April 23, 2010 Update: The below article was published on Sleeter.com on April 22, 2010.  Click Here to view the article on The Sleeter Group's website.

Overview

More and more companies using the Intuit QuickBooks products are turning to the web to sell products and services in order to increase revenues, reach more customers, and provide better service to customers.  There are literally hundreds of web-store options available to these companies and the choices can be overwhelming.  Web developers generally have their own shopping cart favorites that they use to accomplish the task and most often, these solutions do not integrate with the company’s accounting system.  In this article, I’ve taken a look at three leading tools to bring your company online with a storefront including PDG Software, Atandra T-HUB, and IA Modules.  The solutions included in this article are designed to integrate well with the Intuit QuickBooks products including Intuit QuickBooks Enterprise Solutions, QuickBooks Pro & Premier, and Intuit QuickBooks Point of Sale and each have a unique set of features and cater to distinctive audiences.

Websites, Web-Stores and Shopping Carts

Before diving into the specific solutions, let’s explore the basic construct of the web, web-stores, and shopping carts.  Most small to medium sized companies have a website that is hosted by a web hosting company.  This means that the company rents some space on one of the web hosting company’s servers and stores files on this server that generate the web pages.  The company’s web address is directed to the web hosting company’s server so that when customers and prospects type in the company’s web address in their browser, the browser is directed to that server to read the files and generate webpages. Web-stores are made up of product pages and a shopping cart.  The product pages show the products and services that the company sells and the shopping cart is the part of the web-store that customers use to checkout and pay.  Depending on the web-store solution, the files used to generate the product pages and shopping cart can either be placed on the same server that the company’s other web files are located, or they can be located on a completely different server.  All of the solutions covered in this article store both the product pages and the shopping cart on the same server, but it is possible for these files to reside on different servers also. Regardless of where the files are located, sales transactions made within the shopping cart on the web will need to flow into QuickBooks as sales orders, invoices, or sales receipts, and payments will need to flow into QuickBooks appropriately.  In addition, the product pages of the web-store should reflect the items within QuickBooks taking into consideration on hand quantities, pricing, etc.

Viewpoint and Strategy

Knowing which solution is appropriate, involves knowing your overall web strategy and needs.  The best fit will be determined by a number of factors including whether you want multiple storefronts, whether you want the files on your own server or hosted, and whether you want to list items on Amazon, Yahoo stores, Ebay, etc.  Atandra T-HUB, IA Modules, and PDG Software integrate very well with QuickBooks and can take care of the nuances of inventory management between the accounting system and the web store such as pricing changes and removing your products from the web or posting an “Out of Stock” message when on hand quantities are zero.  These solutions use the items listing within QuickBooks to determine these on hand quantities and prices, and they dynamically update the web based on global preferences that are set up according to your needs and preferences.  This leaves QuickBooks users able to add items and update item details within QuickBooks, rather than within another system while the new items are populated to the web. Updated items in QuickBooks are also updated on the web in real-time.  These three solutions were selected for this article because of their proven abilities to integrate well with QuickBooks in these and other areas but were also chosen because of their contrasting strategies and capabilities.

The Solutions

PDG Software is a complete solution that most small companies will be very happy with.  The product is installed onto your existing web server (where your current web files are located) and produces one storefront with product pages and a shopping cart based on your QuickBooks item list.  It handles integration tasks between QuickBooks and the web-store with web sales flowing into QuickBooks and pricing and on hand quantities being used to generate product pages in real-time.  The product pages and shopping cart can be customized through various pre-developed skins, or can be completely customized with a web developer through manipulating the code.  Since the software is installed on your own web server, there is a one-time software license fee rather than monthly fees.  The initial installation of the product on your server is included in the fee but there is an additional fee for the setup of the QuickBooks synchronization options depending on which version is purchased.  Customer service and technical support is good and setup assistance and support plans can be purchased at reasonable rates.  The product is also the only solution that is fully PCI PA-DSS certified giving full confidence that steps have been taken to secure confidential and financial information.  Pricing depends on how many products you need to list in your store and starts at $599 for 100 products with limited setup assistance up to $1,799 for unlimited products and thorough setup assistance. Atandra T-HUB does not include product pages or a shopping cart but rather works with your existing web-stores to integrate them with QuickBooks.  T-HUB is solely an integration solution that allows multiple web-stores to be integrated with the QuickBooks products and works very well for those who list products at multiple places such as Amazon, Yahoo Stores, E-Bay, and/or their own storefront.  The product works with QuickBooks and many standard shopping cart software products such as X-Cart, osCommerce, Magento, Zen Cart, Volusion, and many others so you’re able to choose a shopping cart that is sufficiently customizable and appropriate for your needs.  The product allows web sales to flow through to QuickBooks and allows pricing and on hand quantities to be used to generate product web pages in real-time.  Customers are automatically created in QuickBooks from web sales and sales receipts, invoices, payments, and/or sales orders are created based on global preferences.  It also offers shipping integration with FedEx, UPS and USPS.  The software is sold on a per license basis so there is a one-time software license fee rather than monthly fees to use the product.  Customer service and technical support is good and ongoing support options are available.  Pricing depends on the level of integration needed and starts at $300 for basic integration with QuickBooks Pro/Premier/Enterprise up to $700 for more advanced integration with QuickBooks Point of Sale and shipping solutions.  With this solution, you will need to also invest in another shopping cart solution such as X-Cart starting at a cost of around $115 for the software. IA Modules is a complete solution hosted on their servers rather than your own.  IA modules is similar to PDG Software in that it provides the product pages, shopping cart, and integration with QuickBooks, however IA modules charges a monthly fee for the service since your web-store files are located on their servers rather than your own.  It allows web sales to flow into QuickBooks and allows on hand quantities and pricing in QuickBooks to be used to generate product web pages.  The product also supports multiple storefronts so you can produce separate storefronts for different niche markets within your company.  Pricing depends on the number of items in your store, space available on server, number of storefronts, and many other factors and ranges from $60 per month for 250 items and 1 GB space to $192 per month for unlimited items and 10GB of space.

Comparison Table

See below for a comparison table that compares some key features of the three products.  This is not meant to be an exhaustive listing, so please go to the product sites for more information on features.
PDG Software Atandra T-HUB IA Modules
One-Time License Fee X X
Monthly Fee X
Software Installed on the Same Server as other Web Files X X
Complete Solution (Product Pages, Shopping Cart, & QuickBooks Integration) X X
Integration Only Solution X
Integrates with Multiple Shopping Carts X
Multiple Storefronts X X
Highly Customizable X X* X
Provides Access to the Code for Professional Web Development X X*
Integrates with QuickBooks Pro, Premier, Enterprise X X X
Integrates with QuickBooks Point of Sale X X X
PCI PA-DSS Certified X
Real-Time QuickBooks Synchronization X X X
Intuit Payment Solutions can be Used for Merchant Services X X X
Integrates with Shipping Vendors such as UPS, FedEx, USPS X X
Advanced shipping rules, options, and pricing rules X X* X
Control Panel for Managing preferences, etc. X X X
Pricing Levels X X* X
Email Confirmations for Confirmation of Orders, etc. X X* X
Items Added to QuickBooks Automatically Populated to Web X X X
New Customers Created in QuickBooks based on Web Sales X X X
Choice of Sales Orders, Invoices, or Sales Receipts created in QuickBooks when web sales are made X X X
Payments posted to QuickBooks X X X
Combine orders from Multiple Stores X X
*Through choosing a customizable and open access web shopping cart such as X-Cart.

Conclusion

Although there are many other web-store options available, one of these solutions should satisfy the needs of the majority of companies using the Intuit QuickBooks products.  All three are highly customizable, integrate with QuickBooks, and offer many options.  For those seeking a solution for one storefront, PDG Software may be a great fit while T-Hub, along with a shopping cart such as X-Cart, could be a great fit for those wanting to sell in multiple storefronts and in proven web destinations such as Amazon, Yahoo Stores, eBay, etc.  For those who would rather pay a monthly fee for an all inclusive hosting and multiple-storefront solution, IA Modules may be a good choice.