I'm a big believer in looking a gift horse square and firmly in the mouth.

Although, when it comes to commissioning e-commerce websites, it is hard for the uninitiated to spot a false set of teeth.

Cheap online shops are now easy to set-up, using "one-size-fits-all" e-commerce software, which lets you upload product images, add prices and insert your company logo onto ready-made templates.

Luckily such off-the-shelf websites need little funding, as they will attract fewer orders: one size e-commerce fits all badly.

A business's unique offerings, quality of customer service and other differentiators that make it successful in the real world, cannot be reflected online when using these systems.

Features such as custom-isable product presentation, shipping and payment flexibility are usually missing. Customer relationship management and order processing is often poorly integrated with back office operations, if at all.

Opportunities for collateral and up-selling are rarely found - as is integration with a stock control system, which allows delivery promises, an important differentiator for online shoppers, to be made.

But even if your 'e-commerce in a box' solution has all these features what it will always lack is a marketing soul.

So many web developers come from an IT background and fail to understand the fundamental rules of marketing. Having compelling content, stating the unique selling proposition, ending with a call-to-action are as necessary on a website as they are in traditional marketing mediums.

Understanding the brand, its values and its marketplace, are prerequisites both online as well as off.

Most importantly websites generated, en masse, from templates seldom appear near the top of Google when consumers search for generic product names.

Search engine optimisation has to be built into a site from its foundations up. Off-the-shelf systems, using generic time saving technologies, won't. Mass produced pages will lack the detail to effectively promote individual products online.

Most developers can make a site's home page appear somewhere in Google. However, potential customers are often searching for specific products and not a company name. Optimising internal product pages is critical to achieving good rankings within the search engines for product names. Remember -not everyone will enter your website through the front door.

So how do you tell a genuine e-commerce racehorse from a digital donkey?

Rather than examining its teeth, questioning the jockey riding it might be more illuminating.

Successful web developers are associated with successful websites that make money for their clients and return their initial investment quickly. They will have retained their clients for many years.

The web development industry has a bad reputation for start-up companies that don't understand the true costs of building and running such sites. They undercut more durable organisations prior to going out of business - leaving their client to start again, as their work is seldom portable.

As with everything, price is always a good guideline - the fake will always be cheaper then the genuine article!

* Chris is managing director of Internet consultancy. This and other unedited articles can be found at webxpress.com. E-mail chris@webxpress.com.