Monday, February 24, 2014

10 Ecommerce Solutions for Small Businesses

Launching an online store doesn't have to be rocket science. With the right tools, anyone can sell online - and be successful at it, too. From do-it-yourself (DIY) ecommerce website builders to online marketplaces and merchant services, there is a plethora of ecommerce resources available. These tools make starting an online business easier and more affordable than ever. If you've always wanted to sell online, now is the time. Here are 10 ecommerce solutions to help you get started.

1. Shopify

Start selling online with Shopify's DIY online store builder. Merchants can easily create an online store with no website development skills necessary. Simply choose from more than 100 website designs and add your products. Websites are fully customizable and include a secure shopping cart that can accept VISA, MasterCard and American Express. Merchants can also sell their products anywhere with Shopify Mobile (Shopify's own mobile credit card reader) and Shopify POS (Shopify's iPad point-of-sale system). Shopify starts at $14 a month with zero transaction fees. A 14-day free trial is also available.

2. 3dcart

Build an online storefront fast with 3dcart's shopping cart software and online store builder. Just choose and customize your template, upload your logo and product images, and add descriptions and pricing - no HTML or programming expertise required. The 3dcart program accepts all major credit cards, as well as PayPal, Google Checkout and Checkout by Amazon. Merchants can also sell via social and mobile commerce with 3dcart's built-in Facebook Store and mCommerce app. The 3dcart service starts at $9.99 a month. A 15-day trial is also available, and new members will also receive $50 in Facebook ads credits. [REVIEWED: Shopping Cart Software 2014]

3. Volusion

The Volusion all-in-one ecommerce solution provides all the tools companies need to start selling and growing their business online, such as an ecommerce website builder, shopping cart and Web hosting service. Features include professionally designed ecommerce templates; easy inventory management, order processing and returns; built-in search engine optimization (SEO); social media tools; 24/7 support; and more. Volusion plans start at $15 a month with no transaction fees. Try Volusion with a 14-day free trial.

4. Square Market

Need an ecommerce website ASAP? With Square Market - from the creators of the Square iOS and Android credit card reader and POS system - business can set up an online storefront in minutes: sign up, list products, set up shipping - and you're ready to launch. Sell everything from tech to fashion, health, beauty, art, design, books, baby products, home items and even food. Features include personalized store logo and images, flexible Coupon, adjustable tax rates, size and color options, social media links, online marketing tools, mobile-ready storefronts and more. Square Market accepts all major credit cards, and payments are deposited in 1-2 business days. Unlike other ecommerce store builders, Square Market charges no monthly fees - merchants only pay when they make a sale at a rate of 2.75 percent per sale.

5. Etsy

If you sell unique products, check out niche ecommerce marketplaces like Etsy, which you can use to sell all types of handmade, vintage and other goods all over the world. Product categories include art, jewelry, men and women's clothing and accessories, home and living, mobile accessories, weddings, and more. Sign up for free, and start selling your creations from your own Etsy shop. Fees include a 3.5-percent transaction fee for each sale and a listing fee of 20 cents per item.

6. Doba

Want to run an online store, but lack the resources to purchase your own inventory? Or maybe you don't have the time or patience to pack and ship orders all day. Doba's drop-shipping marketplace connects online retailers with wholesale suppliers that process and ship orders under your business name. Choose from more than 2 million products and list them on your website, or automatically push them to eBay and other marketplaces. You only pay for products when you make the sale, and Doba's suppliers take care of the rest. Doba pricing starts at $59.95 a month, and discounted annual membership plans are also available.

7. MobiCart

Go mobile with your online business. MobiCart turns your ecommerce store into a mobile commerce (m-commerce) app to attract customers that shop using their mobile devices. MobiCart is fully customizable to fit your brand, and works on its own or links to your existing website. It integrates with more than 45 shopping carts, such as 3Dcart, Volusion and Shopify. This service comes with a native mobile app builder for iPhone, iPad and Android, as well as HTML5 Web apps accessible via mobile browsers. MobiCart is free to use for up to 10 products. The basic plan starts at $15 a month, or get two months free with a yearly plan.

8. Dwolla

Small businesses can take a hit from credit card processing fees. Dwolla offers a fast, secure way to move money for online transactions - and aims to do so at the lowest cost possible. Dwolla charges only 25 cents for transactions over $10, while transactions under $10 are free. Money transfers between Dwolla's payment network and your bank or credit union are also free. You can access Dwolla via the Web, iPhone and Android mobile apps, the Dwolla Merchant Kiosk, and any Dwolla-enabled point-of-sale system.

9. Forter

Selling online isn't without its risks. Forter provides ecommerce merchants with a simple plug-and-play solution that combats online fraud and delivers 100-percent chargeback protection. This tool eliminates the time wasted manually reviewing orders and the headaches of implementing and managing multiple security features. Instead, Forter automates the process by using profile data, behavioral data and cyber intelligence to instantly detect fraudsters and decline or approve customers in real time. And in the event that a bad transaction falls through the cracks, Forter promises to cover all resulting fraudulent charges. Contact Forter for pricing information.

10. Zendesk

Top-notch customer service keeps shoppers coming back. Zendesk is a support ticket platform designed to help you deliver excellent customer support. It offers a streamlined customer service system that gathers emails, tweets, Facebook posts, and phone and live chat inquiries into a single platform, so you can answer questions quickly and efficiently. Other features include reporting and analytics data, full customization to fit your brand and customer feedback to gauge a customer service team's performance. Zendesk pricing starts at $1 a month per customer service agent.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Anupama Chopra's review: Highway - Hindustan Times

Promotional Codes-highway/article1-1186909.aspx&media=,%20Alia%20Bhatt%E2%80%99s%20performance.%C2%A0Her%20scenes%20are%C2%A0deeply%20moving.%20Her%20honesty%20and%20courage,%20both%20as%20actor%20and%20character,%20is%20exhilarating.%20And%20yet,%20I%20left%20the%20theatre%20deeply%20dissatisfied.">

Hindi: Highway
Direction: Imtiaz Ali
Actors: Alia Bhatt, Randeep Hooda
Rating: ** 1/2

Highway is a problematic film. Elements in it have great beauty - starting with Anil Mehta's cinematography. The film was shot and improvised as the cast and crew drove across six states. Mehta's camera caresses the changing terrain so that we can almost taste the bleached salt pans of Rajasthan and the crisp air of Kashmir.

There is AR Rahman's soulful music - especially Patakha Guddi - and above all, Alia Bhatt's performance. There are two scenes - one a long monologue - in which she lays bare her soul and becomes utterly broken. It's deeply moving. Her honesty and courage, both as actor and character, is exhilarating.

And yet, I left the theatre deeply dissatisfied. Writer-director Imtiaz Ali is one of Bollywood's most original and interesting storytellers. Here he courageously goes off the formulaic star-driven, song-driven path and returns to his favourite genre - the road movie.

Imtiaz gives us a portrait of two damaged souls who, through a journey across north India, help to heal each other. So Veera Tripathi, an affluent Delhi princess who lives in a mansion with a Rolls-Royce, ultimately finds peace in the arms of Mahabir Bhatti, a rough Gujjar criminal, played by Randeep Hooda. The idea of a victim falling in love with her kidnapper isn't new - the Stockholm Syndrome in which the hostage forms an emotional bond with the abuser has often been cinematic fodder, especially in Hollywood.

Review: Alia Bhatt delivers a power-packed performance in Highway Review: Alia Bhatt, Randeep Hooda's Highway is bumpy yet enjoyable

But here, it is both uncomfortable and unconvincing. Veera becomes relaxed around her kidnappers fairly quickly. Early in the film, she says to them: Yahan aake aacha lag raha hai so thank you. After her initial horror, she behaves like a friend, chatting and laughing. Later in the film, she tells Mahabir: Kafi cute lagne lage ho tum. This to a man who, at regular intervals, threatens to sell her to a brothel.

The film posits kidnapping as therapy. It tells us: So what if you've been abducted, heal yourself as you travel the undiscovered countryside. Given the horror inherent in the situation, this just feels false and fundamentally wrong.

Imtiaz skillfully creates moments that are at once, tender, funny and fragile. But my problem was that I simply didn't buy into the story.And yet, both Veera and Mahabir stayed with me. They are compelling, intriguing characters. Randeep is extremely effective as the brutalised and brutal Mahabir. I just wish they had met under different circumstances.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Bravely Default: The Kotaku Review

<Amazon Dealp>

There's an old saying: if it looks like a Final Fantasy, feels like a Final Fantasy, and sounds like a Final Fantasy, it's probably Bravely Default.

Yes, Square Enix's latest sojourn in the well-trod world of medieval fantasy and magical crystals will feel familiar to anyone who has played old Final Fantasy games and other classics. Bravely Default, which is out today in North America, is a lot like Final Fantasy V, and Final Fantasy IX, with a dash of Final Fantasy Tactics. This is a game about four heroes saving the world, and you won't go a minute without being bludgeoned by references to Square's bigger series-and if you don't get the hint from the Phoenix Downs and Firagas, two significant characters are actually named Edea and Steiner.

This Final Fantasy-ish feel-coupled with that series' undeniable decline-has led many pundits to herald Bravely Default as the game Final Fantasy should be. But really, it's found its own groove, jamming alongside its spiritual predecessor, where it can serve more as complement than replacement. Both series have their place in the world of Big JRPG.

And besides, to look at Bravely Default just as an "old-school Final Fantasy" would be missing the point: this is a game that pushes the genre's boundaries in some interesting ways, embracing traditions while simultaneously messing around with features we'd never see in those classic Japanese role-playing games. Some of the ideas are undercooked, like a town-rebuilding feature that's more diversion than depth, while others are brilliant, like a random encounter slider that lets you turn off non-boss battles almost entirely. Bravely Default might feel like a classic game, butat its core, this is an RPG unafraid to experiment.

In many ways, this game is worth savoring. If Bravely Default is RPG comfort food, it's the type of comfort food you see on one of those Food Network shows where the chef has to add her own spin to make some weird-yet-delicious concoction like deep-fried mac-n-cheese or cornbread with bacon syrup. Unusual, yet familiar-that's Bravely Default.

It's a shame the last few bites have such a bad taste.


The classic RPG, for all of its merits and flaws, has a certain sort of rhythm. Play a Dragon Quest or one of those older Final Fantasy s and you'll find yourself following the same routine: enter new town; get mission; stock up; fight through dungeon; beat boss; repeat. Within that structure are the beats of combat, which also have their own rhythm: regular attacks for fodder enemies; buffs and special moves for bosses; heal as necessary. Many of these older games were special not because they broke out of this pattern, but because they distinguished themselves through interesting worlds, clever stories, or killer soundtracks.

Bravely Default changes up this rhythm in some fascinating ways. Take combat, for example. Like many older RPGs, Bravely Default uses a turn-based combat system-your characters line up on one side of a small battlefield, walloping enemies round by round with physical attacks and spells. But instead of just attacking or healing, you've got a crafty alternative here: turn manipulation.

During any round, each of your characters can pick from two pace-shifting options: Brave and Default. Picking Default makes that character defend, storing up her turn to use during a future round. Brave allows that character to use all those extra turns, or borrow up to 3 future turns to use them all at once, at risk of causing some sort of subprime turn mortgage crisis.

This is all reflected with a number called Brave Points (BP). Each character starts a battle with 0 BP. Most attacks and abilities cost one point each, and every character gains one point after every round. If your characters get into negative BP, they're rendered helpless until they climb back to 0. So a character can start off combat with four quick attacks, risking defeat if she doesn't win because she'll lose her defenses for the next three turns, or she can stay conservative and keep building up turns for the future.

It's a clever, unique system that makes turn-based combat more fun than it usually is. You can breeze through random battles by spamming Brave and unleashing as many attacks as possible, knowing that future turns won't matter if you win in the first round. For harder battles, you can use a more conservative strategy, saving and spending turns based on each boss's attack pattern. (Adding more fun to the party: Bosses and other enemies can use the Brave/Default system too.)

But wait-there's more! Your party of four can also acquire and shift between up to 24 different jobs, ranging from traditional (black mage, monk) to unusual (pirate, vampire). By cosplaying as each of these classes, your characters can use their abilities to do damage, heal, and boost stats. Some abilities eventually prove essential against the tougher bosses, and overcoming tough challenges in Bravely Default, like a football game, often amounts to having both the right preparation and the right strategy.

Sometimes it also requires a little level-grinding, particularly if you play like I did, turning off all random encounters as often as possible. Yes, you can turn off random encounters. You can also fast forward through combat... and turn on auto-battle to let your characters repeat the same actions over and over... and skip scenes... and automate dialogue... and turn on airship auto-pilot... and switch difficulty at any time.

Little conveniences are sprinkled everywhere throughout the game; for example, once you've gotten an airship, you can summon it from anywhere-no need to remember where you last parked.

In many ways, Bravely Default is designed to be as user-friendly as possible-at least until you get to the miserable last few chapters. (More on that in a bit.)

Like many RPGs, Bravely Default is a story about political conflict, and corrupt religion, and four heroes who have to save everything. Two of those heroes are fascinating-the foppish Ringabel, best described as a cross between FFXII's Balthier and a sleazy pick-up artist; and spunky Edea, who is smart and courageous and badass in just about every way. The other two-a shepherd named Tiz and a plot device named Agnes-are bland and unremarkable, even annoying at times.

Throughout the game there are a number of optional Tales-like skits that both supplement the story and add some lighthearted moments to the journey.

Most of them are fun to watch.

Most of them are about food.

Many of them are just about how awesome Edea is.

Your enjoyment of these skits will hinge on how much the characters resonate with you. The banter totally worked for me, but if you can't bring yourself to care about Bravely Default's adorable noseless heroes, you also might not care to sit through all these party chats.

Surely you can find someone to like, though-even the most shallow of Bravely Default's non-player characters is entertaining in some way, from the malevolent poison-maker to the enigmatic vampire lord. Guided by a peppy fairy, a perverted sage, and a host of other interesting characters, your band of heroes romps around the world, saving crystals and listening to villains say melodramatic things like "All but the vestal will end here as dew upon my blade."

The faux-medieval dialogue can get little clunky, yeah, but there's one old Final Fantasy tradition here that's very welcome: Bravely Default doesn't take itself too seriously. Characters constantly poke fun at one another, in and out of those optional skits, and there are lots of memorable moments and scenes.

Unfortunately, when the game does take itself seriously, its mechanics get in the way, because your characters are constantly wearing their job outfits, even during cut-scenes. This inevitably leads to Tiz and Agnes having an intimate moment while wearing a ninja mask and a clown suit:

The ranger outfit, which comes with a fox mask, is one of my particular favorites-because nothing says Serious Moment like a fox mask.

On a darker note, we need to talk about the most infuriating part of Bravely Default: the endgame.

Warning: the following section contains light spoilers not for the plot, but for the structure of Bravely Default. Skip if you don't want to know anything about the game's latter chapters.

For some 25 hours, the pacing in Bravely Default is excellent. No scene is too long, and the plot chugs along smoothly, with just enough mystery to keep you invested.

Then, when you get to Chapter 5, everything goes to hell.

"Tedious" is too kind a word for what happens to your party over the next few chapters. In order to get the game's true ending, you'll have to repeat a series of four dungeons-and four boss battles- five times each. Mitigating this repetition are the user-friendly features-pro tip: switch to easy difficulty; turn off random encounters; set battle speed to max-but it's still an unpleasant experience. I got through the boss gauntlet in a few hours, mostly by doing something else while I played, and I have no plans to ever go near it again.

(If you don't mind getting a fake ending, you can skip over a chunk of this-but you still have to go through those dungeons and boss battles 2-3x each.)

Granted, one could argue that at this point in the story, the characters are going through a grueling experience, and that this allows you the player to empathize with that. But a game can be grueling without being boring, and during its final hours, Bravely Default fails at that.

Spoilers end here.

Endgame pacing issues aside, Bravely Default is very good at a lot of things. It's good at staggering new items and classes so you feel like you're progressing surely and rapidly as you play. It's good at throwing you into satisfying boss battles, with villains who have actual personalities and combat strategies to match. It's also excellent at dreaming up a stylish world with a handful of charming sidequests and even some little plot snippets that you won't notice unless you talk to all the townspeople multiple times. Like all the best video games, Bravely Default rewards your curiosity in a satisfying way.

And, yeah, if you play RPGs for stunning production values, this will be your jam. The dungeons are a little stale, but the towns rank among the best visual spectacles I've ever seen in a video game-stay still for a few seconds while standing in a town and the camera will zoom out, revealing some stunning, creative, fascinating locales. One city, nestled in a groove on the side of a volcano, resembles a giant set of armor, forged out of magma and hard steel:

(Shame the 3DS doesn't take screenshots-my iPhone camera doesn't do justice to this art.)

All four of Bravely Default's main cities are nothing short of stunning-artist Akihiko Yoshida is at his peak here. And the music! God, Revo's music. Just try not to fall in love with the ridiculous boss theme the second it starts. It's like Dragonforce on speed. And Edea's track -my god. That sax.

Some of the game's other features are better in concept than execution, and I get the feeling the developers are just establishing foundations that will inevitably evolve and improve in future Bravely games. (Producer Tomoya Asano has already said he wants this to be a massive franchise, with a new Bravely every year.)

Take Norende. Norende is a little city that you can manage over the course of Bravely Default by recruiting villagers via 3DS friends and strangers you pass on the subway or meet online, then using those villagers to construct and enhance buildings. When I first heard about this feature, I thought it'd be a deep mini-game influenced by management games like SimCity or Civilization, but there are no interesting decisions involved here-you just put villagers to work and wait for them to finish. I expected to be able to build and craft and strategize, but really, all you can build is a bunch of shops. It's like a Facebook game-granted, you don't have to pay or spam your friends, but you'll find yourself doing things just for the sake of doing them, not because you enjoy the action.

By the way, you might have heard that there are microtransactions in Bravely Default, but don't freak out-they're totally irrelevant. You can spend extra money to buy SP Drinks-items that let you recharge your SP, which let you slow down time and get extra attacks in battle-but you don't need them at all. You can beat the game without giving Square Enix an extra cent.

People will inevitably refer to Bravely Default as a "classic" RPG-I sure have-but really, this game is more than that. It's the next evolution of a classic RPG, with just enough spice to taste a little bit different than the old Final Fantasys and Dragon Quests and Lunars of the world. Bravely Default is a flawed game, and it's forever marred by its infuriating endgame, but I'm glad it exists-and I'm excited to see what will come next.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Strollers Recalled By Britax Due To Partial Fingertip Amputation Hazard

<toys r us black fridayp>BETHESDA,MD. - This recall involves Britax B-Agile, B-Agile Double and BOB Motion strollers. The single and double strollers were sold in various color schemes, including black, red, kiwi, sandstone, navy and orange. They were manufactured between March 2011 and June 2013 and have the following model numbers: U341763, U341764, U341782 and U341783 for the B-Agile strollers; U361818 or U361819 for the B-Agile Double strollers; and U391820, U391821 and U391822 for the BOB Motion strollers. The model number and the manufacture date in YYYY/MM/DD format can be found on label located on the inside of the stroller's metal frame near the right rear wheel.

Britax has received eight incident reports. Incidents include one partial fingertip amputation, one broken finger and severe finger lacerations.

Consumers should stop using the recalled strollers immediately and contact Britax to receive a free repair kit.

This item was sold at major retailers and juvenile products stores nationwide, and online at,,,, and other online retailers from May 2011 through June 2013 for between $250 and $450.

Consumers should contact Britax; toll-free at (866) 204-1665 from 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. ET Monday through Thursday and 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Friday, visit the company's websites at or and click on "Safety Notice" at the top right corner or on "Learn More" at the bottom center of the page, or e-mail for more information.