Building a Cyber Facade With Dynamic Content Tools
December 15, 1998
By Barry Nance The design of a virtual store's Web site often determines whether shopping on the Internet (or at a company store on an intranet) will be heavenly or hellish. A successful e-commerce site does more than simply display a catalog, let customers fill shopping carts and then bill the customer's credit card. An easy-to-use Web store makes customers feel welcome, has an intuitive look and feel, helps the customer find whatever he or she is looking for (perhaps by using a search engine), is up-to-date at all times and behaves in a consistent, appropriate manner.
And creating a high-quality e-commerce site is as complicated as building, furnishing and stocking a physical store at the mall, so it's essential to have the right tools for creating your virtual storefront.
To view the Report card.
Minding the Store We evaluated seven products capable of or specially designed for building an e-commerce Web site. In particular, we looked for tools that emit dynamic HTML and thus make the storefront livelier and easier to use. While we didn't limit our tests to e-commerce-specific products, all contenders supported the interactive nature of e-commerce via the run-time management of HTML, giving them the ability to tailor the Web pages to each customer's "in-store" experience, and not just display static pages.
The seven tools we tested are Allaire Corp.'s Allaire ColdFusion Studio 4.0, Breakthrough Software's ShopZone, Inso Corp.'s DynaBase 3.0, INTERSHOP Communications' INTERSHOP 3, Macromedia's Dreamweaver 1.2, Microsoft Corp.'s Visual Studio 6.0 Enterprise Edition and NetObjects' NetObjects Fusion 3.0.
We used these products to create two simulated e-commerce retail sites. One sold car insurance; the other sold computer and telecommunications equipment. We designed the first "store" to behave like an automated insurance agency, accepting applications, calculating premiums and issuing policies. The much simpler computer equipment store displayed a product catalog, managed each customer's shopping cart and collected credit-card payments; this site's most complex calculation was figuring out state-specific sales tax.
As we tested, we looked for design-time features to help us build our site quickly. We evaluated how well--and to what extent--each product automated the construction of a storefront on the Web. Link validation was a plus, as was sitewide management of Web pages both under development and in production. And it was important to be able to customize our storefront's behavior to accommodate unique business requirements. Naturally, preconfigured components for managing shopping carts, sales tax, shipping charges and store catalogs were a plus. At run time, we looked for behavior that made shopping at the site pleasant and lively, and for correct, consistent processing of transactions. We took special note of how each product integrated with the storefront environment to manage the dynamic issue of HTML as customers shopped.
How We Tested the Dynamic Content Tools
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