profit from each sale. Beyond CD-ROM disks,
if your product SKU requires a secure electronic download (such as the full version upon purchase),
then the eSellerate Download Service (eDS) is also included in the shopping cart as a selectable
option for only $4.99. eDS is an extended download service that grants the customer the ability to
re-download their purchased software for up to one year after the order date. Customers are not
obligated to buy the eDS option, but eSellerate gives you, the vendor, $1.00 for every customer who
purchases eDS with your software.
To utilize eSellerate, there are no set-up fees or monthly dues, but they charge a competitive
order processing fee that's calculated by your yearly sales volume. If you sell less than $15,000.00
within a twelve month period, the order processing fee is 10% per transaction. If your annual sales
are between $15,000.01 and $50,000.00, then the fee would be $15% per transaction. From there it
starts to drop back down again. Sales of $50,000.01 to $100,000.00 incur a 14% fee per transaction,
sales of $100,000.01 to $500,000.00 incur a 13% fee per transaction, and so on... There is no
processing fee for purchasing the eDS option. Where some rival solutions include telephone sales as
part of their basic service, eSellerate offers phone and fax ordering as an extra option that when
enabled by the vendor, costs a flat $20.00 per month and phone orders can only be accepted Monday
through Friday, 9 am to 5 pm. As a convenience for you and your customers, eSellerate hosts an
After-Purchase Services admin site that customers can use to login and print order receipts,
re-download purchased products (if they opted for eDS), request serial numbers from vendors, make
billing inquiries and more.
There is an integrated affiliate program, where affiliates can promote and sell your products
online and eSellerate manages the capture of affiliate data and automatically handles all payments
to affiliates. Beyond the affiliate approval and tracking tools located within the vendor Sales
Manager admin site, affiliates are also given their own online admin account for tracking their
Other marketing opportunities include their Portal Program, which includes high-traffic portal
partners such as Tucows and TopDownloads.net. The difference between an affiliate selling your
products and a portal partner selling your products is in the pricing structure and the amount of
exposure you receive. Affiliates earn a small commission (that you specify) for every product they
sell, but affiliates can range from large, popular sites to personal sites that receive very little
traffic, so their effectiveness is often hard to quantify. Portal partners, on the other hand, can
put your product in front of a lot of eyeballs, especially consumers who are actively looking for
software. You pay the portal partner a commission (that they specify) on every sale that comes
through their portal in exchange for high volume product exposure and their targeted promotional
Standout Feature: Like eSellerate's Integrated eSeller, Kagi also offers a software
toolkit for Cocoa and Carbon developers to add the Kagi e-commerce engine into their software
applications, but at the moment, eSellerate seems to have a more comprehensive offering with their
Integrated eSeller available as a Mac library (CodeWarrior), a Windows library (Visual C++), ActiveX
control (Visual Basic, Delphi, etc.), and a REALbasic plugin (for both Mac and Windows). Another
benefit of the Integrated eSeller is its built-in ability to check for version updates (if the
vendor chooses to use that feature). Having your software check a remote online server for the
latest version works fine for simply notifying the user of an available update, but what if it's a
paid upgrade? The Integrated eSeller can not only inform the user that the paid upgrade is
available, but can also load another eSeller that handles the customer's upgrade purchase, all
within your software application.
The interesting thing about Kagi - http://www.kagi.com/ - is
that the company started out as one of the pioneering e-commerce providers for software publishers,
leading the shareware industry with their integrated support for the Register application, split
payments for multiple vendors from each product sale, volume pricing, multiple languages, low
service fees and more. When new competitors like eSellerate rolled out comprehensive e-commerce
packages with attractive features that Kagi did not yet support, it was as if Kagi was caught off
guard. Now ten years after their initial launch, this veteran appears to be playing catch up,
quickly adding new services to stay on par with its rivals. With that said, it looks as though the
competition has only made Kagi stronger. As one of the most well-known and trusted e-commerce names
among shareware developers (and consumers), Kagi still maintains one of the lowest pricing
structures of its peers with no set-up fees and no monthly fees. For products priced at less than
$25.00, Kagi's order processing fee is 5% plus $1.25 per transaction. For products priced between
$25.00 to $100.00, the processing fee is 10% per transaction. For products priced at higher than
$100.00, the processing fee is 5% plus $5 per transaction.
One of the reasons solutions like eSellerate have become so popular in the last few years is that
they offer web-based admin sites that allow vendors to quickly add new products and customize order
forms with point and click ease. Kagi, on the other hand, still uses their cumbersome web-based
Order Page Admin site which forces vendors to get their hands dirty modifying configuration files
and raw HTML to add new products to their shopping cart's main display page. And even then, you must
place a test order for each new product in order for the item to get added to Kagi's product
database. Kagi continues to enhance their system, but it still does not seem to be quite as
user-friendly as other vendor admin sites.
Kagi accepts credit cards, checks, cash and money orders worldwide and supports multiple
currencies. Orders can be placed online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and are processed quickly in
real time. They can also receive orders by mail, fax or telephone, although phone orders cost the
customer $5.00 (which includes a mailed postcard receipt). While some e-commerce providers either
offer phone sales as part of their general service or charge the vendor for phone orders, Kagi
places the cost on the customer to motivate them to order online instead (to avoid the extra
charge). They do not offer a toll-free phone number for U.S. and Canada customers and the phone
lines are only open Monday through Friday, 9 am to 4 pm.
With Kagi's basic service, you cannot customize your order form pages to emulate your own web
site design, but they do offer customizable order forms as an expanded service for $20 per month. As
part of the basic service, you can customize the HTML inside the standard Kagi page template by
adding your company or product logo, styled text, etc. If you need to gather extra customer data,
you can also define custom form fields on your order form pages.
Using Kagi's language selector, Lemke Software's Product Display order page is dynamically
translated into German. Clicking on one of the other language links will display a different
Like their rivals, Kagi provides you with web-based access to customize the order confirmation
e-mail message, view customer purchase summaries and product sales details, track affiliate data,
and even create a database archive of all your customer orders. Kagi can issue serial numbers to
customers from either a predefined list that you provide, a custom key generator program, a link to
your key generator script on a remote server, or connect with a third-party engine like Armadillo.
They also provide the Kagi Digital Download Service option (electronic software delivery) as well as
integrated support for third-party CD on demand services from either SwiftCD or Albert. Like
DigiBuy, instead of offering their own affiliate program, Kagi provides support for popular
third-party affiliate marketing programs Commission Junction, Affiliate Tracking and ClixGalore. And
if you're looking to outsource your technical support, Kagi even has a partner alliance with
Similar to eSellerate's Integrated eSeller SDK, Kagi offers their Registration Module (KRM), a
software toolkit for Cocoa and Carbon developers who wish to put the Kagi store inside their
software application. This provides your users with instant purchasing power from within your
product. Interestingly enough, using KRM incurs an additional surcharge and a higher processing fee
than web-based Kagi transactions, while orders submitted through eSellerate's Integrated eSeller are
treated like normal orders and do not incur any extra fees from eSellerate. While Kagi plans on
bringing KRM to additional programming languages and platforms, eSellerate's Integrated eSeller SDK
already does (such as its wildly popular REALbasic plugin for both Mac and Windows).
Beyond their normal fraud prevention measures, Kagi offers a unique Real-Time Order Approval
Review option for vendors. If you choose to participate in this free service, Kagi will e-mail you
when a sale of one of your products is in progress with a hyperlink to review the customer data
online, giving you the power to either approve or deny that sale.
Standout Feature: Your initial Kagi order form page (what they refer to as your Product
Display page) can be dynamically displayed in 12 different languages. All standard Product Display
pages include a Kagi menu bar on the left that lists the supported languages. Customers simply click
on the language of their choice and the default order instructions on that page are automatically
translated into that language.
To Be Continued...
Stay tuned as we continue our roundup of third-party software e-commerce providers next month,
placing the spotlight on Reg.Net, RegNow, RegSoft, Share-It!, SWREG and V-Share.
Dave Wooldridge is the founder of Electric Butterfly (www.ebutterfly.com), the web design and software company
responsible for HelpLogic, Stimulus, UniHelp, and the popular developer site, RBGarage.com.